Posts Tagged ‘environmental portraiture’

Breaking the ‘First Three Song’ Rule with Erik Voake

In time, most photographers turn to video as the next logical step in their careers. Not so with Los Angeles-based Erik Voake. In fact, he did the opposite. At 19 he was already directing and producing indie films and videos about off-road racing, skiing, freestyle motocross, snowmobiling, snowboarding, and other action sports.

Other professional accomplishments he’s amassed include being a co-Producer and Director of Photography on the Lionsgate film “A Day in the Life”, a film dubbed a “hip hopera” staring Mekhi Phifer, Omar Epps, Michael Rapaport, and directed by Sticky Fingaz from ONYX. He was also DP on Larry Clark’s ‘Impaled’, a documentary about the effects of pornography on youths’ sex lives, and he recently produced and filmed a documentary titled “Jonathon” that was screened at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris.

Mac Demarco - Performance

‘Mac Demarco’ – Copyright Erik Voake / Red Bull Content Pool


On TV, Voake created the cable reality series “Crusty’s Dirt Demons” a show about the exploits of motocross riders that aired for two seasons on FUSE Networks. But despite his success in the motion picture and TV universe, something was amiss.

Flume - Performance

‘Flume’  – Copyright Erik Voake / Red Bull Content Pool


In 2006, not long after seeing the James Nachtwey film documentary – ‘War Photographer’, Voake was offered the opportunity to travel to Bagdad and shoot a documentary on the first deployment of the ‘Band of Brothers’ since World War II (a.k.a. the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, US Army). Sponsored by Sony, it also gave Erik an opportunity to follow the advice of his friend and mentor, photographer Larry Clark, who was urging him to always carry a camera with him because of all of the places he travels and the people he meets. According to Erik, Clark’s advice changed his life.

The still images he captured in Iraq resulted in his first gallery show, which he scrambled to assemble after selling the gallery owner on the idea of a show about the fabled Roxy Theatre. (The gallery owner loved the pictures from Iraq but doubted they were the kinds of images his clientele would want to hang on their walls.)

Smashing Pumpkins - Performance

‘Smashing Pumpkins’ – Copyright Erik Voake / Red Bull Content Pool


It was during this time Voake began appreciating the value of traveling light and nimble. Backstage venues are dark, which means you need light, but too much light can be intimidating when you’re trying to gain the trust and confidence of musicians and the lot.

About a week after posting a picture he shot of a band named ‘Chelsea Girl’ on Flickr, Erik got a call from Spin Magazine. They wanted to buy the picture. One thing led to another and before he knew it, Voake had talked them into an assignment photographing a music festival in nearby Michigan, which in turn led to a gig shooting Lollapalooza and the South-by-Southwest music festival. That was in 2009 and Erik Voake has been a music shooter ever since.


Copyright Erik Voake / Red Bull Content Pool


“I’m a photographer – not a director, not a producer, I’m a photographer – I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. My mom was an art teacher, and she told me when I started taking pictures, I finally came into my own. When I picked up a camera… I became Erik Voake.”

Voake began shooting portraits of many of the performers he met along the way. His lighting style is of the ‘less is more’ school and he tends to minimize his lights to a ring light or for larger, softer swaths of light, a beauty dish (“Nothing beats a beauty dish”).


Copyright Erik Voake / Red Bull Content Pool


For backstage shooting he relies on Canon Speedlites. And for syncing his cameras and lights, Erik Voake relies on his PocketWizard Plus II radio triggers. “PocketWizards radio triggers are all I use and all I need. They work every time. Period.” (Note: The Plus II has been replaced by the Plus III Transceiver)

One of Voakes niftier gigs these days is being an official photographer for all of the Red Bull Music Concerts, which feature some of the biggest bands around. A particularly cool thing about working directly for Red Bull is that he has the run of the arena, and in particular, a green light to set up lights around the stage pre-show rather than have to deal with on-camera flash, or more troubling stage lighting, which can change quickly, wildly, and flippantly.

By rigging the stage and syncing through his PocketWizard radio triggers, Erik is able to guarantee his results. And that’s not easy to do on the concert circuit.

'Tapioca and the Flea'

‘Tapioca and the Flea’ – Copyright Erik Voake / Red Bull Content Pool


Another noteworthy detail about shooting the Red Bull Concerts, is that since Red Bull was a private sponsor and was paying the bills, Voake was able to break the number one rule of concert photography, specifically –  ‘No flash for the first three songs!’

