Update August 19 2019
I was literally shocked when I read this article on ThePhotoblogger.com. “What I’m going to propose in this article may sound absurd to some photographers, especially if you’re new to the art form….“How can I make my image look like theirs?” But they only want advice on how to do it in post-production. Here’s a controversial idea: do it in camera.”
And just one of the author’s suggestions to his audience:
- “Why not have a creative vision to begin with, and then execute it as well as possible within the camera?”
Wow just wow…incredible that this ‘may be a new concept to create things IN CAMERA TO SOME!’ WOW
Original Post March 26 2019
One of my favorite things to do is to imagine a concept and then execute it. This post is about concepts, mood and light rather than gear. Oh sure it takes gear to have my concepts go from only in my head to fruition, but if you’re looking for a gear review, it’s best to keep moving along.
I wanted to photograph Jeannette, a dear friend’s daughter who was studying ballet in two different concepts. I gave her a general idea of them; one would be as if she was dancing in a grand ballroom. The other was to appear as if I was on stage BEHIND the ballerina shooting downstage toward the audience. And finally I wanted to see if I could configure a lighting protocol where while under an umbrella I could light the ballerina’s face.
So once the concept was developed finding a venue and prop was necessary. A large warehouse along with a non-lit chandelier was needed for my grand ballroom concept. I would light the chandelier using a strobe and long throw reflector. Combining incandescent light, like a tungsten lit chandelier would be very difficult to balance with my strobes. They would overpower incandescent light no matter how low I powered down my strobes. It could be done, but why when I can light it and balance it with a strobe?
The next concept was a tad more difficult, making it appear as if I am actually on stage shooting toward the audience. Using two Fresnel heads on my strobes to appear as spotlights to create drama and spotlight shadows ‘on the stage’ was in order. And then to balance a fill light for her back was delicate to do. I also knew I wanted to add atmosphere to the shot which would add a mystic mood to the image.
And finally how can I light someone’s face under an umbrella? Ah using a simple speed light and a homemade rig to hold it under the umbrella was the answer!
What was this all for anyway? Practice! My belief is practicing the execution of concepts keeps me sharp and improves what I can offer clients and myself in creating imagery. For me it’s not about what gear I own. It’s how I use it.
Someone recently requested that I post some behind the scenes shots of my water shoots. These are NOT underwater sessions. To date I am not skilled enough in the nuances of underwater shooting. Lighting and its color are very different, radio transmissions don’t work underwater, the equipment needed is different. But I have done quite a few sessions involving water, just not UNDER water….
I really love the organic nature of water and the story and drama it can add to the right project. So this first example involved quite a bit of engineering to set up the mood of rain. First off the restrictions were as follows:
- The talent could only be at a specific location at a specific day and time. This prevented me from scheduling the session at a time when the sun would be in the optimum position so I was not fighting its influence.
- The location where I was able to shoot must be at the client’s venue. So I could NOT rent a studio that allowed me to use water.
I scouted the client’s building area two weeks prior to the scheduled shoot and determined the best place to conduct the shoot would be the enclosed area where they keep their dumpsters! On one side was a chain link gate, the right and back wall were part of the building and the left wall was 20 feet high. The entire area had no ceiling. Shooting inside of their building would be impossible due to the water damage that would occur. Pushing the dumpsters out of the area and washing the concrete was first. The next thing to do was to rig up a sprinkler system to shoot water up and in front of my black drape. I rigged two garden sprinkler heads onto the top of the background crossbar and ran garden hoses to the outdoor spigot. Figuring out how to prevent the sprinkler heads from rotating in the Super Clamps once the water was turned on was another challenge. They naturally wanted to rotate back away from the forward direction I needed the water. If they did that while the strobes were firing the bulbs would explode from the temperature difference.
Then of course there is the issue of power and I needed to wrap my strobes in plastic so no one would be electrocuted including me! In order for water to show up in a photograph the way I wanted it to, it must be lit. In this case backlighting of the water was necessary.
