Thursday, June 30, 2011

Return from Oz


Back in September I had the opportunity to shoot with Aussie Model and Make-up Artist Darnah Morgan.  We had a really exceptional first shoot, or as Darnah phrased it, "Magical".  In fact Getty Images requested three images for their "stock" from our shoot, and to date we have made $120.  I think I can retire now.

Darnah and I stayed in touch and discussed her potential return to "The States."  Earlier this year she told me she would be back and that we could collaborate once more.  Fast forward and now Darnah has been stateside for about three months, but she has been really busy running her family business.  We picked a date and discussed some ideas for wardrobe, including some of the clothing from Yesterday Sportswear.

Speechless - Cropped

*** TANGENT *** About a month ago Brian and I decided we would pick one city a month and hit up the local models to shoot with us.  It gives us a chance to get away from the Central Valley and the arid climate. June's destination was Santa Monica for two reasons, 1) Darnah lives there and 2) I miss the beach.

So we (Brian, Rob and I) met Darnah at her place at 3:00 PM to help pick out the wardrobe.  I always feel weird looking through women's clothes and shoes to pick out what I want to shoot.  No, cross-dressing does NOT interest me, at all.  Brian tried some Vegemite, then we packed up and headed out to Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade to meet the other models.


Once on location, the weather was cool, breezy and slightly overcast, typical June Gloom. To some it is perfect weather to shoot Natural Light, but again when everything is diffused you get minimal shadows which can make photos look flat and boring.  So out came the speedlight with an OmniBounce to provide some direction and contrast.  We shot in the alley between Third Street and Fourth street and had to contend with gawking pedestrians and rubbernecking drivers. We shot about three "tops" from Yesterday Sportswear and then at around 6:00 PM packed up and hiked down to the Santa Monica Pier. 

Darnah's Choice - EXPLORED

You may wonder wear did Darnah change wardrobe, well at the start of our shoot the three of us guys formed a semi-circle against a building so she could switch her top and bottoms on crowded Arizona St.  As we broke from our ranks, I looked up and noticed Darnah had changed right underneath a security camera.  We all laughed and figured the Security Guard must have enjoyed the show.

It was about a 1/2 mile walk down to the beach where we set-up right next to the pier.  I definitely got my exercise carrying 45 lbs of gear across the sand.  We shot until 9:20 PM. For the Beach shoot I used my 43" RPS Brolly, an SB-900 with a 1/4 CTO Gel, and the Pier lights as accent/fill lighting.

The walk back to the car was long and tiring.  I'm pretty sure I had boys for this sole purpose, to be my assistants.

If you have a chance, check out Brian's images from the shoot on his FLICKR page. In fact this image is a Behind The Scenes shot taken by Brian.

So What Did I Learn:
  • Travel Light: How many lights did I use? One speedlight as the key on the majority of the images and as fill for a few.  Part of my problem when doing On Location shoots is:
  1. How Available is the light?
  2. What angles can I use? 
  3. How cluttered is the background?
  4. How do I keep the Subject's Head in a Clean Space.  
Brian and I are challenging ourselves to travel ultra-light depending on the shoot. One lens, One Flash, One Modifier, and a Lightstand.

Darnah: White Zippered Hoodie

As Darnah put it, we made some more Magical images.  It was good seeing and catching up with my Aussie friend.  Hopefully we'll be able to do a few more shoots before she leaves.

Thanks Darnah for being such an awesome model and friend, and for the Jelly Beans!!!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Practice, practice, practice... I've heard many photogs say that and so have I when asked about my images.  I've been really focusing on what Zack Arias challenged us to do.  Take one one light, one modifier and use it.  Also, I've been working on trying to keep my traveling kit light, no pun intended.  Especially after the previous two shoots.  My camera bag weighs about 25 lbs, and my roller bag weights close to 20 lbs.  That's a lot to lug around.  So after shooting with my Alien Bees, heavy duty light stands and Vagabond battery pack, I decided to condense and lighten my "On Location" gear.

Luck would have it that Lisa, a Sales Associate at Henley's Photo Shop in Bakersfield, was willing to work with me and Brian. We begged Lisa to meet us at Henley's Parking Lot at 7:00 PM to do some One Light work.  I brought two modifiers, a 22" Beauty Dish, and a 64" PLM.  BTW, shout out to Jimmy at Henleys for loaning me the 30 degree grid for the Beauty Dish!!!

We got to work right away and fortunately the sky was partly cloudy, so a nice sunset was anticipated.  We shot for about an hour and a half, and I went from Beauty Dish, to Bare Flash, to PLM.  These images were all shot in Manual Mode, that's right, no Joe McNally TTL with E/V adjustments.  Talk about getting out of my Comfort Zone, which is a mixed blessing since I invested in Nikon CLS and the TTL technology that works well with my camera.  However, I did rely on Nikon CLS to adjust the Flash Power since I didn't want to mess with my Pocket Wizards and walk over to the flash and manually adjust the Flash Power.  Nikon CLS is dependent on Line-Of-Sight between the Camera and the remote flash.  On bright days, or modifiers that engulf the flash, forget it.  Unreliable results.  However, with it being dusk and the flash sufficiently exposed, CLS worked flawlessly.

