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Profoto Octabank hanging on a Pelican handle w/ a Superclamp

Here’s a good tip that I’ve been thinking might be useful…

Lots of times as location photographers we struggle with the balance of the gear we can travel with vs/ the gear we really need to shoot the photo.  Today’s travel landscape brings all sorts of new challenges that can really be a pain in the ass.

Years ago (pre 911,) all it took was your good old friend “uncle Andrew Jackson” in the palm of the right sky cap and all your bags made it trouble (and fee) free onto the airplane.  Now days, it’s $100+ for each bag while being even more nutty when traveling internationally.   Several times in the past 6 months I have not only had to pay an additional bag fee, but then have had to pay an overweight fee on top of it.  The client really doesn’t appreciate it when you add on $150 charge for your stand bag each way!

So the question is… What do you do?

All professionals like to appear as if we are fancy and have all the proper gear, but sometimes we have to chuck the style points in favor of real-world, pragmatic innovation.

In this vein, here are two quick examples of doing just this.

In the above photo, the problem was not the gear so much as the space.  The client wanted portraits on seamless so the subject could be silo’d.  Although we had our normal cameras, stands and strobes, we didnt have the space.  There was no other real place to shoot the image, and because the conference room table was just too damn heavy to move, we had no real place to put the light stand.

Since every case of ours carries at least one Superclamp, it was an easy fix.  Up went the handle on Pelican 1514 case, on went the clamp, and the light was hung in the center of the table.

In the photo below, the problem was not that of the lack space in the room, but the limited ability of stuff I could carry.

This was a European shoot with lots of travel.  Although most of the shoot was going to be daylight exterior which required only my camera case, there was a small portrait component which was going to need strobes and a bit of grip gear.

The budget was small on this job, and there was only room for myself (no assistant,)  and in order to keep a handle on the budget, I didnt want to have too many extra bags to check.

Normally on a shoot like this we would bring about 5 bags.  Camera case, computer bag, large stand bag, strobe case, and a personal bag.   But since I was going to be alone, there was no way I was going to hump all 5 bags around the countryside not to mention try to pass all those extra bag fees along to the client.

What I ended up doing was leaving the stand bag at home entirely.  The strobe case was stripped down to just one ProAcute 600b with 2 heads, gaff tape, black velvet, superclamp, pony clamps, soft box, and the tripod was strapped to the outside of my small personal bag.

When it came time for the portraits, I removed the Gitzo head, fitted a stud to the tripod, hung the profoto head on the top of the tripod, slung the profoto 600b to the underside of the tripod for ballast, found something to hang the velvet on for the background, found some sort of white for a fill (in this case there was an easel kicking around) and i was off to the races.

Profoto 600B as ballast

Definitely not pretty, but it saved the client a bunch of added travel expense while making it easier for me to get around with one less bag to carry.

If you wish to read more of the Photo Tip Series, click HERE.

A lot of people get confused when they try to figure out how to shoot a simple self portrait.  It’s really pretty easy.

In short, you want to keep it simple.  This is especially true if you are traveling or on vacation as lots of gear usually translates into a serious impediment.  This isn’t to say that gear isn’t important, as it is.  But you can do a lot with a little,when the little is carefully chosen.

The above photo is a self portrait I shot at the end of the summer on a long motorcycle trip to Alaska.  The little tan Pelican case you can see on the back of the GSA was my only camera case.  It was big enough for just a D700 body, a 28-300mm lens, a SB-900 flash, and a SU-800 commander.

The trick is to get the light up and off the camera.  The closer to the lens the light is, the flatter the image is going to be.  This is where the SU-Commander comes into play.  This is basically a little gizmo that speaks wirelessly to the flash.  It sits up on the hot shoe, reads what the camera is doing, and transmits instructions across the airwaves to the flash.

I set the exposure low to underexpose the scene and accentuate the clouds, then balanced the flash on the guard rail to the right.  The camera was mounted to a small fluid head attached to the handlebars of Rabbit’s bike.

Set the self timer, and you are off…

Profoto AcuteB 600R

I thought I would take a second to talk about what I consider one of the most important pieces of equipment we have with respect to location photography…  The Profoto AcuteB 600R portable strobe.  Before this pack came around, we were stuck suffering through the cumbersome weight of the Profoto Pro-7B which weighed in at just over 25lbs.   At just over 10lbs, the AcuteB 600R is a perfect match for our style of photography.

AcuteB 600 at Burning Man

Now don’t get me wrong, there still is in fact a time and a place for the Pro-7b, but for 90% of the stuff we shoot, the AcuteB fits perfectly.

To wrap your head around the two, think of the 7B as the Army, and the AcuteB as the Marines.  The Marines are sprinters, and are a light and nimble force.  They are meant to be quickly inserted with minimal support, and quickly extracted.  They are easy to maneuver and can adapt to new environments very adeptly.

