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Category : On location

25 Aug 2019

Anatomy of a publicity session

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.

My beloved Mole Richardson Fresnel that I converted into a strobe is one of my most treasured light modifiers.

I almost always assemble all of my modifiers prior to placing them. Space as you can see was tight on this space.

We let the MUA borrow one of our LED lights and modifiers so she could apply makeup in the temperature of the light we were using.

General blocking of a shot is time consuming.

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.

Poster for Nine the 2009 Movie

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:

Light modifiers

Strobes

  • All strobes used are Flashpoint 200s and 600s – a combination of pro and non pro I do not use TTL on any of them.

Camera

Atmospheric

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.

19 Aug 2019

Creating a Concept – Updated 8-19-2019

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 warehouse setup. Just out of frame camera left is my strobe used to illuminate the chandelier using a PCB Retro Laser modifier. Sadly no longer made.

Getting a sense of the correct height for the chandelier. “Close your eyes while I test the light!”

This octa modifier was used to simulate light coming down from the chandelier which appears to illuminate her. I moved it so that a shadow would be cast down from her tutu.

My ballroom shot. Two key lights stacked. A Fresnel and the octa. One produces a hard light/shadow, the other a softer filling light. Stacking modifiers is one of my favorite techniques.

Chandelier lowered and smoke added for atmosphere to give a different mood.

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.

Balancing the lights.

OOPS! Mark that’s a tad too much smoke! LOL

The ‘spotlight’ shadows are spot on here.

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!

Not nearly as attractive as Jeannette, her father graciously helps me test my contraption!

And it worked just as I had hoped it would.

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.

15 Aug 2019

Creating Art

Original Post August 15 2019

Twenty four months ago a close friend of mine was told that he might have throat cancer during a routine dentist appointment. After visiting his doctor it was confirmed. As can be expected it was a devastating piece of news. Even more so since his profession is as a full time singer. Thankfully he has fully recovered after his treatments and rehabilitation which were both difficult and long. When visiting him at his home I was curious about ‘this thing’ in his music room. It appeared to be a fiberglass mold of someone’s head and shoulders. When he returned to the room he told me that it was the mask made of him and used during his throat radiation treatments. 

He explained that the mask was made for him to prevent him from any movement as his neck was precision blasted with radiation. His head and shoulders were bolted to a metal table under the mask. I had a visceral reaction to that story. It was at that very moment when I knew emotionally that I wanted to create an image of both the horrors of his cancer and his recovery. I asked him if I could take the mask to do a proof of concept before embarking on the full project. He agreed.

I took his mask to a pile of black rocks along with a small AD200 strobe. I wanted to see if I could create light rays coming out of the throat area if I threw dust into the air for particulate. It worked.

My concept was to have him stand next to the mask, having light emanating from the throat area with birds flying away from his torso. I had scouted a location where the vegetation was barren after it had been mowed down. I wanted the landscape to reflect the wasteland that is the news of cancer. I had planned that with a sharp sound the birds would fly away representing cancer leaving his body. But like all things organic, that did not work out. The day was VERY windy and late in the day. So the birds could not be coerced, even with food placed into the area.

So I paid to download an image from Shutterstock, a crow disintegrating which would represent the cancer. I normally NEVER use Photoshop in my commercial work, but this was not for a client, nor was it for my friend. It was for me. And that really is my point of this post. There are times when I feel or more accurately I am emotionally COMPELLED to create a piece. Two things happened when I showed both a virtual friend and my friend whose trauma of cancer this entailed.

I told my virtual friend the backstory of the image. Once he knew his comment was “And shoot is a lot of emotion but not sure it works if you don’t know the back story.” I can completely understand his reasoning, but like all things art, what truly matters is what the creator of the piece feels. Remember that in your own work. I miss the days of LP cover art. Some of my favorite album covers which you may or may not recognize:

Know the backstory of each of these? No? Yes? What each element represents? My point is the artist who created these knows the story of the image. If an image makes anyone stop, think and wonder, then for me that’s an accomplishment. Perhaps they will figure out the meaning, perhaps not. But to capture one’s imagination for a moment and in the best of times, for a while or ultimately years later is all that really matters. Art was never meant to be literal, its purpose is to spark the imagination, to awaken an emotion.

When my friend who overcame cancer saw the image he said “I laughed because at first I thought it was a chicken! Then I thought I’d like you to make it a Phoenix and I like the one with no clouds, can you remove the clouds?” 

