A two-minute portrait with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stands for a portrait before a campaign event for fellow Democrat Kaniela Ing in Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S., August 9, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Garcia – RC1A8566A7F0

Late last week, local politician Kaniela Ing announced political wunderkind Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would be in Honolulu to stump for Ing’s campaign for Congress.

I approached Reuters News and asked to cover the event which they approved.  With the popularity of the social democrat in the media currently, I wanted to capture a portrait of AOC before the rally.

I reached out to her campaign people and arranged to two minute photo shoot. I knew I’d have to work quick and fast and wouldn’t have anyone really helping me.

For the lighting, I opted for a Profoto ring light powered by a Profoto 7B2 and would place her against a silk background stretched over my homemade 6×6 frame.  I don’t usually use a ring light because it can be a one trick pony but I figured I would have a tough time moving a light bank and stand around by myself.  So I stuffed my Canon 1Dx Mark II with my ever present 28-70mm 2.8 lens into the case with the pack and ring light prepared to move quickly.

The event was held inside a school cafeteria at a school near Waikiki.  I arrived early and looked for a place to set up.  Ing’s people were scrambling to set up the event and didn’t have much time for me.  At the last minute, I was told the meet and greet would be in a classroom upstairs from the cafeteria.  I grabbed my gear and rushed up to build my set.

As I ran up the stairs I ran straight into AOC.  She had just arrived and was looking for a bathroom.  I told her it was downstairs and she smiled politely and I went on to meet her crew and set up the studio.

When AOC returned from the bathroom, her hair was wet like she had run water through her locks. I felt she wasn’t photo ready but her appearance was youthful and it all seem to fit.   She didn’t carry herself like a rising political star and it wouldn’t be tough to imagine her running across campus to her next class.

We chit-chatted for a few minutes before I posed her in front of my background which was being held up by two of her aides.  I awkwardly told her that standing straight at me comes across like a mug shot so I pointed her feet and shoulders at an angle and I shot about 8 frames of her and that was that.

Afterwards, I covered the rally and got the usual pictures of politicians raging against the machine.

I almost gave up as I lost time and patience trying to get the portrait set up.  But I persevered was glad I captured something different of the rising political star.

Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaigns for fellow Democrat Kaniela Ing ahead of the Democratic Primary Election in Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S., August 9, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Garcia


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.



Fears of the world wide web.

Fears of the world wide web.

I noticed I had started this blog some time ago but never got around to finishing it…or for that matter starting it.

Technology Review Magazine hired me some time back to take a portrait of cyber security expert Jeremiah Grossman who, at that time, was based in Maui.  He so happen to be in Honolulu and I had a window of time to shoot a portrait photo of him.

Grossman, who founded White Hat Security, was a punk hacker who hacked Yahoo to show them their security flaws.  He went on to be hired on as one of their Security Officer before starting his own security firm.

Jeremiah, who showed up wearing a business type aloha shirt, hulked right up to me and my assistant, Jamm Aquino at the location.  He had that intense stare that looked right threw you scanning your brain for all your passwords and personal information.  After reading a bit about him, I learned he plays rugby and knows martial arts.  So if he couldn’t read your mind, he likely beat your passwords out of you one way or another.

I knew immediately I had to capture him in a dark and dangerous cyber world atmosphere; however, its hard to capture this in beautiful Honolulu with blue sky and sunshine. People don’t think of Hawaii as a dark place so my challenge was to create a moody scene.

I knew I had to get a few shots of him with the standard blue sky and what not.  But I had the idea to drag him into my dark parking garage and shoot him using the available florescent lights mixed with a bit of daylight.  I wish I had had a set of Kino Flos to really make my mood moodier but the overhead strip did its magic as did the odd shifts of daylight falling in the background.

I then dragged Jeremiah and Jamm down to an alley across the way and we shot him with a bare head and 7″ reflector on a Profoto 7B.  It always surprises me what editors pick as I tend to favor my choices but they hardly get picked.  The mag picked the safer shot of Grossman but I really wished they had gone with the garage shot.

What made the job really memorable was hearing the fears of hacking, the vulnerability of web browsers, and general chaos of the world wide web.  He told me of hacker groups in Eastern Europe stealing credit card numbers and making millions of dollars via holes in the internet.  I learned stories of internet security officers from big companies going to far away lands only to be run out by mafia and other assorted criminals because of the money involved in internet crimes.

Its quiet fascinating to learn that many web based corporations account for a certain percentage of uncontrollable fraud and loss into their business plans.  Although security is improving, nefarious groups and governments keep finding ways into stealing from the unaware.  What was most fascinating was finding out how these cyber security plans you can purchase are more like insurance policies where you are actually just paying a part of their premium for the protection…which in most cases is not really necessary.

The reality in my mind is it can happen to you but hardly likely you’ll end up stripped of everything.  It seems most consumer businesses already have security watching.  We got a call from our credit card one Saturday morning because of odd purchases made at Best Buy and the Apple Store which we didn’t make.  My mother found her credit card hacked as well not too long ago.  Chances are you’ll be hacked at some point vigilance can go along way.  Don’t respond to emails from the former Oil Minister of Kenya and don’t use your bank ATM card for anything on line.

Also, according to Jeremiah, don’t use the same browser to surf and do bank work.  Use separate browsers altogether.  Its likely you’ll get hacked at some point but you’re also likely to have your house broken into (once in Jersey City) or getting rear ended while driving (twice in HNL.)  I’m not saying I’m not scared but our pockets are not as deep as Chase or Ebay, meaning, as an individual, you’re an unknown and no one has any particular interest in you.

By the way, if any of the facts of my story are wrong, I’m certain Jeremiah will find and correct.  I doubt his fists will do the talking but most likely his fingers will commit the terror.

You can see the story here.


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?

Hokulani Bakery

Hokulani Bakery

It seems like such a long time ago although I shot the images for Entrepreneur Magazine in 2008, but the shot of Tushar and Ana Dubey of Hokulani Bake Shop remains one of my favorite pictures mainly because I think I clearly captured their existence at being:  Tushar with the frosting on his nose and Ana with her nose for baking.  The picture took no more than a few swipes at his nose for their relationship in business and love to clearly shine through.

Entrepreneur really knew their stuff as they spotted Hokulani Bake Shop as an up and comer.  Amazing their writers spotted and predicted they would go to the top.

Tonight we attended their celebration and screening party for their bakers and bakery, Hokulani Bake Shop for winning the recent Food Network’s Cupcake Wars.  It was great to see their little bakery started at Restaurant Row gain national and possibly international attention for having some of best bakers and cupcakes in the Pacific.

Let the victorious eat many a cupcake and may they sell a million more.

SALUDOS! and BADHAI HO!  (I hope that means congrats in Hindi as I hope I didn’t call Tushar a donkey…well, maybe I really meant to.)

If you’ve never had one of their cupcakes, please visit one of their three locations, Restaurant Row, the Hyatt Waikiki and at downtown’s Pioneer Plaza.  At their website (http://www.hokulanibakeshop.com/) you can see their audition tape where their bakers, Angela Chandler and Nicole Ferriman, made it big for the shop.

I hope this shameless plug gets me a cupcake or two!