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.
February 18 2019
I recently used the Flashpoint eVOLV 200 Round Flash Head attached to an AD200 during a professional tango shoot. I like the modeling lamp in the head and find it brighter than the stock Fresnel head in the AD200. I used the light with a ‘voice activated light stand’ (a human) in this instance. Because the Argentine Tango dancers were moving freely a normal light stand just would not be the best tool for the job. Plus the room was filled with haze and the rays of light coming through the doorway made balancing light a challenge.
The quality of light produced by the Round Flash head is very very nice. I won’t ever hesitate to use it when it’s the right tool for the right job. And in this case it was.
UPDATE February 11 2019
I realized I had posted some of my lighting techniques under a different blog heading about the v2.0 Saberstrip modifiers, which I consider to be a revolutionary modifier, but had not updated this post. I do so because I find the v2.0 Saberstrips to be almost invaluable for me in creating dance imagery. In some cases I have used three of them to light dancers in studio. As an overhead light on a boom arm and two on each side of the dancers as rim lights. It creates a very dramatic sculpture of their forms as they move. I have also taken to using my 10″ Fresnel to light dancers. I love the light produced by a large lens Fresnel. A hard contrasty light that is unlike any other modifier.
The following images were all created with three v2.0 Saberstrips as shown in my photo above.
The following were shot with a backlight with a cone, three v2.0 Saberstrips and the Fresnel as a fill light.
And finally two v2.0 Saberstrips and the Fresnel as a key light.
For me experimenting with light is one of the most exciting parts of dance photography. Don’t be afraid to experiment, otherwise all of your images will begin to look the same. And what fun is that?
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.
I was recently hired to do an annual studio dance session by one of my long time clients. I’m posting this to show how I use xPLOR, eVOLV, Cheetahstand, CononMark, etc lights and modifiers in a session. This was an all-day session lasting approximately 6.5 hours of nonstop shooting. I had charged both the Xplor and eVOLV lights to full the day before. I never even ran close to running out of battery power on any of the strobes. All of the strobes showed half full at the end of the day. My Canon 1DXII showed 25% battery life left at the end of the day to give you some reference. I was using the WFT-E6A wireless transmitting dongle on my camera to wirelessly tether my rig to my iPad so the client could view the images as they happened. Using the transmitter uses more battery life than without.
There seems to be quite a bit of ‘talk’ that certain brands of modifiers/lights/etc. must be used in order to ‘be a pro.’ Nonsense. How one uses gear, how one engages with the talent and how one uses their imagination are the most important part of imagery to my clients. So I post this in hopes that it will help other shooters who are interested in multi light set ups, but not hung up on brand names or scientific theories about what makes a true parabola or other talking points. When people ask me what is the one thing I would have for gear over everything else, I always say your imagination. Years ago I was blessed to be able to spend time with Annie Leibovitz and I asked her “How do I shoot more like you?” Her response? “Don’t shoot like me Mark, shoot like you. It’s the only way to develop your own style.”
Some of my final images.
Update January 13 2019
I purchased the 36″ version of this modifier based on my experience with the 25″ model. I’m not sure if manufacturing has changed, but the 36″ model’s snaps which hold the inner diffusion panel are of less quality than my 25″ model. They are EXTREMELY difficult to remove once they are snapped into place on the modifier. So much so that removing them is very difficult and one of them pulled the mating snap off of the modifiers. I now use a binder clip to hold that part of the diffusion panel in place.
Be aware that the modifiers may be of a different manufacturing level when purchasing these.
Original Post November 26 2018
I was recently asked by a client to create a portrait of one of their executives that will appear in a magazine article. They let me know only one day before my flight. This was a surprise since my trip was originally scheduled to fly up for a production shoot. This meant I had no plans to haul any strobes or modifiers up on my airline trip. So in order to keep my luggage small I opted to take my Glow EZ Lock Octa Small Quick Softbox for Speedlite (25″) along with my Flashpoint eVOLV 200 Round Flash Head as my lighting gear.
