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.
V. J. Franke at Points In Focus has written a lengthy review of the PocketWizard MiniTT1 and FlexTT5. We always love to read accounts of folks using our products, and Franke’s review is no exception. Concepts are clearly explained and the review was even recently updated to include Nikon information. Here’s the original first paragraph:
“To be honest, I think LPA Design’s Control TL Pocket Wizard system is the best thing since sliced bread, or maybe even better than that, I’m not sure.”
We agree, V.J.! Thank you.
Rick Denham was first featured last year on our blog. He’s been running intensive workshops on off-camera flash, and is a noted wedding photographer in Ontario, Canada. He recently sent us the following video, along with the description below. Enjoy!
“This was a video shot and produced by Jay Lupish from Captivate Bridal for the off-camera workshop I did back in February. We had 12 students from all over southern Ontario at a small bed and breakfast in Niagara on the lake. We did shoots involving some custom cars, models, bride and grooms, and some food photography, as well. Oh, and by the way, I only use PocketWizards with my Canon 580EX II’s.
Thanks for sharing, Rick!
With a thirty year career and assignments in over fifty countries, New Jersey-born Joe McNally’s images have been seen by millions the world over. His credits include covers for Fortune, Men’s Journal, Newsweek, New York, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, and TIME. He has a 23-year relationship with National Geographic, and, as a young man, cut some of his photographic teeth as a staff photographer for LIFE.
Heading to college with the idea of becoming a journalist, he was required to take a photography class as part of his major. “That’s what spun me in a visual direction,” McNally recalls. “Then I stayed in school beyond that, because I really didn’t have enough training. I stayed for two more years and eventually got a master’s degree in photojournalism from Syracuse University.”
We caught up with McNally as he was on the road for a seminar and gearing up for the October 2010 release of his latest book, The LIFE Guide to Digital Photography. Being on the road is nothing new for McNally. Although born in New Jersey, his family moved often when he was a child. He reports his professional career has always been based in and around New York City.
Perhaps the constant moving during his formative years has helped McNally develop his adaptability skills. Working for a wide range of publications and corporate clients, not to mention navigating the personalities of countless local individuals the around the world, flexibility has been one of the keys to his continued success. “Every magazine has its own essential character or quality, and its own purview,” McNally explains. “Some magazines are generalist kind of magazines, some obviously vector in on a certain world, like Sports Illustrated. National Geographic tends to visit big themes: science, medicine, conservation, social geography, physical geography, that kind of thing. I think it’s a question of adaptability, when you work for a variety of people. You recognize their mission is paramount and you adapt your skills to implement that mission.”
Loving his life as a freelancer, a multitude of clients have come to rely on McNally’s strengths. They know his style, and what they can expect from him. These days, he sees magazines getting more specific about what they want. The vision of a creative photographer can be hampered by strict editorial mandates, but McNally finds ways to keep his clients happy by working within their guidelines, yet not sacrificing his talent. “That’s the beauty of shooting editorially,” he says. “You have a certain parameter, a certain story, a certain narrative you have to observe. Presumably the magazine has chosen you because of certain strengths you have that seem to be suited to the particular story at hand. So they really do rely on those strengths or skills to augment and represent the story in the way that you fashion it in the field.”
He works best when the editorial direction is not overwhelming. “There’s usually not a controlling force,” he says of his clients. “That is getting less so now, as magazines get more specific about what they want. Certainly cover stories or cover pictures have art direction components to them, but by and large, historically‑speaking, when I’ve been out to places for National Geographic or Sports Illustrated, there’s no directorial influence. It’s usually kind of wind you up and go. When you start to lay down lots of structure and preordained concepts and storyboards and whatnot, then it becomes more like ad shooting than editorial shooting.”
As magazines and newspapers continue to be assaulted on all sides by the continuing recession and declining numbers of readers, McNally appreciates the strain editors are under, and shoots accordingly. “I would say there’s a lot of art directors at magazines who are tremendously influential, as opposed to the more laissez faire attitude of days gone by,” he says. “I think magazines are more rigidly controlling their look, because their look defines their place in the market, and their place in the market is very hard‑won nowadays. There is more, I think, influence from home base, if you will, and there’s certainly more budgetary control.”
When asked about how much gear he takes on assignments, the economy plays a part in this, too. “No, it’s too expensive to always bring the kitchen sink,” he explains. “Certainly the budget on the job and the scope and the scale of it dictate things. I do an awful lot of work with small flash, as well as big flash. Some jobs are just very equipment‑intensive, other jobs not so much. What you bring with you is influenced greatly by the scale of the job and the least you can get away with, in some ways, because shipping equipment is very expensive nowadays. If you are hopefully a little more precise in your estimation of what’s needed in the field, you can save yourself a lot of money and a lot of heartache.”
