Turn on a dime.

Turn on a dime.

So after my two weeks golf week hell, I had a week off to recover, pay the bills, and storm the football field for the NFL’s Pro Bowl.  We don’t get to cover sports much in Hawaii on the national level.  Hawaii doesn’t have any professional teams  nor is there much national interest in college or high school sports unless they win big.  Yet with two major PGA Tour golf tournaments and the Pro Bowl…all within the span of three weeks in January…I’m sported out!

Sport photography is a tough business.  Your career is based on capturing that winning moment.  Photographer (and mentor if you ask me) Nathaniel Welch once told me about sports photographers.  “Your livelihood depends on whether or not the athlete or team you are following makes the big play and wins,” or something like that.   If that team or athlete fails, you fail.  If you have to depend on someone else to make a living, it isn’t a good career.

I once wanted to be a sports photographer back in the day of film and manual focus cameras.  It was in college and the University of Texas had top notch athletic programs and athletes.  I spent much of my college days at football fields, basketball courts, and swimming pools.

UT vs Houston BB
UT vs Houston men’s basketball 1991-1992


Luckily I avoided that career path but do wish I had dabbled in the professional sports photo world a bit in my younger days.  I would have been special times to have gone to a Super Bowl, a World Cup or an Olympics yet I don’t regret the path I have taken.  Although I heard Nathaniel’s words much later in life, I clearly understood them years before.

But back to the Pro Bowl, the NFL event that brings the best of the best players who currently are not playing in the following week’s Super Bowl.  Not too far back, the Pro Bowl used to be held after the Super Bowl but the Pro Bowl began to lose relevance and the NFL had to update and remake the event to keep people interested.  For too many years, the Pro Bowl was a powder puff game where teams played hard the first quarter and cruised the rest of the time.  I recall many times hearing boos and catcalls  from fans as QB’s would take knees to run down the clock or tacklers would gently grab a runningback so as to avoid injuries.  The last two years have changed quite a bit as players are actually out there to win.  There’s still some powder puffiness going on but this last game proved to be a nail biter.

With minutes left in the game, Team Sanders scored only to have Team Rice quickly score soon after and take the lead with a two-point conversion.  Team Sanders then drove midway down the field only to have Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles sacked by Dallas Cowboys DT Jason Hatcher forcing TS into an impossible 67-yard field goal.  With virtually no time left on the clock, the kick went wide but New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie caught the kick and ran towards the opposite end zone.  The media and the side line had rushed the field as we thought the game had ended but clock had not completely zeroed out.  Cromartie ran down field in hopes of making a touch down and headed straight towards me.  I aimed my camera and fired thinking he’s stop but he kept coming.  I didn’t have time to move and wondered if my cameras would break on impact.

Antonio Cromartie almost runs me over.
Antonio Cromartie almost runs me over.

Cromartie looked forward then back and rushed towards me only to turn on a dime to avoid running me over.  He clipped the lens of my second camera on my shoulder which rocked back and forth after he shot by.  Most of you who know me know I’m not a small guy but Cromartie would have knocking the hell out of me.  It would have made a funny top ten plays of the day on Sports Center but it would have been an expensive trip to Canon repair…if not the doctor as well.

If you are not on the field and only watch it on television, its really hard to understand the athleticism of these men.  I’ve seen 300 lb plus linemen move like ballet dancers and watched wide receivers make impossible catches…and this is only the powder puff Pro Bowl!  My current and recent experience photographing football is the University of Hawaii and many of the players if not most will never see the professional side of the sport.  There is no comparison.  The Pro Bowl brings the best of the best to the field.  I can only imagine if it had been a stumbling local college kid and what might have happened.  Thanks Antonio for not breaking my back or bank.

*Note–The 2o14 Pro Bowl teams were drafted from both the NFC and AFC and teammates had the possibility of playing each other.  The teams were headed by Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders.


The Nimitz Byway

The Nimitz Byway

My first professional written article was published in the Star Advertiser Sunday, Nov. 24th.  On a trip to Texas last year, it dawned on me how Hawaii and Fredericksburg, Texas, a small town just west of Austin, north of San Antonio, are directly connected by a man who helped win the Pacific War against the Japanese.  So I wrote a travel piece on visiting this small town in Texas and the significance of one of the town’s greatest sons has in the history of Hawaii.