I really like how small the EZ Octa folds down. It fit so well into my suitcase and hardly took any space at all. Because the modifier is relatively small, I knew I would have to place the light close to the talent. I rarely use modifiers smaller than 39″ as my key lights, but in this case opted to use the 25″ due to packing space. I used the metal disk in its concave placement along with the outer diffusion panel. Although the Adorama ad shows that the modifier comes with a grid, mine did not…..
So here are some of the shots:
My assessment of the modifier is it’s ‘good.’ The light quality is good for a modifier this small. Its pack ability is excellent and I will continue to use it as a rim or hair light. Or when I need to pack very small as a key light as well.
Occasionally my clients ask that I shoot in front of seamless. Most of the time it is because they have a graphic artist add treatments to the shot. In other cases they don’t have the time or budget to go on location. Shooting in front of seamless is my least favorite type of shooting, but sometimes it’s necessary. In a recent studio publicity session for Noises Off the client asked that I shoot in front of white seamless due to actor scheduling issues preventing an on location shoot. In addition he conveyed to me that no graphic treatments would be added to the final image. The Director of the play sent me a photograph created in NYC by another theatre company for the same play, Noises Off. They had shot their publicity image on location. It conveyed the mood of the shot to me very well.
So my challenge was to recreate that mood in front of seamless. No room, no textures of walls, just plain white paper is all that I had. So after giving it some thought, I decided to combine three different light sources to create the shot within the Artistic Director’s confines, but give the Director the mood and story he desired. I asked that some furniture be used to create levels between the seven (yep 7) different characters in the shot. It would also provide a much less sterile feeling of the seamless. A chair, a small table and I opted to bring a prop lamp I had purchased from a theatre company long ago.
So here’s what I used to create this final image:
Setting up the ‘room’ with the lights and props. The talent found this very entertaining to see me flashing the lamp and gobo strobes while all of this was going on! LOL
Key Light was a PCB legacy 86” Soft silver umbrella. I had intended to use my Glow Grand Para focusing rod modifier, but found that PCB worked much better for this shot. Camera left was its placement. I cannot vouch for the newer version of the PLM soft silver umbrella as I have not purchased or used one. The strobe I used for the key light was the Flashpoint 600.
The lamp was lit using a Flashpoint Zoon R2 Manual Flash with a Gary Fong Lightsphere placed inside the lamp shade. Because I was using strobes, any normal light bulb would have been completely overpowered so I needed to illuminate the lamp with a strobe. It just added the authenticity of light that I wanted for the shot.
The ‘window shadow’ I decided to add was created using a Flashpoint XP600 Pro attached to a Flashpoint XP600 Pro Portable 600ws Extension FlashHead using a now discontinued Bowens Universal Spotlite Attachment with a Rosco window gobo. I wanted some visual interest and a cue to the interior of a grand room to add mood.
Part of the story of the shot is the ‘butler’ dumping a tray of appetizers on one of the other characters. So in order to time the shot, I asked the ‘butler’ to nod when he was about to dump the tray. The tumbling of the items off of the tray was not done in post, but in camera. It’s just my workflow.
As professional shooters we are so often asked to create a mood and story out of nothing. It’s just the nature of the job. Using your imagination and different light sources/modifiers can do things that one can only imagine.
I know that I often state whenever I get a new modifier/strobe/etc. I ALWAYS test them BEFORE putting them into my workflow. I’ve had a suggestion arise lately about showing them in a group in addition to in each of my modifier/strobe posts. Sounded like a good idea so here we go, but I have no plans to make this post comprehensive for all of my tests. Just a few. The first covers the Saberstrip v2.0 that utilizes the Flashpoint eVOLV200s.
Bought this 1965 MGM Studios MR 412 Fresnel and converted it from a 1000 watt constant tungsten light into a strobe Fresnel. The following images were all shot AS TESTS prior to putting the Fresnel into my workflow.