On his blog, McNally regularly posts sketches of lighting scenarios. These were diagrams he created for his team to follow. Often times actual location conditions will force him to scrap his plans, and he needs to adjust lighting and other gear on the fly.
If you had to posit one thing which unifies the wide range of subject matter McNally shoots, it might be the compositions of his location shoots. Whether it’s a fisheye shot looking down from the antenna atop the Empire State Building to looking up at a group of swimmers passing by overhead (but not giving himself away by having any of his exhalation bubbles in the shot), McNally often composes in unfamiliar ways. “The push, I think, for any photographer is to try to come up with this picture that might be slightly different from another picture you’ve already seen,” he says. “Not always, but at least occasionally, that would be driven by simply getting your camera someplace where a camera doesn’t get to too often. You find yourself using a helicopter, or climbing something, or attaching the camera to something which hopefully returns a photograph that is at least unexpected. I enjoy it if I can come up with a photograph a little bit different. That’s what I push for, because that’s part of the job. If you do come up with something like that, you have a chance, anyway, of resting somebody’s eyeballs for more than a few seconds and getting them intrigued. That’s really your job as a storyteller is to get people involved in whatever the story is that you are telling.”
Aside from unfamiliar angles in some of his compositions, McNally also has been known to put unfamiliar elements together, such as his series of ballet dancers in locations far from the stage or dance studio. He has shot dancers everywhere from bombed-out apartment buildings to steam baths. “I always advocate to photographers to shoot that which they love, or that which they can’t help but shoot. For me, for many years, that has been a hobby within photography for me is dance work, because A: I think it’s very beautiful just de facto, just to look at it. B: I find dancers to be very artistically attuned themselves. When you ask them if they would be, say, adventuresome with you and become part of a tableau you’re creating, they often times will respond to that and become part of your imagination in a very wonderful way. I like dancers, they work very hard; they’re very creative people. The dance forms like ballet, to me, it’s all about pictures. It’s all about visual audacity and just the genius of a dancer beckons the camera constantly.”
As technology changes photography, McNally still values mentoring relationships, and is very much involved with educating other photographers. “I was blessed with knowing really great photographers when I started, and was mentored and educated in the field by some great picture editors,” he recalls. “That happens probably less so today, because the big staffs of photographers have largely dissipated, so there isn’t that collection of photographers at one place and time where the younger staffers would feed off of the older ones and learn. Digital is wonderful, but it also, for photographers, can be very isolating. The other type of community which sprung up in lieu of that, I think, has been the availability of workshops, lectures, and mentoring on the Internet and things like that.”
Seeing the Internet as taking the place of one-on-one mentorships of the past, McNally still enjoys meeting shooters of all kinds. The exchange he has with them is mutually beneficial. “I enjoy that contact with other photographers whether they are amateur or professional, young or veterans, whatever it might be,” he says. “I enjoy that contact, because I find I learn constantly in those kinds of situations.”
Between lectures, one-day seminars, and workshops, McNally estimates he teaches about half of each year. “Workshops can be intensive and hands-on as opposed to a discussion, which would be more lecture based, a showing of work and a discussion thereof,” he explains. “What we try to do at the workshops is push to be hands-on, push for it to be not just a lecture experience, but also a practical experience where the participants in the workshop not only see the instructor, myself or someone else, do something, they actually try to do it themselves. They get involved with the gear, or they get involved in a hands-on level.”
When asked about the wide range of his catalog, McNally points to photographers whom he was drawn to when coming out of school, such as W. Eugene Smith. “I really admired some of the photographers in the heyday of LIFE Magazine, and they were very versatile with cameras, to be sure. They can do a lot of different things. If I had a pattern I observed, it might have been that, but to take credit for that or say that I was the architect of my career in that way would probably be presuming too much. Some of it is certainly accidental. Do something for one magazine, another magazine sees it. Before you know it, you’ve done a few things across the board. I’ve always referred to myself, photographically speaking, if you used a sports analogy: I’m a pretty good utility infielder. I can play a lot of different positions at once, or I can do a lot of different things for the ball club. Maybe wouldn’t be the best at any one of them, but I can do a variety of different things with a camera in my hand.”
