Right now there are so many important and historic events happening in our country and our communities. The Black Lives Matter movement changing how blacks have been mistreated throughout history, COVID-19, record unemployment, home schooling, Zoom Meetings, and face to face isolation.
On February 24 2020 just before the public officially became aware of the novel coronavirus, a collection of artists of all genres gathered to create the Hillbarn Theatre’s 2020 Season Brochure. I need to rewind this story five years prior to that date. Tracy and I work with many theatres and performance venues in the Western United States. After having helped in creating season brochures and publicity collateral for theatres ranging from pre-Broadway houses to community theatres, August Laguio and I became restless with the look of theatre publicity imagery. August is one of the most accomplished graphic designers I have ever worked with and was responsible for so much of the marketing collateral our clients used.
We spoke to the marketing staff of all the theatres who were clients, “Hey we would like to try a new approach to how theatre presents itself to the public, a photo centric approach, not heavy with graphics and not using traditional show graphics titling.” Well what has always been done is a very difficult mindset to overcome, especially when theatres feel their income may suffer. Or they feel their season subscriber base would not take a liking to something new.
In 2006 before ever dreaming of becoming a commercial photographer I had the opportunity to spend time with Annie Leibovitz. She was on a tour for her book A Photographer’s Life and a friend arranged time for me to meet with her. “Annie, how can I learn to shoot like you?” Her reply “Mark, don’t attempt to shoot like me, strive to shoot like Mark. And one day I will look at your work and wonder why I didn’t ask you the very same question.” What she taught me in the time we spent together was not about camera gear. It was about concepts, storytelling and feeling.
So in late 2019 Tracy and I were looking through some of Annie’s work and the delicious nature of a wider shot that enveloped the entire scene of what goes into creating an image struck us both. “Let’s talk to Dan about doing it this way for Hillbarn’s 80th season, their 2020 Season Brochure!” In reality once Tracy and I are both on the same page about an idea, poor Dan didn’t really have a chance. With his typical askance look and a raised eyebrow he simply said “Uh OK I guess we can do that. Yeah it sounds good.” So we were off to the races. Of course Dano had to tell us the season so we could begin formulating a plan.
One of the most delicious elements in Annie’s style of pulled back imagery are the drops. Hand painted canvas background drops. The texture of painted drops is just delicious on film if they’re done correctly. So as Tracy often does, she began her investigation and found out that to purchase a 12’x12’ hand painted drop, averages 1800.00 per drop. Gulp! “We need to raise our prices babe!” was my response. We both agreed that we would need at least four different drops for the session. So what did she do? She researched how hand painted drops are made, what materials are used, where to find them and how they’re painted. Kelly Tighe was instrumental in helping her understand the process of selecting the correct canvas, the paints and the process. He was the first in our epic collaboration to create something very special.
So off to Musson Theatrical we went to buy the canvas, then to a paint shop in Belmont and then to the hardware store for brushes. But where do we paint these? The canvas can either be stretched over a wooden frame we would have to build or….
Stapled to a wooden floor. HEY Hillbarn’s greenroom has a wooden floor! So as luck would have it that area was clear during the times we’d need to occupy the space. So for days and nights Tracy painted, sprayed and rolled the canvases. Of course I was there for moral support as I napped in one of the prop chairs left in the room.
Dan informed us of Hillbarn’s 80th Season lineup:
- The Sound of Music
- A Chorus Line
- Shakespeare In Love
- The Producers
Now came the task of how to light each of the shows. Although I review gear on this blog I tend to not discuss gear too much outside of this site. Concepts are the most difficult aspect in my imagery development process. But the fact that I have been using battery operated Flashpoint strobes for the past six years makes my job easier. No more asking clients where power is located at on location venues. It’s all battery powered now, no cords, just freedom. And why is that important? Because NO ONE likes Mark’s cussing scale of one to ten. I’m a real bitch about just a few things; authentic expressions, donuts and light. Not many people know this because I don’t say, but with light and imagery I smell and taste when the shot is the right one; delicious, LITERALLY. For those who have worked with me they are accustomed to when I say I got the shot and I never even look at my camera. Sure all of the images go to my iPad, but it’s because I can taste when the shot is right that I know I got the shot. Weirdo? Yep, but it works for me.
Dan Demers the Artistic Director of Hillbarn Theatre had these thoughts:
“It’s always a challenge to think beyond the last brochure you create. Creatively you have to stretch yourself; you have to push beyond the uncomfortable beyond the safe looks. The honest reason I’m able to do that more easily now is because of the partnerships, friendships and trust I have with Mark and Tracy. So when both of them came to me with this idea I knew it was going to be powerful and I could see it in my mind instantly.
But how could I make this shoot rise to the idea of it. I knew I had to reach out to some amazing creative people and ask them for help. Together I shared the concept with them and they quickly starting to see if for themselves. But I was missing something…
You see every year Mark, Tracy and I sit down and talk about the emotion or feeling behind the shoots or brochure, and it is one of my favorite days. It usually starts with an idea that has been stirring in me, then when we sit down and talk about it, Mark takes it an begins to cook up ideas or images, and usually ends with a ‘damn you, now I can’t stop thinking about it.’ This time the tables were turned. It was me who was constantly thinking about the concept. I knew we had to do more, so with this amazing group of creative people we started to craft actual scenes for each show. Pulling props, period costumes, small set pieces and using the full theater space. This creation would only enhance the beauty of the concept and idea of our 80th Anniversary season brochure. I could not wait to see the pictures, the models, and the scenes we had all created to evoke the emotion of each show.”
So on the day of the shoot, Tracy is filming and I’m shooting. My primary job is to keep the energy HIGH throughout the day. What does that mean? It means that when each of the talent arrives and begins to go through makeup, hair, wardrobe, etc. when they get to me I need to show them my energy. I’ve never been the kind of shooter that just snaps my shutter. Nope I like to tell the talent a story of what I’m looking to create. In a way, I’m a director. And if I bore or lose that momentum then I have not done a good job. Smiles need to be genuine; tension needs to be authentic, even in a studio environment. Actors are professionals, but they need direction and that’s what I try to convey. I have concepts in my mind whenever I begin any session, but it’s the organic collaboration that happens during the sessions that creates the true magic.
Being collaborative, directing and encouraging organic development of ideas on set is what makes a shoot successful, memorable and authentic. I’ve always said that a pretty photo without emotion is just a pretty photo. We all strive together to make imagery and our memories of that day magic.
Behind the scenes images in the creation of:
It becomes very evident that our sessions are very serious and boring….LOL!!!
The Sound of Music (not accomplished due to COVID19)
A Chorus Line
Shakespeare In Love
And the final choices for the brochure by show
The Sound of Music – NA
A Chorus Line
Shakespeare In Love
I asked all of the people involved to add any comments if they wished to do so:
“Any smiles shown in the picture were real and not staged, just pure happiness being around amazing people in a warm and welcoming theatre family!!!” – Kylie Abucay, actress
“Thank you for sharing these with us, and we’re honored to have taken part of this experience, despite the current circumstances. Just imagine how strong and amped up we’ll all be when this all subsides! Much love and healthy wishes to you both and your families.” – Christine M. Shulman, actress
“It was almost surreal for me to be included in this photo shoot. As long as I have been Sofia’s mom I have sat in the audience. Enjoying all you very talented thespians from the seats in the second row. I never thought I’d be part of the gang. And then Tracy and Mark thought of me as the perfect Ms Scarlett. Be still my heart. It was amazing to be included.
Growing up in an Irish Catholic school most girls had blonde hair, freckles and blue eyes. I had a ton of dark hair, a unibrow among other unwanted hair, and pretty ethnic. I didn’t feel very pretty. Moments like this, where the way I look is appreciated and never gets old. Thank you Mark and Tracy for liking my look enough to include me as Ms Scarlett! You two and Dan are amazing! We miss you all very much.” – Vicky Costantini
“Walking into the theatre yesterday was like uncovering a time capsule—from before shelter-in-place, before face masks and government mandates to stay six feet apart. Caught in the moment before everything changed, the place feels frozen. The set for Laughter on the 23rd Floor is still in place; the props are pre-set and costumes hang on racks in the green room ready to be returned to storage.