Elinchrom 39″ Deep Rotalux
I NEVER place anything into my toolkit unless I’ve tested it previously. Too many unexpected situations come up in any session. Being unprepared with things you KNOW about is not wise.
Shooting as a pro means there are times when you have to prove yourself once again with an established client. Not doing a great job either in the finished product or through your service simply means you’re not used again. One of my long standing clients, Village Theatre recently changed Artistic Directors. Jerry Dixon, their new AD planned to attend two of the three on location publicity shoots all to be held in different cities in greater Seattle area. The first session for the play Curious Incidents is also the play he is directing. No pressure eh? LOL
The second aspect of this day that is always a bit concerning was that I NEVER SAW ANY OF THE VENUES IN ADVANCE of the day! Sure the Marketing Director sent me some camera phone photos and links to the MOPOP (Museum of Pop Culture) areas where she wanted to shoot, but I had never been there. Nor had I been to Spangler Book Exchange/Reread Books, the quaint bookstore where we were to shoot the Matilda publicity or the alley in Everett where I’d shoot the Howard Barnes publicity. Add to that the additional element of time. For each venue we were limited in time based on either the schedule of some of the talent or due to the venue’s prior commitments.
The only element I ever insist on from clients is to answer; “What is the mood you want from each session?” Why? Well because the expression of the talent(s) and the LIGHT is something I have to plan for BEFORE I hit the job….which leads me to….
The Marketing Director kept asking me “Mark, I need to know your power requirements for each venue so I can work with each of the operations managers to plan power for your gear.” Since I exclusively use Flashpoint strobes, guess what….they need no outside power!!! SCORE! I hauled seven, yes seven strobes from SF to SEA in a small Pelican case. 49.5 pounds…just UNDER the 50 lbs. limit! Three Xplor600s, one 600Pro and three Evolv200s! I split the four 600 batteries between me and my partner’s carry on camera bags instead of inside checked luggage to save weight (btw I always put gaff tape over the contacts of the batteries just in case…). All of the stands were rented in Seattle and for the smoke I advance shipped smoke grenades to the Marketing Director. It takes planning folks….LOL
For modifiers I took three v2 Saberstrips which use Evolv200s with their Fresnel heads. I cannot speak highly enough about both the Evolvs and the new Saberstrips. Together they create what I view as a revolutionary combination in camera lighting. Yeah they’re that good. I knew that both the MOPOP and the bookstore sessions would be VERY CRAMPED in terms of space. Using “traditional” modifiers or strobes would be a total pain in the ass. Sure it could be done, but would easily have been a 10/10 on my cussing scale. I knew I wanted a softer light for both the MOPOP and bookstore feeling, but a hard light in the alley. So I took three Fresnel modifiers for that session. All of my modifiers fit into my SKB hard sided golf case which I use to transport my light modifiers when traveling out of town.
So here’s how it all worked: (All of the BTS images are by my partner Tracy Martin)
Session 1, Curious Incident shoot at MOPOP
Session 2 for Matilda at ReRead Bookstore
A few of the Final Images
Session 3 for Howard Barnes in an alley in Everett WA
A few of the Final Images
I was so shocked to see an article written by James Spangler the owner of ReRead Books where we shot the Matilda publicity! All if not most photographers know that getting feedback is rare so this was both a nice and humbling surprise. My whole point on this post is to highlight the incredible leap in technology and innovation in the field of photographic lighting. Sure all of us can figure out how to do something even if it’s tough. But to have others who are helping to ease the stress of creating beautiful light is wonderful!
UPDATE May 24 2018
CalArts has placed their entire Summertime Issue 2018 #3 online.
In January 2018 the Editor of The Pool, an alumni magazine for the California Institute for the Arts contacted me about a feature they had planned for their 3rd edition of the publication. CalArts was incorporated in 1961 as the first degree-granting institution of higher learning in the United States created specifically for students of both the visual and performing arts. It offers Bachelor of Fine Arts, Master of Fine Arts, Master of Arts, and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees among six schools: Art; Critical Studies; Dance; Film/Video; Music; and Theater.
