Saturday, November 24, 2012

DAYLIGHT LED IS THE NEW BLACK – Say goodbye to neon, tungsten & HMI

I have always been fascinated with available light. On most of my assignments outdoors I tried to use as much available light on my subjects as possible.  A good reflector or two helped enormously and my portable strobes were being left behind in the case almost all the time. I got tired of lugging the extra weight of heavy strobe batteries around because I could usually achieve the desired effect just by “carrying” the natural light onto my subject.

My Pelican case with strobes and batteries travelled to California, Bali, The Canary Islands, Egypt and Namibia, but was constantly left unopened (except by TSA). Strobes on location became a nuisance, a necessarry evil, something you needed to set up, balance and constantly reposition without immediatelly seeing the result and that, combined with constant testing, took away a lot of shooting and battery time. Large softboxes, umbrellas and beauty dishes were a hazard in breezy conditions because most of the time there were no assistants to hold them either. Strobes were also absolutely useless for any video work that required constant light.

Good alternatives for field use were very hard to come by – neon lights are bulky and full of flicker, tungsten lights drain a lot of power and HMIs are waaay too expensive. So I searched and searched until I saw the latest batch of LED Fresnel lights from Lupolux, a family company based in Turin, Italy, at Photokina 2012. I inspected them thoroughly and a smile creeped on my face. Could these be the lights I was looking for? The specs looked really impressive

There are currently two models of daylight balanced LED lights from Lupolux, the Dayled 650 and the Dayled 1000, and the number relates to the equivalent output in Watts. The best part is – they only consume 50W and 90W (less than 10% of nominal output power) respectively, so you can easily power them through mains anywhere in the world (90V - 240V), or via the 14.8V DC input through a 4 pin built-in XLR plug. Think Anton Bauer or any other battery with ‘D-Tap to XLR’ adapter, or even a Flash Feeder portable battery unit. They are also flicker-free and dead silent for video and TV use and – my favorite part - daylight balanced at 5600K with pure, crispy white light and no yellow color cast. Hardly could one find a more suitable light for a variety of assignments in the field.

The output can be controlled through a DMX control box or manually - the lights are fully dimmable in 1-step increments from 1% to 100% via a backlit LCD display, keeping their color temperature constant throughout the output range. There is a true fresnel lens in front of the LED for even light distribution without hotspots and a flood/spot knob on the back of the unit which moves the LED forward and back inside the housing. Barn doors are attached and the housing is made of carbon fibre reinforced polymer which the makers claim will last a lifetime. These lights will not burn your hands after 30 minutes of use either – they do not even get warm. No more melting make-up on the models’ faces and dangerous popping lamps. The flat, square LED bulbs have a staggering 50.000 hour autonomy, but the Lupolux guys told me that, according to their testing, it is actually closer to 30.000 hours of lifetime. That is still 3.5 years of non-stop, 24h use – a truly remarkable feature for such a tiny light source. No need for warming up or cooling down either, just switch the Dayled unit on and instantly get the perfect working light. “Hot restrike” sounds sooo cool…

The prices of Lupolux Dayled LED units start at around $799 (plus tax) for the 650W model here in Europe. Remember, you get what you pay for and that is especially true in the photography & video world. The cheap Chinese knockoffs from eBay do not even come close to the Italian originals (but that’s coming also). The weight (5 lbs and up) and the compact size of the units make them ideal for photographic and video work in the studio and especially in the great outdoors and I personally think LEDs like these are going to shape the future of image making for years to come.

The author of this article is in no way associated with Lupolux slr. I never received any compensation from them, only a smile and a pat on the back at Photokina when I suggested the prices of the lights should be much lower.

Manufactured by Lupolux  slr, distributed by ProFot.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Two of the most important and usable pieces of grip gear (slider, dolly and jib aside) – at least as far as my preferences are concerned - must be
a) the Steadicam
b) a heavy, sturdy shoulder mount.

