Paul H. Phillips on Endurance and Planning

Triathlons are multi-sport endurance events, and the photographers who cover them are not unlike the athletes who participate in them. Paul H. Phillips and his team of photographers at Competitive Image in Minneapolis have identified their métier, and it’s in their blood. Competitive Image consists of photographers who also happen to be runners, skiers, cyclists, swimmers, and martial artists. These common athletic interests enable them to cover sporting events in ways most photographers can’t or don’t imagine.

©Competitive Image

Bob Kupbens teamed up with Phillips to conceive and create Competitive Image’s iconic shot of the start of the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon earlier this year. The shot was also featured in Runner’s World magazine. It’s a classic example of the company’s premise of making great shots, as opposed to taking them.

©Competitive Image

This approach is paying off. By staking out race courses and planning out positions of remote cameras, the teams’ results are getting them recognition. Their soccer book, Portrait of Passion, has been nominated for the 2009 Billie Award for Journalism for the Outstanding Portrayal of Women in Sport. They have also had an image published on one of the ultimate sports marketing icons: a box of Wheaties.

Triathlons are essentially a long swim race followed by a long bicycle race followed by a long foot race. Photographers covering them need to work at least as long as the shortest time it takes the winner to complete the course. That doesn’t include setup and breakdown times. Endurance is the strategy on both sides of the cameras.

The PocketWizard MultiMAX has proved critical to many of Competitive Image’s shots, including some of their decisive images of winners crossing triathlon finish lines.

©Competitive Image

“We can now do some very exciting things with very high shutter speed,” says Phillips. “This is because of PocketWizard. We’re slowly making the shift from the MultiMAX to the FlexTT5 and the MiniTT1. I particularly like the Mini because it is what it is: it’s tiny! We’re combining all of these models on a shoot for the cover of Triathlete magazine. We’re going to use studio strobes, but we need a few highlights on the athlete’s bike, so we’ll use a few remotely-fired 580s, too.”

Competitive Image recently shot a series of swimmers in a pool using the FlexTT5 and the MiniTT1. “One Mini and three Flexes were used with five MultiMAX units. I only see our work with PocketWizards increasing.”

©Competitive Image

“The PocketWizards help us make the shot. We ask, ‘what shot would be really cool?’ Well, let’s build something and hang it from the starting line truss!” As the lead photographers for the Twin Cities Marathon, one of the top marathons in the country, Phillips and his team enjoys a large degree of latitude in creative license and permissions to set them up and get them. Named as one of the International Triathlon Union Photographers for 2010, Phillips is earning the reputation of the guy who can get the shots others don’t.

For the first leg of triathlons with athletes diving into the water, Phillips sometimes finds himself shooting half-submerged from the waterline with two assistants behind him holding strobes on monopods. He also has been known to sit backwards all day on a motorcycle, shooting athletes as they bike and run for the finish line.

©Competitive Image

“I only see our use of PocketWizards expanding,” says Phillips. “We’re only limited by our own creativity. We’re already designing our next big cover shot for a race that will be the first week in May of 2010.” Phillips will be detailing his preproduction work in an eight-page report, covering everything from how he’ll mount remote units on streetlights to dealing with crowds during a race which will be won in approximately four minutes. “At a four-minute mile, you’re talking about a runner moving 22-feet per second. Trying to light that and get a clean shot is challenging.” With that kind of action, the team will have several photographers firing a multitude of PocketWizards on different channels.

©Competitive Image

The Competitive Image team shoot a full range of lenses for both Canon and Nikon digital bodies. Two of the team are MIT grads, “so if we need something built, it’s no problem,” Phillips laughs.

The well-written Competitive Image blog not only details some solid tips for sports photography enthusiasts, but documents some of the detailed thought process Paul—a former racer himself—and his team do in the preproduction stage before an athletic event. Photography fans and athletes alike have reason to follow Paul Phillips and his team—until they have to start planning for their next race, that is.

Competitive Image

Water shoot

Video of water shoot

Blog entry on water shoot

Portrait of Passion

Marc Quigley, From Sanding to the Ultimate Product Photography

Not many Americans these days can say they not only love what they do, but plan on doing it for the same company from the time they’re eighteen until retirement. Marc Quigley is an exception to this norm. After high school, Marc began working as a sander at PRS Guitars, then in Annapolis, Maryland. He sanded guitars and grew his skill sets as the company — considered by many to build the finest guitars in the world — grew into its recently-expanded factory in nearby Stevensville.

© Marc Quigley for PRS Guitars, Ltd.

