Tuesday, June 17, 2014

2014 Rolando Gomez Glamour, Beauty & The Nude Photography Workshop in Maui, Hawaii

The 2014 Rolando Gomez Glamour, Beauty & The Nude workshop in Maui, Hawaii has wrapped and it was a blast to attend.  Four amazing models from all across the US flew in to experience life on Maui.  For 4 days we traveled around Maui, shooting in Iao Valley, at the waterfalls in Hana, and on the beaches of Kaanapali.

I'll be detailing some of the specific shoots in several upcoming blogposts, but for now here's a brief behind the scenes video.  This was shot mainly handheld with a Sony RX10 camera, with a couple of shots assisted by a Varizoom Stealthy Stabilizer Pro

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Little Beach Photoshoot with LakeGirl

Canon EOS 5DmkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II iso320 1/2000@f4.0

For our first photoshoot of 2014 back in January, I had the opportunity to collaborate with LakeGirl, a model I met through Model Mayhem.  This was a short swimwear photo session we did in the morning at Little Beach in Makena with the assistance of her husband Luke. The swimwear was provided by Wicked Weasel.

Canon EOS 5DmkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II iso320 1/2500@f4.0

The parking lot was empty as we were the first ones to the beach that morning, and the sun was just starting to peek out from behind the clouds. We started our shoot at the top of the cliff that separates Big Beach and Little Beach, where we attempted to capture some of the early morning light in the background.

Canon EOS 5DmkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II iso200 1/500@f4.5

To light her up against the morning sky we used a Canon 580EX flash triggered with the Phottix Odin.  A silver California Sunbounce Pro was held just out of the right of the frame to bounce back some of the flash to fill in the shadows.

We next headed down to a lava rock area away from the beach.  This location gave us some nice clear views of the horizon as well as some spots where the waves would crash and give us some nice effects.

Canon EOS 5DmkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II iso320 1/1000@f4.0

Once the sun got high enough in the sky to shine down on the spot we were shooting in, our lighting for the rest of the day's shoot was mainly the morning sun filled in with the silver California Sunbounce Pro.

Tried a few other shots like below where she was lying down on the rocks, but we were getting hotspots from the sun on the upper part of her body.  If we had a 2nd assistant available for the shoot, we could have held a scrim over her to block that out. Instead, we moved her closer to a spot in the shade.

Canon EOS 5DmkII 85mm f1.8 iso320 1/1250@f2.8

Little Beach is actually a really nice location to shoot at.  Gonna have to think about shooting here more often.  Nice variations in scenery to use.

Canon EOS 5DmkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II iso320 1/2500@f4.0

Canon EOS 5DmkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II iso320 1/1250@f5.6

There was a spot on the rocks that we would get some really nice and large wave splashes, so we positioned our model right at the edge and waited.

For some reason while we were shooting, the paddle boarders and boats in the background seemed to congregate right behind us. . .

Canon EOS 5DmkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II iso320 1/2500@f4.0

So it took us a while to get the shots we wanted without the background distractions.  But it was worth the wait.

Canon EOS 5DmkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II iso320 1/1600@f4.0

We moved to the sand and did a few more shots with the black bikini, being careful to hide the growing number of nude beach-goers in the background.

Canon EOS 5DmkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II iso200 1/3200@f4.0

Canon EOS 5DmkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II iso200 1/1250@f4.5

To finish up, I had Luke join her in the water for an impromptu couples shot.

Canon EOS 5DmkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II iso200 1/2000@f4.0

Loved working with these two! Thanks you guys for making the first shoot of 2014 so much fun!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Glamour, Beauty & The Nude 2014 Maui Photo Workshop

Final highlight video from the 2013 Maui Beauty Glamour & The Nude Workshop:

If you're a photographer planning a trip to Maui this June, I highly recommend signing up for the next Maui Glamour, Beauty & The Nude photography workshop with Rolando Gomez to be held June 5-10, 2014 in the Lahaina/Kaanapali area.  Not only is it a great learning experience, you also get to work with amazing world-class models that will do wonders for your portfolio.

Rolando's work has appeared in publications worldwide including Rangefinder Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Maxim, & Playboy.  He has authored books on social media and photography and has presented many times at photography conventions such as PhotoPlus Expo. It is very rare to have photography instructors of this level come all the way to Maui to teach a workshop.

Instead of a classroom setting, this is a hands-on workshop with 3 full days of intensive shooting plus an optional 4th day devoted to private shoots. Since the workshop size is limited to just a handful of photographers, as opposed to much larger group, it's much easier to ask and get answers to questions you may have about photography and lighting.

The models that Rolando brings to his workshops are professional, very experienced and always willing to help you create great shots.  This is especially helpful if you are just starting out shooting models and have difficulty coming up with ideas or poses on your own.

