A perfect time to finally write a post about the good ol' grocery sack softbox, seeing as I used it once again for, get this, the Mercedes-Benz photo shoot (which I just wrote about, see that here). As you'll read, the main theme of that...

After a few months of shooting under it's belt now, I feel comfortable speaking a bit about the 5D3. A lot of the reviews found on the web are usually focused on the numbers and specs, which quite honestly don't mean a whole lot to photographers, especially when it comes to finding information that we consider valuable or translatable-to when we are out seeking an understanding to make new gear purchases.

I wanted to take a moment to publicly thank the Paul C. Buff company, the makers of the AlienBee and Einstein studio strobes that I have been using for over 4 years now. This post isn't about what a great product they make, though I've always been 100% happy with their performance, and I have no doubt that they are the best bang for the buck when it comes to photo lighting gear. This post isn't about the fact that outside user error, not a single lighting unit or bulb has gone bad, and have been reliably popping countless times over those 4 years. My entire portfolio, aside from a shoot here or there where I got by using hot shoe flashes, were all composed with their lights and modifiers. This post is about their amazing customer service. Sure, there are a lot of great companies out there that make some pretty awesome things, but I believe when things go wrong, something breaks, and you have to call the manufacturers for some help... this is what separates the bad from the good, and the good from the spectacular. The Paul C. Buff team couldn't get a higher review from me, and here's my professional experience as to why. A little over 4 years ago, I received my first 4 AlienBees, shipped right to my door. One of the modeling lights didn't work (understandable, you can get a dud light or even the fact that they were shipped across the country and I'm sure bumped around a bit by the shippers). A ring to Paul C. Buff, no questions asked, shipped me a new one and didn't charge me a cent, not even shipping. It's important to mention that an American picked up the phone, was pleasant as could be, and completely reinforced all of the great things I've heard of the business even before I bought my lights. Years and hundreds of photo shoots later, those same light are still popping. My lighting family also grew, as I now own 9 lights made by Paul C. Buff. As you could imagine over hundreds of shoots, accidents are inevitable and happen from time to time. Between the wind, a spiderweb of cords (tripping hazards), and other contributing factors, the lights will take an occasional tumble to the ground. Most of my lights have some war wounds from their years of service, yet they keep on poppin'. My two big oopsies both occurred within about of a month from each other, with one light taking a very nasty and hard fall to the ground (thanks to the ever resilient wind), and another was unknowingly plugged into a 220 volt outlet (as opposed to the standard 110 outlet) which resulted in a frightening "pop" and a cloud of smoke. Both lights were down for the count so I sent them to PCB to get serviced. My thoughts at the time were not only how much it would cost, but IF they could even be fixed from the resulting damage.

PocketWizard radio triggers... I love 'em. 95% of the time I have zero issues and they are worth every penny spent on them. That's saying something too, because I own 7 of them. My current PocketWizard arsenal consists of: 4 - FlexTT5's, 1 - MiniTT1, 2 - PowerMC2's, 1 - AC3, and 3 - AC9's. There is one flaw I've found in the PocketWizard FlexTT5's hot shoe mount (the part that tightens to the camera end) is not built out of the strongest material. It performs just fine when mounted by itself to a camera to trigger other radios, however, if you slide a speedlite onto the Flex (it's intended use), the added weight and torque that the speedlite can apply to the Flex's mount can become too much and... it breaks, rendering that hot shoe mount useless. It's kind of shocking that PW didn't think this one through, or even make a change in future production of the product after what I'm guessing is a very large number of photographers having this issue. A speedlite/Flex rig can easily put a couple pounds of force on this single small piece of plastic (and especially stressful on the mount when the speedlite is situated sideways), and it's only a matter of time before each and every Flex hot shoe mount will fail. Why it's not metal to begin with is beyond me. Good news is that you can call PocketWizard up, tell them your problem, and they will send you a new mount to replace the broken one. The bad news is that it'll cost you $20 per replacement mount. The repair process is simple enough to do yourself in under 5 minutes, but frustrating that you have to do this to begin with.

