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Making Smaller Voices Heard in an Ever Noisier World

There comes a time when we read or see something that makes us want to quit our day job, pack our bags, and go do something that actually makes a difference in this world. Few get past their morning coffee before they’re once again off to the office, dreams put on hold. And then there are those who, damn the naysayers and snickers, actually follow through and make the world, in some small measure, a better place to live in. Mark van Luyk, a Creative Director by trade, and his wife, Judith Madigan, an optometrist by trade, did just that. And they’ve succeeded.

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Judith and Mark stepped out of the corporate world in 2006 and after a year of travel and soul searching, established ‘BrandOutLoud’, which in Judith’s words ” specializes in tailor-made branding and communications for non-profits worldwide.” If you’ve ever browsed through brochures and websites designed and illustrated by and for non-governmental and other non-profit organizations, you know the design and graphics can often be sophomoric, and at times depressing to look at. Mark and Judith were determined to change all of that.

© Mark van Luyk - BrandOutLoud

As a Creative Director, Mark understands the importance of branding – “It’s all about knowing who you are and what you stand for”. He’s also quite aware of the role of powerful imagery when it comes to successful communication. “Showing stereotype (aid) images of tragedy, warfare, or disease evokes helping from the point of view of pity. Besides, the world has seen enough of the sad looking malnourished African child with the flies in the eyes” Mark adds.

© Mark van Luyk - BrandOutLoud

Mark’s approach is to present local aid organizations from remote locations around the world as real people, with dreams of their own being turned into realities. And no matter how humble or simple the endeavor may be, there is a strong sense of pride and dignity in the faces of the people he has photographed along the way.

 

As a result of Mark and Judith’s efforts, small local aid organizations now have the ability to sustain themselves by attracting new supporters and expanding their network of partners, becoming more and more independent. They are able to show their story and get their message across using the newly well-designed communication tools.

So far Mark and Judith have met with much success. Rather than chasing leads, organizations are now seeking them out for their expertise in not only ‘branding’ aid organizations, but for their unique ability to design and supply the elements of entire campaigns, and they do it quite well.

© Mark van Luyk - BrandOutLoud

Due to the remoteness of many of the locations the van Luyks travel to, they must travel light. For this reason Mark narrowed his choices of gear down to his Canon cameras (EOS 5D Mark II and Mark III), a set of fast prime lenses, and four Canon 580EX II Speedlites which he uses grouped together or individually depending on the circumstances – with or without a softbox or umbrella (In addition to stills, Mark also shoots HDSLR video for client and promotional needs). To synchronize his cameras and lights, Mark relies on PocketWizard MiniTT1 Transmitters, PocketWizard FlexTT5 Transceivers, and PocketWizard AC3 ZoneControllers, which he cannot praise enough.

© Mark van Luyk - BrandOutLoud

“I work in the field and I have to think about everything going on around me, and we often have to set up and work quickly.  My PocketWizard system allows me to set my lights the way I want them knowing the images will come out dead-on. “I’d rather get it right when I press the shutter release. Sitting at a computer doing Photoshop is not my idea of a fun time.”

 

Mark relishes the fact he can control the entire creative process from soup to nuts. “Knowing upfront how the image will appear at the end makes it easy for me to capture and compose all of the elements together. I can pre-visualize the picture and how it will appear in print or the web before I fire the shutter. That’s a huge advantage.”

 

The resulting images are strikingly simple, and though ‘advertorial’ in style, don’t come off too slick or condescending to either the subject(s) or viewer(s). Mark van Luyk and Judith Madigan are quite clear on the fact their subjects are real people, with real hopes, dreams, and realities, and they deserve the same level of dignity an respect as the more privileged amongst us.

 © Mark van Luyk - BrandOutLoud

To learn more about BrandOutLoud visit http://www.brandoutloud.org/videos/1/

All images, videos, and quotes in this post are used with permission and © Mark van Luyk / BrandOutLoud, all rights reserved; story is ©PocketWizard. Please respect and support photographers’ rights. Feel free to link to this blog post, but please do not replicate or repost elsewhere without written permission.

 

 

 

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Chris Henderson (Light) Paints a Really Big Truck

Henderson headshotA big challenge in any creative profession is staying ‘fresh’ in your approach to your work, which as anybody who photographs shoes for a living can attest, can be problematic after a spell. For Chris Henderson, a UK-based corporate/industrial photographer with a specialty in photographing unusual, and often large-scale subjects in a variety of environments, maintaining a creative edge has been a priority over the course of his 30-year career.

