Friday, December 31, 2010

Illusive Photography 2010 - Year in Review

First of all, let me start off by wishing everyone a Happy New Year!!! Similar to last year, I will choose my favorite images and the reason why they are my favorite.  I'll also share some blog stats and top-rated images from FLICKR

January: started out busy with the arrival of some new toys, specifically my Alien Bee Ring Flash that was a present from my Dad.  Along with the Ring Flash, I ordered a 30" Moon Unit which enables you to shoot-thru a 30" octagonal softbox that comes with cut-outs to create some interesting catchlights.  This image of Drew shows the sunrise cut-out and was my first time shooting with an Alien Bee Ring Flash.

Okay, I'll add one more photo from the month of January that I also enjoyed.  It was my third shoot with Jenna.  This photo session marked the start of my Tatt'ed Sheets High Key Phase. Pretty simple lighting using my backlit muslin technique.

February: was a very busy month with three Tatt'ed Sheets shoots and six Hooters' girl Calendar shoots.  My schedule was packed every weekend and even during the week.  This image was definitely an easy one to light.  Just an SB-900 with a 15" softbox and a 1/4 CTG gel to mimic the Fluorescent ambient light.  The flash was held up high and camera left, with some natural light spilling in on their legs.  I stood up on a ladder to shoot down at the two models.  In post, I flipped the image vertically to give it a different perspective.

March: I was reviewing my buddy Rob's FLICKR photostream and saw an On Location Band shoot at a junk yard in the city of Shafter, CA.  I asked if we could use the location and asked Model Nikki if she wanted to be my Junkyard Jane.  Nikki agreed, Rob secured the location and we got this simple image.  I say simple since I used one speedlight and ambient light to create the gritty feel.  The key light came from an SB-900 with a 1/4 CTO gel, and a HONL 1/4" grid spot and HONL Speed Strap, handheld by Rob.  I just dragged the shutter and the rest is, well, history.  In post, I used a semi-HDR filter to bump the contrast and add a little more grit to the image.

April: was a relatively light month because I was shooting way too much and not spending any time with my family.  So this month I helped coordinate a group shoot for the photography club I joined back in 2009. I spent most of the shoot helping out other photographers and occasionally shooting.  I did manage to get my son, Drew, to pose for some photos with Katheryn.  This shot was actually set-up by my friend Teresa.  I used two SB-600s with HONL 1/4 CTO Gels held on to each flash with a HONL Speed Strap and secured to a lightstand with a shoot-through 64" PLM.

May: was a nice slow month, not really much going and needed some time to relax with my family.  A former co-worker opened a Deli in Petaluma and asked if I would come up and shoot some product shots.  This image was done with a Nikon SB-900 in an RPS Studio 15" softbox camera left, angled downward and a silver reflector, camera right next to the wine bottles.  It was shot at 1/250, f/5.6, ISO 200 and at Focal length 36mm.  Why the fast shutter speed?  I wanted to minimize the ambient light and evoke a feeling of dinner time. In post, I added her logo and some additional information.

June: in Bakersfield is tough for outdoor shoots.  The weather gets pretty warm, but this month a co-worker gave birth to her first child.  I wanted to try my hand at photographing newborns, so she came over about eight days after her son was born.  We kept the garage really warm and used one light, an Alien Bee 1600 with a Paul C. Buff Giant Softbox with a grid.  My buddy Brian came over to help with the shoot since he has more experience photographing newborns.  He also brought along some textured materials to swaddle the baby and a bean bag chair to keep the baby in position.  It wasn't a long shoot, but long enough for the baby to evacuate himself twice.  I can honestly say I gained a new respect for Newborn photographers.  This was shot a f/2.8, 1/60th shutter and 130mm Focal length.