The cameras in his hands today are the Nikon D3S and D3X. He has put together his “basic workhorse kit,” which contains a 14-24mm, a 24-70mm, and a 70-200mm zoom lens. “I’ve been experimenting with a lot of minimum depth-of-field lately, and thankfully there have been some new lenses that have accommodated that interest,” he says. “Just in the last year or so, Nikon has come out with a 24/1.4, an 85/1.4, a 35/1.4, so those lenses are very intriguing to me because it’s a throw back in certain ways to where I started with them being prime lenses, and also being very fast, and also being very sharp wide open.”
Known for his speedlight work, McNally claims Nikon’s “the best flash system in the marketplace. It’s very intuitive. They’re light, but also powerful. It’s smart, it’s adaptive. Is it perfect? Absolutely not; no flash system is. But, in terms of creative control, I find it gives me a lot of intuitive, quick responses when you’re out there moving fast, which I really value.”
When he doesn’t have direct line of sight, McNally triggers his lights with PocketWizards. “Now, of course, with the Flexes and the Minis on the doorstep for the Nikon system, I’ve been involving those,” he says. “I look forward to that kind of control. That’s another adaptation potentially very valuable to be able to incorporate TTL into a radio signal. That is in our future, quite obviously. That’s potentially very envelope-enlarging in terms of creative control and flash.”
We asked McNally about his latest book, released October 2010. “It’s quite an honor to have written it, because it’s for my alma mater, LIFE Magazine. I’m the last staff photographer at LIFE. There were 90 of us, and I’m the last one. They approached me and asked me to write a guide to digital photography. It’s a book that starts real basic and goes through a whole series of step‑by‑step basic information, but it’s leavened with 30 years of field experience, so there’s hopefully material in there that even someone who is a little more advanced than someone who just got a camera would find interesting and valuable.”
Hopes for The LIFE Guide to Digital Photography are high, especially considering his last two books, The Moment it Clicks and The Hot Shoe Diaries, both cracked the top ten on Amazon.com. “We were very surprised and honored by that,” McNally says. “People seemed to really respond to the books, so hopefully this book, while it appeals to a different section of the photography enthusiast marketplace out there, hopefully it will be well received.”
As the world of photography, clients, and photographers continues to change, Joe McNally continues to adapt, build great images, and share with other photographers. The width and breadth of his career is nothing short of stunning. If he’s lecturing or running a workshop in a town near you, be sure to catch him. One day you’ll be able to tell younger shooters not only did you learn a lot, but that you spent time with the last staffer in the long line of great LIFE photographers.
Written by Ron Egatz
John B. Holbrook, II has been building up his lighting equipment over the past year. He recently wrote two posts on his blog, Thru My Lens, about his use of the PocketWizard FlexTT5 and the PocketWizard MiniTT1.
His site features iPhone articles and lots of photography. Although we were unable to find an email address for him on his site, we like what he’s doing, and wish him all the best as he works out with his newly-equipped home-based photography studio. Here’s a screenshot below excerpted from his post entitled “Playing With Lighting & Remote Triggers In My Watch Photo Studio.”
Based in downtown Washington, D.C., Moshe Zusman has been passionate about photography for the past seven years. Four years ago, he left the world of second shooting and assisting behind to begin the transition to full-time professional photographer. An enthusiast of workshops, seminars and trade shows, Zusman used these resources to gain his formal training. He now teaches workshops of his own at CDIA in Washington, which is a Boston University satellite program.
Every so often we come across a photographer operating in an area of professional work where we’ve come to expect a certain level of competence and typical array of stock poses or compositions only to find they are turning those conventions on their head. Zusman is one such shooter. Largely working as a wedding photographer, his groupings of wedding parties, the posing of couples, and the textural compositions he puts together are tasteful, yet uncommon. Many of his images remind one of well-crafted paintings, rather than informal portraits. His eye for building these shots is uncanny, and his average wedding shot is something many young couples would be fortunate to have one or two of in their albums.
Some of Zusman’s well-crafted larger group shots don’t come easily. “I’ll probably snap a few candids, but when it comes to doing the photos that I was going to do, I will pose each and every one of them,” he says. “It takes about maybe ten minutes; up to ten minutes to pose a group of up to twenty people. I love doing that. Those are the photos my couples end up hanging up on their wall, versus the bouquet and flowers and all that.”
Zusman credits social networking as being pivotal in the success of his photography business. “Right after WPPI three years ago, I came back home and I really implemented a lot of what I heard there. It really worked,” he says. Self-marketing has risen high in his priorities, and he regularly attends many events. He also posts photos online within an hour of when they were taken, fully edited and tagged.