We walked out on March 16 and other than visits for mail pick up, a place that is usually filled with people and projects has been abandoned. Only weeks before we jumped ship we had spent an incredibly creative and collaborative day as part of a collective hive-brain at an 80th Hillbarn Theatre Season brochure photoshoot.
With an understanding of the show characters, limited access to stock costumes and no actor measurements, co-costumer, Melissa and I had preselected outfits. With fingers crossed we hoped the Artistic Director approved ensembles would fit and tell the story.
Over the course of several weeks we’d watched videographer Tracey Martin paint the ombré backdrops; each gradient background is arguably a work of art in itself! It was against these grey’s and sages that the actors would express character with costumes and props aiding in setting time, place and character.
Photoshoot day was one of the best ever. The process was organically synergistic and well beyond the control of any participating individual. The “process” was humming as each member of the creative crew added their layer to the storyline. Editing was rich. No one said no. Creatives love to hear yes and… not yes but. The room reverberated.” – Pam Lampkin, costumer
Hillbarn’s 80th season may not have transpired on stage as planned. But the magic and collaboration of what we all created together is something that deserves sharing. Especially in the times of COVID19, the importance of Black Lives Matter and the changes necessary to make our world what it should have become long ago.
I know that it shocks my Caucasian friends and acquaintances when I say “Oh he’s my white friend Fred who I knew in college.” When I refer to a friend or someone I see who is Japanese or Asian I simply say, “Oh he’s my friend George.” I feel it must be difficult for whites to fully understand what the big deal is all about not being represented in media. It became extremely obvious to me when my cousin asked me to watch over his home on Oahu when he went to visit Japan for several weeks. 90% of the people on TV were Asians and not just the token female Asian news anchor but people in car ads, mouthwash commercials, and furniture store ads. And many of them were Asian MEN, something seldom seen on the mainland. And as I roamed around the island away from Honolulu everyone looked like me, men women and children. It was then I discovered what it must be like to have white privilege, where almost everything that is represented looks like you.
It has taken me a few weeks to formulate my feelings for this post since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN. In 1968 when I was a young teen living in SoCal the Watts riots happened. I remember watching it on our family’s black and white TV. We had moved from Crenshaw to Anaheim so we were removed from the LA area. My aunt and uncle along with my cousins still lived in LA but not near Watts. I remember being disturbed by the images of rioting, looting and violence as I watched the news. But my parents tried to protect my sister and I by turning off the TV and not discussing it with us. When we went to school there was no mention of the riots or the reasons why it happened, only uneasiness that was apparent in some of the teachers, who were all white and 95% male. The suburbs where I lived were far removed from Watts so any danger was only on the TV screen.
There are certainly people I’ve encountered that I classify as a racist or bigot. But there are also people in between those all or nothing titles. People I call “Racially Ignorant” who are not full bigots or racists, but because they have been born into white privilege they have never experienced or understood what it TRULY FEELS LIKE to be marginalized by a white social structure. Whites in the USA along with nonwhites are schooled by a white social system. What we are taught, how we are taught is all homogenized to support the elevated status of being white. If you think back to how we were taught about “American Indians” in school it was painted as a fair trade, land for trinkets. Cowboys were the heroes and the Indians were savages, people the white man saved by taking away their lands. I was never taught that the Native’s land was forcibly taken away and they were forever banished to ‘reservations.’ We learned about the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War. But again it’s all painted with pretty American colors to satisfy the palate of a white nation. How white America made life better for nonwhites.
I like other minorities encountered direct as well as veiled prejudice and bigotry as I was going up. My parents decided to move from Crenshaw to Orange County after the helicopters and gun fire became too much. Crenshaw was predominately black and when people saw me they referred to me as “The Chinaman.” Upon moving to all white Orange County I was again referred to as “The Chinaman.” I discovered later as an adult that the white neighborhood where we moved started a petition to “Keep out the Orientals” citing‘our kind’ reducing property values. Although I was not privy to that information at the time I know my parents especially my Dad would have been incensed. He, mom, my aunts and uncles were all imprisoned in camps during WWII for simply being of Japanese descent. Of course I knew nothing about that because in school it was never taught. Just like how the Native American story was never told truthfully. Neither my parents nor any of my paternal or maternal relatives ever spoke of their times in the prison camps. The lessons they learned from that time was to teach their children to assimilate, to give them American names and hope it would not happen again. There was a period of time when Italians were being considered to be imprisoned, but of course that never happened. Historically it’s much better to identify an easily recognizable race to blame, fear and ultimately punish.
The type of prejudice and bigotry I’ve experienced has been both overt and subtle. When dad and I were at the LA public library a white woman approached me to ask if I knew where the library science section was located. After explaining the area where she could look she said “My goodness your English is so good!” Shocked I simply replied “Uh thank you.” When we were going home I told my father the story and he said “You’re going to run into that a lot in your life boy. White people assume that everyone who are obviously not white speak with an accent. They’re ignorant people because they don’t have to be aware, but they like to think they are. Don’t worry about it.” Throughout my lifetime, it’s been unanimous hearing people of color say “They’re just ignorant’ when referring to whites and their cluelessness about races other than white. In 1989 I traveled to Indiana for business; the regional airport I flew into was named Michiana Airport.
Upon arriving at my client’s office I asked the receptionist, “Hi is the airport named Michiana because it’s shared by Michigan and Indiana?” Her reply “I think it’s called that because it’s the airport.” So I dropped the conversation. When I met with the MIS director I told him the story to which he replied “Oh she said that because she’s a Pollock, she’d dumb.” I discovered that when NO people of color are in an area the whites start to delineate ethnicity of their European ancestry.
In high school Jeff, Amy and I were the only nonwhites in the school of 790 kids in my graduating class. All three of us are Japanese. When I attended classmate’s summer party I entered the kitchen to get some food I heard the mother of my friend Connie whispering “Yeah, Mark’s not bad looking for an Oriental boy.” I ended up leaving right after hearing that and went home.
In both of those (and many other situations) the white people felt their intentions were fair and positive. A woman complimenting an Oriental boy on his English, the mother of a high school friend saying I was not too bad looking compared to white boys. I believe that most whites don’t believe or do not want to believe they are racist bigots. They are genuinely angered by the Ku Klux Klan, the Neo Nazi’s, etc. But those are the extreme easily identifiable racists. Cutting out the “N Word” from their verbal vocabulary makes things “OK” but I wonder how many use “Nigger, Jap, Gook, Slant, Greaser, etc.” in their thoughts. And even then it would be too much to admit, even to themselves.
And just one of the overt bigotry events I witness was as my dad and I were at a takeout Chinese restaurant we frequented every Wednesday. Mom took her night off from cooking so we all had our favorite Chinese food on Wednesday nights. Dad called those “Wonton Wednesdays.” Anyway the place was takeout only, no seating with a very large menu selection sign above the counter where you order and pay. Mr. Canton was the owner, always wearing a soiled apron with a number 2 yellow pencil behind his ear. Dad and I were the only people in the store and as we were looking up at the menu a six foot tall white man with cowboy boots and a cowboy hat came in and stepped right in front of my dad. Dad politely said “Oh excuse me, but my son and I are in line.” The guy turned his head slightly and dismissively to one side and said “I don’t have to wait behind any Japs.”
As SOON as the man uttered “JA..” my Dad moved instantly to the cowboy’s side, put his hand on the guy’s belt and leveraged him up in the air. I was shocked as I saw him upside-down with his boots up in the air and then heard his head hit the bare concrete with a distinctive “FLOWOP!” No punches thrown, just an instant judo move. His cowboy hat was still on his head, but he was out cold! Mr. Canton called the police and when they arrived, the cowboy was still unconscious. They questioned both my father and Mr. Canton separately and let us go home. My father admonished me to “NOT SAY A WORD ABOUT THIS TO YOUR MOTHER WHEN WE GET HOME BOY!”