Chester Nimitz was born to a German pioneer’s family who help settled parts of Texas.  Nimitz rose to be the US Navy Admiral in charge of the Pacific Fleet after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  His role in the defeat of the Japanese is slightly overshadowed by the US Army’s Gen. Douglas MacArthur; but in Hawaii, Nimitz’s legacy is not forgotten.  Nimitz’s name lends itself to one of Oahu’s most important thoroughfares, Nimitz Highway, along with a nearby elementary school several businesses including a yoga studio and a BBQ joint, although those might be named for their proximity to the road, not the Admiral.  At the end of the war, upon returning to Hawaii, he was given a hero’s welcome and led a parade from the battlegrounds of Pearl Harbor to the Kingdom of Hawaii’s historic Iolani Palace.  The Admiral was named “Alii aimoku,” or supreme chief, by all the Hawaiian Orders in Hawaii – a rare feat for a haole from Fredericksburg, TX.  A war museum was established in his family’s old Fredricksburg hotel and the collection of WWII artifacts rivals Pearl Harbor’s historic museum.  The Nimitz Museum actually has the Japanese midget submarine that washed ashore on the beaches of Oahu after the  Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.  Quite a collection, indeed!

Please take a moment to read my first travel piece written as a professional “writer.”  I’ve never thought of myself as a writer yet I’ve written most of my adult life.  Here’s my first chance to prove I can.





Samoan Chicken Wings

Samoan Chicken Wings

As we rolled our gear into the darkened garden center, the overwhelming smell of chicken manure filled the air.  The earthy yet foul odor, as disgusting as it may sound (or smell), helped soothe the pregame jitters I usually get when I show up on a location and need to build a studio.  What made this job different was that I was shooting in the garden center of a well known big box store in the middle of the night.  Well, not that late but when you’re call time is at 10pm, it’s pretty late to be thinking about setting up a seamless, lighting it and bringing your subject to stage—ready to work–at midnight.

Well, it’s all in a day’s work for me.  I never know what strange request I’ll have and hours I’ll need to be available.  I was assigned by a client (who I should probably keep confidential as the article isn’t published yet) to create a portrait of an associate who works at said big box store.  This particular client was featuring an associate, a Samoan woman, who has become famous for her local style chicken wings recipe.  The problem was the associate didn’t show up till 11pm and they required I shoot her on location during her shift.  The client wanted the subject shot on a white seamless backdrop which would be stripped away and placed on a white page with her recipe printed next to her.  I just had to fit the subject onto the provided layout and ensure I had a quality shot to deliver.

Lighting a portrait can be tricky. There are as many ways to light a portrait as there are light modifiers.  In my assistant days in NYC , I pushed to perfect the perfect light.  I learned how to use studio strobes (and hot lights) in just about every conceivable situation and location. Those days were invaluable, as they helped me understand my own work and how to approach different situations.  I learned how to light everything from a tiny tube of lipstick to an entire warehouse.  I learned to get F16 from corner to corner, top to bottom, including the floor, on a white cyclorama.  My light meter and I were best of friends in those days. I loved to work out light ratios and I reveled in my craft.  A photo editor once told me it was obvious I had worked with Nathaniel Welch as she saw the same approach to light that he takes in his work.  There wasn’t a prouder moment than to hear this from a big time photo editor. It was then, that I realized how far I had come from my assistant days.  I wish I had learned more, but you can only assist so much before it’s time to do it yourself.  Again, I think any budding photographer out there needs to assist in the big cities.  Books and your own small time assignments can’t teach you what you can learn from the pros in the big cities.

The one fun drawback to assisting at the top levels was the access to gobs of equipment we had at our fingertips.  At times, I probably had been in charge of $50,000 or more of strobe equipment and had access to so much more –Broncolor and Profoto mostly.  It now seems insane–I don’t have this type of equipment at my fingertips any longer–but I do own quite a nice arsenal of gear.  And fundamentally, the study and methods used in lighting has changed over the years, as well as the camera gear itself.  In my earlier days, I worked with photographers who shot with large medium format systems and which required powerful lights sources to shoot at small apertures.  I remember working with 4800ws strobe packs and bi tube heads.  Now, with DSLR cameras, you can pop on a 60ws on camera flash and photoshop your effects.  My how things have changed.  A lot about lighting that used to require the most acute hands-on skill and craftsmanship can now be done on a computer with a slim collection of modern software–pirated at best.