What Did I Learn?
  • Shoot in a variety of lighting conditions and locales.  Each one has its challenges such as variances in brightness from clouds, reflections, power lines, street lights, etc...
  • When possible use sunlight, or a streetlight as a rim/accent light.
I have a shoot lined up with two Model Mayhem models on June 26 in Santa Monica.  Knowing me, I'll probably bring all 45 lbs of gear.  Sheesh!!!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

We're Jammin'

Last year I attended my first Portfolio Jam, which is a networking event for Photographers, Models, Make-Up Artists and others.  The two day event was held on the weekend at Pismo Beach and Paso Robles and had a really good turnout.  Unfortunately the models we brought didn't expect the cool and windy weather and we ended up leaving after only two hours.   This year, Rob, Brian and I attended, sans models, and had a good time working with some of the new, to us, models.

The shoot started at 4:00 PM at one location which is about 6 sets of stairs, so I decided to travel lite and bring my California Sunbounce, the guys also brought reflectors.  The Sunbounce is fairly large and is a rigid reflector which provides for even lighting as a opposed to collapsible reflectors.  Problem is that when it is windy, it can also become a sail.  We shot in both direct sunlight and shade and  achieved adequate results.  One of my photography associates brought along his Strobe, Beauty Dish and portable battery and achieved some really nice lighting. 

After an hour and a half of shooting, we returned to the meeting point and set out for location number two.  Location two is also a bit of a hike.  This time I brought my Speedlite, Beauty Dish and stand.  The tide was rolling in, so finding a dry place was difficult.  I basically got wet up to my thighs during the early evening shoot. To minimize any problems with my Telephoto lenses, such as getting sand in the mechanisms, I decided to shoot with my 85mm Prime.

The lighting for the remainder of the images were done all in Manual Mode as I learned in the One Light Workshop, but triggered with Nikon CLS, I didn't want to risk my Pocket Wizards getting misplaced or washed out to sea.  As it approached 8:00 o'clock the Meetup Organizer called it a wrap, but that's when the sun was setting.  So model Sierra stuck around and let me shoot until I was satisfied with my images.

What did I learn?
  • Speedlites work well in shade and after 6:30 PM during the summer months on the West Coast since my meter readings for Ambient light was at about f/8, 1/250 and ISO 100, with my flash at close 1/2 power.  As it darkens, then Flash Power needs to drop along with Shutter speed, and Aperture and ISO needs to increase.
  • Bring along some extra clothes and bring along an assistant to carry all my gear ;)
It was a worthwhile event, I got to work with excellent photographers, new and old, new models, and work on my lighting.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Flash Light

I just got back from attending the One Light Workshop with Zack Arias, hosted in Los Angeles at the City of Angels Photography Studio. If you haven't seen Zack's work, click on the link to peruse through his portfolio.  He is a huge proponent of getting your flash off-camera, and in his early days set himself apart from other concert photographers by doing so.  Zack has the ability to breakdown the technical jargon and rules into applicable scenarios.

A fair portion of my outdoor and almost all my indoor photography utilizes either a flash or strobe, but I had difficulty in applying my indoor lighting styles to outdoor sessions. So why pay to attend a workshop about off-camera flash when all of of my flash work is photographed using this method of lighting?

For two reasons: 1) Cost: my usual M.O. for outdoor shoots with Nikon Speedlights is to use Nikon CLS and TTL, with lighting adjustments done by raising or lowering Exposure Values on my Camera and on the remote flashes.  Why do I use this method? Because Joe McNally does, and his rationale is why pay the money for Nikon Speedlights and a camera with the capabilities if you aren't going to use them.  Well he is correct, however; he is also sponsored by Nikon.  The cost for Nikon Speedlights with remote control capabilities range from $260 to $449 a piece. Instead, there are cheaper Flashes on the Market for less than $100 that will do the job.

2) Consistency: the problem with TTL is that the camera averages the field of view to make a proper exposure, but that doesn't always translate into creating the proper mood for the shot. So two identical shots framed slightly differently will yield a different outcome and when working in dynamic conditions, you end up "spraying and praying" for "the shot."  Too much stress and frustration.

I'm not going to divulge some of the shortcuts and cheats Zack uses during a shoot, if you want to know then attend his workshop.  It's worth the money and Zack is really approachable and funny, too.

What Did I Learn?
  • For me the workshop pushed me to focus on Manual Settings for my remote flashes and to slow down and not be in a rush. Albeit, shooting when Flash Power is adequate for Ambient Light, you'll have to adjust your settings (ISO, Aperture, Shutter, and Flash Power, but it'll be more consistent frame-for-frame.
  • Which Modifiers to use and when. We played around with softboxes, grids, umbrellas, etc... and Zack discussed his preferences for each modifier.
  • I also was able to understand the Inverse Square Law and how to apply it in my pictures.
All in all it was a very good workshop that I would recommend if you use on-camera flash. In addition, the networking was enjoyable.  As an aside, I just finished a shoot this past Saturday using my Studio Strobes in bright daylight and got fairly decent results.  So more practice, practice, practice and That's A Wrap!!!