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28 Sep 2020

Flashpoint XPLOR Power 1200 Pro R2 – Update September 28 2020

Update September 28 2020

Before explaining my testing I want to state that I liked the pack/head combination of this 1200 Pro R2 much more than I ever imagined. I have not used a pack/head system extensively in my professional photography career so this was the first time using one. So here goes….

My personal experience is NOTHING can suck more power out of a strobe than using it outdoors through a gobo. NOTHING. So to compare the 1200 to the Portable 1200ws Extension Head For The XPLOR 600 I normally use with my Aputure Spotlight mount this is how the scene looks in natural light. Midday in September in the SF Bay Area on an overcast day. The  1200 Pro is set to full power, 1:1 and the lens on my Aputure Spotlight is the 36 degree model. It is 23 feet from the fence behind my Cake Kalk& electric motorcycle and I’m using a Rosco Construction steel gobo.

Here are the shots from this setup.

It takes an incredible amount of power to cast shadows like this outside in mid day. So much so that the very bright modeling light of the 1200 Pro is not bright enough to illuminate the pattern for me to align it to Katie or the bike. So I had to shoot and adjust the angle/focus of the modifier in order to get the angle I wanted for the shot. It is here I will say that I prefer the 1200 Pro over using my 2 separate 600 combined. The reason? It’s SO MUCH EASIER to lug one power source (meaning the pack) rather than 2 separate 600s. The power difference is insignificant too.

The rest of the shots were created using a Glow Grand ParaBox Pro Softbox (70″) with focusing rod.

For these two images I placed the talent in front of the Para which was facing me. A Sunbounce Mini white reflector was used to reflect light and dimension back onto their faces. Power on the 1200 Pro was set at 1/8 power with the modifier fully flooded.

Next a more ‘traditional’ use of the 1200 pro and modifier. I placed the strobe in a mid focused position to create this portrait of Alex. Power was 1/32nd for his shot.

To show the scale of the modifier/strobe combo I created these shots.

And now we move to a much more conventional use of the strobe/modifier.

 

In summary I will simply say that the Flashpoint 1200 Pro R2 is a remarkable tool, remarkable. Even at 1:1 power the recycling time is one second or less. And at 1/2 power or less it’s almost instantaneous. Having this much power in such a lightweight and easily portable unit is a godsend for my work. Fitting in with the rest of the Flashpoint/Godox eco system makes it a tool I plan to keep in my arsenal for use when it’s the right tool for the right job. I have several upcoming sessions where I plan to use it extensively.

Update August 30 2020

I have been able to test this strobe with actual humans during COVID. Keeping socially distanced is easy with a 1200 ws strobe. At this point in my tests I have not used full 1:1 power so I cannot say how quickly it recycles. I will say that at 1/2 power it is damn near instantaneous. And at 1/4 or lower it IS instantaneous.

She was most excited about my smoke machine!

In this image the Elinchrom 69″ with focusing rod is completely flooded and I am standing directly in front of the modifier. In a fully flooded position with a modifier this large sucks a lot of power from a strobe. In essence is creates a huge ring light. Not a problem with the 1200.

With the Glow 70″ parabolic with focusing rod I am able to replicate the shadowless light of a ring light with the 1200

Here you can see me standing in front of the modifier.

Update August 26 2020

So I decided to use my new electric motorcycle a Cake Kalk& to test the use of the 1200 with one of my favorite large modifiers, an Elinchrom 69″ Rotalux Octa. I have modified the Octa to accept a focusing rod which is my preferred quality of light for almost all of my client work. 

In the picture below the focusing rod is in fully focused position. I decided not to use this position since it did not offer me the coverage or quality of light I was after.

Here you can see how I’ve mounted the pack to the light stand as a counterweight to the modifier. You will notice that the octa is not facing the rack of cables.

And here is Sofia. The 1200/69″ octa is camera left with the octa facing so that the light is bounced off of the right side of the octa. This allows me to control light spill. The 1200 EASILY fills the large octa and I was shooting at ISO100 1/125th f4.5 with my Pentax 645Z with the 1200 at 1/32nd power.

Original Post August 24 2020

The Flashpoint XPLOR Power 1200 Pro R2 is Adorama’s first Flashpoint pack and head system. In the past their strobes have been all in one units more commonly known as monolights. They have offered Flashpoint Portable 1200ws Extension Head For The XPLOR 600 that combines two Xplor 600s into one 1200 system. I own two and use them when my work calls for a 1200 ws head. Since we are in the midst of COVID19 as I assemble this post, I have been unable to schedule any ‘human’ sessions, but have one coming up in late September. I had scheduled dance sessions in July, but with the shelter in place orders in CA, I had to cancel them. Until then I have the opportunity to assess the physical aspects of this strobe and compare it to the 1200 extension head I have been using. So for right now I will cover some of the physical aspect of this pack/head system.

I’ve never owned a pack/head system and used monolights for my entire professional career. I find monolights so convenient especially now that they are battery powered. The Flashpoint XPLOR and Godox lines have such a robust triggering ecosystem that ties so many of their products all together. I do like the convenience and option of using two Flashpoint 600 heads in combination to create a 1200 ws unit or to just use them separately. The down side of that combination is traveling on location. It’s both a blessing and a curse. If I only need to lug one 600 to a part of the location I can. But lugging two is just not fun, I hate lugging. 

Here are the physical statistics of the 1200 Pro 2 and the 1200 Extension Head

  • Extension Head Cord length 9 feet
  • 1200 Pro 2 Cord length 11 feet
  • Difference 1200 Pro’s cord is 2 feet longer
  • Weight of 2 Flashpoint Monolight 600s (non pro version) without bulbs: 11.6 Pounds
  • Weight of 1200 Pro 2 12.8 Pounds
  • Difference 1200 Pro is 1.2 Pounds heavier

On the YouTube videos I’ve seen about the new 1200 Pro most people were hoping or wondering how to attach the pack to a light stand. I fabricated a mount to use to attach them to a light stand. It’s been one of my most popular post to date. So many people say I should make and sell them. Naw, not my thing. Here is a photo of my 1200 extension head set up.

This is what I fabricated to hold the 1200 Pro onto my lightstand using a Superclamp, a J hook and a Soft Loop Tie-Down Strap.

I wanted to see how this would secure the pack to both a C Stand and a regular light stand.

First the C Stand

Placing the 1200 Pro’s pack just above the ground between the shorter legs of the C Stand prevents it from swinging right and left.

By positioning the J hook on the opposite side of the 1200’s pack I create tension on the strap to hold the pack securely against the C Stand’s two legs. In this configuration it also is low and opposite of the long leg of the base which counterbalances a large heavy modifier very well.

 

Next the regular light stand. Keep in mind this is NOT some cheap flimsy light stand.

Here you will notice that I rest the rubber base of the 1200 Pro on the cross bars of the light stand.

The strap goes through the handle of the 1200 Pro

And like with the C Stand I have the J hook on the opposite side of the 1200’s pack so I can create tension to keep the pack snugly against the light stand’s  center pole. This can be accomplished by one of two ways. First by raising the clamp up on the shaft of the lightstand until the strap is tensioned. Or by looping the strap a number of times around the handle of the pack. Either way works as well as the other. It just depends on the light stand you’re using.

OK so I need to reveal that I’m a bag whore. I mean I LOVE bags, LOVE THEM. I cannot even state how many bags I have for all sorts of things. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of and although I have tried to find a 12 step bag program, I didn’t really try that hard. Well now that’s out of the way you’ll know why I’m gonna talk so much about the 1200 Pro’s bag!

This is far and away THE BEST included strobe bag I’ve ever seen. EVER. Here are the reasons why:

First off it’s a rollie. Did I mention I hate lugging? I hate lugging, but rolling is fine.

And behind that zippered panel are backpack straps built into the bag! Now don’t get me wrong, putting this on my back would not be my first choice, but when I’ve been on location humping up and down stairs, rocks, cliffs, you name it having the OPTION of turning this into a backpack is great! Especially if I have my gf put it on her back! Hahahahaha. Seriously this is a great added feature.

On one side is an elastic pocket with a nylon strap to hold a tripod. Pretty normal stuff, but still a great added detail. And then….

There is a strap configuration on the other side which I’ve never seen before. So I thought I’d try to put a C Stand into that area and it worked great! I don’t know about you, but the fewer trips I have to make back and forth to my vehicle the better. Of course the rollie bag has an extendable pull handle you can see in this shot.

The interior top flap has zipper pockets that are well made and useful.

Of course there is the proper spot for each of the strobe’s elements. Well padded and easily configurable too.

Two front pockets. Funny as the top one’s storage pouch goes UP under the Flashpoint label, I was expecting it to go down. The lower zipper’s pouch goes down as expected.

The zipper to the very right of the main compartment zipper runs the full length and width of the bag’s front cover. It is CHOCK FULL of extra dividers for the interior. Way more than anyone even me would ever need.

One more bag which holds the 1200 Pro’s battery pack. Very cool that it has vents on both sides, a clear panel to see your settings and D rings on either side to carry it over your shoulder if needed.

OK enough about the bags already, here are the most important parts of the 1200 Pro. The battery pack and the head. For anyone familiar with Flashpoint strobes the controls are the same and will look very familiar to you. I find this an excellent development of their ecosystem so we don’t have to relearn controls when new products are released. The 1200 Pro is no exception.

I want to bring up a user error (meaning me) event that occured. When I plugged the head into the pack I ‘thought‘ I had seated the plug well. The modeling light came on, the pack powered up, but when I tried to test flash the unit from either the test flash button on the pack or my trigger, nothing. Well in the end I had NOT fully seated the plug into the pack’s receptor completely. Total user error.

Like the 600 Pro the 1200 Pro comes with its own reflector and protective cap. As well as a stepless and smooth metal swivel mount.

The flash tube and the outer glass housing are separate units. Both fit very securely into the flash head.

The battery lever ejects a handle at which time it’s very easy to pull the battery from the pack.

Cooling fans flank both sides of the pack. The state of the battery’s charge level can be viewed on the pack or the battery itself by pressing the button on the battery.

A view of the interior of the pack and its battery terminals which connect to the battery. As you can see there are several attachment points which are different then the Flashpoint monolights.

My next process will be to test the 1200 Pro against the 1200 extension heads. And finally using them both with actual human subjects….unless I’m prevented due to COVID19 lockdowns. Stay tuned….

02 Sep 2020

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

COVID19 2020 is unlike any year, any experience — anything anyone has endured in this century. Mask, no masks, 14 day isolation, human isolation, lack of freedom and anger —  human frailties exposed in raw naked fashion. Record unemployment, all aspects of life now deemed political, black lives matter versus all lives matter; a world in total emotional chaos. All humans are yearning for hope, for solace and peace, for our lives to return to how things ‘use to be’ the way we took our lives so shamelessly for granted.

I vowed after the 2016 election to remove myself from all social media during the next presidential election. So my virtual contact with others is nonexistent, which is how I want to live my life in this time. My girlfriend informs me of positive news she feels she can share with me knowing full well that my saturation point of bad news, tragic news, bigoted new is very shallow in these times. So one day she says to me “Wow have you seen the rocks Danielle paints? I love them I’m going to buy one from her.” My thought at that moment was whatever makes anyone feel hope or joy in these times is a valid reason to participate no matter what it is.

Tracy’s rock

When Danielle brought over Tracy’s painted rock she told us about the stress of homeschooling two small children, how her husband had been laid off and she as a stage manager for theatre companies is unemployed; something we both knew since we are both full time performance and publicity photographers.

When Tracy received her rock it brought her incredible joy. I witnessed the smile on her face each time she looked at it, held it and finally found the perfect place for it. I was in awe that a simple painted rock, created by a friend of ours brought so much genuine joy to my partner. I realized that this crisis has made many of us reawaken to the joy of the simple and thoughtful things in life. Something that many of us, me included had taken for granted.

I told Danielle I could not imagine home schooling children, having to work from home, balance my own life and family life in these times. So I asked what she does just for herself. She told me that she receives solace by painting rocks. If even for a brief period of time she focuses on herself, creating items that bring her joy, relaxes her and gives her peace. It was then I thought that I too would like my own rock, one of something very different than Tracy’s. A picture of my electric motorcycle that I had created in a photograph was the thing that would bring me joy. Stupid to some, yet for reasons I will keep to myself, wonderful to me.

My electric motorcycle “Sofia”

I recalled a photo of Toby — a young man who committed suicide in November 2019 which was one of his mother’s favorite photos — all because of his genuine smile. Even though I am in that picture I decided to ask Danielle if she could not only paint the picture of my motorcycle, but of me and Toby. She knows of his story, seemed reticent at first saying that she was better at painting ‘things’ more than faces but would try.

Toby’s smile was when I told him the two most handsome fellas would be in this photo.

When Danielle left our home I watched as Tracy handled her new rock, caressed it and carried it looking for just the right spot to place it where she would enjoy it. So she decided to place it on our front porch table. Each time she tended to the front garden she would enjoy her new piece of art.

Toby’s mom Aly and I have become friends despite the horrid tragedy of what brought us together. She had mentioned that she loves puzzles and collecting rocks, so I hoped a painted rock of her son would bring two of her favorite things together. And as I watched Tracy hold her rock carefully in the palm of her hand and gaze lovingly at it I thought of Aly. Rocks are very tactile and the warmth of our hands transfers to them becoming as warm as us. So for her to hold an image of her son, one of her favorite images and warm him with her kind hands would be something no mere photo could provide.

Upon receiving Toby’s rock she texted me that she too held her gift in her hands and walked around her home looking for just the right spot. She decided to place it on her desk so she could look at it as she was seated there.

Being able to provide Danielle just a small stipend of income to paint rocks is inconsequential. But to provide her with a moment to herself, to have her create simple and wonderful items we can hold, can warm with our flesh and enjoy is immense. There is humanity in something made by the hand of another. And I know that I need as much humanity as I can gather right now.

Like so many others I too am between a rock and a hard place. The hard place is beyond my control, but the rock is something in just the right spot that now brings me much joy. I so hope you too find a rock that brings you joy.

If you want your own bit of joy:
Danielle Combs Owner/Artist — Bananarama Crafts
Foster City, CA 650–740–9921
bananaramacrafts@gmail.com
etsy.com/shop/bananaramacrafts

01 Sep 2020

Death by a Thousand Cuts – September 1 2020

September 1 2020

I have written an article that relates to Toby’s story titled “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”

August 17 2020

Several of the young women who danced with Toby at OSA created a heart felt tribute to him. It makes me so emotional to watch the love they exhibit for him. Love you Toby, I’m trying to look after your mom. She’s my friend.

November 16 2019

Last night, November 15 2019 was the service for Toby Weir. Like any memorial service it is never something to look forward to and this was no exception. It was a celebration of his life, but what struck me the most were his mother and father; Aly and Bix Weir. In the past during the tragic deaths of children I have never witnessed parents delivering eulogies like theirs. Heartfelt – completely and utterly honest, Aly’s accounts of her feelings took more courage than I could ever imagine from any human soul. Her words to other young people in the audience were honest, sincere and profound. We are all blessed to know souls like Aly and Bix. To have our lives intersect in this way is something I would never wish upon anyone. Yet to have our lives come together at all – I now view as a blessing to my own life.

They both changed how I view my life. Thank you.

November 7 2019

If you are looking for a photography review here, please move along. This post is about suicide.

All living things be they mammals, reptiles, aquatic, or fill in the blank, does all it can to avoid pain. It’s part of the natural survival instinct. Humans avoid pain through a litany of methods. Many are chemical, loads are through behavior. Pick your poison; drinking, drugs, sex, spending, working, who we hang with, what we focus on.

So when the choice of self-inflicted death is an option that is less painful than life – the tragedy rests on all of us as humans.

I have often felt that suicide is death by a thousand cuts. Small seemingly insignificant minor hurtful comments, being ignored, feeling invisible, not good enough are just some of the the lacerations that eventually end up making the decision to end one’s life.  It can be as simple as never having a text responded to by your own children or parent. Looking at the pretend lives plastered every day on social media about peers whose lives seem so perfect. Comparing ourselves to how we feel we should be, rather than how we are.

For the past several years I have photographed for the Oakland School for the Arts Dance Emphasis. As a freshman a young man named Toby appeared before my lens. Shy, skinny and unsure of his place in the dance world his improvement over the years was remarkable. As a senior he was asked to join the Savage Jazz Dance Company which is an elite group of dancers. After the last night of the troupe’s performance he committed suicide.

I often say to people “Shoulda Coulda Woulda” when they tell me that they ‘meant’ to do say or act on anything. My point is how many opportunities have been neglected by each of us to say a kind or complimentary word to another person – DIRECTLY? Sure it’s common to bitch about someone, but seldom do I hear people compliment a person to their face, at the moment they appreciated an act, a word, an intent they found kind or helpful. Or something they admire about the person at that moment.

“I know I must have told her/him how much I admire/loved/appreciated them. Didn’t I? Gosh I know I thought it but maybe I never said it, but they must have known.”

Often those individuals who appear accomplished, sure of themselves are the ones often overlooked for compliments. “Oh they MUST KNOW how good/skilled/honored/etc. they are!”  Then there are those who feel invisible, because they are treated that way. No eye contact, no smile finds its way to their eyes. No conversations initiated toward their ears.

We so often ask ourselves “Why” after someone we love, adore or know commits suicide. In some cases the person tells us why in their last note, but in others we will never know.  Tomorrow is promised to no one, but I pledge to not contribute to a death by a thousand cuts to my fellow humans. I will say with both kindness and affection how I feel toward someone NOW. Not tomorrow, not to someone else, but to them.

Rest in peace Toby. I miss you. I miss your smile when I told you how special you were.

October 18 2019

October 18 2019

 

31 Aug 2020

Flashpoint XPLOR (Godox) 300 Pro – Update August 31 2020

Update August 31 2020

My gf is a Robert Hall fangirl. “Mark have you seen Robert’s latest Youtube video about his 300? He is having the same issues I have with the swivel that comes with it! Look!” OMG if he lived in the same state, hell even if he lives in Michigan and we live in San Francisco I’d worry if it weren’t for COVID preventing flights! LOL. Anyway I did loads of stuff to try to keep the included lightstand swivel from creeping down since in its OEM state it does not tighten down enough to securely hold the native Godox modifier I bought for it. It’s the only time I’d use the included swivel, with large modifiers I use the new S2 bracket. But for ultra portability when needed I love the combo especially having adapted mine to produce a quality of light like a focusing rod modifier.

