'Plus II' Category

Ken Kaminesky’s Rising from the Ashes

Speak about commercial photography for any length of time with Ken Kaminesky and eventually his deep knowledge of the state of the industry will come to light. This knowledge did not come easily or quickly. Attending his first year of college, he took a photography course and was enamored with darkroom work. Eventually, he left school to concentrate on commercial photography by working for pro shooters.

©Ken Kaminesky

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Off-road Magic with Keith Pytlinski

Keith Pytlinski has posted a brief article on a shoot he did of an off-road Volkswagen Beetle. Despite the bug getting stuck, which required digging it out, Pytlinski was able to get some impressive shots before the sun completely disappeared.

Pytlinski used a Canon 7D body with a Tokina 12-24mm f/4 lens, and Boling 2×300 watt strobes, which were fired by PocketWizard Plus II units. His description of his lighting set-up follows, and is in his own words.

Lighting set up: Since the sun was setting fast I didn’t have a lot of time to set up. As mentioned above I used Boling strobes with the battery pack, having one strobe camera left and one camera right. Each strobe was set up about the height of the fender on the VW. As with all my off camera flash work, I used the PocketWizard Plus IIs which allowed me to fire the strobes remotely and move around in between the lights without having another cable to worry about.

Thanks, and great job, Keith!

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Stephen Alvarez Lighting Underground

Stephen Alvarez sees a direct connection with his home state of Tennessee and the subject he loves to photograph more than any other. “As a young man, we didn’t have snow or high mountains. If you wanted to do something adventurous, fun and hard, you’d go caving,” he explains.

The early cave exploration he did as a youth served him later in life, after coming across photos by Michael “Nick” Nichols, the National Geographic wildlife photographer. Alvarez saw Nichols’ photos of caves in Alabama, Georgia, and his own Tennessee. “They just captivated me,” says Alvarez. “I realized I can do something similar to that. I can go into these environments I’m very comfortable in and come out with images of the right mix telling a similar sort of story.”

©Stephen Alvarez

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Grant Gunderson, Fast and Fluid

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

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

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

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

Zack Giffin sking at Mt. Shasta. ©Grant Gunderson

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

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

Adam skiing powder at Revelstoke Mountain Resort. ©Grant Gunderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grant Gunderson Photography
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Written by Ron Egatz

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Keith Pytlinski Shoots into the Sun

Keith Pytlinski of M5 Photography shared a dramatic shot on his blog recently. Using PocketWizard Plus II units, he got this exciting image shooting into the sun, uphill, with a lot of frozen action, including flying dust. We love the lens flare and energy behind the entire shot.

Visit his blog and breakdown of the set-up, which also includes details on digging berms and a voice-activated tripod! Nice job, Keith!

Check out other posts about Keith’s work: 1, 2, 3.

M5 Photography
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Jasmine Star's Permission to be Fabulous

When Southern California native Jasmine Star married her high school sweetheart in Hawaii, she flew Santa Barbara-based photographer David Jay in to document her wedding. Not only was she starting a new life as a married woman, but this vendor in particular helped influence a change in her career choice. “Seeing what he did, and how passionate he was, and how he had created a living for himself was incredible,” she says. “By seeing him, that’s what actually turned me on to photography.”

f/1.8 1/5000 100 ISO. ©Jasmine Star

Finding a wedding photographer who will not only document the most important day of your life, but inspire you to follow in his footsteps is something brides don’t set out to do consciously. Star did a Google search on “wedding photojournalism.” On page 67 of returned results, she found Jay, who was chosen above island-based photographers. “I just became smitten with who he was, not necessarily who he was as a photographer,” she says. Going with her instinct, she valued the relationship with the photographer as an individual above the samples of photographs he presented. “I felt like that experience has made or set the precedent for the type of experience I want to establish with my brides. I would prefer they would become interested in me as a person and then become interested in me as a photographer. I think that’s become a defining point in my business structure.”

f/2.0 1/1000 125 ISO. ©Jasmine Star

Exclusively a wedding photographer, Star knows her clients are purchasing her services one time only, and much hinges on the relationship she builds with future brides. Being the same age and interested in many of the same things helps establish the bond she seeks with new potential clients. “The more we are alike, the more she’ll value her experience, and therefore her photos,” reasons Star. In October of 2006 she shot her first three weddings. In 2007 Star shot for 38 wedding clients based on word of mouth.

f/1.8 1/200 250 ISO. ©Jasmine Star

A strong believer in social media, Star has embraced an online persona which has at times threatened to be more visible than her in-demand photography. This started simply by her blogging about the journey she undertook to become a photographer, from learning how to use her new camera to her first solo shoot. “For some reason, people started reading,” she recalls. “Those people started referring their cousins or their friends. It became a source of business and a megaphone for who I was as a person, not as a photographer because back then, I really wasn’t a photographer. I was struggling to become one.”

