Hi, if you’ve stopped by to read about my latest blog post regarding a specific piece of gear, it’s best to keep moving along. Nope, this post is about all that went into a recent publicity shoot I just completed. A big part of the job is developing the look and feel for a campaign. After viewing some of Annie Leibovitz’s work, my partner and I felt using painted drops for a number of the sessions would create the feeling we wanted. After investigating the cost of hand painted drops she discovered that good ones range anywhere between $1000 to $1800 dollars for a 12×12 foot size. So..
We went to our local theatrical supply store where she purchased the fabric and then it was onto the paint store. In total, two 12x12s, three 8×6 foot drops including the paint and tools came to just over 500 bucks. She plans to use the smaller drops for her headshot business too.
We spoke to our client about the concepts and he generously allowed us to use the theatre’s Green Room to paint the drops. We needed space, but just as important a wood floor where the canvases could be stapled to the floor. His Green Room had both. Once done we showed him the mood board we assembled for the concept and it was at that point all of us became very excited. Since it is the theatre’s 80th anniversary season, he wanted something special. So we presented the following concepts for the imagery:
We also presented the idea of including behind the scenes shots of the sessions. EVERYONE including myself loves BTS imagery and film. I still get goosebumps thinking about Game of Thrones BTS film of Beyond the Wall. The client immediately approved the concept so we were off to the races. Logistics is one of the most tedious aspects of any shoot. Scheduling talent, securing the venue, preparing wardrobe, makeup, props is just part of a shoot. I’m consulted on the type of wardrobe, colors, etc. which has nothing to do with the camera or lighting gear I’m using…but…
The type of lighting instruments I plan to use really does depend on the mood, the costumes and the setting for each session. I know so many forum trolls like to pretend they are skilled in light when they argue about if a modifier is a true parabola or not. Go right ahead and argue about it, but for me and most importantly my clients, how something looks and feels is what matters. And will the imagery evoke enough emotion to initiate a sale, that’s the REAL question.
All of my publicity imagery is shot with my Pentax 645Z medium format. I do this for two reasons; first there is a feeling of medium format that I just cannot recreate with 35mm. Second clients often use the files for billboards, bus banner, etc. so file size can be a concern. In addition all strobes are Flashpoint 600s or 200s. Modifiers….well that’s a different story.
Sure I use focusing rod modifiers most of the time, but when those are not the right tools for the job at hand I often improvise. Like using a Cheetahstand Lantern with a cut up cheap umbrella fabric as a drape held with wooden clothespins to control spill. Or a 1965 Mole Richardson 412 Fresnel spotlight converted into a strobe. Some of my gear is used like the OEM intended yet with other modifier instruments; well I’ve just adapted them to my needs.
My whole point of this post is to highlight creativity, planning and imagination in developing imagery. Do what is right for you or for you and your client. Don’t be afraid to try things that work for you. Stay away from the naysayers, how many times have you seen their body of work beyond shitty ‘test shots’ anyway? Crickets? Exactly my point!
UPDATE September 16 2019
I have continued to utilize my Leko converted spotlight whenever I need a gobo pattern for sessions. I find that projecting patterns of light invaluable for my client work. Here are some recent images created using this converted device.
To date I have used this exclusively for local sessions for two reasons. First and foremost, should an airline lose my beloved device I cannot simply replace it through a retailer. Second it is large and heavy and I have not designed an ATA case for transport. Fortunately Adorama is now selling the Aputure Spotlight Mount in three different lens configurations. Although the device is marketed to the film making crowd it will be a godsend to those of us still photographers who use gobos. I plan to test one of these to compare it to my own device and if it proves to be of equal or better light quality I can then transport it via airlines without worry. Yay and fingers crossed.
UPDATE March 29 2018
Because I’ve changed from PCB Einsteins to Godox/Flashpoint 600s I needed to ‘convert my conversion’ to accept a Bowens mount. It was very easy since I simply bolted a Cheetahstand Low Profile Speedring onto the PCB umbrella reflector. His low profile speedrings allow the bulb to insert further into a modifier. Now I have the ability to not only use the 600ws heads but also the 1200ws head when needed. Very slick!
Why? My view is why not?! A few years ago a friend asked if I wanted an old Leko stage follow spot. Being a bit of a lighting pack rat I said “Sure!” I originally used it so I could apply light shaped with gobos in my still photography for dance. It also allowed me to create lovely rays of light using haze combined with different gobo shapes. In its original state the Leko was a 1000 watt constant tungsten light. Plenty powerful for stage applications, but completely overpowered whenever I used it in conjunction with my Einstein strobes. Even though the Steins can go as low as 2.5WS doing simple math shows you that at 1000 watts shot at 1/250th of a second yields about 4WS, not a ton of power.
