Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Shooting Jungle Queens, Ninjas and Bikinis with the Cheetahstand Collapsible Beauty Dish

Sony a6000 Sony 18-105mm f4 G OSS iso 100 1/160@f4

My apologies for the lack of recent posts in this blog.  We've still been shooting and taking BTS notes from each shoot, but haven't had the time to organize and do the writeups on them.

Early last year I had the chance of working once again with one of my favorite teams - Luke and Jen. We started with shooting a Jungle Queen theme, which then evolved into a Ninja shoot and we finished off at sunset with swimwear on the beach. Three very different kiinds of looks in one day.

We shot in Kepaniwai Park in Iao Valley, starting at a big banyan tree in the middle of the park. This tree has lots of interesting nooks and crannies to put a model in and around.

For our first set, Jen selected an Ujena swimsuit which fit perfectly with our jungle theme.

Sony a6000 Sony 18-105mm f4 G OSS iso 100 1/125@f4

We lit this first series of images with the Cheetahstand CL360 in a QWBD White collapsible Beauty Dish.  This was boomed up overhead with a painter's extension pole modified with a Kacey adapter.

To light up the inside of the tree behind our model, a Cheetahstand V850 with a Saberstrip modifier was attached to one of the inner branches with a Justin Clamp.

The USB radio slave that connects to the V850 flash make the unit slightly too large to fit completely into the Saberstrip, but we were able to get most of it into the tube to make it work.

We started off with some simple poses, but Jen wasted no time coming up with poses that really showed off her physique.

Like this one:

Sony a6000 Sony 18-105mm f4 G OSS iso 100 1/125@f4

Working with Jen is a lot like photographing a comic book super heroine or an action figure come to life. It is simply amazing to watch her when she flexes her muscles.

You really need to see it in person - it's like she has built-in Iron Man armor under her skin.

Moving around to the other side of the tree, we shot some reclining poses. This spot did have a slight issue where we were getting dappled light on the model's body so we diffused that with a California SunSwatter.

Wanted a bit more edge light behind the model than the existing natural light was giving us so we moved the Saberstrip to a spot behind the banyan tree.

Sony a6000 Sony 18-105mm f4 G OSS iso 100 1/160@f4

One of the advantages of working with an athletic model like Jen is that you can experiment with ideas you normally wouldn't dare to try. Like climbing WAAAAAY up to the top of that tree.

Since she was so high up in the tree, we put the Cheetahstand CL360 and beauty dish back onto the painters pole and had Luke hold it as high up as he could to get the light on an even height with the model.

Sony a6000 Sony 18-105mm f4 G OSS iso 100 1/125@f4

We then headed over to the Japanese garden area of the park to do our Ninja look.

Here we experimented with shooting "day for night" - using a tungsten white balance in camera and underexposing the image to give a feeling of a moonlit night.  The flashes were gelled with MagMod CTO gels.

For these images we went with a different style of treatment in Adobe Lightroom for more of a "300" or "Ultimate Fighter" kind of look.

Sony a6000 Sony 70-200mm f4 G OSS iso 100 1/160@f4

This ninja weapon is called a kyoketsu shoge, and has a long rope with a metal ring on the end which is used to ensnare an opponent.  To simulate her actually using it in combat, the metal ring was held next to the camera as the shot was taken.  This had the added effect of creating a leading line to the subject.

Sony a6000 Sony 18-105mm f4 G OSS iso 100 1/160@f4

I've had these martial arts weapons for years and have always wanted to incorporate them into photoshoots.  Jen is one of the few models that had the physique that matched the look I wanted for these.

Sony a6000 Sony 70-200mm f4 G OSS iso 100 1/200@f4

One of the things I noticed after the shoot was that the kanji on her headband was upside down so I had to fix it in post.

Details, I gotta remember to think about the details DURING the shoot.

For sunset we headed out to Makena Cove beach.  Lucky for us there were no weddings that day, so we were able to move around the beach a lot to get different settings. We cycled through several different sets of Wicked Weasel bikinis for these beach shots.

Since the sun was still a bit high in the sky when we got there, we started out by using the California Sunbounce reflector as fill.