Keep in mind that I did NOT create any of these images FOR HIM. They are most certainly ABOUT HIM, but how I FEEL about what he had to endure. And thankfully in the end, how the wonders of his treatment and his physical therapy relieved him of cancer.

As you create your own art, others may or may not offer the approval you seek. The trick is not to seek approval, but to be emotionally satisfied with what you have created. Art is not created by committee. Its genesis is emotion. And its birth begins through your hands.

14 Aug 2019

CononMark 120cm – Glow EZ Lock Deep and Mole Richardson 412 on location

I was recently hired to create some publicity imagery for the stage performance of “Anything Goes.” Since the location of that play takes place in the 1930s aboard a luxury vessel the client wanted the mood to reflect that time and space. So we chose a local theatre’s upper balcony to shoot some of the scenes along with the doors leading into the lobby. The windows are round like portholes so they’d give the correct mood and story to the shots.

The interior of the theatre as it is normally lit. You can see the strobe pointing up I used to illuminate the ceiling for my shot in the upper balcony area.

Upper balcony area where we found the best mood feeling.

Both my client and I wanted an old school Hollywood glamour look to the images and using a large Fresnel would produce just that sort of light. I chose to use my Mole Richardson 10” Fresnel spotlight I have converted into a strobe as the key light for the indoor shots.

Mole Richardson 412 with barndoors is my keylight. Above it is the Bowens gobo projector. Just below is my CononMark 120cm used as my focusing fill light.

The upper balcony of the theatre’s lobby does not have any windows, so I used my Bowens Universal Spot Attachment for Gobos to give the illusion of a grand framed window on the wall. I used my CononMark 120 as the fill light since a focusing rod modifier can be subtlety focused to highlight the area I want filled.

In this light test show you can see no ‘window’ appears.

Two of the final upstairs shots.

On the walls of the theatre balcony are very elegant sconces and I did NOT want to overpower their illumination with my strobes, so using barn doors on the Mole Richardson Fresnel was necessary to prevent spill. I also used a 20 degree gridded Aputure Fresnel to illuminate the chandelier closest to the talent and finally an 8” coned strobe on the lower level to illuminate the ceiling. All strobes are Flashpoint 600s. Once those shots were created and the client was pleased after viewing them in real time on my iPad we moved to the outdoor area with the circular windows in the doors.

I chose to use three bare bulbs to throw light out through the windows toward my lens to create a very Hollywood look and feel to the images. The tiled patterned floor of the entry way is old school in an elegant style from the era we were trying to replicate.

In this instance my key light was my Glow EZ Lock Deep Parabolic Quick Softbox (48″). I only used the inner disk and baffle as diffusion. I find that for my work and client’s taste that configuration works best 80% of the time. In my personal view that modifier is a wickedly good value and produces excellent quality of light. And man is it ever easy to setup and strike! A little tip, I carry a short piece of ½ PVC in the bag about two feet long. I simply place it over the shaft of the octa and push down until the thing locks in place. SO convenient, no trying to maneuver myself as I am trying to push the dang center shaft locking collar down. BOOM, done! LOL

Key light was the Glow EZ Lock Deep Parabolic 48″

The client hired my partner to create a promotional film of the show and some of the processes I’ve described above are included. That film can be found here.

It really pleases me when my client is very happy with one of the executed concepts!

 

 

03 Aug 2019

The Wonder of Water

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.

Testing the water pattern and illumination of the water. It was necessary to have a wind protected area to keep the water droplets from becoming uncontrollable due to wind. ALL OF THAT MUST BE CONSIDERED WHEN WORKING WITH WATER.

Another test of lighting and fabric flow.

A final light test with water raining down along with the key light and ground reflections.

One of the final shots for these costumes.

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.

Some fun antics after the shoot was over was called for!

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. 

The room was VERY small!

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.

04 Mar 2019

Combining Tools

I know there are a ton of online sites that show specific lights/cameras/etc. along with their specs and such. I wanted to write this post about combining all of the tools we all have at our disposal to create an image. FIRST AND FOREMOST the paramount factor in my shooting is NOT the gear, but the concept. Of course the right gear makes my job easier, but without a solid concept and how to execute that concept, no amount of cool gear matters in my world. My clients come to me looking for several solid concepts to create for a final image. Most have ‘some‘ ideas, but they are depending on me to flesh out their ideas. The two most valuable assets I can provide to them are the final concepts and the talent’s expressions. Authentic expressions can’t be created in post processing.

