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.)