Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Takin' a break

Apparently, it has been a week since I last blogged.

A week ago today I left Flagstaff to visit my family for Thanksgiving. I had copious amounts of seriously good food and I didn't do anything even remotely resembling work.

I am now settled back in Flag, it is -3 degrees outside and I'm working on a whole bunch of stuff.

This week I'm doing two shoots for my tabletop studio class. I have two group presentations and one individual presentation to finish up and Saturday is Help-Portrait, so I'm scrambling all over the place to get the workflow, volunteers, printer, food and everything else set up.

Long story short, this week is busy for me and I probably won't be blogging a whole lot.

See you on the other side, assuming I survive it all!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Creepy portraits with Christie

I did my first shoot alone with Christie last week. We had fun and I got to try out a new style of lighting.

These first two were a blast. I set up my Einstein outside with a 7" reflector and nuked it through the blinds at full power. I was going for the whole "someone is breaking into my house at night" feel, and I think I got it across, more or less. It was actually 1:30 in the afternoon and the sun was shining bright.

I've had this shot in my head for a while now. I keep a punching bag and some gloves around because it is far healthier to punch a bag than to punch other people. Setup is pretty simple - again I have the Einstein out, but now it has a 20 degree grid on it. Still full power or close to it - The camera is at f/22, 1/250sec and ISO 100. I had to darken it a little in post production, but not much.

Here we went for a more emotional, sad, dispairing sort of mood. No gun anymore, and I kept the color balance on this more or less the way I shot it.

I have more plans for miss Christie, and I look forward to working with her in the future.

My new Einstein arrived, so now I have a working strobe, a softbox, a reflector (which it doesn't come with) and a 20 degree spot grid. Next in my shopping cart is the Vagabond Mini Lithium battery that will let me move my setup out into the world for location shoots.

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Flagstaff Guide to Winter Driving

During my walk to and from school this morning, I observed a list of rules that drivers in Flagstaff seem to be adhering to after the first snow of the season. I wrote them down for you!

1) Snow is the scariest shit ever. Avoid contact with it at all costs.
2) Snow tires are stupid, especially for two-wheel drive vehicles. Your chromed rims are all that matter.
3) Scraping ice off your windshield is a waste of time and thus, money. Don't bother. If you must, scrape a hole about the size of an infant's fist and keep your head really close to the windshield
4) Ice scrapers are expensive. Just use your fingernails to scrape the ice off your car.
5) If your vehicle is not accelerating fast enough, repeatedly mash the accelerator. To the floor.
6) If your vehicle is not moving at all, push the accelerator to the floor and keep it there. Eventually, your tires will melt a hole through the ice and catch pavement.
7) Aftermarket body kits are designed to function as snow plows.
8) Drive at speeds less than 15 mph or greater than 45 mph to ensure traction.
9) The faster you go, the better traction you have.
10) The only surefire way to stop your vehicle is to roll it. Multiple times. Brakes are overrated.
11) Talking on your cell phone while driving is the only way to make sure that you will be able to call 911 when you adhere to Rule #10.
12) Sharp yanks on the wheel are more effective than slow turning motions. They also help with rule #10.
13) Never ever ever scrape the rear window. Nothing happening behind you could possibly be of any importance.
14) The laws of physics do not apply to you.
15) The laws of physics do not apply to other drivers.
16) Don't worry about stopping distance - all vehicles regardless of weight and speed stop in the same distance on dry roads and on ice.
17) Your front bumper is a great place to hook tow cables.
18) Cops don't go out in the snow - you won't get pulled over for driving like a moron or for crashing into someone else.
19) Snow plows will yield to your puny compact car. Every time.
20) Just because the car in front of you spins out on the ice, it doesn't mean the roads are slick.

Just off the top of my head. I'm sure I'll think up a few more...

Feel free to add via the comments section below!