What I finally figured out is to sand the plastic covering off of the fiber washer, file slots into the washer and the metal portions of the swivel and viola, it now holds securely. Not as solid as bouncing it up and down, but good enough for her/my usage. Now if I could only figure out how to sabotage Hall’s damn Youtube channel! LOL JK he’s a nice guy.

The top shows how the OEM swivel comes. As you can see in the set below the OEM originals I have sanded off the plastic covering from the fiber washer and carved grooves into the washer and the metal portion with a file. More ‘bite’ now when tightened down.

Update August 10 2020

I continue to be very impressed by the construction and power of the 300 Pros. I was able to light an outdoor dance shoot in mid day at Sutro Baths in San Francisco. Using a hard modifier and one 300. Incredible for both HSS and non HSS applications.

Turning day into night with a single 300 Pro

Update June 11 2020

I have awaited the Bowens screw on adapter for the 300 Pro in high hopes that I would be able to use it with my Aputure Spotlight Mount modifier which I use for gobo work. And my gosh it is perfect for my use!

Prior to owning the Flashpoint AD-AB Adapter Ring for the 300 (FYI you will also need the Flashpoint XPLOR 400PRO Bowens Mount Adapter) I had been using the S2 bracket. And prior to the 300 I had been using the 600 remote head WITH a DIY spacer adapter since the bulb was too long and impacted the Aputure’s first lens. No more now! Yes this unit is 1 stop less bright than using a 600 but the convenience and performance outweighs that one stop advantage. Especially since distance or ISO can overcome that 1 stop loss of light.

And for those who are not DIY’s or don’t want the hassle of making the spacing adapter, THIS IS SO YOUR JAM! I won’t be using the screw on attachment except when using it with the Aputure. I find the S2 bracket much more convenient and easy to remove/install. But man for the Aputure Spotlight it’s pure heaven!

One other item I wanted to mention. If you are using heavier modifiers with the 300 and plan to use the OEM included lightstand swivel mount, you may wish to reconsider. Although the included swivel is fine for lightweight modifiers I found that having to overtighten the swivel pivot is not confidence inspiring. The very small knob does not offer a lot of leverage either. Personally I much prefer using the S2 bracket for medium to heavy modifiers.

Update May 7 2020

I ran a test of the 300 Pro’s modeling light today. I placed my Sekonic L-358 light meter 6 feet from the light source of each of the units.

Here are my results with meter set at 1/60 of a second ISO 100 without any reflectors. All modeling lights set at maximum (except for the 200 OEM Fresnel head, no adjustments, just on or off):

  • Xplor 600 Pro (100%) f1.8
  • Xplor 300 Pro (Setting 10) f1.1
  • Xplor 200 with OEM Fresnel Head (No adjustments) Could not register a reading EU
  • Xplor 200 with the Round Head attachment (Set at level 3) f1.0

Update May 6 2020

I decided to test the little 300 Pro using two of my favorite modifiers, an Elinchrom 39″ Rotalux Deep Octabox and the Elinchrom 69″ Rotalux Octabox. Both create delicious light and I use them often during publicity work with a focusing rod. I wanted to find out if the 300 has enough oomph to allow me to use it in these modifiers. And guess what? OH YES IT DOES.

The 300 Pro in my 69″ Elinchrom octa

1/8th power first fully focused and then fully flooded.

Fully focused.

Fully flooded. The even light distribution of focusing rods is wonderful.

Elinchrom makes a line of modifiers known as the “Indirect Litemotiv” line that are available in various shapes. The inner fabric is different than the Rotalux line, but the whole “Indirect” concept is facing the strobe inward toward the interior of the modifier akin to a focusing rod system. But it is a fixed system instead of having the ability to focus or flood the modifier. Fstoppers Reviews the Elinchrom Indirect Litemotiv Softboxes covers the advantages of the indirect system. 

FStopper’s Conclusion

“All in all, these light shapers are awesome, and I did not want to return them to Elinchrom. The octabank is a beast! I shot quite a number of agency test and portraits with it and loved the result. The light is so soft and flattering; it was almost impossible to get bad lighting out of it….”

The 300 Pro will make my work life even easier than before.

Next the Elinchrom 39″ Deep Octa

First fully focused and then fully flooded.

Westcott Zeppelin 47″. Works just as well in my Zeppelin 59″

 

I’m not going to go into the meter readings I got using both modifiers with the 300 Pro but suffice it to say that I will not hesitate to use it for any studio work with a large modifier. I am considering selling half of my 600s to replace them with the 300 Pros! No remote heads, no cables, no mounting my 600s to the lightstand. 

OH and I’ve also posted how well this little 300 works with my Aputure Spotlight Mount!

Update May 5 2020

Further down in this post I have explained why and how I plan to use this strobe. Short story is it has quickly become my favorite strobe. Yes we are all in the horrid COVID-19 situation right now and currently photo gear is the least important aspect in life. But as a working (well currently unemployed) photographer trying to stay sane is easier when I have gear to test. Even better when the gear turns out to be fantastic!

Anyway I wanted to fabricate a cage for the little 300 Pro to use with my focusing rod modifiers. When I purchased the matching Direct Mount 33.4″ octa I had this crazy idea to DIY my own cage using parts from a Direct Mount modifier. So I searched Adorama’s used/return section and found a Direct Mount missing some pieces for 35.00, exactly half the price of the new Direct Mount I had ordered. So I ordered it and was off to the races! Now I’m going to say up front that I really don’t want to outline every step I took to figure out how/what to make the cage. Why? Well for two reasons, first Flashpoint plans to release a Bowens attachment (not the excellent S2 bracket which already exists) that bolts to the 300 Pro. At that point anyone can use the 300 in a Bowens cage for focusing rods. Easy!

Secondly, why did I go through all of the trouble and expense to DIY a Direct Mount Cage in the first place? Primarily it’s because I LOVE the simplicity of the 300 and don’t want to bolt a Bowens mount to it. If I need to use this with a Bowens modifier of any type I will use the excellent S2 bracket made for this thing. And I don’t think many people will know just how valuable this 300 is for focusing rod lovers. No remote head. No monolight attached to the lightstand. Just the little light on the focusing rod. I weighed the 300 with my DIY cage against my 600 Pro remote head and the Bowens cage. Guess what!? The 300 with my DIY cage weighs 4 ozs. less! And of course that does not include the 600 Pro body that must be attached to the lightstand.

I chuckled a bit thinking to myself “Wow if Profoto or Broncolor came out with this compact unit as a focusing rod strobe people would have thought it was a genius move!”  Sure some may feel that a paltry 300 measly watt seconds is too low. But consider raising your ISO from 100 to 200 then equals a 600 ws strobe at 100 ISO. Oh yeah and only purists feel that 100 ISO is the ONLY way to shoot publicity? Kinda like thinking only one f stop should ever be used….food for thought.

So I completely disassembled the 25.5″ used Direct Mount I purchased just to get to the cage. Then I cut the mounting pole to size and attached a female to female coupler.

The three mounting arms are not equidistant from one another. So I had to measure them to determine which arm went into which hole. Two are 64mm apart, one is 71mm.

The entire strobe fits on the end of my focusing rod including the power unit and the battery! Incredible.

If you happen to be wondering why I choose to NOT attach a full 600 Pro monolight to my focusing rods….well I don’t need to answer that question.

Fully focused position.

Fully flooded position.

And yes the quality of light is just as good as any of my other strobes. So here’s the second test I conducted. I wanted to see if the 33.4″ Direct Mount Glow I purchased and modified with a solid disk diffuser would match or come close to my beloved Parabolix 35D modifier. Of course I had to use Bob due to COVID but I’m confident the results with a real human face will be the same. Time will tell once COVID is over….sigh

Left Parabolix 35D which is a 35″ modifier. Right is the Direct Mount Glow 33.4″ with my DIY diffusion disk.

The setup to compare quality of light from both modifiers on Bob. In both cases the modifiers are NOT pointed directly at Bob, but angled so that the edge closest to the viewer reflects most of the light. It’s my preference.

The Parabolix was set in the same focusing position (distance from the rear of the modifier) as my disk diffusion panel on the Glow Direct Mount.

And here is the comparison image.

Which is which? LOL you can guess all you want. For me this was to determine if the Glow Direct Mount’s (with my DIY disk diffuser) quality of light is comparable to the 35D with focusing rod….which is 12x the Glow’s price BTW. Don’t get me wrong, the 35D is a modifier that produces delicious light. But for portability and set up the little 300/Direct Mounter is a winner.

So…for my work the quality of light from the Glow with my diffusion disk is more than good enough to take on location for portrait work. Rather than hauling my Parabolix I will be satisfied using the Glow and my little 300 for a good share of traveling portraiture. No it’s not a silver bullet, but for a portable solution for focusing rod quality of light it works for me.

Here’s the begging part….Adorama/Flashpoint/Godox – ANYBODY please make a direct mount cage for the little 300! I almost want to keep the 300 secret to myself for focusing rod strobes! LOL

Flashpoint XPLOR 300 Pro TTL R2 Battery-Powered Monolight

April 27 2020 Original Post Date

I normally do not combine my reviews of items. But this is an exception. For those who follow my blog it’s clear that cameras, strobes, stands, modifiers, etc. are tools to me, not jewels. To date the only piece of photo gear I covet like a child’s favorite teddy bear is my beloved Fuji X100V. I love its performance, how it looks and how it feels in my hands. In short…well I love the thing. As of today I can say that I now have one other favorite piece of kit. The Flashpoint XPLOR 300 Pro TTL R2 Battery-Powered Monolight and for the very same reasons I sighted with the Fuji too!

My two pieces of photo kit that I just love to handle and use. The little Fuji and the little 300.

I like to watch videos by Robert Hall because he’s factual and pretty engaging. His video about the 300 in his typical fashion is chock full of stats and tests. My review is not to repeat his comprehensive tests, but about my own findings of the strobe. It was there as I was watching the video that he mentioned the XPLOR 400 Direct Mount Parabolic where at 17:06 his wife (and it’s so obvious Hall MARRIED UP, WAY UP! LOL) adoringly demonstrated how the Flashpoint XPLOR 400 Direct Mount is put together…kinda.

One of the issues that initially worried me is the strobe does not have an adjustment in its menu system to allow power adjustment increments. The default is 1/10th of a stop each time the adjustment wheel is moved. But thankfully this is overridden using the R2 triggers. My preference is one third stop adjustments which works well with the remote. Just keep in mind that if you are adjusting the power levels on the strobe body your only choice is in one tenth increments.

When I travel via airlines with all of my strobes I remove all the bulbs and batteries in checked luggage. What’s nice about the 300 is the removable reflector which also is the bulb protector (Like the 600 Pro but much smaller) will prevent me from forgetting a cone from my backlighting situations. The 300 is now going to be my defacto backlight strobe! And like my 200s it is small enough to pack in my carry on camera bag.

The build quality of the 300 is on par with the quality I feel is built into the Fuji X100V. Here I’m just comparing the overall length of the unit against one of my 200s.

Although I’ll most likely never use it except to store it, the included case is very well done.

The ability to use the included swivel bracket in a vertical or horizontal position is key to how I work. More on this later in this post.

The mounting point is notched and mated to the removable swivel mount. VERY solid and does not allow the strobe to rotate around the mount at all. Very well engineered.

For an unknown reason by removing the washer and inverting it, it prevented the swivel from creeping when cinched down. Just FYI in case you find your swivel moves a tad when completely tightened down.

In the examples below you will see that the ability to angle the modifier (it will also depend on the shape of your modifier) downward allows more of an angle when the swivel mount is used in the horizontal position. I’d estimate it gives me around 5 degrees more of an angle adjustment with this modifier. So for me rather than having to carry an extension I just use the swivel in the horizontal position.

The next series of images is just to test the power of the 300 in full overhead sunlight using HSS and my preferred outdoor/high wind modifier, the CLAR Fresnel lens Mount Pro. In these tests I’m using it in the fully flooded position. (and it was damn windy this day) All images shot with a Canon 1DX Mark II with the 24-70 f2.8 Mark II lens

1/250th f2.8 ISO 100, strobe at 1/8 power level. Sun is camera right 45 degrees to the side of Bob’s head.

1/1600th f2.8 ISO 100, strobe at 1/8 power level. Sun is camera right 45 degrees to the side of Bob’s head.

1/3200th f2.8 ISO 100, strobe at 1/8 power level. Sun is camera right 45 degrees to the side of Bob’s head.

1/250th f2.8 ISO 100, strobe at full power level. Sun is the backlight for Bob’s head.

1/3200th f2.8 ISO 100, strobe at full power level. Sun is the backlight for Bob’s head.

1/6400th f2.8 ISO 100, strobe at full power level. Sun is the backlight for Bob’s head. (white spots are bokeh’d sun reflections off of car windows)

For what/how I shoot outdoors in full sunlight the 300 is just right for my work. Recycling time is just about 1 second at full power. At a 1/4 power or lower I’m confident I would not miss an expression change shot during a session. Recycle is damn near immediate. About twice as fast as my 200s. (which are not the Pro versions btw) And since I never use TTL I did not test that feature nor do I plan to do so.

I am so impressed with the 300 Pro that I am fabricating a cage to use it as my defacto focusing rod modifier strobe. In those cases where I need more power as when using modifiers over 70″ I will revert to my 600 Pro remote head. But the 300 is so small and emits sufficient power for me to confidently use it with my focusing rods. Bravo for this amazing strobe.

Glow EZ Lock Parabolic Softbox For Flashpoint XPLOR 400 Direct Mount (33.4″ – Silver) – Godox AD-S85

Throughout my career I have searched for what I felt was the optimum portable strobe/modifier combination for my work. I’m NOT a wedding or event photographer so my needs are very different than those professionals. And the modifier/strobe combination I searched for was to be used primarily indoors rather than outdoors. A two light set up that produces excellent quality of light, is very portable and easy to assemble are my criteria. 99.9% of my modifiers use the Bowens mount system, it’s what I prefer. So when I saw the proprietary Flashpoint/Godox mounting system on the 300 Pro I was a bit disappointed. But once I saw the incredibly small diameter of the 33.5″ octa modifier and the fact that the new S2 Glow bracket solves the Bowens issue with the 300 I was sold.

In 85% of my work I use focusing rod modifiers, simply because I along with my clients prefer the quality of light a focusing rod modifier produces. And although I cannot adapt the Direct Mount modifier as a focusing rod system, I found a way to closely replicate the quality of light found in my focusing rod systems. No I cannot focus or flood the light like I can with a true focusing rod, but this is ultra portable and great to use while coming very close to the style of light I prefer.

I used a M8 1.0 pitch dye to thread the end of the modifier’s rod.

To attached this reflective disk onto the rod.

A M8 nut holds the disk in place as my only diffusion. This replicates as close as possible a focusing rod quality of light.

I simply keep the M8 nut attached to the zipper on the modifier.

The modifier comes with a grid, an outer diffusion panel, two reversible color temperature disks and one inner diffusion disk, which all attach via Velcro to the inner side of the modifier.

And it comes with this little reflector:

I ‘think’ its purpose is the same as the solid disk I use…I have not tried it though, but may…..

The following images illustrate just how small in diameter the modifier is compared to Bowens mount units. Incredible!

The Direct Mount ring literally fits inside a Bowens ring!

Sometimes size does matter! LOL

The Glow S2 Round Flash S-type Bowens Mount Bracket for Round Head Flashes is WORLDS APART from the original Godox S2 bracket. This is the one which allows me to use the 300 with any Bowens modifier. And my gawd that awful scratchy ratcheting swivel system is gone! Smooth as butter….

Yes the modifiers is INTENTIONALLY aimed away from Bob. With focusing rod modifiers I find that using the side of the modifier produces delicious light.

Distance from Bob can be seen here. This is the 33.4″ Direct Mount modifier.

Strobe at 1/16th power level, 1/500th f2.8 ISO 100 Modifier with hard disk only.

Strobe at 1/16th power level, 1/500th f2.8 ISO 100 Modifier with hard disk only.

Strobe at 1/16th power level, 1/500th f2.8 ISO 100 Modifier with inner diffusion panel only.

Strobe at 1/16th power level, 1/500th f2.8 ISO 100 Modifier with inner and outer diffusion panels.

 

31 Aug 2020

Flashpoint Godox AD600Pro – UPDATED August 31 2020

Update August 31 2020

I wanted to alert people that Flashpoint has added what I consider to be a vital change to their Pro series 600 strobes. I mentioned it in my original post below, but wanted to bring it up again. Something as simple as an extra hole in the light stand swivel allows me to mount the strobe PARALLEL to the light stand. This is important to me when I use the remote head (which is most of the time) with the strobe. Although I’m using another DIY mounting system with a truss clamp you can now use a simple super clamp to do the same thing. Also when possible I only purchase light stands that have a removable spigot at the top which allows me to have the spigot vertical (as all do) with another hole that allows a horizontal placement. Options, shooting for me is all about options.

Something so simple as adding this hole on the side of the swivel makes it so much more convenient to mount when using the remote head.

My truss clamp DIY mount which is way easier to make then the 90 degree mount. Oh I try to use aluminum spigots so that the mounting screw on the Flashpoint can really bite into the metal to prevent spinning. I use lock washers too.

Mounting my 600 Pro this way prevents it from spinning around the truss clamp.

UPDATE June 2 2018

I installed the optional rear handle onto the Pro and love it. Being able to use the handle to adjust the angle of the strobe when it’s on a stand is so welcomed. Even though I often use a focusing rod modifier I do NOT like to use the rod as a lever to angle the strobe, so I simply hold the modifier to adjust the angle. There is one issue with the item I received. In order to install the handle you must remove the four Allen head bolts and use the longer ones which are supplied. I received two hex wrenches and I originally thought that they were different sizes, but they are the same. The issue is they both are TOO LARGE to remove or install the bolts. Luckily I have a huge tool supply and had the correct size of hex key. The supplier should investigate whether I just received an anomaly pack or if they’ve spec’d the wrong hex key.