July:  Tired of the heat and wanting to do some Natural Light photography, I dragged my boys and Father to Downtown, Los Angeles.  Part of my self-imposed challenge was to limit myself to a 50mm prime lens and only available light.  My goal was to shoot at Union Station because I heard about the wonderful light and the Deco style architecture.  However, while I was shooting lines and patterns, a woman with a camera and her model came walking by.  I asked if I could borrow the model to mimic a photograph I saw on the Nikon web-site.  This was shot with a mix of Available light.  The key light was from a huge window, camera left and the fill light was a mix of natural light and fluorescent light. My camera settings were: Aperture: f/2.8, Shutter 1/100 and ISO 800.  I shot about five images, thanked them both and gave them my business card in case they wanted copies of the images, but I never heard from them again.

August: afforded me the opportunity to shoot with Model Mayhem Newbie Kirsti.  She was willing to shoot anytime when I had the desire to try something new.  The locale was scouted out by my friend Robert and Joseph.  Robert was doing a Death Metal Chick shoot and I just wanted to get away from my Studio and find a rustic setting.  We arrived at 5:30 and the temperature was near 100 degrees. Oh Joy!!!  We managed to shoot throughout the dilapidated, bird feces and bee infested warehouse until the sun went down.  In keeping with my single strobe challenge, this image was shot with an SB-900 with a 1/4 CTO Gel and a 33" Brolly.  I used the setting sun as a rim light.

September: started out with an awesome collaboration with Australian Model Darnah.  She contacted me back in July asking if we could work together when she arrived in the States. We shot for about five hours and I actually went through one 8GB Memory card and a battery. A majority of the images were done with a single SB-900 and a 33" brolly.  These two images are my faves from our shoot.  One outdoor and one indoor with available light.  I have to admit that after shooting with Darnah, she really raised the bar on Model shoots.

October: I had four shoots lined up and really wasn't inspired as I thought I would be.  I worked with three new models and a co-worker.  I picked up some new light modifiers called SABERSTRIP lights, which are portable and durable strip lights that use flashes for easy On Location lighting.  They give off a really nice quality and controllable quality of light.  This image used all three lights, which required me to use my two SB600s and my SB-900.  They were triggered via Pocket Wizards.

November: was really a tough month for me to shoot.  Work and family was the priority, but I committed to a COMP shoot and I needed to make good.  I decided I would use the SABERSTRIP lights for this shoot, too. My theme was to keep it simple, gray seamless paper background, gray trench coat, Russian Winter hat and a black chair.  The key light was my trusty 33" brolly with the SB-900 and two SABERSTRIP lights with SB-600s as accent/rim lights. As you can see, the rim light was nice and soft and Timilia was a fun model to photograph.  I did have to contend with bright fluorescent lights and the A/C that kept blowing against my background.

December: was filled with a lot of work commitments and Holiday gatherings. So I'll wrap up with the most important thing to me and that is my boys.  They wanted to give their Mom pictures as Christmas presents.  these were shot with a new background I purchased from Serendipity Backgrounds.  The background is made from matte paper and fairly durable.  These images were shot with my Alien Bee 1600 and bounced off my 64" PLM with the front Diffusion screen as the key and the Alien Bee Ring Flash bounced off the garage door as a fill light.  I love my Boys!!!

Here are some FLICKR All-time Stats

Blog Stats from May 2010 - Dec 2010:

and stats about my Audience, which I find interesting

Well that's 2010 in a nutshell.  I hope you enjoyed some of my images throughout the year and if you have a favorite, please let me know and I'll post your feedback.

Once again, thanks for following my blog, Happy New Year, God Bless You, and That's a Wrap!!!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tis' the Season to Glimmer

Winter is always a challenging time to shoot, cold weather, early sunsets and too many holiday commitments at work.  To help set a more festive tone with my images, I purchased a background from Serendipity Backgrounds in late November for a work-related photoshoot with our health care providers.  Serendipity Backgrounds stock a lot of backgrounds that are printed on matte' paper.  I was reluctant to purchase a background since they are pricey and the thought of a paper backdrop made me nervous.

However, I do like the ability to quickly hang it with minimal swearing and wrinkling.  The background I purchased is called Glimmer, and it is about 5' x 7'.  It does require two people to hang, but once raised, you only need to attach a couple clips on each corner to make it hang straight.