UPDATE 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?
I’m proud to have been chosen as a Finalist in the 2016 One Eyeland Awards for my series Moments of Passion. A series of tango photographs in the Mohave Desert I created in November of 2016 with professional Argentine Tango dancers Patricio Touceda and Eva Lucero.
Click here for the entire listing of winners.
For those of you who are familiar with my Living Eulogy series and for those who are not, I wanted to take a moment to explain my rationale for writing them. First and foremost I am a believer that we should say how we feel about people in our lives. That can include people we know well or only in a specific circumstance. We can know them for years or simply in a moment. Whether I realize it or not everyone affects me in some way, some good, some bad. At funerals where we normally hear eulogies sometimes they are short and sometimes they are long. The length doesn’t matter, it’s the message the person wants to say at the end of someone’s life. In my case, well before they die!
As a young man I was too shy to rise from my seat to stand in front of strangers to express how I felt about a person at their funeral. So I sat quietly, without taking the chance to say anything. I learned from my Dad that in the end, we will remember only two major aspects of our lives, our family and our regrets. So I’ve done my best to live my life without regret, hence why I believe in saying how I feel.
This is a new series I’ve started. I’ve often wondered why we reserve eulogies for when people die. I’ve attended far too many funeral services and wondered at each one, “Why do we wait’ to ‘tell’ the people in our lives why we adore them, funny stories known so often to only a handful of people?” It seems insane to me so I have decided to write about those I love or admire….while they are alive.
Tracy is my life partner, who also happens to be my business partner. Together we are simply known as “Mark & Tracy” the folks who take photos for different art agencies. Tracy is the ‘nice one’ the one who seldom has a harsh word to say about anyone, even the most vile people we know. Part of it is because she’s Canadian, they apologize for everything! When she first moved to California she would obey every single rule. It use to drive me nuts that she would not even cross the street on a green light if the pedestrian little man was red.
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.”
Getting ready for the group shot.There are always a ton of restrictions when shooting for a client. In this particular case I had two hours to shoot six different scenarios with the talent, the money shot they were seeking was a group photo of all the assassins. This calculates out to 20 minutes per person which would include the group shot. The second restriction is where I was to conduct all of the sessions, which was the alley just behind the theatre. Moving the talent/hair/makeup/wardrobe further than the location just adjacent to the theatre was out of the question based on time and expense.
I had been through the alley on many occasions, but determining different locations in the same 300 foot space is not an easy task. I knew that I wanted to add atmosphere to the environment so I inquired about using the theatre’s smoke machine. Due to union rules I could not use their unit so I checked my own smoke machine in airline checked luggage. In addition I knew that creating the look of differing areas would require me to use a light gobo which I have fabricated to use with my strobes. The final element is I wanted each shot to appear as if it were nighttime or the inside of a building. My time slots for each shot was just past mid day so using various ND filters would solve the problem of high ambient light.
In my world that isn’t a reality. One assistant and only hours to scout a location is my normal operation. I walked the alley the night before the shoot to determine how it actually looks in the evening. I don’t use a large assistant group and in this case I only had the evening before to scout the location and determine what gear I needed and where it would be lit. I often marvel at BTS videos of other photographers who have the luxury of four to 10 assistants and days to scout locations.
For all of these shots I used a variety of light modifiers including my fabricated gobo modifier for patterns and some PCB PLM parabolic umbrellas. I avoided diffused light through scrims as I wanted a harder more specular look for the images. All of the images were shot with a Pentax 645Z and the strobes used are my go to PCB Einsteins.
Going over the mood of the shot with Laura.
Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme Coned strobe with barn doors camera left 3 feet away from wall to create deep shadows.
Giuseppe Zangara Jail gobo used with Einstein strobe camera right. I wanted him to appear as if he is a jail cell reading the headline of his crime.
John Wilkes Booth Key light camera right using the PCB PLM 64″ Extreme Silver parabolic umbrella. Smoke machine pointed toward the wall and fanned with cardboard to create the pattern of smoke.
Yup I remember saying that very same thing in an intentionally arrogant tone. Truth be told back in the day, I didn’t know how to use artificial light effectively whether it was from a strobe or hand held flash. Sure I had ‘dabbled’ with them, but didn’t understand the first thing about using either very well.
I began my photographic journey doing street shooting. No artificial light, no reflectors, no scrims, just what being in the right place at the right time had put before me. After that initial fear of shooting strangers going about their daily lives street shooting became invigorating. Looking for the ‘right’ person, in the ‘right’ situation, in the ‘right’ light meant being visually vigilant and above all being patient. To this day it is still my favorite type of photography, but I’ve been both blessed and cursed to not have the time to pursue it as often as I have in the past.
