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Category : Things to ponder

15 Aug 2019

Creating Art

Original Post August 15 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22 Apr 2019

The Worst Job in the USA

I’m really happy I didn’t read an article like this before I decided to turn pro! SO MANY things left out of this article, but hey if it was easy then everyone could do it right? My advice, be wary of “articles” that dissuade you from what you want to do. Takes loads of hard work and tenacity, but the alternative is horrifying to me.

‘Photographer’ Named One of the 25 Worst Jobs in the US

11 Mar 2019

The Death of Customer Service – Updated 3-11-19

Update 3-11-19

INCREDIBLE! AT&T actually published my negative review on their site! Perhaps there is hope for the world!

Original Post March 10 2019

RIP

First of all this has nothing to do with photography. Nothing. Yet it has everything to do with what the world is witnessing in the decline of brick and mortar stores. Like many others of my generation (Baby Boomers) it saddens me. Institutions that were once retail icons, Montgomery Ward, JC Penny, Sears, Kmart now only exist either in history books (meaning on a Kindle now) or are about to become history. As a young man I was so fortunate to work for Mervin Morris of Mervyn’s Department Stores. Throughout my life he has been my Gold Standard for both leadership and customer service. “Nothing happens without a sale.” was just one of the many values he instilled in his employees. I was with Merv 11 years, even after he sold the company to the Dayton Hudson Corp which is now Target Corp.

I like to keep my ‘things’ for longer than most. My cars generally live with me for 20 years. I like to pay cash for things as I deplore payments. Five years before I know I will need a car, I make a monthly car payment ‘to myself’ placing it in a savings account. Then when I’m ready to buy, I purchase the car cash. It’s just how I roll.

So when I knew it was time to purchase a new cell phone I waited for the Samsung Galaxy S10+. My S7 Edge was getting long in the tooth, or more specifically short in the battery life. I had normally purchased or upgraded my phones at AT&T stores. But having passed the wireless sales booth at my beloved Costco for so long I decided to purchase it there.

So on February 26, 2018 I went in and preordered my S10+ and was happy to discover that those who pre ordered their phones would receive Samsung Buds free, a $130.00 value! Without going into all the gory details here was the comedy of errors caused by the salesperson “Jack” who is NOT a Costco employee, but an employee of the in store Costco vendor, Wireless Advocates:

The email I received to confirm my preorder came to my email address, but the name of the addressee was “Jack.”

  1. I went back the next day and he corrected the name. I asked him at that time if my prepaid AT&T plan would be accepted, he assured me it would be.
  2. The day before picking up the phone, which was also the LAST DAY one could quality for the Buds was 3-7-19, the day I was there. I had not received the last two of the three emails specified on the handout I was given, and I got worried. I again went back to Costco, spoke to Jack’s manager and he assured me that they received enough AT&T phones, so not to worry.
  3. On 3-8-19 at 10am I went in to buy my new phone and guess what? The manager told me he could not sell me the phone because I was on a prepaid plan. I left without a new phone and could no longer qualify for the complimentary Samsung Buds.

I was PISSED. I came home and wrote a two page letter about my horrible experience, printed it out along with all my supporting documentation and hand carried it to the Costco assistant manager. She was incredible. Her listening skills were right out of Merv’s handbook. She was GENUINELY empathetic and kind. She let me know that she would let the store manager know as well as the staff at Wireless Advocates. Merv would be proud of her for sure!

So my girlfriend, bless her heart said “Let’s go to the AT&T store right by the house Honey. You can get your phone there, OK?” So off we went and I told the clerk I wanted to buy the S10+. When I told him I had a prepaid plan he then said “Oh, I’m sorry we can’t sell you a phone for a prepaid plan.” “Wait so you’re telling me I want to pay cash for the phone, I’m with AT&T and I can’t buy a phone?” “No you cannot, AT&T does not do that. But if you go to Target or Best Buy you can buy one.” WTF. So Target is in the same center so off we went. When we found the lone clerk in the “Tech Department” I said I’d like to buy a S10+. He said the phone salesman just went to lunch, I’ll call him. So he did and then told us “He will be back in 30 minutes.” WTF? So if the ONE phone salesperson is not there, NO ONE can sell a phone? So the next time you need an ambulance and the guy is out to lunch, he will pick you up in 30 minutes!

So we left….

By this time I was more than pissed, I was completely disgusted by the total lack of customer service by brick and mortar locations. So I got online and looked up AT&T, called the Hillsdale location only to be met with voicemail jail. Round and round and round until I finally hung up. Then I got on the AT&T chat line with an agent named “Steve” and who really knows where he works. I asked him two specific questions:

Me: “Does the Hillsdale location at Zip code 94403 have any S10+’s?”

Steve: “Yes they have ten in various colors.”

Me: “Will they accept a prepaid plan for the S10+?”

Steve: “Yes they will.”

I printed out the entire chat conversation and put it in my jacket.

Once I arrived at that location the sales person Jayson A approached me. At that time I stated that I wanted to purchase an S10+. He immediately told me he was sorry, but they were all out of stock. I then produced the print out of the chat conversation I had with Steve 10 minutes earlier. He called over his manager who said “We have some in stock, only white though.” I told Jayson A that was the color I wanted and I was glad to have not taken his word on the stock in the store.

He then went to get the unit and once he came back he asked “Do you need help setting it up?” I replied, “I just need to put my SIM card into the unit to see if it works.” He then told me that the S10+ comes with its own SIM and he had activated it. Uh the box was still sealed and unless technology has changed one MUST remove the SIM from the credit card size holder and PLACE IT INTO THE PHONE. When I told him of that fact, he sighed, opened the package, removed the SIM card from the holder and placed it into the phone. It took time to activate.

I believe that since I was paying cash for the phone, did not want a postpaid plan like he asked me about even though I was SPECIFIC about keeping my current plan he wasn’t making a commission. I understand that but his level of service was so poor, so uninterested it will be of no surprise if he no longer works there much longer. Or even worse, he is the ‘new customer service normal.’

The series of poor customer service situations I experienced was not confined to a specific retailer. Wireless Advocates, Target, two different AT&T locations just did not want me to buy a $1,000.00 phone. And in a time when cell phone sales are on the decline it’s even more shocking. I literally had to be tenacious in my quest to spend the money. Based on yesterday I cannot wait for all brick and mortar stores to go the way of Montgomery Ward. Well except for Costco, REI and Nordstrom, those few locations in my experience who embody the Baby Boomer’s definition of customer service, you know service and knowledge.