Whereas the former is a no-brainer, finding a perfect shoulder support for me has been a long and daunting task. Eliminating all the small, lightweight rigs that just press against your chest or leave the weight of the camera hanging on your (shaking) hands, the choice quickly narrows down to just a few costly options, made for large movie cameras.
Enter the Cinemecanix C1 PRO-RIG

The shoulder mount is a very dynamic piece of equipment. It moves with the camera operator, allowing the flexibility and freedom of movement during the filming. It puts you in the heart of the action. As an operator, it gives you the privilege of being present, reacting with the actors and with the happening. In the age of DSLR video (r)evolution there are many filmmakers who are using several camera systems in their productions, combining 5D MkIII/7D/GH2 DSLRs and “true” workhorses the likes of FS700/Red/Alexa. The Cinemecanix C1 PRO-RIG enables them to use all their cameras (one at a time) with the same sturdy shoulder support, and a super-comfortable one at that.

I found Eric Auclair’s master creation at 2012 Photokina, lurking behind a glass window on Dedo Weigert’s stand. My friend Damijan Šef, who used to represent Dedolights for our corner of Europe, said to me: ”You can be sure of one thing - whatever Mr. Weigert decides to distribute under his roof always means an excellent product!”
The Dedo boys opened the display, took out the Cinemecanix C1 PRO-RIG and put it on my shoulder. The cushions felt amazingly soft. It felt sturdy, superbly machined and really professional. I fell in love with it in the very first second I let my hands go – the fully equipped rig with the mounted camera remained perfectly balanced on my right shoulder!!

Cinemecanix is a young company from Quebec, Canada that specializes in engineering accessories, gear and systems to help fit, adapt and simplify the filming process. Their 30 plus years experience in working for the television and film industry, combined with hundreds of different filming situations with various cameras and accessories has led them to develop the Cinemecanix C1 PRO-RIG, designed to complement all the systems you already own or give you the components
you need to get the job done. With a motto “Keeping it simple, making it solid” they managed to create a great piece of equipment, rightfully dubbed “the Rolls-Royce of camera shoulder supports”.

I know what you are thinking - is this shoulder support right for you? It is sturdy, big and heavy (6kg). I like them exactly like that. Shane Hurlbut, ASC recently shared his thoughts about heavy rigs on his blog: “Operating with some girth on your shoulders gives you control. Having a shoulder cam rig that fits and conforms to your body is paramount. You need it to feel like it is attached to you as well as being perfectly balanced…” The Cinemecanix rig is perfectly balanced on your shoulder, be it centered or (with the help of bridge plates) off-center for the cameras like C300, putting the camera in front of your nose and eliminating the need for an EVF. Not to mention the quick release for the tripod, which lets you go from shoulder to stand in seconds without frustrating interruptions…

Go to the Cinemecanix website and drop Eric Auclair a line. He will be happy to answer all your questions. Being a true Québécois, he speaks French,too. Je suis un fan…

Friday, September 28, 2012

LIGHTING UNVEILED - a lighting guide book by Ales Bravnicar

As every journey starts with a single step, so does the philosophy of lighting. To work with many lights one must first to know how to master a single one. One light can do miracles if you know how to use it correctly. I started shooting photographs when my father, back in the day a hobby photographer himself, entrusted me his most prized possession – a 1938 chrome Leica IIIc. As my hunger for mastering and taming the light grew, so did the amount of lights I used in my work. I always wanted to tell stories with photos. Photos must speak. Sometimes they whisper, sometimes they scream, but they must always touch the viewer. Before I knew it I was creating stories while shooting fashion, glamour and nudes and loved every second of it.

I recall Françoise Bernard, the former senior editor of French Elle, asking me to come to Paris after our collaboration on shooting the fashion editorial for the first issue of Elle Slovenia. I decided not to grab that opportunity. It was a chance of a lifetime, but I had other plans. I was soon contributing to all the greatest men’s magazines the likes of Maxim and FHM, but it was the editors of Playboy that hired me for the first job I really felt passionate about – shooting nudes for a living. For the past 12 years of contributing for Playboy my pictorials have been published in almost all international editions and the assignments have taken me to more than 80 countries around the globe.

Painting with light has always been a passion of mine, be it in the studio or in the field. I learned the immaculate ability to master any lighting scenario and create artful images out of what sometimes seemed to be an impossible situation without compromise. Since 2010 I expanded my philosophy further – I now firmly believe sharing is power and have decided to reveal my lighting secrets to the world, hoping to inspire everybody to become a better photographer.

