Sometimes, Less is a Lot More

I was working on location this week, where we were doing some corporate portraiture. When I met the photographer outside the office building we were shooting in, he had just three bags — a  long case for stands and softboxes and umbrellas, a pelican case for a couple monoblocks, and his camera bag. I had never worked with this photographer before, so I wasn’t exactly sure what the game-plan was. Even though I had a basic idea of what our shoot would entail, I wasn’t completely dialed in on specifics. I never worry about this situation though, because usually, if the photographer hasn’t given you the run-down on the job or provided a production book or shot-list, it just means that there are only a couple nuts and bolts to tighten and things should be relatively easy. But, when I saw just the three bags I couldn’t help but asking myself if the photographer really needed an assistant for this job.

Well, of course, the answer is yes, he did. What I didn’t know was that the lobby area we were shooting in had very limited angles and looks, despite its large size. Not only were we doing basic environmental portraits, but also creating images that would fit into a layout. We had to be very crafty with the look and feel of these images so they didn’t look posed or contrived. The photographer opted for a simple two light set-up along with a sunbounce reflector. This allowed us more freedom to concentrate on a simple, elegant look, focusing on our backgrounds and talent, along with composition and angles. We had plenty of employees to photograph and two art-directors to keep happy at the same time. So, despite the seeming ease of this shoot, we definitely had our hands full. Even when I wasn’t busy, I was usually watching out for hall traffic so they wouldn’t knock into our background umbrella, while they had their face buried in their cell phone.

The lighting was technically simple, but not without some special tweaks. We used a Profoto D1 in a medium softbox as a key, angled a bit into a ten-foot ceiling, and set about 3/4 to talent. We rigged a small dull silver sunbounce reflector on the opposite fill side for talent. We did a lot of subtle feathering with our key and bounce to get a very natural look. The background was a small Profoto white umbrella that we kept partially closed to create a narrower, focused stream of light, filling dark background spaces or throwing a splash of light across a floor or wall. Having this simple lighting set-up allowed us the freedom to get the right angles for our compositions as they related to the backgrounds.

I have always believed in the less is more principle. It is not always applicable, but this was definitely one job that it was almost mandatory. It isn’t always ideal, depending on the shoot, and you almost always have to make some concessions. But, depending on your budget, shoot schedule, and location, you can usually make a very simple lighting set-up work great if you give it some careful consideration and planning.

How to Strike a Photo Set


Photo courtesy of Flashlight Photo Rental

Usually, when you hear the magic words, “That’s a wrap,” the assistant is eager to strike the set and get all the gear packed up. It’s probably been a long day and everyone is tired. Maybe there is an after party or a flight to catch. But, if you get any result after a strike, like the photo here, you are in too much of a hurry and not using your head. If you are a brand new assistant and it’s your first time on set, there are a few mulligans available for you. But if you’ve been around for a spell, stuff like this is kind of embarrassing… for you. The bottom line is to use some common sense. Safety and planning doesn’t end just because the shoot is over. In fact, the assistant is probably going to be one of the hardest working people on set after the strobes get powered down. Keep your cool and work smart and efficiently.

I usually start striking the set by powering down all the lighting. I will usually leave the camera and computer stuff for the photographer or digital tech, unless the photographer instructs me otherwise. They will probably be doing preliminary edits with the client anyway, so just stay out of their way. Just make sure the camera is attended to and safe from hitting the floor.

After powering down the strobes, I will pull as many power cords as possible. Just get them out of the way so you, or anyone else, can’t trip over them. Coil them properly, and stage them for packing. Coil up the head extensions and hang them on the stand. Remove any flags, V-flats, nets, and other grip that is taking up space. Just get all the cumbersome stuff off the set. Then, lower the light-stand stanchions and move all the light heads, on their stands, off to the side and out of the way. Leave the dirt on the stands, in case they get bumped. Remove power-packs, pocket-wizards, and other items and pack them away if you can. [Read more…]

Interview with Chad Holder, Creator of Padport

Padport is in the iTunes App Store

I’ve been hearing for some time now about Padport. A few friends of mine knew who was developing the app (they wouldn’t elaborate) but, kept it very hush-hush, only to say that it was a portfolio app for the iPad, and that it was going to be all the rage. So, when I heard about the release of PadPort in the iTunes App Store last Wednesday afternoon, I decided I would get to the bottom of it. I made a couple calls and found out that a photography colleague of mine, here in Minneapolis, was the brain-child of Padport. I gave him a call and he agreed to this interview.