I along with my clients prefer to NOT create elements in post processing, but in camera. First of all doing so adds so much authenticity and also excites the talent which then adds even more real emotion to the shot. My work IS NOWHERE NEAR THE LEVEL OF GoT’s not even close but, David Benioff’s comment about shooting on location versus graphic treatment is so spot on (at 2:19 mark in the video).
You can see the two garden sprinkler heads at the top of my backdrop crossbar. I had to consider the weight of the water as it runs up through the hoses. This is a test of fabric, the water and lighting. Two strobes were required to illuminate the water.
This next example was to shoot dancers with water trails. These are high school dancers so the restrictions were:
- Photograph them immediately after school, two hours maximum time
- The session MUST be held on school grounds
So I selected a wall that runs around the perimeter of their school’s pool area. Because the sun was high in the sky it was very difficult to find and area that I could shade just a bit. So I extended my background stand as high as it would go, about 12 feet. I then asked the student’s dance teacher to ‘douse’ the dancers with a bucket of water from the pool! As SOON as the students were wet they MUST perform their dance routine otherwise the water would dry and not be sufficient to leave water trails.
Again all strobes were covered in plastic.
This final example took one year of planning. YEP one full year. I’ve worked with these two Argentine Tango dancers for a number of years. They are the only tango dancers to have ever appeared in Cirque du Soleil, they are that skilled and beautiful. One of the main barriers was to pick a surface that would afford them traction in water and contain the water, so plastic was eliminated. It was very difficult but I finally figured out what to use, textured rubber. The other aspect that I didn’t anticipate is the timing of the shot. I am very accustomed at photographing dancers at the apex of their movement. But what I discovered is once they reach that apex, water trails are gone!
The momentum necessary to carry the water in an arc stops when a dancer reaches their apex. So I had to retime my shots, which took a bit of effort, but I was able to time my shutter press appropriately.
Getting the water into the area was accomplished using a garden hose from the building’s restroom located 75 feet away!
The couple practicing their dance moves.
Once we finished the clothed shots we moved onto the nudes. Keep in mind that this was shot during winter in Seattle. Because the water was cold and the room has one heater near the ceiling we pumped up the temp to 95 degrees! I wanted to be nude! Oh and ask me how we got the water OUT of the room! Can you say towels and buckets! Yep, we had to soak up the water, wring them out into a bucket, carry those buckets to the restroom and do it over and over and over….UGH! I kept reminding myself that the shots we got were worth the effort!
Whenever people ask me about what camera I use, what modifiers, what this or that I tend to ignore those questions. Why? Well because those are NOT the elements most important in what I do. Sure the right tool for the right job helps, but CONCEPTS ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT and EXECUTING those concepts well are key. I sometimes think that people believe they can buy their way out of poor imagery creation by purchasing expensive gear. A crappy photo can be created by a 50k camera as easily as it can be with a phone camera. And the inverse to that is also true.
A big part of my job is to figure out how to create unique and emotive moods and stories for my client’s imagery. A pretty picture without emotion or a story is just a pretty picture. One of the most challenging part of the job is to come up with a COMPELLING concept and then determining how to execute that concept with the restrictions I know I must face. In truth my client base could care less what gear I use. What they care about is if the product I produce for them evokes emotion, is unique and contains a story which will help sell their product. Can I CONSISTENTLY produce compelling imagery and does the talent enjoy working and collaborating with me? Can I overcome impediments to a shoot on the fly and quickly? If not I can expect a one in a row job from that client. Not to mention my reputation would suffer in this very close knit community.
Imagination and working around restrictions is the most challenging part of my job. And I would not have it any other way.
February 18 2019
I recently used the Flashpoint eVOLV 200 Round Flash Head attached to an AD200 during a professional tango shoot. I like the modeling lamp in the head and find it brighter than the stock Fresnel head in the AD200. I used the light with a ‘voice activated light stand’ (a human) in this instance. Because the Argentine Tango dancers were moving freely a normal light stand just would not be the best tool for the job. Plus the room was filled with haze and the rays of light coming through the doorway made balancing light a challenge.
