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.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sunset & Glamour Photoshoot with Mai Mao and Tia Kai

Sony a6000 18-105 F4 G OSS lens iso800 1/160 @f5.6

Its always much easier to do an implied nude photoshoot if you work with a model who is comfortable with nudity in the first place.  When you work with professional models that are at ease both in and out of clothing, you don't have to constantly worry about trying to crop out or hide underwear or bikinis in the shot and later having to edit it out in post production.  It allows the model to pose more freely and just makes the shoot go a lot smoother.

Near the end of last year, I was contacted by Mai Mao, a model I had worked with previously worked with. She was planning to visit Maui again and asked if I'd be interested in shooting with her again.  She was also bringing another model, her friend Tia Kai, and suggested we do a joint shoot with her.

Two stunning models at the same time? How could I refuse?

Sony a6000 18-105 F4 G OSS lens iso100 1/500 @f4

Our first session was at Makena Cove in the late afternoon.  We were lucky enough to have a couple of assistants with us this day, so we were able to use a silver California Sunbounce Pro, a Sunbounce Mini, and a Lastolite TriGrip diffuser panel to direct and diffuse the natural light for the first half of the shoot while we waited until sunset.

Sony a6000 18-105 F4 G OSS lens iso100 1/1250 @f4

Mai is a great model to work with, very laid back and easy to direct.  Really enjoyed having the chance to work with her again.

Tia was also amazing to work with. An experienced model, Tia was able to come up with a lot of her own poses, freeing me up to just focus on lighting and shooting. Like I've said in the past, I like it when models are so skilled at posing that I can go into chimpanzee mode and just concentrate on shooting.

Sony a6000 18-105 F4 G OSS lens iso100 1/200 @f4

She also manages her own website that she is constantly adding content to, so the majority of the images from this session will be available to view on Tia's website.

Sony a6000 18-105 F4 G OSS lens iso100 1/500 @f4

For sunset, we used the Cheetahstand CL360 in a silver Cheetahstand Beauty Dish.

Sony a6000 18-105 F4 G OSS lens iso100 1/160 @f8

This was actually my first time using the Cheetahstand Beauty Dish in the field and it performed quite well.  It collapses down for transport and the quality of light from it worked well for our needs.  I think I'll be using it a lot more on future location shoots.

Sony a6000 18-105 F4 G OSS lens iso800 1/160 @f5.6

Our second day was spent in their hotel room where we focused on more boudoir-style images.  Shooting two models together in a bedroom setting was something new to me, and I relied heavily on Mai and Tia for posing ideas.  Thankfully they have a lot of experience working with each other and had no problem with posing together.

Sony a7mkII FE 24-70mm f4 ZA OSS lens iso400 1/125 @f5.6

The hotel room was quite small, with very little room to maneuver and set up light stands.  The one good thing we had going for us was that the natural lighting we had in this room was much better than what we had the previous year at this same hotel.  The room that Mai and I had shot in the previous year was on the ground level, and the surrounding greenery blocked a lot of the light coming in from the lanai.

This time since we were on a higher floor and it was a bright sunny day, there was a lot of light streaming in from the glass doors to the balcony.

The hotel had recently remodeled their rooms with a more modern decor, so I took a few minutes to look around and see how we could best set it up to shoot without disturbing the furniture or their belongings too much - they were on vacation after all. ;-)

A few tips I learned from photographer Dean Capture when shooting in a hotel room - keep the lighting simple and avoid shooting blank walls in the background.  Find a background with some character and then think about how to incorporate that into your shots.

We settled on two setups on the bed, and two main angles.

To start off, we set up a Kessler Pocketjib Traveller to position a Sony A7mkII with a 24-70mm f4 Zeiss lens as high as possible and aimed down at the bed for an aerial POV shot.  The camera was triggered using the Sony PlayMemories app on an iPad.

Some tulle material was spread over the bed to try to hide the fine lined pattern of the bedsheet and give the shot a softer look.

Sony a7mkII FE 24-70mm f4 ZA OSS lens iso800 1/125 @f8

We supplemented the existing light by adding a Cheetahstand CL-360 and a white shoot thru umbrella on the lanai, shooting in the same direction as the existing natural light.  Fill light was provided by our assistant holding up a white bedsheet just out of camera frame to the left.