Simple lighting in the shot of the boys.  I used an Alien Bee 1600 with a 64" PLM and a white diffusion front panel as my key light, and the ABR800 bounced off my garage door for fill.

If I recall the key was metered at f/4 and the fill at f/2.8.  I feathered the PLM to light up the backdrop to help minimize shadows from my boys.  The whole session took 60 minutes to set-up, shoot and breakdown.  The following images at the Provider Party was done with only the key set-up.

I wish all my family, friends, and blog followers a very Joyous and Safe Holiday Season.  See you in 2011 and "That's A Wrap!!!"

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Thankful Shoot

For this Thanksgiving Holiday we traveled back to Bellefonte, Pennsylvania to visit Teresa's side of the family and see our newly acquired rental property.  A bonus was two photoshoots I lined up with Kelsey and Amber Rose back in October. Once those shoots were lined up I purchased a Westcott Apollo 28" softbox strobist kit, which includes the softbox, a stand and an umbrella swivel.  I also bought a Cowboy Studio Boom stand and a Manfotto Nano stand.  I had the Softbox kit and boom stand shipped directly to Bellefonte so I only need to pack the Nano stand, foldable reflector, speedlights, D700, 50mm prime and my 24 - 70 lens.

The weather forecast called for cloudy days, sleet, wind and occasional sun for the week.  On our first full day in Pennsylvania headed out to one of the relatives camp in the mountains.  These images were taken with my 50mm with available light. 

Originally, Amber and I were going to do an Amish Girl Gone Wild shoot, but I forgot the outfit and the weather just wasn't conducive to have her strip down in one of the many barns in the area. So instead, we would improvise and shoot in the basement, which has red shag carpet, wood paneling and a bed.  Amber is a very likable and upfront model, no inhibitions and is down-to-earth.

For the shoot I used the softbox and two speedlights with homemade Aluminum Foil snoots and reflectors.  Yup, I forgot to pack my HONL light modifiers, too.  The Cowboy Studio boom worked very well, it felt solid and supported the speedlight and softbox without needing a counterweight. We had ample room to get some decent shots, although using new modifiers, working with a new model and shooting in a new environment was very challenging.

The homemade snoots and reflectors kept falling off the speedlights, the softbox worked okay, but similar to an umbrella it kinda blasts the light everywhere.  I'm getting spoiled by the SABER STRIP lights and really wanted them for this shoot, but they are a little too big to haul through the airports. Now that I have a house in Bellefonte, I may order my favorite lighting kit from RPS Lighting Studio.

After shooting indoors, we moved outside to shoot at sunset.  I brought out my SB-900 with a 1/4 CTO gel and shot bare flash using Nikon CLS to trigger the flash.  It was pretty cold, around 43 degrees, and the sun really drops fast this time of year. After a half hour we called it quits due to the temperature and wind.  Amber was so gracious that as I was putting my gear away, she put the basement back in order.  That has to be the first time a model helped me put away my stuff without me asking for assistance.

On Wednesday, Kelsey and I met downtown at Talleyrand Park to shoot at the Bellefonte Train station.  The day started out beautiful, but by 3:00 PM the sky clouded up and the temperature dropped to 38 degrees.  Drew helped me with this shoot carrying the lightstand with an SB-900 and the Apollo softbox.  He also acted as a VAL with the SB-600 for accent lighting.

The shoot only lasted two hours and I definitely struggled with the weather and another new location.  There are some really neat places to shoot at Tallyrand, train tracks, old brick factories, a gazebo and a wrought iron bridge that crosses Spring Creek. However, with the sun setting so quickly during winter, it was difficult to set-up and shoot.  We still managed to get some cool images and I believe Kelsey liked the photos.

There wasn't a lot I learned with this shoot that was within my control, but I do need to build a shooting kit for my trips to Bellefonte, such as purchase a  flashlight, tripod, black wrap, gaffers tape and some ankle weights similar to my gear I use back home.