f/1.2 1/1250 320 ISO. ©Jasmine Star

If Star has hitched her wagon to her brand, social media is the road the pair travels. “I put myself on the Web every single day,” she reveals. “I’m constantly updating my Web site. I blog every single day. I’m updating Twitter a few times a day. I have a Facebook fan page with over 1500 people, and I want to make sure conversations are going on there.” She also dropped her maiden name for her middle name to help her brand. “Jasmine Star is my first and middle name. I think it works very well for the business.”

f/2.0 1/800 250 ISO. ©Jasmine Star

Star attended Whittier College and got a degree in Business Administration. Dating her future husband J.D. throughout her college years, they started the photography business together. As a gift, he would rent her time in darkroom when he could afford it. J.D. also bought her the first digital camera she owned in 2005. She now shoots entirely digitally. The two travel together and work weddings as a team. “He kind of stands in the background and puts on a 70 to 200mm lens, and he just shoots the day away,” she says. “I love his eye. It’s great. We balance each other.”

f/1.2 1/800 250 ISO. ©Jasmine Star

Shooting a Canon EOS 5D Mark II as her main body and a series of prime lenses, including a 15mm f/1.2, an EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM, and an EF 85mm f/1.2 II USM. She claims being forced to physically move toward and away from her subjects creates a level of connectivity with her clients which has helped define her style.

f/1.2 1/1600 200 ISO. ©Jasmine Star

Seeing herself as a photographer, and not a Photoshop artist, Star tries to achieve her goals in-camera before post-processing work begins. “Just because you can run an image through Lightroom, then process it through Photoshop, then add textures and add saturation, doesn’t mean you should,” she says. “I’m constantly looking for good light and constantly working on my exposures.” She tries to emulate film as much as possible while shooting.

f/1.2 1/800 100 ISO. ©Jasmine Star

Always aware of light, Star works with what she’s provided during daytime weddings. “I try to look for what I refer to as natural reflectors: a natural reflector coming from any sort of wall or gravel on the floor—any time I can find a reflective element that has any type of warmth. I’ll prefer to use a not‑so‑great location with amazing reflective light, versus a great location with mediocre light. A brick wall or terracotta walls or that kind of orangey-type of gravel on the floor that can still reflect sunlight and pop light back into my subjects face, I will move my clients to that light to kind of get that feel.”

f/1.2 1/2000 200 ISO. ©Jasmine Star

Despite calling herself “a natural light photographer,” Star is inevitably in situations where she needs to augment the sun. She mounts a Canon Speedlite 550EX on top of her camera, and uses a custom rig at the bottom of the camera for a PocketWizard Plus II. Star positions an off-camera flash to the side of the dance floor near the band or DJ. She’ll use this configuration, rarely moving the latter strobe throughout the night. “Because of our clientele and the price point we have, most of the time there’s uplighting in the room, and they have pin lighting and extensive setups,” she says, “so I don’t want to bring my flash all the way around the room. I just will keep the flash in one location.” Claiming most of her reception photos are shot on the dance floor, she simply works her way around the light source.

f/1.2 1/1600 100 ISO. ©Jasmine Star.

Shooting the way she does, Star’s workflow relies on off-camera flash mobility. “The PocketWizard provides the freedom for me to still stay true to my overall aesthetic without feeling shackled to the use of artificial light,” she explains. “I’ve had those little babies since the inception of my business. They’ve been with me since, gosh, 2007.”

Often asked about her custom hardware she uses for her PocketWizards, Star didn’t feel comfortable using Velcro, which was her first thought on how to jury rig what she envisioned. Walking into Samy’s Camera, she explained what she needed. It was built for her there, and she continues to use it faithfully. Asked exactly what kind of configuration they built her, she laughs. “I tell people I have no idea,” she says. “I just say, ‘the guys at Samy’s made it for me!’”

f/1.2 1/500 160 ISO. ©Jasmine Star

Star cites her ongoing connection with her clients as paramount to her success. “I wrote a post about the permission to be fabulous,” she says. “Sometimes girls don’t feel it’s okay to feel beautiful. Part of my job is to make them look beautiful, but in order for somebody to look beautiful, they have feel beautiful and fabulous. As a photographer, I wanted to make a point it’s so important to what we do to let people know, give them permission. As a female photographing another female, I want her to know that I’m not behind my camera judging her or thinking, ‘why is she doing that,’ or ‘what is she doing?’ I often tell my clients I want to create an arena where it is okay for you to feel beautiful and be fabulous. When they feel like that, all I have to do is simply capture them when they’re uninhibited. That is the mark of a true and beautiful picture.”