Testing all six strobes prior to the actual shoot along with the smoke machine. Smoke is great, but just like all things organic, you CANNOT control where the wind blows! LOL

I wanted to share the video my partner created as I was shooting the promotional materials for a small theatre company’s production of “Heathers.” This video shows in detail how the shoot was created for the client. BTW I always shoot wirelessly tethered to my iPad using the Canon WFT-E6A (replaced by the WFT-E8A) through Shuttersnitch. Both the client and I then know when the shot has been achieved and we can then move onto the next shot. Much more efficient for me than taking a break to show the talent and client things on the back of my camera. I still do that when needed, but it is much more the exception rather than the rule.

In the video the constant key light modifier was a Glow EZ Lock Quick Octa powered by a Westcott SKYLUX 1000 Watt LED Light.

Here are the items I used AFTER scouting a location for the shoot and conveying my concepts to the client:

Using battery powered equipment is key to my on location shoots. Wireless everything has been a godsend in the last 12 years. No more cords which were replaced with remote triggers, remote control over strobes…wow. The only reason I used a generator was to power the smoke machine. In those instances where gas generators are not allowed I use a Goal Zero Yeti 1000 solar generator for my smoke machine when called for in a shoot.

I selected the Ego Power leaf blower because it has variable power, not stepped power. During those times when I need to have a wind machine I need the ability for my assistants to either subtlely or forcefully use wind. As of this posting I cannot show the actual publicity shots the client will use, but can display shots they have opted not to use for the promotion.

What will be of interest is the video my partner Tracy Martin created for the client which has been released. My point of this post is to help others in displaying how combining all of the tools now available to photographers is only limited by your imagination.

Four strobes in various positions including to illuminate the smoke. Key light using the PCB Omni reflector. It’s great in wind and produces the quality of light I wanted.

Six strobe shot.

Six strobe shot.

If you can’t have fun in an on location shoot, what fun is that?!

19 Feb 2019

Flashpoint eVOLV 200 Round Flash Head

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. 

A haze filled room with rays of light coming through the open door was magical.

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.

13 Jan 2019

Glow EZ Lock Quick Softbox (25″) – Update January 13 2019

Update January 13 2019

I purchased the 36″ version of this modifier based on my experience with the 25″ model. I’m not sure if manufacturing has changed, but the 36″ model’s snaps which hold the inner diffusion panel are of less quality than my 25″ model. They are EXTREMELY difficult to remove once they are snapped into place on the modifier. So much so that removing them is very difficult and one of them pulled the mating snap off of the modifiers. I now use a binder clip to hold that part of the diffusion panel in place.

Be aware that the modifiers may be of a different manufacturing level when purchasing these.

Original Post November 26 2018

I was recently asked by a client to create a portrait of one of their executives that will appear in a magazine article. They let me know only one day before my flight. This was a surprise since my trip was originally scheduled to fly up for a production shoot. This meant I had no plans to haul any strobes or modifiers up on my airline trip. So in order to keep my luggage small I opted to take my Glow EZ Lock Octa Small Quick Softbox for Speedlite (25″) along with my Flashpoint eVOLV 200 Round Flash Head as my lighting gear.

I really like how small the EZ Octa folds down. It fit so well into my suitcase and hardly took any space at all. Because the modifier is relatively small, I knew I would have to place the light close to the talent. I rarely use modifiers smaller than 39″ as my key lights, but in this case opted to use the 25″ due to packing space. I used the metal disk in its concave placement along with the outer diffusion panel. Although the Adorama ad shows that the modifier comes with a grid, mine did not…..

So here are some of the shots:

The shot of the executive which will appear in a publication. Light is camera right about 4 feet from the individual.

Of course I created a portrait of the Director of the play.

Never miss a chance to hug a director!

My assessment of the modifier is it’s ‘good.’ The light quality is good for a modifier this small. Its pack ability is excellent and I will continue to use it as a rim or hair light. Or when I need to pack very small as a key light as well.

27 Aug 2018

Testing Before Using

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.

Saberstrip v2.0

Sometimes I use them in a triangle, sometimes just two parallel to the ground. Replicates a ring light, but with the ability to back away using a long lens to compress the talent.

Test using a triangle configuration.

Test using them in a pair.

The Glow EZ Lock

Test setup.

Mole Richardson Fresnel Conversion

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.

Parabolix 35D

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.