 

28 Feb 2019

March 7 2011

In a few days I will be entering my eighth year as a full time professional photographer. I was called into my boss’s office on March 7, 2011 under the auspices of meeting with her to review a PowerPoint presentation for an upcoming meeting. When I entered her office, one of the HR representatives was there so I knew that something was up. Jean, my boss who happens to be the absolute worst supervisor I’ve ever had to endure during my corporate life began by saying “Mark, we’ve determined that your position is no longer needed. Tracy’s here to explain your severance package.” I then said “OK, well then you have no need to be here so why don’t you leave?” And at that point she lowered her head, grabbed her purse and left.

Tracy, the HR representative then went on to explain the rules of my severance package and told me, “After leaving this office you cannot return to your office or speak to any other employees. I asked Jean to have this separate meeting with you rather than in the conference room with the other people being laid off today. Now you can pursue your little photography business. Any questions?” I told her that I didn’t need to return to my office because months ago I had decided that the company was a horrible place to work so I had taken my personal affects home. I had been looking for a new job.

I’ve always believed in Karma. I heard months later that Jean was laid off, Sally the VP of HR was laid off, and years later Glenn the SVP of Operations was laid off too. All of whom I didn’t respect and felt their skills and demeanor was so poor compared to the other executives I had worked with in my 38 years in corporate America.

My partner sent me a link today of an article she read in the NY Times Magazine, “The Future of Work, Wealthy, Successful and Miserable.” As I read through the article (you may not be able to see it if you are not a NYT subscriber…sorry) I was reminded of the misery that prompted me to embark on this wonderful journey as a full time pro. The day after I was laid off I began to sit at my computer to look on Monster for jobs. It was then I asked myself a hard question: “Mark do you really want to submit your resume, go on interviews with 30 somethings, be asked ‘What is your five year plan?’ and reply ‘Fuck you’ which would not be conducive to being hired? Or do you want to man up and take all of the business development experience you have and start your own ‘little photography business’?”

Quite a few of the people who write to me here want to talk about gear. I can understand that because prior to doing this full time, I too was primarily interested in the latest and greatest gear what people used and why. But now I’m interested in concepts, light and the story. The reasons? My job of course is to produce imagery that helps market a service or concept. Yet ALL of the imagery I create involves people; people who are either performing or fine artists. My first desire is to create and capture their souls through a lens. I want them to see themselves in the way I see them, not how they so critically view themselves in the mirror. I truly feel that how someone feels about themselves in the moment we are together comes through in a photograph. I derive the most pleasure out of showing someone the beauty they radiate when they believe in who they are. I have recently decided to not photograph people who are incredibly critical of themselves. Because no matter how much effort is put forth, they will never be satisfied with how they look, simply because they are not happy with themselves. And that comes through on film. My intent is to always portray someone’s beauty, but I’m not in the business of long term projects with an individual I only have in front of me for ten minutes.

So as I read the NYT Mag article, I was struck how I could relate to the ‘high salaries, miserable at work’ mentality in the article. Prior to giving up my Direct Deposits, paid vacation and PTO time, medical and dental benefits, retirement accounts blah blah blah, I ALWAYS had a backup plan, Always. I had a ‘go bag’ in the event I was laid off, meaning a backup plan. Yet as a full time pro shooter with no safety net like having a spouse who is working with benefits I have none, NONE. No direct deposit, no paid benefits or vacation, no matching retirement accounts, no blah blah blah.

And I could not feel more secure and happy. Why? Because even given all of the things I thought I’d given up what I gained is the ability to create and meet with an incredible number of people is well worth the risk. Am I struggling financially, no I’m not. Reducing my personal expenses was key to much of that with the added benefit of financial freedom – and not through an increase in a salary. I recall photographing a theatre performance “Auctioning the Ainsleys” where one of the lines in the play ‘when the stuff you own begins to own you’ has always stayed with me. It’s so true.

Of course there are days/times when the person I have to photograph is difficult. But I get to CHOOSE if I want to continue and work with that person again. I get to weigh whether or not I can give up that income. Thankfully those instances have been very, very rare. But having the power to choose is enlightening. I have had an incredible number of people who support my efforts and work, something for which I will always be grateful.

A few excerpts from the NYT Mag article:

“What’s interesting, however, is that once you can provide financially for yourself and your family, according to studies, additional salary and benefits don’t reliably contribute to worker satisfaction. Much more important are things like whether a job provides a sense of autonomy — the ability to control your time and the authority to act on your unique expertise. People want to work alongside others whom they respect (and, optimally, enjoy spending time with) and who seem to respect them in return.

And finally, workers want to feel that their labors are meaningful. “You don’t have to be curing cancer,” says Barry Schwartz, a visiting professor of management at the University of California, Berkeley. We want to feel that we’re making the world better, even if it’s as small a matter as helping a shopper find the right product at the grocery store. “You can be a salesperson, or a toll collector, but if you see your goal as solving people’s problems, then each day presents 100 opportunities to improve someone’s life, and your satisfaction increases dramatically,” Schwartz says.

As the airwaves heat up in anticipation of the 2020 election, Americans are likely to hear a lot of competing views about what a “good job” entails. Some will celebrate billionaires as examples of this nation’s greatness, while others will pillory them as evidence of an economy gone astray. Through all of that, it’s worth keeping in mind that the concept of a “good job” is inherently complicated, because ultimately it’s a conversation about what we value, whether individually or collectively. Even for Americans who live frighteningly close to the bone, like the janitors studied by Wrzesniewski and Dutton, a job is usually more than just a means to a paycheck. It’s a source of purpose and meaning, a place in the world.”

I’ve said many times that my camera is simply my excuse to meet people. It’s so true and if I had stayed in corporate America I would have missed all that I have experienced. Glad I ‘man’d up’

14 Nov 2018

How forums  can stunt your growth

I was recently reading a blog post about the new Flashpoint eVOLV 200 Round Flash Head – Godox H200R. I had purchased one and find it another remarkable innovation and improvement from Godox which translates to Flashpoint in the USA. I really like the protected covered strobe bulb that I can leave on my AD200 during airline transport. Prior to this head I would encase my bare bulbs in plastic or aluminum sleeves which I would carry in my camera bag. And yes I will be conducting some tests of the output of the unit. I also appreciate the yet to be purchased gel/grid/snoot combo pack designed for the new head. Incredible innovation and flexibility by Godox/Flashpoint continues.

