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Archive for the ‘Lighting’ Category

A Lighting Build for a Boxer

Apr 27

In Lighting at 7:13am


We kind of all know where to put the light by now, at least mostly. Well, some of the time, anyway. Basic lighting info is all over the internet, some of it good, some of it bad or just indifferent. It’s pretty ubiquitous, to the point of being monotonous, such as the axiom of “If you move the light closer to your subject it will appear softer.” There’s so much of this out there you might actually begin to think it’s important, like the kind of important that shows up on the nightly newscast. Read the rest of this entry »

A Quick Thing About a Shadow

Apr 3

In Lighting at 6:23am


Taught last week at SVA, which was fun to do. Katrin Eismann has built a powerhouse program there for all manner of visual storytelling and communication. She asked me to come in and teach PhotoShop, but I elected to talk about lighting instead. :-))) Read the rest of this entry »

Broad Light, Narrow Light

Apr 1

In Lighting at 8:29am


From the same light shaper. When Gary Astill, the peerless designer at Lastolite and I were brainstorming, I mentioned the quality of light translating through a Lastolite Skylite panel was always quite nice, but it was occasionally too much light. The source, a diffuser panel, is basically a 40′ square. It would often envelope the subject, sometimes in lovely fashion, but other times, it could have a tendency to swamp the subject, flooding them with too much light. I have an active imagination and I had visions of the subject drowning in light, gurgling something like “Use a more narrow source,” as they bubbled downwards in a sea of photons.

Below is an example of the the skylite, used frontally, with a bit of bounce fill card action from below. This type of an approach gives you a full look, very soft, flattering and open.


That discussion about volume of light with Gary prompted the Skylite Rapid Diffuser w/ Masks. You still have access to a large square of light, but you can patchwork quilt it down to a very narrow, still soft, beam. It’s handy.

I demonstrated this to an advanced lighting class in Dubai recently. Jon was our test subject to start, and he was bracketed between two open Skylites, filled with light. The result is predictably soft, and very diffuse. There is detail throughout his face, and hair, and the fall to shadows is very gradual.


But then, to demo the process of doing an in camera double exposure, I needed much more narrow light. Reason being, of course, to do a double, you really need control and you need areas of the subject’s face and environment to go really, really dark. You need a definitive line of demarcation between highlight and shadow, a very distinct border. And the fall to shadows has to be quite quick and complete.

Bring out the masks! They velcro to the source and turn a 40″ square of light into a strip light soft box, essentially. Handy and quick. You can also see below, there is gaffer tape masks shrouding my speed lights, which are affixed to a Tri-flash. I didn’t need lots of power for this particular setup, but we were heading into the realm of high speed sync that day with the class, so we simply got multiple speed lights ready early on. But the gaffer tape helped control the spill and splash of light on the set. When doing in camera moves such as multiples, it speaks to exerting all the control you can over the nature and spread of the light.


On that day we worked with big flash and small flash, showing how to use TTL groups to shoot double exposures, and then we did a big flash double, with a focus shift. The in camera controls, programming the numbers of exposures, and the camera factoring the potential exposure gain take a lot of the guesswork out of multiples.

Below is an overall of the setup.


I demonstrated this for a few frames, using the multiple exposure mode in the camera set to two exposures, and using my focus cursors to help me map out her position. Quick result, and informative for the class.


We continued into the realm of bigger flash, and did one of these with this dancer and two Profoto B1 lights, with the upfront source being a 1×3  RFI strip, and the larger source in the second, or background exposure, being two 1×6 RFI strip lights. Made the first exposure, shifted her position, and the focus, and she struck a dancer’s pose for the second.


In a blacked out studio, you have control, which is what you need. We did not have that for these demos, but close enough, and the class had fun observing the process. As did Cali and Jon, who decided to enact their own pas de deux for the camera. The great thing about having them as first assistants in the studio is that they are also very good friends. So they decided to do a quick “bromance” spoof for the class. Camera and lens setup across the board here was the Nikon D4S fitted with a 70-200mm f2.8.


Fun with lights, camera, action! Good friend and fellow shooter, Jeff Snyder, has seen these sources in action, having been with me on set numerous times, and can always check in with him as to ease of use, availability, etc.

More tk…

Off to a Fast Start

Jan 20

In In The Field, Lighting, On Location at 5:27am

The year, that is. The facts of the calendar. The pace. Not me, really. I haven’t accelerated at all. In fact, I might have lost a gear along the way. It’s barely mid-January, and I’m already in danger of being left behind. That’s nothing new. As I showed in my last blog, had a blast at the end of December shooting underwater production for a Kelby class. During that same visit to Tampa, I also shot a light shaping class. Definitely fun. The below was shot with an Acute 2400ws unit outside this abandoned warehouse, some strategically placed holes in the wall, a smoke machine, an overhead beauty dish, and two Speedlights flicked off the floor into a silver Lastolite panel. More on this class at a future time.


I’m surprised actually that the lovely Orshi, above, posed for me again. Last time we worked, I had her fictitiously killed off in a noir-ish scene in a seedy Tampa hotel that was definitely on the bad side of town.