When we arrived home mom was pissed “What took you so long to get the food!?” I yelled out “MOM DAD KILLED A COWBOY!” (BTW my dad was 5 foot 5 inches, a brown belt (before all of the now in between participation belt colors) in Judo and a Golden Gloves boxing champion. He taught me how to fight and tactics, but that does not apply to this post.)
In all of the lessons my father taught me about life with whites or the police NOT ONCE did he ever tell me that the police may or will kill me. NEVER. Had dad and I been black during the Chinese food incident I know the police would not have let us go after dad bounced the white cowboy on his head rendering him unconscious. Even if Mr. Canton had described what occurred we would have been questioned much harder and at the police station or handcuffed in the back of their patrol car. Japanese as well as all Asians are considered the “Model Minority;” non-threatening, passive or both. I remember the first time I heard that moniker and was offended. Why? – Because we were anointed by white people with that title who again felt it to be a huge compliment to Orientals. “Look at the Orientals, we kinda mistreated them, but they worked hard (and didn’t cause us any trouble) and look where they are today! See ‘some’ minorities can be good!”
Living in the Bay Area the news cycle covered stories about black men being killed by the police. Rodney King was one of the most visible stories. It was one of the first times a video of the beating of a black man by police officers was captured and shown. Following the King beating there were many others since citizen cell phones became as common as ever. But it was witnessing the killing of Oscar Grant that began a series of feelings in me that brought about rage. A black man held down by a cop and shot in the back by another was beyond comprehension.
Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia who was ‘thought’ to be a burglary suspect in a neighborhood. Three white men chased him down with their cars and went after him with firearms. Ahmaud began defending himself as any man would do in a situation like that and so he was shot. Cowards use guns on an unarmed man because they fear being hurt. And a property burglary in a neighborhood does not condone hunting a person down to kill them. Ahmaud was not coming into someone’s home at night where the threat of harm to the homeowner could be perceived as real. No, he was a man jogging through a neighborhood. But since he was a black man, in the view of the three white people he was automatically a prime suspect. In the minds of the three white bigots a black man running warranted a death sentence when he began defending himself against whites with firearms.
And then George Floyd’s murder at the hands of three white and one Asian cop. Watching a man die before our eyes is not something most people want see. In reading accounts about people watching an execution, even the victim’s families describe the scene as incredibly horrific. Adding to the horror is watching the nonchalant expression on Derek Chauvin’s face as he stared DIRECTLY into the camera that was filming him. No remorse, no emotion, simply his eyes of death. And this was the TO (Training Officer) for two of the other three cops there. THEIR TRAINING OFFICER, teaching them how things should be done!
I have never marched in protest for anything in my lifetime. And with the COVID-19 pandemic I have been careful of my health because I’m in the high risk group; 65 years of age with preexisting hypertension. But when my town organized a march from City Hall to the Police Department there was no question I wanted to march. Social distancing is out the window during a march and should not be expected. But even though it was 89 degrees, wearing a mask made it hard to breathe, walking from the PD to City Hall and back is further than I normally walk – those incidental sufferings meant nothing compared to what blacks have endured in generation after generation. The most powerful aspect of my life is choice. I chose to march and if I contracted COVID-19 and die it would be worth that sacrifice.
This is not a news cycle movement like Occupy Wall Street or a fad like white people going on and on about gluten free food or avocado toast. Make no mistake, within non-white communities prejudice exists between races. The difference? Nonwhites are not in power or control – whether that is in government or the police departments and their unions.
In listening to a real President, Barack Obama’s speech his sage words are the blueprints for change. Social unrest makes elected officials nervous, nervous enough to make changes for those who they are alleged to represent, US. Vote in local elections because those elected officials are the people responsible for appointing the local police chiefs and officials. Freedom is not free, yet in a society whose constant yearning for convenience by hitting the Easy Button has turned us into drones who just want easy, just want the way things have been. White privilege is the same as pretty privilege, as male privilege, as all privileges that are not EARNED, just unearned privilege. Being white is not earned, yet it is rewarded. Being black was not earned, yet it is punished.
I’m not painting all whites in a poor light. Like all things there are varying degrees of culpability in terms of bigotry and racism or supporting its continuing attitudes. I believe that one of the things that some whites fear is the threat of becoming ‘the minority.’ Is it possible that their perceived fear is predicated upon knowing how current minorities are treated? And standing on ‘reverse discrimination’ openly acknowledges discrimination against non-whites exists.
As with all things, when something is taken away or is being threatened to be removed it is much worse than never having something. And like high paying corporate jobs where the term “Golden Handcuffs” is well understood, becoming complacent because of a comfortable and safe lifestyle, most are unwilling to sacrifice losing that status, that lifestyle. So a fine line is danced to justify that “we’re not racist or bigots, we care…” Self-justification is as powerful as denial, yet both are so counter to actual human progress.
Yesterday a close white friend called me and was obviously upset. A group has assembled a listing of companies of which his was included. The list highlighted some of the racially ignorant examples over the years which included those prior to and during his leadership. “I was raised to be colorblind Mark that people are to be judged by their abilities and actions, not the color of their skin.” I could hear the pain in his voice over the phone and sympathized with him. He went on to say that some of the people in the discussion stood up for him. All nonwhites have heard the exact same statement as my friend stated over and over and over and over from their white friends or acquaintances – all with the best of intentions. But like I stated in the opening of this post, whites are raised in white privilege, unearned privilege.
The insidious nature of racial ignorance reminds me of hypertension (high blood pressure), which I have that eventually resulted in me having a stroke. When undiagnosed it’s hidden, I felt fine, but it was always there and I didn’t have to think about it because it didn’t affect me; until it did. Much like George Floyd’s murder and the resulting protests, racial ignorance has always been here, unnoticed by whites since it did not affect their daily lives, until it did.
It’s as simple as hearing white parents announce how they found the ‘best school’ for their elementary school aged kids and they were accepted. Are whites the only parents who want their children placed in the ‘best schools?’ Are those schools open to nonwhites? I hear many people tell me that their kid’s school is diverse, but that is from the perspective of how whites feel about what constitutes diversity in their world. I imagine that asking nonwhite parents whose children attend the same school would yield a different perspective.
The New York Times published a story “A School Admissions Process That Caused Segregation Fell Apart in Weeks” which paints a real life picture of white privilege in sought after public schools.
“Critics say that the process is inherently unfair, because it privileges children whose families have the time and money to navigate the complex system and pay for test preparation or consultants, and that it discriminates against qualified but low-income black and Hispanic students. The screening system produces selective schools that are largely attended by white and Asian-American students, though the city’s school system is mostly black and Hispanic.”
One of my clients, Village Theatre recently ran an open discussion with four black women who appeared in “Dream Girls.” Alexandria Henderson, Lauren Du Press, Joell Weil and Angela Birchett. They were joined by Jerry Dixon, Village’s Artistic Director who is also black. Although their discussion surrounds the world of black lives in the world of theatrical arts, many of the issues they bring up are germane to black lives outside of theatre.
I am not striving to be a Model Minority but to be a Model American. And that means to resist when it’s needed, to speak up when bigotry and racism is displayed and to help those who paved the way for people like me yet who continue to be maimed and killed.
“It always seems impossible until it is done.” – Nelson Mandela
“I’ve been out there with the protesters. I feel very optimistic when I see who is out there. I very much think of this as not a moment but a movement.
And there’s a specific thing that is different about this, and that is the significance of smartphones. I will tell you that probably over the last 10 years, my white friends would come up to me and say, “Kamala, what is going on all of a sudden with all this excessive force?” And I would say to them, “You sound like a colonist.” Because you’re seeing it for the first time, you think you’ve discovered it.” – Senator Kamala Harris in her interview with the New York Times.
