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Doorway Softbox

If you've attended a Small Strobes, Big Results workshop, you know that I carry a light modifier which is "light weight" and "inexpensive"and one that I feel is indispensable. It is a simple piece of ripstop nylon material that I can use in all sorts of cleaver ways.

I can tape this material on to a wall to achieve a more color neutral bounce, or I can place this nylon material over a window where RAW sunlight is pouring through a window, turning it into a soft light source. Another way I use this material is to tape it to a doorway and shoot a light through it.

I like using long hallway settings for shooting portraits, it allow me to throw the background out of focus which give a nice sense of depth to the photograph. A lot of times however, the hallways are to narrow to place a light modifier on a stand or perhaps placing an effective bounce for the lighting your subject. By taping my nylon sheet into the doorway and placing a strobe be hind it, I effectively have made a Doorway Softbox measuring 3 foot by 7 foot.

I bought my ripstop nylon at a local fabric store for less than $12 dollars, pretty cheap modifier if you ask me. Here is the final image shot for my client.

I wanted to draw you attention to a few up coming events I'll be attending. On May 11th, I'll be speaking to the Dallas Chapter of the Profession Photographers Association, and than follow up with a one day Small Strobes, Big Results Workshop on May 12th in Dallas, TX.

On May 14th & 15th, I'll be in the Bay Area, Oakland to be exact, teach a two day lighting workshop for the Nikonian's Organization. This workshop is for all those Nikon users that want to get the most of their CLS system. We'll be shooting at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Union City, CA.

More "We Deliver" Images

I've been working on an annual report which has the message "We Deliver" as it's theme. I mentioned this project several posts back, the one shooting the agricultural images from the San Luis Valley in Southern Colorado.

The annual report design calls for 4 specific full page spreads at the front of the annual. The size of the annual report is 8 1/2" X 11", and the cover is only about 7 1/2" inches wide. Under the this shortened cover are these 4 specific images each progressively getting larger by a 1/2" inch until the last image reaches the final size of the book of 8 1/2" inches. Here is a pdf of the design to help grasp the idea.

Each of these 4 spreads reveal a half inch of the right side of the image, the graphic designer and I had several discussions regarding how to handle that 1/2" inch reveal. During the design phase of the annual report, the designer had no idea what subject matter was going to make up these first 4 pages. We wanted the revealed area of each photo to be clean, lacking any distracting elements. I didn't want to cut someones face in half in the reveal or some other sort of distracting element, you know what I mean.

You can see from the example layout above the images that are revealed seem busy. My job is to smooth them out. As you open the cover to the annual, you are still able to view the additional 3 spreads.

And in the photo below you see the final image of the comp that was provided.

One of the images recently taken and discussed on this blog was the wheat field image. I believe that image, the one shown below will be the last spread of the 4 spread set. I just pasted in the text from the layout to give you the sense of what it would look like.

Part of this assignment took us to the small mountain community of Ouray, Colorado. Ouray is also known as the Little Switzerland of America. The town of Ouray recently changed all of it's street lights to LED lights, saving the town thousands of dollars of energy costs. Erik and I flew down to Montrose in the companies private plane and shot both the evening we arrived as well as pre-sunrise. Here is my favorite image from that shoot and how it might look in context.

The image below was shot last week in Taos, NM. This is a solar plant that provides power to a school next to the solar plant. I have other shots earlier in the morning I prefer, however, I think the client will opt for the one shown here with people in the photo. The two people in the photo are the local energy CoOp and a representative of the school.

I'm not exactly certain what the final image is going to be, perhaps a stock image I've previously taken at one of their many facilities.

I'll be in NY for the Photo East Expo, if you see me wondering around the floor on Thursday please say hello. DT

Solar Panel Portraits


I have recently begun working on an annual report for a long time client on mine. My client is a Touchstone Cooperative who owns power plants and transmission lines. I have shot their annual report for years and it is now time to start this years annual.

Quite often when I head out on assignment for them, we have several other project to shoot other than the annual report photography. These portraits may or may not appear in their annual report, they may end up in their monthly magazine.

