Whenever I am hired by a client to create imagery my first question is always “What is the mood you’d like me to create for this session?” Sometimes they have a mood board established, sometimes not. The reason I tend to shy away from mood boards, meaning photographs; it is human nature to get a specific shot stuck in our heads. Much like those crazy M.C. Escher drawings where there are two distinct images, but once you see one, you have a hell of a time seeing the other. And since the client wants their marketing to stand out from what has been done in the past, photocopy photography (my term) just isn’t something I’m hired to do, nor do I want to do that type of shooting.
So the stage play “Nine” is based on the 2009 movie of the same name. The client wanted a Vanity Fair look and feel to the images which would all be in black and white….my favorite color btw! Since this is a new client for publicity I did not ask questions like, “How do you want the imagery to smell, taste and sound?” Crazy imagery questions right? But imagery, much like music is just the catalyst to begin a sensory process that takes the viewer into feelings, dreams and memories of their own. It is the reason why I judge imagery by how I feel when I gaze upon the vision. A pretty picture without feeling is just a pretty picture for me.
Although I would be creating imagery of each individual character, the money shots would be of the group together, nine people in total. For anyone who has shot groups, you know very well the challenges it produces. My situation was no different. Sculpting light for a group of people takes finesse and planning.
So here are the items I chose for this session:
- Key light: Glow Grand ParaBox Pro Softbox (70″) using the Glow Grand ParaBox Zoom-In Bounce Rod
- Rim and fill lights: Saberstrip v2.0 and the Elinchrom 69″ Rotalux Octabox which I modified to use a focusing rod. Glow EZ Lock Deep Parabolic Quick Softbox (48″) with diffusion disk and inner baffle only.
- Prop and rim light: Mole Richardson 10” Fresnel Hollywood spotlight I have converted into a modern strobe.
- Bowens Universal Spot Attachment for Gobos
- All strobes used are Flashpoint 200s and 600s – a combination of pro and non pro I do not use TTL on any of them.
The Glow Grand Para 70 is a REMARKABLE modifier. It has taken me six full months to begin to understand how to effectively use this beast. Unlike other focusing rod modifiers its most compelling use is not for the faint of heart, just like the Bron 133 Para line. BUT once I began to understand the nuances of its characteristics it has become my go to modifiers for many, many sessions. In its fully flooded focusing rod position it easily covered the entire group of 9 people. And unlike normal diffused soft or octa boxes, the color punch and contrast is delicious. My client base has been convinced of focusing rod modifier results.
With a group this large and arranged in the way the client wanted, a very large fill/rim light was needed. This is where I used my Elinchrom 69” with my focusing rod fully flooded. For directional fill I used the Glow EZ with the inner disk/diffusion panel and the grid to direct the fill to where it was needed.
The ability to focus or flood the Glow Grand Para and the Elinchrom 69” is wonderful. Focusing rods replace my need to haul and lug many different sizes and types of modifiers to obtain the characteristics and feeling I am trying to achieve in light. And as I’ve stated earlier, the light they produced when used properly is just exquisite.
As just an example:
This shot of Steve was created with the Glow Grand with the rod in its fully focused position. His ‘scream’ needed to have a spotlight affect the client desired. So instead of having to change the modifier to a ‘spot’ type or apply a grid I just adjust the position of the strobe in the modifier.
In using the Eli 69” as a fill I was able to either fully flood the modifier or use more of a spotlight fill in the situation where I wanted more of a pinpoint for fill. With a group this large that is a godsend. I also used my Mole Richardson as a subtle hair light in those instances where I wanted a glow on the person or persons hair.
The Saberstrip v2.0 which uses an AD200 rather than a speed light is just as remarkable as either a key light, rim light or both. I’m still not sure where Scott is in offering these to the general public, but if and when he does BUY some! LOL I cannot speak highly enough about these unique and incredible modifiers paired with an AD200.
I often find that using gobos to project light patterns on a wall, ceiling, floor or drapes adds more texture and mood to a shot. In this case I asked the client to pick the window gobo she wanted for this mood.
I used a light amount of cold haze to soften the light and the complexion of the talent. Subtle haze is something often used in film and I love how it affects the mood of a shot as well. It adds a very cinematic feel to the shot. I use a cold hazer rather than one that heats the fluid. I find the particulate much more fine than heated haze fluid.