The book you have before you is not your every day educational instruction booklet. It is a passionate account of love for beautiful pictures, great poses and before all, masterfully skilled lighting techniques. For those of you who are on the lookout for a well-written, down-to-earth lighting book, compiled by a professional photographer skilled in dealing with light and shadow, look no further! With years of expertise in the most varied of lighting situations, from outdoors to the complex studio sets, this book is a veritable treasure trove of information from the first-hand account of a photographer who has been shooting fashion and glamour for many leading magazines with franchises all around the globe.

In the book you will find 15 different lighting scenarios. You can explore the detailed lighting diagrams, follow step-by-step instructions or create your own amazing images by learning all the rules and intentionally tweaking or breaking them. It is all about you – the book will help reaching out of your comfort zone and have you experiment in ways you never did before. You will gain professional lighting skills and as your confidence grows, your lighting thechniques will improve. There are many battlefields in the tough world of photography business. If you are one step ahead of your competition, you have already won.

All the details about the book are found on the website.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Photokina, the leading international trade fair for the entire imaging sector is a photographic highlight of the year – two years actually – for amateurs, professionals, photography experts, manufacturers, retailers and distributors all around the world. Held in Cologne, the biennial exhibition hosts hundreds of imaging companies and this year close to 200.000 guests from almost every part of the world are flocking to the land of Sauerkraut and Lederhosen to see a grand total of 1,250 exhibitors from 40+ countries.

I have a very personal approach to Photokina. I am not after the new products or the latest technological gizmos – instead, I focus on interesting things that I feel could improve my photographic workflow, image quality and artistic expression. It is a rare opportunity to talk to the manufacturers and they are usually listening, being open for suggestions, impovements and even critique. 

Before the products, there’s people. Always so many interesting people to meet at Photokina and this year was no exception. I was invited by Marius Plytnikas, the regional development manager for Canon Video products, to spend some cool time with director, cinematographer and web video guru Philip Bloom. Philip is an extremely interesting guy and has an amazing cool factor – no wonder his blog is visited by tens of thousands of fans daily. Philip is a Canon spokesperson for the C300 camera and you could see that his affection for this mighty machine is very pristine. The new wide-open CN-E video lenses (a sort of Canon’s CP.2’s with spectacular T-stops) were also on display at Canon’s state-of-the-art hall, as was the standard lot of all the latest, freshest and coolest cameras and imaging products – the 6D, S110 and C100 included.
I was enjoying my prosciutto hors d’oeuvres and chatting with Guido Puttkamer, the managing director of Hensel GMBH. He was telling the story about Hensel’s pioneering venture into the development of the first portable strobe system unit (Porty) and how Broncolor and Profoto are always arguing about which one has the shortest flash duration (it is Hensel). Profoto did surprise everybody this year though with the new battery unit called Pro-B4 1000 Air, sporting some very impressive specs (1/25.000s flash duration, 30 flashes per second and just 45 minutes full battery recharging time), but at the $8000 price tag, who really cares?
This year I was also fortunate enough to meet Mr. Dedo Weigert, the inventor of the legendary Dedolight and an amazingly fine gentleman, whose trademark white beard resembles that of KFC’s very own Colonel. Mr. Weigert won an Academy Award for his lighting innovations and his booth was full of goodies one would love to play with all the time. The most interesting gadget I found there was a rig called C1 PRO by Cinemecanix, a Canadian custom-made, heavy duty, hands free (!) shoulder support with all the bells and whistles. It is super comfortable and perfectly balanced on your shoulder, so you can let go of your rig with both hands at any time and your gear stays in place. If I were buying a new rig today, this heavy, CNC-machined beast would most definitely be on the top of my list!!

As usually, the Chinese and Korean manufacturers were heavily present in Cologne. They are always bringing some crazy, funky-but-cool cheapo stuff to sell (remember, you get what you pay for!), but I also saw some very high quality Made in China products in the grip and video rig category, with the price tags to match the quality. The Cinematics people came, bringing their cine-moded lens arsenal called Cinematics CT.2, which looks suspiciously similar to Zeiss CP.2 series. They told me they have patented their special geared lens housing in China and that Zeiss has no beef with them - not entirely true, as I later found out at the booth of the latter; the boys from Carl Zeiss were not pleased at all. Just by looking at a CP.2 lens cut in half (Zeiss had a couple of them available for demonstration) you can see the quality and craftsmanship of these optical cathedrals on steroids. I wanted to know if the CP.2’s were made in Japan (as you know, Cosina makes most Zeiss lenses), but they assured me that for this product line, the Japanese parts (amongst others) are assembled by hand in Oberkochen, Germany.