APhotoAssistant: Today, I’m speaking today with Chad Holder, a successful commercial advertising photographer from Minneapolis, and the creator of Padport. First thing, Chad, please tell us just exactly what Padport is and why did you decide to create it?

Chad Holder: PADPORT is a self contained, customizable portfolio for the iPad. It shows your images, your videos, and your contact information. It has an ABOUT  section where you can tell the viewer a little about yourself. We also tried to think beyond the photographer and planned for Models, Art directors, Stylists, Reps, Illustrators, Architects, Cabinet makers, Jewelry makers, really anyone who wants to show their works through a digital portfolio. [Read more…]

Photo Assistants And Renting Gear: Why Gear Rental Shops Are Your Best Friend

The relationship between the photo assistant, and the photo rental store can, and should be, a special one. Photo assistants are a very key element to the rental store getting new and additional business from photographers. And, when a photographer from out of town calls to book you and then asks if you know a good place to get lighting and grip rentals, your value increases ten-fold when you can handle their rental needs. As a photo assistant, many times you will be asked to pick-up lighting, grip, and camera rentals from rental houses. Renting gear is advantageous when flying or shooting on-location where power is limited or unavailable, since most studios and photographers own strobe lighting with alternate-current (AC). Many rental shops will have battery-powered packs (DC), such as Profoto 7A or 7B, for exactly those location needs.

[Read more…]

Stills to Video Workshop for Photographers

DSLR Video Workshop

There is widespread buzz about digital SLR cameras that shoot HD video. Your clients may even already be requesting you to shoot video clips in addition to stills while on-set. What do you do?

Find out how to successfully capture video and audio, import and edit, export and distribute full HD video in this introductory workshop on moving from stills into motion.

This session will cover:

  • DSLR pros and cons
  • Necessary hardware and software
  • The camera setup
  • Successful audio capture
  • Storage and conversion of footage
  • Importing and editing
  • Output and delivery
  • External resources

Session starts at 6:30pm and will go through 9:00pm with time afterwards for questions, networking and drinks. Light refreshments and beverages will be served.

Session Details

When: May 18th, 2010. 6:30pm

Where: Studio 1414, MPLS, MN

Who: Photographers. Students. You.

Cost: $95 per person

Sign up: HERE

APhotoAssistant Interviews Flashlight PhotoRental

Flashlight PhotoRental is a lighting rental company for photographers, located in Northeast Minneapolis. The head cheese over there is this dude they call Raoul Duke.

APhotoAssistant: When did Flashlight open the doors for business and why did you start the company?

Flashlight: The idea for Flashlight was born in early 2007. I started buying gear and renting it to friends. It took a very long time, like the Johnny Cash song, “One piece at a time”, to acquire everything. In May 2008, we moved to Northeast Minneapolis and officially opened.

The reason that I started Flashlight is two fold. First, there wasn’t any place in Minneapolis that offered good professional photo rental and service. Secondly, and more importantly, I’m interested in creating a vehicle that can connect a lot of different creatives. As a photographer, you can only promote and create your photographic aesthetic. Flashlight, as a company, is able to do so much more. We have commissioned Miss Amy Jo and Hatch Show Print to design and screenprint promo pieces. For our first anniversary, we sponsored Rock the Garden, an alt rock concert that turns out 10,000 people and benefits the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. We have donated and advertised with different organizations that we believe in such as MPR, ASMP, The Walker Art Center, Heifer International, Second Harvest, Too Much Chocolate, Resource Magazine, and What’s the Jackanory?

Flashlight is a sponsor of Rock The Garden, to benefit the upkeep of the Sculpture Gardens at The Walker in Minneapolis

APA: Its great to see someone such as yourself advocate the arts so much, all across the dial. What has the response been, from colleagues, and others in the community?

Flashlight: The response has been great. People really respond to authenticity. We are not a corporate machine. We love photography and Flashlight is how we connect to photographers. People see the love and want to be a part of that.

APA: What is your background Raoul?

Flashlight: I was cursed early in my life with the knowledge that I wanted to be a photographer. I grew up in Chicago and got my BFA from Columbia. I assisted little studios for no money. I moved to Minneapolis to pursue my photographic life in 1994. Met my art photographer wife Kristine Heykants. I really worked as an assistant and an editorial photographer right until I opened Flashlight.

APA: So you have a real good understanding what photographers need when they rent equipment. What lines of gear does Flashlight supply photographers who rent from you?

Flashlight: What we rent is pretty simple. We carry Profoto 7a, 7b, and Acute2 systems and we are starting to get into Litepanels (Micro Pro and 1x1s). We have a wide selection of grip gear as well (Matthews mombos, rollers, nets, silks, solids, fans, foggers and production equipment). The complete catalog is online at the Flashlight website.