“But there is no one that has been hurt more by White America than Black people (specifically Black women). Following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, every individual in America must choose a role to play in the fight against anti-Blackness. To be silent is to be complicit; this extends far beyond white people. For my fellow Asian American women, this includes us, too.” – Sara Li’s Op-ed in InStyle
“Ask not what your country and do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” – JFK
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” ― Edmund Burke
To begin I believe we should add two words to Black Lives Matter, Why Do Black Lives Matter? Honestly asking yourself that simple question can reveal powerful things about yourself you may have never realized. For me black lives matter moves to eliminate the numbness which is the norm for blacks to survive in a white world. Making themselves smaller and invisible in order to be acceptable to whites will be eliminated when everyone recognizes black lives matter. Black lives matter means no longer being secretly reminded to “know their place” in a white world.
Does it matter to you? And if so what will you do to take action to actually manifest change?
For any of you who follow my blog it should be very apparent how impressed I have been with the Saberstrip v2.0 which uses the Godox/Flashpoint 200ws strobe instead of a speed light like their SS v1.0. A few years ago I was very fortunate to test their new prototype and gave them some feedback about the unit. It was very minor and I anxiously awaited the final release. And waited, and waited, and….well you get the picture.
I used the v2.0s during many different sessions, but I found they worked so well for my studio dance imagery they became my defacto lights for dance. You can read about my impressions and experiences in my post about the Saberstrip v2.0.
Recently a visitor to my site made me aware of a similar light modifier by Strobius, their StrobiStrip 100. I also found another modifier the FOTOCREAT 3″×20″(8×50cm) Strip Flash Diffuser Softbox on Amazon. So I purchased one of each to see how they compared to the SSv2.0. Both of those units are designed to be used with speed lights, but since the 200 is close in shape and size to the end of a speed light I figured they’d fit the 200. And they do indeed.
Both the Strobistrip and the Fotocreat are very similar in materials and design. Both use a rip stop translucent fabric as diffusion material, ballistic nylon for the body and silver fabric to reflect light on the interiors. Velcro attaches the tube together as well. The Strobistrip differs as it uses a semi rigid piece of clear plastic to keep the shape of the tube consistent and I imagine more evenly reflects light throughout the tube. Because it breaks down it’s a very clever design.
I’m a firm believer that you never get something for nothing. The SSv2.0 is a remarkable modifier but it is bulky to carry since it is a solid tube. The other two are much smaller when packed down. About the size of a man’s travel bag for his toothbrush, shaving kit, etc. So trading portability for size, I assumed that the light output would not be the same. So I tested all of them.
My Testing Chart of all three Modifiers
As you can see the SSv2.0 has the most consistent and efficient use of the light. The StrobiStrip 100 was less consistent and efficient than the SSv2.0. The FOTOCREAT was all over the place in terms of its light output along the length of the tube. I returned the FOTOCREAT as it is too small for my work and the inconsistent light output along its length made it unattractive for my taste.
In examining the interior of the SSv2.0 he follows the same design as his v1.0 unit. A very cleverly placed piece of ramped reflecting material at the opposite end of the strobe’s socket must increase the light furthest from the source to make it so even.
I also feel that the StrobiStrip’s use of clear plastic to help hold the tube’s shape also adds to the interior’s reflective value helps with its light efficiency and consistency.
One of the most ingenuous design elements of the SSv2.0 is how it mounts the AD200 to the tube. He has developed what I refer to as the ‘tractor tire’ with a 3/8” peg that will fit into any standard light stand socket. The tube rotates around the tractor tire giving me the ability to easily adjust the direction of the diffusion fabric. I’m not talking about your normal x/y adjustment, but the z axis without disturbing the other two axis’s.
I have come to depend on that wonderful design feature. So when I tried to use the Flashpoint eVOLV 200 Round Flash Head attachment on my eVOLV 200 with the StrobiStrip in hopes that it would allow it to smoothly rotate around the strobe I was thrilled! There is enough Velcro to still securely attach the modifier to the strobe, but with the round head, it allows a smooth rotation around the strobe! The OEM Fresnel head does work as well, but the round head is much better to use in rotating the modifier.
In the following two images you can see that I can rotate the modifier around the strobe which is one of the features of the SSv2.0 I fell in love with.
I wanted to determine if the StrobiStrip 100 holds up to high wind as well as my SSv2.0s. Yep they do just fine. The modifier is around 5-11 up in the air on a light stand.
I will keep an eye on the StrobiStrip fabric which is wrinkled when assembled. I doubt it will pose issues in the quality of light. If so I will report back here.
I have used my SSv2.0s so much that one of the tubes has started to split, so I just used gaff tape to repair it. The other one’s diffusion fabric started to fray so I used some superglue on it. IF Saberstrip ever decides to manufacture them I will be first in line. But until or IF they do and I need more tube modifiers I’m glad to have been made aware of the StrobiStrip 100s. I keep mine built and will break them down once COVID19 is over and I have to travel for work again.
If you want to try tube modifiers with an AD200 they are the ones I recommend.
Update: June 5 2020
I wanted to update this post about my choice of half cases for the X100V. Prior to owning the V I owned all other X100s other than the F. In most cases I purchased and used the Gariz line of half cases. I liked the build quality and the convenience of having a built in D ring to attach a strap when needed. But what I found with the one designed for the V is that it was very difficult to remove the SD card due to the depth of the bottom of the case’s base plate. And when I purchased mine from Amazon I paid 140.00. Two weeks after they had it listed for 119.00. Grrrrrr!
I happened upon a YouTube video by Mike Mu where he shows a case for the X100 line I had never seen. It is primarily metal, aluminum to be exact. And with it’s pronounced right hand grip along with a vertical ARCA mount included I was intrigued. I could not find one on Amazon so I ordered one off of AliExpress for $29.99. And then after further research I found another case I prefered and purchased, the JJC Metal Hand Grip L Bracket Holder for Fujifilm X100V for $43.69 with CA tax. Here are the reasons it fits my needs over the others.
Mike’s case does have a vertical ARCA rail on the side, but I didn’t like the idea of having that on my camera even though it can be removed. If I want a portrait orientation for my X100V I would simply rotate my ball head to vertical.
I find the right side grip extender well proportioned and matched to the camera. It fits my hand perfectly.
All in all I highly recommend this case.
May 14 2020
Please note that these initial tests were conducted March 5-7 2020 during the COVID-19 Pandemic. So no human subjects could be photographed at this time.
I have written my impressions of the various versions of the Fuji X100 series of cameras I have owned. I became enchanted by this cute and very capable piece of kit with the first X100. I have reviewed my prior X100s in the following posts:
- Fuji X100 and X100S Review
- Fuji X100S Location Shoot with a single Speed Light
- Fuji X100S in Commercial Use
- Review Fuji TCL X100 Teleconverter
- Canon 1DX with Sigma Art 50 vs. Fuji X100S with TCL X100
Anyway this review is NOT like others which are much more detailed in terms of sensor, button layout, blah blah blah. There are many of those reviews that are much more comprehensive than this one for that information. Here are just a few of those types of reviews:
Nope mine is about why I decided to not upgrade from the T to the F, but opted to buy the new V.
First off I know many folks/reviewers/site talk about what a great street shooter the X100 series is for that purpose. Sure I can see that and have used it for that too, but I honed my craft doing street work with a DSLR. I never found using a large camera as an impediment to that craft. But as I always say; to each their own…
The only version of the X100 series I opted not to purchase was the F version, the one just before the recent V. Why? Well I don’t have an answer for that. When it was released in 2017 I was in the height of my business and felt that my T was fine even though the F had a number of improvements. The largest being bumping up the 16MP sensor to 24 although I’ve never been a MP chaser. The following image is a case in point for those megapixel trolls and chasers…..