The “little big boys” were in Cologne as well – Blaesing, who makes custom flashes (need a strobe in the shape of that beer jug? Just call them!), Bacht, who designs complex lighting devices (they also produce zoom spots and rigid striplights for many strobe companies), Arca Swiss and Alpa with their incredibly alluring clockwork masterpieces, and the “best-kept-secret” lens company from Korea called Samyang/Wallimex/Rokinon/etc., which exploded all over the photo & video scene with their ultra-affordable, wide-open professional quality SLR lenses ranging from 8 to 85mm, which are now also available in cine-moded versions. From the hundreds of really good exhibitors, these are the ones I chose to mention here, but many, many others had amazing stuff as well – HPRC (cases), B-Grip (belt grips), Genus (rigs), K5600 (lighting), Leica (medium format cameras), Kessler (grip equipment), O’Connor (matte boxes, follow focus and stands), Lupolux (LED and HMI fresnel lights), Technicolor (camera profiles), Aurora (light banks), Think Tank (bags) to name but just a few. Just go and browse the blogs.

One of the unfortunate disappointments of the 2012 Photokina was the tiny, overcrowded Hasselblad booth in Hall 2. A black Ferrari convertible just sitting put behind the fence, blocking one third of the entire booth and a “catwalk” stage that resembled a high-class strip club… what happened here? In my personal opinion as a H4D owner the new Hasselblad H5D camera housing also seems to have a much cheaper feel to it than the previous series – but mind you it was the prototype I handled. Of course the specs are improved and the camera’s user interface, battery and other features are completely redesigned, which makes the new Hasselblad an even greater camera to own, but the Photokina presentation of one of the world’s most respected fashion, architectural and product photography tools left a lot of room for improvement (a german photographer Manfred Baumann for example managed to gather a huge crowd in hall 9 when he did his live workshop on a proper, long catwalk – with a topless model in translucent g-strings). I do not even want to start the new Hasselblad Lunar for $6.500 vs. Sony NEX 7 debate... 
I was also disappointed with Lastolite because they too make great products, but refused to bring any of them from UK for sale (I am in the market for the big Tri-Grip). Photoflex and California Sunbounce next door were selling their (discounted!) reflectors and other stuff like hot cakes, so I went and got one of those. Please learn from that, Lastolite…

Photokina is a beast. Nobody can imagine the grandeur and expanse of the world’s largest photography fair until they visit it. You absolutely have to experience it yourself. The city of Cologne lives and breathes with the fair, the atmosphere is super-relaxed and the ice-cold Koelsch beer is available everywhere. For some, that fact alone is a big enough reason to come.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

THE LIGHT GIANT – A Lens That Made History


Everybody has heard of Canon's »dream« lens, the all-manual 50mm/f0.95, made for Canon rangefinder cameras. It is on the eternal wish list of many a photographer because of its amazing f-stop and the sheer notion of its ultra-wide-open capabilities. The performance of the lens is nothing special though, as many who fork out big bucks to get it realize when it is already too late (its autofocus cousin, the 50mm/f1.0, which sells for $3000+ on eBay these days, shared a similar performance glitch), but the irrational allure of owning a piece of glass on the boundaries of optical capabilities is nevertheless there.

But lo and behold, the f0.95 is not as fast as it gets. Several lenses from manufacturers such as Fuji, Kowa and Rodenstock venture way below the decimal point (as far as f0.75), but only one turbofast lens achieved Hollywood (and world) fame because of its speed – that was the Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm/f0.7...

According to Marco Cavina (who wrote an extensive article about the Planar) the mastermind behind this lens was Dr. Erhard Glatzel, chief optical designer at Zeiss in Oberkochen. For his extremely complex calculations he used an IBM 7090, a giant supercomputer which back in the sixties filled an entire room and cost almost three million dollars. He made 4 prototypes of this lens before the final version was created. But not even Glatzel invented the design – it was based on a double-Gauss type calculation from the end of the 19th century. It got revived briefly in the late twenties and thirties (the latter by Kodak), but it was not until the first shots of the dark side of the moon were made by NASA (which was dissatisfied with the performance of the Angenieux 100mm/f1) that this lens got comissioned for production in Oberkochen.