Portrait: Noelle again

Noelle was kind enough to model for my and sport my ghetto-veil during class on Thursday.
This first image is my favorite, though I like the other two of her a lot as well.
Light setup was fairly simple - one beauty dish more or less on axis (a little to camera right, if I'm being honest) and a 20 degree spot grid camera left and behind Noelle

I was lucky enough to have two lovely assistants to help figure out the veil, which is actually the mesh bag that enclosed a bunch of clamps I purchased recently. Worked out fairly well, I think.

While I had the lights set up, I figured I'd get one more shot in.

Suffice it to say, she wasn't very enthused about modeling for me. A fun portrait nonetheless.

It is a cold and snowy morning in Flagstaff. The roads are icy, so I'm hiking to school - a 50 minute walk that takes me about 10 minutes on a bicycle.

Have a great Monday!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Important announcements!

The moment you've all been waiting for...

1) The Flagstaff Help Portrait event has a way for you to donate online via PayPal! CLICK HERE!

I'm pleased Help Portrait is making this happen and annoyed at the hoops we have to jump through to get the money. If you don't care about the tax-deductible part of your donation, it's easier for all of us if you send the funds directly to me. All the donations I receive will be spent solely on Help Portrait items. This year, we need between $100 and $200 to purchase photo paper. As far as I know, everything else is being donated. If you feel the need, you could just buy the paper and ship it to me, as long as it gets here before Dec 3, which is our setup date. I'm guessing we'll need 3 rolls, which would allow us to print up to 450 portraits at 8x10. Any paper that isn't used this year will be rolled over (couldn't resist) and used next year.

2) My 80-200mm f/2.8 push/pull lens is on eBay - the auction ends NOV 28 at 5:00pm PST

My padre is selling it with his account since I can't be bothered to mess around on eBay. I promise, it's the same lens.

To set the mood right for Friday, here's a food shot I did yesterday in my tabletop studio class.

I'll be doing a couple shoots outside the studio this afternoon. I also have a portrait from yesterday to show off in the near future. Stick around!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Help Portrait 2010: update

Hello world!

Here's what I know so far regarding this year's Help Portrait event in Flagstaff, AZ

Things are starting to come along. We have six photographers signed up, with room for four more. We still need three more runners and one more person to handle the front table. We still need more people! If you are considering volunteering, please know that you do NOT have to be photographically inclined to volunteer! There are plenty of jobs that we don't need photographers for.

The process to get the event catered has begun. We are looking for donations totaling $200 to pay for the paper we are using to print as well as miscellaneous supplies. Help Portrait is a non-profit organization and donations are tax deductible. A link to donate online will be posted shortly!

The advertising gurus have been up to their neck in the processes of making things happen. We've put out info to the local shelters and schools, newspapers and radio stations, assisted living facilities and of course NAU. In fact, I'm going to be on TV tonight for a short interview with the NAZ Today crew at 6pm.

If you want to volunteer or donate, please comment below or email me! matt@vaultphotos.com

Monday, November 15, 2010

Portrait: Debra

I've shot with Deb before - she was the zombie last spring.

This weekend, we decided to do something a little less morbid

Not quite a glamour/beauty shot, but definitely different. Right as I was getting into my groove for this shoot, the softbox fell off my broken Einstein and we had to quit for the day.

I'll probably see if I can make it up to her by doing another shoot in the near future. Hopefully without anything falling on her.

Looks like my new flash will be here on the 18th. I've got two portrait shoots this weekend, so hopefully I'll put it through its paces and come up with some non-studio shots.

Have a lovely Monday!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ugh. The Studio

I've figured out why I haven't been happy (or creative) with much of my work recently. I'm sick of the studio. The same white and black walls week in and week out have taken their toll. I need to get my butt out into the real world to take pictures.

I have a few ideas for shoots that don't involve a studio, and I'm psyched to get things rolling.

My new Einstein unit is scheduled to arrive the 15th. With a new flash and some new modifier combinations, I expect to have some serious fun.

