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Archive for May, 2013

Photo Shopping in Beijing

May 31

In In The Field at 4:05am


I traveled dangerously light to Beijing, gear wise. I knew I was heading into a bigger project than I had anticipated, but by the time I knew that, I was locked into a tourist visa, and the carnet was set. So whatever was listed there was what was coming. Nothing more.

Took in one D800E. Lenses were standard issue 14-24, 24-70, 70-200. On the exotic side, I took in my ancient 28 f1.4, a 35 f1.4, and an 85 f1.4. Done. My other camera was a (gulp) film camera, a Fuji pano, with a 40mm lens. I also had a little rangefinder, for wandering neighborhoods, which has not happened.

Not a recommended pack, truth be told, but I knew if the D800 went down, I could borrow some sort of Nikon here. So far, so good. One day of assigning to go, and everything has worked, though I did crack the viewfinder in the pano camera. Sigh.

Other stuff. Three SB-910 units, two Justin clamps, two PW PlusX units with cords, Lastolite micro speed light soft box, and an 8 in 1 umbrella, which just did squeeze into my suitcase. No light stands, or big shapers. No tripod. Three Iosafe external drives, cords, chargers, Lexar cards, readers, international power strip. The ever present Think Tank roller, and a Guru Gear backpack. Advil. Sunblock.

Given the new parameters of the production job I was facing, I recommended lighting to my client, citing a Profoto distributor here I hoped they would reach out to. They instead, unannounced to me, went out a bought a bunch of stuff, and sent it to my hotel room to make sense out of. There were some good things, like an Elinchrom Ranger, and a 59″ Rotilux soft box. And a super boom, two stands of undetermined origin, no umbrellas, a small soft box with a Hensel adapter ring (that stayed in the box), a couple Manfrotto super clamps, which have gone unused, a pretty funky, spring loaded c-stand, and that’s about it. How to make all this work together as a coherent field kit?

Shopping! I went to this huge building, bulging with photo shops, called Wukesong. For three straight days, I was everybody’s darling in there. The amount of gear dripping from the walls in these bustling little shops is impressive, if strange of name.

First thing I did was purchase a couple of big rolling cases to go into the field with. My client did a smart thing, buying gear, but did not connect with the fact that you can’t take it in the manufacturer’s boxes onto location. Got two of the biggest rollers I could find. No names on the cases. Got two incredibly cheap umbrellas, a big reflective, and a smaller shoot thru. Grabbed a sizable beauty dish, and blessedly, found an Elinchrom coupler for it.

Dukes, a Beijing based writer/shooter, loaned me his Induro tripod, and I managed to find two camera plates for it. Gels? I found a sheet of “3200” in a shop that is the strangest shade of tungsten I’ve ever seen. Grabbed a generic reflector pan, as, strangely, the Ranger kit came without one. I had one sync cord that did come with the kit, and it has hung in there. Dukes also loaned me a circular reflector/diffuser that’s about two feet across.

But, my biggest problem was syncing with the Ranger pack. I had two PW units, but no way to plug them in, and there wasn’t a hope at Wukesong of finding PW to Elinchrom cords. I could have brought mine, but had no idea this was the lighting kit I would be presented with. So, I’ve simply been old school about it, hard wiring camera to pack when I can, and then radio triggering to an SB, clamped to the stand by the pack, and firing into the slave eye at low power. Rube Goldberg-esque, but it works.

Our Temple of Heaven day was typical, in that almost all the pieces came into play. We started in early morning  with a not great but not  bad quality of available light, and worked our way through beauty dish with a reflector, beauty dish with SB fill, beauty dish without diffuser sock, big reflected umbrella with two speed lights on TTL, and then, finally, good sunset light. We had two hours in the am with the monument pretty much to ourselves, and then two hours in the late afternoon, so we had to move fast. Stood down in the middle of the day, as the models would have been cooked in these gowns in the Beijing heat, and the Temple of Heaven is just chock-a-block with folks during the day. Many thanks to the supervisor who arranged all this! I met him, and thought, what a cool business card this dude must have: Supervisor, Temple of Heaven.

More tk….






The Beijing Project

May 29

In On Location at 4:59am

The first time I came to Beijing, in 1987, I traveled in with my assistant at the time, Gabe Palacio, and somewhere around 18-20 heavy cases filled with Sports Illustrated Speedotron units, and the accompanying paraphernalia. (Not the least of which were a couple cases filled with step down transformers. It was like traveling with a pair of anchors. Ah, the good old days! There was lots of stuff about them that, trust me, weren’t all that much fun.)

