John B. Holbrook’s Studio Set-up

John B. Holbrook, II has been building up his lighting equipment over the past year. He recently wrote two posts on his blog, Thru My Lens, about his use of the PocketWizard FlexTT5 and the PocketWizard MiniTT1.

His site features iPhone articles and lots of photography. Although we were unable to find an email address for him on his site, we like what he’s doing, and wish him all the best as he works out with his newly-equipped home-based photography studio. Here’s a screenshot below excerpted from his post entitled “Playing With Lighting & Remote Triggers In My Watch Photo Studio.”

 

©John B. Holbrook, II; http://www.thrumylens.org

 

John B. Holbrook, II photography blog

Grant Gunderson, Fast and Fluid

With a degree in Plastic and Composite Engineering, Grant Gunderson is no stranger to fluid dynamics, torque, and tensile strengths. One can’t help but wonder if this training has helped nudge him in the area of photography he now makes a living in: high speed flash skiing photography.

K.C. Deane skiing at Sugar Bowl resort, Donner Pass. ©Grant Gunderson

As a young adult, Gunderson shot photos of friends skiing and snowboarding. After graduation, a hobby became a passionate profession he’s been engaged in for over a decade. An avid skier himself, Gunderson is well-acquainted with the physics of the sport, and accordingly knows what to expect as an athlete comes blasting down a mountain into view of his lenses. “I think that’s part of it,” he agrees. “The biggest portion of shooting something like skiing, or if you were shooting mountain biking, or any action sport, is if you’re not an avid participant, you really don’t know what’s going to create an image that’s really going to speak to people into those sports. I think you have to be a participant in order to document it properly.”

Beyond the physics, fully understanding all aspects of his subject matter is also critical to Gunderson’s holistic approach to capturing the world of skiers. In this way, he knows what the audience of publications he sells to want. “Skiing is a fairly small niche and I think if you’re going to succeed in ski photos you’ve got to be able to create images that speak to the culture of skiing, and not just create a unique photo,” he explains.

Zack Giffin sking at Mt. Shasta. ©Grant Gunderson

In the winters, he travels from his base in Washington State to anywhere in North America to capture downhill action. His main areas of concentration are Western Canada and the Western United States, but every major hot spot for skiing in both nations are also regularly visited. This year, he also traveled as far as Iceland and Norway for photo shoots. In the summer, he heads to South America to take advantage of winter skiing in the Southern Hemisphere.

Unlike many other sports, skiing and snowboarding present the interesting challenge of the terrain. Not only is he required to hike into mountain terrain with all his photographic gear, but there is the unyielding issue of snow and it’s preservation before a shot is set-up and executed. “If it’s a really unique location I’ve been to a lot, I’ll have an idea of how I want lighting that’s unique from what I’ve done in the past,” he explains. “Since we spend so much time traveling, we kind of have to let the location speak for itself. We’ll pull up to a location, and before we do anything, I have to have a pretty good idea of where the light’s going to go and what the skiers are going to do. Once you put a track in a shot, or once they ski through the snow, it’s done. You can’t do it over again. You have to get it right the first time.”

Adam skiing powder at Revelstoke Mountain Resort. ©Grant Gunderson

Getting to his locations is no small feat, either. “Everything we do is on our backs, so it’s a little bit of physical labor. Luckily, the athletes and the media I work with seem to be more than willing to carry some flash packs. They’re not exactly light,” he says, laughing.

Gunderson shoots a Canon EOS 1D Mark IV prototype. He avoids Photoshop and uses Lightroom to process his images. “I learned how to shoot on slides with Canon,” he says. Shooting digitally and only using Lightroom “keeps it kind of pure,” he explains.

Cody Barnhill skiing at Sugarl Bowl resort, Donner Pass. ©Grant Gunderson

To help freeze an athlete flying off a cliff, Gunderson relies on HyperSync technology from PocketWizard. “The HyperSync is whole new game‑changer,” he declares. “It’s the best. That’s the single most important technological advancement I’ve seen in the last decade.” An off-camera flash enthusiast for at least the last five years, he is very in tune with the latest gear developments which help him achieve his signature style.