As an instructor, Zusman finds himself still learning from other shooters. “I always look at other photographer’s work and I get inspired. I try not to copy them but I just need to get inspired by ideas and I don’t think anyone here invented the wheel but we definitely make it right,” he explains. He also credits his students as being a source of new ideas, and considers his own style as being fluid and changing regularly.
Moving across genres, Zusman not only shoots weddings, but also corporate and food photography, to name but just two more. “Weddings have always been my passion and always will be,” he declares. “I try to bring the same ideas I do in weddings to keep things edgy. As you know, I’m a big fan of breaking the rules in photography, so I’ll definitely blow up a photo if I have to, if I want to. I sort of bring all that into corporate photography as well to the corporate level.” His corporate work largely comes about by word of mouth referrals.
His main camera body is a Canon EOS 1D Mark IV, and for manual focusing jobs, he sticks with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, which is often employed for architectural shots. He exclusively shoots digitally, and has never shot film.
“I switched to prime lenses about two years ago,” Zusman says, although he still shoots a variety of zooms, citing the 70-200mm as his favorite. All his images are run through Adobe Lightroom. He credits enhancement work in the red and blue color channels as being critical to his saturation levels and overall look.
For off-camera lighting, Zusman relies on three or four Canon 580EX II Speedlites. He fires his lights with PocketWizard MultiMAX units and the FlexTT5 and MiniTT1 combination. “The PocketWizards are helping me control the lighting. I used to try the infrared with the Canon ST-E2 units. They just did not do it. The PocketWizards are really freeing me from having to have other people turn things on and off. I can turn channels on and off. Now with the new FlexTT5, I will be able to really work in TTL mode. I love working with those. They free me as far as range of where I can go with my lights. I never had a problem. PocketWizards are probably the one thing that works perfectly. Better than anything else, and I mean that. From battery life to accuracy and consistency, those are my favorite products in the camera bag.”
In addition to teaching and composing his impressive images, Zusman is working toward opening a photography studio in Washington. If he has any advice for other photographers, it’s not nuts and bolts how-to tips about gear. “I always tell people if you want to be successful before becoming a professional photographer, just become a professional human being,” he says. “I think you need to be a good person, a nice person, and the rest will follow. That’s my mantra.”
Written by Ron Egatz
Michael Willems and his nifty blog, SpeedLighter.ca, have posted an interesting article about how to modify a Photoflex DualFlash bracket so it can hold two flashes or a flash and a PocketWizard for use on a light stand.
The modification appears to be quick and simple. Although we haven’t tried it, it seems like a good idea. Nice job, Michael!
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
Written by Ron Egatz
Mark Stagi recently published a review of the PocketWizard MiniTT1 and the FlexTT5 on his Digital Photo Buzz site. He gives a solid overview of what both products do. It’s a great place to pick up what the fundamentals of this triggering technology is all about.
Stagi covers HyperSync technology and gives reasons why he upgraded from the PocketWizard Plus II units he’s relied on for the past two years. Be sure to check out the review and the rest of his site.
For someone who’s been a guitarist in a punk band, an actor, and a professional critic of high-quality single malt Scotch, Tomas Whitehouse’s work doesn’t reveal a commercial photography career is something he came to relatively late in his 31 years. This ex-patriot Englishman now living in Finland is full of the unexpected. Physically imposing, he is gregarious, generous, and if you didn’t know him, you could easily think his photographs were taken by someone shooting professionally as long as Whitehouse has been alive.
While studying acting in college, he found himself taking compulsory sub-modules like makeup, theatrical dress, lighting, and live sound reinforcement. Although he loved acting, he was drawn to art and technical aspects of lighting. In order to avoid the massive debt for university studies which he saw his peers getting drawn into, he left school to follow another dream—writing songs and playing guitars. The Birmingham-native ended up playing in the band Farse, which recorded several albums, and became fairly well-known by British youth. By 2004, the UK independent scene was not enabling them to pay their bills, and they were unable to break out of their home country.
After a series of unhappy jobs in a variety of industries, Whitehouse had enough, and felt the pull of international travel beckoning. He brought his first Fuji FinePix S7000 camera, and documented his travels. He became interested in editing and postproduction as a hobby. By 2006 he met his girlfriend in Helsinki and began to transition to professional photography. Finding himself drawn to shoot figure skating events, he was noticed by an editor at the Finnish Figure Skating Association, who liked his work. She began hiring him, and then he discovered David Hobby’s blog, The Strobist. This information resource opened a new dimension to his shooting, and Whitehouse became a convert to the ways of off-camera flash. Soon he recognized he was combining Hobby’s information with what he learned in his theater lighting courses, and quickly felt competent when planning light setups for his own shoots.