Currently celebrating its twenty-fifth year, PRS is often credited with bringing about the second golden age of American electric guitar design and manufacturing. When Gibson and Fender were languishing in the 1970s and ’80s after a series of owners stopped innovating, Bowie, Maryland’s Paul Reed Smith began building guitars with John Ingram, another local, and beauty and quality were returned to solidbody electric guitars.

© Marc Quigley for PRS Guitars, Ltd.

From sanding, Marc Quigley eventually held all the jobs in the Finish Hall, where guitars are painted, eventually managing it. He then moved to Customer Service before becoming Art Director twelve years ago. For the past six years, Marc has been responsible for the gorgeous product photography showcased in PRS literature, magazine ads, and on their Web site.

© Marc Quigley for PRS Guitars, Ltd.

As Art Director of PRS Guitars, Marc initially hired local pro photographers to shoot the growing line of PRS offerings. Robbie Blair, Sam Holden, and Jim Noble all helped bring the amazing curly maple, Brazilian rosewood and other tone woods to life. Eventually, Marc began to build his photographic chops on his own time, the way he often learns new skills for his day job.

© Marc Quigley for PRS Guitars, Ltd.

The very nature of the products Marc is called upon to photograph make this assignment difficult, to say the least. PRS guitars are typically coated with a polyester basecoat and either an acrylic urethane topcoat or a nitro-cellulose topcoat. The brilliantly-shiny surfaces and many curves of these instruments act like contoured mirrors, particularly on the darker-colored guitars. Not getting the strobes, flash umbrellas, and white cards to appear in reflections on the guitars is close to impossible. “I fire strobes through a very large piece of white plexiglass, which acts as a diffuser,” says Marc, revealing one of his tricks. “I can control how hot the highlights are by adjusting the distance from light source to the plexiglass.”

© Marc Quigley for PRS Guitars, Ltd.

The mirror-like shiny finish of most PRS guitars is not the only problem faced when doing product photography for new models. “In the hand carve, we get weird reflections,” Marc explains. “At one point I realized you can actually see a reflection of the headstock in the hand carve of the guitar when you’re shooting straight on. You can see all the way up the neck to the headstock and tuners. The multi-faceted surface combined with the shininess makes it very tricky.”

© Marc Quigley for PRS Guitars, Ltd.

Some PRS models are more problematic than others due to the curves (or lack thereof) in woodworking. “The SE Customs were hardest. They have no carve on the top whatsoever. I like having a little highlight splash along the top or edge. With a flat top the only way to do that is to slash a reflection over half of it. It may look kind of cool, but it doesn’t show the product properly. The only choice I have is to not have any highlight on those models except maybe a very tiny one on the edge.”

© Marc Quigley for PRS Guitars Ltd.

Different finishes also provide a variety of photographic challenges. “The sparkle finishes are very hard to get done right,” says Marc. “It’s like they have a million little mirrors all reflecting in different directions. They’re either too hot or it looks like little black spots on the guitar. It’s difficult to find the right balance. I hold a silver card in front of me and I shoot directly over the top of it, so the guitar is reflecting the silver card, and it bounces a little bit of light spilling from the side of my strobes.”

© Marc Quigley for PRS Guitars, Ltd.

If there’s one thing which makes the PRS Guitar product shots stick out among competitors, it’s the detailed photos Marc takes of each model and shown on the product pages. Most manufacturers have two shots: instrument straight on and instrument being played by celebrity musician. Marc’s rethought this decades-old approach, and has given new life to instrument product photography. “I worked on these guitars for years, and I know them inside and out,” he says. “One of the jobs I did is called Prepping. The first thing I’d do was take it from a Sander, close my eyes, and run my hands over the whole thing to ensure the shape was correct. I knew them well enough to tell if there were any runs, dips or anything else wrong.” This level of product knowledge gave him the foresight to know how the guitars looked from all angles possible. Previsualizing what he wanted in photos, Marc sketched out how he’d like them to look, complete with where the highlights should be.

© Marc Quigley for PRS Guitars, Ltd.

With the perfect shot in his mind’s eye, Marc’s studio set-up is surprising. “I have the guitar suspended from a fishing line. I’ll grab the neck, headstock or butt of the guitar to hold it up with my left hand and angle it toward the light panel until I get a reflection I like. I shoot with my right hand, so I’m pretty contorted while working. It’s fun to photograph them because they’re so beautiful.”

© Marc Quigley for PRS Guitars, Ltd.

With PRS Guitars releasing a line of amplifiers in 2009, Marc was facing a new set of challenges. “That was a brick wall when I first faced that challenge. They’re not shiny. They’re boxes, essentially,” laughs Marc. After two half-day photo shoots failed to meet his standards, he came up with a different approach. “I now shoot through the plexiglass on the left side, with two lamps over there. I use a third pointed at a bounce card to bring light to the other side. Reflector cards in the front put some light on the dials.”

