Portable soft light solution

Here are some subjects I’ve never been assigned to photograph: a chiseled, oiled, body builder; a chiseled, sweaty, mean-looking linebacker or killer ninja; a chiseled, oiled, bikini-clad supermodel. You know, those subjects that you see sometimes in the location portrait lighting books and blogs.

No, McNally and Hobby get all those jobs. Jobs that require lots of small specular light sources over which you can exercise total control, and are shot in abandoned warehouses, desert sand dunes, and gigantic college gymnasiums, with enough space and time to not only to place your lights, but for a video crew to immortalize the shoot as well!

No, the jobs that I, and most travel photographers, get are lighting the locations themselves as well as the people in them, and those locations are almost always dark: nightclubs, shop interiors, bars, pubs. They are always crowded with the general public, run by managers who are more concerned with you not annoying their patrons with your popping flashes than helping you make art, and require you to get in and out in minutes.

(Where did my karma go wrong, I sometimes wonder? I mean, I can live without the linebackers, weight lifters, and ninjas, but don’t I deserve just one bikini-clad supermodel shoot? ) No, I can’t worry about how best to sculpt the tricep of a flamenco dancer with a snooted kicker light,

Photo © Bob Krist

I just have to make a broadly and softly lit publishable picture in less than 10 minutes, and get moving before I get thrown out (and I have been thrown out of better, and far worse, places than this…sometimes even for using a flash!). Fortunately, though, I’ve worked up a pretty good portable one-light set up to help me do it… (more…)

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It’s Not About the Camera…really!

© Aaron Johnson, WhattheDuck.net

I just got my May copy of National Geographic and was pleasantly surprised to find a double page picture of mine in the Visions of Earth section. I’ve submitted to this section before but never made the cut and was tickled by the fact that when they were trolling the files at Corbis looking for fodder for this feature, they actually pulled this one out.

Of course, I would have been more tickled had they then contacted me, so I could have made the sale and not shared the booty with my agency! But you know what they say about half a loaf….er, actually, when my current contract lapses, and I sign the new contract, it’ll be more like 45% of a loaf. But that’s a topic for another post.

For a quick look at the spread, and one other funny thing about the whole situation, hit the jump.


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In the Jungle with Phil Flash


From aboard the National Geographic Explorer in French Comoros, Indian Ocean

It may seem counterintuitive to bring a flash into a tropical jungle streaming with hot beams of sunlight, but that’s just what I did when our expedition ship visited M’Bouzi Island, a small island near Mayotte in the French Comoros that serves as a refuge for lemurs.

The trees were loaded with these cute little creatures, found only on Madagascar and the Comoros, but they were usually backlit, or sitting in splotchy light or shade. Digital, and film, hates splotchy light—there’s just too much dynamic range for the chip to record.

Plus, when you’ve got a subject with big dreamy eyes, like these guys, you want to make the most of them and make sure those big eyes have a little catchlight. For the formula that worked the best for me in this situation, hit the jump.

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USA Today: Doing the Right Thing

From aboard the National Geographic Explorer in the Indian Ocean

A moon jellyfish and snorkeler off Farquhar Atoll, Seychelle Islands
A moon jellyfish and snorkeler off Farquhar Atoll, Seychelle Islands. Photo © Bob Krist

Piracy is everywhere these days….we’ve really been feeling it aboard the NG Explorer in this last week or so as the Somali pirates kept forcing our itinerary to change to avoid them.

But piracy isn’t restricted to the high seas anymore. More and more photo contests are holding your copyright hostage just by entering, and trying to build photo libraries with your work, without any compensation.

Just before I left, the travel editor of USA Today, an old friend, asked if I woud be a judge of their travel photo contest. No money, but a chance to have lunch with my old editor and get a trip to DC where my sons live. So I jumped on the opportunity.

Even though unfair photo contest rules have become a pet peeve of mine lately (see the post A Photo Contest with Fair Rules????), I was heading out the door and didn’t read the USA Today’s contest rules. Fortunately, a sharp-eyed reader of this blog named Marcelo did and pointed out the following paragraph, which is pretty much a pirates’ declaration of war on copyright .

Copyright. By entering the Contest, each contestant
grants to Sponsor an exclusive, royalty-free and irrevocable right
and license to publish, print, edit or otherwise use the
contestant’s submitted entry, in whole or in part, for any purpose
and in any manner or media (including, without limitation, the
Internet) throughout the world in perpetuity, and to license others
to do so, all without limitation or further compensation. Each
contestant further agrees that if his/her entry is selected by
Sponsor as the winning entry, he/she will sign any additional
license or release that Sponsors may require, and will not publicly
display his or her photo submission without the express permission
of Sponsor.

Once tipped off by reader Marcelo, I emailed my objections to the editor, who then took them to the legal department. I said I couldn’t be a judge if the rules stayed pat. A fellow judge took a similar stand.

Was the editor able to get the terms modified? Did we keep the pirates at bay? Did USA Today step up and do the right thing? Hit the jump to find out.


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