I don't know about you other photographers, but the vast majority of my photo shoot time is spent setting up and configuring lighting. There is a reason for that, right? Good lighting = good photograph. Carelessness = crappy light = crappy photo. It's simple math, really, but that math adds up fast in the form of a lot of pacing back and forth from shooting position to light. Unfortunately, this back and forth dance is necessary in order to get all the lights and their powers set correctly. It seems with the addition of each extra light that the overall setup time increases exponentially. What if there was a device that could control your speedlites and your studio strobes right from your camera? Good news for the PocketWizard shooters, there is. It's called the PocketWizard AC3 ZoneController. It works with MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 radio trigger system. Below is a video that goes into detail about the system and briefly discusses the power and convenience the AC3 will bring by adding it to the existing PocketWizard system. I'm sure after watching the video, you'll have all kinds of ideas on how this could improve your photo shoots. From my own experience I can tell you that the AC3 has doubled my shooting efficiency. If you shoot with the MiniTT1/FlexTT5 system, you are out of your mind if you don't integrate the AC3 into gear set... like now. It will make that big of a difference, I promise. [jwplayer mediaid="5161" width=700 height=418]

I don't want to get too McGyver-ie on you guys, 'cause I'm sure we've all seen the countless disasters of DIY (Do It Yourself) projects, especially in the photography field. People making soft boxes out of cardboard and tinfoil, for example. Some of these contraptions make sense, some don't come close, some require just as much money making your own crappy version of the original item (not to mention a week's worth of hours constructing it), and even in the end, if the duct taped frankenstein of a project actually does what it's supposed to, it will never scream "professional" and you would have to be an idiot use it on a professional photo shoot in front of a paying client. However, every once in a while, a little savvy with mods to existing and legitimate photo gear can workout in your favor, save some money, and produce great results. My off-camera lighting journey started in overdrive. It was go big or go home when it came to integrating lights in my shoots, meaning I started out and exclusively used larger studio strobes for my work (as opposed to using speedlites, also called hot shoes). Not that it was a regrettable choice, I love the big lights and I still use them for 75% of my work, but I invested heavily and exclusively into those lights and light modifiers. When it came to that other 25% of the time, when I'm not shooting commercial work or I don't need the horsepower from big lights, I wanted to use the way more convenient, smaller, and lighter speedlites. So I bought a handful of speedlites a couple years back for just those occasions. Aside from the initial expense of the speedlites, I also had to take into account all of the light modifiers. If I wanted the same type of control that I have with my strobe lighting set, would I have to go all out and purchase the speedlite variation of all the strobe medication gear to accomplish this? I owned like... 12+ light modifiers specifically to fit my studio strobes. I initially had no problem shelling out money for the strobe light modifiers, as big lights and big modifiers gave me awesome light, and I was willing to pay for it. Once I started researching speedlite specific light modifiers, my jaw dropped to find they cost just as much, if not more, money for them! I couldn't believe it. I knew that speedlites were very popular, but man, the photo market is all to wise to that fact, and all of us photogs are paying for it. Markup on small light gear for those tiny little speedlites is out of control.

Ok, here's a post for the photogs out there. This is the rig I decided to go with for my hiking trip to photograph the landslide project. Click here if you don't know what I'm talking about. It's super important that when you know a day of shooting will be a little out of the ordinary that you ask as many questions as possible so that you can as prepared as possible. For this specific photo task, I knew the following:
  • I will be shooting both ground level and aerial shots, aerials from a helicopter.
  • The location is only reachable by foot, requiring a 15-minute hike.
  • The location will be focused around a giant landslide.
  • My focus for ground level shots will be the people working in the environment.
  • My focus while shooting from the air will be a mile-long landslide.

