GAME CHANGER :: The Best Piece of Photographic Gear I’ve Purchased in Years

This past year I was able to move into a digital medium format system, a long time dream of mine. My camera is an older system but the files are still beautiful and the glass is breathtaking. The Hasselblad is not the best piece of photographic gear I’ve purchased recently. Nope. Not even close.

This is it. And it’s made by Rubbermaid.

So, now that you might be completely bummed by the banality that is a Rubbermaid cart, let me do some splainin’!

I used to assist 3 photographers in a giant commercial studio years ago and we had anything we wanted. Three giant shooting rooms, three Hasselblad / Phase kits, giant Cambo studio stands, a loaded van, dare I say 15 Speedotron packs? 40 heads? Chimera boxes of every size and flavor. A fully equipped tool and work room to build whatever we wanted and a corporate credit card for anything we were missing. The list goes on and on. You get the point. Also, we had rolling desks and some carts for location stuff. My young(er) mind was always taking notes for the future.

Throughout the years I’ve assisted other freelance photographers and in my own business I’ve seen firsthand that we can amass a ton of tools and most jobs don’t afford me the pleasure of working with an assistant.

In 2015 I found myself parked illegally downtown outside of a large building with more gear than I could carry in 3 trips by myself. Once I got everything inside, I loaded them all at once in an elevator and took my trip to the tenth floor. When the door opened to my clients lobby, gear went everywhere and the folks waiting for the elevator down just sort of snickered. “I meant to do that” in my best PeeWee Herman is all I could muster. Once I got moved to the location where the shoot was (on another floor,) I had to go back down and grab a few more things and go move my car that I was praying wasn’t already moved for me. I texted my wife “I’m buying a cart today.”

I rode around to different places and checked out the offerings; too clunky, too expensive, more useful for carrying a fridge up a flight of stairs. I also did web searches for photographers blogging about the carts they were using. The problem with those sorts of things for me is that I’ll picture myself being them and make their needs my own, which is not the case. I’m not flying to Asia to work. I’m not working with multiple assistants. It’s usually just me and my gear. Rather than pulling the trigger on the infamous Rock ‘n Roller, I decided to follow my buddy Ian Curcio’s lead (who has sense switched to the Rock ‘n Roller) and get myself a Rubbermaid, except larger. I also wanted to get a cart that I could tether from and be able to use on location or in the studio. His cart needs to fit his wagon. I have a Honda Element and I could afford to go larger than he was able to. I bought this cart brand new from a guy off of Craigslist for like $70 I think. This can be purchased at Home Depot for just under 200 bones.

Ian’s cart has to be unloaded and loaded each time it’s in and out of the car. Mine doesn’t. This was a huge plus for me. We’re talking five minutes of cut time here but I just hate having to figure it out. I like to know exactly where everything is. After a shoot I like to be able to throw it in the truck and hit the road. When I get back home or to the studio, it’s still organized on the cart when I unload it. I don’t won’t to touch work twice if I can help it. Now, I do still need a little ramp for this rig to be a perfect system but for now it’s working nicely. 

I made a couple little modifications to this cart to make it do what I wanted. I added a D-Ring to each end of the cart and I purchased 4 Husky straps with carabiners to hold my 2 C-Stands in place. I leave these velcro straps in place at all times on my c-stands now. They are also useful for hanging things from the c-stand because you’ve instantly got two caribiners on your c-stand. One at the top and one at the bottom. I lucked out because my cart has 3 predrilled holes on each corner. It is the perfect size hole and distance for my 40” Grip Arm Extensions and I can lock it in with the grip heads on the outside. #winning

There is a tray under the push handle (a bonus of the bigger cart is the higher push handle, Ian’s can be a backbreaker if you’re taller than average.) In that tray, I keep all sizes of A clamps and Super Clamps, little odds and ends like gum, mints, brass spigots, clothespins, pens, notepads, etc. On both shelves of the cart, I put about three sheets of foam core as my base, two White and one black. I took a little paracord and a carabiner and hang all my gaff tapes from a loop and then through the grip arm extension. I’ve got two full size apple boxes I like to always have with me plus 2 - 25 lb. sandbags and a couple 15’s. NOTE :: I unload these sandbags before moving the cart into or out of the car. I use them as wheel chocks to keep the cart from moving while I’m driving. Everything needs to have multiple purposes. I carry my lighting kit in a LowePro backpack and my Fuji rig has it’s own little Think Tank CityWalker bag. The Hasselblad system for now is in another little LowePro bag that sits underneath the cart with the Fuji bag. All my modifiers, additional stands, tripod and laptop bag fit on the cart as I’m pushing it in. 