There were supposedly only 10 copies ever made and six of them were sold to NASA. Stanley Kubrick, the legendary director and producer, soon found out about this amazing lens and pulled some strings to get it, fixing and adapting it for his Mitchell BNC camera to shoot his new movie called Barry Lyndon, a period drama starring Ryan O'Neal. 

Ed DiGiuilio, the former president of Cinema Products Corporation, who was at the time also responsible for adapting the 20x Angenieux zoom 24-480mm for Kubrick's artistic narration in »A Clockwork Orange«, remembers in an article from American Cinematographer that he suggested filming Barry Lyndon's castle scenes with regular Superspeeds (who were at least 2 stops slower) and additional fill lights. Kubrick was not fond of the idea, because he wanted to »preserve the real feel and natural patina of those old castles«. He mounted the Planar 50mm/f0.7, lit up a bunch of triple-wicked candles (with flames that are three times larger and melt three times faster) and push-developed the whole film one stop to 200ASA to get the Rembrandt-esque feel he was after. The filming also had its directorial challenges – the slowness of the actors in the scenes is partly due to the requirements of not leaving the extremely shallow depth of focus.

The movie Barry Lyndon was a box office flop, but the bold chiaroscuro castle scenes, lit only with candles, remain a pioneering cinematic achievement. According to Wikipedia there were several other movies shot with this lens, most notably "Schindler’s List", "Shakespeare in love" and "The English Patient", but none exploited the legendary wide open performance of this unique lens to the max. The Zeiss Planar 50mm/f0.7 (sometimes used by Kubrick with the additional Kollmorgen anamorphic attachment to get a wider angle of view) helped create some of the most amazing and unique imagery in motion picture history, but without »the man« behind the camera the Planar would remain just another special purpose built lens in the annals of optical oblivion. The lens popped up in a WestLicht Photographica auction not long ago with an opening bid of $11.300. I do not know if it sold, but if not – I'll have mine in EF mount please.

UPDATE: If you came from Carl Zeiss Lenses Facebook page, welcome! 
It was kindly pointed out there that the lens sold at WestLicht on May 19th 2011 for the hammer price of $115.000 (EUR 90.000).

(Photos kindly provided by Tobias Brandstetter from Carl Zeiss AG. Barry Lyndon film still courtesy of WB.)

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Beauty of Primes – why fixed focal lenses are great for DSLR filming

Why primes?
Well, they make you think. Think where the position of the camera will be, what perspective you will use and how you position the elements within the shot in relation to each other and the viewer. They help you tell stories in a way you want them to. Kinda old school, but that's what filming is all about anyway (unless you are a documentary movie-maker, reporter or a sports filmer – in that case you'd desperately need a zoom). Investing in prime lenses is also a smart move – good optics will not become obsolete.

What primes to get?
Any primes you like. A lot of movie-makers like Nikon mount lenses because they offer the f-stop ring and can be put on popular Canon bodies via adapters as well. Canon EF mount on the other hand offers the biggest 3rd party selection besides their own amazing lens line, as almost all lenses from other big manufacturers – Leica, Contax and Nikon included – fit on a Canon body via an adapter. Sony E mount, commonly found on the NEX series of their photo/video cameras, seems to be even more versatile – Leica M39 screw and M mount, old ARRI standard mount, Pentacon and even PL mount lenses can all be put to good use on the NEX via (often cheap) optics-free adapters, along with all above mentioned glass from leading DSLR manufacturers, and more.

Yes, but what brand of lenses is the best for DSLR filming?
The best cinema lenses like Cookes, Optimos and Master primes are waaay too expensive for regular DSLR video work. DSLR's own autofocus lenses are an obvious (cheaper) option, but often sport not-so-precise distance markings and focusing rings without hard stops.
One of the best price-performance gems out there is the Zeiss Compact Prime CP.2 line*. These are re-housed Zeiss ZE/ZF.2 prime lenses, a sort of a hybrid between cine and photo glass. They still have the characteristics of photography lenses, but with some very well done cinema modifications, such as 14 blade iris for perfectly round bokeh, color matching, interchangeable mounts (5 of them at the moment) and built-in geared rings for focusing. They are built like a tank, but still relatively light and with full frame sensor coverage – a true rarity among today’s film lenses, which are usually designed for smaller standard formats like Super 35.