The workshop is also supported by one of the top makeup artists in the country and an amazing assistant who goes above and beyond the call of duty on every shoot.

During last summer's workshop we shot all around the island, including Iao Valley, Lahaina/Kaanapali, and Hana. You can read about those experiences in the following posts:

Maui Workshop Day 1
Maui Workshop Day 2
Maui Workshop Day 3
Maui Workshop Day 4

Had a blast with Rolando and his team last year and can't wait for this summer. If you want to jumpstart your portfolio with great images with professional models, this is a workshop you definitely  don't want to miss out on.

There is currently a limited time $1000 early bird discount that you can take advantage of.
Visit rolandogomez.net to sign up for this upcoming workshop.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

DIY Spider Holster alternative for the Canon XA-10 camcorder

Found this at Home Depot the other day and thought it might work for my small video camera, the Canon XA-10. It's similar to the Spider Holster system that I use for my still cameras, except that it uses ball bungies instead of a screw-in plate.

The short ball bungie fits around the handle of the XA-10 and can be tightened by pushing down on a plastic collar.

The holster clips onto your belt.  The backing is rubberized so it won't easily slip off your belt.

Drop the ball end of the cord into the holster and you're good to go. Unlike the Spider Holster system,  there is no locking mechanism (what do you expect for less than $10?).  As long as you aren't jumping up and down or anything, you should be fine.

Makes it easy for you to quickly get your hands free when you need to. I've been using this on both my Canon XA10 and XF100 camcorders for this wedding season and it's been working out great. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Mai Mao Photoshoot in Makena

Canon EOS 5Dmk II 85mm f1.2L II iso100 1/1000@f1.8

One of the things I've had on the back burner for a while is the creation of a 写真集 (shashinshū), or Japanese photo-book. I've been continually postponing working on this project mainly for two reasons - the cost of producing a high quality book and the difficulty in finding the right model.  It was only late last year, after a fellow photographer showed me a book he had done through MyPublisher, that I decided to finally start seriously working on making the photo-book.

Although I've attended a few glamour nude workshops in the past, I haven't had that much actual real world experience with shooting nudes.  Therefore for this project I wanted to sort of step out of my comfort zone this time and challenge myself to create a book that mixed in a variety of images - lifestyle, swimwear, lingerie, & nude/implied nude.

To do so meant finding a model that was both comfortable shooting nudes, and who I could rely on for coming up with a variety of poses on her own with little direction from me.

Canon EOS 5Dmk II 85mm f1.2L II iso200 1/2000@f1.8

I came across a travel notice on Model Mayhem which put me in contact with Mai Mao, a model who happened to be vacationing in Maui for a few days in December.  Luckily our schedules worked out and I was able to book her for this project.

Normally I prefer to work with a team, especially if the shoot involves partial or full nudity.  Because this shoot was put together on a relatively short notice however, I wasn't able to get a makeup artist and assistant this time.  Flying solo on this one meant keeping the lighting gear relatively small and quick to setup and break down.

We started in the morning on North Maluaka Beach in Makena, getting in a few lifestyle and swimwear shots. I kept her back to the sun and shot most of these with natural light.

Canon EOS 5Dmk II 85mm f1.2L II iso200 1/800@f2.8

Canon EOS 5Dmk II 70-200mm f2.8L IS II iso100 1/640@f2.8

It would have been nice to get a few implied nudes on the beach, but since there were several tourists nearby, we chose not to take that chance.  Instead, I had her drop the shoulder straps of her swimsuit  top and just framed the shot in tight.

Canon EOS 5Dmk II 85mm f1.8 iso400 1/60@f5.6

To add a little highlight to her hair, I positioned a 580EX with a CTO gel on a light stand behind her.

While we were shooting, Mai pointed out an aerial camera drone flying overhead. Whoever the pilot was seemed to be VERY interested in what we were doing, as the drone circled over our location a few times including once when the model was changing outfits.

As I didn't have anything to take down the drone with at the time (I had left my spare rocket launcher at home since the darn things are just too big to fit into camera bags these days), we cut our beach session short and headed to the model's hotel room to continue the shoot.

Canon EOS 5Dmk II 85mm f1.2L II iso200 1/200@f2.8

This was actually the first time I've shot in a hotel room.  For weddings I've shot bridal preps in hotel rooms before, but lighting and shooting a glamour session was a different animal.  Mainly because there's not a whole lot of room to set up  bunch of light stands and soft boxes.

We made use of the existing light as much as possible.  The morning light coming in from the balcony acted as our main light for most of the shots.  For backlighting, we used a Westcott Apollo Strip Softbox with a Yongnuo 560III flash triggered with the YN-603 radio triggers.

Canon EOS 5Dmk II 85mm f1.8 iso200 1/200@f2.8

The same Westcott Apollo Strip Softbox setup was used here on the bed for fill lighting. The main light was still the window light.

