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.


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.





Yes the secret is OUT.  I’m going to be on this week’s episode of the new HAWAII FIVE O!!!!!

I actually pulled in by the local coordinator, Angie, to coordinate a “beach photo shoot” as the episode was about a famous fashion photographer killed while on assignment in Hawaii.

Here is the synopsis of the show:   HAWAII FIVE-0 “Ho’ ohuli Na’ au” Season 1 Episode 22 – Five-0 focuses on several key suspects when world-renowned photographer Renny Sinclair is murdered while on assignment in Hawaii shooting the annual swimsuit edition of a top sports magazine, on HAWAII FIVE-0, Monday, May 2 (10:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.

I was tasked to coordinate all photographic lighting and grip equipment for “made for TV photo shoot.”  Production relied on my skills to make it look believable as well as functional as I also had to assist Hawaii Five O director Brad Turner (Alias, Smallville, 24, and many others) during his real photo shoot.

Brad wanted to try his hand at actually taking still photos and the production again relied on my skill to make sure Brad’s photo shoots were perfect.  I sadly was not hired to push a button but all the work put in definitely gave the imagery my signature.  Brad did a great job and the images we shot on the beach and inside a studio were phenomenal.  Really nice work and, I must say, fantastic lighting.

But the best part of this job was actually playing a photo assistant on TV!  With all the hard work put in, production decided that they couldn’t rely on an extra to act like a real photographer/photo assistant so they had me be the on-screen assistant to the actor.  Sadly, no lines.  (Damn…I could hear myself screaming CARRY YOUR OWN *&^%! LUGGAGE, NATHANIEL!  And if any of you photographers I worked back in NYC and abroad read this, just substitute your name and your demands, you ^%#$!!!!)

And the actor, no less, was RICK SPRINGFIELD.  Yes, Jessie’s Girl, yes General Hospital, yes mega 80’s great.  How fun. Yes only being a young lad back in 1981 when Jessie’s Girl became the #1 single, I sremember the song as a kid and more so now due to the recent 80’s revival and subsequent playing of that song on lite rock radio and being a staple on classic 80’s music cds.  I found myself recalling lyrics throughout the long waits between filming to fill the void.

Where can I find a woman like that

The episode’s set was out on the North Shore and filmed for three days.  The early call times had us out in the chilly Hawaiian dawn setting up the photographic lights for the show.  For the first part of the job, my task was to dress a beach setting creating the feel of a real magazine photo shoot in Hawaii.  The directors wanted more flash than what I would call functionality but the key phrase was the “bigger, the flashier, the better.”  I set up my Profoto 7Bs and one Profoto 7A pack, an Elinchrome Octabank, a few umbrellas, and used several California Sun Bounce reflectors.  All the lights were synced to the set camera Springfield, who plays famed photographer Renny Sinclair, to fire when he faked his pictures.

I was surprised to also find that I actually had to coach Springfield in the art of photography.  He had very little experience knowing how to act like a professional so I coached him on how to properly hold a large DLSR camera, how focus and zoom in/out with the lens, how to properly stand when taking the pictures, and even what dialogue to use as he interacted with the actress Serinda Swan, who played the bikini wearing fashion model.  With the dialogue, I had to channel my inner Austin Powers and gave Springfield such key phrases as “right in the lens, baby” and “give it to me, baby” and other over-the-top phrases that make for good TV.  I kept quiet but I really wanted to teach him how to be a super fashion ass but it never came to be.  I did ask him if he was an ass in the show but he thought I called him an ass.  Funny.

During the filming,  I basically just held a Profoto Ring Flash above his head during the scene and acted as if I knew what I was doing.  I think I frowned most of the time feigning super interest in the lighting, exposure, etc…I had no dialogue and was loutishly dressed by wardrobe in a loud Hawaiian printed shirt along with a black muscle shirt.  I felt more LA than HNL, but I figured people would be looking at Springfield and not me.

Rick was sort of a cool dude.  As I’ve worked and photographed other celebrities, its really no big deal to be around people with fame.  We chattered about this and that, the models tiny bikinis and the likes.   He actually joked around with me as he thought I was surely just an extra but was surprised to see me actually taking test shots of him and testing the lights in several instances.  I think most of the crew were surprised to see that extra jump out and work grip and lighting.

With Brad’s photo shoots, we shot on the beach and inside a studio.  The show needed several still shots that would be published in a book of Renny Sinclair’s photographic work.  The book’s photographs held clues leading the detectives to Renny’s murderer.  I, along with several union assistants, set up several 9′ seamless backgrounds, numerous lights, and allowed the director snap fashion photographs of several of the actresses on the show including famed model and actress Angela Lindvall.  Brad actually threw me the camera in one of his shots to let me photograph Angela as he knew I could make her shine a bit more than he.  I can’t say any of the images they used for the show/book are mine but if you are keen you might spot a bit of my signature in the show as well.

On a side note, its no secret Renny is killed in the show as CBS released the show synopsis.  Without watching the show, can any of you 80’s kids guess who kills him?