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.
I know that I often state whenever I get a new modifier/strobe/etc. I ALWAYS test them BEFORE putting them into my workflow. I’ve had a suggestion arise lately about showing them in a group in addition to in each of my modifier/strobe posts. Sounded like a good idea so here we go, but I have no plans to make this post comprehensive for all of my tests. Just a few. The first covers the Saberstrip v2.0 that utilizes the Flashpoint eVOLV200s.
Bought this 1965 MGM Studios MR 412 Fresnel and converted it from a 1000 watt constant tungsten light into a strobe Fresnel. The following images were all shot AS TESTS prior to putting the Fresnel into my workflow.
Elinchrom 39″ Deep Rotalux
I NEVER place anything into my toolkit unless I’ve tested it previously. Too many unexpected situations come up in any session. Being unprepared with things you KNOW about is not wise.
I get quite a few questions about light. Specifically questions about strobe brands, what I feel is the best modifier, focusing rods, octabanks, blah blah blah. I get it; I want to know about things like that as well. But on a recent trip to a client’s location I was asked to photograph a group of 2800 high school students as they attended the 5th Avenue Theatre’s Annual High School Musical Awards. It’s a huge event equivalent to the Tony Awards for High School students.
Almost all of the imagery I create at this annual event is ‘non lit’ meaning no strobes or modifiers, only available light. I’m not speaking of available ‘natural light’ from the sun. Nope it’s all unnatural light either from stage lighting or very dark back stage or street lighting. If you’ve never been in the wings of a live theatre just imagine the illumination of a strip club bar and you get the idea of what it’s like.
The real visual story action happens in the alley behind the theatre. It’s where the kids are collected to go backstage before their school performances of the productions for which they’ve been nominated. Obviously the energy is very high. Combine adolescent hormones with a very exciting event and you get a small picture of the energy!
The lighting in the alley is what you’d expect. The illumination is to prevent crime, light the trash bin areas and the HVAC equipment. Anything BUT something conducive to creating any type of portrait photography! But I decided to grab a few groups of students to use what light I had to create some portraiture. I wanted to test my own theories and when people ask me how to use light I simply say “study light.”
So the alley has about eight tungsten lights, the kind you see in the back of any retail establishment near the loading dock or employee entrances. Covered in an industrial plastic, they’re hearty to resist breakage as well as being damn bright. Each light is about 15 feet high on the brick walls and spaced about 25 feet apart running the length of the alley.
So I placed the groups of kids so that the light that fell on them created shadows I wanted and lit their faces in the manner I wanted for the mood of each shot. How I did that is something I won’t go into and I didn’t use any reflective materials or trash to fill in the shadows. Nope this was completely ad hoc shooting with the light I had from those alley lights. My point here is rather than concentrating on what brand, how many watt seconds, whether the modifier you’re lusting after is ‘truly parabolic’ study light and shadow. In my view it’s what will elevate your lighting beyond elevating your credit card balance with little actual yield.
I’m posting this just so that I can rate images on my iPad to edit those images later in Lightroom on my office PC. This process shows you how to automate the rating process from Shuttersnitch to Lightroom. If you have no interest in that workflow, no need to read further.
Update June 5 2018
I just ran a test to see if two of my iPads would receive images simultaneously from my Canon 1DX II with the WFT-E6A dongle attached. Sadly no. Only one iPad can receive images through Shuttersnitch at a time. I had thought that since the Canon was simply a transmitting wifi signal both would pick up the images. Not so….sigh.
Update June 2 2018
I just returned from a client shoot for the production of Hunchback of Notre Dame. I took 1820 image during that live performance. Normally I do a backup on my Nexto drive and then wait until I arrive back at my office to do culling and editing. I HATE CULLING. Editing is much easier for me. But on this trip I did all of my culling on my iPad Pro as I waited at the airport and then on the flight back home which is only 2 hours. My wait time at the airport was about 1.5 hours and I worked on culling for about one hour. Then on the flight I worked on the iPad culling for about another hour. So in two hours I was able to cull 1820 images down to 576 and sent my Selection List to my email. Incredible time saver for me. I highly recommend the software I’ve listed in the Original Post.