The publication wanted to feature one of their alumni – Antoine Hunter a deaf dancer, choreographer and educator. The editor informed me that Antoine had specifically requested that I create the imagery for his feature which prompted CalArts to commission me for the honored task. I met Antoine when he danced for Savage Jazz Dance Company of Oakland where I created publicity imagery for their troupe.
As with all creative endeavors my workflow was to meet with Antoine over coffee to discuss the mood he’d like to have for his imagery. Once we had our meeting I contacted the editor to discuss his wishes and we scheduled the session in and around iconic San Francisco landmarks. He wanted the imagery to reflect the majestic flavor of Antoine’s home. Beyond that, the artistic elements were left to my discretion which I always appreciate.
In March the editor flew up for the day and we began the session. Even though there was a chance of rain I was confident that the areas I had selected would be shielded from rain if it occurred. As luck would have it, it was a glorious day with wonderful clouds in the sky that I adore. Antoine brought his 6 year old daughter to the event along with his ASL interpreter. Even though we had not discussed shots of him and his daughter, I took them anyway as a memento of that day which he could have for his own memories. I too have kids and having imagery of them never gets old. In the end the magazine used one of the photos which I felt added much to his story. I’ve often found that the images created outside of an assignment are often used and enrich a story.
For all of the images I used a two Flashpoint 600s with extension flash heads to keep weight on the modifier end to a minimum. The modifier I used was a PCB Omni reflector which is my go to outdoor modifier. I had written a blog post about how I converted it to accept a Bowens mount. It is great in wind which is always a concern with my on location shoots. I planned to utilize two of these and had both with me during the sessions. All of the images were created using HSS between 1/1000th and 1/2000th of a second depending on my location and the sun’s intensity at the time. Generally the aperture was f2.8.
My plan was to NOT make the images appear lit, but balanced in natural light yet with a high production value. The only exception was when I created his portrait in a tunnel that is very darkly lit. In this instance I used two of the lights, one as a backlight to rim his figure and the other as a key light. The back light modifier was a simple 7 inch cone on a Flashpoint 600. The magazine ended up using that shot for the cover and I’m really pleased with the results.
I continue to be impressed with the performance, flexibility and quality of my 600 units, both as a monolight or with an extension head. They are key to my work and the innovation in their ability to convert from a monolight to a pack/head or 1200ws head offers me options other manufacturers don’t offer or match at the price point. I often chuckle when I read others who are so concerned about a 1/3 drop of power when using the extension heads. I guess increasing their ISO 1/3 of a stop doesn’t occur to them! LOL!!!! Some people will bitch about absolutely anything rather then spending their time on creating.
Gallery of images. Not all were utilized in the publication.
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.
UPDATE: March 25 2018
I wanted to do a final test prior to using this modifier. I placed my eVOLV200 into the unit with both the Fresnel and bare bulb heads to see if there was any light output difference. I originally thought that the bare bulb would produce a higher output but I was wrong. Both the Fresnel and the bare bulb produced f32 at 2.5 feet from the front of the modifier. Power level for all shots was full power, 1:1. As I contemplated the output is not even across the face of the diffusion panel. Not unexpected since this is designed primarily for speedlights. Also ANY modifier where the light source is not centered would most likely not produce even output across the face of the diffusion panel:
With Fresnel Head
- Center: f32
- Right (where the strobe enters the modifier)” f29
- Top: f30
- Bottom: f29
With bare bulb attachment
- Center: f32
- Right (where the strobe enters the modifier)” f29
- Top: f30
- Bottom: f29
I also added my Godox AD-S18 Flash Tube Bulb Metal Protector Shovel Cap to see if blocking the flash bulb at the entry point would produce even light. But instead it reduced the amount of light across the entire face! Center was f22.
So I’ve determined for the uses where I plan to use the Sundiscs, I will simply use the Fresnel head on the 200. It’s less prone to breakage than the bare bulb and I have a modeling light when using the Fresnel attachment. Keep in mind all of this was done using a Godox S Bracket to hold the 200.
