Category Archives Photo Shoots

….a man known to virtually anyone who has attended a Photoshop World Conference; it’s photographer, educator, Photoshop freak, and the official un-official head of Security for Photoshop Midnight Madness and our official mascot, warm-up act, poet, trained killer, raconteur, and general bon vivant at large, the one….the only….. Vanelli! (also known as “Robert Vanelli” or “Mr. V” or just plain “V” to his friends and the various people he stalks).

I first met “V” back in 1999 at the first Photoshop World conference ever. He saw me use a Martial Arts logo that I had designed in a project in one of my classes, and after the class he came up and introduced himself.  We soon found out that we had some mutual friends in the martial arts industry (we both were martial artists, but at much different levels. I was just another black belt; whereas “V” is actually a Master Arts Master running a thriving Karate school for many years).

V has won aclaim for what he’s done as a Karate instructor, but in the past few years he’s taken his gift for teaching karate and expanded it into teaching his other passions: photography and Photoshop, and it’s a honor to have him here tomorrow as my guest blogger, and it’s equally an honor to call him my friend. I hope you’ll stop by tomorrow to see what Vanelli has in store for us.


So after I shot the Honda Superbike Races on Sunday in Birmingham, I hopped a flight (well, two flights), up to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina to be a part of Moose Peterson’s DLWS (Digital Landscape Workshop Series) “Outer Banks” workshop, which kicked off Sunday night (I’m not teaching; I just came to shoot and hang out with my buddies Moose, Joe McNally, and Laurie Excell, and I had a blast (That’s right; I did this morning’s sunrise shoot then headed to the airport to head back home).

They’re still going to shoot sunset today and sunrise tomorrow, but I’ve got to head back home, see the kids, and then get ready for my Down & Dirty tour in DC (which was sold out last Friday with over 700 people for the day). Also with me was the ‘Bad Man’ himself, Brad Moore (who used to work as staff at these DLWS events, so this was old home week for him!).

I’ve got to tell you this about DLWS: they run an absolutely first-class, well organized, and most importantly downright fun workshop experience from beginning to end. Everybody here is having such a good time, and the crowd is so into it—they’re really hungry for the information, and they are getting it here by the armloads.

Yesterday we started the day with a dawn shoot out at a local lighthouse (this is lighthouse city out here on the Outer Banks of North Carolina), and while it wasn’t a spectacular sunrise by any means, we still had some fun (I’ve only taken a peek at a few shots so far, but here are a couple [above and below] from yesterday’s morning outing).


When the light got too high in the sky, Joe McNally did an awesome on-location small-flash portrait shoot with a local model, and I don’t care how many times you’ve seen Joe, every time is just amazing. Seeing how he sets up the shot, adjusts for problems with light, and explains how to walk away with a client-pleasing shot is just something to see, and everybody was eating it up (the shot below is Joe during that mini-session; taken with my iPhone’s built-in camera).


Then we were back in the classroom with Moose, Joe, Laurie, and Kevin Dobler (who was doing some of the Photoshop training—and did a great job by the way). After the classroom sessions, (and a late afternoon snack); we headed out to some sand dunes for a sunset shoot, but got totally socked in with rainy weather.


So, Joe pulls out some SB-900s and we did another portrait shoot, in the rain, with Photoshop TV’s own Stephanie Cross as the model, and it rocked. We’re all huddled (about 40 of us) under a shelter, and Joe has her standing just out in the rain, in a raincoat and hood, and came up with a great shot, despite the conditions (like Joe says; your photo editor doesn’t care about how harsh the conditions you encountered; you’re being paid to come back with a shot, and if you want to work for them again, you’d better come back with a shot; and he showed us what to do to get that done—-using High Speed sync).

This morning we headed out to a commercial fishing port, and the highlight was an area with old rusting hulls and salvage boats that were great for HDR stuff. We were all walking around and at one point Joe and I were walking over to these two big boats and I looked at Joe and said something really stupid. “Joe…you shoot much HDR?” He gave me the look you see below. I had to capture it.


So that became the running gag for the day. “Hey Joe, do you think this would make a good HDR shot?” Hey Joe, is this like that HDR shot that National Geographic asked you to do?” It ended up with an HDR breakfast shoot of pancakes joke about an hour later. Just the look on McNally’s face above said it all.