Here's my favorite from my quick (less than 50 frames) studio shoot yesterday.

Tianna has agreed to work with me in the future. I'm really excited to work with her and to get my butt into gear and catch up to my goal. I have less than a month to do more than 20 portraits.

More to come...

Friday, November 12, 2010

My broken Einstein 640

Let me state for the record that I did not break this piece of equipment. 

It broke itself.

I am usually happy to admit when I break something - that just means it isn't tough enough for the job. This time, though, I didn't do it. Honest.

A little explanation: Paul C Buff inc knows they are having issues with the Einstein 640 unit. The first version didn't work with some outlets and didn't sync properly with PocketWizards. This is the second version, and the cam system (what holds light modifiers on the strobe) is weak. This issue comes in two flavors. One is common, while the other seems to be unique to me.



The common issue involves the spring in the lever (photo 2) which isn't strong enough to hold larger modifiers (like my 5' softbox). Paul C Buff inc is having new units worked on and will ship upgrades (for free) to every Einstein user in December or January.

The second issue involves the fingers (photo 1). One of them has managed to detach from its fellows, meaning that it no longer moves as instructed. Because of this, my 5' softbox fell on my model yesterday. Nobody was hurt, but it is the kind of incident I cannot have repeated. In addition to the potential for serious injury, it totally ruins the mood of the shoot.

I called headquarters in TN and was promptly directed to Joe in customer support. Joe is a tech who works on the units. After I explained my issue, he agreed to have a new unit shipped to me as soon as he could get his hands on one. I expect it late next week. They are also going to pay for the return shipping on my broken unit. No questions asked - just an apology for the issue and the assurance that they will make it right. THAT is how customers should be treated. The whole company is doing a great job in making sure that its customers are satisfied and that their product (the new flagship) works just like it should.

Because of the quality of service I received, I asked to be transferred to sales. I bought a 7" reflector and a 20 degree spot grid to show the company that I'm going to stick with them and that I have faith they're going to get it right. Plus, I need a reflector and a 20 degree grid.

Yesterday, I also made a very necessary modification to the Einstein unit.
The 5' softbox is so heavy that maneuvering the strobe with the softbox attached is nearly impossible. Going side to side is OK, but angling the head up and down takes a lot of muscle.

You'll notice both Elinchrom and Profoto have handles of some kind. The Einstein does not. With a cheap modification, however, I've discovered something that works.

Profoto - handle on bottom

Elinchrom - handle on top

Einstein - ghetto handle on top

I was at Home Depot buying supplies to hang a backdrop in my room/studio when I saw a set of Husky screwdrivers with pretty gnarly handles. It turns out, this particular set has a few members that fit right into the umbrella slot in the top of the flash. By tightening the screw and angling the tool/handle the right way, I can get much more leverage on the unit. Sure, it looks ridiculous, but I can't be blamed for Paul C Buff not putting a handle on the damn thing. Now I always have a screwdriver on set AND I can maneuver my strobe without excessive grunting.

I'm halfway through with the necessary modifications to my room/studio in order to hang a permanent backdrop. I'll post that solution when I finish with it. 

TGIF! Have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thank you Veterans!

This post is dedicated to the men and women who have served in the United States armed forces.

NAU Army ROTC 2009

To those who lost their lives.
To those who survived.
To those still serving.

Thank you for the sacrifices you have made and continue to make for our freedom.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Portrait: Noelle

Another portrait of Noelle from photo class. Still nothing great, but definitely something different. It's nice to get out of my usual style with funky monochromes and duotones.

Got a couple more coming later this week.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Portrait: Ozzy

I asked my buddy Ozzy to come into the studio last week in his fancy suit.
For some reason he agreed and we managed the following portraits.

Two lights.  Strip light at camera right (hey, that rhymes!) and a grid behind him at camera left. Done and done.