Canon EOS 5Dmk II 85mm f1.8 iso800 1/100@f2.8

Tulle netting was used to wrap the model for a few shots.

Canon EOS 5Dmk II 50mm f1.4 iso400 1/160@f2.8

Canon EOS 5Dmk II 85mm f1.8 iso400 1/160@f2.8

We also shot in the opposite direction, switching to the Westcott Apollo Orb softbox as the main and the window light as her backlight.

Canon EOS 5Dmk II 50mm f1.4 iso800 1/160@f3.2

At the end of the session, I reviewed the shots we had and figured that I had about 75% of the images needed for the planned layout of the book.  Mai agreed to a second shorter session on another day to help me get the rest of the images I would need.

Our second shoot took place at a different hotel.  Since this room did not have as much natural window light as the previous one, we used two Yongnuo 560 III flashes, one in the Westcott Apollo Orb for the main light, and one in the Westcott Apollo Strip for back/hairlight.

Canon EOS 5Dmk II 24-70mm f2.8L iso400 1/80@f5.6

For this hallway shot, the Apollo Orb was to camera right as the main light. At first, I put the 2nd flash without a soft box back up against the door to rim light the model, but it looked too unnatural.  I ended up putting the strip soft box back on the flash and positioning it in the bathroom off to the left of the hallway behind the model. It took a few tries of moving the  2nd light back far enough into the bathroom so that the light would not flare back into the camera lens but still rim light the model.

Canon EOS 5Dmk II 24-70mm f2.8L iso400 1/160@f5.6

Canon EOS 5Dmk II 24-70mm f2.8L iso400 1/160@f5.6

Overall the final printed book came out pretty good (for a first attempt). Sent a copy to Mai as well.

I wish MyPublisher offered different formats of books, like a portrait oriented one instead of the landscape oriented version you see above.  Will keep researching for the next book project.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Coloring backgrounds with gelled strobes

During a recent photoshoot at Kepaniwai Park in Iao Valley with local model Natily Taylor, I wanted to see if we could create some interesting headshots using flash.  Our setting was in a large banyan tree in the middle of the park.

Two Canon 580ex flashes were used for the shot.  The main 580ex was modified with a Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe softbox.

The second 580ex was gelled with a CTO gel and Justin Clamped to part of the tree just behind the model.  To spread the light out as much as possible to light both the background and the model's hair, the flash was zoomed out to its widest setting and the diffuser panel pulled over the gel.

Both flashes were set to manual mode, and triggered with Cactus v5 radio triggers.

This is what the tree looked like before we set up the strobes:

And this is the result:

 Canon 5D mkII 70-200 f2.8L IS II lens iso 800 1/100 @ f2.8

In the future, I'll have to remember to experiment with other colors of gels (like blue or green) Or maybe even mixing different colors.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Off-Camera Flash Radio Triggers - the Phottix Odin System

In order to overcome the line of sight limitation that Canon's wireless infrared flash systems have, I have tried almost every radio trigger that exists on the market for off-camera flash control.  Each one that I've tried has had their ups and downs, and in my opinion, no one company ever really "got it right". That is until I heard about these - the Phottix Odin system.

Before I get into these, here's a brief overview of what I've used in the past.

RadioPoppers were the first ones to come out on the market with their solution, which took the electromagnetic signal that the Canon flashes made and converted it to radio waves. It was ingenious at the time.  I went through the first version of those, where you literally had to take a fiber optic cable from the RadioPopper receiver and tape it over the IR receiver of the slave flash.

The next version (pictured above) eliminated the fiber optic and allowed you to mount the receiver directly to the flash.  First with velcro applied directly to the flash, then they later came out with plastic brackets which could hold both the receiver and the flash.

One problem I encountered with the RadioPoppers was that the plastic bracket was so fragile near the hotshoe mount, that you literally had to treat it like glass.  I understand that it's intentionally made that way so that the bracket breaks instead of your more expensive flash.  But I broke several of the plastic mounts within a single year of normal use.

In the above photo you'll notice the pieces of foam rubber - that is the part of the bracket that presses up against the front of the flash unit.  The IR signal passes through that little donut shaped piece.  Being in Hawaii and shooting under the hot sun most of the time, I've run into issues with the glue melting and the rubber pieces sliding around and obscuring the IR signal.

It also took a while to find a way to conveniently store these things in my camera bag without damaging them.  Storing them attached to the flash was not an option because it added a lot of bulk to each flash (and that's also how I broke two of the brackets).  I ended up storing them separately in a small Pelican hardshell case, which was really bulky and took up a lot of space in my camera bag.

The second problem I had with that system was no fault of RadioPopper - it was due to Canon's way of controlling off camera flash - the icon-based lcd interface on the back of the flash just was not intuitive for me to use when I wanted to quickly adjust a remote flash on the fly.