02 Aug 2018

Evolv200s, Xplor600s, 600Pro, Saberstrip v2s on location

People always get so nervous when they see how I hold my cameras! I hate straps. LOL!!!

Shooting as a pro means there are times when you have to prove yourself once again with an established client. Not doing a great job either in the finished product or through your service simply means you’re not used again. One of my long standing clients, Village Theatre recently changed Artistic Directors. Jerry Dixon, their new AD planned to attend two of the three on location publicity shoots all to be held in different cities in greater Seattle area. The first session for the play Curious Incidents is also the play he is directing. No pressure eh? LOL

The second aspect of this day that is always a bit concerning was that I NEVER SAW ANY OF THE VENUES IN ADVANCE of the day! Sure the Marketing Director sent me some camera phone photos and links to the MOPOP (Museum of Pop Culture) areas where she wanted to shoot, but I had never been there. Nor had I been to Spangler Book Exchange/Reread Books, the quaint bookstore where we were to shoot the Matilda publicity or the alley in Everett where I’d shoot the Howard Barnes publicity. Add to that the additional element of time. For each venue we were limited in time based on either the schedule of some of the talent or due to the venue’s prior commitments.

The only element I ever insist on from clients is to answer; “What is the mood you want from each session?” Why? Well because the expression of the talent(s) and the LIGHT is something I have to plan for BEFORE I hit the job….which leads me to….

The Marketing Director kept asking me “Mark, I need to know your power requirements for each venue so I can work with each of the operations managers to plan power for your gear.” Since I exclusively use Flashpoint strobes, guess what….they need no outside power!!! SCORE! I hauled seven, yes seven strobes from SF to SEA in a small Pelican case. 49.5 pounds…just UNDER the 50 lbs. limit! Three Xplor600s, one 600Pro and three Evolv200s! I split the four 600 batteries between me and my partner’s carry on camera bags instead of inside checked luggage to save weight (btw I always put gaff tape over the contacts of the batteries just in case…). All of the stands were rented in Seattle and for the smoke I advance shipped smoke grenades to the Marketing Director. It takes planning folks….LOL

For modifiers I took three v2 Saberstrips which use Evolv200s with their Fresnel heads. I cannot speak highly enough about both the Evolvs and the new Saberstrips. Together they create what I view as a revolutionary combination in camera lighting. Yeah they’re that good. I knew that both the MOPOP and the bookstore sessions would be VERY CRAMPED in terms of space. Using “traditional” modifiers or strobes would be a total pain in the ass. Sure it could be done, but would easily have been a 10/10 on my cussing scale. I knew I wanted a softer light for both the MOPOP and bookstore feeling, but a hard light in the alley. So I took three Fresnel modifiers for that session. All of my modifiers fit into my SKB hard sided golf case which I use to transport my light modifiers when traveling out of town.

So here’s how it all worked: (All of the BTS images are by my partner Tracy Martin)

Session 1, Curious Incident shoot at MOPOP

The Marketing Director wanted an image in MOPOP where the talent appears to be ‘inside’ a dream. So placing modifiers INSIDE this structure for the style of light I wanted to achieve would have been next to impossible without the Evolv200 and the v2 Saberstrip.

One of the final images before editing.

Using the Evolv200 and the Saberstrip to create the feeling of an overhead light source WITHOUT the need for a boom arm is wonderful. Almost all of the other modifiers I own would need to be tilted at an angle to face toward the ground without a boom arm. The Key light is a the Explor600 Pro with a Fresnel head modifier to my right next to the tower structure.

Final shot. Balancing the light to not overpower the hand held flashlight was key for this image. Had I only used the Fresnel pointing at the talent it would not give the impression of an overhead light which was key to this shot.

Session 2 for Matilda at ReRead Bookstore

About 20 people were in this tiny quaint bookstore just for this shoot! I think the actual customers were highly entertained. (They were taking iPhone photos of us! LOL) Here the Marketing staff and the talent review some of the images on my iPad.

Marketing looks over the shots in real time. As you can see the Saberstrip was invaluable in this session. Soft light, yet so good in tight spaces! I love it!!!

Jerry the AD attends to the details. I feel we made a great team since I sometimes miss the small but so important details when I’m in a session.

Ah I cannot say enough about the value of the Evolv200s paired with the v2 Saberstrips!!!!

A few of the Final Images

Session 3 for Howard Barnes in an alley in Everett WA

I laughed as I watched people walking by! They had no idea what to make of what was going on. Oh and that puppet freaked me out!