The quality of light produced by the Round Flash head is very very nice. I won’t ever hesitate to use it when it’s the right tool for the right job. And in this case it was.
UPDATE February 11 2019
I realized I had posted some of my lighting techniques under a different blog heading about the v2.0 Saberstrip modifiers, which I consider to be a revolutionary modifier, but had not updated this post. I do so because I find the v2.0 Saberstrips to be almost invaluable for me in creating dance imagery. In some cases I have used three of them to light dancers in studio. As an overhead light on a boom arm and two on each side of the dancers as rim lights. It creates a very dramatic sculpture of their forms as they move. I have also taken to using my 10″ Fresnel to light dancers. I love the light produced by a large lens Fresnel. A hard contrasty light that is unlike any other modifier.
The following images were all created with three v2.0 Saberstrips as shown in my photo above.
The following were shot with a backlight with a cone, three v2.0 Saberstrips and the Fresnel as a fill light.
And finally two v2.0 Saberstrips and the Fresnel as a key light.
For me experimenting with light is one of the most exciting parts of dance photography. Don’t be afraid to experiment, otherwise all of your images will begin to look the same. And what fun is that?
UPDATE October 12 2017
In my review of Cheetahstand’s Quick Stripbox and Lantern I have shown my lighting setups for a different dance troupe. You can view that post here.
I was recently hired to do an annual studio dance session by one of my long time clients. I’m posting this to show how I use xPLOR, eVOLV, Cheetahstand, CononMark, etc lights and modifiers in a session. This was an all-day session lasting approximately 6.5 hours of nonstop shooting. I had charged both the Xplor and eVOLV lights to full the day before. I never even ran close to running out of battery power on any of the strobes. All of the strobes showed half full at the end of the day. My Canon 1DXII showed 25% battery life left at the end of the day to give you some reference. I was using the WFT-E6A wireless transmitting dongle on my camera to wirelessly tether my rig to my iPad so the client could view the images as they happened. Using the transmitter uses more battery life than without.
There seems to be quite a bit of ‘talk’ that certain brands of modifiers/lights/etc. must be used in order to ‘be a pro.’ Nonsense. How one uses gear, how one engages with the talent and how one uses their imagination are the most important part of imagery to my clients. So I post this in hopes that it will help other shooters who are interested in multi light set ups, but not hung up on brand names or scientific theories about what makes a true parabola or other talking points. When people ask me what is the one thing I would have for gear over everything else, I always say your imagination. Years ago I was blessed to be able to spend time with Annie Leibovitz and I asked her “How do I shoot more like you?” Her response? “Don’t shoot like me Mark, shoot like you. It’s the only way to develop your own style.”
Some of my final images.
UPDATE May 24 2018
CalArts has placed their entire Summertime Issue 2018 #3 online.
In January 2018 the Editor of The Pool, an alumni magazine for the California Institute for the Arts contacted me about a feature they had planned for their 3rd edition of the publication. CalArts was incorporated in 1961 as the first degree-granting institution of higher learning in the United States created specifically for students of both the visual and performing arts. It offers Bachelor of Fine Arts, Master of Fine Arts, Master of Arts, and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees among six schools: Art; Critical Studies; Dance; Film/Video; Music; and Theater.
The publication wanted to feature one of their alumni – Antoine Hunter a deaf dancer, choreographer and educator. The editor informed me that Antoine had specifically requested that I create the imagery for his feature which prompted CalArts to commission me for the honored task. I met Antoine when he danced for Savage Jazz Dance Company of Oakland where I created publicity imagery for their troupe.
As with all creative endeavors my workflow was to meet with Antoine over coffee to discuss the mood he’d like to have for his imagery. Once we had our meeting I contacted the editor to discuss his wishes and we scheduled the session in and around iconic San Francisco landmarks. He wanted the imagery to reflect the majestic flavor of Antoine’s home. Beyond that, the artistic elements were left to my discretion which I always appreciate.