AcuteB 600R in the Atlantic...

In contrast, the Army is a bit more bulky.  They pack a huge punch, but take much longer to mobilize and can be far less elegant.  They are designed to go the distance, and when they come to town, they are there to stay.

The Pro-7B (the army) is an amazing pack for real heavy duty battery dependent strobe work.  The power in the pack is really solid, and will last and last.  The problem for us though is that with our style of shooting, we rarely need that much power, or that much battery charge…

Furthermore, the weight is pretty much the killer.  We never travel with just one pack (redundancy is king,) which means we are committed to traveling with two.  When you add in a third battery, the real world issues of size and weight bears its ugly head.  Two Pro7b’s, a spare battery, two heads, a Tenba Air Case and associated cables quickly puts you over the weight limit of the airlines which translates into unneeded charges for the client.

Portraits shot with AcuteB 600R

Now I’m not saying that we put the dollar over quality, but when you can get the same level of image without adding unneeded expense, why not go there?

The AcuteB 600R (Marines) is really a great bit of kit.  Its small profile allows it to be ultra portable, whist giving enough power and fast recycle time to shoot in the most demanding of situations.

The fact is that more times than not, when we go out, we have more than what we need with respect to the AcuteB 600R.  It’s light, compact, robust, and has never let us down.

Portraits shot with AcuteB 600R

We have used it on boats, in airplanes, in the ocean, and in insane dust storms with great effect.  It has always performed as expected, and is certainly an important tool in the making of great images.

Here are some images from my Portrait portfolio that were all shot with an AcuteB 600R.

Portraits shot with AcuteB 600R

Holy crap….  3TB SATA drive?!?!?!?

This is getting so crazy!  Where do we start?  What do we do?  Ugh….  The confusion can be endless.  I thought I’d take a quick sec to talk about what we are using in the studio.  What works, and what doesn’t.

When I saw that Western Digital had come out with a 3TB drive, I got pretty excited.  The thought that we could just swap out the 2TB drives we use in our RAID arrays for 3’s was pretty enticing.  We did this with the 1TB’s as soon as the 2TB’s came out, and it instantly doubled the size of the RAID 5 storage we had.  When I saw that there was now a 3, I thought, “easy, just upgrade the RAIDs and we are golden…” But would it work?

To get the answer, I jumped on the phone to WD to get the straight up skinny.  First let me say that Western Digital is one of the best companies to deal with regarding customer service.  Over the past several years, we have exclusively used WD drives and have found them to be exemplary when it comes to service.

Before long, I was able to speak to a product engineer in California and had a good long talk about the 3’s, and their use in a RAID.

The simple answer for us is:  No go.  Western Digital does not recommend these drives in a RAID because they are not TLER or Time-Limited Error Recovery.  In a nutshell, this means that when the drive experiences a normal error, it does not have the proper buffering, and could potentially drop out of the RAID.  The engineer went on to say that they would be fine for use inside the Mac in a single drive configuration, but that they were not supported in a RAID.

We use 2TB WD Enterprise drives in all our RAID's

So for us, we will just have to wait until they get a TLER drive on the market.  For now, we will just stick with our trusted bombproof 2TB Enterprise drives.

As output files get bigger and bigger in our cameras, the issue we often are confronted with is how to successfully manage all the data.

Some times, at the end of a large job, I am flabbergasted with the shear volume of files that we have to deal with.  It seems like a never ending cycle… A new camera comes out.  The files are bigger so we need larger storage devices… in turn we purchase the “latest and greatest” CF cards… 4gig, 8gig, 16gig, 32gig, and now, 64’s…. Ugh…  Its like a big joke.  The simple question is, how to we deal with all the cards?

A long time ago, we implemented a management system that seems to have stood the test of time, so we use it pretty religiously.  It’s  simple (perhaps a bit anal,) but works very well.

We love love love to label things.  The P-Touch probably gets the most use out of any office item in the studio.  This started for me back in LA when I worked as a camera assistant on large film sets.  The guys I worked under were real “type A’s.”  Totally organized.

In the beginning, I thought this was just too much, but after all these years of working on location, I am really thankful that I was trained by such anal mentors.

When a new CF comes into the the mix, it gets labeled.  Photo cards get one label, and video get another.  VID-1, VID-2, Photo-1, Photo-2 etc…  We label the front of the card with its size.  64gb, 32gb, etc…  The lower number card, the higher the gig size.  (I know if I see Vid-1, that it will be a 64gig card.)

The back of the card also gets a label.  In yellow, and in large letters we affix the word “Full.”  In smaller letters, we put my name, phone number, and “reward if found.”

All of our cards ride in Gepe cases, which do an amazing job at protecting the little buggers (even water proof!)  We use different colors for each type.  Yellow is video, Grey is Photo, Red is exposed, or full cards.  When a card is empty, or “unexposed,” it sits in the Gepe case with the card in the “Up” position.  (number facing up.)

