4.18.2019

Hanging out on the ranch.


Experience tells us that some days are best spent on a quiet ranch, away from the random chaos of life and commerce. A few thousand acres of private land seems to be a nice cure for too much social media. Spend it with an interesting singer/songwriter and a camera and it's like a mini-vacation for the mind. 

I only wish the resident chef had not taken the day off...




Best lighting value of the week and then most fun light of the week. Kirk's pick.


I had two projects this week and I enjoyed them both very much. On each project I used the same two lights. One is very sensible and very economical and, if it had been on the flash market ten or fifteen years ago it would have demanded a thousand dollar price tag and been a piece of "kit" coveted by legions of working professional photographers.

The other light is by no means a lavish or silly tool to have a around but since it's battery powered it fits into a different set of production niches. Both lights come from the same company. It's called, Godox.

I've probably mentioned the first light before but I'm bringing it up again because it worked well and made the photo shoot easier for me. It's a Godox SK400 II. This is a traditional monolight, plug-in-the-wall, Bowen's mount, electronic flash. It's got a nice metal body, a 150 watt modeling light, a built-in cooling fan (not too noisy), it puts out a good amount of power and is rated at 400 watt seconds. The ad copy says it uses robust, European standard capacitors, is controllable by several different Godox 2.4 gHz wireless controllers and recycles, at max output, at around 1 second. All-in-all, unless you are a total gadget freak, it's pretty much everything one would want in a studio electronic flash; if 400 watt seconds is enough power for your needs.

I bought it a month of so ago when I was prepping to do a shoot on a dark stage and needed my two main flashes to have modeling lights so I could actually see what we would be photographing. On Tuesday I needed to put a main light in a small (2x3 foot) soft box, then drape the soft box all the way around the business end with black cloth, to form a ersatz snoot; and then I needed to hang the whole assemblage up on a boom and tall C-stand, with the face/flashtube pointing straight down. So, pretty much, I had the electronic flash totally encapsulated and I had the heat generating parts of the flash at the bottom so the heat could rise through the rest of the unit. Not the smartest way to ensure long life with flash circuits but sometimes it's what the photo demands.

With the flash up about twelve feet in the air and the control panel of the flash inches from the ceiling it's unreasonable to think that I could operate this assemblage via that rear control panel. Instead, I used a X1-F wireless flash controller to adjust the SK400 II power output from camera position. I put the big flash on group A and the secondary flashes on groups B and C.

We shot about 250 shots over the course of one hour in this configuration, with the modeling light set to full output, and every frame was perfectly consistent. Both for color and for exposure. I've owned many Profoto (Swedish premium lighting company) and Elinchrom (Swiss premium lighting company) flashes and this Godox unit was as consistent as anything I've come across. And, after all, consistency and reliability are the top two attributes one wants in electronic flash gear. So, the cost of this unit, not on Amazon but at my local bricks and mortar camera shop, was a whopping $140. New. In the box. With a reflector, power cord, flash tube cover and various owner's manuals. Compare that to the last Profoto 300 watt second monolight I bought nearly ten years ago at over $1200 and you'll understand why I'm so impressed with this unit. You could outfit a working studio with three good, strong lights for less than $500. Amazing.

The fun light is, of course, the Godox AD200 and all the bits and pieces that you can buy for yours. I used it one day this week as part of the overall light design, in conjunction with my swaddled SK 400 II. The AD200 is battery powered, small and light. I put a grid spot on the front and put it just out of frame for our shot and used its tight beam to add just the barest amount of fill to the bottom of our frame. I've covered the AD 200 before so I won't go into all the features, benefits and specs but I will say that it's a great light to use out on location. I can carry two, with accessories, in one small Pelican case and, with the right trigger, also get them to work well in HSS mode. Add a small soft box or octobox and a couple of light stands and you can make outdoor location portraits all day long with very good results.

Having good, cheap, agile lights to play with makes the jobs go quicker and keeps the fun quotient a bit higher.

I used the same two lights the next day to do a portrait of a radiologist in the studio.  I used the SK400 II with a 48 inch octa-box and I used the AD200 as a background light. The AD200 accepts a dome modifier over its circular flash head and it provided very even exposure on

Godox AD200.

the background. A quick set up and a very consistent group of portrait images! The color between the two units is a close match as well.