The Director of Howard Barnes is my light test fella. This is the alley in ‘natural light.’

The talent just yucking it up while I balance the smoke lights. Oh and if you’ve ever worked with smoke it’s great when there’s no wind…..LOL

A few of the Final Images

So cool that wind was coming up from that ground grate so her tail would fly!

Four Xplor600s and two Evolv200s lit this shot. Whew!

I was so shocked to see an article written by James Spangler the owner of ReRead Books where we shot the Matilda publicity! All if not most photographers know that getting feedback is rare so this was both a nice and humbling surprise. My whole point on this post is to highlight the incredible leap in technology and innovation in the field of photographic lighting. Sure all of us can figure out how to do something even if it’s tough. But to have others who are helping to ease the stress of creating beautiful light is wonderful!

13 Jun 2018

Seeing Light and Shadow

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.

Just a small view of the insanity that occurs in the alley. You can see that it’s dusk and one of the lights is just coming on.

“Light” (LOL) camera right 15 feet above the talent. How you position people is key in this sort of situation. The light is unmovable, but the people are not!

Same thing light camera right, but purposely overexposed to ensure the shadow detail is retained. I brought down the exposure in post. A whole different look than the image above this one for a different feel.

This group is directly across from my other two groups. I wanted a more broad light across their faces for this shot.

05 Jun 2018

Goal Zero Yeti 1000 Solar Power Station

OK so anyone who knows me KNOWS that I love haze/smoke/atmosphere for my personal project shoots. Heck even some of my clients are AWARE and ask me to add atmosphere to a shoot. The quality of light when you add particulate to the air and shoot light through it is delicious and magical. Anyway….

Although I don’t consider myself a survivalist per se, I do live in the San Francisco Bay Area – AKA earthquake territory. Yes I was here during the ‘89 Quake and it scared the shit out of me. Because of the desire for fried chicken on that fateful day my wife and infant daughter were not on the Cypress structure that collapsed and killed so many people. So I know that being prepared is the intelligent thing to do. I have a Yamaha 2000 gas generator, water purifiers, things to cook with and extra food. But for my photography purposes, I like to use my generator to power my Chavet smoke machine when there’s no power available, like in the middle of the Mohave Desert or on the Coast of California.

Using smoke on the California coast for a ballet session.

The final shot of Natalie.

Using smoke in the Mohave Desert for “Tango in the Mohave”

One of the final images of Pato and Eva.

Using smoke to add atmosphere in an alley in Seattle for my client 5th Avenue Theatre. This was one of the publicity images for the production of “Assassins

In my backpacking days I relied on my Suntactics USB solar charger made right near where I live! For such a small device I love its lightweight and high wattage output. I wrote a review on my experience using it on this blog. You can find it here.  But when I needed AC inverter plug in power that small solar charger just would not do. I’ve recently discovered that the National and State Park services frown heavily on the use of gasoline generators in forest areas. And with very good reason given the rash of horrid California fires. So I started to investigate solar power stations and decided to purchase the Goal Zero Yeti 1000 from my beloved Costco. These days there are very few brick and mortar shops I frequent, but Costco is one of them. And after doing some research I found that the GZ Yeti 1000 was 300 bucks less at Costco than anywhere else.

So I’ve tested the GZY1000 with my Chavet smoke machine and it works very well. When heating the Chavet pulls almost 1100 watts, well below the rating of the GZY1000. But since I tend to be practical I didn’t want a 1k machine just sitting around until I was on location so I started to figure out how to use it on an everyday basis. My partner and I own ebikes and ride them almost daily. We put about a thousand miles each on of our bikes annually. It’s just plain fun and we’d ride more if it wasn’t for work. This summer we plan on taking the bikes camping so we will need a way to recharge the packs. And many camping areas no longer allow gas generators….thank god. They’re noisy and people who are totally inconsiderate run them at shitty hours.

The Chavet smoke machine pulls about 1100 watts when heating and blowing out smoke. At 11am PST my two solar panels are inputting 127 watts.

My Chavet smoke machine.

Goal Zero Boulder 100 Briefcase

Renogy 100 watt panel.

