Sunday, June 30, 2013

Light is the great equalizer

I have been working with the new Nikon D800E this week and decided to put it up against my Canon 7D just to see how radical the difference was using one of my typical strobe set ups. Actually I was very surprised how the 7D did in this particular comparison.

The Canon 7D
Portal Gun the 7D Version

The Nikon D800E
Portal Gun the D800E Version

Side by side:
7D Vs D800E

This is not to say either camera is bad but this test does illustrate that lighting is often more critical than body's or lenses. Both camera's were set up manually and calibrated by the same external light meter 1/250, F8, ISO100

So here is the big question:
 The 7D image was shot with the EF 28-135mm 3.5-5.6 lens - Total price with camera around $1,699.00
The D800E version was shot with the AF-S VR-Nikkor 70-200MM - Total price with camera $5,693.90
Strobe used Flashpoint 1820A - $309

Do you see a massive quality difference between the shots?

Once again I am reminded that a camera is nothing more than a light capturing instrument; light is the great equalizer!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Mosler MT900

If you haven't seen a Mosler before you are not alone, very few of these Exotic are out there, perhaps 20 or so. George Lucas is one of the few owners of an MT900 (this one was not his however).

The engine is that of the Corvette Z06 but it's beautiful race bodywork and interior make it a show stopper.

A special thanks to Jason Sha'ul for the co-op on light-painting in this Mosler series. Feel free to check out his work:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Why elitism will fail you creatively

I would guess no matter what skill, hobby or interest you are involved with you have met an elitist; these are the people that swear that you can’t achieve something without the most expensive and often overrated equipment out there. In audio this would be the person with the most expensive Pro Tools rig running on the beefiest Mac made this month and don’t forget that Waves Mercury Bundle. In photography these are the people that swear to god anything not shot through L series glass or a Carl Zeiss lens on the flagship camera model is going to be bland and blurry. These are the people who live and die by the specs and fill up countless reply’s on the equipment forums about what gear is the best there will ever be. Having spent my entire career so close to technology and art I will proudly say “Don’t believe the hype… gear will never equal talent” Years from now today's cutting edge tools will likely be gathering dust on a shelf in a storage space.

Lens Envy 
Lens Envy - An image of my good friend Dave and I from a photography scavenger hunt years ago. Shot by Ivonne Bonett -  For the record my friend Dave is not an elitist, he just plays one on TV :)

To explain why I believe the elitism attitude holds no real merit I will simplify my example for a moment…do you think a $500 skillet would make better scrabbled eggs than the $15 one you own now? The point being that even if the $500 skillet magically made the eggs a little better would it matter? Is it worth it? Well, certainly we cannot compare creating art to whipping up scrambled eggs can we? Um, actually yes… because depending on what you are creating you may or may not really need all that much stuff to achieve what you want to achieve. Buying a better camera does not make you a better photographer any more than buying a better skillet would make you a better cook.

Memory or Dream? 
This photo was one of my very first portraits, it was lit with only a single $85 Vivitar 285HV flash and shot with a 7.5 mega pixel Olympus E330 Camera. The model was laying on a piano that a music store owner let us use after hours at no charge. 

If you pick up a magazine on photography (or any other high tech hobby) you will notice about 90% of it has something to do with expensive equipment or software. Recently there was a “How to do macro photography” article in a photography magazine that featured an avocado pit photographed with a Hasselblad camera. A Hasselblad costs more than a Honda Civic...awesome technology...totally overkill for an avocado pit. I have seen other such articles with lighting array’s costing thousands of dollars that honestly could be achieved with a used Canon 40d and an LED flashlight if the photographer understood concepts in light capture. For beginners trying to learn skills this is very confusing and often results in people overspending hard earned cash on items that are completely overkill in most cases.

  This recent photo I took of the McLaren MP4-12C was lit only using a $35  LED array. The camera was set to shoot long exposures to gather light over several seconds. 

Elitism fails in a creative sense simply because you are restricting all that is possible based on the requirement for specialized equipment, no matter how great that equipment is, this mentality is a bottleneck. Sure a RED Epic camera can shoot amazing footage but compared to a Go-Pro what would you feel better about holding as you rip down a zipline or jump into the ocean? Which camera would you take greater chances with (thus scoring a better chance of standout footage)? That also bridges the question why not spend all those elitist dollars on setting up a great project, artistic co-op or adventure that will provide the opportunity for stand out imagery; A great example of that would be artist Gregory Crewdson and his larger than life productions.