Neither of the supplied hex keys fits the corresponding bolts.

The second issue is more of an annoyance than an actual issue. After I installed the handle the Pro would not fit into the cool little case that comes with the unit. Sad, I really like that case…sigh! But more importantly even with the handle installed it still fits nicely into my Pelican Case which is the one I use for airline transport. I recommend the handle, especially when a heavy modifier is mounted to the Pro.

The handle is really solid once installed and fits perfectly with the unit.

Too long to fit into its native case…sad!

Gladly it still fits into my Pelican case with the handle installed. You can see how much longer it is than the xPLOR600.

UPDATE April 4 2018

My client has just released the press imagery for Hunchback of Notre Dame so I am now able to share them. The session was held on location in Seattle at the Volunteer Park Water Tower which is four stories. After obtaining the required permits we had to lug all of the grip and lighting gear up four stories and I HATE LUGGING! LOL… Because the remote head was not yet available I didn’t use any focusing arms for this session. My modifiers of choice were the Elinchrom 69″ Octa and the SMDV 110cm octa. I used the 600Pro in the Eli and an xPLOR600 in the SMDV.

The four story water tower. We shot at the top for most of the session.

Boy how I wanted an escalator! LOL!!!!

The 600 Pro inside the Eli 69″ octa. Pentax 645Z shot at HSS.

The 600 Pro inside the Eli 69″ octa. Pentax 645Z shot at HSS.

The 600 Pro inside the SMDV 110cm octa. Pentax 645Z shot at HSS.

The 600 Pro inside the Eli 69″ octa. Pentax 645Z shot at HSS.

Toughest shot, natural light with the 645Z.

The talent, hair, makeup, wardrobe and marketing team. The 600 Pro inside the Eli 69″ octa. Pentax 645Z shot at HSS.

UPDATE March 15 2018

During recent client sessions, both of which were on location I had the opportunity to use the AD600 Pro in combination with a number of modifiers. Because the remote head for the Pro is not yet released I did not use any focusing rod modifiers. In one session whose images I cannot at this time, I used the Pro in an Elinchrom 69″ Octa with both diffusion panels installed. I did not go over 1/4 power and was shooting HSS with my Pentax 645Z. The unit performed flawlessly.

In the session I can post images below I used the Pro in a SMDV 44″ (110cm) octa with both diffusion panels installed. The interior of the theatre where I was doing these portraits was very dark so I appreciated the very bright modeling light so that I could easily obtain focus. To date I’ve found the Pro model exemplary in recycle time, modeling light and ease of use.

Waiting for the talent. It looks much brighter in this phone camera image than it actually appeared in real life!

Pro with SMDV 110cm camera left. Just out of frame camera right is my Sunbounce Mini reflector using the white side.

Pro with SMDV 110cm modifier directly in front of the talent. I’m shooting from below the modifier with the Sunbounce reflector under her face just out of frame.

 UPDATE: February 21 2018

Yesterday I was able to utilize the Pro during a commercial session. Here are my observations:

  • The modeling light is VERY bright, as bright as my former Einstein strobes.
  • IF I use the modeling light at any power that enables the fan, the battery life is much shorter than the AD600. My session was only three hours and at the end of it I had only one bar left on power. Keep in mind that I was using the modeling light at 100% during the entire session. The strobe only went to sleep after 30 minutes of non use. I will need to experiment with power control on this unit, i.e, modeling light, sleep time, etc.
  • The swivel mechanism is MUCH MORE ROBUST and far easier to adjust than the AD600. I tend to adjust the position of my lights often and in incremental steps during my sessions and the ability to pivot the modifier is excellent. Not having a ratcheting mechanism makes all the difference.
  • The recycling times are extraordinary. Literally no waiting for the strobe to recycle IF you’re not using 1:1 power. One second can seem like a lifetime when I’m shooting, but I seldom use 1:1 in rapid shooting. Normally in studio I’m at power levels of 1/32 to 1/2 at the most. I’m not a “spray and pray” shooter so when I say that I shoot at will, it’s when I see a gesture or expression that I want. And at those power levels it allows me to shoot at will.
  • Because the unit swivels so freely I will purchase the optional handle when it’s released. Although I plan to use the Pro with focusing arm modifiers and can use those to pivot the strobe, I’d prefer to use the handle.

That’s it for now. I used the Pro with the Adorama 65″ Glow Easy Lock X-Large Deep Beaded Silver Fiberglass Umbrella. Incredible modifier which I’m finding can rival my focusing arm modifiers in some instances!

Original Article

I debated waiting to write an entire review of my experience using the new Flashpoint Godox AD600Pro strobe until I had tested most of the items important to me. Because this is my high season it would take me about six months to do a soup to nuts review. So I’m opting to write my findings piecemeal meaning – as I go along. Sorry, but I felt it best to do it this way for this strobe. As I integrate the unit into my workflow I will make mental notes and add my findings to this review. 

Also since I almost exclusively use focusing arm modifiers now, I probably won’t have extensive use of the Pro until the remote head is released.

Things that are immediately apparent as improvements over the Flashpoint Godox AD600 units:

  • The swivel adjustment is nice and smooth now. No more ratcheting which I hated and modified on my units.
  • The modeling light is B R I G H T and adjustable to the output of the strobe. Like my old Einsteins. Love that
  • The swivel mount now allows you to place the unit in a vertical (parallel to the light stand) position using a SuperClamp and a stud.
  • I like the power button located on the bottom of the unit rather than the side. When I pack my strobes into my Pelican cases I often worry about the units turning on due to the pressure from the foam pads. So I always detach the batteries which airlines don’t like in checked luggage. Also simply pressing the power button now turns to unit off immediately. I like that. You must hold the power button down for 2-3 seconds to power the unit up.
  • The Bowens mount seems much more snug than the AD600. But that depends on the modifier too.

Some people ‘may’ feel that the build quality is ‘better’ on the Pro but I never thought the AD600 exhibited poor build quality….except for the irritating ratcheting swivel which has been completely removed as well as improved. BTW the swivel adjusting handle can be moved by pulling and re-positioning it in the event the handle is being blocked by the strobe’s body or any attachments.

I’ve had zero issues with my units, only with the early remote heads where the LED modeling lights would fail after two months. If trolls are concerned about what happens if they drop the strobe, hell any strobe….well best of luck to them.

The overall length of the new Pro is longer than the AD600. I didn’t measure them, but the new Pro fits into my Pelican case which is what I wanted to know.

The Pro weighs 14 ounces more than the AD600

I purposely didn’t include the covers/Pro’s built in reflector to keep them apples to apples for weighing.

The charger input is the same as the AD600, but the OUTPUT is significantly higher in the Pro’s charger. 33.6v 1.3a. versus 12.6v 3.3a.

The swivel mount on the Pro has included an ingenious second hole and threaded mounting hole so that you can now mount the strobe vertically onto a lightstand when using the remote head. Very well done.

I prefer to use truss clamps when mounting the strobe to a lightstand. But now I don’t have to fabricate much. I simply bolt a spigot to the truss clamp.

Very easy!

With the new mounting hole you can simply buy a SuperClamp and pin to vertically attach the strobe to a lightstand. The advantage of using a SuperClamp over my truss clamp is the ability to use it on smaller diameter light stands.

Easy and Sano!

Whenever I have to travel with my strobes via airlines I remove the bulbs. TSA has broken bulbs before. I use these nifty short covers to protect the attachment points and LED modeling light.

The Pro’s bulbs are much larger in diameter than the AD600s so I found my old Tamrac MX5375 lens pouch works perfectly. They are no longer made, but there are plenty of others out there if you need to find one.

The Oryx Gear DSLR Lens Pouch, Medium which is available (and I just purchased and received) fits and protects the bulb perfectly when detached from the strobe body for transport.

Of course the real aspect of the Pro will be the light quality/battery life/recycle time. I’m very interested in recycle times and the Masking feature. For color consistency a separate menu choice like the Einsteins is great. But during those times my clients need absolute precise color I have never depended upon strobe color temperature, but instead the X-Rite Digital ColorChecker Passport and a recently calibrated monitor. 

I have confirmed that the new Flashpoint/Godox AD600 Pro works in HSS with the Pentax 645Z as explained in this post.

In preparation for a session this week I plan on using the Pro with my 69″ Elinchrom Octa WITHOUT a focusing rod. The session calls for a Vanity Fair style of light, so I will use ultra soft lighting which the Eli 69 delivers in spades.

The Elinchrom Bowens speedring had been back ordered so long on all of the online retailers I decided to modify one. Since I knew it would take a bit of work to do this I also decided to use one of Cheetahstand’s Low Profile Bowen Speed Ring Inserts. Those inserts are about 2/3’s of an inch shorter in depth than normal Bowens inserts. This would then allow my AD600/H600 bulbs to protrude further into modifiers allowing for a bit more power. Yeah you have to drill out all of the rivets, shave the new ring down to fit the Elinchrom speedring, but I was motivated!

Wow so combining the 600 Pro’s new bulb/socket design and my use of the Cheetahstand Low Profile Ring the bulb is actually flush with the speedring in the Eli 69! Very cool! 

Further aspects and more will be forthcoming….stay tuned.

11 Jul 2020

The Magic of Collaboration

Right now there are so many important and historic events happening in our country and our communities. The Black Lives Matter movement changing how blacks have been mistreated throughout history, COVID-19, record unemployment, home schooling, Zoom Meetings, and face to face isolation.

On February 24 2020 just before the public officially became aware of the novel coronavirus, a collection of artists of all genres gathered to create the Hillbarn Theatre’s 2020 Season Brochure. I need to rewind this story five years prior to that date. Tracy and I work with many theatres and performance venues in the Western United States. After having helped in creating season brochures and publicity collateral for theatres ranging from pre-Broadway houses to community theatres, August Laguio and I became restless with the look of theatre publicity imagery. August is one of the most accomplished graphic designers I have ever worked with and was responsible for so much of the marketing collateral our clients used.

We spoke to the marketing staff of all the theatres who were clients, “Hey we would like to try a new approach to how theatre presents itself to the public, a photo centric approach, not heavy with graphics and not using traditional show graphics titling.” Well what has always been done is a very difficult mindset to overcome, especially when theatres feel their income may suffer. Or they feel their season subscriber base would not take a liking to something new.

In 2006 before ever dreaming of becoming a commercial photographer I had the opportunity to spend time with Annie Leibovitz. She was on a tour for her book A Photographer’s Life and a friend arranged time for me to meet with her. “Annie, how can I learn to shoot like you?” Her reply “Mark, don’t attempt to shoot like me, strive to shoot like Mark. And one day I will look at your work and wonder why I didn’t ask you the very same question.” What she taught me in the time we spent together was not about camera gear. It was about concepts, storytelling and feeling.

So in late 2019 Tracy and I were looking through some of Annie’s work and the delicious nature of a wider shot that enveloped the entire scene of what goes into creating an image struck us both. “Let’s talk to Dan about doing it this way for Hillbarn’s 80th season, their 2020 Season Brochure!” In reality once Tracy and I are both on the same page about an idea, poor Dan didn’t really have a chance. With his typical askance look and a raised eyebrow he simply said “Uh OK I guess we can do that. Yeah it sounds good.” So we were off to the races. Of course Dano had to tell us the season so we could begin formulating a plan.

One of the most delicious elements in Annie’s style of pulled back imagery are the drops. Hand painted canvas background drops. The texture of painted drops is just delicious on film if they’re done correctly. So as Tracy often does, she began her investigation and found out that to purchase a 12’x12’ hand painted drop, averages 1800.00 per drop. Gulp! “We need to raise our prices babe!” was my response. We both agreed that we would need at least four different drops for the session. So what did she do? She researched how hand painted drops are made, what materials are used, where to find them and how they’re painted. Kelly Tighe was instrumental in helping her understand the process of selecting the correct canvas, the paints and the process. He was the first in our epic collaboration to create something very special.

So off to Musson Theatrical we went to buy the canvas, then to a paint shop in Belmont and then to the hardware store for brushes. But where do we paint these? The canvas can either be stretched over a wooden frame we would have to build or….

Stapled to a wooden floor. HEY Hillbarn’s greenroom has a wooden floor! So as luck would have it that area was clear during the times we’d need to occupy the space. So for days and nights Tracy painted, sprayed and rolled the canvases. Of course I was there for moral support as I napped in one of the prop chairs left in the room.

Dan informed us of Hillbarn’s 80th Season lineup:

  • Evita
  • Clue
  • The Sound of Music
  • A Chorus Line
  • Shakespeare In Love
  • The Producers

Now came the task of how to light each of the shows. Although I review gear on this blog I tend to not discuss gear too much outside of this site. Concepts are the most difficult aspect in my imagery development process. But the fact that I have been using battery operated Flashpoint strobes for the past six years makes my job easier. No more asking clients where power is located at on location venues. It’s all battery powered now, no cords, just freedom. And why is that important? Because NO ONE likes Mark’s cussing scale of one to ten. I’m a real bitch about just a few things; authentic expressions, donuts and light. Not many people know this because I don’t say, but with light and imagery I smell and taste when the shot is the right one; delicious, LITERALLY. For those who have worked with me they are accustomed to when I say I got the shot and I never even look at my camera. Sure all of the images go to my iPad, but it’s because I can taste when the shot is right that I know I got the shot. Weirdo? Yep, but it works for me.

Dan Demers the Artistic Director of Hillbarn Theatre had these thoughts:

“It’s always a challenge to think beyond the last brochure you create. Creatively you have to stretch yourself; you have to push beyond the uncomfortable beyond the safe looks. The honest reason I’m able to do that more easily now is because of the partnerships, friendships and trust I have with Mark and Tracy.  So when both of them came to me with this idea I knew it was going to be powerful and I could see it in my mind instantly.

But how could I make this shoot rise to the idea of it. I knew I had to reach out to some amazing creative people and ask them for help. Together I shared the concept with them and they quickly starting to see if for themselves. But I was missing something…

You see every year Mark, Tracy and I sit down and talk about the emotion or feeling behind the shoots or brochure, and it is one of my favorite days. It usually starts with an idea that has been stirring in me, then when we sit down and talk about it, Mark takes it an begins to cook up ideas or images, and usually ends with a ‘damn you, now I can’t stop thinking about it.’ This time the tables were turned. It was me who was constantly thinking about the concept. I knew we had to do more, so with this amazing group of creative people we started to craft actual scenes for each show. Pulling props, period costumes, small set pieces and using the full theater space. This creation would only enhance the beauty of the concept and idea of our 80th Anniversary season brochure. I could not wait to see the pictures, the models, and the scenes we had all created to evoke the emotion of each show.”

So on the day of the shoot, Tracy is filming and I’m shooting. My primary job is to keep the energy HIGH throughout the day. What does that mean? It means that when each of the talent arrives and begins to go through makeup, hair, wardrobe, etc. when they get to me I need to show them my energy. I’ve never been the kind of shooter that just snaps my shutter. Nope I like to tell the talent a story of what I’m looking to create. In a way, I’m a director. And if I bore or lose that momentum then I have not done a good job. Smiles need to be genuine; tension needs to be authentic, even in a studio environment. Actors are professionals, but they need direction and that’s what I try to convey. I have concepts in my mind whenever I begin any session, but it’s the organic collaboration that happens during the sessions that creates the true magic.

Being collaborative, directing and encouraging organic development of ideas on set is what makes a shoot successful, memorable and authentic. I’ve always said that a pretty photo without emotion is just a pretty photo. We all strive together to make imagery and our memories of that day magic.

Behind the scenes images in the creation of:

It becomes very evident that our sessions are very serious and boring….LOL!!!

Cover

Evita

Clue

The Sound of Music (not accomplished due to COVID19)

A Chorus Line

Shakespeare In Love

The Producers

 

And the final choices for the brochure by show

Cover

Evita

 

Clue

The Sound of Music – NA

A Chorus Line

Shakespeare In Love

The Producers

I asked all of the people involved to add any comments if they wished to do so:

“Any smiles shown in the picture were real and not staged, just pure happiness being around amazing people in a warm and welcoming theatre family!!!”Kylie Abucay, actress

 

“Thank you for sharing these with us, and we’re honored to have taken part of this experience, despite the current circumstances. Just imagine how strong and amped up we’ll all be when this all subsides! Much love and healthy wishes to you both and your families.”Christine M. Shulman, actress

 

“It was almost surreal for me to be included in this photo shoot. As long as I have been Sofia’s mom I have sat in the audience. Enjoying all you very talented thespians from the seats in the second row. I never thought I’d be part of the gang. And then Tracy and Mark thought of me as the perfect Ms Scarlett. Be still my heart.  It was amazing to be included.

Growing up in an Irish Catholic school most girls had blonde hair, freckles and blue eyes. I had a ton of dark hair, a unibrow among other unwanted hair, and pretty ethnic. I didn’t feel very pretty. Moments like this, where the way I look is appreciated and never gets old. Thank you Mark and Tracy for liking my look enough to include me as Ms Scarlett! You two and Dan are amazing! We miss you all very much.”Vicky Costantini

 

“Walking into the theatre yesterday was like uncovering a time capsule—from before shelter-in-place, before face masks and government mandates to stay six feet apart. Caught in the moment before everything changed, the place feels frozen. The set for Laughter on the 23rd Floor is still in place; the props are pre-set and costumes hang on racks in the green room ready to be returned to storage.

We walked out on March 16 and other than visits for mail pick up, a place that is usually filled with people and projects has been abandoned. Only weeks before we jumped ship we had spent an incredibly creative and collaborative day as part of a collective hive-brain at an 80th Hillbarn Theatre Season brochure photoshoot. 

With an understanding of the show characters, limited access to stock costumes and no actor measurements, co-costumer, Melissa and I had preselected outfits. With fingers crossed we hoped the Artistic Director approved ensembles would fit and tell the story.