Henderson takes lighting seriously, be it natural ambient lighting with a reflector or two, or photographs in which he has to light the entire scene.

A recent project that involved photographing a massive mining truck in real-world surroundings proved to be a perfect test bed for a lighting painting scenario he had been working out in his head for some time. Just as he lights each facet of a product in a studio set precisely, Henderson’s plan was to light each of the contrasting shapes and forms of the massive mining truck independently, batch process them for consistency, and merge the best portions of the resulting images together post-capture in Photoshop. But first he had to photograph the individual components, and to do that he turned to his PocketWizard remote triggering system

Henderson photographed the project engineer separate from the truck. He then shifted the lens focus to the truck for the balance of the exposures.

Henderson lit the project engineer using a PocketWizard-triggered Elinchrom Ranger and a reflective bounce reflector. He then shifted the lens focus to the truck for the balance of the exposures.

 

Henderson’s hand-held lighting system consisted of an Elinchrom Quadra Ranger RX Hybrid monopack synced to a PocketWizard Flex TT5 Transceiver, both of which were mounted on the end of a telescopic boom pole. The camera,which was mounted on a sandbag-stabilized heavy-duty tripod, was triggered manually by Henderson (seen holding the light in the inset pictures) using a hand-held PocketWizard Plus III Transceiver from each lighting position to a PocketWizard Plus III wireless trigger, which was attached to the camera via remote camera cable. When the camera was triggered, the shoe-mounted PocketWizard Flex TT5 triggered the Elinchom flash head, which was synced to another PocketWizard Flex TT5. Each exposure was PocketWizard controlled from start to finish.

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The PocketWizard side of the story doesn’t stop there. Chris wanted to maintain control over the brightness levels of the surrounding skies and foreground, which was limited by the relatively slow 1/200th-second top sync speed of his Canon EOS 5D Mark III. To get around this limitation, Henderson took advantage of the HyperSync function of his PocketWizard trigger system, which enabled him to dramatically darken the skies by syncing his camera to his flash at an effective 1/1000th-second at f/8.

The final image is composed of portions of about 45 individual exposures that were sampled, tweaked, and merged together into a single powerful image. By setting the camera remotely and securely, and methodically lighting each portion of the vehicle to emphasize the shapes, scale, and textures of its massive surfaces, Chris was able to create an unearthly iconic image in a real-world setting. What’s also notable is that despite the size, logistics, and scale of the truck and the fact it was photographed in a field of mud and far beyond reasonable reach of an AC outlet, Henderson’s PocketWizard remote triggering system enabled him to capture the image single-handedly.

“I have used other radio triggers… and had nothing but problems, the main ones being poor range, misfires, and electrical noise interference when working in… large industrial complexes”. Since switching to PocketWizard Plus III Transceivers, they’ve become his ‘go-to’ remote triggering system. “They have proven to be robust, reliable, and each time I use them I am confident they will perform faultlessly.”

PocketWizard wireless technologies have allowed Chris Henderson to shoot in ways previously impossible. In his own words, PocketWizard radio triggers have added an extra creative string to his bow and changed the way he goes about creating photographic images.

To see more of Chris Henderson’s work visit his website.

All images, videos, and quotes in this post are used with permission and © Chris Henderson, all rights reserved; story is ©PocketWizard. Please respect and support photographers’ rights. Feel free to link to this blog post, but please do not replicate or repost elsewhere without written permission.

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What’s That For, PocketWizard?

PocketWizard VP, Dave Schmidt gives you an inside look on how to use PocketWizard ControlTL® system’s Manual Power Control with ANY camera.

Are you one of the many photographers who have added a mirrorless camera to your bag?  Would you like to use your PocketWizard MiniTT1® and FlexTT5® with that system?  Well, you can and have complete control of your compatible remote flashes using Manual Power Control.

Photo: © Dave Schmidt

Photo: © Dave Schmidt

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What’s up Pussycat? Özkan Özmen goes on a Portrait Safari

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Özkan Özmen at work

Özkan Özmen is a portrait photographer based in Frankfurt Germany with a penchant for photographing subjects that can bite your head off. No, we’re not talking about models and celebrities with attitude here. We’re talking lions, tigers, and rhinos. As Dorothy famously said to the tin man… “Oh MY!”