This time, it’s just me, a couple cameras, a few basic lenses, three speed lights, two Justin clamps, and, thankfully, a couple Pocket Wizard PlusX units. Threw those in at the last minute, just in case. No tripod, bigger light shapers, or stands. Some cards and batteries. Speed light small light shaper or two. Done. Backpack, a roller and suitcase. Suitable pack for many jobs, especially if you have to move fast, as you often do over here. But, I got here, and, several production meetings later, I’ve been shooting stuff like this.

Yowza! I got wind my assignment was shifting away from light hearted run and gun to production just as I left. Made some recommendations, and jumped on the plane. While I was en route, my client, which is essentially the city of Beijing, went out and bought various bits and pieces of lighting gear, not all of which, you know, sort of, kind of, work together. Making all this stuff get happy on location has been a bit of a parable in itself, which I’ll take up in another blog, but man, it’s been a wonderful, exuberant education in how to get some stuff done in this huge and complex city.

(As a for instance, they bought a super boom, which is really a studio piece of gear. I put this thing together in my hotel room, and it looks like a metallic praying mantis, which I think scared off the cleaning lady for a couple days. It’s a hoot trundling this wheeled monster through the streets of Beijing. It’s handy, though, I have to admit.)

It’s honor, really, to interface with several of the top fashion designers in China, and place their magnificent work in the context of significant Chinese landmarks. The pics in this blog are all from the first day in the field, working in and around “The Egg,” which is the National Center for Performing Arts, nearby Tiananmen.

We’ve often got 20 people out there on the streets, shepherding six foot tall Chinese models, kitted out in seven inch stilettos, through the crowds. We’ve, uh, received our share of attention. The gown below, for instance, weighs over 100 pounds. Seriously. Beautiful? Yes. But not what you would reach for when you want to “slip on something more comfortable.”

My thanks to Ariane, Dukes, and the crew at Vision Beijing. I’ve built up a welcome six year history with them, and they are always gracious hosts. We are back in the field tomorrow, and I’ll do more blogging as the project progresses. But, I’ll close with a quiz. Look below. Which one is the fashion model, and which one is the dork?

Oh, and by the way, it’s raining.

More tk….








In China

May 24

In In The Field at 8:06pm

Here in Beijing, scouting and prepping for what I hope might be one of the best assignments I’ve had in recent memory. Fingers crossed. Meanwhile, during scout sessions, shooting a bit in one of my favorite places. Have a great holiday weekend, everybody!

More tk….

A Little Light in the Back of the Set

May 21

In Lighting at 7:35am

Last week I blogged a version of a recent portrait of my college photography professor, Fred Demarest. I enjoyed my time with Fred during my last visit to Syracuse, and was a bit nervous on the set, really trying to do well, as this was the guy who first critiqued my work as a shooter, a long time ago. So, I kept it simple.

The up front light was a Profoto 2400ws unit, fitted with a beauty dish, draped in a diffuser sock. The Profoto folks have graciously outfitted the Syracuse studios, so the students there have the benefit of top of the line gear to shoot with. 

That unit is a very efficient light source, and of course, at 2400 ws, it’s got power to burn. I had it cranking at just about min power, and still had f11 at 1/200th of a second. (Also, I wanted something around f11 to retain sharpness in the background objects.) So, it was with some trepidation that I put an SB 910, running at full power, in SU-4 (manual slave) mode, at the back of the set. I didn’t know if there would be enough juice in that little light. What I needed it to do was light the seamless, which would in turn silhouette the old style constant lights that are kicking around in the SU studio.

I set it up on the little floor stand that comes with the unit, left the dome diffuser on, tilted the head up about 45 degrees into the wall, and let fly. Bingo. That little sucker had just enough power to complete the photo.

Seems a little crazy, when you’re using a monster pack up front, to use a speed light in the back. I use small flash in conjunction with bigger flash all the time, but usually those bigger units are in the 400ws to 1100ws range. Using a 2400 pack, I thought the hot shoe flash might be like a small rock thrown into a deep quarry made of photons. It would vanish immediately.

But, it hung in there. When I overshot it, and the flash did not fire, this is what I got.

Small flash, big difference. More tk….

A Wonderful Teacher!

May 15

In Memories, Thanks at 6:37am

Every once in a great while, if you are lucky, during the course of your schooling, at any level of that schooling, you might intersect with a great teacher. And that teacher asks you questions, involves you, shapes your furious thoughts and aspirations, and calms the hubris of a young mind always teetering on the brink of the truly foolish action, like quitting the endeavor entirely. Good teachers open doors. They make sense of ramshackle, unformed thoughts. And by dint of their patience, and with the certainty of knowledge acquired over time, they allow the young student to become that which they might hope to be. Or, at least give it a shot. Read the rest of this entry »