I also had a friend of mine craft a detachable desk for the top. For the past couple years, I’ve really tried to be intentional in my purchases. I try to previsualize my career and how my purchases can fit the future of my business. When I bought this, I didn’t own a camera that would tether but I knew I was headed in that direction. I had him make it large enough to accomodate a larger laptop should I move to a 15” down the road. When my friend Jonathan Dearman (check out his amazing furniture and call him when you need something awesome made) told me to drive to NC to meet him and he’d bang out something quick for me I had no idea how he’d knock it out of the park so quickly. I pulled out of my driveway on the hone with him telling him the dimensions. Three hours later I pulled up in his driveway and he was 90% done with the thing. He did a quick test of all the measurements and Voila! He designed it so it can quickly be removed from the cart and removed from it’s own pedastal. I’d told him I wanted it to be able to be mounted to a c-stand if I just needed the tethering table in the field so we balanced it with that in mind. There is an Impact Wall Plate with 5/8” Locking Receiver bracket screwed to the bottom for this purpose. He nailed the design and made it gorgeous in the process. I’ve also included a snap of the cart at a gig recently. This was for a 18’ wide white seamless setup to pull large equipment on in a warehouse, also pictured. So, more crap than I typically carry was present. 

Flashes of Hope :: a night at the Bon Securs St. Francis Cancer Center

A couple months back I was contacted by a group called Flashes of Hope and they asked if I’d be willing to shoot some portraits of children with cancer and they’d take care of scheduling, printing, etc. Thankfully, they asked me for some local makeup artists’ names and I got to work with my insanely talented friend Latia Curtis (stylin’ below). Our group for this shoot was 15 -30 years of age.

As I was waiting to to load in, I recieved a phone call from a young photographer in my area named Chrissy Harper. We’d never met but she was calling to ask me about joining the SC Chapter of ASMP as an associate member (I sit on out state’s board). I talked with her about what she shoots and what her goals were. We started talking about assisting and I told her that it was unfortunate that we had not talked sooner because I had a voulnteer thing I could’ve used her help with and it would give us a good opportunity to get to know one another. “When is it?” she asked. “In about twenty minutes” I laughingly replied. She texted me shortly after, “I’ll see you soon.” She showed up and I had an assistant. Boom! So, how rad is that? And, to boot, she did a great job. We had some amped up kids to wrangle and she jumped right in! That’s her sitting in for a quick lighting test. We loaded in to the hospital at 2 PM yesterday and made the last photograph around 8 PM I think. Everyone involved was really awesome. Here’s another cool thing; our two local competing hospitals, Greenville Hospital System and Bon Securs St. Francis Hospital System, gasp….. worked together to make all this happen! Very cool on both parties. The staff I worked with from both hospitals were awesome.

Photographer Nerds who’ve been following along lately :: I rented the Fuji XT-1 so that I could tether on this job to Adobe Lightroom. Everything was shot on the original Fujifilm 56 f/1.2 lens.

I got to meet a lot of cool people yesterday and I had a blast working with them all. I did connect with one individual more than any other. His name was Andre and he had a little girl just a few years younger than mine. He had a lovely wife and you could tell Andre was a great dad and husband. He kept looking for stray hairs for his wife and straightening his daughters outfit. And his little girl just melted my heart. He told me a little about his situation with cancer and the struggles he’s endured. As it turns out he’s also a musician so we hit it off. He’s really into hiphop and he’s a rapper so we did a couple promo type shots for him as well. He hugged me when we were through and just thanked me over and over. It was really the only time I almost lost it which is a miracle as anyone who knows me knows that I can be a real faucet face. 

Here’s to you Dre! Keep getting stronger buddy. Can’t wait to see those dreads coming back in long again!

We had a great evening and I’m so thankful to be able to use the talents God has blessed this whole team of people with to brighten some folks’ night who could use a lift and hopefully give them some photographs that will forever capture the spirit of the individuals and their families.  

Selfie for proof of a great time! Cheers!