Before picking your tools always ask yourself “What is the goal of my creation?” As with many things in life you can get there many different ways, some of those ways just require a little more planning and... (wait for it)...creativity.

Lil Tykes - Cozy Coupe 03 
A few years back I shot a series of Cozy Coupe toy cars to illustrate how the right setting, the right vision can make any car look amazing. 

It should also be noted that variants in tools or using a different approach may be greatly advantageous to a creative mind; there are many happy accidents that could give you a signature look or inspire new directions for your creativity.

Recently I was both impressed and caught off guard when I discovered some artists using Microsoft Excel to create paintings instead of Photoshop or Painter, what an amazing twist on what is possible. 

I composed Vismaya with a free VST synth that I downloaded from H.G Fortune 

“Own nothing but the ideas and rent everything else” that is a mantra I have had for a few years now and there is truth to it. Regardless of what you are trying to create it is often significantly cheaper to rent the gear you need for the project than to buy it. For instance in photography I almost always rent my lenses; the benefit is that I become unrestricted by a sense of obligation to equipment I have. If I need a $3000 telephoto lens for a single race I can rent that for $150, I can show up impress the client, get great shots and likely make a profit rather than making another credit card payment. This is a hard philosophy for elitist to argue since plausibly you could have anything for your next project but they will likely always be using the same things. This philosophy also future-proofs the artist a bit in that whatever the next great tool is you can borrow it rather than panicking on how you will sell and upgrade. 

Shadows of Splendid China 01
 Years ago I stumbled upon a collection of miniature buildings from the defunct theme park "Splendid China", I rented a fixed canon 15mm to get close and wide and make the models seem much larger. 

Great creative minds are just that “Minds”, not equipment. You don’t see huge discussions talking about what brush Leonardo da Vinci used to paint the Mona Lisa….Leonardo painted the image not the brush. Be it sound or image the tools only assist the artist in creation, they cannot create the vision themselves. To me elitism is a failed philosophy; it is to say that the greatest creation can only happen in this time with this equipment thus inadvertently dismissing all the great wonders of art created in history that would be subpar to the now “preferred” method. 

Maserati MC12 in Medium Format 
A photo of the stunning Maserati MC12 Supercar using my old fashion Mamiya RB67 Film Camera...Wait, did I say film? Do people still use film? Yes, and it was totally worth the week I waited for the processing. 

Those who swear by the latest and greatest often can’t see past the walls of the box they have decided to step into. Set down your credit card and catalogs and meditate on what you want to achieve and create.

In The Shadows 
The model Lori was shot against a green backdrop, the background was built using a free 3d program called DAZ 3D. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Vegas Baby

Vegas Baby - 1

I have been working with Orlando based artist Kyle Vest for some years now, the projects we have put together have always been artistically fulfilling yet often challenging. Kyles newest creation "Vegas Baby!" featuring model Christie Matheis was no different. The entire project was envisioned and executed in the wee hours of June 19th 2013. We had about 12ft of space to both paint and photograph in. Dubstep music rang out from a tiny android cell phone to keep the energy up for the project.  Outside a fierce Florida  thunderstorm rattled the windows and lit up the dark skies.

This video illustrates the bodypaint process and Kyle talks a little bit about who he is as an artist:

Vegas Baby - 5

Shooting the set was a challenge largely due to space. I wanted to avoid a wide angle lens as to keep the proportions and details in check so I commonly shot greater than 20MM while crouched in a nearby room shooting through the door frame. 

Vegas Baby - 3

Lighting was supposed to be done with a couple of hair-light strobes and a 1000 watt mono-light with a beauty-dish, however due to a M.I.A. power cord we were restricted to the smaller 160 watt strobes, hardly a deal breaker with my so many shoots in my past using only a Vivitar 285HV and I easily has three times that much power on this project. Often such restrictions force even more creativity and it did. 

Vegas Baby - 4

For most of the shots I attached a honycomb grid with a set of clamps to really dial in light on Christie. The light was tucked into the only real free corner on the left near a bed and dresser. 

Vegas Baby - 2

The backdrop was a simple acid washed black sheet that I illuminated from the floor with colored gels over the small strobe, this provided some sense of depth and embraced the colors that Kyle used for his painting. 