I Do Too – A Series
Although I make my living photographing commercially some of my most important work is the work I do for personal reasons. I feel that photography can be a powerful medium to convey concepts and feelings. I’m fortunate to have an almost endless source of friendships of people in the arts, people like myself who have chosen to make their living pursuing their passion. Not for the all mighty buck, but for the sheer joy of creating and sharing. Those of us lucky enough to enjoy the blessing of doing what we love as a living are NOT immune to the insecurities we all share as humans.
Photographers often ask, “Mark what’s your favorite modifier? Is it a softbox, umbrella, shoot through or bounce?” My answer is always the same – My favorite modifier is what I think is the best one for a specific job. Sometimes it’s a softbox, sometimes it’s an umbrella, sometimes a cone or in quite a few cases it’s a combination of several.
As I often like to do, let’s go back a few years. One of my teachers, actually the man who taught me about using artificial light was thankfully VERY hard on me. No namby pamby talk it was mostly, “You must not be listening to me because that looks terrible, here’s why!” And he would go over EXACTLY why it was bad and he was always right…..back then. After a bit my photos moved from terrible to a preverbal “Nice” which in Greg’s speak meant crummy but not horrible.
Just this week I was scheduled to shoot a publicity session for one of my regular clients. As I was setting up Dan said “Hey Mark, did you bring your IceLight and barn doors?” I thought to myself Huh? I had used the unit about two months prior on a different shoot, how could he even remember what lighting instrument I used? My clients seldom if EVER mention what I’m using for gear. (well except when I use my little Fuji X`100S affectionately named by my clients as Mark’s Little Instamatic) More on this later…
Let me ‘rewind’ about one year, maybe a bit more or less. Tracy, my partner in business and life read some information about something called an IceLight and was quite excited. She loves working with constant light especially since she was developing her skills in film making. As usual I was a bit hesitant about purchasing something new so I suggested we rent one to try. What I initially found was the lumens were not quite what I was accustomed to since I normally use 640ws strobes, Einsteins to be exact. She loved the unit, but of course my comment “Babe the retail on those things is the same as the retail on our Steins which we use all the time. I don’t think we’d have much regular use for those, let’s wait.”
Later that year I was reading Gregory Heisler’s book “50 Portraits” and was completely captivated by his work using constant light sources. So like the fool I am I announced to Tracy “Hey babe, let’s try using constant light for some of our work. I think it has real application and I think it would be best if we buy two. One is fine if we did this for a hobby, two would give us a lot more flexibility. “ Now for anyone who has a wife, girlfriend or significant other you will completely relate to the body posture, tone and statement which was uttered through clenched teeth as a result of my spoken ‘revelation.’ Enough said and I’ve never pretended to be smart….
I’ve used the IceLights as a key light, fill light and when anything that flashes would just be out of the question. Case in point. I was asked to photograph Jaap van Zweden the world famous conductor for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and I was allowed to sit IN the orchestra, dead center during a rehearsal. The lights in the Meyerson Auditorium are great for viewing but absolutely horrid for photographing a conductor. Directly overhead and without any fill, Jaap’s eye are completely shaded by his brow line, making his eyes appear dead and lifeless.
Some may ask themselves “Why not use a reflector?” Great question except with a conductor who MOVES passionately while conducting keeping the sweet light where you want it is impossible. Plus one MUST consider that a reflector is going to obstruct the view for some of the orchestra members who must watch the conductor. Because the form factor of the IceLight is so thin, none of those issues were a problem and made it the perfect light instrument for that job. I combined Westcott’s tungsten gel and barn door with just enough of an opening to cover his movement and not obstruct the view of the violin players since the light was placed camera right, right where the concert masters sit.
I sometimes use a Fresnel 1000w spotlight with a gobo for some of my sessions. Such was the case with Laetitia, a Cirque hoop aerialist during an action portrait session. Again a reflector was out of the question since she’s moving. I used one IceLight to fill in her face since being backlit by the Fresnel with haze rendered her face too dark without the IceLight.
There have also been times when I’ve used a projector on the talent to place graphics either in the scene or actually on him as in the case of this violinist. Due to the very low lumens afforded by a projector sending a graphic blowing out the graphics is very easy to do with a strobe or hand held flash. Only highlighting his face was my goal for this shot using a single IceLight.
What do I love about them? Portability, ease of use and its slim profile. What would I change? I’d like to have the intensity setting kept in memory so when I turn the unit back on, it’s in the same lumen state as when I turned it off. I’ve also noticed that although you can use the units plugged in, it appears that the battery is used first and then it recharges itself. So if I need to unplug the unit and use it without power I’m sunk if the battery was run low.
What do I hate? Not having two more! Is it the perfect lighting instrument? Oh hell no, but what is a perfect lighting instrument? Is it perfect for the right application? Absolutely!