P-Touch from Brother

Because the D3s can now shoot two cards at once, we set the camera set to “mirror.”  In other words, when an image is written to a card, a clone is simultaneously written to the other, creating a redundant backup.

Read the rest of this entry »

Power inverter is key!

One of the coolest little gagets that you can have with you whist on the road is a power inverter.   Im not going to in to special magic of how it works, because its magic.

Lets you run your computer when your battery is no more...

I will however say that having one with you is a lifesaver.  It plugs into the cigarette lighter (but I guess we dont call it that anymore… 12V outlet) and turns DC power into AC power.

Its not the cleanest power in the world, but will charge your batts and keep you running!

Anyone who has traveled since 911 knows that the good old days are gone.

It is pretty damn difficult these days to travel with your gear.  Now that the airlines charge you for each bag you want to check, everyone and their sister has decided to just carry their crap on with them.

This of course makes no sense when you look at the greater problem.  Charging for bags is really about having to pay for the added fuel costs.  In flying, weight equals expense.  The fact is that passengers are bringing the same amount of weight with them, its just that now it is sitting above your head rather than below your feet. Read the rest of this entry »

I find myself thankful to have entered into the photography world at just the right time.  I am old enough to have shot a shit ton of film, but young enough to have fully embraced the digital revolution at its onset.  Its a nice place to operate from.

That said, I will in no circumstance claim to fully understand the digital experience.  Even to this day I am constantly doing all I can to hold on as the digital photography world whizzes by.  The best we can do is commit to new gear, try to stay current, and learn as best we can.

Despite my quasi-ignorant approach, I was sure I had at least one digital nugget to dispense, and thought of this:  If you are shooting a lot of digital these days, do yourself a favor and shoot a frame with a gray card in it.

There is plenty of info on the web these days as to the technical nature of the gray card, so I’m not going to get into it here except to say that the gray card is basically the baseline from which the computer can judge color.  This is important so flesh tones look like the are supposed to, and hyper critical when you are shooting product.

For our work flow, we use Adobe’s Lightroom.  In a nutshell, once the images are imported, we use the frame with the gray card to adjust all the subsequent images.

Kind of a pain in the arse, but a necessity if you want to deliver images that are true to form.

(images used are from past jobs with one of our long-term clients Omni-Guide)


When shooting photos for clients, especially when they are going to be used for the web, it is always a great idea to shoot lots of detail shots.

These detail shots will not only be good for illustrating concepts, but they are great for backgrounds and web banners.  Plus… designers love to have this stuff to play with.


We always say: “give em what they want, then give em more…”

Extreme Dutch angle

Extreme Dutch angle

From Wikipedia:  “A Dutch angle is achieved by tilting the camera off to the side so that the shot is composed with the horizon at an angle to the bottom of the frame.”  (Its really a good article, and worth giving a read…)


One of my favorite techniques to use is the Dutch angle.  If you look through my body of work, you will see this style come up time and time again.  In a nutshell, it tends to build tension and draw the viewer into the frame. Read the rest of this entry »


Here is one of my favorite “secret” tricks when shooting technology in a lab…

There is always a bit of mystery surrounding good photographs of lasers.  Either people are flummoxed as to how to shoot the shot, or they think they are experts and talk about using smoke to illuminate the beam.

We first have to understand that we cant see the light in the laser beam, we can only see the particles it is hitting whilst traveling through the air.  When we try to photograph the laser light, we get nothing.  The dust particles in the air simply don’t reflect enough light to make the beam show up.

Read the rest of this entry »

Pelican cases are our first choice when on the road

Pelican cases are our first choice when on the road

There are so many choices for equipment cases these days, it is often hard to figure out exactly what the hell to buy.  This is especially true early in a photographers career when one has to make smart decisions with the wallet.

Really there are two camps to choose from.  On one side you have the hard case, and on the other, the soft.

In my opinion, the two leaders in these camps are the Air Case by Tenba, and the Pelican Case.  So the question is what to buy????

For me, the choice used to be very simple…  Pelican!

Pelican cases are by far the most durable, environment-proof, kick ass cases around.  They have traveled with me around the planet, and have never ceased to amaze me with their professional reliability.  There is one small bug that has slowly crawled its way into into our sleeping bag, and that their weight.

Read the rest of this entry »


For the most part, the buisness of photography, careers, sucess etc, is really about luck.  All we can do is the best we can, work hard, keep our heads down, our noses clean, and hope that someone might notice us for what we love to do.

It doesn’t really matter what it is that we as individuals choose to do with our lives, but the fact is that “to whom much is given, much is expected.”

Jo, a yoga teacher here in Boston

Jo, a yoga teacher here in Boston

Rabbit, CB, and I have all been very fortunate this past year by staying busy.  It is for this reason, that we are making an effort to volunteer as much as possible.