Over the course of several weeks we’d watched videographer Tracey Martin paint the ombré backdrops; each gradient background is arguably a work of art in itself! It was against these grey’s and sages that the actors would express character with costumes and props aiding in setting time, place and character. 

Photoshoot day was one of the best ever. The process was organically synergistic and well beyond the control of any participating individual. The “process” was humming as each member of the creative crew added their layer to the storyline. Editing was rich. No one said no.  Creatives love to hear yes and… not yes but. The room reverberated.”Pam Lampkin, costumer

Hillbarn’s 80th season may not have transpired on stage as planned. But the magic and collaboration of what we all created together is something that deserves sharing. Especially in the times of COVID19, the importance of Black Lives Matter and the changes necessary to make our world what it should have become long ago.

Beautifully inclusive

12 Jun 2020

Unearned Privilege

 

I know that it shocks my Caucasian friends and acquaintances when I say “Oh he’s my white friend Fred who I knew in college.” When I refer to a friend or someone I see who is Japanese or Asian I simply say, “Oh he’s my friend George.” I feel it must be difficult for whites to fully understand what the big deal is all about not being represented in media. It became extremely obvious to me when my cousin asked me to watch over his home on Oahu when he went to visit Japan for several weeks. 90% of the people on TV were Asians and not just the token female Asian news anchor but people in car ads, mouthwash commercials, and furniture store ads. And many of them were Asian MEN, something seldom seen on the mainland. And as I roamed around the island away from Honolulu everyone looked like me, men women and children. It was then I discovered what it must be like to have white privilege, where almost everything that is represented looks like you.

It has taken me a few weeks to formulate my feelings for this post since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN. In 1968 when I was a young teen living in SoCal the Watts riots happened. I remember watching it on our family’s black and white TV. We had moved from Crenshaw to Anaheim so we were removed from the LA area. My aunt and uncle along with my cousins still lived in LA but not near Watts. I remember being disturbed by the images of rioting, looting and violence as I watched the news. But my parents tried to protect my sister and I by turning off the TV and not discussing it with us. When we went to school there was no mention of the riots or the reasons why it happened, only uneasiness that was apparent in some of the teachers, who were all white and 95% male. The suburbs where I lived were far removed from Watts so any danger was only on the TV screen.

There are certainly people I’ve encountered that I classify as a racist or bigot. But there are also people in between those all or nothing titles. People I call “Racially Ignorant” who are not full bigots or racists, but because they have been born into white privilege they have never experienced or understood what it TRULY FEELS LIKE to be marginalized by a white social structure. Whites in the USA along with nonwhites are schooled by a white social system. What we are taught, how we are taught is all homogenized to support the elevated status of being white. If you think back to how we were taught about “American Indians” in school it was painted as a fair trade, land for trinkets. Cowboys were the heroes and the Indians were savages, people the white man saved by taking away their lands. I was never taught that the Native’s land was forcibly taken away and they were forever banished to ‘reservations.’ We learned about the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War. But again it’s all painted with pretty American colors to satisfy the palate of a white nation. How white America made life better for nonwhites.

I like other minorities encountered direct as well as veiled prejudice and bigotry as I was going up. My parents decided to move from Crenshaw to Orange County after the helicopters and gun fire became too much. Crenshaw was predominately black and when people saw me they referred to me as “The Chinaman.” Upon moving to all white Orange County I was again referred to as “The Chinaman.” I discovered later as an adult that the white neighborhood where we moved started a petition to “Keep out the Orientals” citing‘our kind’ reducing property values. Although I was not privy to that information at the time I know my parents especially my Dad would have been incensed. He, mom, my aunts and uncles were all imprisoned in camps during WWII for simply being of Japanese descent. Of course I knew nothing about that because in school it was never taught. Just like how the Native American story was never told truthfully. Neither my parents nor any of my paternal or maternal relatives ever spoke of their times in the prison camps. The lessons they learned from that time was to teach their children to assimilate, to give them American names and hope it would not happen again. There was a period of time when Italians were being considered to be imprisoned, but of course that never happened. Historically it’s much better to identify an easily recognizable race to blame, fear and ultimately punish.

1962 at a YMCA summer camp. I did my best to pretend to be part of my camp group.

The type of prejudice and bigotry I’ve experienced has been both overt and subtle. When dad and I were at the LA public library a white woman approached me to ask if I knew where the library science section was located. After explaining the area where she could look she said “My goodness your English is so good!” Shocked I simply replied “Uh thank you.” When we were going home I told my father the story and he said “You’re going to run into that a lot in your life boy. White people assume that everyone who are obviously not white speak with an accent. They’re ignorant people because they don’t have to be aware, but they like to think they are. Don’t worry about it.” Throughout my lifetime, it’s been unanimous hearing people of color say “They’re just ignorant’ when referring to whites and their cluelessness about races other than white. In 1989 I traveled to Indiana for business; the regional airport I flew into was named Michiana Airport.

Upon arriving at my client’s office I asked the receptionist, “Hi is the airport named Michiana because it’s shared by Michigan and Indiana?” Her reply “I think it’s called that because it’s the airport.” So I dropped the conversation. When I met with the MIS director I told him the story to which he replied “Oh she said that because she’s a Pollock, she’d dumb.” I discovered that when NO people of color are in an area the whites start to delineate ethnicity of their European ancestry.

In high school Jeff, Amy and I were the only nonwhites in the school of 790 kids in my graduating class. All three of us are Japanese. When I attended classmate’s summer party I entered the kitchen to get some food I heard the mother of my friend Connie whispering “Yeah, Mark’s not bad looking for an Oriental boy.” I ended up leaving right after hearing that and went home.

In both of those (and many other situations) the white people felt their intentions were fair and positive. A woman complimenting an Oriental boy on his English, the mother of a high school friend saying I was not too bad looking compared to white boys. I believe that most whites don’t believe or do not want to believe they are racist bigots. They are genuinely angered by the Ku Klux Klan, the Neo Nazi’s, etc. But those are the extreme easily identifiable racists. Cutting out the “N Word” from their verbal vocabulary makes things “OK” but I wonder how many use “Nigger, Jap, Gook, Slant, Greaser, etc.” in their thoughts. And even then it would be too much to admit, even to themselves.

Greg Conn’s Facebook video on June 6 2020 in Phoenix Arizona of a racist white woman.

And just one of the overt bigotry events I witness was as my dad and I were at a takeout Chinese restaurant we frequented every Wednesday. Mom took her night off from cooking so we all had our favorite Chinese food on Wednesday nights. Dad called those “Wonton Wednesdays.” Anyway the place was takeout only, no seating with a very large menu selection sign above the counter where you order and pay. Mr. Canton was the owner, always wearing a soiled apron with a number 2 yellow pencil behind his ear. Dad and I were the only people in the store and as we were looking up at the menu a six foot tall white man with cowboy boots and a cowboy hat came in and stepped right in front of my dad. Dad politely said “Oh excuse me, but my son and I are in line.” The guy turned his head slightly and dismissively to one side and said “I don’t have to wait behind any Japs.”

As SOON as the man uttered “JA..” my Dad moved instantly to the cowboy’s side, put his hand on the guy’s belt and leveraged him up in the air. I was shocked as I saw him upside-down with his boots up in the air and then heard his head hit the bare concrete with a distinctive “FLOWOP!” No punches thrown, just an instant judo move. His cowboy hat was still on his head, but he was out cold! Mr. Canton called the police and when they arrived, the cowboy was still unconscious. They questioned both my father and Mr. Canton separately and let us go home. My father admonished me to “NOT SAY A WORD ABOUT THIS TO YOUR MOTHER WHEN WE GET HOME BOY!”

When we arrived home mom was pissed “What took you so long to get the food!?” I yelled out “MOM DAD KILLED A COWBOY!” (BTW my dad was 5 foot 5 inches, a brown belt (before all of the now in between participation belt colors) in Judo and a Golden Gloves boxing champion. He taught me how to fight and tactics, but that does not apply to this post.)

In all of the lessons my father taught me about life with whites or the police NOT ONCE did he ever tell me that the police may or will kill me. NEVER. Had dad and I been black during the Chinese food incident I know the police would not have let us go after dad bounced the white cowboy on his head rendering him unconscious. Even if Mr. Canton had described what occurred we would have been questioned much harder and at the police station or handcuffed in the back of their patrol car. Japanese as well as all Asians are considered the “Model Minority;” non-threatening, passive or both. I remember the first time I heard that moniker and was offended. Why? – Because we were anointed by white people with that title who again felt it to be a huge compliment to Orientals. “Look at the Orientals, we kinda mistreated them, but they worked hard (and didn’t cause us any trouble) and look where they are today! See ‘some’ minorities can be good!”

Living in the Bay Area the news cycle covered stories about black men being killed by the police. Rodney King was one of the most visible stories. It was one of the first times a video of the beating of a black man by police officers was captured and shown. Following the King beating there were many others since citizen cell phones became as common as ever. But it was witnessing the killing of Oscar Grant that began a series of feelings in me that brought about rage. A black man held down by a cop and shot in the back by another was beyond comprehension.

Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia who was ‘thought’ to be a burglary suspect in a neighborhood. Three white men chased him down with their cars and went after him with firearms. Ahmaud began defending himself as any man would do in a situation like that and so he was shot. Cowards use guns on an unarmed man because they fear being hurt. And a property burglary in a neighborhood does not condone hunting a person down to kill them. Ahmaud was not coming into someone’s home at night where the threat of harm to the homeowner could be perceived as real. No, he was a man jogging through a neighborhood. But since he was a black man, in the view of the three white people he was automatically a prime suspect. In the minds of the three white bigots a black man running warranted a death sentence when he began defending himself against whites with firearms.

And then George Floyd’s murder at the hands of three white and one Asian cop. Watching a man die before our eyes is not something most people want see. In reading accounts about people watching an execution, even the victim’s families describe the scene as incredibly horrific. Adding to the horror is watching the nonchalant expression on Derek Chauvin’s face as he stared DIRECTLY into the camera that was filming him. No remorse, no emotion, simply his eyes of death. And this was the TO (Training Officer) for two of the other three cops there. THEIR TRAINING OFFICER, teaching them how things should be done!

I have never marched in protest for anything in my lifetime. And with the COVID-19 pandemic I have been careful of my health because I’m in the high risk group; 65 years of age with preexisting hypertension. But when my town organized a march from City Hall to the Police Department there was no question I wanted to march. Social distancing is out the window during a march and should not be expected. But even though it was 89 degrees, wearing a mask made it hard to breathe, walking from the PD to City Hall and back is further than I normally walk – those incidental sufferings meant nothing compared to what blacks have endured in generation after generation. The most powerful aspect of my life is choice. I chose to march and if I contracted COVID-19 and die it would be worth that sacrifice.

This is not a news cycle movement like Occupy Wall Street or a fad like white people going on and on about gluten free food or avocado toast.  Make no mistake, within non-white communities prejudice exists between races. The difference? Nonwhites are not in power or control – whether that is in government or the police departments and their unions.

In listening to a real President, Barack Obama’s speech his sage words are the blueprints for change. Social unrest makes elected officials nervous, nervous enough to make changes for those who they are alleged to represent, US. Vote in local elections because those elected officials are the people responsible for appointing the local police chiefs and officials. Freedom is not free, yet in a society whose constant yearning for convenience by hitting the Easy Button has turned us into drones who just want easy, just want the way things have been. White privilege is the same as pretty privilege, as male privilege, as all privileges that are not EARNED, just unearned privilege. Being white is not earned, yet it is rewarded. Being black was not earned, yet it is punished.

I’m not painting all whites in a poor light. Like all things there are varying degrees of culpability in terms of bigotry and racism or supporting its continuing attitudes. I believe that one of the things that some whites fear is the threat of becoming ‘the minority.’ Is it possible that their perceived fear is predicated upon knowing how current minorities are treated? And standing on ‘reverse discrimination’ openly acknowledges discrimination against non-whites exists.

As with all things, when something is taken away or is being threatened to be removed it is much worse than never having something. And like high paying corporate jobs where the term “Golden Handcuffs” is well understood, becoming complacent because of a comfortable and safe lifestyle, most are unwilling to sacrifice losing that status, that lifestyle. So a fine line is danced to justify that “we’re not racist or bigots, we care…” Self-justification is as powerful as denial, yet both are so counter to actual human progress.

Yesterday a close white friend called me and was obviously upset. A group has assembled a listing of companies of which his was included. The list highlighted some of the racially ignorant examples over the years which included those prior to and during his leadership. “I was raised to be colorblind Mark that people are to be judged by their abilities and actions, not the color of their skin.” I could hear the pain in his voice over the phone and sympathized with him. He went on to say that some of the people in the discussion stood up for him. All nonwhites have heard the exact same statement as my friend stated over and over and over and over from their white friends or acquaintances – all with the best of intentions. But like I stated in the opening of this post, whites are raised in white privilege, unearned privilege.

The insidious nature of racial ignorance reminds me of hypertension (high blood pressure), which I have that eventually resulted in me having a stroke. When undiagnosed it’s hidden, I felt fine, but it was always there and I didn’t have to think about it because it didn’t affect me; until it did. Much like George Floyd’s murder and the resulting protests, racial ignorance has always been here, unnoticed by whites since it did not affect their daily lives, until it did.

It’s as simple as hearing white parents announce how they found the ‘best school’ for their elementary school aged kids and they were accepted. Are whites the only parents who want their children placed in the ‘best schools?’ Are those schools open to nonwhites? I hear many people tell me that their kid’s school is diverse, but that is from the perspective of how whites feel about what constitutes diversity in their world. I imagine that asking nonwhite parents whose children attend the same school would yield a different perspective.

The New York Times published a story “A School Admissions Process That Caused Segregation Fell Apart in Weeks” which paints a real life picture of white privilege in sought after public schools.

“Critics say that the process is inherently unfair, because it privileges children whose families have the time and money to navigate the complex system and pay for test preparation or consultants, and that it discriminates against qualified but low-income black and Hispanic students. The screening system produces selective schools that are largely attended by white and Asian-American students, though the city’s school system is mostly black and Hispanic.”

One of my clients, Village Theatre recently ran an open discussion with four black women who appeared in “Dream Girls.” Alexandria Henderson, Lauren Du Press, Joell Weil and Angela Birchett. They were joined by Jerry Dixon, Village’s Artistic Director who is also black. Although their discussion surrounds the world of black lives in the world of theatrical arts, many of the issues they bring up are germane to black lives outside of theatre.

I am not striving to be a Model Minority but to be a Model American. And that means to resist when it’s needed, to speak up when bigotry and racism is displayed and to help those who paved the way for people like me yet who continue to be maimed and killed.

“It always seems impossible until it is done.” – Nelson Mandela

“I’ve been out there with the protesters. I feel very optimistic when I see who is out there. I very much think of this as not a moment but a movement.

And there’s a specific thing that is different about this, and that is the significance of smartphones. I will tell you that probably over the last 10 years, my white friends would come up to me and say, “Kamala, what is going on all of a sudden with all this excessive force?” And I would say to them, “You sound like a colonist.” Because you’re seeing it for the first time, you think you’ve discovered it.” – Senator Kamala Harris in her interview with the New York Times.

“But there is no one that has been hurt more by White America than Black people (specifically Black women). Following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, every individual in America must choose a role to play in the fight against anti-Blackness. To be silent is to be complicit; this extends far beyond white people. For my fellow Asian American women, this includes us, too.” – Sara Li’s Op-ed in InStyle

“Ask not what your country and do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” – JFK

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” ― Edmund Burke

To begin I believe we should add two words to Black Lives Matter, Why Do Black Lives Matter? Honestly asking yourself that simple question can reveal powerful things about yourself you may have never realized. For me black lives matter moves to eliminate the numbness which is the norm for blacks to survive in a white world. Making themselves smaller and invisible in order to be acceptable to whites will be eliminated when everyone recognizes black lives matter. Black lives matter means no longer being secretly reminded to “know their place” in a white world.

Does it matter to you? And if so what will you do to take action to actually manifest change?

06 Jun 2020

Saberstrip v2.0 Alternative

For any of you who follow my blog it should be very apparent how impressed I have been with the Saberstrip v2.0 which uses the Godox/Flashpoint 200ws strobe instead of a speed light like their SS v1.0. A few years ago I was very fortunate to test their new prototype and gave them some feedback about the unit. It was very minor and I anxiously awaited the final release. And waited, and waited, and….well you get the picture.

I used the v2.0s during many different sessions, but I found they worked so well for my studio dance imagery they became my defacto lights for dance. You can read about my impressions and experiences in my post about the Saberstrip v2.0.

 

Recently a visitor to my site made me aware of a similar light modifier by Strobius, their StrobiStrip 100. I also found another modifier the FOTOCREAT 3″×20″(8×50cm) Strip Flash Diffuser Softbox on Amazon. So I purchased one of each to see how they compared to the SSv2.0. Both of those units are designed to be used with speed lights, but since the 200 is close in shape and size to the end of a speed light I figured they’d fit the 200. And they do indeed.

Both the Strobistrip and the Fotocreat are very similar in materials and design. Both use a rip stop translucent fabric as diffusion material, ballistic nylon for the body and silver fabric to reflect light on the interiors. Velcro attaches the tube together as well. The Strobistrip differs as it uses a semi rigid piece of clear plastic to keep the shape of the tube consistent and I imagine more evenly reflects light throughout the tube. Because it breaks down it’s a very clever design.

FOTOCREAT 3″X20″

StrobiStrip 100

StrobiStrip 100 with the clear plastic installed.

I’m a firm believer that you never get something for nothing. The SSv2.0 is a remarkable modifier but it is bulky to carry since it is a solid tube. The other two are much smaller when packed down. About the size of a man’s travel bag for his toothbrush, shaving kit, etc. So trading portability for size, I assumed that the light output would not be the same. So I tested all of them.

StrobiStrip 100 packed compared to my Fuji X00V for size.

My Testing Chart of all three Modifiers

As you can see the SSv2.0 has the most consistent and efficient use of the light. The StrobiStrip 100 was less consistent and efficient than the SSv2.0. The FOTOCREAT was all over the place in terms of its light output along the length of the tube. I returned the FOTOCREAT as it is too small for my work and the inconsistent light output along its length made it unattractive for my taste.