As Erik Voake summed it up, “We made music history. We were able to break the ‘first three song rule’, and we got some amazing pictures along the way. At first everybody was ‘Hey, what’s up?’, but it all settled rather quickly and everyone including the musicians notice the difference in lighting quality. And he gives much credit to his PocketWizard wireless triggers for pulling it all off.”

To see more of Erik Voake’s photographic work visit his website.

All images, videos, and quotes in this post are used with permission and © Erik Voake, 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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Walter Van Dusen Gets Ready for Hannah’s Big Day

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 10.58.47 PMThe contact page of Walter van Dusen’s website features a picture of his daughter with a caption that reads “Every wedding that I photograph is preparing for my daughter Hannah’s wedding. That’s how important your wedding is to me”. And he means it. Some photographers approach weddings as cookie-cutter catalog work. New England-based Walter van Dusen approaches weddings with a passion.

With 20 years as a correction officer under his belt, Walter has the steely nerves required to deal with the heightened emotions and meltdowns that often go hand-in-hand with wedding days. Careful to avoid repetitive grip and grin-ish wedding photography, van Dusen makes a conscious effort to spend up-front time in order to get to know the soon-to-be-married couple, and sometimes their families and significant others in their lives.

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 10.58.52 PM (more…)

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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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Justin Van Leeuwen’s Distance Test Shoot

Photographer Justin Van Leeuwen of Ottawa, Ontario shoots some great commercial interiors, but his true passion is people. Environmental portraiture is where he really shines, doing his best to catch an individual’s entire personality in just one frame. Here’s his account of an exciting outdoor photo test he undertook.

©Justin Van Leeuwen

©Justin Van Leeuwen

Sometimes we take photos just because we can.

I was walking around the Ottawa River with the Canon 200-400mm f/4 L IS 1.4x Extender, testing it for my review on With such a long telephoto reach, one that I’m not typically used to, I started looking, and seeing, things in areas I hadn’t before. This included a really cool cliff opposite Ottawa’s Parliament on the Quebec side. It was covered in graffitti, which meant it was also accessible. It gave me the idea to try to take a really cool and unique shot; a portrait from across the river from Ottawa to Hull, Ontario to Quebec — an interprovincial photo shoot.

I went home to brainstorm the logistics of the shoot. I knew the lighting would be contrasty and unflattering during the day (as it is) which would move the shoot closer to dusk and sunset. I had never been to the cliffs either, and since I would be on one side of the river to take the shots, whoever I would send out there would be on their own. That didn’t sit well with me, so I knew I would have to enlist one or two volunteers as assistants as added security. I also knew I wanted to light it, because taking a photo from 1600 feet away isn’t hard enough, I wanted to do something different and make the image pop.

How are we going to light someone that far away? I know my Canon ST-E3-RT system can’t go that far, neither can my Elinchrom Skyports. I had just read about PocketWizard radios new Plus III Transceiver’s, that not only had a “long range” option, but also offered a relay mode to piggy-back the signal from one PocketWizard radio to the next. I did a little Google Map math, and figured the direct line from camera to location (about 1600 feet) was a bit too close to push the max range on a set of transceivers, which is rated at 1600 feet. Adding a relay point on a conveniently placed island would cut that distance in half and should assure us a successful flash trigger.

©Justin Van Leeuwen

©Justin Van Leeuwen


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Jack Haley’s Photojournalism and PocketWizard

Photojournalist Jack Haley of and the Messenger Post Newspapers regularly incorporates PocketWizard radio technology into his daily assignments. Rarely knowing what subject matter and conditions he’s going to find before his arrival, his PocketWizard Plus® II radios are still an integral part of his gear, helping him capture everything from sports action frozen in place to impressive environmental portraits. He recently shared information with us on shoots he completed for “Spring Sports Stars.”

Jack Haley/Messenger Post Co-Player of the Year Tommy Wagner of Victor, New York. ©Jack Haley/Messenger Post Newspapers

Co-Player of the Year Tommy Wagner of Victor, New York. ©Jack Haley/Messenger Post Newspapers

This baseball player’s action portrait was shot at 1/320 with a Nikon D300s and two Nikon SB-80DX flashes. No diffusers were used.


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To TTL or Not to TTL Webinar

Off-camera flash done two ways. Find out which style might work best for you!