Bohemian Rhapsody :: Part 3 of 3

Welcome back. We’re wrapping this 3 part series up with a bit of show and tell. I’m going to show you diagrams of some of the shots and will include the gear used to make them happen. Here’s part 1 and here’s part 2. It may be helpful to read those first. We are going to get through this stuff pretty quick as there is nothing too terribly complicated happening here. As promised in part 1, I’ll be posting a short blog showing you the cart in detail, how I customized it to make myself more efficient on jobs and why I believe it’s the best piece of gear I’ve purchased in years. First things first.

OK, so we’ll go through some of the pictures and I’ll list the gear used and the set up. Just to get this out of the way, everything was shot on the Fuji X-Pro 1 with the 56mm f/1.2 lens. The images utilizing strobes were shot using the Elinchrom Ranger Quadra (it’s since been replaced by a couple newer versions, currently called the ELB). Just for clarification, I have the “A” or “speed” set with a  shorter flash duration for stopping action, which was not needed for this. Elinchrom has their own wireless trigger system called ”Skyport” which is great because it can fire at a higher sync speed but the transducer misfires a lot, it could just be mine. It’s also tiny, uses a watch battery that lasts forever and the battery pack has the reciever built-in. All wins. Still, I used my Pocket Wizard Plus 3’s because they are consistent. As in, they NEVER misfire. They are clunky, have a slower sync speed and require cords, still, I use the PW’s the lionshare of the time. Side note :: the Fuji X-Pro 1 sync speed is 1/160th because of it’s focal plane shutter. The X-100 series have a leaf shutter thus allowing much higher sync speeds which makes the Quadra speed set witht the Skyport especially awesome. What sun?!

Our location looked like this but without all those awesome clouds. We had noon sun. Blarf.

I made all the lighting diagrams using These 72 DPI non-commercial one’s are free. You should check them out. Lots of great stuff there for light dorks like myself. Anyway, here’s the setup for our first shot.

What’s funny is that as I was going back thorugh this today, I realized that the above diagram didn’t change, just my position, camera settings and the use of the weeds and position of the reflector Maria was holding. Sometimes we dropped the reflector altogether.

Here, I moved to the model’s left side and shot directly into the seamless. I used the same exact setup for the two double exposures, I just exposed for the white seamless and placed her in silouhette, mostly.

This one was the exact same as the first setup, I just removed the weeds and flowers and shot more into the sky than the weeds. I still need to remove the flyaway hairs in this photo but for right now, she didn’t need this image and I’ve got a good bit of work resting on my plate. Image is still usable for some things but I typically wouldn’t show this. I did pull in a mask on each side of the sky in LIghtroom to bring those blues back in.

I really liked this particular setup for a number of reasons. We got the all five previous pictures with one setup and gear thats within reach of pretty much any photographer. So, five differnt looking shots with no lights at noon in a field between a methadone clinic and a strip joint in about thirty minutes. Scrims, silks, whatever you wanna call ‘em, I prefer (and used for the previous shots) the Matthew’s Artificial Silk because it’s cheaper and stops about 1.5 stops of light from coming through and makes for a giant softbox. Usually, when I’m pulling out a silk, the light is nasty outside. I do hate the yellow stitching around the edges. I would love to add the traditional silks to my arsenal but I don’t have the need right now and I’d rather spend dollars on other things. I have the 8 footer and like it because it’s the largest one I feel is safely manageable on a small set with no assitant and I can build my own PVC frame. It’s not the surest rig on the planet but it holds up fairly well. If you are buying any larger size silk, I suggest buying a proper frame. NOTE:: they ain’t cheap and you need some serious stands to hold ‘em and then serious sandbagging to boot. Don’t plan on using those without an assistant or two.

The next group of photos come from the basic setup that was in our next location. One light for all. 

If you go back and look, there are many more examples in Part 2. You’ll see what’s what. I think that pretty much wrap’s up the how on this stuff. I didn’t shoot anything crazy here. Just nice and simple. Keeping it clean. I’m as guilty as the next photographer in thinking I need all this gear when very simply, I could go out and make these same photographs with a hot shoe flash and convertible umbrella, a basic scrim, any simple camera and decent 90-ish mm lens. In other words, you could give me $600 and I could buy everything I need. Don’t get sucked down the gear rabbit hole. It’s deep and can cost you a lot more than the price tag attached. Start simple, keep it simple. Work hard and learn the limits of all your gear. Always be on the lookout for ways to make something out of nothing. Ask any questions or start a discussion below in the comments. Cheers! 

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