In examining the interior of the SSv2.0 he follows the same design as his v1.0 unit. A very cleverly placed piece of ramped reflecting material at the opposite end of the strobe’s socket must increase the light furthest from the source to make it so even.

Interior of the SSv2.0

I also feel that the StrobiStrip’s use of clear plastic to help hold the tube’s shape also adds to the interior’s reflective value helps with its light efficiency and consistency.

Interior of the StrobiStrip 100

One of the most ingenuous design elements of the SSv2.0 is how it mounts the AD200 to the tube. He has developed what I refer to as the ‘tractor tire’ with a 3/8” peg that will fit into any standard light stand socket. The tube rotates around the tractor tire giving me the ability to easily adjust the direction of the diffusion fabric. I’m not talking about your normal x/y adjustment, but the z axis without disturbing the other two axis’s.

 

I have come to depend on that wonderful design feature. So when I tried to use the Flashpoint eVOLV 200 Round Flash Head attachment on my eVOLV 200 with the StrobiStrip in hopes that it would allow it to smoothly rotate around the strobe I was thrilled! There is enough Velcro to still securely attach the modifier to the strobe, but with the round head, it allows a smooth rotation around the strobe! The OEM Fresnel head does work as well, but the round head is much better to use in rotating the modifier.

Very convenient that the Round Head is just flush with the beginning of the StrobiStrip’s diffusion fabric. The swivel I use stops the tube from going further down the strobe too. Slick!

In the following two images you can see that I can rotate the modifier around the strobe which is one of the features of the SSv2.0 I fell in love with.

Enough Velcro to secure the modifier around the 200 with the Round Head attached.

I wanted to determine if the StrobiStrip 100 holds up to high wind as well as my SSv2.0s. Yep they do just fine. The modifier is around 5-11 up in the air on a light stand.

I will keep an eye on the StrobiStrip fabric which is wrinkled when assembled. I doubt it will pose issues in the quality of light. If so I will report back here.

I have used my SSv2.0s so much that one of the tubes has started to split, so I just used gaff tape to repair it. The other one’s diffusion fabric started to fray so I used some superglue on it. IF Saberstrip ever decides to manufacture them I will be first in line. But until or IF they do and I need more tube modifiers I’m glad to have been made aware of the StrobiStrip 100s. I keep mine built and will break them down once COVID19 is over and I have to travel for work again.

If you want to try tube modifiers with an AD200 they are the ones I recommend.

 

05 Jun 2020

Fuji X100V – Update: June 5 2020

Update: June 5 2020

I wanted to update this post about my choice of half cases for the X100V. Prior to owning the V I owned all other X100s other than the F. In most cases I purchased and used the Gariz line of half cases. I liked the build quality and the convenience of having a built in D ring to attach a strap when needed. But what I found with the one designed for the V is that it was very difficult to remove the SD card due to the depth of the bottom of the case’s base plate. And when I purchased mine from Amazon I paid 140.00. Two weeks after they had it listed for 119.00. Grrrrrr!

I happened upon a YouTube video by Mike Mu where he shows a case for the X100 line I had never seen. It is primarily metal, aluminum to be exact. And with it’s pronounced right hand grip along with a vertical ARCA mount included I was intrigued. I could not find one on Amazon so I ordered one off of AliExpress for $29.99. And then after further research I found another case I prefered and purchased, the JJC Metal Hand Grip L Bracket Holder for Fujifilm X100V for $43.69 with CA tax. Here are the reasons it fits my needs over the others.

Mike’s case does have a vertical ARCA rail on the side, but I didn’t like the idea of having that on my camera even though it can be removed. If I want a portrait orientation for my X100V I would simply rotate my ball head to vertical.

The JJC has an ARCA mount on the bottom plate built into the case.

The battery and SD card door fully opens and unlike the Gariz its depth does not prevent me from easily removing the SD card.

The case does not interfere at all with the tilting rear screen.

The bottom of the case has a slot for a camera strap which I will use with the Peak Design Leash Camera Strap I’ve ordered.

I find the right side grip extender well proportioned and matched to the camera. It fits my hand perfectly.

All in all I highly recommend this case. 

May 14 2020

Please note that these initial tests were conducted March 5-7 2020 during the COVID-19 Pandemic. So no human subjects could be photographed at this time.

I have written my impressions of the various versions of the Fuji X100 series of cameras I have owned. I became enchanted by this cute and very capable piece of kit with the first X100. I have reviewed my prior X100s in the following posts:

Anyway this review is NOT like others which are much more detailed in terms of sensor, button layout, blah blah blah. There are many of those reviews that are much more comprehensive than this one for that information. Here are just a few of those types of reviews:

Nope mine is about why I decided to not upgrade from the T to the F, but opted to buy the new V.

First off I know many folks/reviewers/site talk about what a great street shooter the X100 series is for that purpose. Sure I can see that and have used it for that too, but I honed my craft doing street work with a DSLR. I never found using a large camera as an impediment to that craft. But as I always say; to each their own…

The only version of the X100 series I opted not to purchase was the F version, the one just before the recent V. Why? Well I don’t have an answer for that.  When it was released in 2017 I was in the height of my business and felt that my T was fine even though the F had a number of improvements. The largest being bumping up the 16MP sensor to 24 although I’ve never been a MP chaser. The following image is a case in point for those megapixel trolls and chasers…..

Created with the 16 megapixel Fuji X100S

This is where the client the Dallas Symphony Orchestra used the image I created in their 18×80 FOOT banner for the side of the building.

So when the V was announced with a tilting screen which sits completely flush to the camera body like the non-tilting versions and the improvement in its already stellar lens I made the plunge. At only a $100 increase in price from when I bought mine? Incredible for a camera like this.

My first test was to try the new V with a small strobe. With the built in ND filter and a leaf shutter overcoming sunlight has never been a problem for me with the X100 series. The V is no exception.

Using a Flashpoint 200 with its native Fresnel head during mid day. The front of the flash is about 3 feet from Bob.

1/2000th f2.0 strobe at 1/8 power level ISO 160.

1/2000th f2.0 strobe at 1/8th power level ISO 160 ND filter enabled.

1/2000th f2.0 strobe at full power level ISO 160 ND filter enabled.

I then assembled a very small strobe kit to photograph my electric bike and headed out to one of my favorite off road areas near my home.

An extremely lightweight light stand which is actually made to hold a cell phone for selfies. (I’m total shit at selfies btw)

The X100V, the Flashpoint XPLOR 200 and the Flashpoint single contact point transmitter all fit in my tiny tank bag.

One of my set ups in natural light.

1/2000rh f2.0 ISO 160 flash at full power.

1/2000rh f2.0 ISO 160 flash at full power.

1/2000rh f2.0 ISO 160 flash at full power.

Incredible what a leaf shutter, a small 200ws strobe can do in mid day sun! I decided to go camping just before the State of California closed down all state campgrounds. I was very lucky to be able to camp during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was able to test out the X100V for nature shots. I shoot nature to relax from my regular shooting so it was wonderful.

Having a tilting screen is a true godsend for low level shots. I really like having a tilting screen on my camera. And it’s so well done since it sits so flush to the body of the camera when not in use.

My Choice of Accessories

Leather Half Case – Gariz

Since the beginning I have really appreciated the Gariz line of half cases for the X100 line. I use a sling camera strap that attached to the bottom of the X100 line of cameras. It’s just been my preference and the Gariz line allows me to do that while protecting the bottom of the camera body.

My X100V on the left has the new Gariz case design which incorporates a very nice raised strip on the right hand side of the front for a finger grip which was not present on my prior Gariz cases. It’s a welcomed addition for sure!

I have always appreciated the quality of the Gariz cases with the built in D ring for my camera strap and a tripod mount where I don’t have to remove the D ring.

I really appreciate the protection the metal base of the Gariz line of cases.

The battery and SD card can easily be removed when the case is on the camera.

There are four levels of nylon or plastic between the bottom of the camera body and the aluminum plate.

Access to both sides of the camera body ports and controls is well done on the Gariz case.

Thumb Grip – Haoge

The X100T on the right uses a LensMate thumb grip I Dremeled to accommodate the button that didn’t exist on the S model for which it was made. I tend to be the frugal type so I didn’t want to spend another 90.00 on a thumb grip….. LOL I had purchased a LensMate thumb grip for the V which is hinged and swivels to make room for your fingers for the shutter speed and backside dial. But I didn’t like it so I went with the Haoge model.The space between the Haoge thumb rest and the speed dial allows enough room for my hands to change the shutter speed setting. But if you have very large fingers that may not be the case for you.

And this grip allows plenty of space for my fingers between the thumb grip and the rear dial. The LensMate blocks the dial until you swivel it out of the way. For me that was a hassle, but everyone is different.

 

I added a few things to the Haoge thumb grip. Some 3M Grip tape to the thumb rest and some high density black foam tape to keep the thumb rest secure and safe on the hot shoe along with some cushion for the camera body. The thumb grip combined with the new Gariz finger grip addition on the half case make the camera feel very secure in one hand for me.

Lens Hood – Haoge LH-X49W 2in1 All Metal Ultra-Thin Lens Hood with Adapter Ring

On my prior X100s I have used a traditional lens hood. But when I came across the Ultra Thin model I was hooked. I call it “The Uncircumsized Lens Hood Look!” LOL For me it’s a lower profile which make the camera thinner to carry and does not interfere with the built in flash unit. I combined it with the Haoge 49mm Ultra Slim MC UV Protection Multicoated Ultraviolet Lens. I’m happy!

You can see how much more shallow the Haoge lens hood is over the on I previously used on my X100T.

Cable Release JJC Cable Wired Shutter Release Remote Control

Prior to the X100V I have used traditional cable releases for my other X100s. But this time I  decided to purchase a plug in cable release. No batteries, just plug it in. The aspect of the cable releases I didn’t appreciate is it would turn my camera on or off when I was screwing it into the shutter button.

I had purchased the 50mm teleconverter for my X100S but found I hardly used it. And with the new V model as long as you are not in RAW format it has a built in 50mm and 70mm extender! Yep all you have to do is enable that feature and rotate the focusing dial BEFORE FOCUSING and the camera switches to 50 or 70mm! There’s so much I love about this new rig and what Fuji has done to continue to improve the camera. My very lucky gf inherited my X100T and boy is she ever happy. She has lusted after the X100 series but never brought herself to buy one. And just like me she tends to hold it way more than we do with our work cameras which are way more expensive! LOL

Once COVID-19 is over I will update this post with human images. I love this little camera. It’s the one I’ll grab if my house is on fire and it’s my least expensive camera, that’s how much I love it. Go figure!

05 Jun 2020

Saberstrip – An extinct modifier – Update June 5 2020

Update June 5 2020

I have found an alternative to the SSv2.0 which you can view here.

November 27 2019

I am very sad to report that I can no longer recommend the SaberStrip v2.0. I have attempted to contact Scott the owner of SaberStrip to no avail. Not even a peep. My feeling is ignoring an email or Instagram message is not acceptable or polite. A visitor to this site had written to me since he had ordered a v1.0 SS and never heard back…until he asked for a refund. That was promptly answered.

Sad since it’s a great modifier, but when something cannot be purchased it becomes vaporware. When I find an alternative I will post it to my blog.

January 13 2019

I continue to be absolutely amazed at the flexibility and versatility of the v2.0 Saberstrips. As of this writing I do know that Scott has not yet offered these for sale to the general public. The reason I continue to post my findings here is in hopes of motivating some of you to contact him to ‘hurry him along‘ in the sale of these modifiers. In addition to dance, their form factor and quality of light make them invaluable in my tool kit. Seriously – combined with the AD200 strobes I feel they are a revolution in modifiers. Here are just a few of the in studio dance imagery created using these lights.

An AD200 is the strobe.

My general configuration of the v2.0 Saberstrips for this session. The converted Fresnel and the 69″ Elinchrom I have converted to a focusing rod modifier are actually used for FILL, not as key lights for this dance session.

  

Update November 19 2018

I continue to be so impressed how using two v2.0 Saberstrips can produce the light I so love which could only be created with a ring light. But the huge difference is since the lights are NOT attached to the camera, I can use a long lens, yet keep the lighting near the talent. This was taken with a Canon EF 85mm f1.2 lens. The versatility of these modifiers is incredible.

Not to mention my use of them in dance imagery creation.

Several of you have written to me asking when Scott will release these modifiers. I highly suggest you write to him on his website to ask. I continue to encourage him to release these modifiers.

Update October 14 2018

I recently conducted a studio dance session using three Saberstrip v2.0s combined with a Mole Richardson Fresnel spotlight I have converted to a strobe. I continue to be so amazed and impressed by the versatility and light quality of the second generation Saberstrips. As I’ve stated before I’m just scratching the surface of what can be accomplished with these remarkable lighting tools.

My general placement of the SS’s for the dance session. I am able to control on/off levels using my R2 controller. The ability to place the hair/rim light so close to the ceiling is remarkable.

Here you can see my general placement of the Fresnel spotlight which has been converted to a strobe which uses a Flashpoint 1200ws head.

Each of these images were created using a combination of Fresnel/Saberstrip light modifiers. 

Update September 17 2018

Yesterday I conducted an all day dance session. I found that utilizing three v2.0 Saberstrips with 3 Flashpoint AD200s produced remarkable light for studio dance. Rim lights, using two Saberstrips and one overhead light produced the exact mood I was trying to achieve. Seriously this combination is incredible for my dance work.

How I configured the Saberstrips for the dance session.

The results…

Update August 1 2018

I recently used the v2 Saberstrips in on location sessions in Seattle. Man I could not have done it without them! You can read about it here.

I have also completed a publicity shoot using two Saberstrips for a West Side Story publicity image as shown below.

Two v2 Saberstrips in parallel to the ground. I just love the look of this light configuration.

Original Post

Like most other folks and way before I began shooting as a full time pro, I had a day job. It was during this time I discovered a very unique light modifier called the SaberStrip. What was so intriguing to me is its shape and the quality of light it produces. I was a bit suspicious when I first received my Strip because it seemed like ‘just a high quality shipping tube’ with some rip stop nylon as the modifier’s cover. Also this was back in the day when I was almost exclusively using speed lights, but had two PCB Einsteins for my ‘studio work.’ And this was well before the advent of built in radio receivers in speed lights, so I had to use a pigtail cable connected to my speed light inside the tube to attach it to the Phottix Transmission receiver I was using at the time. A bit of a hassle, but it was the only thing that existed at the time, which was ‘high tech’ for that era.

Although I loved the quality of light it produced, for me the power or rather lack of power of the speed light relegated the Strip to my closet. I tried to fabricate my own ‘Strip’ for my Einsteins, but found out it was not as easy as I thought. So I basically gave up and moved on to other things.

In 2013 I decided to create a series of images about the hands of artists which included both performing as well as creating artists. Since I wanted to shoot the talent in their natural environments I found that all of my ‘normal’ modifiers would not work well due to space. In some cases I had literally 10 inches or less to place a light and modifier to light the talent! So as I was rummaging through my gear closet I happened upon my Strip that I had doomed to its lonely existence in the back of my modifier closet. Eureka! That’s the perfect tool for this job and since most of the venues I was shooting in were very small I would not need a ton of light power so my speed light would do just fine.

By happenstance the Director of the Peninsula Museum of Art saw one of my images and asked to see the rest. She then asked if I’d consider having a solo exhibit at the museum the following year. I politely told her no and when she inquired as to the reason for my decision I simply replied “I don’t think my work is good enough for a museum and I think it would be very narcissist to do that.” She simply smiled and said OK. Later one of the artist I know mentioned that he had heard I was offered a solo museum exhibit but turned it down. Werner asked me if I ever go to museum exhibits to which I responded “Why yes, I love going, why?” His response was typical Werner, direct and to the point; “Well quit being so fucking selfish and let others enjoy and be inspired by what you’ve created Mark!” I’m seldom if ever at a loss for words but I had nothing to say. So I contacted the Director and agreed to display my work which I titled “29 Hands, 15 Artists.” With the exception of one of the images, all were lit with my Strip and a speed light.

Fast forward to today, 2018 and I was made aware of SaberStrip’s v2.0 version of the Strip which accepts an eVOLV200! In March 2018 I was shipped two advanced copies of the modifiers to test to see if I could offer any feedback. Here’s what I’ve found so far:

The 200 is inserted into the bottom of the modifier through what I call the “Tractor Tire” the designer fabricated it to attach the 200. I believe his design is to offer strength to the mount. I simply like to think he liked Tonka Trucks as a kid! The knurled knob on the left in this photo is the turning knob that screws the 200 in place. The other nice design feature is you can eject the battery of the 200 without removing it from the modifier, a very thoughtful design element.

Sorry for the shitty camera phone blurry image. The red thing you see at the top of this shot indicates that the screw is NOT attached to the 200 which is a very nice feature. One of the things that I found to be a design issue, it’s very easy to over tighten the screw. There’s no need to do so because it makes it VERY difficult to unscrew the unit from the mount. I learned the hard way and had to use a screwdriver and hammer to loosen the screw.

It’s also not possible to let the eVOLV slide down into the tube because there are ribs on the interior which keeps the strobe from sliding too far into the unit. I believe he may have other plan since those interior ribs seem to be reinforcements for four exterior metal nipples. Barn door or grid accessories for the future? Perhaps.

I painted a directional arrow on the housing to indicate which direction to loosen the mounting screw.

What the interior looks like in the v2.0 Strip. You can see the reinforcing supports which prevent the eVOLV from sliding too far into the tube.

Although most people will not have to do this, I ground down the mounting peg that is cast into the housing. This allows me to easily insert the peg into female mounts I use to place the modifier in either a vertical or horizontal position. Although the v2.0 Strip works extremely well in stands which offer the mounting peg to be in a vertical or horizontal position, not all light stands offer that option. When I travel to other cities I often have to rent stands and not all rental houses have adjustable spigot locations on their stands.

This is why I needed to shave down the diameter of the molded peg. It would not fit as cast. I find these female spigots invaluable in my gear bag.