Vegas Baby - 6

At around 3 am we all felt like we had created what we wanted and captured the moment. Another wonderful night of art with some very, very creative people.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Number Fourteen

In super slow motion Aerialist Lindsey Fleck and Kyle Vest perform to the Josh Money remix of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 14 "Moonlight Sonata"

Josh Money's Moonlight $onota remix is available here:

Video produced by:
Jesse James Allen
© 2013 Savage Land Pictures

Friday, June 7, 2013

Night of the Spider


This story will start on an airplane traveling across the country; There I sat in my seat reading an absolutely fascinating book by fellow photographer Eric Curry . Eric is no ordinary photographer, he is a master of Light-painting and in his book Painting with Light: Lighting & Photoshop Techniques for Photographers he goes in depth on how a simple set of flashlights and a DSLR can be used to create some stunning imagery.

Though I had dabbled in Light-painting I had never tried his approach of stitching images together of different light passes, so by the time the landing gears dropped in San Francisco I knew my future would at some point involve an Exotic automobile and a flashlight.

Weeks later I was chatting with Flickr photographer Jason Sha'ul from "Trend Setter Developments"and explained some of the theory of Eric's book, Jason thought it sounded like a great challenge and worked though some contacts to find us the right automobile.

The right automobile just happened to be a Ferrari 458 Spider that Jason was able to obtain through a contact. The vehicle was delivered and I showed up with a small arsenal of lighting. Being that it is not everyday one gets a hold of a 2012 Ferrari at the location of their choice I was not taking any chances. I brought everything from LED lights to a 1000 watt strobe and powercell. The first shots were very standard, traditional dual strobe shots that would be common to any magazine:

Just waiting for you

But as the sun set and the storm clouds crept along I simply put away the heavy artillery and brought out an LED lighting array on a monopod.  This simple setup actually kicked out a good amount of light and as I painted Jason fired the first shot:

Majestic Beauty

The image as you can see was quite impressive, so as they say "it was on like Donkey Kong" as we started to really explore the potential of light and long exposures. In the shot above I simply held up the light on a pole and walked clockwise around the car behind the camera with the light angled down, you can see the path in on the ground.

Red with Envy

To achieve these type of shots  I had the light extended all the way up on the monopod, splashing light on each panel from a 45 degree downward angle. One of us would simply open the camera shutters and the other start the motions around the car. In the shot above I took some time walking behind the camera lighting the side of the car and then ran behind it to create the streak.

Depending on how much sky and background we wanted we would vary the shutter speed around 8 to 30 seconds or more. A shorter shutter speed meant only the car was really visible (as in the first shot at the top of this page "Awakened") , a longer shutter time let clouds (illuminated by a nearby town) creep into the photo as seen above.

The Business End

In the shot of the back of the Ferrari I lit the car primarily from the right side. From a distance of about 3 feet above I simply turned the light on the pole with my wrist to eliminate heavy streaks (seen only in the right side bumper), this effect gave a more balanced look.

In the dash shot below I rigged the camera in place with a Magic Arm to a tripod and then Jason and I passed the LED on a monopod across the back of the 458 to highlight the interior.

Happy Place

And then of course as we figured more out ways to bend light, things got dramatic, this was way too much fun. The shot below was a merged image of several passes from back to front of the light pole flying overhead.  In many of the shots the light streak reflections crossed the hood but by using Eric Curry's technique I masked out all passes in post except the lower passes across the left/right sides.

The fury of a thousand burning suns

Several hours later between dying batteries, a never ending supply of Mosquito's who chewed us to bits and a bit of drizzle from the clouds above, we both felt it was time to call it. Overall the experience was every bit as amazing as Eric's book said it would be. For both Jason and I the shoot left us inspired and a feeling of a greater potential for creativity in the months ahead.

Red Storm

Aside from the cool car and bright lights side to this story I must restate the importance of learning and working with fellow photographers. Even if you think you know how something works, there is room to grow by both learning and teaching; in the end, the results are not only instantly gratifying but often leave you walking away from the project a more diverse artist than when you arrived.

This was a good day

All images © 2013 Savage Land Pictures & Trend Setter Developments.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Just waiting for you

The Ferrari 458 Spyder


Awakened by Savage Land Pictures
Awakened, a photo by Savage Land Pictures on Flickr.

The beautiful Ferrari 458 Spyder. This image was light painted with a led lighting array.

More to come on this series.

Monday, June 3, 2013

This was a good day

So this is how my evening started on Sunday. After shooting all day with a great model, I got to hang out all evening with this Italian beauty. You gotta post pictures like this so on those hard days you can remember the great ones and "keep on keeping on".

More pics from this soon..