Anyway, after that, we had to head out, and I’m already on my way home. Had a great time, and I saw first-hand why every single DLWS workshop for the rest of the entire year is already sold out in advance. Moose Peterson and his staff have put something very special, and very unique together here. It’s an experience like no other, and I was as excited as everybody else there just to be learning from Moose, Joe, Kevin, and Laurie, and to be spending some time together doing something we all love. Plus, I never had to dive out of the way of an oncoming car or motorcycle moving at 140 MPH. That’s a bonus. Below are some chairs on the back of that house I shot above. Yes, I just took a few minutes, sat in them, and looked out at the beautiful shoreline. I know it’s a throwaway shot, but now those chairs will bring back fond memories of a morning shoot in May.


One last thing: I met so many people who came up to me and said, “Hey, I read your blog first thing every morning.” I was really tickled, and wound up meeting some really cool folks, including one sports photographer that I’m going to hook up with when I shoot the Indy 500 later this month. Small world.


Yesterday I few up to Birmingham, Alabama to spend the day with my buddy Jeff Rease (who we now affectionately call “The Chancellor of Birmingham”), shooting the AMA Racing’s Honda Superbike Classic race at Barber Motorsports Park. Matt Kloskowski came along with me, and the three of us spent the morning shooting (some of the shots I got are shown here; click on them for larger views).


We had full media credentials, including a Hot Pit pass, but as luck would have it; we only got to shoot for 30 minutes total the entire day, (during the Superbike morning warm-up session), because after warm-up and lunch, a huge thunderstorm moved over the track, which delayed the actual race long enough that I had to catch my flight back home without getting to shoot another shot. We only shot from one area, and for only that 30 minutes, but ya know what—we still had a blast! (and I would definitely do it again, if only for that 30 minutes).


Matt, Jeff, and I cracked jokes, goofed off, sorted our images in Lightroom, did some serious chimping, and generally just a great time hanging out for the day and talking about photography. Before I knew it we were on our way to the airport (where I’m writing this post).


The shot above is of the media/press room overlooking the track. This is a shot of Matt and I sorting and editing our images while it pours rain outside (photo by Jeff Rease).


Thanks Jeff, for hosting (read as: putting up with), Matt and I for the day. We love the friendly people of Birmingham, and the great folks at Barber Motorsports Park.


Tech Specs: Mostly shot with my 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens on a Nikon D3. I shot at a slower shutter speed (usually around 1/320 to 1/250 of a second) to get the blurred background and motion in the wheels). It was a very cloudy, very overcast day, so I shot at 400 ISO in Aperture Priority mode at around f/11. I took my 200-400mm f/4 lens but we were so close to the track, I hardly got to use it.


The final shot, below, of Matt and I was taken by Jeff “The Chancellor” Rease.



Last week I got an email from a reader in Denver, Colorado who had seen my post about my Indy Racing assignment, and he needed a favor. He was preparing to take his family to Walt Disney World in Florida (It’s one of their favorite places so they’re regular visitors) and since has shot it so many times he was wondering if I had any ideas he could use for a self-assignment at Disney World.

The funny thing was: I had faced that same situation (both my kids are Disney fanatics, and I grew up about 45 minutes from Disney’s Main Gate and I started going there back in October of 1971, so I’ve shot it “to death.”). I shared with him a couple of self-assignment projects I had done at Disney, and one I hoped to do in the near future. Anyway, I thought it would make kind of an interesting post about shooting a place you’ve shot many times before. Here’s what I told him:

(1) Try and capture a series of images inside Disney (particularly in the Magic Kingdom park) that most folks would never know were taken inside Disney. Look for architectural elements, flowers, little alley ways, etc. and you’ll know the assignment worked if you ask someone where it was taken, and the last place they would guess would be Disney World. The image shown at the top was taken in Tomorrowland, and while that one’s not that hard to figure out (especially since you know we’re talking about Disney), I included a few below taken in other parts of the Magic Kingdom that are a bit harder (these were taken about three or four years ago).




The top two were taken on Tom Sawyer’s Island in Frontierland, and the bottom one was taken in one of the shops in Adventureland.

Now, the one’s below are a bit harder yet, because they were taken at Disney World’s EPCOT Center park (once again, about three or four years ago).