Gunderson feels his saturation is one of the primary elements in his style. “I think the key to that is having proper off‑camera flash,” he says. “It gives that 3D look to it, where it doesn’t look too flat. Being on Mount Baker, we have the world record for snowfall, and we tend to get more snow than any place else, so sunny days are kind of a rarity for us, so flash is definitely key.”

Zack Giffin skiing at Mt. Baker, WA. ©Grant Gunderson

Often incorporating two Elinchrom Ranger packs, Gunderson explains his set-up. “I’ll use the PocketWizard FlexTT5 on a camera. Then I’ll use either two Plus II’s or two of the MultiMAX’s for each flash. I’ve done as much as seven flashes for a shot. But, with skiing, unless you’re starting to use a lot of color gels, you can usually get by with two or three main flashes, if you have enough power.”

Along with worrying about ruining virgin snow before a shot is captured, Gunderson says water interfering with his equipment is one of his biggest problems. “I’m probably using this gear in the harshest conditions you can find,” he says. “That’s one thing really cool about the PocketWizards is you can use them in an environment like this, then take them to the studio and they work just fine. It’s rarity you find a product that works that well in snow.”

K.C. Deane skiing at White Water during the Cold Smoke Festival. ©Grant Gunderson

Gunderson does do some studio work, but for him, skiing is all about the action. “Skiing is more about the actual sport itself,” he says. “Sometimes it’s about the athlete, but I think it’s more of a way to provide an escape for the average viewer who wants to go skiing. For me it’s definitely a lot more about the action than it is the portraits.”

Also utilizing the lifestyle of the ski culture for his product photography, Gunderson keeps that work out of the studio as much as possible. “I don’t do as much of the actual straight product photography most people are used to,” he explains. “When we do the product photography, it’s more to show the product in the environment it’s used in. We’ll try to incorporate a form of lifestyle portrait shot, instead of just showing a strict product on top of a table. You shoot these outdoors in the snow, you’ve got to make the product look good and you have to make sure the equipment you’re using is actually performing.”

Shooting in these environments is not without risk to both humans and camera equipment. Gunderson reports a few rare incidents of people getting hurt in minor avalanches and gear getting swept away. “We try to be as safe as possible and not put ourselves in danger,” he says. “You’re on the mountains and if you don’t respect the mountains, they’re definitely going to fight you back. Any time you let your guard down something is going to happen.”

Zack Giffin skiing at Mt. Baker, WA. ©Grant Gunderson

With clients knowing they can trust Gunderson and his team, he enjoys a great deal of creative freedom. “We never really have an actual, physical shot list of, ‘You need to shoot this exact same push in the mountain, exactly like this,'” he says. “It’s always up to us how we want to make a living portrait of the place. We do a little bit of scouting beforehand, especially if we’re creating a more of a really unique and dramatic shot. Most of the time, we will go to the location and either hike around, or take snowmobiles out, or get the helicopter out until we find what we think will look best and just make it work on the spot.”

Gunderson explains how the below shot came to be, which utilized PocketWizard-triggered flashes. “That was shot at Alton, Utah, two years ago, for a ski magazine cover. They came up with an entirely new format for the magazine, so they wanted a really dramatic cover shot. That ended up being the first two‑page spread they ever used for a cover. It’s a combination of flash exposure combined with the very long exposure for the night. I think one thing that’s important to note is a lot of the stuff that looks like it’s been shot in the middle of the night was shot, not in full view, but in the late afternoon or early morning with filtering the bright out using the PocketWizard and very strong studio flashes, to be able make it look more night than it actually is. Using the PocketWizard now gives you a hell of a lot more creative control than what you used to be able to do.”

Bryce Phillips skiing powder at night under star trails in the Alta backcountry. ©Grant Gunderson

Reporting on his almost total use of HyperSync, Gunderson says, “The cool thing about hyper sync too, is you can use an extremely fast shutter speed to get rid of some of the ambient exposure, but you can create a much sharper image than you can with just a flash alone. When you use HyperSync, you’re using a very fast shutter speed, like a thousandth of a second. You’re just catching the absolute peak of the flash duration, so it’s the crispest image you can possibly come up with. That’s really exciting for me. You don’t have to do any sharpening. It used to be when you used flash, you would have to do a lot of sharpening.”