Erik and I had two days of shooting in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado. We were shooting a variety of subject matter, combines harvesting fields, portraits around solar panels and a potato farmer Scott.

This particular post will be devoted to the solar panel portrait portion of the assignment. Before heading down to the San Luis Valley, I was told that we were scheduled to shoot portraits at a solar plant near Alamosa, Colorado the following morning.

Erik and I left for Alamosa early in the morning, allowing us plenty of time to shoot alone the way. I was asked to photograph some new power lines which had been recently installed over Poncha Spring Pass alone Colorado Hwy 285. We took our time going over the pass, turning on various forestry roads looking for good vantage points to photography those power lines. By the time we had reached this location it was near mid day, and the light was a bit harsh.



After photographing various angles on power lines we continued our trip to the Alamosa. Just 17 miles north of Alamosa is a small solar plant which Sun Edison operates and my client providing the power lines to deliver the resulting power. We drove around the solar plant scouting for locations for the portraits we knew we were going to be shooting the following morning.

I was told that there was a small sub station on the north/west corner of the property, and my client wanted the substation in the background of the photos we're going to shoot. Based on the placement of the sub station, I needed to be inside the solar plant property to get the photography my client asked for.

I made a few personal photos of the plant while scouting the location for the morning shoot. On the morning of the photo shoot at the solar plant, I learned that my client was unable to make contact with the appropriate person to gain access to the plant. I had about 30 minutes to come up with a solution, photographing a group of 6 or 7 people in a location that says solar power and delivery. We drove out to the plant prior to the arrive of the individuals who were to be photographed, looking for a solution. When we arrived, I noticed a repair or maintenance crew on the property. I caught their attention and spoke to them about the situation at hand. I told them that we had be trying to get permission from a certain gentlemen with Sun Edison and that we had not yet heard back from him regarding gaining access to their property. As it turned out, these workers made a quick phone call which quickly allowed us the access we desired.

Once on the property, I was able to position the group of 6 near solar panels with the sub station in the background. With the aid of a 6 foot ladder, I was able to get a higher angle to see more of the sub station as well as seeing more solar panels.

After shooting the group, I was asked to make several individual portraits as well as smaller group shots. The photo at the top of the post was photographed utilizing a 42" square lightform panel with a diffusion fabric over the frame. Erik moved the panel into the frame from the left side until I could just see it, and than backed it out just out of frame. Using a panel like this produces a soft light on the subject. Here are a few more images from our morning shoot at the solar plant.

In this image you can see the sub station in the background on the left side of the frame. If I had to shoot this without being on the solar plant property, I don't know what I would have done.

We also shot a little video to go alone with this assignment.

Fencing Part 2

In part 1 of my fencing shoot, we combines a small amount of ambient light with a single flash with a grid. With this photo, I killed the ambient light choosing instead to light the entire scene with strobes. I used a much softer quality light on my subject, opting for a overhead softbox. I positioned my subject in front of a wall rack full of fencing masks, the repetitive pattern of the masks made for a nice background.

For this series of photos I untimely ended up using 4 Nikon SB-800 strobes. The strobes all fired using the Nikon CLS system. My key light is a single SB inside a FourSquare™ the strobe was set to group A and boomed overhead. A used a Quantum Turbo SC battery to power the strobe.

For the rim or kicker lights, I had two SB-800's, each with a full cut CTO (color temperature orange) gel on the flash head. I used a set of barndoors on each strobe to control the spread of light and help prevent flare in my lens. I assigned both strobes to group B as they had the same distance to travel and both strobes received the same amount of power. Just as a side note: All strobes assigned to a particular group in this case group B, will all fire at the same power level. You can not adjust each strobe independently if they are assigned to the same group.

The background flash was an SB-800 with a full cut CTB (color temperature blue) gel on it. A CTB gel converts a tungsten light source to daylight. Since the strobe is already a "daylight" balanced light source, the gel raises the kelvin temperature which has a cooling affect on the light. The flash head was zoomed to 50mm and place into group C.