I came upon an article by Michael Sewell about the Sundisc modifier. His review intrigued me enough to further research the piece of kit. After looking it over on other sites and reading his review in full, I felt it worthwhile to invest in two to see how I could use them in my workflow. My original thought was to use them in those infrequent, but frantic ‘run and gun’ situations where a client needs me to go around different parts of a venue and with very little time with the talent. I also thought that they may be a nice alternative to overhead or side fill lights.
It took about two weeks from ordering to arrival since they are shipped from China directly to the consumer through Sundisc. As with all gear I test them thoroughly before even considering using them on set. Determining the best use of a tool along with how I would configure it is just protocol for my workflow. So the first task is always examining the quality of the construction. The units are well made, seams are well sewn, zippers and elastic are of high quality. The reflective materials are thick and well placed. The Sundisc allows you to reverse the modifier for silver or gold reflection, very nicely done. The elastic loops are designed to hold speedlights, but I found that using a Godox S Mount is much more useful than using the elastic bands. You’d have to use some sort of swivel anyway to mount this to a light stand so I found that an S Mount is just right for my use of the Sundisc.
At this point I only tested the Sundisc with my eVOLV200 using the Fresnel head. The bare bulb attachment would easily work as well. One of the other advantages of using the S bracket is the ability to place the head of the strobe very low in the modifier, thereby filling the entire surface of the diffusion panel. Keep in mind that I don’t think I’d ever use this outdoors or in a mild breeze. I’m not sure how the construction of the disk keeps the sides separate, but whatever is holding them apart works well. Yet even a slight breeze would cause the modifier to twist or turn, so for me I’d only consider using it indoors.
So I decided to try it on Bob to view the quality of light the Sundisc produces.
Some people may ask if the strobe produces any hot spots in the modifier close to the actual flash head. At this time I didn’t notice any hot spots.
During my initial evaluation of this unit I find that the quality of materials and the quality of light it produces is well worth the investment. Obviously during actual use more uses/issues may become apparent than just during my initial overview. I really like how thin the unit is and how small it packs down to transport. It’s very light weight as well which is another plus. The only downsides I see right now is my perceived inability to use the unit in a breeze, but other than that I’m happy to try them on a commercial shoot. Although they will work with my H600 remote heads using a Bowens ring to insert into the hole of the Sundisc, I doubt I’ll be using them that way. Using it as a key light? Uhhh….not sure, maybe? Like I always say, never say never….Time and experience will tell though….
UPDATE March 15 2018
During a recent client sessions, both of which were on location I had the chance to use the AD600 Pro in combination with a number of modifiers. Because the remote head for the Pro is not yet released I did not use any focusing rod modifiers. In one session where I cannot release the images at this time, I used the Pro in an Elinchrom 69″ Octa with both diffusion panels installed. I did not go over 1/4 power and was shooting HSS with my Pentax 645Z. The unit performed flawlessly.
In the session I can post images below I used the Pro in a SMDV 44″ (110cm) octa with both diffusion panels installed. The interior of the theatre where I was doing these portraits was very dark so I appreciated the very bright modeling light so that I could easily obtain focus. To date I’ve found the Pro model exemplary in recycle time, modeling light and ease of use.
A few years back I purchased a SMDV S70 28” softbox when I was using speed lights with modifiers. I was impressed at the quality of the light, but even more so with how it opened and closed with ease! Later Adorama started selling their own version of the softbox under the GlowPop brand. They use the very same mechanism as SMDV for opening and closing the unit. I bought one of the GlowPops for quick run and gun shooting and liked the light weight both units provided. I changed both of those modifiers from the speed light bracket to Bowens brackets since I no longer used speed lights.
I recently wanted a more robust modifier that would set up quickly and have a better attachment system than the SMDV or the Glow Pop. Both of those hold the speed light or Bowens bracket onto the speedring with VERY SMALL SCREWS and on both the GlowPop and SMDV units I own, they have stripped out. We’re talking Phillips screws so small you must use a jeweler’s screwdriver to remove or install them. That’s small!