I’m going to start from the beginning. Back in 2012 I bought an iPad 2 and paired it with my Canon 1D Mark IV using a WFT-E6A Wi-Fi dongle and Shuttersnitch. I did this so I could shoot wirelessly tethered for my clients. For client work, being tethered is part of my workflow. Clients get to see images in real time without having to look at the back of my camera. For my work it’s much better than being tethered via Ethernet cables. I find that looking at the back of my camera by the client can ruin the flow between myself and the talent. It’s not to ensure color temp, focus, pixel peeping etc. during sessions. It’s to see if the shot mood, expression, concept are being executed as we discussed during our storyboard sessions. It’s so efficient to shoot tethered since a client lets me know when I’ve ‘got the shot’ and we can move onto the next scene.
And yes I realize that by shooting tethered via a cable allows me to shoot directly into Lightroom, but I much prefer a wireless tether. But like all things in life you don’t get something for nothing. My preference for shooting wirelessly tethered to my iPad meant that when I returned to the office, I had to download the files and Pick or Rate the images I wanted in Lightroom. I often had the client star the images they liked in Shuttersnitch during the session. I’d then export the Selection Files and manually enter the image numbers into Lightroom. A hassle….
And since half of my client work is via air travel, I’d have to open up my laptop, launch Lightroom and then go through my rating process in the air. I never edit on the plane, only pick the shots I think the client wants or has approved during the session. And if you travel 30-50 times a year you’ll understand using a laptop on an airplane is a PITA.
Fast forward to today, May 2018. After shooting for a new local client, my partner who is an Apple zealot wanted to just walk by the Apple store in downtown San Francisco. Since it was rush hour I mentioned that we should go in and look around to avoid the inevitable traffic. As I started to look around I saw the new iPad Pros which have keyboards built into the covers. I took my iPad Mini out of my bag and compared the weight of the Mini to the 10.5 inch Pro. Wow not much heavier if at all…hum…
So then I wanted to see if the larger iPad would fit into my camera shoulder bag. It was at that point that the salesperson, Justin approached me. “Oh gosh you would have to walk up just as I’m trying to steal this thing wouldn’t you!?” He laughed nervously and I started to ask him some questions. He suggested I type on the new keyboard and that’s when I was hooked. I’m NOT an Apple person, I use a PC. As a matter of fact my iPad Mini is/was the ONLY Apple product I own. So when I was presented with a keyboard for an iPad and a way better screen I started to calculate my credit card balances….
Long story short; I bought the 256 Gig, 10.5”, Wi-Fi, iPad Pro, the keyboard cover and the Pencil. I was determined to find out if I could replace my laptop for business travel with the new Pro since it has a great keyboard. BUT my main priority was to see if I could select images on the Shuttersnitch app and have those selections transferred to Lightroom. IF that could happen I would be very happy. Why? Because working to select images in Shuttersnitch is WAY easier than in LR. AND using an iPad on the plane is way more convenient. I do NOT edit on my iPad, only select image for editing once I’m back in the office.
Keep in mind that for production shooting per performance, it is not uncommon for me to have 1,000 to 2,000 images to cull. And my clients expect turnaround time anywhere from 24-72 hours. For studio publicity sessions the number of images ranges from 500-800 per day and the turnaround time is the same. So the most efficient manner to cull images saves me much time.
So here’s how it’s done, what’s needed: (BTW this works on a Mac as well as a PC. My partner uses Mac and she’s thrilled too!)
- Lightning card reader (I bought this one)
- Lightroom CC or Classic (not the CC for iPad) For your office computer
I use three different brands of cameras. Fuji, Canon and Pentax. With the exception of my Fuji I can write to two different cards at the same time. So I send RAW files to one card and then low res JPGs to the second card. Why? When using SnitchSync you need both your RAW file and a JPG to match your selections when matching Shuttersnitch selections in LR. (Unless you’re using DNG files, then you only need those files) As a FYI using a Wi-Fi transmitting card like an Eye-Fi also works with the Shuttersnitch/iPad combo. It’s what I use in my Fuji and Pentax cameras.