At the speeds his skiing subjects come flying at him down the side of a mountain, Gunderson is able to freeze the moment, including flying powder. “Normally, I get a lot of motion play even using these extremely fast strobes, but with HyperSync, the motion play is one hundred percent gone,” he says. “I’m pretty excited about PocketWizard’s HyperSync mode.”

Cody Barnhill skiing at Sugar Bowl Resort, Donner Pass. ©Grant Gunderson

The timing of strobes is not the only clock Gunderson is up against. “It’s always about how much gear we have to lug in, but the thing we worry about with skiing is acting fast,” he says. “We want to minimize the amount of time we’re in an environment, or possibly exposed to avalanche conditions and things like that. More importantly, if we are shooting in a ski resort, we’re not closing off trails to people. People are always free to ski when you’re shooting. So, if want to get a shot and make it look clean, we have to get there and set up really quick to get the shot before someone else comes and skis through it, without realizing what we are doing.” The general rule he follows is “the further you walk, the less people you’re going to find.”

Gunderson uses a Sekonic L-408 light meter to get readings on ambient light. “The problem is I can’t get the meter out there where the skiers are, where you need the flash exposure. We’ll meter the ambient, but we have to make an estimate as to what the flash is going to do.”

Adam skiing at White Water during the Cold Smoke Festival. ©Grant Gunderson

Not only has his gear changed the range of creativity Gunderson is able to pull off, it has also increased the range of images he gets on the critical first pass of any skier flying past him. “We only get one chance each time we shoot the photo, so we depend on our equipment to work every time, exactly how we hope it’s going to do. It’s awfully frustrating when stuff doesn’t go right, but the game is the game. There would probably be a lot more people doing it if it was easier. Without the flash, the motor drive can do ten frames per second—enough to do a sequence—but I definitely fire off a burst at the key point of it: make sure I’ve got the grab and make sure they’re in perfect position. When we started working the flash stuff, before the TT5, we didn’t know what exposure. The flash goes off, that’s it, you’re done, game over. But now with the TT5, that thing is really cool. The shutter speed is so fast, the shutter speed alone can start action, where we can get the first prime stuff with the flash. Then we can definitely get two or three other shots to go with it that are non‑flash. So we kind of get two or three shots for the same amount of work. That is pretty exciting to me: two or three really distinctive shots each time, whereas before it was just one. It has definitely increased productivity for us.”

Dana Flahr throwing a very large lawn dart front flip over the Mt. Baker Road gap at dusk while filming for TGR. ©Grant Gunderson

As Gunderson’s career marches on, he remains fluid in both his adaptation of new photographic technology, and his creativity. Although we have limited space here to represent his work, the larger body of his photos show a surprising range of composition within the narrow range of skiers caught in midair. With his engineering background, it’s no surprise he understands controlled environments and the science behind high speed flash photography. What is surprising is his adept handling of the chaos ensuing when an athlete breaks from the trees a few yards away from him at a high rate of speed. Lucky for ski fans around the world, Gunderson is prepared and knows what to do.

Grant Gunderson Photography
Grant Gunderson Blog
The Ski Journal
Grant Gunderson on Facebook

Written by Ron Egatz

Joe McNally’s on the D-low!

We know you’ve been wanting to see more. We know you’ve been wanting to know how they work.

Joe McNally has a set.

Joe McNally did a test.

Please watch this blog, our site, and Joe’s blog for further developments.

Chris O’Connell Stops Time

Chris O’Connell first appeared on our radar when he set out to accomplish the first 500 shutter speed remotely-synched flash sequence in action sports, complete with HDR morph shot in RAW. This is the story of how he got there.

©Chris O'Connell

Virginia is not the first geographic location you think of when extreme skiing comes to mind. That’s where Chris O’Connell grew up and began talking photos at the age of 12 or 13, when his father gave him his Mamiya Sekor. O’Connell began shooting his friends skateboarding and riding bikes. “A lot of action stuff. I mean, that’s my roots,” he says.

Unaware he could make a living as a full-time photographer, O’Connell went to business school and moved to Colorado after graduation. His first job was at The Vail Daily. He also shot freelance. At that time, the area was the virtual epicenter of the snowboarding world. Ice climbing, rock climbing, and kayaking were not far behind. O’Connell shot them all, and then some.

Time in business school paid off for O’Connell. “I focused on the business end of things a lot. It made magazine editors feel comfortable when I started doing submissions and then I’d write little articles. I would package my slides very professionally. I think that gave me a boost over some of my peers at the time,” he says.