I plan to use these to mimic a ‘ring light’ because I can now leave the modifier and strobe very close to the talent and back away to shoot with a long lens. Not possible with traditional ring lights. Also since the eVOLVS have modeling lights in the Fresnel head I now have a modeling light in this configuration. Sure, not brightest modeling light, but way better than none.

My first test was with Bob outdoors for a ring light style lighting test.

Canon 1DXII EF135 lens ISO 100 both AD200s set at 1/8 power. 1/5000th f2.0

Canon 1DXII EF135 lens ISO 100 both AD200s set at 1/8 power. 1/8000th f2.0

In those instances where I want to place the v2.0 Strip close to the ground I will simply use a Godox S bracket as a base. This configuration will be perfect for dance shoots as fill lights or anytime you wish to place the units very low onto a flat surface.

Comparison

 SaberStrip v1.0SaberStrip v2.0w/2 eVOLVS and SS
LightFlashpoint Zoom R2Evolv200 
Flash weight17 oz31 oz 
Power levelFullFull 
Distance to Sekonic5 feet5 feet 
Shutter Speed1/100th1/100th 
Aperturef5.6f11f13
Time to Recycle6.8 sec1.57 sec 
Length of fabric29″29″ 
Width of fabric2.25″2.25″ 
Length of modifier38.5″34.75″ 
Diameter of modifier3.5″3.5″ 
Saberstrip Weight19 oz27 oz 

For me the most significant stats are the recycle time and power. It’s the very reason I stopped using my original speed light Strip, it just lacked power. And in my work a one second delay feels like 12 years. Human expressions change in a nanosecond and invariably it’s the money shot I wanted, but missed because the strobe was recycling. Two full stops and five seconds faster in recycle time makes this modifier an incredible tool.

The ‘tube’ freely rotates around the mount so it can easily and conveniently turn the fabric to any position needed. There’s also a very small 1/4 inch 20 screw hole in the ‘tractor tire’ housing. I’m not sure why the guy put one there but it’s damn convenient. I plan to place a female mounting stud in there so I can either mount the Strip with the built in male stud or a female one. It should be noted that if you place a long ¼ 20 screw into that hole it will stop the free rotation of the tube. So IF you are the anal type and want to lock down the tube’s rotation you can do that with this screw hole.

This coming weekend I have three personal project shoots and I plan to test the light quality and applications in those sessions. I’m not sure how many times the Strip v2.0 will be my key light, but now that the recycle times and the power available through this meets my needs I’m sure it will always be in my bag.

Having a stand, a strobe and a modifier all in one easy to transport package is great for run and gun shooting, especially outside in moderate to high wind. My preferred stand for these is the Neewer Light Stand, 114 inches/290 centimeters Stainless Steel Heavy Duty with 1/4-inch to 3/8-inch Universal Adapter. It has a removable spigot that can be configured for either a vertical or horizontal female mount which is perfect for the new Strips. They are well made, strong and inexpensive.

The number of ways to mount the Strip seems endless. My current favorite grip mount for the Strip is the Matthews Mini Grip Head. I modified it by drilling out one of the holes to 9/16th of an inch which fits the Strip’s 5/8th inch stud.

What I like:

  • High quality Construction
  • Built in male mounting stud
  • Ability to rotate the modifier around two axis
  • Accepts the Evolv200
  • Well balanced, having the strobe at the mounting end of the modifier
  • Very wind resistant
  • Will fit into very tight spaces

Improvements

  • Male stud needs to be the 5/8th inch size standard of all spigots
  • Wheel that attaches the strobe needs to have directional arrows.
  • Wheel needs to prevent over tightening

During the weekend of April 21st 2018 I had my first opportunity to use the v2 Sabers in studio. I wanted to determine if paring them in a horizontal way would give me the ring light type of affect. I’ve always loved the look of a ring light shot, but have been frustrated that the distance of the light to the talent is limited by the focal length of my lens. Using my ring light further away to compress the talent’s face meant that the light is also further away, causing a harsher look. But using two Strips horizontal to the ground with the ability to adjust the distance between them allows me to leave the light source close to the talent, yet move further back to use a longer focal length. Having my cake and eating it too is wonderful!

The images below show how this worked on Jessica and I’m very happy with the results. Shot with a 135mm prime lens.

The flexibility of being able to angle the pitch of the Strips and distance between them is wonderful. More control than a ring light. As a fill/rim light I have not experienced a better modifier. Reflectors make great fill or rim light modifiers, but I have always preferred strobes for that task. It allows me finer control of my fill light.

By changing the angle of the top Strip in the image of Jess with her arm above her head I am able to cast a bit of a shadow on her eyes while filling in under her eyes to prevent shadows. That flexibility allows me to create nuance shadow/highlights with the Strips.

Here I am using the Strips as a fill and rim light. All of these images are three light shots. My 10” Fresnel is the key light, a gobo modifier is used on a light to create pattern on the background and the Strip is used as a fill/rim light.

The control of the Strip as a fill light is quite lovely and can be used as subtle or as bold as you wish. Here are two more images I created using two SS’s in parallel as a ‘ring light’ but in my view with a much better result.

Erica is 50+ and just the use of a shallow DOF and the two SS lights produced this image WITHOUT the use of Photoshop.

Two SaberStrips v2.0

Three SaberStrips v2.0

Oh and large groups in moderate to strong wind? I was recently at a client to cover the high school musical awards and prior to the event kids assemble outside. It’s often a fun place to get group shots before the show. The issue is always crowded sidewalks and of course crazy high school kids. I shot this image with ONE SS and one eVOLV200 at HALF POWER. 

1/100th f5.0 ISO100, SS v2 is the modifier and the strobe is the AD200 set to half power. Can you say incredible? It’s crazy.

I recently visited Luna Cycle in El Segundo to do some documentary photography of the staff. In the vast majority of cases the SS were used due to their flexibility and light quality. As in my 29 Hands Exhibit I was able to use the SS to light the talent in places where it would be almost impossible to fit a modifier in the space I had available and achieve a quality of light I wanted. Below is an example of one of the shots.

This is the ‘natural light’ scene where I was to photograph one of the young ladies who performs logistics for Luna Cycle.

Removing some of the boxes and shooting the light through the bookcase produced the image and quality of light I was after.

My apologies as I know you won’t be able to ‘unsee’ the image that follows, but to date it illustrates the rim lighting capabilities of the Strip. During this session I was to shoot two Drag Queens. The fella on the left is 6-1 without heels and with his 4” heels it makes him 6-5! I used the Strip as a rim light and if you notice the illumination from head to toe it’s quite remarkable. Could this be accomplished with a gridded light? Of course it could. But due to the very slim shape of the Strip it allowed me to get as close to the back drape as possible keeping spill to a minimum and certainly much less than a softbox without a grid.

Outdoors with the Strip is quite good. It is ‘almost’ impervious to wind, high wind. It is more wind resistant than my go to outdoor modifier, the PCB Omni. The disadvantage is since the Strip uses the AD200 it is a full stop less powerful than the AD600 I use with the Omni or my Aputure Fresnel head. But to circumvent that disadvantage I often use two Strips as a key light when outdoors. And in those instances where I want a very large light source I use three Strips configured in a Y shape. I find it’s the equivalent to a 45” octa with 600ws of power. Ever use something that size out in moderate or high wind? And I use all three on a single stand.

My partner recently conducted a head shot session using two of the Strips. She used one as the key and the other as a rim light. It was very windy under the concrete bridge where she was shooting and the Strips barely wobbled. The light quality is excellent and easily replicated her preferred modifier, a Glow 36” Octa. But in that kind of wind, especially the gusts that occurred an octa would have been quite the handful. She does prefer the catch light of the octa, a personal preference to which many people may agree. I happen to feel that round catch lights are the default, yet in natural light a catch light is anything but round…..

Photo: Tracy Martin

As you can see the quality of light produced by the Strip is excellent. Two lights, both Strips. One as the key light the other as a rim light.

Is it the perfect modifier? Nope, but as of right now there is no perfect modifier. Just like there’s not a perfect camera, lens or person. Is it the most versatile modifier I currently own or use? YES! For me the v2 Saber Strips are revolutionary and I have not even scratched the surface of how they can be used. Thank goodness for the AD200 lights and Scott’s development to incorporate them into the Saber Strips! Scott has mentioned that the v2 versions which use the eVOLV200s will be available in late July 2018.

25 May 2020

Photographing during COVID-19

Anyone who follows my site knows that I am a commercial performance and publicity photographer. Every one of my clients have gone dark since they are live theatre and dance companies. I know many feel that just social distancing the audience may give some hope to places like performance or music theaters. But what most people don’t consider is how do actors on stage maintain a six foot distance from one another? Or how do read throughs happen? Or dance coupling? Or…..a multitude of other tasks that go into live theatre?

I miss the collaboration and creativity of publicity photography as well as live production work. Being unemployed for the remainder of 2020 is my new reality. So after lamenting my situation and revising my spreadsheets over and over I decided to say fuck it. It became time to create without humans, in total isolation which is something for which I am not accustom. I always ask my clients what the story and mood is for the shoot they want me to create. So I decided to ask myself the very same questions.

  • Story: COVID-19 – the airborne virus
  • Mood: make beauty out of a shitty situation

So I decided that since the COVID-19 virus is primarily transmitted airborne smoke would represent the virus… I had to plan out how to acheive the images I wanted to create so I began fabricating ‘light modifiers’ that I’d need. 

I then turned my garage into my studio….

And began to create….

Intersecting water and smoke in camera. Sure seems easy once you see how I did it! LOL

This gallery are the images I created during the COVID-19 week of May 16-24 2020. Working with smoke or any organic/chaotic material takes much patience and planning. Forming shapes with air currents and moisture is the way I found which worked best for me. All but one of the images is a composite, the one of five different figures. The rest were created in camera which is my personal preference since I’m so shitty with Photoshop! LOL

Creating again put me into a much more balanced frame of mind. I highly suggest it for photographers who are out of work. For me it is a life saver. Be Safe. Be Kind. Remain Healthy.

15 May 2020

My COVID-19 RinseKit+ – Updated May 15 2020

Updated May 15 2020

RinseKit warranty service responded to me once I filled out their warranty page and asked me to disassemble the unit and send them photos or a video. It’s very easy to do; remove the two plugs and the instruction plastic top to reveal the tank. Upon doing so I filled the tank and was able to see that the seam near the outlet ruptured causing a leak. I am awaiting their response, but they had stated that it would be replaced. More soon….

Updated May 2 2020

I use my RinseKit + all the time due to COVID19. Today as I was refilling it as I always have from my garden hose I heard a sound and rather than the unit simply stopping the sound of the flow of water, the water rose above the inner top cover where the instructions are printed. I have written to RinseKit about this issue and will post what I find once I hear back. I’m so use to using this to keep myself and family safe that I’m upset that it malfunctioned. Stay tuned.

Update April 4 2020

I wanted to update this post to cover why experts continue to place hand washing with soap and water AS THE MOST EFFECTIVE way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Like toilet paper (and who TF knows why people hoard that shit) hand sanitizer and wipes are hard to find because people hoard those too. I will continue to recommend and tell my friends and family that hand washing is the best possible thing to do.

“Soap doesn’t really fail easily,” Thordarson says. It doesn’t really matter the formulation of soap, either. You don’t need “antibacterial soap” — which the Food and Drug Administration advises to skip altogether due to a lack of evidence of its usefulness. And you don’t need a super-harsh detergent like you’d put in your dishwasher or laundry machine. Simple soap works fine. “As long as you give it a little bit of time, it will do its job.”

“Lastly, echoing health officials, McCallum says the best thing you can do to prevent the spread is by washing your hands thoroughly and consistently.”

And instead of buying liquid soap I use this recipe to make my own. I have saved those irritating little bits of bar soap for a long time. (my parents grew up during the Great Depression) But you can simply use a new full bar too.

Stay healthy. Stay mindful. Stay kind. Be considerate.

I made these so that I never forget this tragedy for the rest of my life….and to always wash my hands to say FU COVID-19!!!

Update April 2 2020

The company RinseKit recently placed my post on their Media page. I really hope this helps others.

In the fall of 2019 my home water heater malfunctioned. I have personally replaced and installed more water heaters than I care to remember. But in this case it was under warranty. So since the part had to be ordered and would take 10 days I had no home hot water. I have a camping hot water heater that is basically a large metal sprayer which is heated with a one pound propane tank. Fine for camping and I used it to take a hot shower at home while I waited for the repair. 

So I decided to start researching alternatives to my camping water heater and found the RinseKit  that was invented by a surfer. Like all surfers who take off their wetsuits and want to rinse off their bodies he invented something better than a one gallon jug to hold over your head. His site can tell you all about how it works.

Being a Boy Scout I decided to purchase his medium size unit along with accessories like the electric heater, air pump and other various bits that came with the accessory kit. Of course the most important one to me was the heating rod. And I will say it does not work that well. It takes forever to heat cold water, but works well if I fill my unit with warm water and use it to just keep the water warm.

With the current COVID-19 pandemic I had developed an inexpensive and, according to the CDC and WHO a more effective method of keeping viruses off of my hands other than wipes and sprays. Which are tough to find as well as expensive due to hoarding.

So I decided to replace my homemade hand washing kit in our primary car with my RinseKit outfitted with soap, a small spray bottle of isopropyl alcohol, two micro fiber towels, two pairs of nitrite gloves and two hospital vomit bags. The whole kit is kept in the trunk of the car.

So here’s my protocol:

  1. After I go shopping for food I open the back of the car
  2. I then place my groceries in the trunk
  3. Open the RinseKit
  4. Take out the squeeze bottle of soap and alcohol spray
  5. Use the sprayer to wet my hands
  6. Squeeze soap into my hands and wash them per the CDC guidelines
  7. Rinse off my hands with the RinseKit
  8. Dry them with a microfiber towel
  9. Use the little sprayer with alcohol to spray the RinseKit spray handle, the latch and the soap squeeze bottle and the car’s rear latch
  10. Place the used towel into one of the vomit bags

My COVID-19 hand washing kit. The blue plastic thing in the lower left are the hospital vomit bags.

The small alcohol sprayer and the squeeze bottle for hand soap.

The RinseKit automatically pressurizes itself when you fill it from a hose or house faucet and it is supposed to maintain its pressure for about a month. The RinseKit+ I bought came with a hand pump (as well as other accessories) that replaces one of the plugs (Like the one on the right) with a pump. This way if for some reason the unit loses pressure I can simply pump it up.

My feeling is now when I open my car door, use the buttons, the steering wheel, etc. I’m not transferring potential viruses to those surfaces. Plus I am now using my RinseKit more often than before. Believe me though I’m looking forward to the day I can hug my friends without worrying or using the kit.

Stay healthy and I hope this helps others who may own one.

07 May 2020

Parabolix 35D – UPDATE Update May 7 2020

Update May 7 2020

For my work I have found the optimum strobe for my Parabolix 35D. The XPLOR (or Godox) 300 Pro.

UPDATE December 9 2019

The Parabolix 35D’s quality of light combined with its focusing ability is just superb. I use the optional grid system when I want to control the light spread when using another gobo instrument.

For the shot of the three actresses the Parabolix was the key light.

The talent waiting for me to get ready.

Five light shot with the Parabolix as the key light camera left. Mid focused.

Parabolix fully focused with grid in place.

Haze to create atmosphere, back lit, Parabolix fully focused with grid camera right.

L to R: Saberstrip, Aputure Spotlight (gobo) Parabolix 35D, Glow curved ARC softbox.

UPDATE September 20 2019

I recently utilized this very capable modifier during a dance session along with an impromptu portrait. As I’ve mentioned before the modifier is well built and most important produces excellent quality of light. I tend to not use it as much as before simply because I have fabricated my own focusing rod that accepts any Bowens modifier. And btw for those who wish to spend time arguing about whether this or that modifier is ‘truly a parabola’ be my guest. My test of light is how it performs for me in actual shoots, not in theory.

But like all of my tools, when the Parabolix is the right tool for the right job I never hesitate to utilize it.

Parabolix as the key light, camera right. Two Saberstrip v2.0s were used as an overhead and rim light

Parabolix as the key light, camera right. Two Saberstrip v2.0s were used as an overhead and rim light

My converted Leko stage follow spot is the key light here. The Parabolix is my fill light camera right.

UPDATE January 10 2018

I recently used the 35D during a publicity shoot for a symphony. The amount of control focusing rod modifiers offer is incredible. Not to mention the goddess light it produces.

35D as the key light fully flooded. Cheetahstand Ricebowl 90 with inner diffusion panel only and grid as rim light.

Side view fully flooded. xPLOR600 with remote head is the strobe.

Image of the harpist.

UPDATE December 24 2017

How one of my clients used a publicity image created while using a Parabolix 35D.

UPDATE September 10 2017

I recently posted an article on my use of all Godox units in one session. The article includes the use of this product. You can view that post here.

UPDATED September 8 2017

My client, the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, WA released the images created using the Parabolix 35D six weeks early. You can see some of these and other shots from this day in Broadway World. I used four lights using the Parabolix as key for most of the images below:

Shot against 140″ Savage White Seamless. In this BTS shot I didn’t have the Cheetahstand Lantern set up yet. The 86″ soft silver PCB umbrella was stacked behind the Parabolix. I used the 35D in mid focused position to bring out the faces of the talent. The Phottix folding white BD was used as fill when needed.

Please note that for all of the images below I have NOT done any post processing other than bringing the files into Lightroom to adjust color balance, lens correction. If you look closely you can see the gaff tape marks on the seamless which have not yet been removed for final press images.

All of the images were shot with a Pentax 645Z/Cactus v6II, xPLOR 600s using HSS 1/400th to control any ambient bleeding from the overhead lights which I could not turn off.

In this image you can see the Cheetahstand 26″ Quick Lantern which I control with an old PCB umbrella I cut to make it a drape. I use wooden clothespins to roll the curtain up when I want to direct the light to certain areas. I find this a much better method of overhead lighting than my former methods.