So I thought I would buy a solar panel, one that is easily transportable. I opted for the Goal Zero Boulder Briefcase 100 for my portable panel. But then Amazon (damn them) had a Gold Box deal on the Renogy 100 Watts Panel for $99.00 so I bought that one too! Much less expensive than buying the 200 watt GZ briefcase. I’ve installed both panels on my roof and hook them into my GZY1000 to power the things on my patio. That includes a water feature, my outdoor refrigerator, the patio bistro lights along with the power outlet station on my patio table. The GZ portable panel is mounted so that it can easily be removed from the roof and the Renogy is in a permanent position. I have a small hot tub and tried to power it with the GZY1000 and it does well UNTIL I power the jets to their highest level. Then the GZY1000 just shuts down, which is the safety feature. So for July I will see just how much PG&E (utility company) money I save by hooking just the hot tub to the unit and not using the highest jet setting.

I opted to install the Goal Zero Solar Charging Optimization Module which increases the solar and AC charging wattage. I’m not sure why GZ doesn’t just incorporate this into the unit. But it does increase the input of the solar and AC current.

Installing the Charging Optimization Module is straightforward and well designed.

If you’re looking for a solar power station I cannot recommend the Goal Zero highly enough. There are other units available, but for a much higher cost. For me the value of this unit is wonderful. Putting the unit to use daily makes much sense to me rather than just keeping it for emergencies or shoots. Besides some of the money I spent can be recovered by not paying PG&E!

24 May 2018

Flashpoint 600 on location – Antoine Hunter in CalArt’s Magazine “The Pool” Updated May 24 2018

UPDATE May 24 2018

CalArts has placed their entire Summertime Issue 2018 #3 online.

Original Post

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.

I didn’t expect the magazine to use this photo of Antoine. I took it and converted it to black and white out of my own preference. I’m really happy they chose to use it as the opening image for his article.

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.

10 Apr 2018

OneEyeLand 2018 B/W Awards

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.

Tango in the Mohave

 

25 Feb 2018

On location with the AD200s and AD-B2s

I was asked to create some trombonist’s imagery for his upcoming Fall 2018 CD release. I’m not a fan of doing classical musician’s portraits simply because most of the time they just want a head shot with their instrument….YAWN! I often refer them to other photographers as I have little interest in that type of photography. But both the musician and his marketing director agreed to allow me the freedom to art direct the shoot so I agreed. 

Having worked with a number of symphonies I am well aware that there is a good natured (sometimes not so good natured!) rivalry between strings, percussion and brass players. So I thought that creating his portrait on the beach over a string instrument bonfire would be so appropriate and fun! Most important – it matches his personality! I had an old cello I had cut to photograph the interior for a different shoot years ago along with a prop violin that I was willing to burn. They flew into San Francisco from Nashville and we were off to the beach!

My decision for photography gear was to use my AD200s and the AD-B2s I own. Plenty of light and easily transportable since I had to lug all of the gear onto the beach. (I HATE lugging!) For the modifiers I used Aputure Fresnel heads as I love their focusing ability and those modifiers would match the style of light I wanted for the session. They’re also dead easy to gel and grid too.

How the scene appears just before sunset in natural light.

Quick light test before all the fun begins. His marketing person was going to eat all of the marshmallows before we began! She apparently LOVES them! 

It’s always fun to let the talent look at my iPad which is wirelessly tethered to my camera. I find it helps relax people as I’m setting up the session.

Yet another light test to ensure the marshmallows are well lit! Hahahahaha

Ah the smell of burning string instruments! What could warm a brass player’s heart more than that?

A fun shot for the back of the jewel case.

The AD200s mated to the AD-B2s are remarkable pieces of gear. So portable and so versatile. I love the flexibility they allow me both in studio and on location. Why not use my AD600s? I believe in using the right tool for the right job. The 600s would have been overkill from a power standpoint and much heavier to lug onto the beach.

26 Jan 2018

5 Different Modifiers, 2 Strobes over 2 Days

A trombonist and his PR rep flew in from Nashville, TN to conduct two day photo sessions for his upcoming CD release in the Fall. We had spoken over the phone and via email about the theme for his shoot. I didn’t feel that a traditional musician with instrument would suit his personality. Nor did I believe it would show any creativity, so we agreed on two separate sessions. One on location and one in studio.

Day one was conducted on location at Ocean Beach in San Francisco just before sunset. During his trip it was the only day when rain was not forecast which meant IF the weather people were correct, the sky would have wonderful clouds, one of my favorite elements for outdoor sessions. As luck would have it, the sky and weather were perfect…whew!

BTS shot. Here I used one AD-B2 with two eVOLV200s shot through an adjustable Aputure Fresnel Lens as the key light. Another single eVOLV200 using its included Fresnel head was used to augment illumination of the fire/cello/violin fire.