He became Senior Photographer at Snowboarder Magazine in the late 1990s, and began shooting many snowboard and ski events for editorial avenues around the world. “I had a few Senior Photographer gigs for different magazines throughout the world, and the commercial stuff came next,” O’Connell recalls. Corporations like Oakley, Nike, and Burton began hiring him for commercial work. He eventually left Colorado for the Tahoe area in Northern California. A few years later, he made a radical shift to Orange County, “to be away from the mountains but still closer to the action sports hub of the world, Costa Mesa,” he says.

His new home base is also home to many surf and skate companies, as well as snow gear brands and optical companies. Hurley, Billabong, Quiksilver, and Volcom all have headquarters there. “It’s a great place for an action sports shooter and catalogue guy like myself to be based, because I’m right here. A good percentage of my clients are within ten miles of me,” says O’Connell. He also cites his proximity to Samy’s Camera, Los Angeles rental houses, and the five hour drive to the Sierra Nevada mountains as further reasons for his location. Those mountains have “some of the most epic light and consistent weather patterns of any mountains I’ve been in the world,” he says. “Tons of snow, and there’s always a high pressure system behind it. Then we go grey a lot, so there’s really good opportunities to shoot around here as well.”

©Chris O'Connell

Exclusively a digital photorapher, O’Connell relies on digital gear to get it right the first time. “When you have a guy jumping off a 50 foot cliff and it’s super dangerous, you don’t really get two takes. When I get controlled environments, that’s when I can really excel. That’s why the catalog and commercial stuff is so easy for me because I’m so used to only getting one shot at a photo,” he explains.

Last September, inspired by his friend Chase Jarvis shooting in New Zealand, O’Connell got the competitive idea to one-up him. Jarvis shot 20 pops per flash at 250 shutter speed tethered. O’Connell’s mind quickly had gears turning. “I want to be able to do this and shoot it wireless. I can’t really speculate on why he did it tethered. When I started looking into the PocketWizard FlexTT5, I got the idea I could really push this to the next level and shoot RAW files with the wireless sync,” he says. “With action photography, one f-stop is everything, so that’s really what I wanted to do. I started researching it a lot before we shot it, but Chase was the inspiration, for sure.”

O’Connell’s big challenge finally happened on June Mountain in the Eastern Sierras of California, which provided a special jump for the complex morphing shot.

©Chris O'Connell

Pulling off such a technical challenge made O’Connell do a lot of homework, including investigating a multitude of manufacturers who might be able to execute this photographic feat. “I used PocketWizard Plus receivers, because I think they have better range and are a little bit more stable in colder weather than the MultiMAXs and even the Mini,” he says. “They’re my workhorses. If I’m going to be far away from a shot, I still go to those, even though I’m on the transmitting mode. The TT5 allowed me to shoot at 1/500. I’ve never been able to do that with the PocketWizard Plus. That usually maxes right around 1/320. I used the Broncolor, the Scoro A4 and A2S packs. Those packs are really quite incredible. They’re expensive, but the control you have over the flash duration and having a digital readout on the pack was integral in being able to make sure I was shooting it at a fast enough flash duration. When this shoot came down to it, it was all about magic hour. Things have to be functioning right, and I can’t have room for error. It gets cold at night in the snow, and it’s hard to change things around, so I think that was really integral, as was the TT5. I used Honda generators, the EU series. They’re quiet so I can hear when riders are dropping, and they’re just not obnoxious to use on a shoot; they’re clean and quiet.”

The cameras which helped him pull all this together were Canon EOS-1D Mark IV. “I shot Zeiss lenses. I’m sort of a lens geek, and I’m just finding that a lot of the Canon wides don’t do it for me. The 14mm is just pretty sharp all the way across, but when you get a rider or anyone, for that matter, up into the corners in some of the other Canons, they fail. I think the Zeiss are super expensive and they’re heavy. For a guy like me who has to hike around the mountains, your pack starts getting really heavy when you’re throwing a bunch of Zeiss in there, but the crispness of the lens all the way across is truly unmatched. You give up the autofocus, but I can deal with that. I don’t shoot a hell of a lot of autofocus anyway. That was one reason I chose to shoot the Zeiss. I was really happy with the results.”