So when the V was announced with a tilting screen which sits completely flush to the camera body like the non-tilting versions and the improvement in its already stellar lens I made the plunge. At only a $100 increase in price from when I bought mine? Incredible for a camera like this.
My first test was to try the new V with a small strobe. With the built in ND filter and a leaf shutter overcoming sunlight has never been a problem for me with the X100 series. The V is no exception.
1/2000th f2.0 strobe at 1/8th power level ISO 160 ND filter enabled.
I then assembled a very small strobe kit to photograph my electric bike and headed out to one of my favorite off road areas near my home.
Incredible what a leaf shutter, a small 200ws strobe can do in mid day sun! I decided to go camping just before the State of California closed down all state campgrounds. I was very lucky to be able to camp during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was able to test out the X100V for nature shots. I shoot nature to relax from my regular shooting so it was wonderful.
My Choice of Accessories
Leather Half Case – Gariz
Since the beginning I have really appreciated the Gariz line of half cases for the X100 line. I use a sling camera strap that attached to the bottom of the X100 line of cameras. It’s just been my preference and the Gariz line allows me to do that while protecting the bottom of the camera body.
I have always appreciated the quality of the Gariz cases with the built in D ring for my camera strap and a tripod mount where I don’t have to remove the D ring.
Access to both sides of the camera body ports and controls is well done on the Gariz case.
Thumb Grip – Haoge
The X100T on the right uses a LensMate thumb grip I Dremeled to accommodate the button that didn’t exist on the S model for which it was made. I tend to be the frugal type so I didn’t want to spend another 90.00 on a thumb grip….. LOL I had purchased a LensMate thumb grip for the V which is hinged and swivels to make room for your fingers for the shutter speed and backside dial. But I didn’t like it so I went with the Haoge model.The space between the Haoge thumb rest and the speed dial allows enough room for my hands to change the shutter speed setting. But if you have very large fingers that may not be the case for you.
And this grip allows plenty of space for my fingers between the thumb grip and the rear dial. The LensMate blocks the dial until you swivel it out of the way. For me that was a hassle, but everyone is different.
I added a few things to the Haoge thumb grip. Some 3M Grip tape to the thumb rest and some high density black foam tape to keep the thumb rest secure and safe on the hot shoe along with some cushion for the camera body. The thumb grip combined with the new Gariz finger grip addition on the half case make the camera feel very secure in one hand for me.
On my prior X100s I have used a traditional lens hood. But when I came across the Ultra Thin model I was hooked. I call it “The Uncircumsized Lens Hood Look!” LOL For me it’s a lower profile which make the camera thinner to carry and does not interfere with the built in flash unit. I combined it with the Haoge 49mm Ultra Slim MC UV Protection Multicoated Ultraviolet Lens. I’m happy!
Cable Release JJC Cable Wired Shutter Release Remote Control
Prior to the X100V I have used traditional cable releases for my other X100s. But this time I decided to purchase a plug in cable release. No batteries, just plug it in. The aspect of the cable releases I didn’t appreciate is it would turn my camera on or off when I was screwing it into the shutter button.
I had purchased the 50mm teleconverter for my X100S but found I hardly used it. And with the new V model as long as you are not in RAW format it has a built in 50mm and 70mm extender! Yep all you have to do is enable that feature and rotate the focusing dial BEFORE FOCUSING and the camera switches to 50 or 70mm! There’s so much I love about this new rig and what Fuji has done to continue to improve the camera. My very lucky gf inherited my X100T and boy is she ever happy. She has lusted after the X100 series but never brought herself to buy one. And just like me she tends to hold it way more than we do with our work cameras which are way more expensive! LOL
Once COVID-19 is over I will update this post with human images. I love this little camera. It’s the one I’ll grab if my house is on fire and it’s my least expensive camera, that’s how much I love it. Go figure!
Update April 4 2020
I wanted to update this post to cover why experts continue to place hand washing with soap and water AS THE MOST EFFECTIVE way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Like toilet paper (and who TF knows why people hoard that shit) hand sanitizer and wipes are hard to find because people hoard those too. I will continue to recommend and tell my friends and family that hand washing is the best possible thing to do.
- How soap absolutely annihilates the coronavirus
- Contained in the link above is THE BEST explanation I’ve EVER seen (even for someone as dumb as me!) about why/how hand washing with SOAP is so effective! Thank you for this!!!
“Soap doesn’t really fail easily,” Thordarson says. It doesn’t really matter the formulation of soap, either. You don’t need “antibacterial soap” — which the Food and Drug Administration advises to skip altogether due to a lack of evidence of its usefulness. And you don’t need a super-harsh detergent like you’d put in your dishwasher or laundry machine. Simple soap works fine. “As long as you give it a little bit of time, it will do its job.”
- Crime-scene cleaner CEO: This is the biggest mistake people make when it comes to coronavirus cleaning
“Lastly, echoing health officials, McCallum says the best thing you can do to prevent the spread is by washing your hands thoroughly and consistently.”
And instead of buying liquid soap I use this recipe to make my own. I have saved those irritating little bits of bar soap for a long time. (my parents grew up during the Great Depression) But you can simply use a new full bar too.
Stay healthy. Stay mindful. Stay kind. Be considerate.
March 25 2020
Whenever I go out for food I was wearing gloves, using hand sanitizer, etc. but found a more effective way for me to stay healthy. Wipes are scarce as is hand sanitizer. The CDC and WHO tell us that hand washing is the most effective method of preventing transmission. I don’t know about you, but trying to not touch my face is tough and many times a completely unconscious act.
So now what I do is this:
- I fill two disposable water bottles (You know the kind the hoarders think they need 5,000 bottles of) One is filled with simple dish washing soap or liquid hand soap. The other filled with plain tap water.
- When I get to my car I open the truck, put in my groceries and take out the bottle with the soap and squeeze just a bit into my hand.
- I then close that bottle and open up the one with water and put some in the palm of my hand. I then do my hand washing and rinse my hands off with the water.
- I use a paper towel to dry my hands and put that into a small disposable bag.
Now I’m not touching my door handle, steering wheel, etc. with hands that are unwashed. Up to you, but it prevents me from having to use or find hand sanitizer or wipes when those items are just not common right now. And yes I wash my hands once again when I get home.
I refined my system by purchasing the following off of Amazon
One for each of our vehicles
Beveetio Travel Bottles $11.99
Although I don’t need that many I now have some for our bikes too. The squeeze bottles work really well instead of having soap in a disposable water bottle.
I just keep a supply of paper towels in the cars or on the bikes.
If you’re going to ask me about water in a parking lot, it’s such a small amount that I really don’t think it impedes or causes an issue. And if you don’t want to do this, of course it’s no big deal to me.
Anyway I wanted to pass this along because it works for me in keeping my hands clean while I’m out getting food. Stay healthy!
February 15 2020
My photography partner and I have been creating hand painted backdrops for ourselves. So it was a perfect time to use the incredibly bright constant LED light and then do a quick test of the strobe feature to see how the backdrop looks in an actual photo.
The lighting in the room where the backdrops were painted is awful! So having the FV150 turned up to 100% and modified through a lantern softbox was perfect!
This is the scene before using the FV150 during the daytime with the door and windows open.
Here are some quick test shots of actors and the director who just happened to be working in the theatre that day. So during a break I grabbed them for some quick shots using the strobe feature of the FV150. The modifier I used was a Glow 41″ EZ Lock Deep Umbrella. I just grabbed what was convenient before heading over to do the job. Pentax 645Z with my 45-85mm f4.5 lens.
Again the FV150’s strobe feature does not rival a normal bulb strobe. BUT the possibilities of its uses are endless and I have yet to even scratch the surface of what I can do creatively with this light. Stay tuned.
