One of my favorite challenges as a photographer is showing up to a location I have never seen, assess the situation, and make some great photographs in a short period of time.
Renée Dallaire is a Pointe-Claire, Quebec, based chiropractor who was in need of some new photographs for her website. She had initially contacted me asking to make some portraits and to photograph her newly renovated reception area and consultation rooms. After speaking with her and discussing her needs, I suggested we also have some people pose as clients to give another dimension to the shoot.
Having walked through the office space and checked out the lighting, I noticed that the space was lit with good old fluorescent overheads, definitely not flattering. I decided to use my 5-foot Photoflex OctoDome (they call it the Medium OctoDome…they have the Large which is a hefty 7-feet!). One of the things I love about this OctoDome is that it has a very narrow profile, meaning I can use it in relatively small places with ease.
We started out photographing Renée with her “clients”. The first set-up was in one of the consultation rooms. I was able to bring the light right into the room with me and use it as my main source of illumination. I asked Renée to speak with our patient as if she was giving an actual consultation, and I just waited for the right moment. I composed the photograph with Renée facing the camera and our patient turned towards her, using the patient to draw the eye into the frame towards Renée.
Renée and her team are strong believers in the benefits of chiropractic adjustments on children as well as adults, so we made sure we had a child with us to demonstrate her methods. This is the type of situation where you may be tempted to use the natural light coming from the window, but the quality was absolutely horrible. We were in the shaded area of the building, so no amount of white-balance correction would have convincingly eliminated the blue cast.
I positioned the 5-foot OctoDome in front of the window feathered it slightly away from my subjects to have the absolute softest part of the light illuminate them.
I wanted to create 3 different portraits for Renée, 2 of them environmental and a more typical studio-style headshot.
The first environmental portrait (see the first photograph at the top of the article) was made to show Renée’s reception area. I positioned my light to the left and slightly above my subject to give a bit of definition and shading to her. I metered the ambient light and set my flash to 1 stop above ambient to slightly darken the office space behind her and really pull her off the background.
We also wanted a portrait of Renée at her desk. I wanted to use a bit of natural light from the window as a hair light, but unfortunately Renée’s desk blocked the window. I quickly noticed that she has frosted windows separating her office from the reception area, so I decided to add a second flash in the hallway to really separate Renée from the background. I used a standard reflector on the light as I wanted it to be harder than the OctoDome, and it was shooting through the frosted glass which added a nice touch of softness.
I had debated setting up a white or grey seamless for the posed portrait but noticed a wall with textured red wall paper and knew immediately that I wanted to try using that first. I started with one light at first, the same 5-foot OctoDome, but found the results far too contrasty (see below).
I quickly set up a reflector to fill in the shadows, in this case a Photoflex 39″ x 72″ LightPanel. The kit includes a diffusion screen as well as a reversible white/silver panel. I chose to use the white side to not over-fill the shaded side of her face.
On the left is the OctoDome on its own. Even though it’s a large light source, it still created some pretty strong shadows. The photograph on the right is the result of adding the reflector to the scene.
We spent 3 hours together creating the final series of photographs and are both very pleased with the results. A bit of effort, thought and the right equipment can give great results.
July 6th, 2013 will forever be known as the date that changed the quiet town of Lac-Mégantic. The loss of forty-seven lives in a senseless and avoidable tragedy is not something that should happen. As people slept, worked, hung out with friends, an unmanned 74-car freight-train carrying Bakken crude oil rolled down hill out of control from Nantes, and entered the heart of Lac-Mégantic at over 100 km/h. As the train entered a right-hand curve designed for speeds of no more than 16 km/h, physics took over. One cannot imagine the hellish scene of rivers of fire flowing through the town; as the fire burned for close to 48 hours, 30 buildings were destroyed, 115 businesses were lost, but the only statistic that matters is the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends and coworkers who lost their lives.
Help-Portrait (help-portrait.com) is a collective day of giving. One day every year, photographers, hair stylists and make-up artists assemble in locations around the world with the goal of giving photographs, absolutely free. There is no set cause, it is up to the organizer to determine where they would like to hold the event and whom they would like to invite. It is in this spirit that we decided to hold our Help-Portrait event in Lac-Mégantic.
To say that the Help-Portrait Lac-Mégantic photo team has talent is an understatement, from fashion to advertising, photojournalists to portraitists, concert photographers to sports shooters, we had the full spectrum.
Our volunteers, Adam, Danielle, Johanne, Marcel and Renée, thank you from all of us for keeping the day on track! We could not have run so smoothly without your tireless help.