For each shot on both days I used a total of six different modifiers, but only two different strobes. xPLOR600s, and eVOLV200s. Using AD-B2 and 600ws extension heads gives me flexibility like no other system. It’s one of the big reasons I have switched over to this system.

Two eVOLV200s mounted in a single AD-B2 shot through an Aputure Fresnel modifier was the key light. A single eVOLV200 using its native Fresnel head and barn doors with gel was used to augment illumination on the fire/cello/violin bonfire. Canon 1DX Mark II 1/400th.

Canon 1DX Mark II 1/400th using two eVOLV200s inside the AD-B2 shot though the Aputure Fersnel head.

Day two was shot in studio using four different modifiers on four xPLOR600s, two using remote heads. The modifiers were:

  • An Elinchrom Rotalux Deep Octa using a DIY focusing arm in its fully flooded position as key light
  • An Adorama GlowPop 38 with both inner and outer diffusion panels as a rim light
  • An Andoer Metal Conical Snoot on a boom to illuminate the martini glass with mini trombone
  • A Cheetahstand 40 inch (100cm) QS40 Silver Beauty Dish with diffusion panel installed as the model’s leg light

Although I use a wide variety of modifiers from many different manufacturers I only use Flashpoint/Godox strobes. Why? Well because their performance, value, quality and flexibility gives me options that I’ve not been able to find anywhere else. The battery life of either of those units is incredible. I have yet to exhaust the battery during an all day session.

20 Oct 2017

Why I Love What I Do

For about 38 years I was a ‘suit.’ A pure corporate guy whose career started at the bottom and worked its way to COO of a Fortune 100 company. But now having been a small business owner running a full time commercial photography firm I can safely say that even if I had the chance, I’d never go back. I say that I photograph just to meet people and it’s true. My camera is just a convenient excuse to meet and befriend other artists.

One of my clients is a symphony in Dallas, TX. And over the years I have become friends with many of the musicians in the orchestra along with people in Marketing, Development and many other departments. Just recently I was tasked by the VP of Marketing to create an image of 90 of the musicians in the lighting style of the Dutch Masters paintings.

While doing so the two co concertmasters, Alex and Nathan began fooling around during a toast by intertwining their glasses and arms like newlyweds! Of course the whole orchestra HOWLED with laughter and no photographer would pass up that decisive moment to capture it on film. Ah the blackmail leverage I now possess!

Then during the creation of another part of the marketing collateral I was asked to do a portrait of several of the senior members of the orchestra.

But during that time two of the video team from Genius House Media were there filming their version of James Cordin’s “Carpool Karaoke” by having Alex, Nathan, Erin, Lydia and Kara ride through Dallas playing their instruments. So often there’s friction between photographers and videographers, but in the case of Adam and Darren from Genius House, they feel more like just collaborative creatives. I so enjoy working along side them when our work intersects I just had to create a photo of them goofing around.

My whole point to this post is this; what good is life without the camaraderie and companionship of other creatives? Like I said, my camera is simply an excuse.

01 Sep 2017

What inspires me

Lately I have been asked by a few people, “Mark what gives you inspiration for your shots?” Food inspires my work because when I view an image I’m creating I want to ‘taste‘ the deliciousness of the story, to feel satisfied, to actually smell the environment or mood with my eyes. I often listen to music and get inspired by the tones, the pauses, the crescendos of each passage. If all of this sounds like bullshit to you, well I don’t know how else to explain what inspires my work. I am also inspired by films; the lighting, the flavor, the moods, THE IMAGINATION brought to REALITY. I recently watched a BTS video of Game of Thrones, Beyond the Wall. At 2:22 in the video one of the creators explains why he likes to shoot on location. His statement is exactly the reason I prefer on location shooting to in studio work, especially for personal projects.  I bow to their creativity and ability to execute what is imagined. Whenever I hear people say “Oh I thought of that years ago…” I always laugh to myself and think, “Yet you didn’t ACTUALLY MAKE IT HAPPEN.”  And sure it’s always easy to say “Well if I had the kind of money GOT has then I could do that.” I often feel sorry for those who think that way….

So many forums/sites/people in photography or other endeavors talk on and on and on and on about gear. They can argue about which gear is ‘better’ in what almost seems like forever, just to ‘be right.‘ Gear has never been a motivating factor for me except when I was just starting out. Back then I thought, “Wow if I only had this camera/light/modifier, or had access to what the pros have….” I found that “if onlys” prevented me from actually DOING. For me inspiration is born from watching, tasting, listening, touching LIFE. And not necessarily things people would consider remarkable. Simple things like a smell, a taste, an expression, or an experience spark ideas that I want to create.