When using a card reader hooked to the iPad, it downloads everything on that card including RAW files into the Camera Roll folder. That includes any RAW files and JPGs. If that doesn’t bother you then there is no need to direct RAW and JPG files to different cards. I always shoot RAW and the files are large, especially with the Pentax 645Z. So to speed up downloading to the iPad I just like to dump my small JPGs onto the iPad. I’ll leave that to your preference.
Please note that I have NOT outlined each and every step. You need to RTFM (read the fucking manual) for each product. It’s not my job to educate you on software.
Once the files are on your iPad then open up Shuttersnitch and create a new Folder
Then Import the images you downloaded into Camera Roll into the just created Folder
Once you select images in Shuttersnitch then export them to Selection List
Email the Selection List to your email account
Copy both your RAW files and JPGs into your main computer into the same directory. If you are using DNG files you only need to copy those onto your computer.
Copy the Selection List into your Clipboard
Open up your installed version of SnitchSync and paste your selection list into the proper field as show here.
Follow the onscreen instructions and you’re all done! The files you have flagged on your iPad are now rated in Lightroom! Note that the demo version of SnitchSync limits the number of Rated files to 5. You need to buy the full version to have all of your Rated images flagged. Hell it’s only about six bucks USD for crying out loud. And I had to check my Spam Folder for the registration number once I purchased it. So if you don’t receive yours right away, check your spam.
This process has been wonderful for me. Your own workflow may prove that this method is not valuable to your needs. But if so, it’s really a godsend! Also now that I have two iPads I will be testing to see if my cameras will send images to both iPads. I don’t see why it won’t work, but will post my findings. Why two iPads? One can be for the client to view and the other for the talent. Why not?!
Update May 29 2018
David sent me a note (which is in the comments below) stating that the 8mm nut I specify is not the correct size. So I measured the bolt with my micrometer. I don’t want to disassemble the pin so my suggestion is for you to take your 90 degree brass fitting to any hardware store and measure the threads on one of their nut/bolt measuring stations.
What is that mount you use to place the AD600 on a boom or lightstand when using the H600 remote head?
I had this article in my review of the AD600/xPLOR600 post. But so many people contact me about the self fabricated brackets I use to mount my xPLOR/Godox 600s on lightstands, I decided to copy the article about the brackets here as a separate post. To my knowledge no one makes a bracket that runs parallel with a lightstand so you can mount your strobe on the stand’s column. If you know of one other than what I describe below, please place a comment on this page so others can buy one.
I fabricated the mount I use because I could not find anything with a 90 degree angle that would not spin on a boom no matter how tight I’d tighten it down. My first try was with my trusty Manfrotto Superclamps which are great. But due to the weight/leverage of the AD600 base it just would not stay put enough for my taste. So I decided to use a truss clamp which never spins. But I had to fabricate the mounting…. (oh and thanks for asking if you can buy them from me, but I’m a pro shooter, not a pro fabricator….)
- ADJ Products JR-CLAMP Stage
- Anderson Metals Brass Pipe Fitting, Barstock 90 Degree Elbow, 1/4″ x 1/4″ Female Pipe
- Two 8mm bolts. One 10mm long, the second 30mm long not fully threaded
- One 8mm nut
The 10mm long bolt goes inside the truss clamp. It is necessary to grind or file down two opposing sides so the head of the bolt will fit in the recessed portion of the clamp and not spin when tightened. The upright bolt is the longer 30mm one that is screwed into the other end of the brass pipe fitting which becomes your light mount. Once you have tightened the bolt into the pipe fitting you will need to cut off the head of the bolt and either grind or file it down. The 8mm nut secures it to the pipe fitting so it does not loosen from the pipe fitting. I notched the stud so the screw from the AD600 would rest in that notch as an extra measure of safety in case the screw from the AD600 loosens.
UPDATE February 22 2018
During a client session they allowed me to experiment using my Elinchrom 69″ with focusing arm. Here are the results
UPDATE January 5 2018
This month I have several sessions where I will use the focusing arm with my Elinchrom 69″ Rotalux Octabox. Elinchrom sells their Elinchrom 75″ Indirect Litemotiv Octa Softbox which is an inverted modifier. But unlike using a focusing arm the strobe is confined to a set distance from the modifier. Oh and not to mention it’s about $1100.00 USD more expensive than my 69’r!