Polyvalente Montignac, Lac-Mégantic’s high school, allowed us to use their gym as studio space. The school was used as emergency shelter after the tragic accident as many people were evacuated from their homes.
This afforded us with plenty of space: we were able to set up 4 studios and a printing station.
As the 4 studios rolled, Chris kept the printers going. We would like to thank Canon Canada who supplied us with the printers, paper and ink. Canon Canada also donated one USB key for each family so we could give them the entire shoot.
Though the day was generally upbeat, people shared some very difficult stories with us. Stories of loss, of tragedy. We are very thankful that people shared their stories with us and allowed us into their lives.
We thank everyone from Lac-Mégantic for welcoming us with open arms and beaming smiles. We all had an incredible day, one that we will not soon forget.
An enormous thank you to Bruno from the school who helped out tremendously, his brother Bernard for invading the school cafeteria and making us all a spaghetti lunch, and the companies who helped us out: Canon Canada, Simon Camera, Multicopie in Lac-Mégantic for the photocopies, Polyvalente Montignac for the studio space, and Fort Estrie for the amazing cottage!
I would also like to thank the private donors who helped us cover our costs!
A huge thank you from all of us! (L-R) Me (Tim), Adam, Dave, Tom, Chris, Francis, Cindy, Danielle and Pierre!
After packing out, we made sure to go to St. Agnes Church. While we were photographing families at the school, the community had gathered to decorate 48 Christmas trees, one for each victim of the tragedy and one for a local firefighter who took his life in the aftermath.
Walking back to the car, we found ourselves standing on the curve in the rail line that catapulted the train into the heart of this Eastern Township community. Looking into the epicenter of an incredible and unspeakable disaster, you cannot help but feel the weight of the incident in your heart and in your soul.
(Full disclosure: I am a Photoflex Pro Showcase Shooter but this will not cloud my judgement or influence the outcome of my reviews…if something isn’t good, I will tell you.)
Like most photographers dabbling with light, my first modifier was an umbrella. I bought it while I was still in school, a simple white reflective 42″ Aurora…a pretty effective tool which allowed me to expand my creative vision allowing me to play with off-camera light. I would lug my old Bronica GS-1 6×7 kit with a Vivitar 285, a light stand and my light meter and play around photographing friends. Good times…
Most people start with umbrellas for the simple reason that they are affordable, you can get a relatively large light source for a fraction of the cost of other lighting mods. They weigh next to nothing and they are very portable, I still keep an emergency lighting kit which consists of an umbrella, a light stand and a swivel in the trunk of my car at all times as an emergency option, you never know when you will need to light something!
As my confidence and technique grew, umbrellas fell out of favor. I preferred then control my softboxes and octoboxes afforded me.
Reflective umbrellas, meaning umbrellas where your flash is pointed away from your subject and bounced into the umbrella back towards your subject are very inefficient light sources which spray light all over the place. You can try controlling it a bit using flags or tons of gaff, but your light will pretty much go all over the place. You know your hose nozzle in your backyard? This is the lighting equivalent of the “mist” setting. Your light will go everywhere in a 180-degree radius.
Given the choice of umbrella, I always choose a shoot through model. The difference is pretty self-explanatory, instead of bouncing light back onto your subject, with a shoot through the umbrella acts just like the front panel of a softbox, diffusing the light before it hits your subject. Again though, the inefficiency is pretty obvious…much of the power from your flash head is lost as the light reflect from the surface of the diffusion material and bounces away from your subject, lighting the wall, trees or whatever else is behind the light stand. This isn’t a big deal outdoors as the light is simply wasted. Indoors though, especially in tight quarters, you must be careful that you do not place anything colorful behind the flash as the color will be picked up and bounced back onto your subject…that red wall behind your umbrella will turn your subject red.
To use the above garden sprayer metaphor, a shoot through umbrella is the equivalent of using a broken nozzle that pushes out enough water to get the job done, but has a crack on the back and soaks you at the same time.
This is not to say that you should never use a brolly; many iconic photographs in the history of the medium have been made using these relatively simple modifiers. It was in this spirit that I jumped at the opportunity to review Photoflex’s newest umbrella, the massive 72-inch shoot through!
When it comes to nice, soft light, bigger modifiers are always better. The disadvantage is that bigger also costs more; my go-to modifier, a 5-foot Octobox sells for over $350 USD or $440 CDN. If you are a hobbyist, that is a lot of money to put out! But remember how I said that umbrellas are inexpensive in comparison to softboxes and octoboxes? The new Photoflex 72″ Shoot Through umbrella retails for $50 USD at Adorama, or for the Canucks out there, it’s only $70 at Henry’s! That’s awesome!