January 27 2020
Today I was able to test the FV150 on a human! LOL
Jenn was here for a headshot and I talked her into indulging me with a test of the FV in both LED and strobe mode. I used the CLAR Slim 10″ Round Bi-Color LED as a hair rim light. Key light modifier was my Parabolix 35D with the FV150 in mid focused position. Modifier was camera right 4 feet from Jenn pointed completely away from her face. This is my normal configuration when using that modifier. Camera is my Pentax 645Z.
So this was a two light shot test of constant lights. I’m NOT accustomed to using constant lights and for a time it felt a bit like well, cheating. WYSIWYG
I’m just about ready to put the FV150 into production after one more test. It’s a remarkable tool for the right job.
January 21 2020
I wanted to test several more aspects of this light. First if I can effectively use it in my focusing rod modifiers. Second to test the use of my Aputure Spotlight for gobos with the flash feature and then with the constant light feature.
Here is my initial setup. I am using the Chopstick Reflective Focusing System MKII. I have found this to be the best general focusing rod for my use. Versatile, well made and very sturdy. At 160.00 USD a very good value. For all of the following images I used one of my favorite modifiers, an Elinchrom 39″ Rotalux Deep Octabox which I use with and without the focusing rod.
Camera is the Pentax 645Z using a 45-85mm f4.5 lens.
This first shot is when the FV150 is full flooded in the modifier
The FV150 in strobe mode projects the same quality of light characteristic as my bulb strobes with a focusing rod.
Next was using my Aputure Spotlight with the FV150 alone without my Saberstrip v2.0 turned on for fill.
Set up for the strip of light shot.
Testing various gobos with the Aputure Spotlight and the FV150 set to full power in strobe mode.
Next I wanted to test using the FV150 as a strobe and compare it to using the LED constant light mode through a gobo and the Aputure.
So as I go about this and more testing I’m finding that like all things you don’t get something for nothing. I have been using battery powered and remote head conversion strobes for the past three years. Moving back to an AC only plug in system seems to be a bit of a pain. BUT the versatility of combining a powerful constant light AND a usable strobe in one light takes the sting out of an AC only light. I’d only tend to use this in studio, not because of the AC only aspect since I can use a generator or inverter out in the field. Nope it’s because the strobe is not strong enough to overpower the sun. At least in my view at this point even though I have not tested it in full sun.
One of my lighting mentors has been using constant LED lights outdoors so I will try this as well. One thing is so apparent to me right now; LED lights are the future of lighting, at least to me.
January 17 2020
Seriously?! OK so I just had to test HSS with my Canon 1DXII shooting 14 frames per second just to see the performance in HSS…..
No matter how long I kept the shutter depressed, NOT ONE MISFIRE OR SKIP in the flash mode! Holy crap. More testing needs to be done of course, but so far my mind is exploding with the new possibilities of this light. A constant LED AND strobe with this kind of performance? Holy shit man!
January 13 2020
I recently received and am testing what I consider to be a very exciting light the Flashpoint FV150 Hybrid R2 Continuous LED Light and HSS Flash (Godox FV150). Please note that this post is only my initial examination and testing of this light. Because I am in the height of my shooting season I have little time to fully test this light until later in the month. BUT I was SO INTRIGUED by its possibilities I sandwiched my initial evaluation between client sessions. For me this new instrument’s possibilities are mind bending!
Right off the bat a huge plus for this unit is its ability to natively attach to my Aputure Spotlight without my DIY adapter. For anyone who has tried to mount an AD600/400/etc. to the Aputure, you know that the bulb fouls against the inner lens of the Aputure unit. Not so with the FV150 since it is a flat LED light. SCORE! Plus I can now use the Aputure/FV150 combination in video with gobos. Excellent!
So here are my power test results:
I have several Westcott Skylux LED lights so I tested the FV150 against them. As you can see the FV150 is twice the brightness of the Skylux. For the strobe test I compared the FV150 to the Flashpoint XPLOR 600 HSS TTL Battery-Powered Monolight. It’s safe to say that the FV150 is about 25% the power of the 600. So in my testing I’d place it in the 150WS category.
There are a TON of features in this light I have not even examined. I will just say that my mind is exploding with concepts that I may be able to accomplish with this light that would have been much more difficult in the past to perform. For those that are thinking “Gosh isn’t this just a low powered, plug in strobe with a fancy modeling light?” I’d suggest you move along…..
For those who may see new possibilities, stay tuned – MUCH more to follow!
I am constantly searching for new ways to use light and shadow. Much of my work revolves around dance and although I’ve been happy with most of my work, I’m always thinking my next shot will be my best shot. I study lots of dance photographers, Lois Greenfield is just one of my favorites. Her creations for movement are delicious. After spending time in nature and watching movies I’ve become inspired to try to recreate some of the concepts I see in my dance imagery. So for my first concept I wanted to create a wall of light and a ceiling and floor of light. I determined that the most effective way for me to accomplish this task was to use my Aputure Spotlight and the Leko follow spot I converted into a strobe. Both use blades to shape and focus the light with or without a gobo. If you’re not familiar with blades in follow spots, just do some Google searching.
Prior to attempting my wall/floor/ceiling concept I wanted to try using the blades on the spotlight for more static poses dancers often perform. The next two images were created using the instruments above. The dancers I asked to help me understood that the shoot this time was not about them. Not about the desire for perfect feet, hands, etc. but about the light. I was blessed that they understood the intent for this shoot.
I then filled the room with haze so the light rays would be visible.
Test shots for walls and then floor ceiling of light.
And here are three of my light test shots.
So I will continue to chase new light, sometimes it works, sometimes it does not….at least not initially. But experimenting is the only way I’ve found to break out of my norm.
I’ve owned a Goal Zero Yeti 1000 since June of 2018. You can read about my thoughts on that unit here. I purchased the Yeti 1000 from Costco back then for $999.00 and have never regretted my purchase. Since I found GZ products so well done when I noticed they had made a much smaller version, the Goal Zero Yeti 200X I decided to purchase one for a trip I was taking during the 2019 Christmas week to Joshua Tree National Forest. I wanted to use it to charge my electronic devices which included my cell phone, my camera batteries, my instant hot water heater and my CPAP machine.
Because this trip was during the winter and in addition was a very unusual December for JT with both snow and higher than normal rain, I opted to take my gas generator rather than my solar panels.
The unit was released in the Fall of 2019 so as of this writing there are not many hands on reviews. You can read all about the GZ200x on the GZ site for specs.
Each day I charged the unit to 100% before beginning to use it on my devices. They included:
After running all of these devices during the day and charging or using them during the evening the 200x would have between 26 to 31 percent charge left in the morning. Keep in mind that I use my CPAP during the evening between 7 to 9 hours. The 200x performed flawlessly and I’m currently in the process of testing recharging it using a Jackery 100W solar panel and will post my findings later here on this blog.
I am just a bit confused that GZ has conflicting information posted on their site and user manual. Their site lists the controller as a MPPT, but the User Guide list it as a PWM controller. If you are interested in the difference between MPPT and PWM you can read about it here. I’m really hoping it’s MPPT as advertised on their site and wrote to GZ to ask, but have not heard back. Once I do I will update this post.
The only other ‘issue‘ I found is there are many sites on the web that state the 200x will charge in only two hours from dead using the USB C input as long as it uses a 45W charging source. I call BS on that since I tested it and it did NOT charge in 2 hours from fully dead. I even purchased a 87W USB C Charger Power Adapter which charged the unit in 3.25 hours NOT two hours as stated. With the included AC adapter the 200x charged in 4 hours from fully dead, as advertised in their literature.
So the question is would I buy this 300 buck battery with inverter again? Oh yes, no question. The fact that is so compact and only five pounds, powers so many of my devices while camping is wonderful. Will I have to carry a gas generator to keep this thing topped off? Only time will tell after I actually test my 100W solar panel in good sun. More to come so stay tuned….
Hey I’m a photographer so I thought I’d post some of the shots I took in Joshua Tree. For me nature shooting is my form of ‘fishing’ meaning complete relaxation!