Now the photo below is a special case, because back when I took it, I ran it here on my blog and challenged people to figure out where it was taken, and I offered a prize to the person who figured it out. It took several days (and a few hints) to finally get someone to choose Disney World. Here’s the image:


It was taken in the Morocco section of EPCOT’s World Showcase. OK, onto my 2nd project.

(2) Shoot only things that are round. I got this idea from Photoshop World Joe Glyda, who always gives himself assignments for his presentation during “The Art of Digital Photography” panel at Photoshop World. I tried this one myself and you can’t believe how many things are round in the Magic Kingdom, from sewer covers to the round street lights on Main Street to signs and even one of Mickey’s ears. The circles should almost fill the frame, so it’s obvious the circle in the subject. I had a great time with this one (but could not find a single shot from it, which is kind of driving me crazy because I know I have them on a hard drive somewhere).

So, those are two I had already done, but the one I had been saving for the future would be called “Quiet Places” or “Alone in the World” and it would be to capture a person (a child, a parent and child, a senior citizen), enjoying Disney when it appears they are all alone in their little corner of the park. So, for example, if someone was standing in front of the castle looking up at it, you’d have to frame the shot so you only see that single person, and the castle. No one else. So, no tourists or park employees could appear in any shot. If they’re standing on a bridge over-looking one of the little moats around the castle, you have to frame it so it looks like they’re all by themselves in the park.

Anyway, he really liked the ideas (his exact words were, “…that’s exactly the kind of thing I was hoping for.” Then he sent me a link to a shot he had taken a few years back that accidentally fell into the category of my future shot. He had taken a photo right when the park opened, first thing in the morning, of a little girl all by herself looking down Main Street toward the castle. There were a few other tourists on the left side of the photo, but they were out of the way enough to make you think, “Hey, how’d he get a shot with the park so empty?”

Anyway, I hope my reader’s idea, and my subsequent suggestions, get your gears cranking about what you can do the next time you’re at a familiar location and think to yourself, “Should I even bring my camera? I’ve shot that place to death.” Give yourself an assignment, and see what you come up with. Hey, ya never know.


I got a few comments on Friday asking how I did the “beauty style” headshot featured in Westcott’s new Lighting catalog, and so I thought I’d show how to light it here. The shot you see in Westcott’s catalog (which was taken with 2 Spiderlite TD-5—scroll down to the next post to see the shot), was taken before Brad started working with me, so unfortunately I don’t have any production shots from that particular shoot.

However, I recently did a shoot using that exact same “beauty look set-up” (the shot at the top of this post is from that shoot) but I used strobes instead, and luckily this time Brad was there to capture the production set-up, which is shown below. So, just to clarify: what you’re seeing is the same exact position for the lights—which is what this post is all about—but in the production photo below I’m using strobes instead of continuous light Spiderlites. I use both Spiderlites and strobes in the studio, and I choose one or the other based on what I’m shooting that day (or based on what’s already set-up in the studio and ready to go. Sad, but true).


There are only two lights used for this look:

  1. You’re actually using a large softbox as your background (you can see the subject standing in front of a large Octabank above), but you tilt the light back at a 45° angle (as seen above). NOTE: For the shot in the Westcott catalog, I used a 36″x48″ Westcott softbox behind the subject instead of the Octabank. Worked just as well (the Octa is actually a little overkill). By having your subject stand directly in front of the large softbox behind her, it makes the light wrap right around her face on both sides.
  2. The 2nd light in this case is a Beauty Dish (the one shown above is actually a White Lightning strobe with a beauty dish attachment, but we’ve since replaced that rig with an Elinchrom strobe and beauty dish. I’ll discuss why in just a moment). NOTE: In the Westcott catalog, the front light was another Spliderlite TD-5, with a smaller 16×22″ softbox, but in the same overhead position as you see here. This light you put up high—directly in front of your subject, but angled down at her at a 45° angle (so basically, the two softboxes are aiming at each other).(2a) You also need a reflector down low bouncing some of that light back into your subject’s face (as shown above. By the way; that’s a celebrity guest-reflector holder; Photoshop World digital video instructor Rod Harlan). The reflector should be placed about chest level, just below the bottom of your frame (I just kept telling Rod “Lower….lower…lower…until I couldn’t see it in my frame any longer). NOTE: Since this shot was taken, I’ve gotten a Lastolite Tri-panel reflector (which reflects from three angles, using three different reflector mounted on one stand, and I would now use that instead—-that thing works wonders!).

