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Archive for June, 2014

Profoto at the Opera!

Jun 26

In Jobs, Lighting at 2:35pm

It is always advisable to travel light going into China. It is a country of many rules and regulations, and that age old photog ethic of “Damn the rules I’m here to make pictures!” can be blunted a bit if displayed to the wrong, say, customs official. Hence, I was exceedingly grateful that Profoto USA, Sweden and China all pulled together and offered the assistance of a strobe package for my latest visit.

The city of Beijing is a fascinating place, filled with practitioners of ancient and time honored art forms, such as Chinese opera. I was very lucky to work with these actors and actresses for a few hours.

I was using mostly B1 units, for the first time. First experience in the field, for me, with these guys, was all positive. They’re not just good, they’re terrific. Solid state, built like a little armored vehicle of light, and just locked on in terms of the getting the signal from the air remote. (I always approach the transceivers, signalers, radio remotes, or smoke signal system associated with specific lighting brands with a bit of trepidation. In some instances, it feels like an afterthought, and performs like one. No worries on these. Even at distance, reception was reliable.)

For the basic light setup, I had a 4×6 RFi soft box overhead of camera, and a 2×2 under for beauty fill. As I backed off, to incorporate the actors in their staid, traditional poses and stage personae I noticed the ornate ceiling of the theater was going black. I put one B1 back there and just banged it into the ceiling, and it had more than enough juice to bring out the detail.

All the above were shot at one second on a D800E, which is a super resolved, sharp camera. Hence I really relied on the power of the flashes to chisel out the details. In the tight beauty portrait above, for instance, the right side of the frame does have the vapor of motion about it, which I ended liking in that instance. But most of the time I’m keeping my tripod steady, and encouraging the actors to make their moves, and then hold, hold, hold.

I love working over in Beijing. The folks I work for are pretty exacting in what they want, but you also get to have fun as well, such as with a legendary chef and his helpers in a famed duck restaurant. Below, I’m just blasting some B1 light through a shoot thru umbrella, working fast, and hoping to get out of this busy kitchen’s way before the chef decided to take a cleaver to the annoying photographer.

I learned a lot on the trip, and had a blast with, what was for me, some new lighting gear. I’ll be continuing to experiment, which at the end of the day, is what a career as a shooter is all about.

Quick note: Tomorrow, Friday, I’m in Seattle teaching The Power of One Flash Tour for KelbyOne. I’ll be using B1 units on stage for the first time, which again, is a new wrinkle for me, and it should be fun.

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Old School Meets New School, Part II

Jun 23

In Gear, In The Field at 1:51pm

On vacation, I will often take an exotic lens with me. Read the rest of this entry »

On Dads, and Vacations…

Jun 17

In Memories at 2:38pm

Heading west, New York to San Francisco today, back to work. The persistent, angry wasp of my Iphone at 4am assured me that my vacation was, indeed, over.

No complaints, though. Had a great break. Went to Hawaii, had time with Annie, swam in the Pacific, and stared into middle distance quite often. It was peaceful, and quite wonderful. It was the type of vacation….my dad never had.

We did things like drive from our home near Chicago to a place called Bliss Musky Lodge, in Wisconsin, and check into a cabin by a lake. It was one of those places a travel brochure would try to throw a gloss on by calling it “pleasantly rustic.” I recall it had indoor plumbing.

I was maybe three or four, in the embrace of the exuberance of youth, and its concomitant lack of caution. I was on the dock, calling to my mom, who was stridently urging me to be careful. This exchange was conducted while I was looking at her on the shore, walking backwards—off the dock.

I hit the water and began to drown. My beloved sisters, both older, charged down the dock to help. Kathy, who had longer arms, got to me first and in her desperation to save me, she pulled me up rapidly, and banged my head into the bottom of the dock and dropped me back in the water. Not her fault of course. She was just trying to help. Given my pain in the ass status of being a baby brother, I’m sincerely grateful to both of them that they didn’t just throw me an anchor and sing loudly to muffle my cries for help.

My long suffering dad had just settled into a lawn chair with the sports section, a beer and a cigarette, which meant he was ascending rapidly into his version of heaven, and most likely about to close his auditory portal to anything resembling the pitch of my mother’s voice, when the splashing and the shouting ensued.

He had been in the Navy, and was a good swimmer. His specialty was the breaststroke, which he called the “Hudson River Crawl.” He explained he and his mates used it when they would swim in the Hudson off the Manhattan docks. The sweeping motion of the stroke would push the garbage out of the way. He hit the water, fully clothed, and churned his way over to the dock like a motorboat, and hauled his son’s sorry ass out of the lake.

His clothes, hat and shoes hung on the drying line for the rest of the day, a sheepish reminder to me to look in the direction I was walking, especially around water.

We upgraded vacation-wise, over the years. Mom and dad were determined us kids would see the country, so our family mounted an all out assault on the American west. Dad built a box, painted blue, a 1950’s, thoroughly non-aerodynamic version of the present day Thule cargo carriers, and bolted it atop our Plymouth Belvedere, or Oldsmobile F-85 station wagon. We bought a couple tents, and headed for places like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone Park.

Dad had only two weeks off, and year after year he spent them behind the wheel. He was an amazing, driving machine. My mother would make lettuce sandwiches, slathered in mayonnaise, on white bread, which would get soggy and delicious in the heat and humidity of the car. Dad would munch on these, smoke Camels, and just drive from campsite to campsite. I suspect he drove with such  purpose because there was a measure of peace there for him. There was no air conditioning in the car, and the roar of hot wind as we made our way through the roasting, endless fields of Kansas in August may have presented him with a white noise respite from, well, everything. That, and the promise of a six pack of Schaeffer beer, which would be the first thing opened at the campsite after the tents.