What struck me about the back and forth the inane pie hole ad nauseam conversations were over is about  the shape of the bulb in the new round head. NOT ONE OF THE PIE HOLES had a link to their work. Why? Because most people who like to pontificate (meaning see their talking in text) on their perception of the technical aspects of anything don’t consider what actually happens in real life. Let’s see your body of work. Let’s see how you’ve used the light in question. Let’s SEE something you’ve created.

I post this to warn those of you who linger much too long on forums, sites, etc. Analysis paralysis stunts your creative growth. Instead of reading the bovine back and forth of those who produce NOTHING, go out and create.

“When it’s new you have so many people they don’t see, they don’t have the vision. They don’t understand, they don’t want to understand. Why change something? Ah you think it’s impossible. We will show you the opposite. “ – LOFT: The Jetman Story

27 Aug 2018

Testing Before Using

I know that I often state whenever I get a new modifier/strobe/etc. I ALWAYS test them BEFORE putting them into my workflow. I’ve had a suggestion arise lately about showing them in a group in addition to in each of my modifier/strobe posts. Sounded like a good idea so here we go, but I have no plans to make this post comprehensive for all of my tests. Just a few. The first covers the Saberstrip v2.0 that utilizes the Flashpoint eVOLV200s.

Saberstrip v2.0

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

Test using a triangle configuration.

Test using them in a pair.

The Glow EZ Lock

Test setup.

Mole Richardson Fresnel Conversion

Bought this 1965 MGM Studios MR 412 Fresnel and converted it from a 1000 watt constant tungsten light into a strobe Fresnel. The following images were all shot AS TESTS prior to putting the Fresnel into my workflow.

Parabolix 35D

Elinchrom 39″ Deep Rotalux 

 

I NEVER place anything into my toolkit unless I’ve tested it previously. Too many unexpected situations come up in any session. Being unprepared with things you KNOW about is not wise.

22 Jul 2018

Teaching High School Kids About Photography

Jamie Smith, a man who I met in 2010 while attending a week long class by Greg Gorman has remained in contact and become my friend. Jamie worked with the famous Jay Maisel for over 10 years in NYC and now runs Social Fabric Collective“Social Fabric Collective is a non-profit organization that provides professional photography equipment, education and inspiration to high school students who are as diverse as they are dynamic.”

Earlier in 2018 Jamie asked if I would be interested in speaking to his class of young high school students about my view of photography. Prior to becoming a full time pro I was in the field of training at the corporate level. Even back then I HATED/LOATHED/WAS DISGUSTED by PowerPoint or rather how people attempt  to utilize PP. So I opted to do my hour long lesson old school, with paper that students read and actual photographs they could hold and view. As a training professional I know that a self paced lesson lends itself to much more retention. I know that so many people today like video because ‘it’s easy’ meaning it’s passive. And it’s NOT self paced, especially in a classroom environment.

So I thought I would post what I presented in the event it helps others pick and choose parts of my syllabus to teach others. The first part was handing out a printed form of this:

“July 17 2018 – Palo Alto CA

Hi my name is Mark and I’m a full time professional photographer. Prior to this life I was a trainer for Sony Playstation, a 3D animator and back then some of my clients included Johns Hopkins University, Estee Lauder, Nike, Bausch and Lomb, and DHL.

Photography tends to be a solitary activity and although I have no idea why you decided to enter this course I will assume that you have in interest in creating imagery. The type of imagery everyone wants to create is as varied as the number of people in the world. Today, everyone is a photographer, whether we’re talking about the ever present ‘selfies’ (ugh) or taking photos with whatever you have at the time. Photography is a satisfying pursuit, and I have found it is my lifelong endeavor. My preference is photographing people – dancers, actors and musicians. In reality I use a camera just to meet people.

It’s kind of easy to get into the ‘tech trap’ wondering what is the best camera, the best lens, the best light, the best camera bag. You get the picture. My personal view is to not allow myself to get hung up on that aspect of this life. It’s easy to see if you peruse photography forums, heck forums of any kind. There are always haters, boasters, see ME! types. Always discussing gear, what is the BEST, blah blah blah. But what is so apparent are the haters seldom if EVER post photos they’ve created other than silly test shots. Buying expensive things does not make an expert or an artist.

It’s also easy (and in most cases necessary) to focus solely on the technical aspects of photography. F stops, depth of field, shutter speed, sync speed, ISO noise, blah blah blah blah blah. But there are literally TONS of sites and Google searches we can do to find that info. And yes those elements are important but what I want to try to pass on to all of you today is what took me a long time to learn for myself….the art of seeing.

My epiphany happened when I was watching an Argentine Tango performance and became captivated by the light, the movement and the shadow. Those elements didn’t need a camera to be appreciated and were not the elements that made me a photographer. Nope, it was all about looking at the world in a way I had not encountered before. Instead of just looking – I would view a scene, a person, an object as a story. As I looked upon a sunset, a sunrise, a beautiful scene, an interesting or beautiful face, a tragedy, an object of any kind, my mind would begin to formulate a story about what I was viewing. I’d identify the feeling I’d emote while looking at the person, object or scene. I’d notice the light, how it fell upon the scene/person/object and how the light made me feel, how the shadows played against the light. The EMOTIONS I was feeling as I focused my gaze.

It went even further. I began to associate imagery with senses not normally associated with a picture. The smell of a sunset, the taste of a rock, the music I would hear in an expression. It was then that I began to notice that my photographs turned into much more than just a ‘pretty picture.’ Without a story, without feeling, a nice photograph is just a pretty picture. Some of my favorite imagery by artists I admire are underexposed, overexposed or blurry. But it’s the FEELING and STORY of the image that moves it from nice to fantastic to memorable.

Immerse yourself in the moment. I found that looking at the back of my camera while I’m out and about often meant that the truly GREAT shot was missed because I was paying attention to the wrong thing, the past, not the moment. There’s plenty of time to appreciate or loathe the image you shot…..later.

All art is about FEELING and STORY. Focus on the elements that don’t depend upon a camera so that when you have one in your hand, you will create something incredible. Be patient and watch. Observe, listen, smell, taste and touch. It will make your work rich beyond what you could have imagined.