In March the editor flew up for the day and we began the session. Even though there was a chance of rain I was confident that the areas I had selected would be shielded from rain if it occurred. As luck would have it, it was a glorious day with wonderful clouds in the sky that I adore. Antoine brought his 6 year old daughter to the event along with his ASL interpreter. Even though we had not discussed shots of him and his daughter, I took them anyway as a memento of that day which he could have for his own memories. I too have kids and having imagery of them never gets old. In the end the magazine used one of the photos which I felt added much to his story. I’ve often found that the images created outside of an assignment are often used and enrich a story.
For all of the images I used a two Flashpoint 600s with extension flash heads to keep weight on the modifier end to a minimum. The modifier I used was a PCB Omni reflector which is my go to outdoor modifier. I had written a blog post about how I converted it to accept a Bowens mount. It is great in wind which is always a concern with my on location shoots. I planned to utilize two of these and had both with me during the sessions. All of the images were created using HSS between 1/1000th and 1/2000th of a second depending on my location and the sun’s intensity at the time. Generally the aperture was f2.8.
My plan was to NOT make the images appear lit, but balanced in natural light yet with a high production value. The only exception was when I created his portrait in a tunnel that is very darkly lit. In this instance I used two of the lights, one as a backlight to rim his figure and the other as a key light. The back light modifier was a simple 7 inch cone on a Flashpoint 600. The magazine ended up using that shot for the cover and I’m really pleased with the results.
I continue to be impressed with the performance, flexibility and quality of my 600 units, both as a monolight or with an extension head. They are key to my work and the innovation in their ability to convert from a monolight to a pack/head or 1200ws head offers me options other manufacturers don’t offer or match at the price point. I often chuckle when I read others who are so concerned about a 1/3 drop of power when using the extension heads. I guess increasing their ISO 1/3 of a stop doesn’t occur to them! LOL!!!! Some people will bitch about absolutely anything rather then spending their time on creating.
Gallery of images. Not all were utilized in the publication.
I’m proud to have been named as a Finalist in the 2018 OneEyeland B/W awards under Nudes. I’m especially thrilled since Howard Schatz was one of the judges. I’ve LONG admired his work so I’m honored! My submission was one of the images I created for my “Tango in the Mohave” series with Eva and Patricio.
UPDATE March 29 2018
Because I’ve changed from PCB Einsteins to Godox/Flashpoint 600s I needed to ‘convert my conversion’ to accept a Bowens mount. It was very easy since I simply bolted a Cheetahstand Low Profile Speedring onto the PCB umbrella reflector. His low profile speedrings allow the bulb to insert further into a modifier. Now I have the ability to not only use the 600ws heads but also the 1200ws head when needed. Very slick!
Why? My view is why not?! A few years ago a friend asked if I wanted an old Leko stage follow spot. Being a bit of a lighting pack rat I said “Sure!” I originally used it so I could apply light shaped with gobos in my still photography for dance. It also allowed me to create lovely rays of light using haze combined with different gobo shapes. In its original state the Leko was a 1000 watt constant tungsten light. Plenty powerful for stage applications, but completely overpowered whenever I used it in conjunction with my Einstein strobes. Even though the Steins can go as low as 2.5WS doing simple math shows you that at 1000 watts shot at 1/250th of a second yields about 4WS, not a ton of power.
UPDATE December 9 2017
I recently conducted a two day session using two eVOLV200S mounted to an AD-B2 unit shot through a Cheetahstand Quick strip box. The strobes were used as second key lights combined with my xPLOR600 with remote head shot through a CononMark 120CM focusing octa modifier. The units performed well and the stopping power of the units is excellent. I shot all sessions using a Pentax 645Z whose sync speed is limited to 1/125th of a second. During jumping action shots the strobes froze the action of the talent jumping. I’m continually pleased with the performance of both the eVOLV and xPLOR units. It should also be noted that I was able to complete two full days of shooting without charging either the eVOLV or xPLOR units.