When adding light to your portraits, it’s clear that off-camera flash produces the most natural and beautiful results. The question that remains is how to best control the flash. Should you use your camera’s TTL metering system or is it best to take control and go full manual?

In this video Webinar presented by PocketWizard, guest photographer Rick Sammon joins host Joe Brady as they do an environmental portrait shoot using both methods. Rick is a master at making TTL off-camera flash easy and effective while Joe prefers full manual control for consistency and repeatability.

Which style is best for you?

Join us for this friendly battle between Rick and Joe as they each show their process for controlling off-camera flash for environmental portraits. Take advantage of the live chat as Rick and Joe will take your questions and discuss the features and benefits of each style. You may choose one side or the other, or perhaps even combine both – but whichever way you decide, this will be a fun and informative presentation!

Date: 11 July 2013
Time: 1:00pm EDT
Title: To TTL or Not to TTL?
Presenters: Joe Brady and Rick Sammon
Archived Webinar:

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Paul D’Andrea’s HyperSync Portrait

Paul D'Andrea

© 2012 Paul D’Andrea

Paul D’Andrea is an Indianapolis-based photographer whose work runs the gamut from portraits and events to fine art. He even helps run one of the few photography galleries in the city, M10 Studio and Gallery. Here, he gives us the details behind an outdoor portrait he made with a little help from HyperSync®.

When making a portrait I have to decide how to draw the viewer’s eye to the subject. I might do this with a simplified background, a composition that frames the subject, or it might be with a shallow depth of field or a difference in exposure (making the subject brighter than the backdrop).

For an outdoor portrait, using a shallow depth of field often precludes the use of studio lights and exposure in pulling the subject off the background. With a maximum sync speed of 1/250th of a second for the studio lights, I need to choose an aperture to match the ambient exposure, this might be f/11 or f/16 on a sunny day, which won’t provide a very shallow depth of field. Enter HyperSync, which allows me to have both a shallow depth of field and large light modifiers.


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Chris Crisman’s Heroes of Conservation, Part 3

Chris Crisman - Heroes of Conservation

© 2012 Chris Crisman

In the final part of Chris Crisman’s Heroes of Conservation series, Chris spends the day in northern Maine with John Serfazo, founder of the American Greenlands Restoration Inc.

John began his conservation efforts over ten years ago and has to date restored or reclaimed over 1000 acres of natural habitat.

Chris takes John’s portrait in a field of wild buckwheat in the late morning, using a gridded Octabank as his key light and the sun as backlight and fill light. He writes, “Adding a grid to a larger and broader source we were able to condense the light significantly, making it a bit more contrasty and shaping but still keeping the overall soft feel we try to achieve by using our octas. Since we we were working in fairly bright daylight, we ran approximately 1500 w/s out of our Dynalite power packs, synced wirelessly to the camera with our Pocketwizard Plus® III transmitters.”


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Greg Vojtko’s Laser Portrait

greg vojtko

While working at Naval Sea Systems Command in California, photographer Greg Vojtko had the opportunity to photograph engineer Dan King, designer of laser calibration standards.

Instead of taking a traditional headshot and calling it a day, Greg created a dramatic portrait of a man at work. In a darkened room, Greg set up two speedlights to illuminate his subject, triggered them with PocketWizard radio triggers, then left his shutter open while filling the room with smoke to burn in the light from the lasers.

He writes, “While the phrase ‘Smoke and mirrors,’ is often considered a metaphor for a deceptive or fraudulent explanation, in this case served to bring a portrait to life.”

Read the full post and see more of his work on his site.


All images and quotes in this post are used with permission and ©Greg Vojtko, 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 re-post elsewhere without written permission.

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Chris Crisman’s Heroes of Conservation, Part 2

Chris Crisman - Rod Cross

Rod Cross © 2012 Chris Crisman

Chris Crisman continues his behind the scenes coverage of the Heroes of Conservation project with Rod Cross, president of Pennsylvania’s Falling Spring Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

The first shoot took place early in the morning, but on dry land. For this next shoot, Chris takes to the water to capture a portrait of Rod, a fisherman who has raised over one million dollars in grants to protect Pennsylvania’s waterways.

As with the first shoot, Chris masterfully blends the ambient light and strobe, using a small softbox with a grid to light Rod, while taking advantage of the dappled afternoon sunlight.


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