Welcome to a different world. Welcome to Seeing

When you’re done reading this, but more importantly understand what I’m saying, raise your hand.”

Once each student was done reading the handout, I gave them an envelop with 10 photos and 10 index cards with these instructions:

Instructions

In this pack are ten images along with ten index cards. The images have a number written on the back of them. On the index card I would like you to

  1. Write the image number you are viewing on the index card
  2. Write a title for the image
  3. Write the Feeling you get when viewing the image
  4. Turn the card over
  5. Write your story of the image

Do this for each image, so in the end you should have ten index cards with a Title, Story and Feeling

When you are done, raise your hand

Here are the ten images that were contained in the envelop:

I then had all ten of the images posted at the front of the class with the corresponding numbers on envelops below each image. I asked each student to place their corresponding index card into those envelops. I asked each student to read all of the other cards to see how people view images differently. Unless you go to galleries with others or those who have also attended it’s tough to hear what others think of the very same image. What that does is it allows people to understand that everyone brings their own bias or experience in viewing any image or painting. It ‘opens your eyes’ to the view of others.

I also asked each student to text me their favorite photo. It didn’t need to be taken with their phones, but they must select one favorite image. I printed out each of the photos and made a lanyard so they could hang their favorite image around their neck….backwards. Each student sat in front of the class facing the whiteboard while the other students voiced how they each felt about the photo and what the story was for the image. The student who took the photo just listened, no feedback was allowed be it verbal or physical in nature. This allows each student to hear other people’s impression of their work. It gives them a window into how people perceive what they’ve created. That is an important part of learning in the creative arts. For the two students who didn’t send a photo I believe they missed an opportunity not often offered.

 

And finally I had a Q/A session where each of the students could ask me questions about photography.

And of course, a lit class photo.

13 Jun 2018

Seeing Light and Shadow

I get quite a few questions about light. Specifically questions about strobe brands, what I feel is the best modifier, focusing rods, octabanks, blah blah blah. I get it; I want to know about things like that as well. But on a recent trip to a client’s location I was asked to photograph a group of 2800 high school students as they attended the 5th Avenue Theatre’s Annual High School Musical Awards. It’s a huge event equivalent to the Tony Awards for High School students.

Almost all of the imagery I create at this annual event is ‘non lit’ meaning no strobes or modifiers, only available light. I’m not speaking of available ‘natural light’ from the sun. Nope it’s all unnatural light either from stage lighting or very dark back stage or street lighting. If you’ve never been in the wings of a live theatre just imagine the illumination of a strip club bar and you get the idea of what it’s like.

The real visual story action happens in the alley behind the theatre. It’s where the kids are collected to go backstage before their school performances of the productions for which they’ve been nominated. Obviously the energy is very high. Combine adolescent hormones with a very exciting event and you get a small picture of the energy!

The lighting in the alley is what you’d expect. The illumination is to prevent crime, light the trash bin areas and the HVAC equipment. Anything BUT something conducive to creating any type of portrait photography! But I decided to grab a few groups of students to use what light I had to create some portraiture. I wanted to test my own theories and when people ask me how to use light I simply say “study light.”

So the alley has about eight tungsten lights, the kind you see in the back of any retail establishment near the loading dock or employee entrances. Covered in an industrial plastic, they’re hearty to resist breakage as well as being damn bright. Each light is about 15 feet high on the brick walls and spaced about 25 feet apart running the length of the alley.

So I placed the groups of kids so that the light that fell on them created shadows I wanted and lit their faces in the manner I wanted for the mood of each shot. How I did that is something I won’t go into and I didn’t use any reflective materials or trash to fill in the shadows. Nope this was completely ad hoc shooting with the light I had from those alley lights. My point here is rather than concentrating on what brand, how many watt seconds, whether the modifier you’re lusting after is ‘truly parabolic’ study light and shadow. In my view it’s what will elevate your lighting beyond elevating your credit card balance with little actual yield.

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

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

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

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

30 May 2018

DJI Mavic Pro Updated 5-30-18

UPDATE 5-30-18

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.

A brand new Mavic arrived at my home to replace my crashed unit. Total time: 8 days. And no the more quiet props were not included. BUT they DID include a set of regular props even though I didn’t send in any.

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…..

Original Post

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….

….stay tuned.

20 May 2018

Surviving a Stroke

Today, May 20 2018 is my second anniversary as a stroke survivor. It occurred exactly 22 days after my Mom’s death and for the three years preceding that event it was both stressful and heart wrenching to watch her health decline. I didn’t have grandparents long, they passed when I was a young toddler. So experiencing the declining health of an elder was a new experience for me. Something only experience can show you and in reality nothing actually prepares anyone for that inevitable time.

I was photographing for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra on that day in 2016. I was on the balcony level when it happened. I knew that if I fell I would not only kill myself, but someone below me. So I made my way to the emergency exit stairwell and laid down on the floor. I heard the final notes, the applause and just as that ended, a white male, about 50-55 years old, 6-1 190lbs with a blue blazer and grey slacks entered the stairwell. (If you’re wondering about my description I was an investigator for 8 years) He looked directly at me and paused for just a second and then continued walking. Not a word, no offer of help. I will always remember his face and if I ever see him again we will share an experience we will both remember.

The doctors told me I was lucky when I finally went to the hospital three days later. Yes I did EVERYTHING wrong by not going to the ER right away, waiting until I flew back home to go to the ER AFTER I went to sleep that night when I arrived home. I’ve always been the type who does what I want to do…given my life’s limitations. I raised two kids, put one through college, paid for her education and supported a family of four. So during those times I had self imposed limitations, kids, a family to support and that’s what I chose to do.

But even then I would seldom listen to people who made little sense or seemed to only like the sound of their own voice. But that day in the stairwell in Dallas marked an even more profound change in my attitude about choices. I no longer choose to do, say or think things in life I don’t agree with. And perhaps most important, I choose to disassociate from, avoid or confront those who are rude, mean spirited or simply ignorant. I chose to save, to lead a 1099 life and now I’m blessed to have made those choices and have been lucky. Only an arrogant person ever believes that the entire benefits of life are totally self made. It’s the same as a victim mentality, always believing it’s someone else’s fault.

It’s one of the small reasons I maintain this blog, to help others, to offer my views of things I’ve used, my experiences with them. It’s why I have an especially jaded view of trolls of any type.