Full crop of the necklace to illustrate the stopping power of the strobes.UPDATE October 20 2017
My client has incorporated some of my publicity imagery into their marketing campaign.
UPDATE October 12 2017
In my review of Cheetahstand’s Quick Stripbox and Lantern I have shown my lighting setups for a different dance troupe. You can view that post here.
UPDATE October 2 2017
I have written a post about a dance session I conducted that uses these items. You can view that post here.
UPDATE September 8 2017
In my post about the Parabolix 35D I have some of my recent client work which was just released.
UPDATE September 7 2017
I wanted to illustrate how I add lights during the session below.
First I see how I want the exposure using the Cheetahstand lantern as my overhead light.
I want to make this simple. The ONLY reason I use a piece of gear is because I have found a piece of gear which works for me. I have long given up on most review sites with the exception of three I trust. I do listen to other pros I know personally if they find pieces of gear that work for them. It doesn’t mean those items will work the same for me, or vice versa. I am LOYAL to companies that service/warranty/customer service the products they carry with integrity.
I was recently hired to create some promotional imagery for a dance troupe. They have an upcoming performance this Fall and wanted me to create some marketing imagery. For this particular shoot I am not tied to an NDA so I am able to use some of the images and BTS shots I created, providing I don’t mention the troupe’s name. This posting is part review, part explanation as to why I choose what I choose for my work.
I often chuckle when I hear/read folks discount or complain about items “Made in China.” Sure I would love to purchase items made in the USA or specifically California, but this is a century which is global where items are made everywhere. Apparently innovation is now global….. (LOL) I remember the day people use to tease me that “Made in Japan” meant the items were ‘cheap’ and poorly made. Well guess fucking what? Times have changed….
I HATE putting together softboxes, HATE IT. So when I read that Edward had designed and manufactured a ‘quick’ softbox I was skeptical. You see I have used Westcott’s Rapid Box line and although they are fine, I never really like the design. So I ordered one of his Quick Stripboxes and was duly impressed when it arrived. I especially like how he includes a fabric grid with his products. The mechanism that expands the four captured rods is genius. And the material he uses is of good quality.
It’s no secret that one of my favorite lighting techniques is rim or back lighting the talent. Normally I’ve used gridded strip boxes, but when I happened upon the Cheetah 26″ Quick Lantern I thought it may solve one of the issues I have with strip box overhead lighting. By using an orb the light would be more evenly distributed on my subjects. Photographing dancers often means they MOVE around and are often out of the sweet spot of a strip light. The light produced by the Cheetah 26″ Quick Lantern is smooth and more natural looking for my work. To keep the unit’s light from spilling onto the background I cut an old PCB umbrella and use it to drape over the lantern. When I want to direct light other than straight down, I simply use some wooden clothespins to roll the material up to expose the lantern. Works great! Oh and assembly of the lantern is so easy. Love omnidirectional light when needed.
On a different post on my site I’ve done an initial review of the Parabolix Deep 35. I was not yet able to display any photos due to NDAs, but am able to do so here. I will simply repeat that the modifier is very well made and the focusing arm and pivot is top notch. The light produced is wonderful. Is it three times better than my CononMark 120? For me not three times better, yet it is wonderful.
My point to this post is I’m not influenced by brands or theoretical ‘views’ by other ‘photographers’ who love to spew out their views without any imagery. I try to find what works best for me and presents a good value. I value my freedom above all else.
Three of my fellow pro shooters are sponsored by photographic house hold names. In each case when I’ve said “Hey have you tried XYZ’s new lens/strobe/etc?” they respond with “Ugh I can’t because having agreed to be sponsored by ABC Company means I can’t use XYZ’s stuff.” I get it though; getting expensive gear for free is cool. But for me the freedom to use what works for me, means a ton more than free gear.