It became apparent he was well-ahead of the curve of most other photographers in the area, and he continued to excel. Given Finland’s proximity next to Sweden, the home of Profoto, Whitehouse took advantage of the strong representation the company enjoys in Helsinki. Soon he owned an AcuteB 600R, a D4 head, D4 Ring Flash, soft light reflector, ComPactPlus 600 spare batteries, and other accessories. “Then I had this huge amount of power in a really small box which I could still take to and from shoots, so it opened up a huge door for me,” he says. “You can rely on it, as well as it gives an immense quality of light consistency.” He rents Profoto Pro-B3 units when he “needs bigger guns,” he explains.
Whitehouse picked up work as a stringer for Getty, shooting figure skating. He also worked for Canon, several media agencies, and a range of record labels. Finding himself drawn to larger productions, he enjoys all the preproduction involved in a complex shoot. He sees this as the direction he’d like to continue moving in. “I’ve never been an assistant for anyone,” he says. “It’s just literally from reading an awful lot and getting out there. You really have to get out there and get to know the equipment you’ve got, respect its limitations and make a whole bunch of mistakes. Then you find what you want to do and develop your own style.”
Seeing diversity in personal photography as a way keep his professional practice fresh, Whitehouse shoots in different styles on his own time. He recommends this to all photographers. “I love macro photography, love taking pictures of tiny microscopic things,” he explains. “A lot of photographers sometimes get so consumed by their career they don’t have enough time to create stuff off their own backs sometimes. It’s a shame. I understand it when folks are really busy and their spare time is really limited, but it’s very healthy to have your own personal projects—the stuff you don’t have to worry about working towards clients requirements. You can just go completely crazy with something and really get what’s inside you out and into the picture and manifest it. It’s a healthy thing. It gets harder and harder to make that time, but it’s a good idea to allow the time for it if you can.” Not to be taken lightly, much of Whitehouse’s personal photography is as accomplished as his professional jobs.
Whitehouse is a Nikon shooter, relying on the D3 model for his main camera body. For portrait work, he uses the 50mm f/1.4 lens, which he dubs “my usual choice of lenses.” He continues by saying “I like the small primes, because when you’re using the Profoto D4 Ringflash, everything’s nice and compact and tidy. When you stick a big 24-70mm zoom, everything gets a bit bulky, and it slows me down a little.”
Connecting his Nikons to his Profoto gear, Whitehouse uses four PocketWizard Plus II units. He’ll next be trying the MultiMAX, but the Plus II’s have been working fine. “They’re about four years old, now, and still going strong,” he reports. “Out of all the equipment I’ve had so far, those are the die‑hards. They just refuse to stop working. A few friends of mine said, ‘Yeah, but they’re really expensive.’ It’s not what you get, it’s what you pay for. If you want something that’s going to survive come wind, rain, or nuclear holocaust, then you buy a PocketWizard. If you want to keep recycling all your stuff, or changing it over or upgrading year after year, then go ahead and buy something cheaper.”
Aside from their quality and reliability, there’s another reason Whitehouse uses PocketWizard. “I’ve always been a PocketWizard guy after making too many mistakes with cheap Chinese triggers. I was at an ice tour taking pictures of a figure skating team. I had three or four flashes all with these cheap triggers. Every time the organizers went past me carrying the walkie talkie radio and pressed their transmitter it would fire my triggers and my lights. We call them PovertyWizards. I’ve tried pretty much every brand of Chinese PovertyWizard there was. You wind up buying them over and over. You end up spending more in the end, don’t you? To students at my workshops, I say, ‘You can buy these if you’re just taking pictures for pleasure,” because it’s not so bad if they misfire, or something strange happens during the shoot. But, if you’re ever thinking of doing this for money, and where you absolutely, positively have to rely on your equipment keeping up to your pace, then don’t buy cheap. Buy something reliable, something everyone from all around the world will rate, and tell you, or swear by.”
Next year will be the European figure skating championships in Switzerland, which Whitehouse already has his eye on. He’s also aiming to shoot more elaborate and theatrical on-location stories. “I don’t care if I’m earning pennies, or if it’s costing me thousands. That’s the stuff I want to do and that’s the stuff that I’m getting sucked into,” he says. He plans on living in Finland from now on, with periodic trips to the U.K. for both work and family visits. Considering how far his technique and vision have developed in such a short time, we look forward to a long and exciting career from this accomplished autodidact.
Written by Ron Egatz