Rosemary and Kathy would be in the backseat, managing our dog’s drool, and I would sit in front next to mom, who used my left leg as a squeeze toy every time Dad would pass a truck at what she considered was an ill advised speed. Which was often. He never really listened to anyone, no matter how well meaning or shrill, when he was behind the wheel. He was the captain of that big boat of a car, and it was definitely talk to the hand time. Which of course made my mom even more bat shit crazy than she ordinarily was.

And then, uncomplainingly, he would go back to work. He would pick up his banged up briefcase, don his suit and a fedora, get on a train, and go back at it. (A hat was just part of the uniform. He felt it unprofessional to not wear one. During the summer, he would sport a straw boater for his commute.) His work animated his life, and gave him purpose. It also consumed him, at the same time it gave him a reason to live. Even in the days of his sickness, bald, his body riddled with various cancers and the almost equally vicious effects of the chemotherapy of that era, he got on a train. As he liked to say, he just wanted to “keep an oar in the water.”

He was a happy warrior of his day. He came out of the service, got a job and a family, and figured if he worked hard, everything else would get solved. I’m glad I have that old briefcase of his, hanging on my wall. It was part of his armor, a shield he wielded just as gallantly as the heroes of yore in the battles of legend.

The more the working world evolved, and grew steeped in paperwork and the complex pursuit of profits, the more it disappointed him. His advice to me was to “hang out your own shingle.”

I did that. Just like his briefcase, it’s pretty battered, but it’s still on the door. Thanks, dad.

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The Language of Light – Volume Two – FAQ

Jun 12

In Videos at 11:37am

Hey gang, we’ve gotten a few inquiries after the blog post on the launch of Language of Light Volume Two. Here’s some info:

1.   Will The Language of Light – Volume Two  download be available in the future as a DVD?

Most likely not…We found with our first DVD that the cost of the shipping, potential tariffs and duties drove the price up in so many areas, for so many regions of the world, that the electronic version was best way to go.

2.    Is there a discount for KelbyOne members?

Sorry no discounts for KelbyOne members at this time. A good thought though.  Might talk to Scott on collaborations on discounts down the road.

3.    What’s the “Update Coupon” icon in the order window before purchase?

A company called FastSpring produces the back end of the order forms for us and this is part of the template. It’s an inactive button for now and will be activated in the future when we have coupons or discounts offered.

4.    Computer glitches?

In the event of a computer hiccup (which never happens) or you need to re-download your purchased copy, just make sure you keep the order# handy – since a DVD disc version does not exist. We will work with you to get you a clean copy at any time as long as you have your purchase info.  Send us a note at: with any/all questions or problems.

5.    Is this new download for beginners?

No, not really. This edition assumes a more basic knowledge of camera operation and relationship between f/stops and shutter speeds. As I mentioned in the blog, LOL2 is more conversational, and has a faster pace. We don’t pause to review the basics, keeping the momentum going in pursuit of a picture.


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Announcing The Language of Light – Volume Two! Father’s Day Special!

Jun 9

In Sale!, Videos at 8:36am

As a follow-up to the popular, well received Language of Light DVD (and download version) we are introducing, at special pricing, a brand new instructional series, The Language of Light – Volume Two, as a download version only.

This one’s fun, gang. The first had lots of nuts and bolts, step by step instruction, exact parsing of f-stops and shutter speeds, and placement of lights and shapers. It was also all speedlights, all the time. This one follows in the same footsteps, with diagrams, f-stops and the whole shebang, but is more conversational, with the video camera floating through fairly complex shoots, and me talking my way through the ongoing problems encountered along the path to create a good photo. We have multiple light setups, speedlights galore, smoke machines, dancers, characters, retro glamour models, and a smattering of big flash. What we don’t have are hard core, basic lessons, such as “this is a profile light,” or, “this is a light shaper.” Consider this one a bit of a tour through the occasionally enchanted forest of my brain, as I try to recover mistakes, manage lots of flashes, and try to beat the deadline the sunset imposes on any shoot.

We visit Jay Maisel’s roof for a shoot, fill a theater with smoke, gelled spotlights and flash, and we do a time exposure while a star Broadway tap dancer traces his path with light in between two pops of flash. Additionally, we continue conversations with legendary photographer and picture editor John Loengard, and the Obi Wan of speedlights, Nikon’s Lindsay Silverman.

We kick this off with sale pricing for that wonderful day on the calendar, Father’s Day. However, this is not just for dads. Any photog, from intermediate to even the advanced flash user will find this addition useful. The first volume explains and illuminates skills, from basic to intermediate, while opening the door to advanced skills. This second volume continues the path and sees how those principles of light get applied, sometimes extravagantly, in the field, in the pursuit of a picture.

Now, when I say extravagantly, it’s a term I use advisedly. On a couple of setups, we use a couple of flashes. On others, we use a small array of flashes outside windows to simulate window light, and then use additional speedlights for our subject on the inside. And, having some fun and exploring where small flash can take us, we use thirteen speedlights atop Jay Maisel’s legendary building on the lower east side of NYC.

Here’s the skinny on the pricing…..


The Language of Light – Volume Two: $79.99

The Language of Light – Complete Set – Volumes One & Two$179.99

SPECIAL PRICING of $179.99 for Father’s Day Sale: June 9-16 ONLY

 (The Language of Light – Complete Set – Volumes One & TwoREGULAR price: $199.99)


The episodes were fun to shoot, and chock-a-block with location problems and solutions. They’re fun to watch! Happy Father’s Day to all!

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