I’m also in the process of ‘paring down’ the number of modifiers I’ve collected over the years. My personal rule of thumb is if a modifier like my Zeppelin 47” with its heavy mounting bracket can be replaced by something within 10% of its size I’ll do it! You see I use focusing arms for many of my modifiers so I seldom use the diffusion panels that come with the modifiers. After doing some research I found that SMDV sells an A110 softbox that measures 44”, close enough! Plus it’s much lighter and a great shape for ‘parabolic’ focusing using a focusing rod. And their signature opening and closing mechanism makes it even sweeter to replace the Zep.
The largest GlowPop made is 38” and still uses those tiny damn screws to hold the bracket onto the speedring. The SMDV makes a 44” which fits within my personal parameters when I’m considering replacing another modifier for various reasons, in this case my 47” Zep.
So here are some of my initial tests using my trusty buddy “Bob” to ascertain the light qualities/spread/focusing capabilities of the modifier. If you are not familiar with focusing arm modifiers I suggest you search the web. This post is simply about my own findings with the SMDV 110. As I use this on real client sessions I will be updating this post. If at some point I opt to use the SMDV 110 with its included diffusion panels I will post those images as well.
So remember this is ONE LIGHT, ONE MODIFIER and simply angling the modifier to the left or right or focusing or flooding the light produces dramatically different looks. It’s just ONE of the reasons I love focusing arm modifiers. And the SMDV 110 is perfect for my needs. Well made, well designed and the quality of light it produces makes it a great choice for me. Oh and the weight and ease of assembly is just icing on the cake!
Like all things I believe in ‘the right tool for the right job.’ That includes MANY facets like packing ability, weight, ease of set up and most important, light quality. I tend to be brand agnostic on most of my gear except for the strobes I use. I’m not here to impress other photographers, but to impress my client base. I’m not a teaching shooter or gear reviewer by trade.
So for a recent assignment I was asked to photograph a group of symphonic musicians in the lighting style of the Dutch Masters. Their entire 2018-19 marketing campaign is based on that style. Not a big deal BUT in addition to that session I was asked to photograph a live concert, some still life imagery and various other portraits. Which meant my airline luggage limits would be severely tested. And moving around the entire venue to capture all of what the client needed was also a consideration. So instead of packing multiple Parabolix, Elinchrom or Westcott modifiers – I opted to take my Glow Pop modifiers. Why? Well they are light weight, easy to setup/break down, small to pack and using them the right way produce excellent light.
I had manufactured my DIY focusing rod for any Bowens modifier so I took that with me to use with the 38″ Glow Pop. Soft light, no problem, hard light, no problem, controlling spill no problem, controlling feathering no problem. Keep in mind I use most of my modifiers WITHOUT any diffusion panels. My partner does use the Glow Pop with the included diffusion panels for both head shots and film production.
Final shot, Glow Pop camera left using an AD600 with the H600 remote head on my DIY focusing rod mid focused. Camera right is a single AD200 using the Fresnel head and barn doors. Pentax 645Z is the camera.
Of course all of us decide what tools are best suited for our own needs. I find that the Glow Pop line of modifiers presents a very good value.
It’s no secret that I have enthusiastically adopted the use of focusing rod light modifiers. I’ve found them so versatile and the light quality they produce to my taste and my clients satisfaction. Sure there are times I love super soft light, but for me soft light, or the constant use of soft light is well….. boring. Indirect light like when using an umbrella produces some of the best contrast, detail of any modifiers I’ve used. the problem is umbrellas have their own issues one of them in controlling spill.
When I first was made aware of the Broncolor Para line of focusing rod modifiers I was captivated. It took quite some time for me to find a rental house that would not only rent the Para 88 octa, but the focusing rod as well. Once I tried one, I was sold. But the price was too cost prohibitive for my client base. At the time $4900.00 USD for one modifier was too pricey. So I made my own focusing rod which I wrote about here. I love the light it produces and the flexibility it gives me.