Hopefully I'll get to shoot with Amber Rose and Kelsey next time I'm out.  I also have two other local Model Mayhem models who are interested in shooting with me, too.  I'm sure I'll do the Amish Girl Gone Wild theme that time.  Wishing everyone in the States a Safe and Happy Thanksgiving and That's A Wrap!!!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Spasibo, Scott and Saber Strip Lights

I haven't attended a COMP group shoot since January of 2010 for personal reasons, but promised my friend, Tim, that I would attend if he put one together.  Tim worked really quick and within a week he had come up with a BYOB (Bring Your Own Background) COMP shoot. A two day event, one "On Location" in Clovis, CA and one in the Kerman Community Center.

With all the personal stuff going on, I messaged Tim a few days before the event and told him I wasn't going to attend.  As the event neared, I realized I had made a commitment to a friend and needed to follow through on my word. Usually I start promoting the event about a month in advance so we can get some quality models, however; this time I didn't have any time to beat the bushes.

On the day of the group shoot, C.J. and I left Bakersfield at 8:30 AM so we could arrive an hour and a half before the start of the event.  I called my friend, Brian, and he said he would be there by 11:00 AM.  We made pretty good time and arrived as planned only to find the clean-up crew still working.  I spoke with the on-site manager and she said the event wasn't scheduled to start until 2:00 PM. What The Heck!!! 2:00 PM!?!  After several calls, I screwed up and thought it started at Noon.  Nothing like hanging around the city of Kerman for three hours.

Tim arrived at 12:30 PM and we began rearranging the Community Center and setting up our gear.  For this shoot I brought my three Saber Strip Lights, a 40" brolly, an Alien Bee Ring Flash, and my Thunder Gray seamless Paper. For wardrobe I brought a gray Russian Military Fur hat and my gray London Fog Trench Coat.  I was hoping that the attending models would have some black lingerie.

After I finished setting up my set by 1:30 PM, I noticed that my seamless had several moving bumps.  I checked around and noticed that the A/C vent was blowing directly on the back of my seamless.  One more strike and I was packing it in.  At least the thermostat worked and the air flow would shut off long enough for me to get my shots done.

Pretty much a simple set-up, SB-600 in a Saber Strip for Rim, another SB-600 in a Saber Strip for Hair and the SB-900 in a 40" Brolly for key.  The power on the SB-900 and the SB-600s were set to 1/8th power.  All speedlights were triggered by my Pocket Wizard. This is the second shoot using the Saber Strip lights.  I have to admit that they are really cool and everyone asked about them.  After a shot or two with a model, I'd let the other photographers "chimp" and they definitely loved the quality of light and the ease of use the Saber Strip lights provide.  I kept getting questions about pricing and a Release Date.  Although, the creator didn't have me sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), I told them I couldn't divulge any information until they were released for public use, but that they could visit the website - and that the initial price is $135.

I love shooting when Danielle attends, she does her own hair and make-up, and is ready to go.  After Danielle, I photographed Timillia using the same Saber Strip light set-up, and then noticed it was 4:00 PM, and time to pack it up.  So I drove 2 hours, spent another two hours sitting in a parking lot and then another two hours setting up and breaking down.

Overall, was it worth the drive and time?  You bet!!! as I was packing many of the models were bummed that they didn't get to work with me, but heck, that's how you build up demand, right?

So What did I Learn?
  • Read the event schedule  - Nothing like wasting a few hours sitting on your hands
  • Pack a Philips screwdriver.  I needed to make some adjustments to equipment and only had a common screwdriver in my bag.
After thanking Tim and the other attendees, we finally got on the road by 4:30 PM.  Not much post work on the images, so I had five of them posted within an hour of arriving home.  Shoot it "right" in the Camera and you have minimal post work out of the camera.  I have a couple more shoots coming up and then Help Portrait and That's A Wrap!!!

It's a Small World

From November 7 through November 10, I traveled to Orlando, Florida to attend a "healthcare" conference.  The conference was held at two Disney resorts, the Coronado Springs Resort and the Contemporary Hotel.  The events are well-organized with plenty to do during the day and in the evening.

