Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Fashion show at Stella Blues Cafe

Had the chance to shoot another fashion show, this time it was the Candy Cane Lane Fashion Event at Stella Blues Cafe in Kihei. This was a benefit for Toys For Tots and featured clothing lines from Karamel Collection and Pakaloha Bikinis.  Our models for this event were Brittney Baker, Aja Marie, Tami Solomon, Julianita Nakagawa, Austin Macdowel, Tiffany Russo, Ruby Barichi, Perri Kaminoff, Kapila May, Valerie Wessel and Hayley Kaysing.

Hair was done by Colours Salon and makeup done by Ry-n Shimabuku and Julianita Nakagawa.

This is what the location looked like that evening.  Dark.  Reeeealllly dark.

The original plan was to shoot with a high iso and just utilize the lighting on the runway.  However, since this location had ZERO in the way of runway lighting, we fell back to using some Strobist techniques.

I recalled from one of the Strobist DVDs that David Hobby lit a basketball court using a couple of Nikon flashes on opposite sides of a gym, and I thought it might work in this environment.  In his example, he balanced his strobes with the ambient light of the gym.  In our particular situation at this location, there was no ambient light to work with, so we used a combination of a higher iso and 3 flashes to light everything - a Canon 580EXII and 2 Nikon SB26s.

Found two light fixtures on opposite sides of the room where we could mount a flash facing the runway.  Two Nikon SB26s were mounted onto Manfrotto Justin Clamps and a Pocket Wizard Plus II Tranceiver was added to each rig.

These Justin clamps are really handy tools to have in your kit bag.  With them, you can stick a flash pretty much anywhere you can think of.

Both flashes were set to 1/8th  power and zoomed out to full wide.  These were then clamped onto the light fixtures on both sides of the room and aimed at the runway.

Right side of the room:

Left side of the room:

This gave us some nice cross lighting to work with which would help bring out the details in the clothing on the models.

To test it out, I walked alongside the runway and checked to make sure that at every spot on the length of the runway that I could still see the face of the two strobes.  This would insure that no matter where the model was on the runway, the light from the two SB26s would fall on them. Also, since the distance from the two side flashes to the models remained relatively constant, the exposures would be roughly the same no matter where on the runway the model went.

The main light was a Canon 580 EXII with a Gary Fong Lightsphere (1/2 cloud, no dome) pointed up mounted on a 5D mkII with a 24-105mm f4L IS lens.

A Pocket Wizard Flex TT1 mounted on the camera's hotshoe triggered the two remote Nikon flashes.  The 580EXII was mounted on the hotshoe of the TT1.

Shot everything in Manual mode, iso 800 1/60@ f4.  Main flash (the 580 EXII) was dialed down about 1 stop to fill in the shadows from the front.

The 580 EX II was set to ETTL mode, so that as the models got closer to the camera, the flash would adjust according to the distance.

During the show there were times when I fired too many shots at one time and the 580 EX II wasn't able to recycle fast enough.  Since the two Nikons SB26s were only set to 1/8th power, they fired pretty much every time so that there was still enough light to pull out a decent image later on in Lightroom.

Some samples from the show:

Aja Marie

Tami Solomon

Julianita Nakagawa

Austin MacDowel

Tiffany Russo

Ruby Barichi

Perri Kaminoff

Kapila May

Valerie Wessel

Hayley Kaysing

Another one of the challenges that came up during testing before the show was that the Canon 5D mk II had trouble focusing in the low lighting conditions.  To help alleviate this, an LED video light on a light stand was set up next to the camera position at the end of the runway. The camera's autofocus was set to AI Servo mode so that it would track the models as they walked toward the camera.  It ended up working about 90% of the time.  The few times that it didn't was when the camera got confused and tried to focus on the LED light of the video cameraman in the background (you can see him in some of the shots).

This shot of Brittney below is one of my favorites from the show.  It was one of the few times where everything clicked - the lighting, the pose, and the flow of the dress.

Thinking maybe the next time I shoot a fashion show, I'll try using the Canon 7D which has a better autofocus system.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Wiring up the Think Tank Multimedia Wired Up 20

One of the problems when shooting wedding videos out on the beach is trying to carry all of your gear and keep it out of the sand.  I used to use a large camera bag to hold all my stuff, but constantly worried about having to leave it unattended on the beach during a wedding.  I wanted to find something that would let me carry the vital necessities with me, yet not get in the way when filming.

I came across the ThinkTank Multimedia Wired Up 20 and it looked like it would fit the bill.  

I also ordered the Multimedia Wireless Mic Kit to go along with it. It attaches to the built in belt of the the Wired Up 20.

One of the great things about the Multimedia Wired Up series is that they designed them with small openings that allow you to run cables between the various bags.  