© Marc Quigley for PRS Guitars, Ltd.

© Marc Quigley for PRS Guitars, Ltd.

Marc relies on PocketWizard Plus IIs — three of them, to be exact — to keep his Nikon D2X and his flashes in sync. “The Plus II’s are awesome,” says Marc. “They’re worth every penny. They’re durable, which is important to me. They have great battery life, they’re easy to use, reliable and have outstanding range. A great product I would recommend to anyone.” Rounding out the key elements of his gear, a Profoto softbox is his main reflective unit.

© Marc Quigley for PRS Guitars, Ltd.

After 21 years, Marc is far from content to remain static. He recently created the poster for the independent film Loop, and is constantly working on his own photography, featured on his site. He also is responsible for all audio recording at PRS, and now shoots and edits video of guitar and amp demonstrations. All PRS collateral is created in-house from his department. He cites the freedom PRS Guitars gives him to explore new technologies as being key to keeping him innovative and widening his skills. Guitars, amps, cameras, PocketWizards and the time to create. Now we can see why Marc’s been there 21 years with no signs of leaving any time soon.

Marc Quigley’s Blog

Marc Quigley’s Twitter Feed

Marc Quigley’s photography at PRS Guitars


David Guy Maynard on Packing Light

“I use a lot of big gear in the studio,” says David Guy Maynard. “There’s no question about that. Big monoblocks, the works. But when you go out on location, you generally don’t have a power supply.” This is evident in the video promo (above) from his upcoming DVD. Entitled Location Lighting with Speedlites: Smaller Gear, Bigger Results, Maynard is all about great results from less gear.

©David Guy Maynard

“We were out on an island shooting for the DVD. There’s no electricity available there. So then you’re looking at big power packs with huge battery backup systems. I generally have an assistant or two with me, but it’s a lot of gear. I often work on location, and it’s difficult and expensive to take multiple cases. Over the last several years I’ve been trying to minimize what I take, still get the results I want, but have a lot less to carry, set-up and maintain. There are techniques you can use to get the same results to make it look like you shot it in a $50,000 studio, but you do it with a decent size bag and a little imagination.”

©David Guy Maynard

Maynard’s DVD, due in early 2010, runs for one hour, and promises to explore his evolving philosophy of shooting with lighter gear, planning an entire shoot, running from one to three light setups, the choosing and use of modifiers and other gear, off-camera lighting techniques and dealing with difficult sunlight conditions.

©David Guy Maynard

“Most photographers I meet are, by nature, techno junkies and gadget freaks,” says Maynard. “It’s just who we are. When I started in photography as a kid with no money, I got used to using whatever was at my disposal, like my dad’s shoplight and the reflectors from car windows to protect your dashboard. When I went pro, I got spoiled by all the great, large gear. For the past five years I’ve done more and more location work. I travel a lot. Working with less gear is a matter of convenience and necessity. I simply can’t afford to stress my back lugging heavy gear around. Because of this, I constantly try new tricks and pieces of equipment to make my location rig smaller. A lot of stuff gets tossed aside because it doesn’t hold up. In the last three years I’ve really honed what’s in my travel photo bag. It’s now a small fraction of what I used to carry, and I’m actually getting better photos than I used to.”

©David Guy Maynard

Among the smaller gear Maynard is packing these days include the Canon Speedlight 580EX. “It works perfectly with the PocketWizard’s HyperSync technology. A speedlight is a speedlight. It’s how you control them that makes the biggest difference. I carry five speedlights now of different makes and models. It’s rare to see me shooting with just one light.” He also carries the LumiQuest Snoot and assorted lightweight stands, among other goodies in his bag.

Maynard relies on PocketWizard technology to fire all his location lights. A MiniTT1 and three FlexTT5 units enable him to fire up to four lights at a time. “I like to use a lot of odd-ball lighting setups. The TT1 and the TT5 are reliable,” he reports. “They’ll go off every time, and they’ll go off in whatever way I want them to. I like that. I still have Plus IIs and I use those for certain things, but they’re getting less attention now that I’m using the Mini and Flex set-up. They work with the Plus IIs, so if I want to throw a Plus II in for a background light, I can dial that in for less light on Manual setting. This means I can be out in a park and running five lights with no electricity. I can do hair lighting, backlighting, effects lighting under furniture, around walls, or whatever. Any lighting situation that would’ve taken you two hours to set up in the studio, you can do on location with a five minute set-up time. Things have changed, and for the better. I would’ve never dreamt of doing anything remotely close to this ten years ago.”