Back in 2007, the conference was also held at the same resort, but this time I wanted to bring my camera.  All I packed was my D700, my 50mm f/1.8 lens and one memory card. The conference usually kicks off with a Keynote Speaker and this year we were blessed to have Chris Gardner, who wrote the autobiographical book, The Pursuit of Happyness".  Definitely a wonderful speaker.

On the last night of the conference, the conference sponsors held a Client Event at Walt Disney World, and opened up the park from 8:00 PM to 1:00 AM exclusively for the conference attendees.  The fireworks picture was handheld so there is some motion blur.  Oh well, I've never shot fireworks before so I figured I'd give it a try.

Not much learned on this trip with regard to photography except that a tripod would  have been useful in shooting the fireworks.  Basically, I was in "Tourist" mode, and "That's A Wrap!!!"

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Greastest American Hero: First Saber Strip Shoot

Well, I received the three Saber Strip Lights on Oct. 22nd, but was too busy working at our company's Flu Clinic to use them.  However, my co-worker mentioned that he had purchased The Greatest American Hero (GAH) outfit for Halloween, so what better way to put the Saber Strip lights to the test than photograph a Super Hero!!!

I contacted my friend Brian to see if he wanted to play with the Saber Strips Lights since he was the one who showed me their web-site. We set-up all three lights using my two Nikon SB-600 speedlights and one SB-900 speedlight  This Behind-The-Scenes shot is Brian's for the above GAH image.  The key light was set at 1/16th power and the fill was set at 1/64th power.  The speedlights are cold-shoed in the Saber Strip lights and triggered by my Pocket Wizards.

This next image was Brian's idea, he wanted to highlight the chest emblem, but since we were shooting against my black seamless we needed to rim the GAH.  We kept the key light in it's 90 degree, camera left position, but raised it up so it was parallel to the floor.  We made the fill light a rim light and changed the power to 1/32nd and placed it behind the GAH.

What Superhero shoot would be complete without one of the GAH flying into action.  This time the lights were set at 1/16th power, placed 90 degrees on both sides of the GAH, and feathered towards the camera.  We needed a little bit of fill so I used my SB-900, at 1/64th power, and bounced it off the garage door.

I've already had several questions from FLICKR and Facebook friends about these cool light modifiers and here is what I can tell you:
  • They are lightweight and feel very durable
  • The quality of light produced is very clean and consistent throughout the tube
  • My assumption is that their narrow profile will make them indispensable on windy days, unlike brollys, umbrellas,or any other parachute-profile modifiers.
 So what did I learn?
  • Like any light modifier it takes practice and shooting under different conditions to learn their limits - in a controlled studio set-up the Saber Strip lights parallel my Paul C Buff Strip lights, but win hands down in the area of portability
  • The lights can be configured in a multitude of configurations.  Please check out the FLICKR Group for Saber Strip Lighting and be Wowed at what the creator has achieved..
I was planning to do a shoot this weekend, but with it being Halloween, I couldn't find any sober models.  Ha ha ha. Stay tuned for more Saber Strip Light sessions and "That's A Wrap!!!"

Friday, October 29, 2010

Willkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome!!!

My photographer friend shared this photographer's FLICKR site with me, his name is Christopher Peddecord and has a series of Ballet images shot in Black and White.  So I was on a quest to do my own version, but with local ballet dancers.

After contacting the Bakersfield Ballet group and placing calls to other Dance studios, I still had no subjects to shoot.  I then  posted a couple Casting Calls on Model Mayhem and received  some responses, but when I'm ready to shoot and I have to plan ahead, I end up moving on to something else.

I contacted Vanessa, a local model who has a billboard of her on display in town, through Facebook.  I shared the theme with her and she said she would do her best to meet my expectations.  In addition to the dance-based shoot, I wanted to try and mimic stage lighting again after my shoot with Jeff, of Fluidity Photography.  So I decided we would do a Cabaret-themed shoot.

I also wanted to make sure Vanessa didn't have to worry about make-up and hair.  I contacted my friend, Angel, and he agreed to do the Hair and Make-up for this shoot.