According to Özkan, he’s always been into things that crawl, chirp, growl, and purr, and it wasn’t long after he began taking shooting studio portraits for a living that he decided to put together a compact lighting kit and try his luck outside of the comforts and convenience of his studio. Özkan Ozmen’s personal project ultimately took him on a multi-continent journey in which he’s captured wonderful portraits of the sort of wildlife most of us only see in zoo and safari parks, though seldom as in-your-face.

Özkan understood the logistics – not to mention danger involved in trying to capture tight portraits of wild animals using lights. Still and all, rather than being technically boxed in by the harsh ambient lighting conditions common to shooting in the extreme locales he planned on visiting, his goal was to light his subjects and select-focus at wider lens apertures similar to the way he would when shooting portraits in his studio.

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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

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Keith Pytlinski's Night Project

Shooter Keith Pytlinski recently posted a detailed story about the making of a shot he had been thinking about for awhile before executing it. Wanting a mountain bike rider in a night shot with long exposure-stars visible, a friend helped reframe his original idea and came up with the great image below.

©Keith Pytlinski

Keith used PocketWizard Plus II’s to get the rider in the foreground. Thanks for the informative post and great image, Keith!

Read more about other times we’ve bumped into Keith here and here.

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Airtime with Steve Lloyd

As a native of Utah, Steven Lloyd is no stranger to winter sports. As an art major in college, Lloyd took a photography course in order to help him capture images he wanted to paint. “I fell in love with photography, and thought it was a lot more fun than sitting in a room all day painting,” he says.

©Steve Lloyd

Always an outdoorsman, Lloyd has been shooting professionally for eight years. “I grew up skiing, and always try to shoot far away from the resorts,” he explains. His photography now includes his latest passion, mountain biking, which he’s been involved with the past four years. He enjoys shooting biking at least as much as photographing skiing. This works out well, as they both have their seasons are opposite each other. Also on his list of sports covered is climbing and backpacking. “I enjoy shooting anything outdoors, basically,” Lloyd says, “but my main focus is biking and skiing.”

©Steve Lloyd

With year-round subject matter to shoot, Lloyd can usually be found shooting on location. Some of his shots set him apart with the photographer’s equivalent of New Journalism: interjecting himself into his photographs. His portfolio include photos taken over and including a mountain bike’s handlebars. Others seem as if he is skiing with the subject he is shooting. “Growing up in the outdoors,” he says, “I’ve always tried to come up with different ways to shoot, like doing point-of-view shots or including myself in the photo. A lot of times photographers don’t get credit for being athletes themselves. When you’re out skiing and shooting with skiers, you’re on the slope with them. The danger factor is the same. It’s even harder because you’re carrying all your camera gear.”

©Steve Lloyd

There’s a reason why Lloyd has a high ratio of dramatic shots with stunning backgrounds. “I like to find cool-looking features in nature, whether it’s a rock, arch, trees or a good view. I look for those things first, and then think how I can put an athlete or skier in the scene; how I can put a biker on a trail where it would look cool with the mountains and clouds. The landscape complements the athlete and the athlete can enhance the photo by putting action into it.”

©Steve Lloyd

“The last few years I’ve been working a lot with flashes in nature,” Lloyd says. “I love to hike and get away from people. Using speedlights on a very cool natural feature to bring color and light to it with these tools is very exciting. Now that I have PocketWizards to use with my flashes, doors have opened up for me. I can get very creative and make colors how I see them. Artistically, I can now do more of what I’ve always wanted to do. I’m pretty stoked on the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5. There’s no more wires, which were fickle in extreme temperatures. It’s a pleasure to hook up this system and use it.” Before using his current PocketWizard system, Lloyd employed Plus II’s.

©Steve Lloyd

Although he has plans to purchase a Profoto system later this winter, Lloyd travels small and light with speedlights. His current rig is two Canon 550EXs, one 580EX and two Vivitar 285s. His body is a Canon EOS 5D Mark II. “A lot of the locations I shoot at make it impossible to get large packs there,” he explains. “We often hike two or three hours through the snow up in the mountains. You can’t take a snowmobile or other vehicle there, so it’s all carted by hand. With the smaller systems it’s nice because you can put it in a backpack. If you have an athlete or two going with you, you can divide up the gear and everyone can handle it without stressing too much. You’d be surprised what you can do with those mini-systems.”