My two goals in life are to live an honorable life and to help others, that’s it.

20 Mar 2018

Fucking Trolls

Long ago I gave up participating on forums. Why? Because like ex-girlfriends who just had to be right, I cannot stand people who talk, bitch and produce nothing. Or sadly feel their work is good! I do frequent a few sites, the-digital-picture where Bryan and Sean take their time and review camera gear with integrity. Flashhavoc is where I learn about new lighting items. And I recently started frequenting Lighting Rumours which also talks about new lighting gear but have reviews of some of the items. Markus Klinko a shooter whose body of work I admire, also posts some interesting information about gear he uses on that site. He’s a commercial photographer who has a link to his work in his articles which is very well done. One of the aspects of how he approaches gear is that the brand/cost is irrelevant to his decisions. He states he uses Elinchrom, Broncolor, Cheetahstand among others. He looks at the performance of a product, not the brand or price point. I admire that as I tend to do the very same thing in my own selections.

Most if not all fucking trolls NEVER have links to their work, EVER. Why? Well because they really don’t know how to shoot well yet love to hear themselves talk about gear. Their photos ‘may’ be ‘nice’ (my mentor’s word for shit work) but instead they like to bitch about anything and sharp shoot those who are expressing their views.

Working photographers who post reviews of gear they’ve used are people I truly respect. Trolls are the bottom feeders of any craft.

Here are examples of the comments relating the Markus’ quick personal review of the Elinchrom Indirect Litemotiv Octa 190cm. Not all are trolls, but you will be able to immediately identify those who fit that category:

 

Markus thanks for your personal assessments on Lighting Rumours. It takes time to write these things, I know that first hand. And thanks for supporting the craft of photography.

This article by Ilona isn’t about photography, but it is about fucking trolls. “Ever since the dawn of the internet, there have been trolls. These broken, deeply insecure people love nothing more than to bring others down to their level by preying on their insecurities.” What’s great though is if you’re not insecure it don’t mean shit.

07 Mar 2018

Manning Up – Updated March 7 2018

UPDATED March 7 2018

Today marks the seventh anniversary of my departure from corporate America. Having been a small business for seven years has been both rewarding as well as remarkable. I so appreciate the tenacity and grit it takes to be a small business owner and collaborate with other small businesses. I have found that the intelligence and business acumen of those who run their own small businesses eclipse those I worked with in corporate America for over 38 years. It’s not for everyone, but for those who have always aspired to ‘be their own boss‘ be prepared to do it all, and to enjoy the rewards. If I can do it in the most expensive part of the country, the Bay Area, so can you.

Original Post

March 7 2011 was the day I was laid off from my last corporate job. Unlike most of my colleagues who move to different companies, but remain within the same industry; I have been in a wide variety of industries. Law enforcement, security, retail, insurance, broking, energy, sales, marketing and finally software. My titles ranged from individual contributor to Senior Vice President, then COO of a Fortune 100 company. Company cars, paid monthly parking in downtown San Francisco, expense accounts first class travel you name it I had it. I was a suit…..

No matter what my job or company I always had my ‘back up plan’ just in case my day job went south. Those plans included skills in woodworking, fabrication, computer repair and finally photography. It seems I never felt fully secure in any company even though I received continual accolades and promotions. Nope it always occurred to me that it could all be ‘taken away’ at a moment’s notice. So when my last job at PlayStation ended when the HR person and my boss (the worst boss of any of my 38 years in corporate America. The worst part is the executives knew she was horrible, yet did nothing) let me know ”Your job has been eliminated” I was both relieved and surprised. You see my boss had told me that the meeting was about a “Powerpoint” presentation she wanted me to review with her.

When I heard their words I looked at my now former boss and said “Gosh then there is no need for you to be here. Why don’t you go find something else to do?!” And she quietly got up from her desk grabbed her purse and left. Tracy, the HR person went over my severance package, told me I was not allowed to go back to my office or talk with anyone. She asked to write down anything in my office that are personal items I wanted returned. I said “No need. Two months ago I took all of my personal possessions home.” She asked why and if I was sure. “Yes and I have hated how I’ve been treated here for six years so there was no need to have anything personal in my office.” She then said smugly “So now you can pursue your little photography business.”

I had been moonlighting as a part time (what some people call ‘semi pro’) photographer for two local theatre companies. My girlfriend and I were partners in those shoots. Since I had a highly paying day job there was no need for her to have full or part time employment. She did some graphic and website design from home to earn money. So when I went home that day at noon, and told her the news, she seemed shocked.

As I began a search online the next week for new ‘jobs’ I thought to myself, “Mark, it’s time you man up. Do you really want to invest time and your dignity into going on interviews with thirtysomethings and be asked questions like ‘What is your five year plan?’ and then responding with ‘Fuck you!’” It just would not be conducive to being hired or worse being hired. So with 30 years of business development, management, finance, sale, marketing experience and a love for photography I decided it was time to man up and pursue my dream.

My finance mind went to work right away since unlike others I didn’t have the safety net of a working spouse with benefits. So I tightened down my expenses and calculated what I would need to survive those first five years of being self-employed. And then the biz dev side of me took over. Little by little I obtained more clients. I never did any advertising so all of my new client work was through word of mouth. Several key people were instrumental in helping me grow the business by recommending me to others. For that I will always be grateful. I’m also not arrogant enough to not believe that luck and timing has much to do with a person’s success. One of the advantages of having a varied corporate background is most people simply consider me as just a photographer. I seldom if ever discuss my background, but it’s such an advantage.

And along the way I noticed something I had never done in my entire previous working life….I didn’t have or want a backup plan, no Plan B, no nothing! I was all in and discovered that doing what one loves to do automatically eliminated the desire for a Plan B. Sure the money was much less in the beginning, but the people I encountered and have befriended on this journey along with the experiences make everything else pale in comparison. The quality of my life is beyond what I would have ever imagined. And it all has to do with my love for what I do. It’s the people, it’s the rich experiences that I so adore.

05 Jan 2018

Necessity is the mother of invention – UPDATE January 5 2018

UPDATE February 22 2018

During a client session they allowed me to experiment using my Elinchrom 69″ with focusing arm. Here are the results

Key light camera left in fully flooded position. Wonderful soft yet punchy light.

Pre shoot shot.

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! 

The Eli 69″ with my focusing rod.