Because you’re aiming directly at a softbox (the one behind your subject), there’s a decent chance you’ll get some lens flare back into your lens, so you could try and block the light as much as possible (by putting up some large black flags in front of you, and then shoot through a small slit between them), but instead what I do is just know that it’s going to be a little washed out when the Raw photo comes into Lightroom (or Camera Raw), but the fix is incredibly easy—-all you do is drag the Blacks slider to the right (as shown below) until the photo looks balanced. Works like a charm.


OK, so why did I ditch the White Lightning strobe and beauty dish? Honestly, it’s not really a bad rig at all for the price, but I had to to chuck it for two reasons:

  1. Because this light winds up on a boom stand, each time we have to adjust the power output of the light, even the slightest bit, we either have to pull the boom stand down (right when we had it positioned exactly where we wanted it), or we have to climb on a ladder to adjust the power. Ugh! By using an Elinchrom strobe with a Skyport trigger, I can change the power output for my beauty dish from right on top of my camera (on the Skyport transmitter). You can adjust everything (even the light behind her) without ever putting down your camera or leaving your shooting position.
  2. The second reason is; the White Lighting use sliders for adjusting the power of the strobe, and the modeling light, which makes the process kind of imprecise (to say the least). If you want to lower the power just 1/10 of stop—good luck–especially when you’re trying to do that on a ladder. Double-Ugh!

We finally couldn’t take it anymore, and ordered an Elinchome beauty dish. It’s been worth every penny (we had an Elinchrom strobe; we just needed to buy the beauty-dish attachment).

So, that’s how this look is done. Two lights and and a reflector: one right behind your subject, tilted back at a 45°; one light up high, directly in front of your subject, aimed down at your subject at a 45° angle. Put a reflector at chest level tilted back at your subject’s face. Have your subject pull her hair back in a pony tail (so the lines of the face are clean), and fire away (This was shot with a Nikon D3, at 200 ISO, at f/8 at 1/200 of a second, with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens out at 200mm).

Once the shot is in either Camera Raw or Lightroom; move the Blacks slider to the right to bring back shadow saturation and you’re in business.

One last thing: I want to give credit to well-known fashion photographer Mary DuPrie, as she is the one who taught me this lighting technique. She teaches workshops on how to pose and work with professional models, and there is just nobody better! You can read about my experience at her workshop right here.

Hope that helps. Have a great Monday everybody. :-)


You guys know I’m really paranoid and a bit obsessive about protecting my image collection, which is why I (and a bunch of my friends) all switched our photo archiving drives to a Drobo (I’m a Drobo freak, and actually have two: one at home, and a duplicate offsite at my office).

This week, I’m talking to Terry White (another Drobo freak), and I’m talking to him about needed more storage space (this talk brought about by 45GB worth of Indy photos in one weekend), and we basically both determine that I need to “man up” and get a second Drobo. Then I get a call yesterday from DataRobotics to let me know that they are announcing the answer to my prayers today—DroboPro. This is a “Business Class” robotic storage solution that lets you have double the storage bays of the original Drobo (So with the new 2-Teyabyte pop-in hard drives, you could have 16-Terabytes of storage).

That was enough for me right there, but they also added a new iSCSI connection (which uses a standard Ethernet cable connection, which most every computer already has built-in), but it’s WAY faster than even Firewire 800. Also, the software that comes with your Drobo also lets you choose to have the drives operate individually, or if you’re really hyper-paranoid (beyond even my level of paranoia), you can simply click a checkbox and the software itself sets the drives to be dual disc redundant, so now two drives back up the same data simultaneously. I know. It’s sick. I’m ordering two of them immediately: one for home, one for the office.


Anyway, I learned yesterday that I can just pop the four 1-TB drives out of my existing Drobo and slide them into the new Drobo Pro, and they work instantly.

Anyway, that’s the highlights—I’ll give a detailed review when my units come in, but in the meantime, head over to and watch the video and you’ll totally get it.