Everything I ever learned about lighting…

Strobist LEGO tribute

Was probably from LEGOs and the Strobist blog. (Click the photo to see all the geeky comments on this super LEGO lighting rig.)

It’s fair to say I did learn something from my college courses with Craig Sheaks, and tinkering with Nikon’s Creative Lighting System to get the flash and the light off the camera’s hot shoe. I rigged and patched my school’s set of (maybe) 16 PAR64 cans and 6 ellipsoidal spotlights to light the auditorium for various assemblies, Christmas specials, concerts and video projects. All of it learn-as-you-go style. Photography and lighting go together like peas and carrots. And peas and carrots go together great with a pot roast.

One day long ago I was looking for something lighting related online and came across the Strobist blog and my brain all but exploded from the amount of ideas that flooded my head all at once. This site is a gold mine for using the flashes I already had (or lots of other ones that are far less complicated or pricey!) to get some amazing off camera lighting without hauling a studio strobe rig. If you’ve seen me on a shoot I still haul more than the LEGO rig above. 🙂

Though I’d seen his work for years and years in National Geographic I didn’t run across the writings of Joe McNally until this last year. This week his shiny new paperback arrived in the mail.

I don’t read a whole lot, not even camera manuals thoroughly. This one’s been hard to put down. (Click here to check it out if you like – The Hot Shoe Diaries: Big Light from Small Flashes)

Gonna go play and put it all into use again this weekend.

the Rendition – March 7th debut

In addition to our Gallery Debut this weekend, Saturday night will also be a night of firsts for our friends The Rendition. This weekend brings their first show with the new band name, new music, and we’re thrilled to share the spotlight of “debut weekend” with Jess, Jess and Aaron!

From their announcement March 1st:

The Jess Strantz Band has been together for about ten months now. Originally formed around acoustic artist, Jess Strantz, who has successfully been stirring coffee shops and local venues solo for at least seven years now. She has incredible song writing ability, a voice that cannot be matched, and pure God given talent on guitar and piano.

With the addition of Aaron Busenbark on drums, keys, and percussion, the solo project began to take a turn in style. The duo brought in long time friend, Jess Stacy for bass guitar and synth.

As you can imagine, these changes have adapted the style and the band has “decided to sing a new song…” and taken the new name as of March 1st: The Rendition.

Aaron and the cymbal jungle

the Rendition band, now Von Strantz - Aaron and the cymbal jungle

Jess and the 5 string

then The Rendition now Von Strantz - Jess and the 5 string

Jess on keys / tambourine

then The Rendition now Von Strantz - Jess on keys, tambourine

Aaron and the bells

then The Rendition now Von Strantz - Aaron and bells

The magical practice room (featuring Jason on keys)

then The Rendition now Von Strantz - magical rehearsal room

Songs and shadows

then The Rendition now Von Strantz -

then The Rendition now Von Strantz - jam

Endeavors in Illumination

“There are two kinds of light–the glow that illuminates, and the glare that obscures.”
– James Thurber

It’s hard to say when it began to stir, but I welcome the nudge to do something new, to try new ideas, to expand on proven practice of what I understand in lighting.

The changing of seasons always seems to inspire me. New years has its resolutions and new start, spring breathes new life into the frozen, summer lets loose with bare feet and the smell of cookouts with friends, fall paints the landscape and gets out the warm fuzzy clothes as winter returns and the circle completes. Even while this current year’s winter inundated us with shut-in, bone chilling days, I do enjoy the seasons in Indiana. There’s something inspiring about the changes happening.

Weather patterns aside, it’s easy to get in a creative rut when you stick with what you already know and don’t get to try new ideas. It’s safe, but reliable, predictable but repeatable. Peppered throughout last year’s wedding season’s celebrations were so many photos that just popped. A new look, a different angle, a moment where everything just worked the way I hoped it would come together. It is in the pursuit of these dramatic, creative photos that I find myself wanting to do more with what I’ve learned and try new ideas. Inspiration can feel dangerous.

This March especially I’ve had a lot of ideas running through my mind’s eye. It is, in fact, some of those same creative brainstorms that kept me from returning to sleep early this morning. Watching the sunrise, even if I’ve been up most of the night leading to it, always sparks a bit of creativity and refreshing. As we count down till April 26th, the start of our spring wedding season, the stirring to hone my use of lighting has been growing.

To explain what has been stirring reminds me of the first few rolls of film I shot through my first SLR. What a sound as the shutter snapped! What a feeling to hold a manual 35mm body, focus a 50mm lens, and see your ideas in print. In 2003 when I checked out some photography books from the downtown library I was surprised to find a sticky note with my handwriting on it stuck inside some of my favorite books I read over and over when I started off with my 35mm camera.

Minolta X-370 35mm film camera body

Everyone needs a creative outlet, and more so, I think, when you use your creative outlet for work. When I was so busy with photo work last summer that I didn’t get out much to shoot on my own I picked up a Holga to try new ideas and get away from the things I did for work. I loved the break from the digital realm and really love the funky photos the Holga makes. It was a shot in the arm for creativity. I even snapped a few photos with this $25 plastic gem while at “work” with $10 grand around my neck and waist in optical Nikon stock. That’ll turn some heads!

Short story long, I ran across an impressive photography and lighting blog that has really outlined this quest of creativity. The Strobist Blog outlines The Lighting Journey as such:

  1. Ambient light is best. (I love working with great ambient light and using minimal extra gear! It is, however, only one of the ways I light a photo.)
  2. Competent on-camera flash. “It is comfy and predictable – which is not necessarily a terrible thing. Warm milk is not a terrible thing, either.” Eesh.
  3. Overdone off-camera flash – going nuts with lighting setups, “nuke it till it glows” (not a problem I’ve run into, thank goodness!)
  4. Experimentation – while the other stages are “comfy and predictable, experimentation is error-prone, and sometimes random in its quality. Which I will take over predictable and boring any day.”
  5. The Bag of Tricks – knows what works, versatile and flexible, knows what will sell. Hey, can hear a camera shutter and know if it’s too slow for a sharp shot, or see a flash / lens combination and know if there’s enough range to get a good exposure. But then again, I should know it that well when I rely on reflexes to catch fleeting moments. I have a good bag of tricks techniques I use very well.
  6. Personal and Unique Lighting Style – Often with this style comes huge financial success – and rampant, blatant imitation from others. (Not there yet on either account.)
  7. Subject-driven Lightdefined by absolute mastery of the craft to the point where it transcends into art on a regular basis.

    The command of a wide array of techniques leads to a pure versatility unmatched by other shooters. The key is a variety of styles – singular or combined – from which to choose The Appropriate Response to a given challenge.

    It’s the difference between a very good cellist playing a piece, or that same piece being owned by the late Pablo Casals.

    It is being so far beyond the mastery of technique that “how-will-I-light-this” is replaced by sheer, instinctive vision. It’s craft to the point of genius. It’s Dean Collins in his prime.

So much to ponder. The sun’s bright in the sky lighting the overcast morning sky, coffee’s done and I’ve got music streaming. This day is looking pretty inspirational.