The cameras did what they were supposed to do and they were connected to an Atomos monitor for quick and easy evaluation by clients. But having lights that work well and with a big degreee of flexibility is a very nice thing. Now I just need to make sure I've always got a handful of double A batteries sitting around for the wireless trigger.

We've got quite a few flashes now. I'll have to stop buying new ones or I'll run out of cabinet space and we'll have them all over the floor..... but it's always better to have a dozen too many that one too few.....

Photo Celebrity Origin Stories. Or, why can't we admire people who do stuff right?

Jimmy Moore as "Black Stash" in Zach Theatre's, "Peter and the Star Catcher." 

I find it comforting and natural that in most professions people admire those who worked hard, worked smart, paid their dues and didn't let their own demons and crappy (selfish?) lifestyle choices derail their ascendence to top positions in their fields. It's rare to find someone in the field of investing that doesn't admire Warren Buffett. Mr. Buffett became one of the richest people in the world the old fashioned way; he studied and read (and still reads) everything he could get his hands on. He mastered the details of investing which include research and analysis. He does his homework. He has succeeded not just in business but by all accounts also in his family life, his role as a parent and as a valuable member of his community. He lives modestly and without drama. He seems to be living a very happy life.

Great movie directors like Steven Spielberg can point to the same sort of trajectory; through deep learning, mastery, imagination and a keen eye toward figuring out how to best finance the work he wants to do. He was not side-tracked by the drama of going into situations in which he was in well over his head. No big personal dramas which affected his clear path toward getting done what it was he wanted to get done: Direct big (and small) wonderful movies. 

I look to people in my own life who have become successful in their fields (including photography) and see people who may stumble from time to time but who mostly hew to a course they want to follow, learn more every day, and follow the time proven advice of experts. They save for a rainy day, they understand that compound interest can be their best friend or their worst enemy. They have insurance against unexpected pitfalls. They are responsible. They don't blindly spend money they don't have in a reckless fashion, which would endanger their family's financial health and limit their own opportunities. 
And mostly they work with their family and friends as an interconnected social team.

Why is it so different in the popular quasi-fiction of our current web-celebrity photographers? Why are examples of people who've repeatedly made horrible life decisions, amazingly poor business decisions, and who have tossed themselves and their families into painful (and unnecessary) debt, held up to us as exemplars of our industry. People to emulate? Why do we find Icarus Resurrected to be a fable that we want attached to our pursuits as artists, or just as business people who do imaging? 

Do we believe that their self-inflicted suffering imbues them with some special understanding of life and the process of art? If that were true would they not be practicing their art full tilt with this new understanding, gained while having their wings melt apart, and while screaming in terror as they plunged back down to the firmament? But no, most who fail because of their lack of discipline, or preparation, or planning are just making arrangements for their latest trip down another rabbit hole:  "teaching" (as in workshops).  Do we really want to believe so strongly in redemption stories?

Wanna gauge whether or not you should be taking business and shooting advice from one of these repeatingly failing wunderkind? Demand a look behind the curtain. Who benefits from their "teaching?" Beside the fees they take in does the student really benefit or is the whole enterprise a charade underwritten by a sponsor who, in the end, is the real winner? Is the "teacher" still teetering on the edge of a financial abyss? Have they really learned anything other than the magic incantation or promise of hidden knowledge readymade for pulling in workshop attendees in order to supplement the new "teacher's" income. Is the incessant sharing of their foibles meant to foster some sort of preferred underdog status in our industry? 

Maybe a better series of workshops (and something that would really help our industry) would be structured  around how to actually do the business successfully. How to set up a retirement account. How to save money for a rainy day. How to grow your business in a smart way. How to bill. How to market. How to sell. How to stay married (a proven way to become wealthier, by the way...). How to balance a career with your family. How to make your kids proud of you... And maybe the courses could be taught by solid professionals instead. 

The real secret to a happy and fulfilling life in photography, as far as I can see, is to do well every day. Being happy doing good work. Sustainability. Freedom from anxiety over money. Because wherever you go in this world you still have you to work with....

Just a thought after reading my 50th back from bankruptcy redemption fable from photographers on the web.

Easy lesson? Don't buy stuff you can't afford.