Tom Aellis and his son Jared

The shot at the top the finished the clicking for 2014, but there I was on a plane on Jan. 4, heading for Vegas. You always figure the year is bound to be interesting when the first stop is Vegas. First night there, I was humbled and honored to receive the PMDA Photog of the Year award. Shocked the heck outta me, I tell ya. But it was a wonderful evening and certainly a positive opening salvo from 2015. There have been years I’ve started off staring at an empty calendar and a pantload of bills, and looking at my (very) used cameras and wondering if I turned them upside down whether any loose change might fall out of them.

Then….onto CES. The Consumer Electronics Show. The gods of technology were in full cry at the Vegas Convention Center, I’ve never seen that many people walking around in slack jawed stupor, literally being actively concussed by the visual power of curved megaplex sized TVs, ear popping, thrumming, shock wave audio capabilities, and of course a popular display mannequin amazingly infused with seemingly human woman qualities and who appeared to be more conversational and friendly than the person who checked me into my hotel.


It was all very impressive, in a numbing sort of way. For me, it was a simple lesson in how to feel like a troglodyte. But, I tried to turn the overwhelmingly gee whiz uselessness of the environment into an advantage. I was shooting, seminar style, in the Nikon booth everyday. And I said often to the weary throngs in the booth, you have just spent several hours wandering canyons of circuitry and gadgets you will never, ever use. Only to arrive here at the Nikon stage, where in a half an hour, I could actually teach them something they could use–how to use a speed light to make CES go away.

Let’s face it, ya can’t do much in three yards of stage, with no backdrop, and a couple of small flashes in hand. You are facing off against about a zillion different color temperatures, and a background so jumbled and distressingly colorful it looked like somebody ate a convention sized bowl of Trix and then barfed it everywhere. The only healthy thing you can do in this environment is to make it disappear, and for that mission, the speed light is your magic wand.

Thankfully, my foreground was occupied by the lovely Alexandra, all like, seven feet of her, in stilettos, doing her showgirl thing. Below is an available light snap from the stage. Nice, huh?


You just know you’re in trouble here. Especially onstage in front of like, 300 to 400 people. You got a half an hour, and less than half a prayer. Shutter speed becomes your friend, as does high speed sync. Not to mention maybe a calming, zen like interior chant, “Be one with the photon, be one with the photon.”

Actually it’s not that stressful. I try to have fun at these things, engage the audience and try like heck to make sure at least somebody goes away with a modicum of useful information. And if I screw up, well, it ain’t the first time, so it wouldn’t exactly be news.

But, via the relationships of shutter speeds, f-stops, and flash, in fairly short order, with some help from the audience of course, I was able to take the superfund cleanup site of a photo above and turn it into something respectable.


Nikon D810, three SB-910 units, two behind her, firing through red gels, and one up front, on a paint pole, with a little Lastolite Speedlight Box attached. 1/8000th @ f1.4, with 35mm prime lens. Alexandra, on cue, sprouts wings and a smile. I go click, and, at the combo listed above, the clutter behind her goes away. Except of course for the dude who chose to wear frikkin’ white pants in the lower right. Maybe he just came in off the links. Oh, well. The high speed maneuver crushed just about everything else, and for a brief split second of exposure, the absurdist world of CES, a riotous Pandora made of ones and zeroes and wires, went away, tamed by a four battery speed light. Technology I can use…..

More tk…..


A Gift at the End of the Year…

Jan 5

In In The Field, Lighting, Thanks at 11:54am


Everybody’s got a bucket list, or something akin to it, I imagine. Photographer’s bucket lists are most likely pretty extensive. It’s not average, almost certainly. (That’s a presumption that any “average” bucket list exists, which is most likely not the case.)

But, I guess what I’m saying is that a photog’s list is not just, “I wanna climb Everest!” It’s, “I wanna climb Everest and carry a drone up there and make aerials of the top!”

“I wanna meet JLo!” Not enough, perhaps. “I wanna meet JLo and photograph her for the cover of Vogue!”

Obviously, there are most likely a lot of unrealized items on photographer’s bucket lists. I’m certainly in that boat, or bucket, myself.

But I did get one lately, with all thanks to Scott Kelby and his intrepid group, and their legendary patience for my meandering imagination. Their home office in Tampa sits just about right at the doorstop of the Weeki Wachee Springs, home of the America’s favorite underwater creatures, the Weeki Wachee mermaids.


I went diving years ago with these legendary ladies of the deep, sinking an American Olympic snow boarder into the springs to be attended to by merfolk as he did his swirls and turns in a somewhat weightless environment. It was a fun, and obviously bubbly shot. It was also only marginally successful, falling short of my hopes, for reasons, as I look at the picture now, I really can’t remember. I just have always wanted another go at trying to make a picture down there.

It’s not easy. Or, maybe it is when you have sun. Which is never guaranteed. For instance, on the morning of our Kelby shoot, it was hard to distinguish where the fog stopped and the water line started. Pea soup, in other words. So, I was glad I had toted in about 10,000 watt seconds of Profoto flashes into the viewing theater and had them lined up at the windows, ready to pick up at least a bit of the slack.