Sony a7mkII FE 24-70mm f4 ZA OSS lens iso800 1/125 @f8

Had to be careful about centering the position of the camera above the bed.  Since the ceiling was rather low, we had to play around in the wider range of the 24-70mm lens. Moving the camera too far off in any direction distorted their bodies too much.

The second setup was angled so that the framed painting on the wall behind the two models could be used as a framing element in some of the shots.

Sony a6000 35mm f1.8 OSS lens iso100 1/100 @f1.8

Sony a6000 35mm f1.8 OSS lens iso100 1/200 @f1.8

Working with these two beautiful models from California was a great way to end 2014. Really looking forward to working with Mai and Tia again in the near future.

To view more images from these photoshoots, visit

Sony a7mkII FE 24-70mm f4 ZA OSS lens iso400 1/125 @f5.6

Friday, January 9, 2015

Little Beach Photoshoot on Maui with Floofie

Sony a6000 50mm f1.8 OSS Lens iso100 1/160 @ f2.8

Floofie is one of the most interestingly named models that I've had the honor of working with in my career.  We had both been wanting to shoot with each other for several years, but the opportunity never presented itself.

That's the problem with being trapped on an island in the middle of the Pacific.  Nobody wants to come out here. ;-)

This past December, things worked out where she would be visiting Maui for the first time and I had an opening in my schedule so that we could finally arrange a shoot together.

I had just returned from Oahu on a Friday night, and had a sunset wedding scheduled the next day, so Floofie and I scheduled our shoot for early Sunday morning at Little Beach in Makena.

Really early.

Like 6 am before the sun comes up early.

Mental note - piling that much on your plate in one weekend can be hazardous to your health.

Thankfully my friend Ronald was available to assist us on this shoot.  It's a good thing he was there too, as I twisted my back near the end of the shoot and barely made it back to the car when we were done.

Yep, I'm gettin' old...  Shaddup.

We were the first ones at the beach that morning and once we got to the top of the cliff that separates Little Beach and Big Beach, the sky was starting to get some really nice color to it. We decided to start there with a few fashion shots with Floofie modeling a BCBG Max Azria dress.

Sony a6000 55-210mm f4.5-6.3 OSS Lens iso 100 1/50 @ f5.6

For lighting we used 4 Yongnuo 560-III strobes ganged together firing through a Westcott White Shoot Thru umbrella. We remotely adjusted the power levels of the flash from the camera position by using a Yongnuo YN560-TX controller.

The entire session was photographed using just 2 Sony a6000 bodies.

Lenses used for the shoot were primarily the Sony 18-105mm f4 G50mm f1.8 OSS, and the 55-210mm f4.5-6.3 OSS.  Video footage was shot with a Sony DSC-RX10.

These little workhorse cameras have replaced my Canon 5D mkIII and L lens collection on virtually all my professional shoots now. I'm still amazed at the quality of the images that come out of these tiny cameras which are a mere fraction of the size and weight of our old Canon system.

Sony a6000 55-210mm f4.5-6.3 OSS Lens iso100 1/160 @ f8

Applying what I learned from photographer Rolando Gomez at his first Maui workshop, we adjusted our lighting for the sunrise in reverse of how we shoot a sunset. Usually when we shoot a sunset session we start with a higher flash power setting and faster shutter speed and work our way down, but for sunrise it's the opposite.  When the sky was still relatively dark, the flash power was set low and we used a slower shutter speed so that the background didn't get too dark. As the sun started to get brighter, we raised the shutter speed and then the flash power until the sky got too bright.

Sony a6000 55-210mm f4.5-6.3 OSS Lens iso100 1/160 @ f8

We alternated between some fashion shots and some nude/implied nudes to mix it up a bit.  I don't have a whole lot of experience shooting nudes yet, so it was great working with an experienced model like Floofie who could come up with a variety of poses that worked well with each of our setups during the shoot. She pretty much nailed every pose in every shot, so that it made it difficult in Lightroom to select our favorites.

Sony a6000 55-210mm f4.5-6.3 OSS Lens iso100 1/160 @ f5

Once the sun got too bright for this spot, we moved down to a shaded area on the rocks near the water to get some shots with the waves crashing up behind her.