Lighting setup
Lighting setup


My lighting scenario was pretty basic as I had to light the subject with a nice broad but specular light.  I opted for a Photex umbrella as the main light but fill it in with a Chimera large softbox from the side.  Umbrellas are one of the most classic lighting tools available and frankly, one of the easiest to travel with to a location.  If used a certain way, umbrellas cast a dramatic light wrapping around the subject with a sharp drop off and deep shadows.  Sadly, the client wanted a fairly flat light with little drama so the large soft box was the filler to balance everything out.  The 9′ white seamless was lit by two satin umbrellas and everything was powered by Profoto.  Profoto is the professional standard.  Sure, everyone raves about what an on camera flash can do but try to light a 9′ foot seamless with two Canon 580s.  When I know the art director wants to strip the background out of the shot, I don’t worry too much about being 100% perfect but will strive to get my background nice and clean.


Light study with Paul


Paul, my surfer and dog loving assistant, modeled form my light tests and I found I had great examples of how I used multiple light sources to get the right light.  The first light is to check how the back ground lights affect my subject.  The second shot is to see how the Chimera fills on camera left and the last picture shows all the lights working together.  The light worked well for our circumstances and it does highlight Paul’s perfectly flat feet.  I can’t get enough of those boats he walks around on.  He seems more suited for living in water than on land.  Well, maybe on land, possibly like the base of a tree.  A big tree mind you.  Paul has become one of my better friends and for me to call him an assistant feels like I belittle him.  He’s not a photographer by trade but understands what I need to get done.  What he lacks in technical experience he makes up in people skills and being very bright…but more so, his friendship.  Besides, I’d love to be a Hawaiian surfer dude, flat feet and all.

I did shoot with my newly acquired Canon 1Dx and the new version of the Canon 24-70mm F2.8 lens.  The combo is really nice; I clearly see the advancement of Canon’s newest flagship camera and lens.  The metering is superb and the handing is pretty nice.  I do have to say the older Canon 1Ds Mark III is a great camera but the 1Dx is a vast improvement.

So onto my associate, who I can’t show you, so you’ll just have to imagine Paul holding a plate of chicken wings, Samoan chicken wings.  We got our shot done pretty quickly with a little tough love wrangling to ensure the picture was useable.  It was a tough night but we were able to finish by 1am.  It took us about an hour and change to set up our seamless and lights but took all but 20 minutes to get the hell out of dodge.  We ended the night with the taste of Samoan on our lips and the smell of crap up our noses.  Luckily, both wash off.



The gaffer’s tape that saved the day!

The gaffer's tape that saved the day!

May 1 UPDATE:  SHE’S ONLY 10!!!!


As the last few bags spun around on the conveyor belt at Kona International, I got the sinking feeling my large Tenba duffel just wasn’t around the corner.  My Lightware case with the Profoto 7b, grids and dish came through and I rolled my Pelican with cameras with me as carry-on.  In the Pelican, I had my cameras, cards, lenses, and on camera flash so I was set but I knew without my duffel bag, I was sunk to pretty low depths.

In my duffel was an all-important C-stand with boom arm, flyaway sandbag, a few mafer clamps, softbox, umbrella, and a few other knick-knacks that make a quick afternoon shoot take place on the Big Island.  Without a stand, I had no real reasonable way to light my subject.  A law mag commissioned me to fly out for the afternoon to shoot a lawyer (imagine…me saying I shot a lawyer…folk hero status?) and I had scheduled to shoot the job at a beach near KOA.

Now imagine I have to light a portrait at sunset with no stand.  Impossible, indeed.  Truly impossible.  Without a c stand, how the hell am I going to hold up a Profoto head?

After a panic and heated discussion with Hawaiian Airlines customer service at the airport, they were certain the bag would be on the next flight arriving a little after five.  I had about an hour to stew and figure out a strategy to make this work.

My subject offered to pick me up from the airport saving me the hassle of having to rent a car but at that moment I was wishing I could have had that car to drive far away from my sunset nightmare.  She luckily was super understanding when I said Hawaiian Airlines lost my bag and quickly started to help me create solutions to my dilemma.