None of this matters if it doesn’t work. How does it perform? You be the judge!
The best way for me to test a piece of equipment is to use it the way I normally would. I asked my neighbors Phil and Catherine if they would like to be photographed with their super-cute daughter Maya for the purposes of this review, and they were kind enough to oblige! Thanks guys!
You can easily use the 72-incher as a main light, but when I look at it it screams huge, soft fill light!
Also, due to the size of the umbrella, the spread of light is huge making it a perfect tool to light a small group of people evenly.
The shoot was simple enough to arrange; we headed to a local waterfront with a little boat dock at around 7:30 PM. I wanted to use the sun as a side light, and we had a beautiful night to make the photographs.
I set up the 72-incher right out on the dock with us…seeing as the umbrella acts as a huge, well, umbrella in the wind, I made sure to use a nice, heavy sandbag and a heavy-duty stand to avoid any mishaps. The set-up was a Manfrotto 1004 Master Stand, an Alien Bees B400 strobe powered by the Paul C. Buff Vagabond Mini Lithium battery pack. Everything was triggered flawlessly with my trusty Pocket Wizards.
As I said, this umbrella is a whopping 6-feet in diameter. It is big! Here is what the set-up looked like:
Once we had finished making pictures on the dock we went to a grassy area to change-up the feeling of the photographs. Again, I was after flat flattering light.
One thing I love about umbrellas is that they give a circular catch-light. I have always felt a circle is more pleasing than a rectangular catch-light. This is why I have always preferred Octoboxes to Softboxes, the sun, which is our biggest and most natural light source, is a circle after all.
Another use of an umbrella this size is that you can use it as a diffuser or scrim without needing to add a strobe to the mix. A scrim or a diffuser is used when you want to render a small, harsh light source like a midday or setting sun or a strobe softer by placing white material between the light source and your subject. This makes the small light source much larger, and big light is soft light.
As far as construction goes, only time will tell how sturdy a beast this umbrella really is. So far so good, but that said I have only used it on one shoot. The ribs seem sturdy enough, according to the specs I have real they are made of fiberglass. One concern to me is that the rivets used on the pivots seem a bit tiny…that said I am sure the umbrella will take flight long before there is enough wind force to damage the rivets. If that is the case then maybe it is a bit too windy to be using an umbrella at all!
The center connection hub looks extremely well built.
All in all this is a great piece of gear at an extremely good price, backed with the quality you would expect from Photoflex. I am looking forward to putting it through its paces while shooting family and group shot at a wedding I am shooting in a few weeks.
As you may well know by now, one of my favorite photographic challenges is to make a portrait under less than ideal circumstances. When I was contacted by my friend Jason Rockman to make some portraits in a comic book store, I knew it was going to be very fun.
Jason, a DJ for Montreal’s CHOM 97.7 FM radio station and singer for Slaves On Dope, is a bona-fide comic book freak. It is a passion he literally wears on his sleeves. As it turns out British tattoo magazine Skin Deep is putting out a special edition which will focus on super-hero inspired ink, and they decided to profile Jason and his super-hero themed tattoos. A good part of Jason’s work was done by Montreal’s Dave Cummings who is an incredibly talented tattoo artist, check him out if you need anything done!
I knew a few things going into the shoot. The store, Expert Comics, would be open for business. And though it is a pretty big store, it cannot be compared to the size we are used to working with in a studio.
I knew I wanted a colorful background that complemented Jason, his tattoos, and the spirit of the article.
Finally, since the shoot is super-hero themed, I wanted to treat Jason to some beautiful light with a bit of an edge.
Upon arriving at Expert, I knew immediately what background I wanted. Along one of the walls was a huge rack of extremely colorful comics and graphic novels. Perfect! The biggest challenge facing me now was that the space was only 15-20 feet wide. Ideally I want my subject at least 10 feet off of the background, that just wasn’t an option here. Jason was going to be no more than 6 feet from the wall. I didn’t want the background to be too distracting, so I opted to shoot with my fast prime lenses instead of my zooms; this allowed me to shoot at f/2.8 and allowed the background to fall out of focus. I started my tests wide open at f/1.4, but found the depth of field to be too narrow and the background became way too abstract. Here is what the light set-up looked like…
My main light is an Alien-Bees B400 strobe shooting through one of my favorite modifiers, my Photoflex 5-foot OctoDome. The beauty of the OctoDome is that it has a narrow profile; I can have a large light source which doesn’t take up a huge amount of space. I had the light up as high as I could get it without damaging the ceiling, and angled downwards to get a slight butterfly pattern and some shadow under his chin. Has the light been too direct, his face would have lost definition. I have had a lot of question from colleagues regarding the seemingly wimpy strobes that I use, afterall, the Alien Bees B400 is only rated at 160 Ws. It actually suits my needs perfectly! I rarely shoot outdoors in the blazing sun so I do not need a huge amount of output for that. I also shoot at very large apertures, for the most part at f/1.4 to f/4. If my lights were too powerful, I would not be able to get the shallow depth of field I am often after since at their lowest output they are still too strong.