Since those days I purchased a Parabolix 35D, a CononMark 120cm focusing rod modifier and a Cheetahstand Chop Stick which I use with my Zeppelin line of modifiers. What has always frustrated me is I could never find anyone who produced a focusing rod that would accept ANY Bowens modifier. Each of the manufacturers I mentioned before including Cheetahstand all use proprietary mounting solutions for their focusing arms. 16 rods, or 8 rods, holes a certain size, you name it every manufacturer only fits their own line.
Prior to using focusing arm modifiers, my favorite modifier were my two Elinchrom Rotalux Deep Octas. The quality of lights they produce is delicious. Yet because of the Elinchrom speedring design I could never figure out a way to mount a focusing arm to those octas…until now.
I searched for a bracket that is used for speedlights which can be directly mounted to a swiveling Bowens adapter and found this one on eBay. The next issue was finding a male Bowens adapter that would fit onto the mounting bracket. After much measuring I determined that the Adorama or SMDV Bowens ring would fit perfectly. There is quite a bit of modification that needs to happen and perhaps at some point I will outline those steps. But for now anyone with motivation can buy those two items (which were the toughest parts to figure out btw) and make your own. And NO I will NOT be making/selling these brackets, so please don’t ask.
The one other issue many trolls will like to talk about is if this or that modifier is TRULY PARABOLIC in shape. While those folks are flapping their pie holes along with their constant need to be right, I simply look at how any modifier PERFORMS to my own as well as my client’s satisfaction to determine if it’s right for my taste. I love the flexibility of choice and having a bracket that will allow me to use any Bowens mount modifier with a focusing arm gives me freedom to choose. I’m even going to try hard modifiers with a focusing arm!!!! Who knows I may find out it works great…or not. But at least I have the option.
Hard modifiers. They’re so misunderstood! Most photographers seem to always be chasing soft light, the softer the better. I understand that too, but in my world there is sometimes a need for hard modifiers. On location in high wind, nothing is better to combat the potential disaster of turning your light stand, modifier and strobe into an orbiting satellite than a hard modifier.
Yet there are many other uses for hard modifiers. Yes they CAN throw beautiful soft light. And in those instances where you need to throw and control light a long distance they’re wonderful. I recently had an assignment where I had to light 90 musicians on stage to make the scene appear like a Rembrandt painting which meant making the light even across the stage. It would have been impossible without the use of hard modifiers or Fresnel lenses.
But the point of this post is to advise you that the SHAPE of a hard modifier can easily be confused with how the light pattern will perform. Most of use ‘think’ that a long cone shaped modifier will throw light in a long narrow pattern focusing light in the same shape as the modifier. Back in the day when I was talking to Paul Buff about his long throw reflector he said “Mark, the long throw’s center concentration of light is NOT as intense as my 22” beauty dish. But it does throw the light further.” I thought to myself “Uh sure Paul, you must not know what you’re talking about…” Hahahahaha who was I to doubt the INVENTER of his brilliant products. So I tested them side by side and guess what? He was fucking right of course and I was shocked….at my ignorance.
Adorama sent me some of their modifiers so I decided to test them side by side with others I own to see the light patterns they produce. Having been schooled by Paul I was better educated to ‘theorize’ how each of the modifier’s patterns would perform.
All were shot using a Flashpoint xPLOR600 set at full 1:1 power. The distance to the seamless was 35 feet. Camera was set at 1/125th, f22, ISO 100. This test was performed just before a client’s session so it’s not about the power capabilities of the modifiers, but their light patterns.
As you can see by the light patterns above and the shape of each modifier below, light patterns don’t always follow the shape of the modifiers. Right now my favorites are the Glow 70 Degree Magnum, the PCB Omni and Retro Laser for throwing concentrated beams of light over distance. The Glow 45 and Bowens long throw extend light with a much softer/less concentrated pattern of light.