Andrew Hetheringon sporting some warm Flashlight swag on the subway.

APA: Your promo materials and swag are quite the hit almost everywhere I look–here in the Twin Cities, on the heads and chests of assistants everywhere, on blogs like, and I’ve seen some interestingly placed stickers in photos that keeping popping up. Is this the start of an underground movement, or have you had a hand in this?

Flashlight: Its totally a movement. One of our clients actually tattooed his chest with the Flashlight logo.

APA: Your involvement within the photo community is more and more visible these days, and also with the arts in general. But, as you mentioned before, a rock concert? Why is this across-the-board advocacy important to you? Why are people tattooing your logo on their chest?

Flashlight: Our interests don’t run in a straight line. The name of our company came from a Parliament-Funkadelic song. Music is in the DNA of our company. Any day that we can incorporate any hip-hop or punk rock sensibilities into our work is a good day. I feel that we all are responsible to create the culture that we want to live in. Our philanthropic goals are to make photography more accessible to everyone, not just the people in this business. People are tattooing themselves because they believe in what we are trying to do.

APA: So what’s next for Flashlight? Any new fun stuff in the works?

Flashlight: We have a lot of stuff in the works. We are collaborating with Sara Rubinstein on Metro Magazine Fashion Fight Night this weekend. In May we will be celebrating our second anniversary and will be sponsoring the Rock the Garden concert again. We have a series of lighting workshops and photography shows that will happen later in the year. 2010 is going to be an exciting year at Flashlight Photorental.

APA: Sounds like a lot of great things going on at Flashlight, Raoul. Thanks for spending a little time with us. Just a couple more things to pick your brain a little further…

APA: What’s spinning in the iPod?

Flashlight: Doomtree, Chuck E. Weiss, Dessa, Gil Scott-Heron, and Mink Stole.

APA: Your new favorite site?

Flashlight: Wooster Collective.

APA: Your favorite photographer today?

Flashlight: Luis Gonzalez Palma

APA: And how about a new favorite book?

Flashlight: Edward Burtynsky’s, Oil

Flashlight’s website and gear catalog can be found here. Also check out the FlashlightPhotoRentalNewsFeed for other fun photo and art stuff.

Light Painting with A Photo Assistant

light paintingLast week I was on location with a photographer in Minneapolis. We went to a local manufacturer, with a set cart full of strobes and other gear, where we were shooting a new product for the client. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a layout to work with, so we were figuring it out as we shot. Luckily, we were working directly with the person from the marketing department who would be doing the layout. It’s not an approach that always works so well, especially if we are trying to be efficient, but this wasn’t that difficult. However, it did call for shooting a lot of extra looks, angles, close-ups, and different depths of field for coverage.

I’ve seen this happening more and more, with and without a layout, which can make for a long day. But, in this instance, it wasn’t too bad. It goes without saying, however, that many times when dealing with the client directly, without an agency art buyer/director, you definitely need to be prepared to shoot maximum coverage. This can actually be a good thing, though, and can really help the photographer look good to the client, and aid in building a solid relationship with them. If a photographer works well the client to get different looks of the captured image, maybe it will help the advertising and marketing people be better prepared in the future. But, during production, it makes the assistant and the photographer very valuable to that client.

Many of the shots we took were environmental, in order to tell the story. We were shooting a few of the client’s new industrial paint sprayers, both portable and fixed models. The client wanted establishing shots to give a sense of product placement. This meant that we were taking many wide-angle exposures, showing much of the spray room and other locations that these paint sprayers would be used within a factory setting.

Now, this article isn’t entitled Light Painting with A Photo Assistant because we were shooting paint sprayers. I’m talking about painting with light. You know, shooting a long exposure and painting the scene with light to expose your product, or subject. Maybe you can remember experimenting with light painting, back in school, where you would go out at night, expose a scene for the ambient light and then write words with a flashlight onto the film. The best example of painting with light, of course, is shooting fireworks. But, why the heck would we want to paint with light if we were shooting strobes on location?