Really wish I could see his other eye in the top image, but I couldn't save it in post and I wasn't paying attention in the studio. Still, not a terrible portrait session.
Of course, when I finished with him, the rest of my class went nuts about having a new model. I think five or six photographers got ahold of him during our class, but I'm not exactly sure.

Hoping to get a few more this week - I still have a lot of catching up to do.

Have a great day!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Exasperated Students

Hello World.

I managed to give myself a break from blogging over the weekend. It's nice to be back to see all your smiling faces :-)

You may recall I spent a little time last week making a series that I'm calling Exasperated Students.
I told my models to sit and give me whatever pose they generally adopted when their professor is rambling at the front of the lecture hall.

Here is the resulting ten image series.

Quick and fairly easy. I probably should have made them a little brighter, but it was more for fun than for showing off to the world.

I do have a new portrait or two. I'll try and get those up fairly soon.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Help Portrait 2010 : Make a difference

I'm not sure if you've heard of Help Portrait. If you've been around this blog a while, chances are you have.

If not, check this out:

Now that you've got a basic clue, let's talk about what is going on in Flagstaff, AZ this year.

Here's a list of people I need on the day of the event, December 4th.

1) Photographers. We have room for eight photographers in the studio, plus a two outside.
2) Runners. I need three people who can run around all day. Going to to store, picking up food, guiding the participants around.
3) Greeters. Three people to run the front table.
4) Post Production/Printing. Two people who can run the printers at our on-site lab.
5) Hair/Makeup artists. It would be great to give hair and makeup styling to our participants!

That's a minimum of 18 volunteers.

Of course, a lot needs to happen before then.

1) MARKETING. We need to get the word out to the Flagstaff community about what we are doing. All our efforts may be great, but they mean a lot less if we don't have people to photograph.
We need to figure out how we're going to guide people to the studio where we are shooting.
We need posters, signs, flyers etc to get the word out
We need people with contacts! If you can help us inform people, I want to hear from you!

2) PLANNING. I need help getting things together. The logistics of an event like this are time consuming.

If you think you can help in ANY way, please please please let me know! I would love to have your help!

As things get moving, I will post with progress reports and the areas we still need help with.

Give back.
Help yourself.
Help others.
Help Portrait.


Nikon gear for sale!!!

I've done some gear upgrading in the last couple months. As such, I'm finally ready to part with my 80-200mm f/2.8 lens.

This lens if the 1988 to 1992 version. It's push/pull zoom and autofocuses like a champ. It takes a 77mm filter on the front.

The official name is: 80-200mm f/2.8 AF ED

I just spent $150 to get it professionally cleaned and lubricated. It looks great and works 100%. I got it back from the shop today, clean as a whistle.

 Here are some photos.

f/2.8 - f/22

insanely clean optics all the way through

The lens has had a UV filter ever since I bought it. I am the second owner - the first rarely used it.
I took the UV filter off to keep on my new 70-200mm VR lens. I don't use lens caps, so I lost that somewhere along they way. Replacement lens caps are relatively inexpensive.

This lens is NOT compatible with the following NIKON cameras: D40, D40x, D60, D90, D3000, D3100, D5000. It should work flawlessly with every other DLSR and 35mm SLR since the 1980's.

I'm looking to get $500 for it. That's $500 for a fast tele zoom. I doubt you'll find many better deals. The current version sells for $1,224.95 from Nikon.

If you're interested, give me a call or drop me an email.

(928) 600 3360
matt at vaultphotos dot com

I accept PayPal and cash. I am willing to ship it, but of course you'll have to pay shipping expenses.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


I just finished watching the keynote discussion from the Photo Expo in NY last week. I had to go to class during the live presentation, and Chase Jarvis posted it on his blog today.

Zack Arias quickly touches on three values that he balances when he decides which jobs to shoot and which clients to take on.

1) Economic 
2) Creative
3) Opportunity

It was glossed over fairly quickly during the discussion - but I think it is something well worth discussing.