We also turned it around and used it to block the harsh sunlight for a softer look for some of the shots.

Sony a6000 Sony 70-200mm f4 G OSS iso 250 1/200@f4

Around sunset we switched to using the Cheetahstand CL360 in a QWBD White collapsible Beauty Dish.  I really like the portability and power of the CL360s.  I also found a way to doing hypersync with the Sony cameras so that we can exceed the flash sync speed limitation.  I'll have to remember to do a post about that.

Sony a6000 Sony 70-200mm f4 G OSS iso 400 1/160@f4

The light hitting the sand in front of the strobe made the foreground a little hot, so in the future I'll also need to remember to bring some Cinefoil next time to flag off the bottom of the beauty dish.

Sony a6000 Sony 70-200mm f4 G OSS iso 100 1/200@f4

Sony a6000 Sony 70-200mm f4 G OSS iso 100 1/160@f4

Sony a6000 Sony 18-105mm f4 G OSS iso 800 .5 sec@f5.6

It was so much fun to work with this team again. Looking forward to our next shoot!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Test shootings with Shawna at Jillian's Piiholo Stables in Makawao

Whenever I need to test out a new piece of gear, Shawna is one of the first people I think of to call on. Not only is she an amazingly beautiful woman to photograph, she's also a lot of fun to work with and always down for getting together to create some awesome photographs.

We went to visit  Jillian's Piiholo Stables in Makawao.  This was my first time to this location so Jillian took us around the property and pointed out all the different locations that could be utilized.  My head was reeling from all the ideas that started to come to mind.

Shawna, we really have to go shoot here again someday. :-)

We started shooting around 4pm, when the light started to look really awesome.
For lighting we used 2 Yongnuo 560III flashes firing through a white shoot thru umbrella to enhance the existing light.

The light that comes through this place is incredible.  We found a spot behind one of the stalls that worked perfectly.  Even without firing the flash, the light that bounced off of the shoot thru umbrella created beautiful light on Shawna.

Sony a6000 50mm f1.8 OSS lens iso100 1/200 @ f1.8

After a quick outfit change, we moved to spot against the back of the stall.

Love working with models who are not afraid to be total goofballs in front of the camera. ;-)

We added a third Yongnuo 560III on the other side of the stall, with a 1/2 CTO gel on it to mimic the setting sun and to add a separation light to Shawna's hair.

A lucky accident of shooting it through the wooden slats was that it created leading lines to draw the eyes to the subject.

Sony a6000 50mm f1.8 OSS lens iso100 1/160 @ f1.8

Once we finished here we moved around to the front of the barn and switched to a third outfit.

Sony a6000 50mm f1.8 OSS lens iso100 1/160 @ f1.8

Sony a6000 50mm f1.8 OSS lens iso100 1/160 @ f1.8

Sony a6000 50mm f1.8 OSS lens iso100 1/160 @ f1.8

Jillian's Piiholo Stables in Makawao is one of those locations where you could literally spend days shooting at. There were so many spots we passed up this time that we utilized probably less than 1% of the property.  I'm looking forward to the next time we can make it up there.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Review - Think Tank Urban Approach 15 Mirrorless Backpack

The Urban Approach 15 Mirrorless Backpack is a new camera backpack by Think Tank Photo which is targeted at the growing mirrorless camera market.  I was interested in this bag ever since it was announced and the folks at Think Tank were gracious enough to send me one early for this review.

The Urban Approach 15 is similar in shape to the Streetwalker series of backpacks, but with a shallower depth designed to accommodate smaller mirrorless cameras.

Like all Think Tank bags, this is solidly built - very clean lines and low profile appearance that doesn't scream "Expensive Camera Gear Inside".

 There are stretchy pockets on both sides of the bag, enough to fit a water bottle or a small strobe in them. The included rain cover fits easily into either one.

There is also a strap included which lets you attach a small tripod to the outside of the bag

The shoulder straps are comfortable to wear, even when the backpack is overstuffed with gear.

The chest strap is height adjustable, and pretty much stays in place once you set it in the desired position - don't have to worry about it shifting around while in use.

The tags on the zippers for the laptop section says that it will fit both an iPad and up to a 15.4" laptop.