Night Shooting under the stars. (The ONLY night that it was not overcast.)
The trusty Bowens S Bracket. I’ve used them for ages. Bullet proof and reliable. My only gripes had been the terrible ratchet system which feels like dinosaur teeth grinding against bone. Having to cut the little rubber bumper on the top of the screw down mount to get an AD200 to fit. And the fact the pivot handle often fouls the modifier I’m using. Ugh. But other than those minor bitch points, it’s a nice device.
So when I received the Glow Griplite X S Type Bracket I didn’t really expect much for an additional three bucks. But I immediately noticed the much larger opening of the unit and the longer handle. You see in the past I had fabricated a handle for my tried and true S Bracket so that either I or an assistant could hold the thing with a strobe and modifier attached. In its OEM form the small light stand bracket was much too small to hold effectively. But the new handle on the Glow X is well made and just the right size. And the finger grips are a very welcome addition.
And as I examined it more one of the most welcomed changes is the smoothness of the pivot ratchet! It is SO MUCH MORE SMOOTH than the original. Fine adjustments can be made easily. So below I have outlined the subtle but oh so welcome changes to the new bracket.
In the following images you can see just how much larger the opening and shape of the strobe holder is compared to the older model.
I am now able to leave the Flashpoint Silicone Skin and Bumper attached to the strobe when inserting them into the new X Bracket. (Skin review coming soon.)
No way to fit it with the skin attached to the older bracket. (I’ve tried….)
In the past I’ve had to cut a portion of the older S Bracket’s upper rubber bumper mount so that it would extend just a tad to allow me to fit an AD200 into the unit.
Although the Bowens release lever on the older unit worked well, I prefer the new version. Easier on the fingers too.
The new X version has a very effective textured rubber pad on the top. Much nicer than the older model.
And here is something that in my view is a huge improvement. Because the handle on the older version was large, when I had a wide modifier on the unit the handle would foul on the modifier. Not so with the new unit. And yes I can crank it down to assure that the modifier does not move. Plus it seems to take less tension to hold in place.
So am I going to replace all of my older S Brackets….well yes, yes I am. The improvements to the new unit may ‘seem‘ small, but in my world the cost savings in time and cussing level is well worth the three buck difference. But hey everyone is different! Thanks for improving on what was already a bullet proof tool. Now it’s just even better.
Please note that Stuart Vu, a visitor here pointed out that Amazon has the exact same focusing rod as the one I purchased from Cheetahstand:
“FOTOCREAT Adjustable 38′ (97cm) Boom Holder for Light Stand with 50lb Bearing Capacity Portable Photographic Bowens Reflector Bracket for APUTURE GODOX LED Light，Flash and Other Photography Equipment”
Certainly a highly convoluted description! But it the same unit. And the price comparison:
- Cheetahstand $158.88 – Amazon $119.99 = $38.89 less. 25% savings
- Cheetahstand shipping from Texas to California $29.02 – Amazon Prime $0.00
So in total the Amazon unit would have saved me $67.91!!!
If I need another one of these I will be purchasing mine through Amazon. I found that the shipping of $29.02 to be a bit much from Cheetahstand.
Anyone who follows my blog knows that I prefer to use focusing rod modifiers for my client base. I find the quality of light and the flexibility invaluable in my work. I’m not going to go through all of the advantages I find in focusing rods in this post. You can read about my experiences with focusing rods on other pages:
During a recent visit to the Cheetahstand site to find something unrelated to focusing rods, I happened upon Edward’s new Mark II system. Unlike his prior focusing rod (which I highly modified to use any Bowens mount modifier) which was specifically designed for his proprietary small diameter tension rod diameters, his new system now accepts any Bowens modifier. So I purchased one to find out if it would meet my needs without having to do any fabrication.
The Bowens modifier mount can be placed at different places along the shaft of the focusing rod. I chose to mount mine at the very end of the unit to allow the most distance when I want to flood the light. I don’t plan to test the unit for ‘quality of light’ simply because I have no doubt it will perform well. I’m very happy that someone has manufactured a focusing rod this well done that accepts any Bowens modifier. For $158.88 I view it as a bargain. I was a bit taken back by Cheetahstand’s shipping charge for California via UPS ground. $29.02 seemed a bit excessive, but oh well.
Update October 23 2019
I have been using the R2 Pro Mark II C when using my Canon 1DX Mark II and my partner has been using the R2 Pro C. When we go to a job I use the Scan feature and we pick which channels to use. I have had less than 2% of misfires. She has experienced the same, but has had full pop flashes when her units have not been set to full power. This is still an issue that Godox and Flashpoint must address.
NOTE: I have recently been using the Flashpoint R2 Mark II TTL Transmitter (X2T-P). That post can be found here.
Update September 19 2019
OK so I needed to actually TEST my Flashpoint triggers to ascertain what is the best trigger for me to use. I had become (and still am) very concerned about the misfires I have been experiencing. So here are the triggers I tested:
I used the very same strobe for all of the tests. A Godox AD600 set to 1/16th power 10 feet from my camera. The camera was a Canon 1DX set to 1/250th of a second shutter speed, f3.2, ISO 100. My intervalometer was set to fire at one second intervals. The strobe began to overheat at approximately 400 frames so I measured my test at 400 frames. I allowed the strobe 30 minutes between trigger testing so that it could cool down.
Here are the results:
So after running this test I am still concerned. In this test all triggers failed, but under 1% out of 400 shots. It’s curious that the single pin unit is the only one that failed to fire prior to the end of the test. With all of the others I ‘may assume’ that the failure at 399/400 was due to the overheating of the strobe. In a normal real world session the power of my strobe settings varies greatly. Anywhere from 1:1 full power all the way down to 1/256th power for fill or rim lights. There are times when I am firing much less than once a second and I’m always aware if I have strobes set at full power to listen for the recycle tone before pressing my shutter again. It’s part of my protocol.
My most critical time for zero misfires is during studio dance sessions. Invariably misfires will happen when the money shot is taken when a strobe or strobes misfire. The dancer has executed their move in an exquisite way and the shot is useless due to the failure to fire. Sure they can do it over again, but my view is why? My equipment should be dependable. And if that means switching to a brand that is not as modular, but is much more dependable on site then that’s what I will do, change.
I will say that prior to running this test I used the Channel Scanner on the R2 Pro Mark II C to find the best available channels for my home…today. I say today because I feel that even in the same venue, it’s important to scan the environment for the best channel. So at this point I am awaiting a new Flashpoint R2 Mark II TTL Transmitter for Pentax Cameras (X2T-P) to test. I am hoping it performs well. Currently Adorama does not offer a R2 Pro Mark II transmitter for Pentax, nor do they offer a firmware update for the R2 Pro for the Pentax. My 645Z is my defacto studio camera so it’s one of the reasons I’ve purchased the X2T-P. It has a channel scan feature. Sure I can carry my Canon Pro Mark II to scan channels, but why? If Godox/Flashpoint want working pros to use these strobes, then give us function and dependable engineering. You’ve nailed the ecosystem but misfires just won’t cut it in my world.
I have a publicity session this weekend and hope that by scanning the channels it will yield this percentage of misfires which is much less than what I’ve found on actual location shoots.
Update September 18 2019
In preparation for an upcoming client session I needed to practice a lighting technique we conceived for the shoot. I had left my R2 Pro Mark II C transmitter on channel 12 along with the strobe from my recent client shoot this past weekend. I did NOT use the scan feature to see what were the most clear channels in my garage. I was horrified to find a 14% misfire ratio during my test set up! I was literally 8 feet away from the strobe with the transmitter set to the 0-30 meter range while using a Flashpoint Pro 600. I had never had issues like this with my 433Mhz triggers or USB receivers. I really love the innovation of the Godox/Flashpoint line of strobes and the ecosystem they have developed. But the misfire issue may result in my switching to a different brand of strobes. I need to figure this out quickly. Until I do I will religiously scan the channels and/or use my single pin transmitter. I cannot afford to miss any shots ESPECIALLY in dance.