The reality is coming up with a concept, translating that concept into reality by developing all of the elements necessary is also one of the things that so inspires me. The planning, the ‘figuring out’ what to do, how to make it, what location I want to use, searching for that location, adding atmosphere, what kind of lighting, how will I overcome wind, do I want wind, what kind of flavors do I want to include in wardrobe? It goes on and on and on. And even the limitations are inspiring! It’s so easy to believe that if EVERYTHING is available, that there are NO RESTRICTIONS on what you hope to do, what you create would be possible.

REAL life is all about restrictions, limits and hurdles. For me they are the spices in the recipes for what I cook with my camera.

All of the final images I created on location below can be seen in my Conceptual Gallery.

Moments of Power, my shoot with three ballerinas from Dallas, TX took 8 months to plan. The first shoot was on a hand built driftwood structure, hauling a smoke machine, generator and numerous lights out to the beach. The police visited me due to the smoke and were relieved to see I was using a smoke machine. (I’m sure he was even more relieved to see three hot ladies during his shift as well)

I hired a woman in Texas to design and make the ballerina’s skirts for the session.

A makeup artist I regularly use was given the flexibility to create her version of “Black Swan” eye makeup for the first day’s session on the beach.

Eye makeup applied so the ladies are good to go!

Oh it was damn cold and windy out there. You can see poor Kaitlyn keeping her jacket on until the last minute before the camera work! What a trooper!

Right after her shots she asked “Can I have my jacket back please?”

The gals are treated to a great dinner at my favorite Japanese restaurant after a very long day of shooting. “Uh Mark! You forgot to mention that you’re taking us to dinner WITH THIS MAKEUP ON YOU BASTARD!” LOL, yeah I had planned that too!

Day Two

I never knew how serious I look on location! Kaitlyn and Christy look over the shots I just took of Natalie on my iPad.

The low horizon sun was great for rim lighting Natalie, but hell for my assistant’s eyes!

One of Natalie’s final shots.

Inspiration comes from many different places for most people. In addition to what I mentioned at the beginning of this post, one of my largest inspirations comes from the experiences I have with people. Sure I’m happy with the images, but what I remember are the interactions I have with the people I “cook” with and who invariably become close friends. And that is the most inspiring aspect of all.

25 Aug 2017

Traveling with STUFF

About 50% of my work takes me out of state for client work. I believe many people view that as ‘cool’ and in many ways it is. BUT hauling gear to and fro on airlines is NOT so COOL. Because of the number of miles I travel each year I have top status on several airlines which is a godsend. I’m allowed 3 bags free as is my partner so between us we can haul 6 fifty pound bags without being charged. And thank goodness! This does not include gear we rent on site either! 

Waiting for our hire car to pick us up at the end of a very long two days. Ah the glamorous life of living in an alley!

Yep a Parabolix Deep 35 using two eVOLV200s mounted into a Flashpoint AD-B2. One with a silicon cover. The two old USB receivers are so I can do HSS with my Pentax 645Z.

Pres eetup for a three light shot. 1 PCB 86″ umbrella, one Parabolix 35D and one Phottix Luna folding beauty dish with an eVOLV200 mounted into a Flashpoint AD-B2.

This was my first commercial shoot using Cheetahstand’s lantern. In this shot I’ve modified the lantern by cutting out an old umbrella so I can control spill when needed. I use wooden clothes pins to roll up the ‘curtain’ to my needs. I’ll be doing a full review later.

The most important thing on this table is my water bottle. I love ice water on set!!!!

  

Won’t be able to share any of the images from this shoot for about two months…NDAs….

05 Aug 2017

To Studio or Not to Studio?

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.”

Using the Mohave Desert for a backdrop. Yes it’s lit with strobes and I used my smoke machine.

Driftwood structure built on the beach. Strobes and smoke used.

Publicity shot for Les Miserable shot on location in a rock quarry. It was daytime using three strobes.

One of several ballet shots done in Dallas TX using smoke and strobes. On location in front of an art sculpture.

Publicity for the play Assassins shot in an alley.

Using the wings of a stage as the environment for a publicity shot for Cabaret.

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.

Preparing for the shoot as wardrobe and makeup is applied.

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.