The lighting for the Cabaret shoot consisted of four lights.  The key was outfitted with a 8.5" reflector and a 40 degree grid to simulate a spotlight, a strip box without diffusion, but gridded to provide a rim light, a hair light, bare bulb, with barndoors and a fill light bounced off the garage door.  The key light and hair light were metered at f/8, the rim at f/5.6 and the fill at f/4.

We shot various poses and then after an hour decided to switch to the lighting scheme used by Peddecord.  Grey seamless and a fairly large key.  We replaced the reflector with my 64" PLM and removed all other lights except for the fill.  We shot for about another hour and then called it a "wrap."

So What Did I Learn?
  • On the Cabaret shoot I need more distance between the model and the background.  Although the curtains created some separation from the balck seamless, it still was too close.  I also needed to move my key farther away to create a better spot light effect, or at least try a snoot.  We did use Black Wrap on the 8.5" reflector to create a harder edge.
  • For the Black and White dance images, I need a taller space.  Vanessa is tall and when she jumped, I could see the ceiling in my images, even when I stood on a step stool and shot at a downward angle, the limited space made it difficult to show "air."  I definitely need to find a bigger space to shoot the ballet images.
This was another good shot with decent results, and once more I learned some more.   I'm glad I got to work with Vanessa and now I know why she is in demand.  Working with Angel is always a pleasure and I love his work!!!  So this was another busy four days, with three shoots: Halston, Nicolette and Vanessa.

Stay Tuned, I am playing with some new light modifiers that aren't on the market, yet.  They are called SABER STRIP and are just the tools I was looking for to provide a nice narrow, but beautiful quality of light.  To see more photos shot with these exciting modifiers, check out the SaberStrip Lighting Group on FLICKR, and "That's A Wrap!!!"


We saw Daughtry in concert back in May and Drew said I should watch some of his videos.  In Drew's words, "Daughtry's videos are kinda emo and remind me of your photography."  So I was watching his video for Over You and was intrigued by the bathroom scene. So I've been trying to figure out who, where and when could I try a bathroom shoot.

I volunteered to help with our Flu Clinic at work and found out I had to travel to Pismo Beach for the weekend of Oct. 23rd.  Not wanting to waste an opportunity to shoot in a hotel, I called my usual "fave" place to stay, the Cliffs Resort in Pismo Beach.  If you recall, I photographed Darnah at the Cliffs Resort, but after thinking about the "look and feel" I wanted a more spartan looking bathroom.  My co-worker suggested the Motel 6, which is down the street from the facility where  the flu clinic was scheduled.  I made the reservation and contacted a model I met at our Portfolio Jam shoot back in May; Nicolette.  We didn't get to work together at the Jam,but I really liked her style.  Nicolette liked the Daughtry video and the concept.

At first I planned to use speedlights, but found the cramped quarters of the bathroom to be a hindrance and ended up using my 50mm prime for almost all the shots.  I did use a flash to bounce light around the bathroom, but a majority of the images were shot with available light.  we shot for about 90 minutes, and Nicolette was able to convey a range of emotions.  I stepped out for about a couple minutes and when I returned she was in tears.  Very cool, and at the end of the shoot she decided we should shoot some with the water running.

So what did I learn:
  • Working in a small environment with mixed lighting is a challenge. A fast prime with a close focusing distance is preferable.  In addition to my Nifty Fifty, I'd like a 35mm to achieve a wider field of view and a close focusing distance.
  • Steam - well this was hilarious, the bathroom steamed up in about five minutes and the mirror fogged up too.  Keeping the mirror fog free was a challenge and trying to keep the reflection of her face tack sharp was a challenge. By opening the door a bit kept the steam moving enough to keep the mirror clear.  the other thing was to remember to wipe my lens.  Nothing was tack sharp because the steam also collected on my lens.  Hahahaha, wipe that, too.
  • Shoot Black and White when you have types of light. I wasn't about to replace all the lights with the same type of bulb.
  • Travel lighter.  I brought all my gear and only needed my 50mm, SB-600, light stand and a STOFEN Omnibounce.
Another shoot where I learned a lot of tricks and stuff.  By the way, this was shoot number two