Fully flooded the light distribution is incredibly even! The real test will be during my first shoot, but I am convinced at how incredible the light quality will be.

Fully focused.

Left: Elinchrom Rotalux 69″ Right PCB 86″ Soft Silver (v1.0) umbrella.

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.

The ring on the top is the Cheetahstand Rice Bowl Bracket. The one on the bottom is the Westcott Zeppelin bracket. As you can see Cheetahstand’s bracket uses a proprietary size for the rod tips which are much smaller than the tips from other manufacturers. This makes using his ring impossible with other brand’s modifiers.

Sure his bracket fits a Bowens mount, but how do you attach it to a lightstand? So TECHNICALLY it’s true that his Chop Stick fits Bowens modifiers, BUT there’s no way to mount the stick to a light stand unless you’re using one of his modifiers and mounting bracket.

Left, Cheetahstand’s Birdcage 13 oz, right is the Parabolix 23 oz. They are interchangeable in function. The Chop Stick Birdcage is a third of the price too.

Back of the Chopstick’s arm mount. The knob at the top controls the tension of the device on the arm. The knob at 4:00 releases it from the Bowens mount. This is the heaviest part of the Chop Stick’s configuration.

Mounting side.

The arms of both the Chop Stick and Parabolix are about the same length.

My fabricated Chop Stick holder after modifying the Cheetahstand mount to accept a Bowens connector.

The modified Cheetahstand mount with the Bowens attachment.

The Chop Stick has a nice eyelet on the back of the actual stick for counterbalancing. But I find it much more convenient to use a SuperClamp and 90 degree arm to hold my AD600 when using the light weight head. Raising and lowering the modifier with the weight of a counterweight is often a pain in the ass. I mount the holder BELOW the first section of the risers. Great leverage here. This method works very well. Just FYI

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.

Original Post

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?

Yep that’s a 7″ cone on the end just to illustrate that a hard modifier will fit on the focusing arm. I plan to use a PCB 18″ Omni to see how the quality of light changes with a hard modifier.

The Cheetahstand Bowens light holder.

LOL crazy!

I think Edward’s Rice Bowl present an excellent value, but I already have a 47 and 59″ Zeppelin so I’d rather use them with a focusing arm than purchase more modifiers that are similar in shape.

How it looks from inside the Zep.

20 Oct 2017

Why I Love What I Do

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

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

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

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

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

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

05 Sep 2017

Why I use: xPLOR/Cheetahstand/Parabolix/Cononmark/etc

UPDATE December 9 2017

I recently conducted a two day session using two eVOLV200S mounted to an AD-B2 unit shot through a Cheetahstand Quick strip box. The strobes were used as second key lights combined with my xPLOR600 with remote head shot through a CononMark 120CM focusing octa modifier. The units performed well and the stopping power of the units is excellent. I shot all sessions using a Pentax 645Z whose sync speed is limited to 1/125th of a second. During jumping action shots the strobes froze the action of the talent jumping. I’m continually pleased with the performance of both the eVOLV and xPLOR  units. It should also be noted that I was able to complete two full days of shooting without charging either the eVOLV or xPLOR units.

The two eVOLV200s in the AD-B2 can be seen behind the Cheetahstand Quick Strip box in the center of the seamless.

Full body shot of the talent as she performed a leap into the air.

Full crop of the necklace to illustrate the stopping power of the strobes.UPDATE October 20 2017

My client has incorporated some of my publicity imagery into their marketing campaign.

UPDATE October 12 2017

In my review of Cheetahstand’s Quick Stripbox and Lantern I have shown my lighting setups for a different dance troupe. You can view that post here.

UPDATE October 2 2017

I have written a post about a dance session I conducted that uses these items. You can view that post here.

UPDATE September 8 2017

In my post about the Parabolix 35D I have some of my recent client work which was just released.

UPDATE September 7 2017

I wanted to illustrate how I add lights during the session below.

First I see how I want the exposure using the Cheetahstand lantern as my overhead light.

A reluctant assistant stands in while I balance the overhead light. I find that the lantern is much more to my taste for an overhead light.

Then I add the rim lights using the new gridded Cheetahstand Quick Strip Boxes. I am only using the inner diffusion panels.

At this point I add my key light the Parabolix Deep 35 in its mid focused position.

And finally I move my camera right gridded rim light to illuminate her downstage leg to my taste while using the Parabolix in its fully focused position to capture her face.

Original Post

I want to make this simple. The ONLY reason I use a piece of gear is because I have found a piece of gear which works for me. I have long given up on most review sites with the exception of three I trust. I do listen to other pros I know personally if they find pieces of gear that work for them. It doesn’t mean those items will work the same for me, or vice versa. I am LOYAL to companies that service/warranty/customer service the products they carry with integrity.

I was recently hired to create some promotional imagery for a dance troupe. They have an upcoming performance this Fall and wanted me to create some marketing imagery. For this particular shoot I am not tied to an NDA so I am able to use some of the images and BTS shots I created, providing I don’t mention the troupe’s name. This posting is part review, part explanation as to why I choose what I choose for my work.

Cheetahstand

I often chuckle when I hear/read folks discount or complain about items “Made in China.” Sure I would love to purchase items made in the USA or specifically California, but this is a century which is global where items are made everywhere. Apparently innovation is now global….. (LOL) I remember the day people use to tease me that “Made in Japan” meant the items were ‘cheap’ and poorly made. Well guess fucking what? Times have changed….

Cheetah 12″x55″ Quick StripBox 

Well made, easy as pie to erect (versus put together), wonderful light, what’s not to love?

I HATE putting together softboxes, HATE IT. So when I read that Edward had designed and manufactured a ‘quick’ softbox I was skeptical. You see I have used Westcott’s Rapid Box line and although they are fine, I never really like the design. So I ordered one of his Quick Stripboxes and was duly impressed when it arrived. I especially like how he includes a fabric grid with his products. The mechanism that expands the four captured rods is genius. And the material he uses is of good quality.

You can see the Cheetah 12″x55″ Quick Strip Box in the background. The lantern is on a boom and I’m using an old PCB umbrella to control spill. My Parabolix Deep 35 was my key light.

The pair of Cheetah 12″x55″ Quick Strip Boxes in use. Those are symphonic musicians and a composer….Hahahahaha

Lit with only two Cheetah 12″x55″ Quick Strip Boxes.

Cheetah 26″ Quick Lantern 

I only wish I used a lantern earlier!

