Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Gods Finally Cut Me Some Slack

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In my last update, I lamented and bemoaned the problems I'd been having trying to put together a shoot for my friends at Innovatronix, Inc. Well, this past Sunday -- wonders upon wonders -- it suddenly felt like miracles do happen. I was finally able to complete the shoot!  But once again, it almost did not happen... which would have made it 5 weekends in a row my planned shoot would have been scuttled, either by flaky models or inclement weather. 

Here's how it almost didn't happen, again: I booked yet another model for this past Sunday. A very pretty one-time Penthouse Pet of the Month. I'm not going to name names but on Friday she seemed very eager and enthusiastic to do the shoot. I told her I'd be calling her the following day to discuss call-time, wardrobe, and other stuff. The next day comes and guess what? She didn't return my calls or texts.  By evening, I was near-totally convinced this shoot was completely jinxed!

I called my friend -- a friend who is also a client, one who has hired me many times in the past and who continues hiring me -- who had volunteered to shoot the behind-the-scenes video for this project. I told him the bad news. He reminded me that he would not be available the following weekend if the shoot had to be pushed back again. Oh great! Yet another problem. Again, the word "jinxed" popped into my head... and I'm not an overly superstitious person!

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But then my friend said, "You remember my friend, Robert, right?"  I said that I did. "Well, his girlfriend does some modeling. And she's pretty hot. You want me to call Robert and ask him to ask her if she's interested?"  I absolutely wanted him to call because I absolutely did not want to postpone the shoot for yet another week, which could easily turn into a two week postponement.  To make a long story short, by 10 PM or so Saturday night, and after I spoke with Robert's girlfriend about what we'd be shooting, a call-time, transportation, makeup and wardrobe,  Robert's girlfriend, Zoey, was locked-in to do the shoot. Well, theoretically locked-in, models being models and all... friend of a friend's girlfriend notwithstanding.

Now, all Zoey had to do was show up at the designated time and place. 

And show up she did! Early, in fact! So, by 11 AM on Sunday we all had hooked up at the designated meeting spot and began our hour-and-a-half trek out to Southern California's Antelope Valley and on into the Western regions of the Mojave Desert. Our destination was an off-road location I was familiar with -- one that featured the time-worn remains of a stone dwelling --  a location that is very near California's Saddle Back Butte State Park.

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In all, the shoot went terrifically!  I wish there was less wind and more interesting skies and clouds but you can't always have it all. I was happy to finally be shooting this project. I'm also happy to report that the Tronix Explorer 500Li, their newest and most recently developed and released portable power unit (that I was trying out at the request of the good folks at Innovatronix) performed like a champ!

I used the 500Li to power a Photogenic 600ws monobloc. The Photogenic 600 is a heavy beast that spits out a lot of light. I needed plenty of light output to balance with and/or overcome the harsh desert sun. That's why I chose the Photogenic 600 from among my other strobes for this shoot. It's the most powerful monobloc I own, and I have about a half dozen monoblocs.

The 500Li + the strobe were definitely up to the task. I had metered the daylight in front of the model and, for most of the time we shot, the ambient in front of her was a bit more than f/11. There were no shady areas to shoot in, leastwise where I could have the sun behind the model for some back-lighting. Also, the sky was bright and boring and I didn't want blow it out. (Nor areas of the background). So, my exposure for much of the shoot was f/13 at 250th, ISO 100. I wasn't interested in blurring the background with shallow DOF because I wanted to connect the model to the environment, i.e.,  I wanted the pics to reveal the desolate desert in the BG, seeing it all the way to the far off mountains.

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I used my Canon 70-200 f/4 non-IS L on my Canon 5D2 for the entire shoot. I also used a 3' Photek Softlighter to modify the strobe and soften the light just a bit. It was quite windy out there the entire  time we shot. I needed to hang the 10 lb. Tronix 500Li from the stand by it's carrying bag, plus I used two 25 lb. sand bags all to keep the stand/strobe/mod upright in the wind. Even still, I was somewhat anxious that it would be blown over and the flash tube would break. I had a spare strobe with me but it was a 300ws monobloc and, if i had to use it, I would have had to change my approach, both from a lighting and exposure point of view.  I didn't have a spare flash tube for the Photogenic.

The Photogenic 600 was set to full power almost the entire time we shot. (In order to get f/13 at ISO 100 from the modified strobe in bright desert daylight with all the sand and rocks also acting like reflectors.)  The Tronix 500Li delivered about 350 to 400 full-power pops, plus or minus.  I'm not sure of the exact flash count since I deleted  a number of snaps during the shoot, mostly for blinks or when the model's hair, courtesy of the wind, suddenly covered most all of her face when I pressed the shutter. I was shooting RAW + Large Fine JPGs and wanted to insure I had enough card space with me. In all, I shot (and kept) about 10GBs of picture files. 

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Recycle time with the 500Li powering the strobe was not appreciably different than if the strobe was plugged into AC. And the recycle times didn't slow-- i.e. they remained the same as the battery was draining and until the batteries were completely depleted. The 500Li comes with two, quickly interchangeable, L-ion batteries. So, when the first one is done -- it sounds a beep when it's fully drained --  you easily and quickly remove the first battery out of the unit and pop the other one in. The batteries themselves are each about 5"x5"cubes. The entire unit is about a 10"x10" cube.