This is all for a coming video class that is less instructional than it is a fun account of an attempt at a very uncertain photographic adventure. Not too many folks are going to wake up some day and think they might want to light the Weeki Wachee Mermaid Springs, to be sure.

The class has a working title of “Photographing Your Sense of Humor,” though that may change. Making an odd, quirky, or outright funny picture is hard to do. At one point, when I was a staffer at LIFE, I was allowed to do a series of tongue in cheek looks at America’s winter Olympians by putting them in offbeat environments. It was a reasonably well received effort, and actually, a couple pictures have stuck to me a bit over the years, which means, at least, they weren’t instantly forgettable, as so many pictures I’ve shot are.




Some years ago, I had sold a notion to Sports Illustrated to photograph the elite of the PGA tour in a way that visually represented their playing style or spirit, or the persona they have created for themselves out there on the links. Someone would be “The Battler,” styled as Rocky with a golf club; another would be “The Professor,” the player who studies the courses most thoroughly. The setting for him would be obvious. Another might be “The Machine,” renowned for his clinical precision.

And another might be “The Risk Taker,” the guy who’s always going for it, trying for the killer blow, going for the long ball, over all manner of hazards that would make a more prudent player pull up short. He ends up in the water, frequently. To represent this, I had the notion of dropping a golfer in a reef, addressing his ball, nonchalant as could be, trying to improbably save par. But here in Weeki Wachee, he would be assisted, yea, even directed, by the locals, in this case, mermaids.

So, my imagination goes out for a silly ramble now and then. In the case of the pro golf crowd, it was not appreciated or understood. Even with the muscle of SI behind me, the golfer’s agents, who only see the color green, would not play. They wouldn’t even ask the golfer. They thought I was a nut job. They might be onto something, there. Witness below…..hmmmm.


The underwater mermaid picture we just did is obviously highly illustrative, but it is one where I wanted all the subjects in situ, real time, not just disconnected pieces to be composited later. Here’s where the current state of camera tech really is helpful. The film image I made of the snowboarder, seen up above in the post, was shot on Ektachrome, has that traditional, seriously blue cast caused by underwater conditions, even with all the flash I applied. With the D810 I dove with for the current golfer with the mermiads pic, not only is the post production of digital able to bring this back to something approaching dry land color, but the resolution of the D810, combined with its remarkable high ISO capacity, makes it a wonderful tool for making this shot. Specs on the final pic are, 1/200th @ f8, ISO 800. Underwater crispness is not an issue, given the res of the 810. We are living in an era of amazing photographic tools.

And it was a bit of a production, getting all the pieces to work together, for sure. Below are some watery production pictures from the day. The water was cold, so I thankfully I didn’t notice how much I was sweating this out.

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What was wild to me was the way the fins of the mermaids, which above the water were a neon, shiny pink, reacted to the flashes. I’ve provided here a step by step, from the original to a somewhat halfway post treatment, to a full-blown finished file, which is otherworldly. The golfer is concentrating, and the mermaids offer their input as to how to rectify his dilemma. Their finny appendages are fairly glowing, with even more vibrance than they even have in regular daylight. Unpredicted, but fun.

Jpeg out of the camera….


Partial re-touch….


Full blown re-touch, fins aglow!


Almost all the light is coming from the theater, which is camera left. I’m triggering all the flashes from an on camera underwater flash, which in turn is triggering another trigger flash, which in turn is triggering the dry land power packs which is in turn triggering the hand held Sea & Sea Pro flash that Cali is literally floating around with. It’s not the first time I’ve deployed an underwater VAL and I suspect it won’t be the last. He did a great job, consulting my LCD periodically to determine how close he could get without over filling the mermaids. And Jon Cospito in our studio did a great job on the post. The shot at the beginning of the blog is a final, with the our finny, colorful friends of the deep toned down a bit.

Numerous things went wrong, and we only had thirty minutes with the ladies of the deep to get it done, given safety regs. Being underwater magnifies more than just the image you see. It hampers communication, slows things down, and makes a fix a laborious, time-consuming effort. We came close to not getting it, but we recovered some problems, and ended up with a shot that comes close to a picture that has lived in my imagination for many years. It was risky, to be honest, trying not just to do this, but do it while being recorded, fer chrissakes. It’s a good thing there was no audio track running in my regulator as it would have been a non stop string of language that would have made a pirate blush and the mermaids swim away.

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Many thanks to John Athanason, who made it all happen for us at the park, and to the artist in residence, photog Andrew Brusso, a long time New York pro who has relocated to Weeki Wachee, for his assistance and guidance on the underwater microphone. And of course to the underwater stars, Chelsea Stewart and Danielle DeMonaco, and our intrepid golfer, Dane Karcher, a noted free diver and all around wild man.

And to the Kelby crew—Adam, Mark, Jennifer, Meredith, and Lisa—thanks for attempting to film one nutty idea. And special thanks to Curt Leimbach and Kathy Porupski, who worked unbelievably hard and shot a lot of fun and important BTS stuff.