UPDATE December 31, 2017
Over the past two weeks I have been giving my new virtual friend Ulysses my experience using focusing rod modifiers. We’ve gone back and forth over FB Messenger as I answered some of his questions and concerns. It was during this time I realized that some people may not have any idea how a focusing arm paired with a parabolic or other modifier would benefit them. So instead of answering another email I decided to post this (My last post of 2017 btw) to benefit anyone who may have questions about focusing arm modifiers, their benefits and downsides. But are put off by their prices.
I found what I view as one of the most informative lessons on some of the benefits of a focusing rod on a YouTube channel. Karl Taylor and Urs Recher, two pro fashion shooters do an excellent job explaining the benefits of focusing arm modifiers. You can view that video here.
If you begin to watch the video and think or say to yourself “Oh sure if I had the money to buy a $7,000 Broncolor Para 222 Mark I could do anything!” STOP READING NOW and go about your usual business.
I’ve posted elsewhere why I have switched to focusing arms modifiers and this post is about how you can do it with relatively simple ease. And just as important for a fraction of the cost of Broncolor, Briese or Parabolix. Of course the shape of the modifier you use will have a bearing on your results, but unlike people alleging you ‘have to have’ a pure parabolic shape I disagree based on my own actual usage. I love my Parabolix 35D, my Cononmark 120cm and my Westcott Zeppelins which I use with a focusing arm.
The best thing to do is to buy a Parabolix focusing arm from their site. They use a standard Profoto attachment to mount their modifiers to the focusing arm. The arm is excellent and well made. To attach the arm to any Bowens modifier you simply purchase a Haoge Profoto to Bowens Mount Speedring Ring Adapter.
Viola! You now have a focusing arm that will work with any Bowens modifier! And you don’t have to go through the crazy fabrications like I did when I built my first one. (I just like doing that kinda stuff tho….)
Prior to figuring out that method I fabricated all kinds of things! My other solution was to purchase a Cheetahstand Chop Stick and modify it to accept a Bowens modifier. It took some doing and it works well. Someone mentioned that Edward at Cheetahstand stated that his Chop Stick will work with most Bowens mount modifiers and that’s true….to a point.
For travel it’s a toss up. My DIY Cheetahstand Chop Stick with mount weighs a total of 4 pounds 13 ounces including the rod. The Parabolix weighs 3 pounds 15 ounces. For space the Chop Stick comes apart thereby having the ability to save space when packing. Not so with the Parabolix arm. Weight or space? It’s up to your needs. The Bird Cages which hold the lights are not included in these weights, but I have described their weight above.
So there you have it. This will be my last post about how to develop your own focusing rod. I have sessions to cover and don’t really have the motivation to talk more about this subject. I post this in case you want to do it as well.
As I was growing up my father was always in the garage tinkering. During his lifetime he was a professional auto mechanic who was in a partnership in a Mobil Gas station. I’d work there in the summertime when full service was the norm. Later he became a civil engineer. He and I shared lots of good times in our home garage building things which were usually motors or crazy inventions. One of the aspects of life he taught me early on was “Boy there are people who will bitch that someone hasn’t invented or built this or that. Or they’ll bitch about how something is designed. Basically they’ll bitch about anything instead of trying to figure out how to fix it or inventing something themselves. Don’t listen to those assholes, if you need something that ain’t around, figure out how to build it and build it. I’m not raising no bitch, so just remember that!”
To this day I’m not sure if I never wanted to be ‘a bitch’ or I just plain enjoy figuring out how to do things. It’s one of the main reasons I HAVE TO HAVE a garage. Not to store shit people never use, but to fabricate things. I find it relaxing. And I must admit that my former racing motorcycle which is now the world’s most expensive towel rack does sit in my “Man Cave.” I just can’t bring myself to sell “Ashley.”
Anyway I’ve written elsewhere on this blog that I adore focusing arm modifiers. I won’t go into all of the reasons, but one of the most frustrating things is every single manufacturer of focusing arm modifiers makes it so that their arm only works with their modifiers. Broncolor, Parabolix, Briese, Cheetahstand, Westcott, you name it, they can’t be used with other modifiers. I did find out that the Parabolix line of focusing arms will work with any Profoto mount. Their focusing arm uses the same attachment as Profoto so if one purchases a Parabolix focusing arm it will fit any modifier that uses a Profoto mount.