©Chris O'Connell

O’Connell discovered a tip and would like to share it with our readers. “I see a lot of snow sports photographers all around the world have some misfire trouble. They just set their flash pack on the ground, have the head six feet off the ground, but not the PocketWizard. I set up a separate light stand, ran a long extension cord for my sync and got that thing eight feet off the ground. That dramatically increased my reliability on the syncing. The ground is bad enough as it is for the radio waves, but the water and snow I guess just really throw it off. I never really knew that in years and years of misfires. I always figured because it’s too far away or I was around the corner too much. But it’s really something that could dramatically reduce the amount of misfires is to get that thing. Buy a long extension cord for your sync and get it off the ground. Bring it up eight feet. That does help.”

O’Connell’s next challenge? To stop even smaller increments of time. “Basically this whole process has left me with the desire to learn more and push it more on how fast it could sync and what else I can do,” he says. “If I could shoot a sequence at 1/1,000 sec., I’d be elated. Maybe that’s my next project.”

Chris O’Connell Photography
Chris O’Connell blog
Chris O’Connell on Vimeo

Written by Ron Egatz

Rick Sammon Keeps it Simple

Rick Sammon is a shooter we’ve admired for a long time. Last week he posted a great how-to article on his blog. Fashion Week Day 2: Try the KIS Lighting Technique has some serious gems regarding off-camera flash. Sammon details how he augmented the sun with his Cannon Speedlight 580EX II triggered by a PocketWizard.

Sammon includes the following gems, which we quote directly.

  • The closer the light, the softer the light.
  • The larger the light, the softer the light.
  • For a softer light, don’t aim the light directly at the subject. Rather, feather it (tilt it away from the subject) so that the light “spills” onto the subject.

Great post, Rick!

Rick is currently working on an iOS app called Light It!, which is about, of course, lighting, and should be available in September. Always a source of great information, tips, and examples of great off-camera flash, don’t miss the regular posts to Sammon’s blog.

Rick Sammon Photography

Rick Sammon Blog

AC3 ZoneController Photoshoot – Behind the Scenes at Switchback Brewing Company

Every now and then we manage to sneak out of the office to get behind the lens of the camera.  Our need for an image to launch the new AC3 ZoneController for Canon seemed like the perfect opportunity. We made a few phone calls and put a plan in motion to visit a local  craft brewery. Having always been told to pursue our passions, the opportunity to combine beer and photography sounded almost too good to be true.

Vermont is known for its legendary craft brewery culture, having one of the highest brewery to population ratios in the country.  Switchback Brewing Co. based in Burlington, VT was founded in 2002 when they started brewing their wildly-popular, unfiltered Switchback Ale.  You’d be hard pressed to find a bar in the greater Burlington area that doesn’t have this tasty ale on tap.  Since then, they’ve started brewing a Roasted Red, a Porter and most recently a Slow-Fermented Brown Ale.  The catch with Switchback is they only sell in kegs, no bottles.  So you either enjoy it at your favorite watering-hole or you take a keg home and enjoy it with some of your closest friends.   After getting a tour with the brewmaster and listening to his detailed explanation of what makes his beers different (he’s a former microbiologist), we discovered what makes their brews so good.  But we have to keep that a secret!

The beer is the second reason why we went to the brewery; the classic German copper kettles and lauter tun used in the brewing process was the first.  Switchback has two, 46-year-old, handcrafted copper kettles complete with a copper control panel all purchased from a brewery in Beerfelden, Germany. They were about to be sent to the scrap yard when they were discovered.  Reportedly, it cost more to ship the kettles to Vermont than they were to purchase.


We contacted the owner/brewmaster a few weeks ago and asked if we could come in and take some pictures of the kettles when they weren’t in use.  We wanted to get some shots while the kettles were empty so we could put flashes in them (safety first!).  As luck would have it, that would happen the next day.  We packed up some gear and headed off to the brewery for a few hours.

The image we wanted was pretty straightforward, highlight the kettles with lights on the inside and make sure the authentic control panel was in the picture.  Getting the shot we wanted quickly was important as the temps on the upper deck hovered around a cool 95˚ F (35˚C).  Normally they can easily hit 110˚ F (43˚C) when the kettles are in full operation!