©Steve Lloyd

Setting up many of Lloyd’s well-composed shots isn’t easy, although the action looks spontaneous. “On the flash-lit set-ups, my prep and shoot time is four to five hours, minimum. To get things set-up, test the lights, get the athletes on the same page and get my exposures dialed-in, it’s a lot of work. The recycle times on the smaller rigs isn’t as fast as the big gear, so I have one chance to get the shot of the athlete in action. You have to be patient when the biker or skier goes off the cliff. You can’t preshoot the photo because they won’t be in the right position. You also can’t wait too long. Sometimes we’re only allowed two or three times before the athlete’s done or the snow is bad. It’s difficult, but doable.”

©Steve Lloyd


Another factor weighing on the production of Lloyd’s dramatic night shots is safety. “A guy jumping off a forty-foot cliff at night is a lot more difficult and dangerous than someone doing it in the daytime,” he says. “Skiers can’t really see their landing area well at night, and they have to guess when to absorb the impact.”

©Steve Lloyd

Lloyd is bullish on technology available to himself and other shooters. “Digital photography has opened unlimited doors to creating whatever you want,” he says. “That’s especially true of products like PocketWizards. You put these products together and I don’t think there’s any limit to what you can create as far as colors, images, scenes, or whatever you want. It just takes a little time. You get instant feedback, as opposed to the film days. You can get your timing down and know exactly when to hit the shutter as they’re flying through the air. It’s all possible because of the technology we have now.”

Steve Lloyd Photo
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Ari Simphoukham and the Power of a Photo

The old cliche dictates pictures are worth 1000 words. I disagree. Pictures are worth millions of words, and millions more to each different person viewing the same photograph. Legions of stories exist as testament to the power of photographs and our desire to protect them. Otto Bettmann, fleeing Nazi Germany with two steamer trunks loaded with 25,000 photos — the foundation of the Bettmann Archive — and no clothing, is just one example.

The technology of photography allows us to visually document our very existence for both ourselves and future generations. Previously, only paintings could do this, and their accuracy is always subject to question. The data and testament of a snapshot from any given year is invaluable to people interested in the subject matter of any photograph. A picture can say, “this was me when I was your age,” or “here’s our first home,” or “this was your great-grandmother.” Photographs are nothing less than a bet-the-farm hedge against our inevitable deaths. When times are more uncertain than usual, photographs can document “we made it at least this far. Remember us, this period, and what we went through.”

It is one of these photographs which changed a young man’s life. As America’s war in Vietnam spilled into neighboring Laos, chaos followed. Some estimates cite over one million Laotians fled their country as a direct result of that war. Simphoukham’s parents were among them, eventually winding up in a refugee camp in the Philippines after their son was born in a similar camp in Thailand. His parents knew the value of documenting their odyssey to a new homeland for their son and future generations. They saved and traded on the black market for one family photo to be taken. The image survived the family’s landing in San Francisco and has become a vibrant signpost of their old lives and struggle for success until becoming American citizens. One photograph changed their son’s future.

©Ari Simphoukham Collection. Ari Simphoukham at age two with his parents in a refugee camp in the Philippines, 1987.

The 1987 photo not only sparked Simphoukham’s desire to photograph, but helped him become the man he is today. “In the refugee camp, my parents put together enough money to have that snapshot of us taken,” he says. “Every time I look at that photo it does so much for me. This is who I am, these are my roots. It keeps me grounded as a person. There’s a lot of history and a lot of emotion in that photo. It’s one of the reasons I’m a photographer.”

©Ari Simphoukham. Focal length 50mm, f/2.5, shutter speed 1/500, ISO 160.

“I started off as an events and senior portraits photographer,” says Ari Simphoukham. While in a fraternity at UC Davis as an International Relations major, Simphoukham was shooting a Nikon D50 all around campus. Soon he was asked to shoot an event by someone who noticed his photography. This led to other organizations asking him to work for them. “Eventually I was approached to shoot senior portaits. I got better and better, and improved my photography while getting paid. It was amazing.”

©Ari Simphoukham. Focal length 18mm(14-24), f/8, shutter speed 1/250, ISO 400.

A cousin’s friend needed a wedding photographer, and Simphoukham was recruited. “I did it and couldn’t believe how fun it was,” he says. “After that, I concentrated on weddings. I tried to meet other wedding photographers to learn techniques and the business end of it. I improved along the way.” He had found his calling and his paycheck, and eventually left school to pursue his career. “I know this is what I want to do,” he states.