It’s no secret that one of my favorite lighting techniques is rim or back lighting the talent. Normally I’ve used gridded strip boxes, but when I happened upon the Cheetah 26″ Quick Lantern I thought it may solve one of the issues I have with strip box overhead lighting. By using an orb the light would be more evenly distributed on my subjects. Photographing dancers often means they MOVE around and are often out of the sweet spot of a strip light. The light produced by the Cheetah 26″ Quick Lantern is smooth and more natural looking for my work. To keep the unit’s light from spilling onto the background I cut an old PCB umbrella and use it to drape over the lantern. When I want to direct light other than straight down, I simply use some wooden clothespins to roll the material up to expose the lantern. Works great! Oh and assembly of the lantern is so easy. Love omnidirectional light when needed.

Cheetah 26″ Quick Lantern and two strip boxes used.

Cheetah 26″ Quick Lantern as the key light for this shot. The even light distribution is what I love about his orb!

This illustrates how I’m using the Cheetah 26″ Quick Lantern.

Cheetah 26″ Quick Lantern as my key light and two strip boxes.

Parabolix 35 Deep Package 

So well designed and manufactured. Beautiful light.

On a different post on my site I’ve done an initial review of the Parabolix Deep 35. I was not yet able to display any photos due to NDAs, but am able to do so here. I will simply repeat that the modifier is very well made and the focusing arm and pivot is top notch. The light produced is wonderful. Is it three times better than my CononMark 120? For me not three times better, yet it is wonderful.

Flashpoint Portable 1200ws Extension Head used in a gobo head. Parabolix used as a fill light fully focused. Rear light is a coned xPLOR600.

Flashpoint Portable 1200ws Extension Head used in a gobo head. Parabolix used as a fill light fully focused. Rear light is a coned xPLOR600.

Parabolix used as a key light fully focused. Lantern overhead and both gridded strip boxes used as perimeter lights.

My point to this post is I’m not influenced by brands or theoretical ‘views’ by other ‘photographers’ who love to spew out their views without any imagery. I try to find what works best for me and presents a good value. I value my freedom above all else.

Three of my fellow pro shooters are sponsored by photographic house hold names. In each case when I’ve said “Hey have you tried XYZ’s new lens/strobe/etc?” they respond with “Ugh I can’t because having agreed to be sponsored by ABC Company means I can’t use XYZ’s stuff.” I get it though; getting expensive gear for free is cool. But for me the freedom to use what works for me, means a ton more than free gear.

In the end it’s what I produce that’s more important than what brand of this and that I use. If people believe that a specific brand or model of anything is going to make their work better, then they need a reality check. HOW YOU USE any tool and HOW YOU USE YOUR IMAGINATION are the most valuable assets you can own.

And since I just received an email from a client I consider quite a hard ass who SELDOM hands out ANY compliments which said, “You my talented bad ass brother…is the man…” after viewing some of the shots, I’ll stick to my own methodology.

01 Sep 2017

What inspires me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eye makeup applied so the ladies are good to go!

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

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

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

Day Two

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

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

One of Natalie’s final shots.

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

22 Aug 2017

Changes

This has nothing to do with photography, so if that’s what you’re after you can stop reading.

Nope this is about two simple things I’ve done in the past eight months that have literally changed my patterns of life. Like any ‘normal’ person who owns his own small business I had a perfectly satisfying routine. Work, do business development, edit, practice, shoot, send emails, go on vacation, sit in front of my computer. It was a nice satisfying life and like most people I’d go on vacation to relax.

What frustrated me to no end was whenever I stayed at hotels for client work, many of them have those wonderful rooftop patios with fire pits, lounging areas and wonderful views. Yet I never really got to enjoy them due to the very tight shooting schedules I maintain. The other issue is I found that I didn’t get outside as much as I like because I tied myself to my computer. So here’s what happened that enacted changes for the better than I could ever imagine…..

I have raced motorcycles all of my life. My Dad thought it would be a great idea to keep me out of trouble, make me save money for gas and bike parts and delay my desire to ‘be with those kinds of girls.’ “If it has a period or uses gasoline boy, it’s gonna be expensive!!!” Yeah my Dad was THAT kind of Dad. (he was right though….LOL) So from motocross to desert racing to road racing I LOVED two wheel competition. But when I finally figured out I’d never be the next Valentino Rossi I hung up my leathers for a camera. Yet the need to be on two wheels never left me. And racing, riding a bike on the street didn’t hold any appeal. I had taken to mountain biking for a while riding a Specialized Hard Tail with a front Rock Shox. But on a very muddy winter day I landed on the cross bar with my two soft parts and had to go to the hospital, to have one ‘drained.’ I’ve been in my share of hand to hand battles, been kicked in the family jewels plenty, but nothing felt like being ‘drained’ by a physician. So I gave up mountain biking.

But when the whole ebike thing appeared I was intrigued. I followed a Kickstarter campaign for over a year that was developing an electric mountain bike. I’d been burned by two Kickstarter campaigns so the thought of losing 1k of my money didn’t appeal to me. Then while on vacation I visited an ebike shop right across from the hotel. The owner asked if I’d ever ridden an ebike and when I said “No” he rolled out a full suspension mountain bike and simply said “Get on and take it for a ride.” And once I rode up a San Francisco type hill just in front of his shop I WAS SOLD. It ended up that my girlfriend got one too since the shop owner wanted to trade a film of his shop for her bike. Shit, I had to pay for mine!

Then once we got home I started to think about my backyard. It’s not a large backyard since I live in a townhome in the Bay Area. But I started to map things out I wanted that I saw at hotels; a hot tub, a fire pit, some lounging furniture. I began to figure out “I can do this, and not for a ton of money.” So after doing my normal Excel Spreadsheet calculations I found out that instead of going on an annual vacation, we’d spend the money on the patio. Between Amazon and IKEA the items you see in my patio became a reality.

But the point of this whole thing is now I find we’re outside when we’re not working. We’re riding our bikes all of the time and even though it IS exercise, I never think of it that way because IT’S SO DAMN FUN. We ride to dinner, pack dinner and ride to the sea. And the patio? In the morning we have coffee out there, lunch out there, dinner out there. We sit in the hot tub before bed time. My ideas for new shooting scenarios have grown. Why? Because my routine is different, my mental attitude is different than before. Change can be scary. But changes like these can be wonderful. It’s simply a matter of figuring out what you want to do with life and then take action.