The ambient lights were large warehouse fixtures, which made balancing them with our flashes a bit of a challenge, especially due to the reflective nature of the giant, polished copper and steel kettles.  We started off working to control the ambient lights with two medium soft boxes powered by an Elinchrom Ranger pack and controlled with a PowerST4 Receiver. Our next step was to light the inside of the kettles with a few Speedlites and FlexTT5s, which ended up being a bit of a challenge. One of the kettles was almost twice as deep as any of us were tall.  Needless to say, we were asking more of our light stands than they could offer!  One strategically placed Justin Clamp later and we were in business.

Shooting with a 5D Mark II and 17-40mm lens, we borrowed a ladder to get the perspective we wanted, which was further exaggerated by the wide angle lens.  After adding a few kicker lights around the back of the kettles we added some gels to the mix to give the image a little more punch.  After a few AC3 power tweaks, we were happy with the image and we’re off to do some taste testing.  The final image as seen below and on the homepage of PocketWizard.com was taken with a Canon 5D Mark II; f/8; 1/15 sec.; ISO 800.

Author, Dave Schmidt, VP of Sales and Marketing at PocketWizard, is also an avid photographer.  He along with Ian and Zack, our tech support guys and avid photographers themselves, spent a few hours at the brewery taking the image which is featured on the homepage of PocketWizard.com.

Marko Saari and the Elements

Finnish photographer Marko Saari was profiled on the Profoto blog in April of this year. He was kind enough to share his thoughts on the making of a new series of photos which utilized PocketWizard Plus II units. Here’s what he had to say, along with images and settings.

Stylist, singer and make-up professional Cemile Nisametdin had an idea to make photo sessions about the five elements and interaction between five types of energy: tree, fire, earth, metal and water. She was inspired by the beauty of different energies from elements and wanted to collaborate with me to make photos for the “earth” element. The concept was for the photos to be filled with expressive energies from nature and color, but still keep the entire story and settings relatively simple. Shades of brown, yellow and green were most linked to the soil element so we ended up using brown and green seamless background in studio. Green is a balancing color and contains potential energy. It also matches brown because they are colors from nature. The backstory had strong emotions linked to the soil element.

©Marko Saari. Model: Katerina Suokas. Make-up, hair and styling: Cemile Nisametdin. Nikon D300, 50mm lens, 1/200 second, f/9, ISO 200. Profoto Compact 600 R with 5' octa camera left. Profoto AcuteB with white reflective umbrella as fill camera right. Elinchrom style 400FX with grid for background behind model camera right. PocketWizard Plus II and optical sensors for triggering.

Katerina Suokas was chosen as model. I have worked with her many times, and with her dancing background and good variation of expressions she was an excellent model for the project. A strong and penetrating gaze in the photos was part of the mood we wanted.

©Marko Saari. Model: Katerina Suokas. Make-up, hair & styling: Cemile Nisametdin. Nikon D300, 50mm lens, 1/200 second, f/10, ISO 200. Profoto Compact 600 R with 5' octa camera left. Profoto AcuteB with white reflective umbrella as fill camera right. Elinchrom style 400FX with grid for background behind model camera right. Elinchrom style 400FX with stripbox for touch of kicker light behind model camera right. Fan camera right. PocketWizard Plus II and optical sensors for triggering.

©Marko Saari. Model: Katerina Suokas. Make-up, hair & styling: Cemile Nisametdin. Nikon D300, 85mm lens, 1/200 second, f/10, ISO 200. Profoto Compact 600 R with 5' octa above & front of camera. Profoto AcuteB with white reflective umbrella as fill below it. Elinchrom style 400FX with grid for background behind model cam right. Elinchrom style 400FX with stripbox behind model camera right. PocketWizard Plus II and optical sensors for triggering.

The kimono dates back to at least the fifth century in Eastern cultures. Cemile originates from eastern Tatar culture as well, and that’s why she also wanted to preserve the restrained grace and femininity of the kimono dress. The kimono has a definite style and character. Books on the history of kimonos point out they have their own ethics and can also tell the marital status of the wearer. That’s why the use of a kimono was an essential part of this project. The woman wearing the kimono expresses harmony and natural flexibility.

©Marko Saari.

©Marko Saari

Marko Saari’s portfolio

Marko Saari on Flickr

Marko Saari on Twitter