©David Guy Maynard

Thanks to Maynard’s advocacy of smaller and better gear, the word is spreading. “I’m happy to say I’m part of pushing that trend. I recommend this gear to someone, or I say, ‘here’s how you can get that big studio shot,’ and that makes them happy. They realize it’s a shot they might not have gotten otherwise out on location. It’s becoming more popular. I’ve seen guys who always used to go out with all the big gear, and now they’re using less and lighter equipment, and they’re getting the shots they want.” Although still a self-professed fan of big studio gear, “I love having that flexibility, but the ability on location has changed.”

©David Guy Maynard

Never afraid to experiment, Maynard mixes the two worlds now and then. “Sometimes in the studio I’ll run big lights as primary, and I’ll pull out one or two speedlights and throw them in the background as a hair light. I’ll mix the studio lights and speedlights with no problem.”

©David Guy Maynard

Inspired by his older brother, Maynard has been shooting since he was eleven. He’s shot as a serious hobbiest and twelve years ago started taking paying assignments. Six years ago he went pro full-time. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including Shutterbug, Popular Photography, Digital Photo Pro, PDN, Business Traveler, and many more.

©David Guy Maynard

2010 promises to be a big year for Maynard. Along with the DVD’s release, a secret project is in the works. He has been collaborating with a manufacturer to create some innovative new lighting products, of which he will say nothing except that he’s been shooting with the prototypes. “The shots I’ve been getting are unreal,” he reports. We can look forward to seeing Maynard get more with less for some time to come.

David Maynard Photography

Mini/Flex Bikini Beach Shoot, DVD Preview

MiniTT1 & FlexTT5 Introduction Video

MWTOUR Nashville 1/11/2010 – It’s full of stars!

Forgive the movie quote from 2010 🙂 Couldn’t resist, as it’s strange to be posting things about the year 2010 already. But, we’re on the cusp and there are exciting things afoot next year!

First off is the announcement that the Mark Wallace US Meetup Tour date in Nashville will be held at Photographer David Bean‘s studio. Check out the space here. Swell guy, and we’re excited! Check out his blog and Twitter – we bet you’ll dig ’em, too.

So now that we’re done distracting you with lots of tasty links, don’t forget to RSVP for the event! This one could fill up fast!!

Tim Kemple – Extreme Exposures

Just because you’re 1500’ off the ground is no reason not to use flash and at this altitude wires could be a problem. Here’s how outdoor photographer Tim Kemple lights up El Capitan…

More extreme climbing photography (take a deep breath).

Read more about Tim Kemple: Website Blog

QuickShot: Aric Becker

Calling all PW shooters! Aric Becker heard our Tweet and sent in some shots and this note:

Here is some of my recent work using my Pocketwizards. I own 1 Mini TT1 and 2 Flex TT5’s that I use with my Canon 550ex’s. Best investment I have made.

Want to share your wireless success photos? Shout us out via email, Facebook or Twitter!
Check out more of Aric’s work: Blog

Video: EXTREME distance demo with Mini & Flex by Mark Wallace

Wow. You go, Mark.

Keith Pytlinski is at it again!

You’ve probably read about Keith on our blog before. Well, he’s back with two action images shot with his trusty PocketWizard Plus II’s:

Check out Keith’s website and Flickr for more awesome action work.

Simon Gerzina on the Right Frequency

“I’ve been relying on PocketWizards for every assignment I do,” says fashion and portraiture specialist Simon Gerzina. “I have two or three PocketWizard Plus models and two or three Plus II’s. They’ve been great. The only problem I’ve ever had with them is shooting in larger studios to find other photographers using them on the same frequency. That’s a testament to their popularity and reliability. All pros and serious shooters use them.”

©Simon Gerzina

“When I first started shooting I had bought cheaper, low-end gear. I was constantly battling strobe misfires and lack of fires where someone’s walkie-talkie in a hotel would straddle the same frequency my triggers were using. My strobes would go haywire. After all those classic problems over the years, it made no sense to keep using those. I bought my first pair of Pluses probably seven years ago, and there was no reason to go back.”

©Simon Gerzina

“When you’re in the position of having to rely on your gear—when you have the assumption it’s going to work all the time—there’s no other choice out there. PocketWizard is synonymous with radio trigger photography for a good reason.”

Gerzina also uses a Mamiya RB67 a Mamiya 645AF, Profoto Acute2 and AcuteB strobe packs, and Sekonic L-358 meters.

Simon Gerzina Photography

Simon Gerzina’s Twitter feed

Simon Gerzina’s Facebook Fan Group

Fashion Shoot with Ford Models

Simon Gerzina’s Flickr Photostream

Behind-the-Scenes on Flickr

MWTOUR: Video from Seattle Meetup