Zoey was an absolute trooper throughout the shoot. She maintained an exceptionally positive attitude. She never hinted at a complaint about the wind or the less-than-comfortable surroundings. She remained enthusiastic and just a delight to work with the entire time we were there.  When I handed her that vintage Super-8 camera to use as a prop for a few shots, she said, "Wow! This is what people used to use to shoot videos with?"  I guess you have to be old to appreciate the humor in that. Or not.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Gods Must Be Crazy!

The gods, the photo gods, must be crazy mad at me... for something. I have no clue what that something might be but, whatever it is, they're making me crazy with their craziness aimed at me!

For weeks now, I've been trying to get a specific shoot done. But the gods seem to have other plans for my shoot. They have been consistently messing with me, sabotaging my shoot either with flaky models, people's schedules, or rain.

A bit of background: About a month or so ago, the good folks at Innovatronix, Inc.  offered to let me take their latest portable power device, the Tronix Explorer 500Li, for a test spin. "Absolutely! I'd love to!" I told them. "Could you have someone video tape the shoot while your'e using our product?" They asked. I told them of course I could. Some BTS footage? No problemo.  (BTS = Behind the Scenes in case you weren't aware.)

Always good to their word -- I've had a terrific working relationship with Innovatronix for a number of years now -- they quickly shipped me the product. Unpacking it, I immediately saw some big changes they've made from their other portable power devices, most of which I'm fairly well acquainted with.  First off, it's smaller, sleeker, and lighter than many of their other power products. Plus, it came with two -- not one but two! -- easily and quickly interchangeable Li-ion batteries. I have to admit, while unpacking it I became instantly impressed with their new design right down to the bright green trim on the unit. Right out of the box, this baby looks and feels like a robust and reliable professional piece of gear.

After charging both batteries, I decided to fire a few test "pops" with one of my monoblocs. I decided to use my (kind of older) Photogenic 600ws studio strobe. Why? Because it's the most powerful of all the monolights in my kit, and I have about a half-dozen monolights in my kit. This particular Photogenic is a beast! It's heavy and ugly but puts out a lot of light.  To remind myself how long it takes the Photogenic 600 to recycle at full power, I first plugged it into an AC outlet and fired away with  it. It recycles quite quickly, just as I recalled -- haven't used it in a while -- even at full power. (Course, I wouldn't expect anything less from Photogenic's terrific line of monoblocs.)  Next, I plugged the strobe into the Explorer 500Li and started firing the strobe with the Tronix portable power unit. Guess what? The strobe seemed to recycle just as quickly as it did when it was plugged into the AC. Yeah. That's what I'm talking about. I hate waiting for strobes to recycle!

Now don't get me wrong. I didn't do a scientific test with a stopwatch or anything. I'm not that anal retentive. But, for all intents and purposes, any difference in recycling times between using AC and using the Tronix 500Li were negligible at best and not noticeable to me at all. Sure. I'm kinda old.  But I'm not in La-La-Land old. Seconds still seem like seconds to me and I can still judge time, even short spans of time, as well as ever.

Okay. So I start planning for the shoot. I knew I was going to need to call in some favors (and end up owing a few back) to get this "in the can" as they used to say in Hollywood when they were still mostly shooting film. That's partly because I decided on a shooting location that's way out in the desert at the rather desolate ruins of some old, stone house, structure. I've shot there before, although not for pretty girl pics. It's about two hours from where I live. One of the favors was going to be from a video shooter I know. He works often enough during the week that this "do me a favor" shoot would have to be on a Saturday or a Sunday. I also wanted a hot model (obviously) and I was being kind of picky about that. (Plus, I didn't want to deal with an agent if I could avoid doing so.) So, getting a hot model to trek out to the desert with us for a whole day of fun and merriment with yours truly, partially as a favor -- I'm providing some pay -- also meant a weekend shoot.  (Probably not with a call-time too early in the day because, you know, models like to party on weekends, but that's another issue.) My personal schedule mattered less because I'm not working as often these days, me being a semi-retired geezer and all, and it's my shoot after all.

Let me me make this the gods must be crazy story shorter: First weekend, the model flakes the night before and it was too late to replace her for a next-day shoot. Okay. I can deal with that. Not like it hasn't happened before. So, during the week I scheduled another model for the following weekend. The next weekend comes around and it was like deja vu or Groundhog Day or something. Another night-before, flaking, model.  Being determined, I schedule again for the following weekend with yet another model. The next weekend arrives and it rains the whole time! Rain! Here! In Southern California during a drought! In the desert no less! Alrighty then. Like I said, I'm determined. I again schedule everyone for this past Sunday and... yep,. You guessed it. It rained again!  Damn you Godzilla El Niño! I know we really, really need the rain (what with the drought and all) but can you please cut me some slack?  Just for a Saturday or Sunday???

So here I am, trying to put the shoot together again for next weekend and hoping that the gods or
Godzilla El Niño or whomever or whatever will forgive me for whatever transgression I committed,  whatever it might have been. So please, dear readers, wish me luck! I need to get this done!