But many of my modifiers are now Bowens mounts. It’s my preferred modifier mount since I exclusively use Flashpoint/Godox strobes/heads now. As I examined Cheetahstand’s Chop Stick I discovered that I could modify his focusing arm so that it will allow me to attach ANY Bowens mount modifier to the focusing arm! It took quite a bit of modification and a bit of cussing, but now I have a focusing arm that will accept any Bowens modifier INCLUDING HARD MODIFIERS. What? WTF you may be thinking, hard modifiers Mark? Well I’m gonna try them and will report back later. Why not?!
I’m sure some people will ask questions like “Will it support the full weight of X or Y strobe?” What about if the modifier is not a true parabola?” To the first question, I’m not sure and I don’t really care because I’m not a manufacturer of this for retail. I made it to solve a problem. I plan to always use the remote head for the AD600. As for the second question, who cares?
It’s no secret that I have enthusiastically adopted the use of focusing rod light modifiers. I’ve found them so versatile and the light quality they produce to my taste and my clients satisfaction. Sure there are times I love super soft light, but for me soft light, or the constant use of soft light is well….. boring. Indirect light like when using an umbrella produces some of the best contrast, detail of any modifiers I’ve used. the problem is umbrellas have their own issues one of them in controlling spill.
When I first was made aware of the Broncolor Para line of focusing rod modifiers I was captivated. It took quite some time for me to find a rental house that would not only rent the Para 88 octa, but the focusing rod as well. Once I tried one, I was sold. But the price was too cost prohibitive for my client base. At the time $4900.00 USD for one modifier was too pricey. So I made my own focusing rod which I wrote about here. I love the light it produces and the flexibility it gives me.
Since those days I purchased a Parabolix 35D, a CononMark 120cm focusing rod modifier and a Cheetahstand Chop Stick which I use with my Zeppelin line of modifiers. What has always frustrated me is I could never find anyone who produced a focusing rod that would accept ANY Bowens modifier. Each of the manufacturers I mentioned before including Cheetahstand all use proprietary mounting solutions for their focusing arms. 16 rods, or 8 rods, holes a certain size, you name it every manufacturer only fits their own line.
Prior to using focusing arm modifiers, my favorite modifier were my two Elinchrom Rotalux Deep Octas. The quality of lights they produce is delicious. Yet because of the Elinchrom speedring design I could never figure out a way to mount a focusing arm to those octas…until now.
I searched for a bracket that is used for speedlights which can be directly mounted to a swiveling Bowens adapter and found this one on eBay. The next issue was finding a male Bowens adapter that would fit onto the mounting bracket. After much measuring I determined that the Adorama or SMDV Bowens ring would fit perfectly. There is quite a bit of modification that needs to happen and perhaps at some point I will outline those steps. But for now anyone with motivation can buy those two items (which were the toughest parts to figure out btw) and make your own. And NO I will NOT be making/selling these brackets, so please don’t ask.
The one other issue many trolls will like to talk about is if this or that modifier is TRULY PARABOLIC in shape. While those folks are flapping their pie holes along with their constant need to be right, I simply look at how any modifier PERFORMS to my own as well as my client’s satisfaction to determine if it’s right for my taste. I love the flexibility of choice and having a bracket that will allow me to use any Bowens mount modifier with a focusing arm gives me freedom to choose. I’m even going to try hard modifiers with a focusing arm!!!! Who knows I may find out it works great…or not. But at least I have the option.
Hard modifiers. They’re so misunderstood! Most photographers seem to always be chasing soft light, the softer the better. I understand that too, but in my world there is sometimes a need for hard modifiers. On location in high wind, nothing is better to combat the potential disaster of turning your light stand, modifier and strobe into an orbiting satellite than a hard modifier.
Yet there are many other uses for hard modifiers. Yes they CAN throw beautiful soft light. And in those instances where you need to throw and control light a long distance they’re wonderful. I recently had an assignment where I had to light 90 musicians on stage to make the scene appear like a Rembrandt painting which meant making the light even across the stage. It would have been impossible without the use of hard modifiers or Fresnel lenses.