The following images were shot with three lights. The client wanted an old school “Hollywood Glamour” look for these shots in BW. High contrast was achieved by using the 35D in its fully focused mode. The drapes were lit using eVOLV 200s using a Fresnel head.

UPDATED September 3 2017

You can view my recent dance session where I used the 35D for many of the shots to produce dramatic shadows and light.

UPDATED August 20 2017

Yesterday I conducted a test of the Parabolix 35D with focusing arm. I asked Cheyenne to be the talent since she’s so darn lovely to work with! Now if you are looking for a ‘side by side’ comparison with other modifiers using split screens, etc. quit reading and save yourself  some time. I am NOT a review site. I don’t value pseudo scientific or theoretical physics. Photography is not an exact science it’s all subjective. Those who never post any actual images or a body of work have zero credibility to me. And if they do have a body of work I get to judge for myself if the quality of that work is high. If so then their opinion is of value to me. So for you photography trolls who never post shit other than H8R comments, save yourself the having to be right mentality and bail now. 

I seldom if EVER use one single light. So I didn’t test the Parabolix 35D that way. Sure it may produce the thing you want to see, but again since I’m NOT a review site, but a working shooter I needed to see how it performs in my situations. In the tests I ran yesterday I want to see how the 35D compares to my CononMark 120, and my Westcott Zeppelin 59 which I use as inverted octas and have for the past year. Yep they’re all different sizes, the 35D is, well 35″, the CononMark 120 is 47″ and the Zep is 59″. I didn’t want to purchase an equivalent size to what I already have. (Yet I do have a Zep 47″….!)

I used my 59″ Zep with the inner diffusion panel only with an xPLOR600 powering their handheld remote head. As you can see in the image above I had it on a boom pointing straight down over Cheyenne. Keep in mind that the BTS shot of my BTS shoot was not necessarily where she was actually standing for the shots below. I took the shot above JUST TO GIVE YOU an idea of my configuration.

All images were shot with my Pentax 645Z. And if you look closely you will see the old USB receivers plugged into the xPLOR600s. Why? Because I just discovered how to achieve HSS with my Pentax whose native sync speed is only 1/125th of a second. Using a Cactus v6II trigger combined with the old FT-16 transmitter did the trick. If interested, I’ve written how to do it here. Most of the shots were at a shutter speed of either 1/200th or 1/250th.

Below each photograph I’ve said whether I used the Parabolix is its ‘flooded’ or ‘focused’ position. If you don’t know, flooded means the strobe head is pushed all the way out toward the front of the modifier. Focused means it’s pulled all the way into the modifier. Flooded gives you a much softer look, focused is way more contrasty. You should also know that no matter what modifier you use be it a Zeppelin, CononMark, Parabolix or other brand, you must adjust your power settings when you flood or focus the light.

The other aspect of the photos below is they have NOT been retouched, edited to final, blah blah blah. Why? Well for two reasons. Cheyenne is confident enough to allow images of her unretouched and second it is my preference to illustrate light tests. When I see ‘final test shots’ that have gone through loads of post processing I cannot actually tell how the light performs for my taste. I don’t want to see plastic skin, dodged and burnt images. I want to see how the shot came out of cam. So these were brought into Lightroom, adjusted for color and that’s it. No blemishes were removed (like she has any anyway!), no skin smoothing. None of that shit for my tests.

Fully focused.

2/3 flooded.

Half flooded, meaning the strobe head is about halfway into the modifier. On the Parabolix scale on the focusing rod that is at level 5 of 10.

Fully flooded.

Fully flooded

Fully flooded.

So my final impression of the Parabolix 35D? I like it. Do I plan to replace all of my other modifiers with them? Uh no, here’s why…

I love the construction of the unit, it’s high quality. The fabrics are spot on and the focusing rod is just as nice as the Bron Para I rented last year. Is it 2.6 times better than my CononMark 120? Not sure really. Will I keep it? Yes as I don’t have a 35″ inverse, but WILL test it against my favorite Elinchrom Rotalux Deep Octa later this month. Prior to using xPLOR/Godox strobes I was a very loyal user of Paul’s Einsteins. For me they presented the best value/performance of any brand of light. But I ended up switching ALL of my strobes over to the xPLOR/Godox brand. The amount of innovation and features they present sadly eclipsed Paul’s units after his passing. It’s no secret that I’ve always felt he was a genius and I sorely miss his innovation in lighting along with his quirky nature as a person.

But unlike my move from exclusively Einstein’s to exclusively xPLORs, I will most likely NOT make the move from CononMark/Zeppelins/Elinchroms to exclusively Parabolix. I know there are those who may feel/’prove’/argue/compare that the Parabolix is THAT MUCH BETTER and good for them. Time will tell me how much I like the modifier. I may change my mind after a year or so. Every person is different in what they look for. I tend to eat at hole in the wall places owned by families whose food is out of this world. But then again that’s just my opinion and taste. I will occasionally venture into a Michael Mina restaurant recommended by those who love the name and rave about the food. But that’s just not my thing. As long as my clients and I are thrilled with my work, that’s really all that matters to me. I’m certainly NOT dissing the Parabolix at all. It’s a fine modifier. It’s up to each person to decide for themselves. What I would recommend is to wait until a rental house has some to rent. Rent one, try it out and then decide if it’s right for yours/your client’s taste and budget.

Original Post

Today I received my Parabolix 35D ‘kit’ which means I purchased their package which includes their focusing arm and strobe cage. I will be testing the light this Saturday with a model to ascertain if I plan to add this to my toolbox of modifiers. I will initially say that the construction of the unit is excellent. The 16 rods are much like those in the CononMark and Elinchrom Rotalux Deep Octa that I own. The rods are captured in the speed ring and pivot and held in place with sprung collars.

The fabric of the exterior is similar to very heavy canvas, the type I was accustomed to handling while sailing. Heavy and well made. The interior texture is much like my Elinchrom which is a pebbled texture. Once I am able to actually use this modifier I will update this post.

The shape is very similar to the Broncolor Para 88 I rented last year to test.

Like the Cononmark the Parabolix has sixteen rods. The interior fabric is pebbled and if it performs like the Elinchrom Rotalux Oct it’s a winner. You can see the slight slit at the 6:00 position in the modifier. This is for the cord from the light to the exterior. It’s hook and loop fastener.

The two large handles ratchet and are smooth. The knob to the right is where you adjust the focusing of the light. It has a numeric scale from 1 to 10 on the rod itself, but I forgot to take a photo. I think that may be of value in replicating flooding or focusing light. We’ll see. I have it in the fully flooded position here.

The modifier mounts to its focusing arm with a Profoto like clamp. I will say that even though this is a well made unit, the Bron Para 88’s four folding arms makes assembly and disassembly much easier. Is it worth an extra $3K? That’s up to each shooter. My main focus Saturday is to see the quality of light.

One of the things I noticed right away is the light pattern of the modifier when the modeling light is on. Unlike my other modifiers which include Zeppelins, Elinchroms, CononMarks and Glowpops the Parabolix fills more evenly than the others. Now the real test of the light will happen this Saturday when in actual use, but this is interesting.

Fully focused light pattern.

Fully flooded light pattern. So even!

Focusing rod numeric gauge. I think this will prove valuable. The other thing is its smooth operation is wonderful.

The optional grid is 2×2 and nylon.

One of the small details I appreciate is the grid attaches via Velcro which is nothing new. BUT the width of the rim is twice the size of the Velcro thereby allowing an edge about 1″ wide to protrude beyond the modifier to ensure that light spill is reduced even more. So good! Little details make a difference.

The bag that is supplied with the modifier is made of the same sturdy fabric as the modifier itself. It seems very abrasion resistant which is something I appreciate given how much I transport gear on airlines. I was worried that I would not be able to fit the modifier, focusing rod and strobe cage into the bag, but they all fit. I can even fit the grid I received with the modifier into the bag as well. The bag includes an attached adjustable shoulder strap.

06 May 2020

Aputure Spotlight Mount Set – Update May 6 2020

Check out my post about the Flashpoint 300 Pro and the screw on Bowens adapter. It makes the pairing something that was made in heaven!

Update May 6 2020

I’ve just tested the new Flashpoint 300 Pro and in addition to the MANY advantages I see in the product it is perfect for use in my Aputure Spotlight. Why? Well the bulb and forthcoming Bowens mount attachment allows it to fit into the Spotlight without any adapter! You can read more about my impressions of this incredible little light here.

Because the 300 Pro’s bolt on Bowens mount is not available as I write this I simply used the Glow S2 bracket.

A close up view of the little 300 Pro inserted into the S2 bracket mounted to the Spotlight.

The 300 Pro modeling light set to 10 which is fine to position the gobo light.

1/8th power from the 300 Pro. 1/250th f2.8 ISO 100

Update January 13 2020

I am now testing a LED/Strobe combination that attaches natively to the Aputure Spotlight without an DIY adapter.

Update December 8 2019

I was able to use the Aputure instrument during a publicity image session for Little Shop of Horrors adding a green gel to the light. 

Updated November 18 2019

Unless I come across a different way to use this instrument other than what I’ve posted to date this will be my last entry. I will simply say that it is a remarkable device especially considering its price point. The ability to change lenses is really useful for my work.

Again, mine uses the 36 degree lens. Once Aputure releases a 50 degree I’ll purchase that one as well.

Updated October 22 2019

I wanted to update this post to say how pleased I have been with the Spotlight. In most cases I am shooting in confined spaces where a narrow beam makes the use of a gobo light impractical. I recently shot a dance session and due to the 36 degree lens on the Spotlight I was easily able to use the lighting instrument. The funny part is the dancers and teacher wanted to know“What Mark is going to do with that bazooka thing?!” LOL it does kinda look like a bazooka! But once they saw the images appear on the tethered iPad everyone wanted to be lit with the device.

In the images that follow the key light was the Aputure Spotlight with an industrial window gobo. But I also added an overhead light, my beloved Saberstrip v2.0 to add fill light to the shadows. Without the fill areas in the dark portion of the gobo were almost completely black.

The Aputure Spotlight’s construction, switchable lenses and lack of fringing make this instrument extremely valuable for my work.

Updated October 12 2019

I have had the opportunity to test this instrument before placing it into my workflow. It performed flawlessly and with the 36 degree lens I am able to keep the device in close proximity to the area I am illuminating with a gobo. This is especially valuable for me since I seldom have a large distance between where I need the light to appear and where I can place the device. Well worth the money for this type of quality and versatility. 

The Spotlight was positioned in front of the bed approximately 9 feet from the wall. Its position in this photo is just staged and is not the actual position for the shot on the bed.

The Spotlight is used as the key light in this shot.

The Spotlight is used only as a gobo light in this image. My K5600 Big Eye Fresnel was the key light.

Original Post September 26 2019

This initial post is about my findings of the physical characteristics of the unit, not its actual use at this point in time. For anyone who has followed my blog it’s pretty apparent that I like to use gobos to create shots when it’s the right tool for the right job.

I’ve gone through all sorts of iterations to fabricate, modify, adapt modifier tools that aren’t really meant for still strobe photography. The Aputure Spotlight Mount Set is really no exception. I was very excited about purchasing the unit for these reasons:

  • Native Bowens mount
  • A choice of three lenses of different focal lengths
  • It uses B sized gobos
  • An optional adjustable iris
  • A nice padded case
  1. The unit is made for the Aputure LED constant light film industry, but I ‘thought’ it would be a plug and play affair since it uses the Bowens attachment system. More on that later. I’ve used my converted Leko spotlight enough to know that in cramped spaces a wider lens would be optimum. So I ordered the 36 degree lens and if I need tighter focal lengths they are available for around 259.00.
  2. B sized gobos are the standard in most theatres. So I can borrow some if needed. My other now discontinued Bowens projector uses smaller M sized gobos.
  3. Aputure makes a very cool optional adjustable iris for the unit which I purchased. I plan to use this for upcoming sessions. I’ve never had an adjustable iris option on a spot projector.
  4. Although the case that comes with the unit is not ATA rated, it is well done and protective.

And last but certainly not least is the Leko stage follow spot I converted cannot be replaced. So if it’s stolen or more likely lost during airline transport I’d be sunk. 

OK so let’s start off with why the unit is NOT plug and play for my Flashpoint or Godox strobes. I could not see in any of the online photos or specifications the distance between the Bowens mount and the first lens in the unit. (there are two) Using any of my Flashpoint or Godox strobes inserted into the unit cause the bulb to foul against the first lens…no bueno! So I had to fabricate (what else is new in my world LOL) a female to male Bowens adapter. Now any of my lights, the 600s the 600 Pro, the 200s the 200s with the circular head all fit! YAY!!!

The Spotlight is made for LED constant lights so the distance from mount to lens is too short for strobe bulbs.

My DIY Bowens mount extender resolved this issue. IF my Spotlight is lost I only have to make another mount, so I’m no longer worried.

Sorry for the shitty photo (bad photographer!) but I wanted to illustrate that the baby pin connector allows for a shorter or longer spigot. Very cool. Just be sure to mount the thumb turn into the upper hole when placing the unit back into the carry case. The foam is cut for the thumb screw to be in the upper hole or it won’t properly fit.

WTF is with my blurry shots! Oh well

I found a much easier way to fabricate a Bowens male/female extender. Here is what I use:

I cut the Protection cover about 1/75 inches from the Bowens male flange. (Cutting off the top of the cover) I then slide the open end into the Nicefoto mount and screw it down. All done for $18.00 USD!

Unit with my extender attached to the unit. The distance between the top blade and the gobo slot is closer than any spotlight I’ve seen. What this means is the focal point of the two will allow the gobo and blades to interact with very little fringing. The ONLY downside I see it it’s tough to remove the gobo holder because the top blade is so close. That’s complete princess bitching though!

Below I am showing how versatile the unit is in using ANY of my Godox/Flashpoint strobes:

600 with the remote head.

A single 200 with the round head attachment using an S bracket mount.

The 200 round head attachment and the Pro 600 modeling lights produce the most accurate gobo modeling lights in my tests.

Flashpoint eVOLV Dual Power Twin Head with Bowens Mount. Two 200s with two bulbs.

Just a test shot. It’s great how the 36 degree lens can be so close. Rumor has it Aputure is producing at 50 degree lens too.

Gobo holder and adjustable iris. The case has a little slot for the iris.

The gel holder is included. The design is very slick since the button on the top releases the tab that secures the gel holder in place. Well done.

There are two slots for gel holders. (you’d have to purchase a second gel holder btw) Forward thinking on Aputure’s part.

This is the case and NO it does not come with all of those Fragile stickers! My plan is to use a strap around the case during transport since the two latches can come undone.

Interior cutouts are well placed.

So far I am VERY impressed with the build quality and optics of the system. I have no doubt it will work very well in my work. As I use it I will continue to update this post. Aputure if you’re reading this, making a strobe adapter will make us still photo guys very happy and my increase your market too!

11 Apr 2020

FW: Re:

I am always a bit suspicious of FW:Re emails. Why? well the lion’s share of them tend to come to me from old people. People who are not motivated enough to send their thoughts about why they’ve forwarded the article to me.  Aunts, uncles, grandparents, you know who you are. Not that their intents aren’t warm, but most FW:Re  emails be they funny or serious or somewhere in between seldom strike me as interesting. A friend who has just suffered a personal tragedy sent me a FW:Re article titled “Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting* – Julio Vincent Gambuto – Medium.

So I started to read it because the title was interesting. And the more I read, the more it resonated with me. During the COVID-19 crisis I have often asked myself what the world will look like after it’s all over, as if it will ever really be all over. Julio’s article brings up some very poignant concepts:

“What the crisis has given us is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see ourselves and our country in the plainest of views. At no other time, ever in our lives, have we gotten the opportunity to see what would happen if the world simply stopped. Here it is. We’re in it. Stores are closed. Restaurants are empty. Streets and six-lane highways are barren. Even the planet itself is rattling less (true story). And because it is rarer than rare, it has brought to light all of the beautiful and painful truths of how we live. And that feels weird. Really weird. Because it has… never… happened… before. If we want to create a better country and a better world for our kids, and if we want to make sure we are even sustainable as a nation and as a democracy, we have to pay attention to how we feel right now. I cannot speak for you, but I imagine you feel like I do: devastated, depressed, and heartbroken.”

Sure the “I Love Me” cell phone cameras are still going strong. But as he states we have been forced to stand still. Much like being forced to reflect on our day, our life, our choices late at night, this is a point in time we have a choice to reflect; or not. As a child I recall watching the 1951 movie The Day the Earth Stood Still. I marveled at the concept, even as a child. 

A once in a lifetime event is not something I will waste focusing on just myself.

14 Mar 2020

Coronavirus 0 – Community 1

The news about the new coronavirus or COVID-19 constantly surrounds us, permeates our thoughts and constantly and insidiously encourages us to fear.  Fear human contact, fear human interaction, fear our normal lives.

Because I photograph the arts – theatre, dance and music, my entire world along with those who I know and cherish has been disrupted like no other time in my memory. The 1963 Kennedy assassination, the AIDS discovery in 1983, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake or September 11 2001 attack.

Businesses were disrupted during those times and rightfully so. But what makes the current climate so different is the fear proliferating in society. Social media as we know it today did not exist in those times. Hoarding of toilet paper or other non-essential items illustrates to me an aspect of humanity for which I’m ashamed. Certainly with any new and unknown virus governments are wise to use an abundance of caution to ensure society is safe. But not to instill fear. Human nature fears all that is unknown.

When society allows fear to supersede all other factors, events like what happened to my own parents and relatives occurs. Place all Japanese American citizens into prison camps (what they termed ‘internment camps’ a bullshit whitewashed name) because of the fear we were all spies and plotting against the United States. FEAR

Today it’s about people avoiding and in some instances being outright hostile to Asians simply because the epidemic began in Wuhan China. FEAR, FEAR and more FEAR can make a nation not only fearful and in the case of COVID-19 isolated. Unlike the prior crises where humans could gather to support, or entertain and soften the blow of a tragedy, the coronavirus and resulting laws prevent those important healing events to occur. Today the answer to ‘stay safe’ is doing all things electronically, something I believe we did too much of even before coronavirus with our “I love me” cell phones.