©Ari Simphoukham. Focal length 10.5mm, f/14, shutter speed 1/60, ISO 400.

Simphoukham took the bold move of dedicating an entire year to learning his craft. “One of the reasons I love doing this is because wedding photographers are awesome,” he declares. “They’re so helpful and so easy to talk to. They’re very helpful, and that kindness made me want to be a wedding photographer even more.” Simphoukham assisted several Bay Area wedding shooters to further hone his skills. Although he still shoots senior portraits, wedding work is where his passion lies. “Weddings are more work, but I feel they appreciate my art more,” he adds.

©Ari Simphoukham. Focal length 14mm, f/6.3, shutter speed 1/500, ISO 400.

Currently located in Los Angeles, Simphoukham is shooting weddings and expanding his network of wedding photographers. Eventually he sees himself setting up his studio in the Bay Area. These days Simphoukham is shooting two Nikon D3 bodies, one D300 for backup, “and a lot of lenses,” he says. Originally a film photographer, his workflow is now all-digital. He uses PocketWizard Plus II’s to fire his strobes. “Being a wedding photographer is hard because the lighting changes constantly. You have to be on your toes and aware of the light always. The PocketWizards help me control the light because if it gets too dark, I just dial in what I need from the strobes and it’s okay. I can get a very natural look, as opposed to a deer-in-the-headlights direct flash.”

©Ari Simphoukham. Focal length 85mm, f/3.2, shutter speed 160, ISO 800.

Regarding post-processing work, Simphoukham says, “I find the best photos are not the ones I do heavy work on. The best photos are the ones that are that way straight out of the camera. I think I heard this quote from someone: you can make a good picture better, but you can’t make a bad picture good.” He uses Lightroom and Photoshop for minimal post work.

©Ari Simphoukham. Focal length 14mm, f/13, shutter speed 1/100, ISO 400.

“When I first started learning about off-camera flash, PocketWizard was the name in radio remote flash. All the good photographers were using it back then. I’m going to upgrade in the future. It just works. I’ve never had a problem with them. The Plus II is simple and it works. It goes through walls. What more could you want?” he laughs.

©Ari Simphoukham. Focal length 85mm, f/9, shutter speed 1/60, ISO 100.

Simphoukham is just as passionate about his client photos. “I try to tell a story with my photography. I think nowadays everyone has a camera, but not everyone has the ability to portray a story with a camera. I develop a story behind the photos everyone can read,” he says. “I’ve been very fortunate to have great clients. When they appreciate my work, I feel great.” How great you feel the day you get married is one of the things you never want to forget. Who better to document that day? Connecting emotionally to photographs is something Ari Simphoukham knows quite a bit about.

Ari Simphoukham Photography

Ari Simphoukham Wedding Photography

Ari Simphoukham’s Blog

Ari Simphoukham on Twitter

Ari Simphoukham on Facebook

Ari Simphoukham on MySpace

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Paul H. Phillips on Endurance and Planning

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

©Competitive Image

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

©Competitive Image

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

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

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

©Competitive Image

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

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

©Competitive Image

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

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

©Competitive Image

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

©Competitive Image

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

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

Competitive Image

Water shoot

Video of water shoot

Blog entry on water shoot

Portrait of Passion

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Marc Quigley, From Sanding to the Ultimate Product Photography

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

© Marc Quigley for PRS Guitars, Ltd.

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

© Marc Quigley for PRS Guitars, Ltd.

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

© Marc Quigley for PRS Guitars, Ltd.

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

© Marc Quigley for PRS Guitars, Ltd.

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

© Marc Quigley for PRS Guitars, Ltd.

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

© Marc Quigley for PRS Guitars, Ltd.

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

© Marc Quigley for PRS Guitars Ltd.

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

© Marc Quigley for PRS Guitars, Ltd.

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

© Marc Quigley for PRS Guitars, Ltd.

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

© Marc Quigley for PRS Guitars, Ltd.

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

© Marc Quigley for PRS Guitars, Ltd.

© Marc Quigley for PRS Guitars, Ltd.

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

© Marc Quigley for PRS Guitars, Ltd.

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

Marc Quigley’s Blog

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Marc Quigley’s photography at PRS Guitars

Loop

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