But the point of this post is to advise you that the SHAPE of a hard modifier can easily be confused with how the light pattern will perform. Most of use ‘think’ that a long cone shaped modifier will throw light in a long narrow pattern focusing light in the same shape as the modifier. Back in the day when I was talking to Paul Buff about his long throw reflector he said “Mark, the long throw’s center concentration of light is NOT as intense as my 22” beauty dish. But it does throw the light further.” I thought to myself “Uh sure Paul, you must not know what you’re talking about…” Hahahahaha who was I to doubt the INVENTER of his brilliant products. So I tested them side by side and guess what? He was fucking right of course and I was shocked….at my ignorance.
Adorama sent me some of their modifiers so I decided to test them side by side with others I own to see the light patterns they produce. Having been schooled by Paul I was better educated to ‘theorize’ how each of the modifier’s patterns would perform.
All were shot using a Flashpoint xPLOR600 set at full 1:1 power. The distance to the seamless was 35 feet. Camera was set at 1/125th, f22, ISO 100. This test was performed just before a client’s session so it’s not about the power capabilities of the modifiers, but their light patterns.
As you can see by the light patterns above and the shape of each modifier below, light patterns don’t always follow the shape of the modifiers. Right now my favorites are the Glow 70 Degree Magnum, the PCB Omni and Retro Laser for throwing concentrated beams of light over distance. The Glow 45 and Bowens long throw extend light with a much softer/less concentrated pattern of light.
So here is how I’ve used hard modifiers for different applications:
My point of this posting is to demonstrate the light patterns and possible usage of hard modifiers in your took kit. For the right application I find them an invaluable tool. In the future I will be updating this post with actual shots using the Glow line of hard modifiers.
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.
I recently created a dance session using a wide range of the Godox strobe system:
- Flashpoint XPLOR 600 HSS (4)
- Flashpoint Portable 600ws Extension FlashHead (3)
- Flashpoint eVOLV 200 (3)
- Flashpoint Zoom R2 Manual Flash (1)
- Flashpoint eVOLV Dual Power Twin Head (1)
- Flashpoint Portable 1200ws Extension Head (1)
My goal was to create the illusion of a stage, a grand hall using light, shadow and atmosphere. This was the very first time I used every single Godox light I have including a speed light. What is wonderful is how seamlessly all of the lights integrate into a system. I could not be happier with this line of strobes.
All shot with a Canon 1DXII, EF24-70 II. Most images shot at 1/500th at various f stops, ISO 100. I have quite a few reviews of the gear I sighted above. The purpose of this post is to simply show how I use the gear rather than update each review. I find actual usage much more helpful for me and hope this helps you as well.
My partner and I went back and forth for quite some time about whether or not we wanted to invest in a long or short term lease on a studio. In the Bay Area real estate is very pricey, much more so than other areas of the country. But that is not the primary reason we opted to NOT put our money into a studio. I think there are photographers who can easily justify a studio which includes much more than just the rent. Sure it would be so much more convenient for me to have a studio instead of lugging gear and assistants to and from locations. But, and this is a BIG BUT for me, I would get bored, completely and utterly in about 2 shoots. Why? I bore easily and shooting against seamless or bringing in props, constantly building sets, etc. would drive me to the point that I may decide to return to a corporate job! (No way really…)
For me the world is the best studio, the absolute best for my work. But sometimes for a variety of reasons my clients cannot arrange to shoot on location so I shoot in rented studios or spaces which are convenient to the client. Flying the talent in, housing them, using Union makeup/hair/wig/prop you name it staff is expensive. Transporting them to a studio far away is inconvenient to many clients. You’d be shocked at how some of the ‘studios’ I work in are crazy cramped or awful from a shooter’s standpoint. But a big part of being a pro is working with what you got.
But there are times when a client wants ‘more’ than just seamless but doesn’t have the budget to house or transport all of the talent to the perfect location. So a rented studio for the day or week, or better yet a warehouse is what I use. This is where light/atmosphere and theatrical type modifiers like gobos can make a scene more effective. Whenever people ask how I create different looks in studio I just say, “Watch movies, look at the light/environment and figure out how to make the scene you’re watching. Imagination is insanely more powerful than any new camera gear. And simply having an idea is not good enough. You need to actually make it happen.”