I then placed 2 Canon speedlites on either side of Jason, approximately 8 feet away and slightly behind him. I oriented the heads of the flashes vertically to give me a taller and thinner spread of light. To control flare I attached a flag on each light that I made from an old pair of 4×5 darkslides. These lights served 2 purposes; they help separate Jason from the background and, more importantly, the light added a nice rim around Jason which helped highlight his arms and face, as well as his tattoos. It gave the photographs a nice sense of dimension.
The whole system was triggered using my trusty Pocket Wizards.
Not knowing the final layout of the magazine, I made sure to capture some horizontal as well as some vertical photographs. I also wanted to give the magazine some other options, so we shot a few other set-ups switching up backgrounds, as well as jumping between available light as well as strobe.
As soon as I receive the page layouts I will update the post!
In no particular order, these are the photographs I made during 2012 that stand out as my favorites. I hope you enjoy them!
“I went to a fight the other night, and a hockey game broke out.” – Rodney Dangerfield
I love hockey…I grew up playing the game in organized leagues and outdoor rinks, I even lost a tooth playing the game…how much more Canadian can I get? Having the opportunity to shoot a few Canadiens games last season was something I will never forget…and once this whole lockout thing is settled I hope to shoot more of them! As for this photograph…right place, right time and right moment.
What’s not to like about a couple in love laying in the leaves on a beautiful autumn day? Dave and Melissa brought such incredible energy and some great ideas to their engagement shoot, and we had a great time. This is one of my favorite photographs from the shoot because of how Melissa’s eyes just pop, contrasting with the warm tones in the leaves.
I like this photograph for a few reasons…partially the enormity of the task at hand; it took 10 cranes to move several steel beams weighing close to 50,000 lbs each into place, partially because I love night photography and partially because it meant an eventual end to the traffic congestion on the Met near the Laurentian Autoroute…not to mention the reassurance that the new overpass would hopefully not crumble under you!
Having shot the Dillinger Escape Plan before, I knew to expect the unexpected…but when guitarist Ben Weinman decided to do a bit of head walking during Heavy MTL I got a few good pictures, but when the crowd surfer popped up and made his way to Weinman, I knew I had one of my best shots in 15+ years of shooting concerts.
Quebec’s spring and early summer were marred with protest; what started out originally as a fight against raising tuition turned into something much larger. When the Liberal government tried to pass a law banning masked demonstrations, the daily marches in Montreal often turned violent when police and demonstrators clashed. The central meeting place for all marches and events was Place Emilie Gamelin (AKA Berri Square).Photojournalists in Montreal went from comparing cameras and lenses to comparing methods of washing tear gas from their eyes…
One such event was a free tattoo day where supporters of the “cause” could get the now iconic, in Montreal anyways, Red Square tattooed as a sign of solidarity. Whatever your opinions of the whole tuition debacle and the ensuing months of social and political unrest were, it certainly is something you won’t forget anytime soon.
Another time that protest turned ugly was when anti-tuition protestors and anti-capitalist groups joined forces to take advantage of the media coverage during Montreal’s F1 event. Crescent Street closes down and hosts parties and free outdoor activities; protestors tried to join in on the fun but were turned back by riot police who used tear gas, rubber bullets and concussion grenades to keep the tourists safe. What a summer!
I’ve never shot a basketball game of any level, so why not make my first time and NBA game? When the Raptors and Knicks played at the Bell Center in Montreal I was thrilled to have the chance to shoot the pre-season game. Great action, the court is so much smaller and the game was so much faster than you would expect!
Port Dover is a small fishing town on Lake Erie known for its fresh perch. Having a population of just over 6500, the small beach town is the unlikely setting for the Friday the 13th biker rally where bikers from all over North America ride in and party. This year’s event was in July, and the official tally of bikers was somewhere between 150,000 and 250,000 bikers. The small town swells in size overnight with bikers in every hotel room, campsite, soccer field, baseball diamond and wherever else you can pitch a tent for miles around. I have family in Port Dover and I have heard about PD13 so may times, I was thrilled to finally be able to go and see it for myself!