This week, we volunteered our services to shoot portraits at the local yoga studio.  The portraits that they have up now on their site are a hodge-podge of home snaps.  I thought I would be nice to have a nice uniform look, so we offered to shoot all their instructors.  The head shots will make a nice addition to their web site, and is something that they wouldn’t be able to spend money on.


The point is, get out there and volunteer.  At the very least, you will keep your skills sharp, and at the very best, you will be helping spread some good karma!

Best of luck!

Shawn... (my favorite instructor)

Shawn… (my favorite instructor)


Some of you may or may not know this little trick… but if you dont, it is a must have for your camera bag.

The circular polarizer is one of my FAVORITE filters of all time.  I will let Wikipedia explain it better, but in a nutshell, it basically increases the contrast between the sky and the clouds.



Below are a couple of images that I made whilst traveling through Iowa this past summer.  For each of these images I used the circular polarizer.  Even in the case of the image with the crop duster (with no clouds) the filter darkened and saturated the sky.  I did this as I wanted  to play a deep blue sky against the bright yellow fuselage.

I tweaked the saturation very slightly in post, but for the most part, the images are out of the camera.

The effect is very cool, and worth the space in your bag!  Give it a try!

Good luck-


Chris standing for tests

Chris standing for tests

I know this might be a given… or maybe even a cliche.  Regardless, in my opinion it is the most important part of a good commercial photography biz.

Tip # 5.  Surround yourself with GOOD people.  A good assistant can make or break a job.  When you are on the road, they keep you sane, keep you from making a fool of yourself, and often keep you grounded.

Read the rest of this entry »


There are lots of tips that one could relay to young photographers who are looking to get started with their business.  And out of all of these nuggets, probably the single best thing I ever did when I got into this crazy lunatic race was to open up an American Express Platinum Card.

I wish that I could take credit for this nugget, but alas I can not.  Years ago, when I was working as an assistant, I worked for a photographer called Russ Schliepman.  (it was Russ that probably influenced me the most in terms of style and the use of color.  We traveled the world, shot lots of amazing images, and I learned a TON!  So thanks Russ.)


Please don’t misunderstand now… I am NOT swinging a plug for AmEx.  I make it a point NOT to be commercial with my posts, but this really was an important step the building of my career and its worth its conveyance.

Read the rest of this entry »

gh2_44081One of the things that we (Americans) tend to forget when we are traveling abroad is language.  Now of course I can only speak for my own experiences on the road, but I think this is an important one.

As English speakers, it has been my experience that we can sometimes take it for granted that everyone will understand us.  (For the most part because it is true,) most everywhere we go on the planet you can find someone who can speak at least a little English, and I think we just expect that the person we are speaking to will at least partially understand.  Even when we can speak the language of the country that we are visiting, when we get frustrated, we often just default right back to English.  

“Donde esta el…..el….., la…., shit….   the bathroom….”

Read the rest of this entry »

Back seat of a Bell 206 flying search and rescue in Alaska, 1999

Back seat of a Bell 206 flying search and rescue in Alaska, 1999

Tip number two… Don’t be afraid to hitch hike!

I have always been fascinated with aviation, and still get excited whenever I get a chance to set foot in a helicopter or airplane.  Even flying commercially still makes me happy.  Maybe its because its one of the few places on the planet where I can totally relax.  It has to do (I think) with the fact that I am forced to just sit in one place.  We are flying to Argentina on Monday, and I am so looking forward to the 14 hours or so I will spend in the plane.  Seriously!  People think I’m nuts…

Anyway… Here’s the tip.   When your starting out, building a portfolio from the air is inherently problematic as it is a catch-22.  You cant get jobs with out an aerial portfolio, and you cant get an aerial portfolio without getting up in a helicopter or airplane.  And frankly, who has an extra $1200.00 per hour to hire a Bell 206 to fly you around the ball park in order to get some cool air to ground shots?

So heres the trick:  Hitch hike!

Flying with "Wild Bill" into a gold mine in Alaska

Flying with "Wild Bill" into a gold mine in Alaska

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We tend to do a lot of aerial photography, and one of the resources we use in the preparation for a shoot is ATIS or Automatic Terminal Information Service.

ATIS is a continuous recorded broadcast of important information used by pilots to help operate their aircraft.  The most important bit of info that we need to know is the actual weather at the airfield.  Cloud ceiling, wind direction, and wind speed will all play a part on how are shoot goes.

Lots of airports these days have a telephone number you can call into in order to listen to the broadcast, and every morning before we fly, we call in and give a listen.

This gives us a heads up on the exact conditions at the airport where you will be operating from.  If you have not done a lot of flying, you may or may not realize that different airports may have drastically different weather.  Sometimes they can be very close together, but be totally different.

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