From my camera position and using the SU-800 commander, I was able to shut off the various groups to show the build of lights. In the following series of photos you can see the progression of adding lights on the subject. The first with just the key light, the second with the addition of kickers, and the third with all strobes firing including the background.

Here I'm fitting one of the rear kicker strobes with a barndoor. These are really inexpensive modifiers and I use them a lot. They cost about $10.00 each.

You may have notice that I make no mention about what power settings I'm using. Personally I don't care, I make a creative choice to shoot at certain aperture and than adjust the power on the strobes to fit that. I wanted a shallow DOF to soften the background, that happened to be f/2.8.My son Chris shot some video during the shoot, it shows the photographing of both part 1 and part 2 of these posts.

Hiding What's Not There

I've been a contract shooter for Getty Corporate Images for more than 10 years. I shoot a handful of assignments a year for them and this post is about my most recent assignment for them.


I was asked to photograph a construction project just outside of Pueblo, CO for an engineering firm. The project I was assigned to photograph is a new "chemical weapons dismantling" facility. The U.S. government has stockpiles of WWII mustard agent mortars that need to be destroyed. This project is just getting off or should I say "out of the ground", the completion date is sometime in 2013 or so. Needless to say, there wasn't much to photograph, some concrete pad work and very little iron out of the ground.

Over the last 25 years I've encountered this type of situation numerous times. You have an assignment that sound terrific and interesting only to find out that there's not much to photography when you arrive on location. I know I'm not the only one that this happens to.

In situations like this you really have to put on your creative thinking hat. I keep mine just under my hard hat at all times! What I really needed to do was "hide" what wasn't there. At this particular location I had plenty of obstacles to deal with, the government was one of them. Not only was there little to shoot, I was restricted from pointing my camera in certain directions due to the sensitive nature of the location I was shooting at.

At this location there are what seems to be, thousands of "igloos". Igloos are the storage bunkers that the military uses for the "mustard agent" munitions. I am able to show you this example of what an igloo looks like, as these do not contain any of the munitions that are stored on base.

This site was a real struggle, trying to show construction progress without showing specific locations and such. I used the sky as backgrounds and shallow death of field (DOF) to hide specific details that the government wanted hidden. I was restricted from from shooting from high places as I was not "trained or certified" for lifts and harness restraints. The next time I shoot at this location or with this client, we will need to take the time for that type of certificate.

The photo on the top is an excellent example of using shallow DOF to isolate the subject from the background. This photo of just reflections on a fresh concrete pour is another way of hiding objects that where in the background of the scene.

Sometime we run into these type of situations that require a different way of thinking. Using the sky, reflections and shallow DOF where good solutions to the situation at hand. Here is one more shot from our location.

Home Grown Annual Report

Over the past several months I've been working on an annual report for a client of mine that generates and transmits electricity in a 3 state region via their Co-Op's.


Earlier this week I was in Western Nebraska shooting various agricultural scenes and landscapes.  This years thyme to the annual report is "Home Grown".  Most of the photography will be used as full page spreads with copy or some other insert of graphics or other photos in the image area. 

Personally, I thought it a bit late in the season to be photographing crops and related agricultural subject matter.  I would have preferred sometime in the month of August, crops are a bit more green and fresh looking.


Waiting later in the season however, allows us to capture images like the one above.  Your not going to find much in the way of bailed hay like this early in the season.  I also had the opportunity to shoot some aerials of farmland east of Denver for this project.  Erik and I spent just about 2 hours tooling over the county side looking for graphic scenes like the next few images shown below. I love shooting aerials, helicopters are the coolest aircraft to fly in.

For the Nebraska portion of this assignment I took lighting with me.  Even though I knew I was shooting landscape type shots, you just never know what you might get yourself into.  I took along a couple of SB-800's and a more powerful Q-flash if needed.   We never pulled out a light, we did however use a flexfil to bounce some sunlight on the back of a farmer.  DT