Since the announcement of the Canon 5DmkIII, there have been a lot of bloggers out there chomping at the bit to denounce the idea of spending the $3,500 to upgrade their current 5D2 to the new 5D3. It's as if they couldn't wait to say that the new 5D3 isn't even close to being considered for their own business. I hope you are not running a serious business, guys. Anyone who has used the 5D2 for a substantial amount of time would be happy to hand you a laundry list of faults where the 5D2 has disappointed over and over throughout the years. There may be a few people out there who work in ideal, happy, well-lit, never rushed, never found in challenged environments who may be looking at me like I'm crazy, but I'm sorry... if you think that the 5D2 is without any issues, you are the crazy one, and I challenge you to step out of your perfect world and shoot a couple weddings and tell me you have the same opinion. I know a lot of naysayers out there are looking at the megapixel count (the 5D2 with 21 and the 5D3 with 22) and going, "I don't get it, what's with the only one MP jump?" I think this is why a lot of people are shaking their heads at Canon when they were expecting something more when asked for 3500 clams. People, it's not about megapixel counts, and don't say that's not your reason for bitchin' because if the new 5D3 touted a 36MP spec, you'd have reserved your copy of the 5D3 faster than I can say the word "sucker." Simply put, for those with the adequate experience with the 5D2, I think that the 5D3 is the camera you always wanted in the mkII. Once you can look past the megapixel spec, you'll find that the 5D3 truly is a new camera from the ground up.

Hot shoe lighting has its moments, good and bad. There is no denying the convenience and mobility of speedlites over studio strobes, especially when a photographer spends the bulk of their shooting time on-location. Ditching the strobes and running with speedlites for a shoot literally empties out what is usually a gear-packed car. I can actually see out my back window! Hot shoe lighting is significantly smaller in size, lighter in weight, faster to setup and teardown, and usually translates to a quicker shoot. These are the things I love about speedlites. The other side of the coin are the dislikes, the things that can drive me nuts. Lack of power, misfires, and slow recycle times can get downright ugly at times when you start asking these lights to start doing some real work. My mentality on this may be a bit distorted, as I was spoiled by having the opportunity to start my lighting journey with studio strobes. I used AlienBees for years before ever even feeling the desire to want to use speedlites for my shoots. It was always a "go big or go home" situation for me. I wanted the power the strobes could give me if I needed it. This meant a car stuffed with 200 lbs of lights, cables, power packs, stands, and big light modifiers. It was a game of Tetris to get everything to fit in my car, literally. Big power came with the price of numerous trips back and fourth to the car to fetch bulky, heavy gear, cables running all over the place on-location, gear bags everywhere, and all of that had to be done in the reverse order when it came time to pack it all back up. It sucks, but it's worth it. In fact, it's "worth it" to still continue the same song and dance with all the strobe downsides to use them for 80% of my shoots. Ironically, even though I use my strobes on most location shoots, I call all of my strobe gear my "studio gear" and I call my speedlite gear my "mobile gear." So when I ask Alice, my amazing assistant, for a mobile light, it's kind of like a moment where I know she goes, "oh crap, he needs to pump out a photograph super quick," and urgency is automatically applied to the situation. It's funny but true, as most of my speedlite setups are very much run and gun. Seriously... most of the time when using hot shoes we don't even take the time to put the light on a stand, and Alice hand-holds as we continually move and reposition.

There are countless photo apps popping up for phones, each one bragging about the addition of the now oh-so-played-out vintage filters you can apply. The last thing we need is another excuse for someone to think they are a creative photographer via one-click edit buttons. Ya know... the same edits even your 1-year-old can manage to accidentally apply while teething on the corner of your phone. They are all the same mindless app, driving the false sense of creativeness. News flash, if you have that app so do like... 100 million other people, and they have that same "creative" vintage button. Now don't you feel special. To be honest, at this point your phone photography would probably be more appealing and eye-catching on Facebook if you just stuck to standard photo edits, as everyone and their grandma are robotically mass producing the same EXACT edits as you. You'll practically be the only one with vibrant contrast and colors in your images if you go against the grain on this one. But let's get past these boring one-button edit "features," shall we? After all, in the end, you are still dealing with a point and shoot camera on your phone. It's the other end of the mindless droning of "photography" these days. Of course PnS cameras have the ability to focus, expose, and judge the rest of the variables in order to create a borderline tolerable image. Sure, PnS's have the ABILITY to do all of this stuff for us, but hardware and software developers of phone cameras decided that the cameras WILL do all of the deciding for you, and you don't get a say in the photo-taking affair. Just point and click, you get what you get, and you're stuck with the computer in the driver seat 100% of the time. No surprises, this approach left us with 100 images with maybe a couple falling under the category of "acceptable," the rest being a joke, and proof that computers are not good photographers.