I have two wireless mic receivers in the Wireless Mic Kit and run the output from that bag into the Zoom H4N stored in the audio compartment of the Wired Up 20 .

Since the cables run through the bottoms of the bags, I can zip the top closed and throw on the included rain cover when needed.

The audio compartment of the Wired Up 20 is designed to open away from the body, so that you can see and adjust the levels on the screen of the audio recorder.

Had some custom right angle XLR connectors made to reduce the stress on the cables that are plugged into the bottom of the H4N.

The cord for the headphones runs through an opening on the other side of the bag.

The Wired Up 20 also comes with a hook to hang your headphones on.  Very handy to have.

The main compartment is nice and roomy.  I can fit a 5D mkII with a battery grip and a 70-200L lens (hood reversed) in the center section  with room for another lens on the side (maybe the 50mm 1.2L when I buy it later this year).

When I shoot a ceremony with my regular video cameras, a Canon XF100 and an XA10 as a second/backup camera, the Wired Up 20 is roomy enough that I can quickly store the XA10 in the bag after the ceremony and continue shooting with the XF100.

The Wired Up 20 also has large side pockets that can stretch out to hold water bottles or LCD lights, or whatever else you can think of.

It also comes with a Cable Management bag and mini bungie cords useful for storing microphone cables and things.

As I make the transition to shooting more and more video with my HDSLRs instead of my video cameras, I'll be using this setup more often since it makes recording dual system audio much easier.

Right now Think Tank Photo is offering up 11 camera pouches and memory card holders worth almost $300 that you can have added for free to your purchases when you visit their website via one of the links on this blog.  Every time you place an order with Think Tank, when you check out you will be asked which one of the items listed below you wish you receive for free.  There is no limit on the number of orders you can place.  You receive free gear with every order. 

To get this “free gear with every order” offer, click on this link or on any of the Think Tank links on this blog:

Cable Management 10 ($16.75)
R U Thirsty ($19.96)
LARGE Lens Drop In ($31.96)
Whip It Out ($35.96)
Skin 50 ($22.36)
Skin 75 Pop Down ($28.80)
Skin Double Wide ($35.96)
Skin Strobe ($28.80)
Skin Chimp Cage ($31.96)
Pixel Pocket Rocket ($18.75) 
Security Tag ($25.00)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

R.I.P. Steve Jobs

I was saddened to hear of the passing of one of the greatest individuals of our time.  Steve Jobs inspired millions to "think different" and in doing so literally changed the world with his unique vision and his approach to computers and technology. He was the Leonardo Da Vinci of our generation.

In this commencement speech from a few years ago he shares a few stories about his life, but what I find most inspiring is what he says towards the end.

" Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life.  Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking.  Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice.  Most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.  They somehow already know what you truly want to become.  Everything else is secondary"

Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Respect to the Photo Assistants

Assistants are the unsung heroes of any good photoshoot.  They are the ones hauling the heavy gear over hills, through the jungles, and across sand dunes.  They are the ones getting pounded in the surf or fighting gale force winds while holding the reflector to get "just the right light". They are the ones protecting models from mosquitos, rogue waves, nosy onlookers, and from falling off of cliffs.  They are the ones doing just about everything else so that the photographer can stay behind the camera and concentrate on getting the shot.

Assistants go through hell sometimes, just for the sake of the final image.  Yet most of the time when people see the final image, they'll praise the photographer, the model, or the makeup artist.  They rarely ever think about what the assistant went through during the shoot.

Great assistants make the photoshoot a success. I have been very lucky to have amazing friends to help me on shoots (and believe me, I need ALL the help I can get).  Most of the images you see in my portfolio simply could not have been done if it weren't for all their help.  Ron, Q, Allan, Jen, and everyone else - thank you for everything that you do.  Photography is a team effort and I am nothing without all of you.

A good photo assistant knows what the photographer needs even before he or she does.  They're like a backup brain for the photographer who has to keep track of so many things during a shoot.  At times they can even quickly help troubleshoot problems that a photographer can miss if and when he or she gets flustered in the middle of a shoot.

"uh, your White Lightning strobe might work better if you plug it in..."

Having a second pair of eyes on the scene is invaluable.  The assistant can remove trash or other things that would detract from the image, saving the photographer from having to "fix it in post".  Really good assistants know what lens the photographer is using and can make an educated guess as to what he or she is probably seeing through the viewfinder.  For example, if there is a fish-eye lens on the camera, it means that the photographer has a very wide field of view, so keeping unwanted elements out of the frame may mean moving equipment and or people to a position behind the photographer.  Conversely, if the photographer has a long telephoto lens on the camera and is shooting a 3/4 or headshot, the assistant knows that they can bring a reflector in very close to the model to get better light on them.