So here is how I’ve used hard modifiers for different applications:
My point of this posting is to demonstrate the light patterns and possible usage of hard modifiers in your took kit. For the right application I find them an invaluable tool. In the future I will be updating this post with actual shots using the Glow line of hard modifiers.
UPDATE November 8 2017
My client has used several of the publicity imagery in and around the greater Seattle area on billboards and bus banners.
My partner Tracy Martin completed and the client has released the film she created for their upcoming fall production of Holiday Inn. The film is a behind the scenes look into the making of the production which includes my publicity photo shoot for the show. This film will be shown nationwide through Fathom Entertainment in movie theaters. In the film you will catch short glimpses of the gear I used which includes xPLOR600, eVOLV200s, Parabolix 35D, Cheetahstand’s Quick Lantern among other items.
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.
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.
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.
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….
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.
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.
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.
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.
I was recently hired to do an on location session for a Seattle Theatre company which needed publicity photographs for “Assassins” which is a play about those who have attempted or succeeded in the assassinations of US Presidents. My primary questions whenever a client asks for imagery is always “What is the mood I’m to create?” In this case the client’s response was “gritty and dark.”
Getting ready for the group shot.There are always a ton of restrictions when shooting for a client. In this particular case I had two hours to shoot six different scenarios with the talent, the money shot they were seeking was a group photo of all the assassins. This calculates out to 20 minutes per person which would include the group shot. The second restriction is where I was to conduct all of the sessions, which was the alley just behind the theatre. Moving the talent/hair/makeup/wardrobe further than the location just adjacent to the theatre was out of the question based on time and expense.
I had been through the alley on many occasions, but determining different locations in the same 300 foot space is not an easy task. I knew that I wanted to add atmosphere to the environment so I inquired about using the theatre’s smoke machine. Due to union rules I could not use their unit so I checked my own smoke machine in airline checked luggage. In addition I knew that creating the look of differing areas would require me to use a light gobo which I have fabricated to use with my strobes. The final element is I wanted each shot to appear as if it were nighttime or the inside of a building. My time slots for each shot was just past mid day so using various ND filters would solve the problem of high ambient light.
In my world that isn’t a reality. One assistant and only hours to scout a location is my normal operation. I walked the alley the night before the shoot to determine how it actually looks in the evening. I don’t use a large assistant group and in this case I only had the evening before to scout the location and determine what gear I needed and where it would be lit. I often marvel at BTS videos of other photographers who have the luxury of four to 10 assistants and days to scout locations.
For all of these shots I used a variety of light modifiers including my fabricated gobo modifier for patterns and some PCB PLM parabolic umbrellas. I avoided diffused light through scrims as I wanted a harder more specular look for the images. All of the images were shot with a Pentax 645Z and the strobes used are my go to PCB Einsteins.
Going over the mood of the shot with Laura.
Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme Coned strobe with barn doors camera left 3 feet away from wall to create deep shadows.
Giuseppe Zangara Jail gobo used with Einstein strobe camera right. I wanted him to appear as if he is a jail cell reading the headline of his crime.
John Wilkes Booth Key light camera right using the PCB PLM 64″ Extreme Silver parabolic umbrella. Smoke machine pointed toward the wall and fanned with cardboard to create the pattern of smoke.
I’ve always been a huge proponent of learning via hands on and have advocated to many on forums or to aspiring photographers to find a mentor. One of the very best ways to learn the craft of photography is to assist a photographer as their assistant.
This is much more difficult than it sounds and for anyone who has reached out to commercial shooters to offer ‘assistance’ you may or may not have encountered resistance and in some cases even reluctance when you’ve offered help. Having been on both sides of the ‘offering’ and the ‘recipient of offers’ I wanted to explain some of my concerns and what I look for in any potential assistant.
This applies primarily to non paid of ‘volunteer’ assistants. Professional paid assistants are invaluable and there is a reason why they can command hi day rates. It’s also very common for me to ask for references from paid pro assistants and meet with them prior to considering them for any session. More on why later….