Jasmine Star Photography
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Written by Ron Egatz

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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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Laura Barisonzi's Difficult Locations and Extreme Conditions

“I’ve never really been a big studio shooter,” says photographer Laura Barisonzi. “Long before I was into photography, I was into being outside and hiking. I really like being on location and the challenge of changing light.” This makes perfect sense for a photographer using the tagline “Difficult Locations and Extreme Conditions.”

©Laura Barisonzi

Barisonzi left Wisconsin to study painting at Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design. Majoring in Foreign Languages, travel was essential to her education. While traveling, she began to photograph in earnest, and upon graduation, began assisting professional shooters.

With her work appearing in such publications as Cigar Aficionado, Forbes, GQ, Newsweek and Outside Magazine, she’s proven her ability to capture not only sports, but corporate leaders, book reviewers, rock bands, and other clients in need of portraiture. Regardless of subject, her colors are consistently rich without being blown out, rarely falling victim to trendy overexposure looks.

©Laura Barisonzi

Thinking differently on her personal projects is one of the standout qualities of this young photographer. Having shot for Yoga Journal and done other yoga assignments, she wanted to breakout the ancient practice from elegant studios and pristine beaches to something a-typical. In “Yogasana,” Barisonzi had accomplished yoginis and yogis perform their practice in outdoor locations never normally associated with the peacefulness we find in yoga. “I wanted to show yoga in a stressful environment,” she says. “I also like to use real practitioners and not models, who can typically only do a few basic poses. That sort of defeats the purpose for me. I do this on ad campaigns, too.”

Her “Free Running” series shot in New Mexico features two athletes performing their moves in some well-composed shots against backgrounds of adobe beige and blue sky. “I wanted it to be visually stunning and not have the setting interfere with the action,” she recalls. The completely stopped motion and carefully controlled shadows show viewers Barisonzi knows what she’s doing.

©Laura Barisonzi

In “Winter Surfing,” she captures a different set of athletes attempting to surf while there’s snow on the beaches of Maine and New Hampshire. Carrying surfboards in thigh-deep snow and paddling out to catch waves as wind blows stinging, nearly-vaporized water into your face is not for the weak-spirited. “That was definitely pretty terrible,” she laughs, recalling the weather.

Barisonzi’s corporate and editorial portraiture is at least as strong as her personal projects. “I always try to shoot portraiture in an interesting location, if I can,” she says. Examples are pediatrician David Kaelber on a kiddie swing next to one of his supposed patients, to musician Greg Lato at the counter of an old-fashioned diner. “I try to make the people stop posing. That’s a real struggle with editorial work. The people are usually very conscious of posing. They have a lot of expectations of what you’re trying to portray. If you can get them to forget all that, then something good can happen.”

©Laura Barisonzi

“I’m really into lighting. I’ll frequently have it all set up, and then look at it, and change everything. I’m very picky. It makes my assistants crazy,” Barisonzi says. “My goal is to make it look like it could be natural lighting, even if it’s not. I’m not a lover of ring flash or raw flash effects. I use a lot of big reflectors and grids. I’m into controlling every single light as much as possible. I like things to be warm.”

Always emulating the sun and eschewing cold studio lighting, Barisonzi feels passionately about advice she was given when she began her career. “There’s so much pressure to specialize. People say you need a recognizable look. Early on I was told I’m too all over the place, and that I need to concentrate on one style,” she says. Barisonzi rejected this advice. “If you shoot just one thing or style, you might have limited success for a short time. I believe if you’re going to have a full career, you should have a big repertoire of abilities and skills.” This has suited her well, as she regularly shoots lifestyle and sports portraits for a wide variety of clients.

©Laura Barisonzi

Preferring to get most of her signature saturation and lighting effects in-camera, she uses Photoshop and Lightroom for a minimum of processing. Barisonzi is more particular about the hardware she uses. Owner of an Induro monopod, she only uses it “for shooting over my head, in the air, or at weird angles,” she explains.

Profoto is her choice of packs and heads. “I like to rent the Pro-8a, depending on the location. Sometimes I’ll get Pro-B2 generators,” she says. “They always do a great job for me.”

©Laura Barisonzi

Barisonzi’s choice of camera body is a Nikon D3, and triggers her strobes with the PocketWizard MultiMAX and Plus II units. “I use both Plus II’s and/or MultiMAXes on every shoot I do,” she says. “PocketWizards are indispensable for me. I also have played with the MultiMAXes to get creative approaches to capturing motion, such as my shot of the guy pitching. That effect is all in-camera with MultiMAX.”

©Laura Barisonzi

In the future, Barisonzi plans continuing the growth of her client base, staying diverse, yet having the quality her portraits are known for as being the element which pulls it all together. Seeing how easy she makes her results look, this shouldn’t be difficult or extreme at all.

©Laura Barisonzi

Laura Barisonzi Photography

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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.”

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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.

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