I next decided to go all manual on my remote flashes and picked up a set of Cactus V transceivers.

I really liked using these.  Very simple to use, because all they do is fire the remote flashes.  No TTL, no HSS (High Speed Sync), just plain vanilla remote triggers.

You set each remote flash to manual and if you want to adjust the power levels on each flash, you have to do so on the flash itself.  No remote controlling power levels from the camera.

Very rugged too.  Metal foot and a 1/4-20 mount.

Each Cactus unit is a transceiver, so they can be set to either be a transmitter or receiver by sliding a small switch on the side.

A dial on the other side lets you easily select between 16 channels, although the numbers are so small it is hard for me to see them in low light sometimes (old eyes).

I then heard about the Pocket Wizard Flex system. At first it sounded like someone had created the perfect solution. Small transmitter that sits on the camera hotshoe, full ETTL/HSS, etc.  Does everything the RadioPoppers do, but without the hassle of plastic brackets.  Just mount the Flex TT1 onto your camera, put a flash into the hotshoe of the Flex TT1 as your controller and another flash onto the TT5 for your off camera flash and go to work. Simple, right?

So I bought them.  And then the headaches began.

At first it seemed ok.  The units have a metal hotshoe on top, but plastic on the bottom. On the very first shoot I tried it out on, the plastic foot on the TT1 transmitter broke and I had to order replacement feet for it.  Having a heavy flash like the 580EX II on top of the TT1 just would not hold up to the rigors of run and gun shooting like at a wedding or event.

Then there were issues with it not firing during a wedding shoot.  It would work fine when we were setting up everything and testing, but when it came time to use it, there would always be the random misfire where it would dump the full power of the flash and nuke everybody, or it would not fire at all.

When the Pocket Wizard Flex system first came out, there were also issues with radio interference from the 580EX and EXII flashes (the old 550ex flashes have no issues), so Pocket Wizard came out with RF shields. You could purchase a hard shell version (which in their brilliant design did not allow access to the external power port of the flash unit - if you wanted to plug in an external battery pack to your flash, you are SOL.) or you could use the soft version which they included in the box with each Flex TT5.

You had to mount a small riser into the hotshoe of the Flex TT5, then mount your flash onto the riser, then put the saggy condom RF Shield over the flash and make sure it covered the flash and the riser.

Pocket Wizard people ------ seriously?!??!? WTF

Even after doing all that, there would always be the occasional misfire during a shoot.

If you didn't want to go that route, Pocket Wizard had other suggestions, such as using an off-camera camera cord to separate the TT5 from the flash by a few feet so that there would be less interference. While that kind of worked, it still would misfire and defeated the idea of a simple, uncomplicated off-camera flash solution.  The more and more things you add to the chain - risers, RF shields, off-camera shoe cords, the more there is to troubleshoot when things go wrong. And troubleshooting gear is not something you want to be doing during a photoshoot.

The only saving grace that the Pocket Wizard Flex had, and the reason I didn't smash them to pieces out of frustration, is that they work fine with the Alien Bees strobes.

With the addition of the AC9 adapter and the AC3 controller, this system lets you remotely adjust the power of up to 3 groups of Alien Bee/White Lightning strobes.

Canon did finally upgrade their flashes recently to the new 600EX-RT series, which incorporates built in radio control. They also upgraded the ST transmitter to make it more intuitive to control your off camera flashes.  I will upgrade to those eventually, but for now to stay within budget, I needed to find a system to work with my existing 580EX and 580EXII flashes.

That's where the Phottix Odin system comes in:

This allowed me to take this whole Pocket Wizard Flex system mess in my camera bag:

And replace it with this:

I was literally able to take these right out of the box, put the batteries in, and put them to use immediately on a shoot.  No reading a manual & no updating the firmware (there is a usb port on these to allow for firmware updates but none were needed for the camera I was using).

The system is so intuitive and easy to use that I have been kicking myself for not getting this earlier.

The Phottix Odins are 100% compatible with the Canon flash system - this means ETTL, High Speed Sync, 2nd curtain, modeling lights, remote power control in Manual or TTL, and remote zoom control are all available to the user from the transmitter unit on the camera.

 I have had ZERO misfires with this system. ZERO interference issues. IT JUST FREAKIN WORKS.

Photographer Gary Fong goes more into depth on the Phottix Odin system in this video I came across on YouTube:

He has a lot of other video tutorials and reviews that are really worth checking out.

With all the money I spent on assorted radio triggers in the past, I know I could have just saved it and waited for Canon's 600ex series flash system [sigh].  But after having the Phottix Odins perform flawlessly on my last few photoshoots as well as my weddings this past summer, I'm pretty sure I'll be sticking with them for quite a while.