Since I use my iPad on location shoots, I have it in an Otterbox Defender case, which ends up being a very tight fit into this iPad slot.  Would have liked it to be a little more open.  My Macbook Air 13" with Speck case slides into the laptop compartment easily with room for the AC Adapter.

There is just one thin pocket on the front of the backpack.

It's also very shallow - about 4 inches deep. It'll hold a Pixel Pocket Rocket,  but not much else.

The back of the bag has a loop that you can slip over the handle of your roller bag, such as the Airport Navigator.  A nice feature that I hope Think Tank will incorporate into all their future backpacks.

The zipper pulls to the main compartment have loops that can be padlocked for extra security

 Opening the bag you'll see the standard insert that Think Tank includes which shows a typical gear layout.

Once you remove the insert, take a good look at the interior, cause that's all you get.  The bag I received for this review did not come with any additional dividers.  Though to be honest, there isn't much more space you could divide up anyway.

 The main compartment is much shallower compared to how it looks from the outside because of the iPad/laptop compartment underneath.

The top of the backpack tapers downward so it will fit a smaller camera like an a6000 or an A7 series camera without a battery grip.

 If your camera has a battery grip attached, it will fit in the second camera section in the lower half of the bag .

For a typical wedding shoot I'll take along the following:
2- Sony a6000 bodies ( I usually use an A7mkII with a battery grip and one a6000, but the A7mkII is currently out for repair). Each body is outfitted with a Really Right Stuff L Plate, a Peak Design Capture Plate , Peak Design Clutch Hand Strap and Micro Anchors for the Peak Design Leash
Magmod flash modifiers - Mag mounts, gels, grids, Magsphere and Magbounce
ND filters
dust blower
LED headlamp
business cards
2 - Ziplock Freezer Bags (emergency rain covers for off-camera flash units)
 Amazingly that all fits into this bag. It ends up being a bit snug, especially on the side with the 70-200, but it does fit.

Compared to the other ThinkTank Mirrorless-specific backpack, the Perception Pro, the Urban Approach is more customizable. The Perception Pro's pouches each have internal dividers that can be adjusted but the pouches themselves are hard sewn in to the bag whereas with the Urban Approach you can move all the dividers around to fit your needs.

When compared to the Streetwalker Hard Drive, the interior dimensions of the Urban Approach 15 is several inches shorter in both length and width. While I do appreciate the shallower depth, I really wish they had kept the width and length comparable to the Streetwalker Hard Drive as there were a few more things I would have liked to put in, such as a Yongnuo 300 II LED light. Also, in order to get the flash units to fit into the bag, I had to remove the MagGrip attachments from the flash heads (In the photo above, the MagGrips are stored underneath the Mag Grids). A slightly wider bag would have allowed me to keep the MagGrips attached to the flashes.

Note to the designers - It's ok to make the bags shallower, but please don't scrimp on the length/width - we can always make use of that space. Even though mirrorless cameras and lenses are smaller, we still take a lot of gear to weddings - 2 bodies, 2 flashes (yes 2 flashes - always gotta have a backup), flash modifiers, radio triggers, extra batteries, etc.

I think if you had taken the Streetwalker Hard Drive, just made it shallower, lighter and added the roller bag handle attachment to the back of the bag, that would have been just perfect.

I've now used this backpack on several beach sunset wedding shoots and other than the slightly limited space in the bag its been working out pretty well. The depth of the bag helps to keep smaller cameras from bouncing around too much and there's "just enough" space to carry the basic gear I use on a typical shoot.  

The handle on the back that slips over roller bag handles should be standard issue for any camera backpack. I never realized how useful it was until I found that I would usually pair it with my ThinkTank Airport Navigator which now holds most of my extended lighting gear. Would like it to be just a skosh wider so that it would more easily slip over the roller bag handles when the bag is fully loaded with an iPad and laptop.

Overall this is a great backpack that I think a lot of mirrorless camera shooters would be happy with (unless you like to take a ton of extra stuff like me). If you decide that the Urban Approach 15 suits your needs, I would greatly appreciate it if you use the links provided above as a small portion of sales will go towards supporting this blog.