Assistants that know lighting really well are invaluable when setting up strobes.  Understanding what the photographer means when he/she says they want "Rembrandt lighting" or "Butterfly lighting" saves time because the assistant has an idea of where and how to position the lighting.  Besides helping with placing and metering lights, assistants also can stand in for the model at times so that the photographer can see what a particular lighting setup looks like on a person before bringing in the model to the set.

When the assistant is setting up lights behind a model, if they can see the lens of the camera from where the light is, there's a good possibility that the light might flare into the camera and they can setup a flag to prevent that.  The same thing can be done outdoors.  When a photographer is shooting towards the sun, an assistant can see if sunlight is hitting the front of the lens.  If it does, that usually means lens flare and a loss of contrast in the image which can be reduced by holding up something to shade the camera lens.

If the photographer is some distance away from the model, assistants can relay information back and forth between them.  For example, in the studio when the assistant is holding a fan in close to the model to blow her hair around, usually the noise from the fan will drown out the photographer's directions to the model.  Since the assistant is usually closer to the model than the photographer, he or she can quickly relay the photographer's directions to the model instead of having to listen to "What?!  You want me to do what?!?!".

Assistants also constantly keep watch on the model's hair and makeup and can quickly fix stray hairs or adjust jewelry or call in the makeup artist for touchups.  It saves a lot of time instead of having the photographer stop, walk over to the model to fix things and walk back to start shooting again.  Keeping the flow going during the shoot makes for a better experience for everyone.

Posing and other ideas for shots is another area that assistants can help with.  I try to always encourage people that work with me - if you see some new angle that looks cool or think of a pose that might work better, speak up!  I've had assistants find new shooting locations, train models in the proper handling of firearms, and advise models on how to do anime-inspired posing with samurai swords.  Many times they'll come up with an idea that works out to be better than what we had originally planned.

Even if you have many years of experience as a photographer, it never hurts to volunteer as an assistant to another photographer from time to time, no matter what their skill level may be.  I've always believed that you can learn something new from any photographer.  Sometimes you can learn a new lighting technique, discover a new location to shoot at, or maybe see a good pose that you could incorporate into your next shoot.  Other times (especially if you are working with me) you can learn what NOT to do.

"this Pocket Wizard I found floating in the river - is this yours?!" 

To all of my friends that have helped me in the past -  thank you for being the best assistants that a goofball like me could have.  The images we have created together simply would not exist if it weren't for all that you do and I am eternally grateful. Don't ever hesitate to ask if you need help with a future shoot.  I'll always do my best to try to be there for you, because you have all always come through for me.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sunset shoot with Valerie - working with the Pocket Wizard Flex TT1

Canon 5D mkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens iso 200 1/250 @ f2.8

After we left the studio, we headed out with model Valerie Wessel to the west side of Maui to try to catch the sunset.  At first we were planning to go to 505 Front Street in Lahaina, since the water is usually pretty calm there.  While driving along the coast however, we came across this old fallen tree on the side of the road that was halfway in the water and I thought it would make for some interesting photos. Besides, it kinda sucks these days that you have to pay for parking nearly everywhere in Lahaina.

We started on top of the fallen tree with the model's back towards the sun.  Our lighting was a WL1600 with a 7" reflector, powered by the Vagabond Mini Lithium and triggered with the Pocket Wizard Flex TT1 trigger.
PocketWizard MiniTT1 Radio Transmitter for Canon TTL Flashes and Digital SLR Cameras
We just got the Pocket Wizard Flex TT1transmitter and TT5 tranceiver a few months ago and have been using them on a few wedding shoots to trigger an off-camera strobe. One of the things I like about the TT1 is the lower profile it has on the camera as opposed to the Plus II tranceivers.

PocketWizard PWP-TR 801-125 PLUS II Transceiver (Black)PocketWizard MiniTT1 Radio Transmitter for Canon TTL Flashes and Digital SLR Cameras

Another nice feature of the TT1 is the ability to do what is called HyperSync, which allows you to exceed the native flash sync speed of the camera when using a non-Canon flash such as the WL1600.  The TT1 comes with software that runs on PC or Mac and lets you plug in the TT1 via USB and tweak the internal settings of the TT1 so that you can fine tune this ability to your particular camera/flash combination.

In this case I was using a Canon 5D mkII which has a sync speed of 1/160.  The Hypersync feature of the TT1 allowed us to crank the shutter speed up to 1/500, with the only catch being that the WL1600 had to be set at full power.  Dropping the power level of the flash down meant we had to back down our shutter speed to 1/250.  You can find out more about the TT1 and hypersync on this blog by Adam Swords.