I said at the beginning of this article that Dan remembered the IceLight which in and of itself was remarkable. But what was more striking is his memory of how the image I created looked using an IceLight. I really think he just wants one for his own iPhone shots!
Sometimes in my infinite idiotic wisdom I purchase something because I can’t afford something else. I use that item for a while and then it sits on the shelf for a bit. This has been my buying using pattern for quite some time, like I said I can be an idiot.
Such was the case when I purchased a Saberstrip light modifier. I had rented a Westcott IceLight and had a great experience with it, but at $499.00 it seemed a bit too steep in price for a constant light source I would only use occasionally. (I ended up buying two of them later, but that’s for another post.) Like everyone else I began searching the web for alternatives to the IceLight and found the Saberstrip. Unlike the IceLight the Saberstrip uses a handheld flash as its light source.
Today while I was conducting a commercial session I decided to run a quick test. I wanted to compare my work camera, the Canon 1DX using Sigma’s new Art 50mm Lens against my Fuji X100S with the TCL X100 teleconverter attached. Both images were shot using the same studio strobes and modifiers. Camera settings on both units was ISO 200, 1/160th shutter speed, f6.3. Obviously both focal lengths were 50mm.
For those who may be sneaky, I’ve removed the EXIF data. It’s quite remarkable what the little Fuji paired with the TCL X100 can do. After all it’s only about a $6,049.00 difference at suggested retail! Smile or no smile, which is which?
Every parent hopes that their own children grow up to beome better people than themselves. It’s universal. I know the reason my own father pushed me so hard was in an attempt to assure that universal truth. My dad passed away suddenly when I was 21 from cancer of the stomach. He was 51 and I have now lived eight years longer than him.
When my eldest turned 21 I had a bit of a panic attack. I had my own experiences to draw upon to emulate ‘how to be a dad’ but since dad died when I was 21 I felt that I no longer had a road map for my own children. I knew what dad did, lessons he tried to instill in me, but now that my own child was 21 what advice would I try to convey? How should I act? With no firsthand experience I was unsure of my role to an adult child.
“31 Hands – 16 Artists” Peninsula Museum of Art
Mark Kitaoka Solo Exhibit, 16 large format images located in the North Gallery
May 18 2014 through July 20 2014
Artist’s Reception Sunday May 18th 1:00 – 4:00 PM
Over the next year I am conducting a personal project photographing the hands of various artists around the country. My artist statement:
31 Hands – 16 Artists
For me hands are second only to our facial expressions in expressing how we feel about our world
or protect those we care for
grasp for what we feel is just out of our reach
betray our words
accentuate our anger
and build or create that which our minds imagine
The hands of youth display the innocence of their owners
Scars, lines and spots are the privilege of an experienced life and display its owner’s life events and character
Be they musicians, authors, dancers, healers, innovators or fine and performing artists – creators of all types express what they feel and in the end touch us emotionally through tactile genesis
What begins in an artist’s mind is only brought to life through their hands
My fascination with windows began when at the mature age of 6 I took my trusty Daisy Red Rider BB gun and took aim at the neighbors large glass window, gently squeezed the trigger as my cousin taught me and fired. I heard a very distinctive and sharp ‘crack’ when that little copper ball hit the window and to my amazement put a hole through the neighbor’s window pane. I never expected that something so small could penetrate something so large.
Despite the panic that ensued, I wanted to see my handiwork, so climbed over the low fence I had used as my rifle support and began to examine the spider like crack and small hole I had created. And just as suddenly as the BB hit the glass, my neighbor grabbed me by the collar and marched me to my Mom to explain what I had done.
Regardless of the punishment that followed, my fascination with windows followed me into adulthood, but without the BB gun. I noticed that whenever I sat on a train, in a cafe or anywhere that magic transparent plane existed it was as if I was invisible to the rest of the world and what transpired around me was mine to view in complete privacy.
As a photographer I was completely mesmerized by an image Jodi Cobb created of a young woman in a London cafe looking out toward a busy street at dusk.
Her expression, her posture and the reflection of the activity around her helped me realize that we all seem to feel as if our own existence and feelings are hidden as well as protected behind a transparent plane. Perhaps a window allows us to forget that our feelings and thoughts are exposed to the world. Expressions become authentic when we allow the public masks we wear to melt away as we observe the world around us. I often think that watching our worlds through glass is our very own personal ultimate reality show.
It was these events that inspired me to begin a multiyear long series of images I call Moments of Transparency. The images I present in this series were primarily taken in my hometown of San Francisco. Always driven to replicate Ms. Cobb’s exquisite moment I am often found looking towards window panes hoping that in an instant I too will be able to capture a moment of unguarded authenticity.