Recently a client ‘wanted’ to do their publicity shoot on location, but since scheduling of the talent and the availability of the venue didn’t jibe we shot in studio, a rented warehouse. By using atmosphere and special light modifiers the client was pleased.
The whole point of this posting is to help you decide if a studio is something you ‘have to have.’ In my case it is not simply because the type of work I do constantly demands new looks and feelings for my client base. Every shooter has different needs and there are no ‘right or wrong’ answers.
UPDATE: August 2 2017
I have written a separate article about using a Cheetahstand Chop Stick with a Westcott Zeppelin. You can read that article here.
I conducted my first commercial session using only Godox lights and a Cheetahstand Rice Bowl 36″ modified to accept and use my DIY focusing parabolic rod. Since Godox has not yet released the AD600 remote head I used the AD360 on the rod due to its light weight. I am very pleased with the light quality, characteristic and my results. This will be my go to focusing modifier for on location sessions.
I was recently hired to do an on location session for a Seattle Theatre company which needed publicity photographs for “Assassins” which is a play about those who have attempted or succeeded in the assassinations of US Presidents. My primary questions whenever a client asks for imagery is always “What is the mood I’m to create?” In this case the client’s response was “gritty and dark.”
I’ve always been a huge proponent of learning via hands on and have advocated to many on forums or to aspiring photographers to find a mentor. One of the very best ways to learn the craft of photography is to assist a photographer as their assistant.
This is much more difficult than it sounds and for anyone who has reached out to commercial shooters to offer ‘assistance’ you may or may not have encountered resistance and in some cases even reluctance when you’ve offered help. Having been on both sides of the ‘offering’ and the ‘recipient of offers’ I wanted to explain some of my concerns and what I look for in any potential assistant.
This applies primarily to non paid of ‘volunteer’ assistants. Professional paid assistants are invaluable and there is a reason why they can command hi day rates. It’s also very common for me to ask for references from paid pro assistants and meet with them prior to considering them for any session. More on why later….
There are many times when we are thrown a ‘curve ball’ when it comes to professional sessions. Although I try to always come prepared for the unexpected, there are times when I haven’t anticipated every possible scenario which can occur. And besides, my loathing of lugging means I can’t carry every single piece of gear necessary for all occurrences. Such was the case this week during one of my client sessions.
During an arts festival one of my assignments was to do some editorial work of an artist in his warehouse/studio. No one could tell me about the space because at the very last minute the venue had to be changed for legal reasons. My assignment was strictly editorial in nature, no portraits just imagery that would capture his studio and the patrons visiting his exhibit. So I decided to only take two DSLRs and my trusty Fuji X100T along with some lenses of various focal lengths.
I’ve written quite a bit lately about gear, my little inventions and experiences using them. I try to post those tidbits on photography forums in order to help anyone who wishes to try those techniques as a ‘pay it forward’ type of action. I have a love/hate relationship with photography forums or forums of any kind. Why? Because there are trolls who live there and could care less about producing art, but rather reside on those sites ‘to be right’ by showing how much they know. Yet I seldom if ever see a body of work they’ve produced. It’s so easy for them to sit in a dark room eating Cheetos and sharp shooting from an anonymous place. Ever notice trolls never use their real names or don’t have a link to their own images? Don’t get into the trap of listening to what trolls have to say. If they really knew how to CREATE great images, they’d be out doing it instead of having terminally orange fingers and keyboards while just spewing out facts and figures.
UPDATE: June 22 2015
OCD, yup that’s me with light. This summer I have several outdoor dance shoots planned and in my normal way I’ve been obsessing about the light. The Rovelight was an answer to my prayers due to its HSS capabilities, portability and 600WS light output. But just the right modifier has escaped me up until today. I have been researching hard modifiers rather than octas, softboxes, umbrellas and such. You see where I shoot and what I love is wind. Moderate wind that makes hair blow back, wardrobe flow, all of those yummy facets in a photo that suits my shooting style. (Let’s not talk about my portable smoke machine, I don’t want to give any fire department fuel for my future trial…)