14 Aug 2017

My Reasons for Leaving Facebook Updated 8-15-19

UPDATE 8-15-19

More disgusting lack of oversight. “Facebook outsourced contractors to listen in on your audio messenger chats and transcribe them, a new report reveals.  So not just FB employees but contractors! Holy crap

UPDATE 7-17-17

“The real reason you can’t quit Facebook? Maybe it’s because you can judge your friends.” You can read the article here.

UPDATE 6-6-17 “It’s far easier to unleash a half-truth than it is to correct it.”

Today I read an interesting article by Christie Aschwanden about her experience leaving social media. Her views very much mirror my own with the exception that I have not returned to the FB rabbit hole. Her article is well worth a read.

Original Blog Post

Back in mid-October 2016 just before the Presidential election the mood of Facebook along with the country took an ugly turn. People overtly and covertly began to show bigotry toward me as well as others. For me Facebook has never been a vehicle for real change, although there are some things like helping individuals that work through social media. I found that Facebook made me ‘feel’ as if I ‘may’ be doing ‘something’ but in reality it was just masturbation. The good of keeping ‘in touch’ with people who had moved away or people I had not seen in many years was a positive part of the social media giant, but for me nothing of substance was there. It was a time burner. In May I had a stroke after my mother died in April and when the doctor told me to quit smoking or I’d risk a stroke that could leave me paralyzed on one side of my body. So I quit…cold turkey. Had she said that I would die if I had another stroke, well I would have gladly kept smoking. The thought of being dependent on anyone, most of all my children or my partner was enough to convince me to quit. Even though I LOVED SMOKING. The positive result of my stroke is I found so many things trivial. I had found pettiness and trivial people and attitudes poor in the past but the stroke sharpened my keen sense of what is important to a new level.

One of the side results of using Facebook for a while was becoming accustomed to small ‘snippets’ of information, the thing I swore I’d never succumb to…the USA Today method of reading. Much like how news is presented to us in ‘new cycles’ newspapers often have very short and often unedited content. So in summary I wanted to return to the ‘old school ways’ in which I was raised. To meet with people in real life, to build physical things, to help those face to face and to greatly reduce my ‘screen time’ so that I didn’t become a drone who has a screen in front of my face more than I cared to admit. I no longer wanted to have convenience trump the effort it takes to have real life face to face relationships.

For my first week ‘without’ social media I found I missed it, yet it also showed me how dependent I had become on its use. Funny that smoking was much easier the first week to do without than Facebook. This showed me just how bad my habit had become. After about a month people asked about me through our business Facebook page which Tracy found a bit irritating. But those who really wanted to contact me did so the ‘old fashion’ way, through email or those who are personal friends through texting.

I ventured out to the Mohave Desert to do a photo shoot with Pato and Eva which took us a year to plan. I made friends in real life with five remarkable people who I never knew before. I started to build things again in real life. I began to read and write. And slowly but surely I began to become ‘old school’’ once more. Then tragedy struck….

The Oakland warehouse fire happened in a building called the ‘Ghost Ship.’ 36 individuals died in that fire one of which was Jenny Morris, a close friend of my son. Jenny was only 21 years old and her death affected me as if she was my own child. I cannot begin to fathom the sadness felt by her mother, father and brother. Like grief I have experienced in my life my sadness comes in waves, in ebbs and flows just like my son’s sadness. Grief is not linear in healing. My son and Jenny had broken up a year ago and had they still been dating I’m sure that he would have died in the fire as well. He would have done all he could to save Jenny and others at the cost of his own life. The thought and possibility of losing a child makes everything else pale in comparison.

So how I use Facebook will be different than before. I may or may not feel like posting photos here or “Liking” this or that. I will be more of a lurker and when the mood strikes me, leave again for a time. I found that my creative ideas and feelings were much stronger when I was not participating on Facebook and I cannot explain why, but it does not matter.

So what I can control and do in my real life that isn’t dependent on social media is to be kind to others, to help in a way that is meaningful. And I will follow the words of John F. Kennedy “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

05 Aug 2017

To Studio or Not to Studio?

My partner and I went back and forth for quite some time about whether or not we wanted to invest in a long or short term lease on a studio. In the Bay Area real estate is very pricey, much more so than other areas of the country. But that is not the primary reason we opted to NOT put our money into a studio. I think there are photographers who can easily justify a studio which includes much more than just the rent. Sure it would be so much more convenient for me to have a studio instead of lugging gear and assistants to and from locations. But, and this is a BIG BUT for me, I would get bored, completely and utterly in about 2 shoots. Why? I bore easily and shooting against seamless or bringing in props, constantly building sets, etc. would drive me to the point that I may decide to return to a corporate job! (No way really…)

For me the world is the best studio, the absolute best for my work. But sometimes for a variety of reasons my clients cannot arrange to shoot on location so I shoot in rented studios or spaces which are convenient to the client. Flying the talent in, housing them, using Union makeup/hair/wig/prop you name it staff is expensive. Transporting them to a studio far away is inconvenient to many clients. You’d be shocked at how some of the ‘studios’ I work in are crazy cramped or awful from a shooter’s standpoint. But a big part of being a pro is working with what you got.

But there are times when a client wants ‘more’ than just seamless but doesn’t have the budget to house or transport all of the talent to the perfect location. So a rented studio for the day or week, or better yet a warehouse is what I use. This is where light/atmosphere and theatrical type modifiers like gobos can make a scene more effective. Whenever people ask how I create different looks in studio I just say, “Watch movies, look at the light/environment and figure out how to make the scene you’re watching. Imagination is insanely more powerful than any new camera gear. And simply having an idea is not good enough. You need to actually make it happen.”

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

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

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

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

Publicity for the play Assassins shot in an alley.

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

Recently a client ‘wanted’ to do their publicity shoot on location, but since scheduling of the talent and the availability of the venue didn’t jibe we shot in studio, a rented warehouse. By using atmosphere and special light modifiers the client was pleased.

Preparing for the shoot as wardrobe and makeup is applied.

The whole point of this posting is to help you decide if a studio is something you ‘have to have.’ In my case it is not simply because the type of work I do constantly demands new looks and feelings for my client base. Every shooter has different needs and there are no ‘right or wrong’ answers.

28 Jul 2017

Baby Hummingbird

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!