Can I use cine lenses for still potography?
Yes, cine lenses can be used for still photography just like any other lens, but there are certain physical limitations. One of the issues with cine lenses is their ergonomics. They tend to be big, heavy and bulky compared to regular DSLR lenses and their focusing rings are designed for follow focus gear, preferably with a focus puller to do the job, not via autofocus. They also have geared f-stop rings for iris pulling and go dark when stopped down. Communication with modern DSLR’s does not exist with these lenses, so EXIF remains erratic.

What do professional movie-makers suggest?
Ryan Koo wrote this on his awarded NoFilmSchool blog: »When it comes to assembling a kit of lenses, most professional filmmakers like to choose one brand and stick with it, so the visual characteristics of the lenses match up from shot-to-shot; with the same brand lenses in your kit, the lenses will also handle similarly”. All professional cine lenses are color-matched to each other, have the same front thread, same body size and quite often same maximal f-stop. Whereas the uniform front thread and the equal focusing gear ring can be permanently added to a kit of any manual focus lenses through a specialized company such as Duclos (the lens becomes »cine-moded« and its f-stop ring gets »de-clicked« so it rotates uniformly without stops), the color matching process cannot be applied. 

My own personal preference? A black case of 7 or 8 primes from the same make, with focal lengths ranging from 18mm to 100mm including a couple super speeds  at T/1.3 or T/1.5. If I had to pick just 3 primes for video work, they would probably be 25mm, 50mm and 100mm – a perfect starter kit for any aspiring filmmaker.

* I do not work for Carl Zeiss AG. They did sent me a pack of blue stickers from Oberkochen once though - for my daughters. Being a long-time Canon Ambassador I love Canon’s professional L glass and use it extensively for filming and still photography.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Out of Africa - a roaring Playboy Pictorial

»It was an offer I couldn't refuse« joked Lana Petanić, one of Croatia's most successful models, when asked about her recent trip to Africa with Shoot The Centerfold team. She dreamt about such voyage since she was 14.  »I do travel a lot for modelling, but never to those parts of the world.« After the big invitation she packed her bags and jumped on the next southbound plane to Namibia with us.
The trip was a great one – it took the STC team through several climate zones, landscapes, local villages and wildlife reserves, adding to more than 3600 kilometers in just 11 days. The scenery was breathtaking everywhere we stopped and new panoramic vistas waited around each new corner.
The weather was quite cold for African standards (it was winter time) and sometimes the temperatures fell below zero at night, but the determination was stronger - Lana braved the winds, sand, thorns and mosquitoes in the almost holy quest for the perfect picture.
The results of Lana's great posing can now be seen in Playboy magazine. As a fashion model she had no difficulties adapting the poses to glamour guidelines. »I am really happy I did it! It was hard work, but it was totally worth it!« Her famous last parting words at the airport? »Amazing land, amazing people and an amazing team.«  Lana, the feelings are mutual.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

STC Fashion posing guide for iPad - now on iTunes

Since the day I started shooting fashion I have been asked countless times about fashion action poses.
"Where can we see more of them?"
"Where can we learn about them?"
"How do we put our model in the right pose  so it does not look silly?"
Those were just a couple of questions photographers in search of spicing up their work were asking me at my seminars.

We put our heads together with the experts at Shoot The Centerfold (which I am also part of) and created this unique, one of a kind posing guide for fashion action poses not available anywhere else in the known universe. We drafted the scorchingly hot model Karin Škufca, who was featured in countless fashion magazines, billboards, book covers and also in Playboy, and photographed her showing the fashion poses for this interactive iPad guide.

I wish this guide to be a great benefit for all the photographers who are ready to take their work to the next level. It is available for purchase and immediate download on iTunes world-wide here and before purchase you can download a free sample to check it out.

I hope you enjoy reading and using this posing guide as much as I enjoyed making it!