Montreal is not without festivals and parties of it’s own. Every February, while we are in the depths of winter, Montrealers go all night during the Nuit Blanche where museums, theaters, playhouses and clubs stay open as late as they can and Old Montreal, The Plateau, The Mile End and of course downtown holds all kinds of free activities. It is by far one of the most fun events of the year!
A great highlight for me personally and professionally in 2012 was becoming one of Photoflex’s Pro Showcase shooters, joining the ranks of some of my favorite photographers. What an honor!
I was asked to try out Photoflex’s Triton flash unit, a small battery powered flash unit that is made primarily for location work. I decided to go to Upper Canada Village to put the flash through it’s paces, walking through the park and making portraits of the people who work there. The flash was excellent, and really easy to use! Check out the full report here: https://newwindworkshops.com/2012/07/01/lol-lighting-on-location-the-photoflex-triton-edition/
Released in 1998, The Shape Of Punk To Come is by far one of the best hardcore punk rock albums ever. Shortly after the album was released, Refused broke up. The band felt that their was unfinished business, and decided to reform and tour one last time. Their stop in Montreal is my concert highlight of 2012, a spine tingling performance at Metropolis.
2012 also marked a career milestone for me in that I had my first written article published about a week I spent on the road watching AAA baseball games in upstate NY. It was a fantastic experience and it rekindled my love for the game. Sitting in the shadow of Kodak’s world headquarters in downtown Rochester NY, Frontier Filed is by far one of the most beautiful places to watch a baseball game. The full slideshow of photographs can be found here: http://timsnowphotography.com/baseball/
2012 also marked a resurgence of nostalgia for the departed Montreal Expos, the major league team that left us back in 2004. Several special events were held throughout the city, including a baseball camp in Dorval. At the end of the day, the players all sat at a table and, for a fee, signed autographs for their fans. Not pitcher Bill Lee though…The Spaceman, who was a controversial figure in his playing days, sat down on the infield grass and signed everything that came his way for free, getting up close and personal with his fans, swapping stories and having a great time!
2012 was a great year personally and professionally, a huge thanks and tons of gratitude to everyone who let me photograph their stories and get to know them. Thanks to all of my colleagues, friends and family, I hope you all have a great 2013!
It happens every once in a while that a client calls you in need of a very simple headshot, needs it done relatively quickly and would like to shoot in their home.
One of the my favorite things about location photography is just that, the challenge of showing up to a place I have never been before and making the space work for my needs.
Cassie, an author, needed a new portrait for the dust jacket of a soon to be released novel. She wanted something simple, something timeless. I knew I wanted to use flattering soft light, and I didn’t want to over complicate things since we were to be working in her living room. The measurements were what you would expect in an apartment living room, approximately 15 feet wide and maybe 25 feel deep. The ceilings were around 9 feet high.
One oft overlooked background for portraits and headshots is simply the paint on someone’s wall. Cassie had nice neutral beige walls which suited the portrait just fine, and her blue sweater complimented the paint nicely. I didn’t want my light to be too flat as I wanted a bit of shape to her face, but I didn’t want to be overly harsh either. I opted to use my Photoflex Medium OctoDome for a few reasons; the 5-foot OctoDome produces beautifully soft light, especially when used close to the subject, and the narrow profile of the box works very well in small spaces. I used my Alien Bees B400 as my light, and used a Canon 1DX with the 135mm f/2. The 1DX was on loan from Canon for a few days to try out the new camera…which is just amazing and I can’t wait to buy one!
As can be seen in BTS photo, I heavily feathered the light away from Cassie. Doing this accomplished two things, I assured that only the softest light was reaching her, and it allowed me to control the amount of light spilling onto the wall behind her so the background wouldn’t become over lit.
I was also fortunate in this situation that the walls were a warmer neutral tone, the reflected light from the walls acted as a fill that complemented Cassie’s skin tone. Had the wall been blue or green, I would have set up my Photoflex LitePanel kit with either a white panel to add some fill, or the black panel for some negative fill.
All in all, a simple one light solution was all that it took to produce beautiful light that complimented my subject perfectly.
On November 24th we are going to be holding an incredibly fun event just West of Montreal where you will have an introduction to Off-Camera flash!
Taking the flash off the top of your camera is the first step in creative portraiture. It will allow you to sculpt your subject with light and take your photography to the next level!
Half of the day will be spent talking about different methods of controlling your light, different modifiers and thinking through the shoot. You will learn how to mix ambient light with flash, and how to control your subject to get the best possible photograph.
Please feel free to get in touch with any questions you have! Hope to see you there!