Update September 17 2019
I had a two day dance session this weekend after updating all of my AD200s/600s and my R2Pro Mark IIC transmitter. Once I conducted a scan of the area in which I was working one of the channels the transmitter recommended was 12, so I switched everything to that channel. With the new firmware the results are much improved over my prior experience. Of course I would like a 0% failure to fire rate as I had with my PCB Einstein/CyberCommander setup. I will continue to update this post about the misfire issue.
My gut tells me that even in the same space I will need to rescan with the ProII to ascertain if the same channels are free on different days even in the same space. I have asked Adorama if I can use the channel scanner on the Pro Mark II to determine the best channel for my Flashpoint R2 Pro Pentax trigger. Once I hear back I will post my findings here. As usual stay tuned…
I have been negligent in updating my firmware for both the transmitters and strobes be they Flashpoint or Godox. I completely switched from PCB Einsteins over to the Godox/Flashpoint strobes after the passing of Paul Buff and the innovation at PCB declined after his death. His CyberCommander transmitter was tough to learn but BULLETPROOF in terms of misfires.
I won’t go into all of the gripes I had about the Flashpoint misfires simply because I had not updated my firmware. Total user laziness and error. So I decided to run some tests before and after updating my strobes and transmitters. I used the installation programs and firmware found on Adorama’s Flashpoint Firmware Download page.
Even though they have improved the software interface, it’s still no walk in the park. You should know I am a PC user, not a Mac user. The steps I found necessary to begin the process in Windows 10, their new version is:
Disable Signed Driver Enforcement (bottom of page)
Then you must select the product you are updating which then indicates which installer to download and use. There are three:
Once the installer is downloaded and installed, you select the product you wish to update with the firmware:
OK so once all was done I tried to update the firmware in my transmitter. Since the Pro II uses a USB-C cable I had no issues. But once I tried to update my non pro strobes which use USB Micro connectors I got these messages:
I THEN realized that the USB Micro cables I was using DID NOT TRANSMIT DATA but were only for charging! SHEEEET!!!! As soon as I figured out that bonehead mistake I used a proper cable and got a connection. BUT it was not without further issues….. On my first two f/w updates all went fine. But after that I would get a program hang:
It only happened after the f/w was deleted and then updated. So I simply unplugged the cable and tried my strobes, also checking their firmware version. All was fine. So after this frustration I went on to test my strobes. 600s, both non TTL and TTL along with a Pro and several AD200s…
Here was my setup for testing:
I set my intervalometer to take a shot every second. My tests were done at 1/8th and 1/16th power for all strobes. As you can see I’m only about 15 feet from the strobes. I have a router booster here along with normal consumer electronics. Since I’ve had issues on location where there’s a ton more signals this is not an acid test of if the firmware will make a difference in misfires. But it was my start of testing. On my pre firmware update testing I had NOT updated the firmware for the strobes or the triggers.
Pre Firmware Update Testing
After Firmware Updates
Next I decided to nix the 200s since I have never had a misfire with them even before updating the firmware on the triggers or the strobes…interesting. So for this test I just did a 1/16th power level. When I have time or more importantly after I use my gear on actual shoots I will report back on any improvement in misfires. But at this level I’m really please with the results.
I’m concerned that Flashpoint has not released a newer firmware version for Pentax. Since that is the camera I primarily use for client publicity sessions I’m hoping that f/w version is forthcoming. I’m currently running 1.0 which is the only one available at this time.
I’m really quite pleased of the lack of misfires for my Pentax. It only started to misfire as the strobe heated.
Although I don’t fire my camera for 200 frames at one second intervals I am a bit concerned that as the strobes heat misfires will occur. Anyway after using my strobes on actual upcoming client work I will report back here on any improvements in misfires.
I have been testing the Flashpoint R2 Single Pin Transceiver to determine if it compatible with the variety of cameras both myself and my partner use on client shoots:
In my testing this little piece of kit works on all of them. In the past I’ve attempted to use single pin transmitters of various brands and in some cases the single pin just didn’t align well enough to fit all of these cameras. I’m happy to report that no such issue exists with this unit. Now keep in mind this is not intended for TTL, HSS, SCS. I have had heart stopping situations where the transmitter I was using during a client session fail or break from drops! So I started to carry extra transmitters which can get expensive because each transmitter is made for each individual brand of camera. After distance and radio interference testing with the Flashpoint R2 Single Pin, I plan to carry this with me on EVERY shoot. A single transmitter is a godsend for me as a backup. Twenty five bucks is cheap insurance!
These also work as receivers, but I do not plan on using them for that purpose. I ‘may’ test them to see how they work in that configuration. One of the downsides I see it there’s not way to set how long the LED screen remains illuminated or setting the amount of time until the unit ‘sleeps.’ But for 25 bucks what can I really expect? Sound and modeling lamps are controllable from the unit.
More to come….
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.
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.
Here are the items I used AFTER scouting a location for the shoot and conveying my concepts to the client:
- 6 Flashpoint XPLOR 600 HSS Battery-Powered Monolight (Non TTL)
- 4 7″ cone modifiers
- 1 PCB Omni reflector
- 1 Aputure Fresnel Lens Mount for COB 120 Series Light Storm
- 1 Yamaha EF2000iSv2 generator
- 1 Chauvet Smoke Machine
- 1 EGO Power+ leaf blower
- 1 Flashpoint R2 Pro 2.4GHz Transmitter for Canon
- 1 Glow Grand ParaBox Pro Softbox (70″) (for in studio publicity shots not shown here)
- 1 Glow Grand ParaBox Zoom-In Bounce Rod (for in studio publicity shots not shown here)
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.
Earlier this month while was using my Mavic to both film and photograph for a client, I was flying sideways and ended up crashing into a tree! Total user error and thankfully it was at the very end of the sessions! LUCKILY I had purchased DJI Care Refresh (Mavic Pro) when I bought the drone. They allow you to purchase the coverage within the first 48 hours of purchase. For 99.00 on a 1k item it’s a great value. But just like all insurance the REAL TEST comes when you make a claim. Any company will gladly take your premiums, but filing a claim is a different story. So I got onto the site, filled out the form and guess what? They emailed me a FedEx label! That’s right, they pay for shipping to and from! Incredible. The cost for my ‘repair’ was 79.00. And IF I crash again it will be 129.00! Now this does not cover things like theft, losing your drone, etc. Makes perfect sense. But in my case I could not be happier and DJI has a loyal customer for life.
UPDATE November 11 2017
Still practicing and boy to get cinematic film ain’t easy. But hey if it was everyone could do it! It sure is fun to learn though. Using ND filters really helps.
It’s also nice to know that the Mavic can take RAW stills in the form of the DNG format. Granted not as high res as my MF camera, but still good! What I did learn though is when I set my shutter speed at a low number, usually around 1/125th or lower when I take stills that have motion I get motion blur. Makes perfect sense, I’m just not accustomed to switching from film to stills. Learnings…..
Yep, it was time. Time to try something new, to feel uncomfortable and out of my comfort zone. Film, stills, creativity from a new perspective. How does anyone expect to grow simply by being ‘safe?’ FAA certification is on tap. Using light and motion….
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.
I am proud to have been awarded Finalist status in the Professional Fine Arts Nude category of the 2017 One Eyeland Photography Awards for my “Tango in Water” submission. Five images make up my series of tango images. Shot in Seattle in studio using water to accentuate the delicious movement of Argentine Tango.
Professional Fine Art Nudes Finalist list
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?
Every morning I go out to my patio to turn on the water feature because the hummingbirds like it. They drink and bathe in it very often. On the ground I see a small “something” and just then a hummingbird flies around the ‘thing‘ and I see that it’s a baby male! My gf comes out, picks him up and warms him with her hands. And just after I take a few ‘portraits’ of him, he flies away. Making a normal morning something very special!