First thoughts aside from sheer panic…a broom and gaffer’s tape.  I figured I could tape a strobe head to a stick and have someone hold the light.  The lawyer had her 12-year-old daughter along on the shoot and I immediately commandeered to be a living light stand.  I have a solution.   I asked Margaret, my subject, if we could rush over to Home Depot and purchase a broom handle but she oddly had a had a telescopic broom handle in her work vehicle.  Shazam!  Her offices were like four minutes away  and zoomed down the highway to pick it up.  We got the stand and I “MacGuyver-ed” my 7B head to the stick.  The endless possibilities of gaffer’s tape!  In the back of my mind, I knew there was the overpriced Lighthaus Camera in Kona  but the sun was sinking quickly and I had a portrait to shoot.  And the time it would take for me to head into Kona and pick up a stand might have been the time lost in creating the portrait.

Now the next issue was teaching a 12-year-old girl the basics of photography.  I mean how tough could it be as much of photo assisting is done by kids with about a much sense as a broomstick?  As a matter of fact, most photographers…well…that’s a story for another time.  So the kiddo sorta figured out directions but had as much interest in the lighting as I did in her friend’s text messages.  Failure.  Complete failure.  She, the poor darling, couldn’t hold the stick up at the right angle and surely didn’t have the patience to stand still for the time it would take to make the picture.  I asked her if she could do any longer but she shrugged her shoulders and when crab hunting amongst the lava rocks and ocean.   Slowly the voggy Kona sky was opening and the fireball of a sun began to burn through.

Dread.  So I started to pick up the broom stick myself and fire away a few test shots and it seemed to work decently well. I knew I would have to use an open dish sans grid as I could no way handle aiming with the left side of my body as well as shoot with a full size dslr on my right.  It wouldn’t be the portrait lighting I needed but it was going to be something.

I started looking around the near empty beach for a random beach goer to recruit into my photo shoot but alas, no one was around.  I asked where Margaret’s husband was and he luckily was around the corner coming to join us.  Solutions were happening but not as quickly as I would have liked them.  But out of the blue  my cell phone went off.  IT WAS HAWAIIAN AIRLINES!!!  They had my bag and it was at the airport. Margaret, me and the kid hopped in her Honda and sped off to KOA just in time to get the bag and get the job done.

I dodged a big bullet.  A really big one.  I quickly assembled the right stuff and got my picture shot.  The pictures came out fantastic and the sun gave up that fireball friendly flicker only a voggy Kona can deliver.  Hopefully the clients will be thrilled…and rightfully so considering the absolute panic that rang my ears for an hour plus after arriving.

Now what lesson do I take away with this as a photographer?  Not much.  There isn’t very much I can do if the airline’s misplaces my bag.  My broom stick magic would have worked but I didn’t have a reliable adult to act as a stand.  At least I had my Profoto set but what on earth would I have done if my powerful 1200ws light had gone missing?  Sure I had my Canon on camera flash I don’t care what strobists claim, a Canon/Nikon/Vivtar flash will never mimic a Profoto with modifier.  I know Joe McNally does magic with his small flash units but he has a dozen or more and really does some outrageous lighting schemes.  You can create really nice ambient flash portraits with ETTL but I’m set up with big powerful Profoto packs.  Maybe the ETTL is a little nice if not weaker than the Profoto but I don’t have the time or the expense to figure out how to spend a few thousand dollars and make McNally lighting.  Besides, my Profoto stuff was and will always be expensive.

I can’t carry a Profoto kit in my carry-on.  I can’t bring a big c stand in carry-on either.  I’m kinda stuck having to rely on the airline and TSA for me to get my gear to my location.  I really have to rethink my travel procedure and figure what I can carry on.  Manfrotto makes a tiny light stand that could be used in a pinch.  I could stick that into a carry-on messenger bag or laptop bag.  I put all my pocket wizards in my check-in but now I think I’ll always carry a few in my check in just in case.  And just maybe I have to figure out how to really make magic with an on camera flash.

In the end, I could have shot her with ambient light and made some fantastic images as well but the clients were expecting a certain look.  If I couldn’t deliver, I’m out of a client and a paycheck.

The true hero of the day is gaffer’s tape.  Don’t leave home without it.  Gaffer’s tape, that sickly, sticky, fabric wonder, saved me even if my bag showed up just in the nick of time.  I kept thinking as my 12-yr-old assistant (whom I quickly fired after I got my back) kept trying to wiggle away, hmmm…how long before the adhesive comes off her if I taped that broomstick to her hands?  Then taped her to the rocks?