I believe that precautions should be taken – hand washing (good grief your mother should have taught you that anyway!), sanitation of public places observed, as well as not going to work if you’re ill or suspect you are. But unlike the AIDS epidemic in 1983 which almost certainly meant an ugly and painful death, COVID-19 does not mean the same.  Not even close as outlined by a 42 year old woman who got and recovered from the coronavirus.

So as all theatres were ordered to close their doors due to government regulations – Dan, my local client and close friend who is the Artistic Director for the theatre in my hometown let me know that his current show, “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” was closing before opening night, the night we had planned on attending the show. As he spoke his voice began to crack and his sadness was palpable through the phone.

The comedic timing of this cast is impeccable. The direction by Jeffery Lo is amazing.

After ending the call my partner Tracy said “I’d like to do something for Dan. I can’t donate money to the theatre (we are out of work as a result of all theatres closing), but we can do something else. Let’s film the performance. That way the cast can have all they’ve worked for on film.” So we got in contact with Dan and presented the idea. At first he was unsure of attempting to put on the performance since he had just notified the cast and crew that Opening Night was cancelled as well as the entire run of the show.

Tracy set up and ready to film the performance.

After contacting everyone he let us know that it was a go for Opening Night filming. Tracy then mentioned that we would need an audience to have authenticity in the film with laughter and applause. So Dan then contacted friends and family being careful to keep within the limits of what the government set about limiting public gatherings to 100 or less. As people gathered into the theatre and the cast and crew began their performance I had an epiphany.  I have and still work with many levels of theatres. Some are professional pre-Broadway shops and some community theatres. As tends to be human nature some pre-Broadway company staff members tend to be a bit snooty when referring to other theatres as ‘a community theatre’ the insinuation being a lower level of performance and professionalism. Lower budgets, less skilled talent, blah blah blah. Lower budgets yes, less skilled is like saying all Japanese fellas are quiet and docile….then you have not met me in person!

An Opening Night party which is one I shall always remember. It was the most special one I’ve experienced to date.

My epiphany was realizing that my hometown community theatre put aside fear and allowed us to interact as humans, as common souls. Unlike 9/11, the 89 Quake, the recent Camp Fires where humans support one another by gathering, sharing feelings with eye to eye contact and yes EVEN HUGS, the fear of coronavirus has prevented it. NO ONE at the theatre showed any reticence in exchanging hugs with one another. As a matter of fact, even though theatre folks hug all the time, the ones I gave and received last night were more tight and embraces seemed longer than usual as if we all know that we must band together to endure this crisis. I was never more proud of my community theatre and what it represents in my own life as well as the lives of so many others.

Because it was such a special evening I asked if the audience could be part of the Cast and Crew photo. This is the wonderful result.

I’m NOT naïve enough to think that a small gathering is going to solve everything. Almost everyone in the theatre last night is out of work. Meaning OUT OF WORK, no paid time off, no paid by employer health benefits, etc. That includes me and my partner. The coronavirus crisis has affected everyone, domestically and internationally. But what I learned last night and will forever cherish is this: Human contact, human face to face interaction conquers fear, the true virus of humanity.

10 Mar 2020

Instagram Ads – Cell Phone Holster

Berry Hoo Cell Phone Wallet

Photo in their Instagram ad

I am sometimes (often) reeled in by Instagram ads. Shame on me. To be fair though I have had great luck with many and about a handful where I was disappointed. This is a case of the latter. I had ordered the cell phone holster and never heard a thing for about a month. Then I left a message on their Instagram account and guess what?! Immediate response. I filed a complaint with PayPal over the issue. Granted 31.00 is not a ton of money, but it was the principle of the matter.

The ‘owner’ then wrote to me, his email name is Juli Chic from Berry Hoo. He was very pleasant in his email to me and explained that my holster was shipped and requested I be patient about its arrival. I wrote back to state that unless the item was delivered by the time PayPal allowed me to escalate the case I would take the matter further with them.

On March 9, 2020 I received the leather holster in the mail. The leather is of a nice quality as is the stitching. But the design of the holster is such that if I cinch my belt down enough to hold my pants up (the purpose of a belt right?) it’s impossible to remove or insert my Samsung S10+ into the holster.

My S10+ between my current holster and the Berry Hoo one

The leather is a nice quality but very thin which may be the issue that causes the problem.

Seems fine when the phone is NOT on my belt.

I’m happy to report that the item arrived. I’m sorry that it took filing a claim with PayPal and bitching on Instagram about it. More sorry that the design prevents its usage. Lesson learned.

Here are the two website which seem to sell the same items:

And here is their current Instagram Ad

 

03 Mar 2020

Randomly Wonderful!

If you are at all familiar with my photography blog you know that I have stated I primarily use my camera NOT for photography, but to meet people. I know many of you are thinking “Uh right Mark, I’m calling bullshit” and I wouldn’t blame you. LOL But it’s really true and this story is a prime example.

During a preseason publicity shoot for one of my clients, I met Ciera who was one of their most important BTS employees. But she was perfect for publicity shots as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. So I shot her for that publicity session and over time we became friends.

I OFTEN get this reaction from women….hum….

Then a few years later she called to ask me if I along with my partner would consider photographing her wedding. Now mind you I hate shooting weddings and often refuse, but a number of theatre and dance people I’ve worked with had asked, or rather convinced me to shoot their nuptials. In this case we agreed.

At Ciera’s wedding I got to meet her husband Nick. And just like me he’s a Japanese American! Imagine another JA hooked up to a white woman! LOL!!!! White fellas with Asian women are common, but the other way around not so much! I got to meet Nick’s family and his father who jokingly said “Mark you’re not the typical JA!” Hahahahaha. No I’m not….

And I also got to meet Ciera’s brother Roger who just earned his wings in the US Navy as an aviator! He and I chatted some about the intersection in life we share. My uncle Harvey Kitaoka was the very first Japanese American Naval Aviator. He flew in the Korean War and had over 100 aircraft carrier landings and became part of the elite Century Club. In addition to that he was highly decorated as a USN Aviator.

Many years later my cousin and I have been assembling our family’s history in photographs and stories. He sent me some of my uncle’s naval memorabilia including his patches and certificates. I decided to send photos of them to Roger to ask him some questions we had that he might know the answers to.

And guess what! He knew all about the history of my uncle’s squadron and that squadron is literally right across from his own! Sure it’s information we could have researched, but having someone who is actually a current Naval Aviator is just so cool! Thanks so much Roger!

Roger’s Squadron VFA-151

So yes I photograph to meet people. It’s just a side benefit that I can pay my bills by doing so!

02 Mar 2020

More than just gear

Hi, if you’ve stopped by to read about my latest blog post regarding a specific piece of gear, it’s best to keep moving along. Nope, this post is about all that went into a recent publicity shoot I just completed. A big part of the job is developing the look and feel for a campaign. After viewing some of Annie Leibovitz’s work, my partner and I felt using painted drops for a number of the sessions would create the feeling we wanted. After investigating the cost of hand painted drops she discovered that good ones range anywhere between $1000 to $1800 dollars for a 12×12 foot size. So..

We went to our local theatrical supply store where she purchased the fabric and then it was onto the paint store. In total, two 12x12s, three 8×6 foot drops including the paint and tools came to just over 500 bucks. She plans to use the smaller drops for her headshot business too.

12 oz canvas stapled to the floor and primer applied.

First coat of color.

All done waiting to dry.

We spoke to our client about the concepts and he generously allowed us to use the theatre’s Green Room to paint the drops. We needed space, but just as important a wood floor where the canvases could be stapled to the floor. His Green Room had both. Once done we showed him the mood board we assembled for the concept and it was at that point all of us became very excited. Since it is the theatre’s 80th anniversary season, he wanted something special. So we presented the following concepts for the imagery:

  1. Elegance
  2. Beauty
  3. Emotion

We also presented the idea of including behind the scenes shots of the sessions. EVERYONE including myself loves BTS imagery and film. I still get goosebumps thinking about Game of Thrones BTS film of Beyond the Wall. The client immediately approved the concept so we were off to the races. Logistics is one of the most tedious aspects of any shoot. Scheduling talent, securing the venue, preparing wardrobe, makeup, props is just part of a shoot. I’m consulted on the type of wardrobe, colors, etc. which has nothing to do with the camera or lighting gear I’m using…but…

The type of lighting instruments I plan to use really does depend on the mood, the costumes and the setting for each session. I know so many forum  trolls like to pretend they are skilled in light when they argue about if a modifier is a true parabola or not. Go right ahead and argue about it, but for me and most importantly my clients, how something looks and feels is what matters. And will the imagery evoke enough emotion to initiate a sale, that’s the REAL question.

Overhead light is my Cheetahstand Lantern with a cheap umbrella I cut up for its fabric as a drape. Foreground is my Aputure Spotlight with a window gobo. Phottix Softlighter is on the right as my key light.

Balancing the key light with the gobo light to remove the window pane pattern from her face without overpowering the shadows was tricky….but accomplished.

My Parabolix 35D is my key light here. The Fresnel light on the left was used to remove floor shadows from the Mole Richardson Fresnel spotlight on the right.

All of my publicity imagery is shot with my Pentax 645Z medium format. I do this for two reasons; first there is a feeling of medium format that I just cannot recreate with 35mm. Second clients often use the files for billboards, bus banner, etc. so file size can be a concern. In addition all strobes are Flashpoint 600s or 200s. Modifiers….well that’s a different story.

Sure I use focusing rod modifiers most of the time, but when those are not the right tools for the job at hand I often improvise. Like using a Cheetahstand Lantern with a cut up cheap umbrella fabric as a drape held with wooden clothespins to control spill. Or a 1965 Mole Richardson 412 Fresnel spotlight converted into a strobe.  Some of my gear is used like the OEM intended yet with other modifier instruments; well I’ve just adapted them to my needs.

The client looks over my shots in real time on my iPad so he knows when we’ve achieved the shot and can move on.

My whole point of this post is to highlight creativity, planning and imagination in developing imagery. Do what is right for you or for you and your client. Don’t be afraid to try things that work for you. Stay away from the naysayers, how many times have you seen their body of work beyond shitty ‘test shots’ anyway? Crickets? Exactly my point!

15 Feb 2020

Flashpoint FV150 – Hybrid LED/Flash Combo – 2-15-20

February 15 2020

My photography partner and I have been creating hand painted backdrops for ourselves. So it was a perfect time to use the incredibly bright constant LED light and then do a quick test of the strobe feature to see how the backdrop looks in an actual photo.

The lighting in the room where the backdrops were painted is awful! So having the FV150 turned up to 100% and modified through a lantern softbox was perfect!

Nighttime with the FV150 LED at 100% through a lantern modifier. As a reference the backdrops are 10’x9′ in size.

This is the scene before using the FV150 during the daytime with the door and windows open.

Nighttime with the FV150 LED at 100% through a lantern modifier. Just before doing some test shots in strobe mode.

Here are some quick test shots of actors and the director who just happened to be working in the theatre that day. So during a break I grabbed them for some quick shots using the strobe feature of the FV150. The modifier I used was a Glow 41″ EZ Lock Deep Umbrella. I just grabbed what was convenient before heading over to do the job. Pentax 645Z with my 45-85mm f4.5 lens.

1/80th f5.6 ISO 400. FV150 at 1/2 power

1/80th f5.6 ISO 400. FV150 at 1/2 power

1/80th f5.6 ISO 400. FV150 at 1/2 power

Again the FV150’s strobe feature does not rival a normal bulb strobe. BUT the possibilities of its uses are endless and I have yet to even scratch the surface of what I can do creatively with this light. Stay tuned.

January 27 2020

Today I was able to test the FV150 on a human! LOL

Jenn was here for a headshot and I talked her into indulging me with a test of the FV in both LED and strobe mode. I used the CLAR Slim 10″ Round Bi-Color LED as a hair rim light. Key light modifier was my Parabolix 35D with the FV150 in mid focused position. Modifier was camera right 4 feet from Jenn pointed completely away from her face. This is my normal configuration when using that modifier. Camera is my Pentax 645Z.

Here you can see the FV150 in mid focused position in the Parabolix 35D

So this was a two light shot test of constant lights. I’m NOT accustomed to using constant lights and for a time it felt a bit like well, cheating. WYSIWYG 

Shot #1 ISO 160 1/80th shutter speed, f2.8 Constant Light LED mode, 70% power

Shot #2 ISO 160 1/80th shutter speed, f2.8 Constant Light LED mode, 70% power

Shot #3 ISO 100 1/80th shutter speed, f2.8 Strobe mode, 50% power

I’m just about ready to put the FV150 into production after one more test. It’s a remarkable tool for the right job.

January 21 2020

I wanted to test several more aspects of this light. First if I can effectively use it in my focusing rod modifiers. Second to test the use of my Aputure Spotlight for gobos with the flash feature and then with the constant light feature.

Here is my initial setup. I am using the Chopstick Reflective Focusing System MKII. I have found this to be the best general focusing rod for my use. Versatile, well made and very sturdy. At 160.00 USD a very good value. For all of the  following images I used one of my favorite modifiers, an Elinchrom 39″ Rotalux Deep Octabox which I use with and without the focusing rod.

Camera is the Pentax 645Z using a 45-85mm f4.5 lens.

This first shot is when the FV150 is full flooded in the modifier

Very impressive that the Cheetahstand focusing rod does NOT bow under the weight of 7.2 pounds even when extended.

1/125th shutter speed, f4.5 ISO 200 FV150 at full power

Fully flooded 1/125th f4.5 ISO 200 full power strobe.

Setup for my fully focused test shot.

Fully focused 1/125th f4.5 ISO 200 full power strobe.

The FV150 in strobe mode projects the same quality of light characteristic as my bulb strobes with a focusing rod.

Next was using my Aputure Spotlight with the FV150 alone without my Saberstrip v2.0 turned on for fill.

1/400th which is HSS for a Pentax 645Z (1/125th is normal sync speed) f4.5, FV150 strobe set to full power ISO 200

Set up for the strip of light shot.

1/400th which is HSS for a Pentax 645Z (1/125th is normal sync speed) f4.5, FV150 strobe set to full power ISO 200. With the Saberstrip for fill set to 1/128th power

Testing various gobos with the Aputure Spotlight and the FV150 set to full power in strobe mode.

1/400th which is HSS for a Pentax 645Z (1/125th is normal sync speed) f4.5, FV150 strobe set to full power ISO 200

1/400th which is HSS for a Pentax 645Z (1/125th is normal sync speed) f4.5, FV150 strobe set to full power ISO 200

1/400th which is HSS for a Pentax 645Z (1/125th is normal sync speed) f4.5, FV150 strobe set to full power ISO 200

Next I wanted to test using the FV150 as a strobe and compare it to using the LED constant light mode through a gobo and the Aputure.

1/400th f4.5, FV150 strobe set to full power constant light ISO 200

1/400th f4.5, FV150 strobe set to full power strobe mode ISO 200

So as I go about this and more testing I’m finding that like all things you don’t get something for nothing. I have been using battery powered and remote head conversion strobes for the past three years. Moving back to an AC only plug in system seems to be a bit of a pain. BUT the versatility of combining a powerful constant light AND a usable strobe in one light takes the sting out of an AC only light. I’d only tend to use this in studio, not because of the AC only aspect since I can use a generator or inverter out in the field. Nope it’s because the strobe is not strong enough to overpower the sun. At least in my view at this point even though I have not tested it in full sun.

One of my lighting mentors has been using constant LED lights outdoors so I will try this as well. One thing is so apparent to me right now; LED lights are the future of lighting, at least to me.

January 17 2020

Seriously?! OK so I just had to test HSS with my Canon 1DXII shooting 14 frames per second just to see the performance in HSS…..

How I set up Bob for the test. Glow octa with both diffusion panels installed.

FV150 set at 1/4 power, ISO 800 f2.8 1/320th shutter speed.

FV150 set to full power 1:1 ISO 500 1/400th shutter speed.

No matter how long I kept the shutter depressed, NOT ONE MISFIRE OR SKIP in the flash mode! Holy crap. More testing needs to be done of course, but so far my mind is exploding with the new possibilities of this light. A constant LED AND strobe with this kind of performance? Holy shit man!

January 13 2020

I recently received and am testing what I consider to be a very exciting light the Flashpoint FV150 Hybrid R2 Continuous LED Light and HSS Flash (Godox FV150). Please note that this post is only my initial examination and testing of this light. Because I am in the height of my shooting season I have little time to fully test this light until later in the month. BUT I was SO INTRIGUED by its possibilities I sandwiched my initial evaluation between client sessions. For me this new instrument’s possibilities are mind bending!

Right off the bat a huge plus for this unit is its ability to natively attach to my Aputure Spotlight without my DIY adapter. For anyone who has tried to mount an AD600/400/etc. to the Aputure, you know that the bulb fouls against the inner lens of the Aputure unit. Not so with the FV150 since it is a flat LED light. SCORE! Plus I can now use the Aputure/FV150 combination in video with gobos. Excellent!

Yup the FV150 attaches natively to the Aputure Spotlight, no adapter needed. And man is it bright in LED mode too!

The LED unit with the supplied 7″ cone which I used in my power testing.

The rear of the unit in LED constant light mode. It’s supplied with a remote control to change the settings while in constant light mode.

The light in ‘strobe’ mode. The lowest setting for the strobe is 1/8th power.

So here are my power test results:

I have several Westcott Skylux LED lights so I tested the FV150 against them. As you can see the FV150 is twice the brightness of the Skylux. For the strobe test I compared the FV150 to the Flashpoint XPLOR 600 HSS TTL Battery-Powered Monolight. It’s safe to say that the FV150 is about 25% the power of the 600. So in my testing I’d place it in the 150WS category.

There are a TON of features in this light I have not even examined. I will just say that my mind is exploding with concepts that I may be able to accomplish with this light that would have been much more difficult in the past to perform. For those that are thinking “Gosh isn’t this just a low powered, plug in strobe with a fancy modeling light?” I’d suggest you move along…..

For those who may see new possibilities, stay tuned – MUCH more to follow!