Jill Greer, the photographer I was assisting, likes to travel as light as possible. This was a good thing since we were moving around in a large factory, and I am grateful to her for her style, as it tends to save me from having to lug around lots of unnecessary gear. Also, Jill loves her Lumedynes. So do I. We had only three Lumedynes and a couple Speedo heads, with a studio pack, in our location lighting arsenal. Some of the large areas we had to cover were beyond the scope of our lighting. Also, Jill’s style is to use shutter-drag. This worked real well on this job because we could set our strobes in the shadow areas, then dial them back a tiny bit, expose, pop the strobes, drag shutter, and use a flashlight to paint more light directly onto our hero product. This can really help the product to pop, creating a sort of a high dynamic range image, without using post-HDR processing. Another thing we did was to use gels to change the temperature of our flashlight, depending on the ambient light, for different effects.

This is why it’s important to have a flashlight with you. You never know when using a light painting technique will give you the perfect look that the client wants. We used an industrial Mag-Lite flashlight for the paint sprayers. But, it’s okay to have a smaller pen light too. Experiment with different flashlights and see what you like best. The Mag-Lite brand is great because you can focus them. I have worked with another photographer, in Los Angeles, who did light painting almost exclusively, especially for product photography. He had quite an elaborate system designed–using an 8×10 view camera, scaffolding, and a few shoe-boxes full of different flashlights. I assisted him this one time, shooting cell phones, but we shot them digitally with a Canon 1DsMII and a tilt-shift lens. We would have loved to done it with film, but processing and turn-around time was an issue since we were shooting about 50 different phones. Of course, the client needed it done yesterday! At any rate, we still got some sweet images, and the client was ecstatic.

Here’s a couple great resources on light painting to learn more:

Cold Weather Shooting Tips

Shooting out in the snow can be enjoyable as long as you're prepared.

Now that Christmas has come and gone, winter has definitely set in. And with it comes a whole new set of challenges with outdoor photography, out in the snow and cold. Things like condensation, fogging, exposure compensation for snow, and frostbite are all big concerns when shooting out in freezing temperatures. But there’s a few simple things you can do to make sure that your shooting goes well when you’re out in the elements.

The number one problem is the cold. It will cause your camera and lenses (anything really) to condense moisture, when coming in from a cold outdoor environment to the warmth of indoors. This condensation inside your camera can be fatal! Many camera repairs can be attributed to the build-up of moisture inside a camera. Even with today’s ultra-modern materials that tout weather-proof bodies, moisture can still form inside your camera because of condensation.

Sweaty Cameras?
To prevent condensation from forming inside your camera, place your camera inside an air-tight plastic bag when you are done shooting outside in the cold. Leave you’re lens on. A one gallon-size, or larger, freezer bag works well. Then pack your camera back into your bag. If you have other sensitive gear you are worried about, you can place them into smaller plastic bags. This trick is also a good practice for laptops and any other critical electronic gear that you might use out in the field in cold weather. I think CF cards, USB, and firewire cords can benefit too. Just remember that everything will start sweating when you go from a cold environment quickly back into a warm environment.

When you return to the warmth of your studio, home, or car, remove the camera from your bag so the moisture doesn’t sweat into your bag or other gear. I also try to have a few thick towels with me that I can use to help dry everything with, when we get back inside. Once the camera has acclimated back to room temperature, you can remove it from the bag. If you can’t wrap all your gear that you are worried about getting damaged (strobe heads, power packs, etc.) due to condensation, you can always minimize the threat by gradually warming the gear, slowly. Just remember that the real bad condensation happens when you quickly introduce the gear to a warm room after being out in the cold for an extended period of time.

Warm and Toasty
The second issue with winter, and I’m sure you’ve figured this out by now, is that the cold will reduce and drain your battery power quickly. This is especially true for camera batteries and battery power packs for strobe gear. Even you’re little digital point & shoot and Speedlights are at risk with AA batteries. Tucking your pocket camera in your coat pocket may be fine, but you still risk the condensation issue I mentioned previously. With a larger SLR the rule of habit has been to kind of keep it nuzzled close to you and halfway zipped into the front of your parka, hopefully saving some battery life. But, you are still risking condensation from your body heat. By warming your camera inside your jacket after a sequence of shots, your camera is more or less constantly in and out of the cold. The near best solution to save your expensive SLR from condensation is to keep the camera batteries warm rather than your camera. Keep an ample supply of freshly charged camera batteries tucked in your coat pocket. Use hand warmers nestled in with your batteries in your camera bag if you are out hiking in the cold. I’ve even heard of people using a hot baked potato for a battery and hand warmer. After the shoot you can have a warm snack to recharge yourself!

The alternative to camera batteries is to use the AC adapter for your camera if you are near an AC power source. Make sure you have some heavily insulated extension cords with adequate length. Another helpful tool may be an anti-fog eyepiece for your SLR. I know that both Canon and Nikon make an anti-fog eyepiece for some models.