Couple of drawbacks of the Flex TT1/TT5. First the build quality of the hotshoe mount blows chunks is relatively poor. The TT1 is designed to mount in your camera's hotshoe, then you have the option to have a flash mounted on top of the TT1.

Although the hotshoe on top of the TT1 is sturdy metal, the foot of the TT1 that slides into your camera's hotshoe is made of plastic.  Freakin' plastic. Mounting a Canon 580 EX II flash on top of the TT1 stresses the plastic foot to the point where it will eventually snap off.  Which actually happened to me during a wedding the day after I had received the unit.

Luckily I was able to order a replacement hotshoe mount (actually bought several 'cause I just KNOW it's going to wind up breaking on me again) and it is relatively easy to replace.   Directions for how repair the hotshoe foot on the Pocket Wizard Flex TT5. The procedure for the TT1 is roughly the same.

The second problem has to do with range.  When using the TT1 and TT5 with a Canon580EX or EXII flash, you are limited to a range of about 20-30 feet.  Anything past that and the flash triggers intermittently.  Pocket Wizard says this has to do with RF interference generated by those particular flash models.  Some of the solutions they suggest are:

1. Use the the AC5 RF Soft shield on your flash.  I don't care for this since it blocks access to the flash controls and makes the flash look like a saggy sock puppet.
2. Use the AC7 RF Hard shield on your flash.  I didn't go this route either because the design of the AC7 hard shield prevents you from using an external battery pack with the flash.  What the hell were they thinking?!?!
3. Use an older model Canon flash, like the 550EX.  (This is what I've been doing lately when using the TT1 at weddings)

Sorry for the rant, I got sidetracked for a minute there.  Ok, back to the shoot.

Using the TT1 and a shutter speed of 1/500 while firing the WL1600 at full power allowed us to easily overpower the afternoon sun.

Canon 5D mkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens iso 100 1/500 @ f11

Just for kicks, I also wanted to try out the RadioPopper triggers so that we could experiment with what could be done with small flashes in this setting.  We rigged up a painter's pole with a Canon 580EX flash and the Radiopoppers and fired off a few shots.

Canon 5D mkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens iso 100 1/1000 @ f8

Had to fix a little underexposure in Lightroom, but I liked the effect that we got with it.  Having the 580EX on the painter's pole really made a difference as it was easier to get the light up higher and closer to the model for a better lighting angle than we could get with the WL1600 on the standard light stand.

To do some wide scenic shots we turned Valerie around and shot from the other side of the tree.  This time we used the sun as her main light and filled in the shadow areas with a silver California Sunbounce Mini reflector held by Ronald.  Use a circular polarizer filter on the lens to pull in more detail in the sky.

Canon 5D mkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens iso 100 1/160 @ f5.6

We then moved to the branches of the tree that were half submerged in the water.  We used the reflected light of the Sunbounce as Valerie's main light and used the sun as her rim light. I swapped out the circular polarizer for a neutral density filter so that I could shoot with the aperture wide open and blur the background.  Used a faster shutter speed to freeze the water splash.

Canon 5D mkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens iso 400 1/1250 @ f2.8

For this image I needed a higher camera angle to put the ocean completely behind the model so I stood on two of the larger branches of the fallen tree, trying to keep my balance and not drop the camera into the surf.  Probably should rethink my no-camera strap policy when shooting in these kinds of environments.

Also need to send props out to both Ronald and Valerie for this shot.  Ron for being willing to get completely soaked in the surf as he got the reflector in close for the best lighting.  Valerie for her ability to hold the pose and expression steadily and patiently as wave after wave crashed into her from behind while waiting for me to get the timing of the shot right.

For sunset, Valerie changed back into the blue dress that she had worn in the studio.  We used the WL1600 light  and the Flex TT1 trigger for the rest of these shots, this time adding a beauty dish to the mix.

Canon 5D mkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens iso 400 1/250 @ f8

Had Valerie whip the dress around a bit to add some movement to the image.

 Canon 5D mkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens iso 400 1/500 @ f8

The original plan we had for going to 505 Front Street was so that we could get the model almost neck deep into the calm water and do a headshot to show off the makeup against the sunset.  Since by now it was too late to change locations, and the surf conditions by the tree prevented us from attempting that particular idea, we compromised and did an implied nude shot against the sky.

Since Valerie was wearing a nude-colored swimsuit underneath the dress, this was relatively quick to set up. We had her pull the top of the dress down to around her waist and adjusted the placement of her arms and the angle of the lighting to hide the swimsuit top in the shadows of this image.

  Canon 5D mkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens iso 400 1/250 @ f5.6

The wind started to pick up which made for some nice dynamic images towards the end of our shoot together.
 Canon 5D mkII 70-200mm f2.8L IS II lens iso 400 1/250 @ f5.6