Conducting a lot of my work on-location, I need to pack my lighting gear around to some very random, very remote locations. I also shoot the majority of my work with larger studio strobes (I use AlienBees), rather than the smaller hot shoe lights. As much as I'd like to utilize my set of speedlites more often, especially on shoots where I'm left packing gear over a long distance, they just don't pack the power I'm usually demanding from my lights. You might be thinking, "hey, if you have both sets of gear and have the choice, well... that's easy, go with the AlienBees." Contrary to AA battery-powered, convenient, lighter, fit-in-your-bag speedlites, packing and deploying AlienBee lights on a location shoot can quickly become a pain in the ass. With speedlites, you have the small light, a stand, and maybe a light modifier. With Alienbees (and all studio strobes for that matter), you've got power cables, reflector dishes, carrying cases, larger/heavier light modifiers, and power packs (to power the lights). By default, AlienBees want wall power to keep them happy and firing. If you want to take these things out in the middle of nowhere you gotta bring big power with ya.

It's easy to forget about. You use it for just about everything in life, you rely on it more than you know, but might not even know how inaccurately you are viewing and editing the digital world. Out of all of the gear photographers lust over, camera bodies, lenses, and the thousands of dollars spent to acquire these light capturing tools, most forget about one of the cheapest and most important pieces of gear they need. If you are a photographer and have not properly calibrated your computer monitor, you need to stop editing photos and get on this. I repeat, do not edit another photo before taking the steps to ensure proper monitor calibration.

Reflectors and diffusers are typically the first modifiers photographers buy when they start experimenting with light manipulation. It's a great thing... you've taken the step to start playing with light, rather than just throwing your arms up in defeat when you can't seem to achieve favorable light conditions in a given shooting situation. A reflector/diffuser combo is a very wise choice, regardless of your existing gear status, as they are useful all the time and in combination with other lighting tools. I think that at times people feel that "controlling light" translates to blasting a flash in someone's face and calling it a day. Adding flash lighting or redirecting ambient light with a reflector is a way more delicate process than you might think. It doesn't have to be a huge, dramatic change in the overall exposure. Just adding a little of spark to your main light, or filling-in shadows to bring some more detail into the composition can make a night and day difference. It's not a game of miles or even feet, we are talking about inches. Small increments of addition/subtraction of light to make all the world of difference in your portrait work. Here are a couple thoughts, more of a checklist, to keep in-mind when you go out to make this purchase.

It's a topic photographers start to tackle as they continue to develop their skills, continue to tackle new subject matter, and continue to tackle the processes in order to capture better photographs. Of course, all of these photographic avenues we try to improve ultimately trickle down to the same solution, much like the branches of a tree to the trunk, and that is - the betterment of capturing light. Each photograph - a simple exposure to light. There are literally an infinite number of situations in which a camera can be asked to best capture that pesky stuff we call "light." Some of these situations can best be captured by simply fully understanding how to use a camera and how to spin the dials, some may call for the use of a reflector, diffuser, or even an addition of a light source, and some require the introduction of a filter to best capture the moment. In this article, we'll be taking a look at the latter, an in-depth look at the various filters available to photographers, which ones to avoid, correct and incorrect uses, and when to best use them. The importance of using filters in your work will largely depend on the type of photography you capture. They can have a very dramatic or very little effect on your image, depending on your knowledge of how and when to use them.

Here is a video Q & A for those of you photogs who want to start flirting with off-camera flash. This isn't a video about how to use lighting and everything that goes with it. It's a simple recommendation on the starting block gear to acquire to start your lighting journey. The good news is that TTL will help you ease into this journey (if you are using hot shoe lights), so you don't have to be an absolute lighting wizard to pull of simple lighting execution.