Sony a6000 50mm f1.8 OSS Lens iso100 1/160 @ f2.8

I would had liked to have experimented with putting CTO gels on the flash and setting the white balance to make the surrounding area more blue, but gels were one of the things I forgot to pack.

Like I said, too early in the morning...;-)

Sony a6000 50mm f1.8 OSS Lens iso100 1/1000 @ f2.0

Climbed up the hill and found a spot where the light was starting to come through the trees. Backed up a bit to put some branches out of focus in the foreground to add some depth and to try to frame Floofie in the morning rays of the sun.

Sony a6000 50mm f1.8 OSS Lens iso100 1/500 @ f1.8

For this reclining shot in the water, there was some direct sunlight that was starting to create a small hotspot just on the top of Floofie's head.  We used a Lastolite Trigrip Diffuser Panel just out of the right side of the frame to diffuse the light and bring out the color in her hair.

Sony a6000 50mm f1.8 OSS Lens iso100 1/640 @ f1.8

For our next set of images we moved further down the beach into a grove of kiawe trees.  We found a spot where the trees naturally curved and the light would have been perfect for shooting Floofie in a couple of shots.

Unfortunately we also noticed a huge swarm of bees flying in and out of the tree that we were going to use.  Since bees and nude models don't play together nicely, we decided to play it safe and looked for a different spot further away from the bees.

It's always a good idea to make sure to keep your models safe during a photoshoot.  If you can manage to keep them from ending up in the emergency room in a full body cast by the end of the day, you greatly improve the chance that they will want to work with you again in the future.

The lighting in the spot that we chose was kind of flat, but it was kind of nice the way the rough texture of the tree contrasted with the smooth skin of the model, so we needed to tweak the lighting a bit.

Sony a6000 55-210mm f4.5-6.3 OSS Lens iso100 1/160 @ f5.6

To supplement the existing natural light, we set up the lightstand behind her and aimed the flashes at the back of her hair.  We then had Ronald hold up a Silver California Sunbounce Mini to bounce the light back into her front. This resulted in the highlights in her hair and the edge lighting along her back that you see in these images.

Sony a6000 55-210mm f4.5-6.3 OSS Lens iso100 1/160 @ f5.6

Sony a6000 55-210mm f4.5-6.3 OSS Lens iso100 1/160 @ f6.3

We took a short break to film some footage for "FloofieFriday" a short travel video segment that Floofie does every week for her fans.  You know you're working with a top professional model when they're willing to eat a raw Opihi live on camera. ;-)

Returning to the photoshoot, we did a few swimwear shots using a silver California Sunbounce Pro to fill in the shadows and the 55-210mm lens to compress the ocean in the background so that it would fill the frame.

We were lucky enough to catch a couple of really good waves crashing on the rocks behind her. It took several tries to get the timing of the waves right, and Floofie was a real trouper, holding her poses until we got the shot that we wanted.

Photographers - if you think it's easy for a model to pose on hot jagged lava rocks in bright sun and staring into a bright reflector while waiting for you to get your shot, YOU try doing it yourself sometime.

Sony a6000 55-210mm f4.5-6.3 OSS Lens iso100 1/1000 @ f6.3

After quick outfit change to a J.Crew top, Floofie got in the water for our last few sets.

Sony a6000 50mm f1.8 OSS Lens iso100 1/3200 @ f2.0

Sony a6000 50mm f1.8 OSS Lens iso100 1/2000 @ f2.8

Throughout the shoot, we alternated between shooting stills and video footage.  It's very challenging to try to do both at the same time, but thanks to Ronald's assistance and Floofie's great work in front of the camera, we got lots of great images and a killer video as well.

Floofie In Maui from Todd Mizomi on Vimeo.

Really glad Floofie and I finally had the chance to collaborate after so many years. She is a fantastic  model to work with (and a fellow cat person as well) ;-) and I'm looking forward to the next time we can shoot together. To contact Floofie for bookings, visit her Facebook page. She also now has an Etsy shop where you can order quality signed prints from her many photoshoots including a few from our Maui shoot, so please check it out.