We as creative people need to learn to compromise between each of these things. 

For instance, the more a client is willing to pay me, the less creative freedom I need over a job. Conversely, the smaller the budget the client has, the more I feel the need to do things "my way."

There has been a lot of talk in the last couple years about working for free. I have absolutely no problem working for a low economic value, assuming I have lots of creative freedom and/or the job offers me a great opportunity.

That opportunity may be working with a new model, an art director, a new client, or trying a different style. Mainly, I see opportunity as a way to network. If Heather Morris (of Glee and Beyonce fame) wanted to get photos done but couldn't pay me - I'd do it for free simply for the chance to photograph her. I've done a full day of photography for absolutely no pay, and that day got me five paid shoots down the road. Worth it? Absolutely.

On the other hand, if something I am shooting takes an opportunity away from me, or offers no future opportunities, I'm going to charge a bunch more.

That's a few thoughts about what value a job has to me personally. I'll write a post soonish about the value that we as photographers provide to our clients, because I think a lot of us are selling ourselves short.

High Key: Jasmine

You may remember, quite a while back, I told you all that I had met an artist whose work I really admire.

She and I finally had the opportunity to get together and talk a few things over. I did some tech support for her, and together we created a very basic website.

First, my picture of her

Jasmine Stack

It was a really quick shoot. Our goal was to get something to put on her website. This isn't the photo that we're using there - but I kinda like it. Would definitely prefer she had a different color top. Oh well. I plan on doing another shoot with her (she doesn't know this) and getting some much better results.

Jasmine spent last year working on an amazing series of paintings highlighting the female experience as she observes it. This particular series pretty much speaks for itself. I highly recommend you head over to her website and give her work a good look.

I chose wordpress for her site because it's free and I'm fairly familiar with how to set up different pages. I don't think she'll end up using it as a blog, but now she has the option to do so. That and she can change the look of it with almost no effort and certainly without any coding. I'd recommend this above services like weebly (or whatever it's called) because you can so easily add more "Pages" and because it's very easy to work with - once you get used to the quirks. Plus is has all sorts of awesome features built in (none of which Jasmine is using) like widgets for facebook, twitter, weather, etc.

I shot a ten-image series yesterday during class. I'll post that sometime this week if I can find time.
Basketball season starts tonight, and I'm going to Phoenix from Friday night to Sunday morning to photograph another band day. Yay high school marching bands....

Have a great day!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Comment of the Month: No more

Ok. I guess I should have realized this a while back - the same people are commenting on my blog all the time. Aside from Simon Hucko, the regular contributors are my family, and that's about it. I know I have about 35 regular readers - but so few people comment that the contest isn't really worth it anymore.

To be fair, I haven't written anything controversial or outlandish recently. I know that posts like that are a great way to get lots of page views and comments. What can I say? I guess I haven't been feeling very out-there recently.

Instead of running a contest, I think I'm going to start featuring artists whose work I admire. Once a month I'll pick some creative person and feature a few of their chosen works.

Maybe I'll decide to give out free stuff to these artists. Maybe I'll continue being broke (like them) so I won't be able to.

I'd ask you all to comment and let me know what you think - but I don't think you will, except Simon, who is awesome.

Anyway. I have an idea about the artist I want to feature. I'll get in contact with that person and will hopefully have something to show you in a week or two.

I didn't get the chance to shoot any personal work over the weekend, and I don't anticipate doing much this week either. We're rocking our way towards the end of the second round of exams, which means I've actually been in class, and studying once in a while. One of these days I'm going to have to kick my portraits into high gear - I still have 28 shoots to go before I'm finished with the semester.

Have a lovely Tuesday!

November Background

Holy cow. Apparently November is here.

Crazy how these new months sneak up on you like that.

I've decided I'm not going to change my background from last month's

Just in case you want to, here are your options:

Stay tuned for an update on the Comment of the Month contest.