You have to admit, it's a guilty pleasure buying new stuff. Sure, it sucks having to shell-out moola for the really good stuff, but if you are a legit working professional in your field, it's a necessity. BUT... as much as you hate seeing a series of zeros in the price tag of pro-level equipment, there is a part of you that is super happy about clicking that "buy" button. Photographers are notorious gear freaks, always lusting after the next biggest, faster, meaner piece of equipment, whether it is a lens, camera body, general accessory, lighting, or computer equipment. We live in a world that is now obsessed with efficient, lean business workflows. On top of that, society in general is always looking at how they can get services and products cheaper, faster, and easier. The same applies to the career field of photography. If photographers are expected to keep their prices lower to stay competitive, they have to find ways to make the price they are charging economical to keep their dollars per hour up at a desirable range. Ex. if you charge $200 for a photo shoot, is your total time invested into that project 3 hours or 30? If this (photography) is what you wake up and do every day, it is a prime example of a high output workflow. By that, I mean it's not like you are dealing with something on a small scale, like selling cars. You are most likely pumping out photos in the thousands every month if you have a healthy business. So, we are dealing with units in the thousands per month. Don't you think that is something that is worth evaluating, in terms of process workflow and where bottlenecks might be? Just like any other profession, the longer you keep at it, the quicker you are capable of doing a job, managing the juggling of processes, etc, and hopefully the lack of efficiency in certain spots will become more evident. You'll most likely continue to reach new levels in your knowledge and experience, and your current gear and approach may begin to keep you from breaking through to the next step. That's your cue to do something about it.

matty_10.19.11_ 020 - Version 2 Whether you just bought your first SLR camera or your fifth, there's no denying the fact that most of us photographers are gearheads one way or another. Some of you might be looking for a bag to lug around your first big boy camera, some are running out of space for additional lenses you are adding to the never-ending collection, and some have more specific needs in a bag. Let's take some time and go over some things I'd recommend you consider when shopping for a new bag. I can remember back when my gear grew and/or changed in size. I made a couple bag purchases and quickly outgrew them or they simply lost their purpose in life for me. Let's breakdown some of the basics when considering that new camera bag and some of the problems that can arise unexpectedly quick, leaving you with a bag only 6 months old, yet worthless. I think that the people this post will help most are those who have recently bought their first DSLR, who probably have a kit lens and maybe one more lens (most likely a mid-quality longer zoom). So you are juggling two lenses, you are going on some adventures and want to have them both with you, yet you want to pack/protect your investment. Others might have been in the game for awhile and you've caught a serious gear bug, and you have a lens/accessory infestation. There are bags for you and your "issue," and we'll cover that as well (I fall into this category). Some of you may choose to have multiple bags, one big guy that fits all your gear, and another smaller bag for your wandering adventures.

aliceLaptop Is this post a little late to the game? For those who already use applications like Aperture and Lightroom (more about these later in the post), yes, this post is about the biggest "duh!" article you'll have read in a couple years. However... for those photographers who have not had their eyes opened to these savior-like applications, the people who make a living making piles and piles of photos yet still rely on single image editing applications, this post is for you. Why do I STILL have a sense that this post is necessary? 'Cause I hear of people struggling with photo management on a regular basis, and I feel compelled to write it for them. Most likely, this post is going to help that group of photographers who are at the level where they are just starting to get paying gigs, they are flirting with the idea of taking on photography seriously, or maybe they've been doing it for a while and can't figure out how other working photogs are staying afloat with all of the editing, 'cause they are spending an unimaginable number of hours in post production with a steady stream of clients. In today's fast-paced world, it's all about getting the job done better, faster, and cheaper. Streamlining your biz is key, and post production is a giant arena which can be tweaked to really get more time back to invest in other areas.

matty_9.2.11_ 284 Commercial work, mini sessions, weddings, and more all in the same week. The last month has been a crazy mix of work, if it weren't for iCal keeping my schedule and head together, I wouldn't know what mode to wake up in. It's an interesting thing, switching it up from shooting food products in the studio to children in the park the next day. Clientele interaction, lighting, and photographic approaches... the whole game changes with the wildly different jobs. One thing is for sure, all the variety keeps me on my toes, and... consequently keeping me away from the blog as of late. Speaking of variety, the mini sessions have been bringing just that. From a single person to the full family shoots, I've been shooting it all and at a few different locations. The kids always bring unexpected surprises. They are definitely a challenge, but a welcome one, because they provide hilarious expressions when they come out of their shell. Couple goofy ones I've taken over the last week in the post, along with a young man I captured down at Ruston Way. Plenty of bloggin' to come on that later down the road.