You Got Jumper Cables?
With battery packs, well there really isn’t much you can do to keep them warm, short of keeping them in the car or a nearby building and using head extensions. Of course you decrease your output with every extension you add. I’ve heard of elaborate rigs using technology similar to automobile battery warmers, but this really isn’t practical in most shooting situations. The only real solution is to have lots of extra batteries on hand, keep them warm, and change them out as needed. Don’t forget to have enough chargers with you to recharge the batteries as soon as they are depleted. There’s nothing worse than a shoot coming to a grinding halt because you’re waiting for batteries to charge. And always charge the batteries inside where it’s warm. A cold battery doesn’t recharge very well!

Another note about battery packs and strobe packs. I always like to have a heavy-duty trash bag along to cover the pack. If it should start to snow or rain, you will be so happy you have these items in your grip kit. If your working with snow on the ground, definitely protect the pack from contact with the snow. In a pinch, use a floor-mat from the car (make sure it’s dry), or a tarp, or some other good insulting base for the pack to sit on. A rubber drip tray from a sink dish rack works excellent! Not only will this insulate the pack a little from the cold snow, but will prevent dirt and rust from getting into the pack itself.

Dress Appropriately
Most body heat is lost through your head. Always have a knit or wool cap with you, even if you think it’s too warm. The weather can change suddenly, and trudging through the snow a half-mile back to the car to get your hat will more than likely cause you to lose the shot of the century! Well, perhaps not, but why risk it? For gloves, I like to use what I call a wool glitten. They are the hunting gloves with exposed fingers, but also have a mitten that flips on and off like a convertible top. Very handy (pun intended).

Dress in layers. You can always remove a layer if you are too warm. Wear a wicking undershirt and long-johns. It’s pretty much the same principle as getting condensation in your camera. The wicking underwear will keep perspiration away from your skin and keep you from getting chilled. Your footwear should be whatever it takes to keep your feet warm and dry for whatever weather you will be in. In real cold weather, wool socks are best with a silk liner.

Snow Exposure
The reflective meter in your camera will always be fooled reading snow. Use a hand-held incident meter to get a feel for how snow affects your camera’s meter and compensate accordingly. As a general rule of thumb, over-expose a snowy-scene one or two stops in bright sun, and one-half to one and one-half stops in a cloudy snow-covered scene.

If you are shooting during a snowfall, cover your camera and lens with a baseball cap, with the bill over the lens. You can also use an old flannel-shirt, or other button or zip-up top, and place it over the camera and your head, like a dark cloth. This is very helpful in bright sun to help see through the view-finder better, and also to see the image on-screen. Use an ND filter to help protect your glass when its windy and snowing, and to better control your depth-of-field in bright snow. If it’s snowing heavily, bring and umbrella. Use your lens-shade, unless you’re using on-camera flash, and experiment with different shutter speeds to get the desired snowfall effect you are looking for. You can find some more good tips for snow exposure-compensation here.

Give some careful thought and mindful consideration for your cold-weather shoots and you will be warm and successful out in the snow and cold. Consider all the situations you might encounter–do your pre-pro, make a check-list, and be safe, rather than sorry. Take the time to make sure your gear and your body are well protected from anything that old-man winter can throw at you.

Mamiya Announces Apple iPhone® App

Photo courtesy of Mamiya

Photo courtesy of Mamiya

December 18, 2009 – Elmsford NY – Apps for the Apple iPhone®, especially those designed specifically for photographers, have proven incredibly creative and useful.  One that has been welcomed by studio photographers is Mamiya’s Leaf Capture Remote for the new Mamiya DM system. This app transforms an Apple iPhone® or iPod® Touch into a remove image viewer.

This is the first application to permit real-time, on-set remote viewing of medium format images, enabling instant feedback on any shot.

Now, while the photographer is shooting in a tethered mode, other people on set – the creative director, client, stylist, etc. – can watch via a standard Wi-Fi network, without hindering the movement of the photographer or crowding around one monitor. The images are hi-res and the software allows viewers to pan and zoom using their compatible Apple device.

Leaf Capture Remote application version 1.0 is free and available now for download from Apple’s iPhone App Store. It supports any Mamiya DM or DL medium format digital system. Additional information on installation and setup of the server application is available through the Leaf Capture software link at

The Mamiya DM system of DSLR kits and Digital Backs offers photographers the ultimate in big-sensor image quality at very affordable prices. With models offering 22, 28, 33, and 56 megapixels, the Mamiya DM system continues to make Mamiya the brand of choice for today’s top professional photographers