In the end it’s what I produce that’s more important than what brand of this and that I use. If people believe that a specific brand or model of anything is going to make their work better, then they need a reality check. HOW YOU USE any tool and HOW YOU USE YOUR IMAGINATION are the most valuable assets you can own.
And since I just received an email from a client I consider quite a hard ass who SELDOM hands out ANY compliments which said, “You my talented bad ass brother…is the man…” after viewing some of the shots, I’ll stick to my own methodology.
For the past five years I have had the privilege to photograph OSA’s Dance Emphasis. The high school young people under the leadership of Reginald Ray-Savage and Alison Hurley are incredible. The images in this gallery are from their May 26 2017 dance concert. Once or twice a year I conduct in studio dance photography sessions, but these images were all taken from their latest production.
Throughout my life other men I’ve known often talk about “The Unicorn” which in my circles means a woman who like the mythical horned creature exists only in fantasy. Too good to be true, too wonderful for reality yet an entity we all wish and hope is true.
Three years ago I was hired by a ballet company in Dallas, TX to create some promotional imagery for their troupe. It was at that time I met Christy. A bubbly positive young lady who like her fellow dancers is incredibly athletic and talented. I’m fortunate to meet so many talented artists and at first Christy fell right into that category to which I’ve become so accustomed. And believe me, I know I live a charmed and blessed life.
In May 2015 I was asked to photograph the Avant Chamber Ballet in Dallas, TX. ACB is the only truly Dallas based chamber ballet. Their Artistic Director, Katie Cooper resides in Dallas and has turned the ballet community on its ear with her innovative and critically acclaimed ballet creations. Katie Puder (Cooper) danced for years with Arlington’s well-respected Metropolitan Classical Ballet. One of the many aspects which sets ACB above other dance companies is their use of live world class orchestra musicians in their performances. Many are working musicians with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, which is a double plus. We work regularly with them on both production and publicity imagery for their marketing campaigns.
UPDATE: June 22 2015
UPDATE June 16 2015
I had the opportunity to use both the Flashpoint 360 and Rovelight in combination today during an on location dance session. I again ran into inconsistent firing of the Rovelight with the CellsII-C HSS trigger. I have yet to determine the root cause of this inconsistent misfiring outdoors. In studio they perform better than outdoors even at moderate distances.
I recently had the opportunity to utilize a pair of Adorama Rovelights as well as a Godox AD360 and a Adorama Streaklight 360 bare bulb strobe on a commercial assignment. All four of the units are capable of High Speed Sync (HSS) when triggered by a CellsII-C trigger
My assignment was to create imagery of ballet dancers in and around the Dallas area. The art direction conveyed to me was to place the ballerinas in recognizable venues in the Dallas area. In order to achieve imagery with production value required me to shoot at higher than normal sync speeds to greatly reduce the ambient light. For all of these shots I utilized my Canon 5DIII rather than my 1DX to obtain the maximum resolution since the images will be used for posters with an option to create billboard size media materials. I would have liked to use my Pentax 645Z MF camera, but at that time HSS options were not available. As recently as June 10th 2015 I discovered a possible solution to the 645Z’s slow sync speed, but have not yet tested these units. Alex Munoz has done extensive testing on the Priolite strobes which seem very promising
One of the fantastic benefits of using Rovelights with the variety of 360 bare bulb flash units is the ability to use one triggering system, the CellsII-C. As illustrated in the photo below placing the Rovelight’s trigger on the hot shoe of the CellsII-C allows simultaneous triggering in HSS of both the Roves and the 360’s.
Some of my recent dance photography at the OSA – Dance Emphasis group. Shot using PCB Einsteins, a Westcott Zeppelin and Elinchrom Rotalux Deep Octa light modifiers. Canon 1DX EF24-105 L f4.0.
Publicity photography for Oakland School for the Arts – Dance Emphasis. These images feature seniors from their 2014 Class. This is my third year working with this remarkable company. They are choreographed and coached by Reginald-Ray Savage and Alison Hurley.