Master, Slave, & the Downtrodden Photographer


As I get older (and lazier) I look for solutions to lighten the load. I’m comfortable shooting with big strobes, but I don’t like moving them more than a few feet. When I started testing the Nikon AF Speedlight SB-900, a light bulb went off in my head, so to speak. Not only does it beat the hell out of a DSLR’s pop-up, duh, but it makes you think about ditching big studio lights. It’s not cheap, of course, with a street price around $450, and you really need at least two of ’em—ideally three if you want to produce swoon shots—but you can hang ’em on a work belt. (Let Joe McNally lug six or more, he’s in better shape.).


Looks like I’ll be shelling out some moo soon.


BUT… I’ve also been trying out the SV FL110 2-Light Attache Flash Kit (Street price: $350) from Smith-Victor. These are great little strobes made to travel. Perfect size and everything fits in a case—not the small attache James Bond carried, mind you, but still pretty portable. You could fall in love with these babies.

So now I’m thinking… this kit combined with an SB-900 could make for a beautiful master-slave relationship. Ménage à trois, anyone?

Forgive me, but I’m having one of those Zen workflow moments (Hell, I once did my writing on a Pocket PC with a folding keyboard.)

BUT, NO, THERE’S MORE. Need to add the Photoflex LiteDome xs Kit 1.


With this extra small soft box you can boost the SB-900’s coverage by roughly 33x. Remember, the bigger the light source the softer the shadows. (Street price: $89.95)

Last, but not least (and why the hell not)… to my dream kit I’m adding a HonlPhoto 8″ Speed Snoot ($29.95) for use with the SB-900 so you can sculpt the light for dramatic effects. Too bad I didn’t have one last weekend when I was shooting Noir. (See the previous post below.)


So there’s a pretty cost-effective wish list. For under a grand a flexible mobile lighting system.  A good starting point.

In  future posts we’ll explore this system further and see what’s possible and what’s not. There are always limitations, but sometimes the fun is in discovering work-arounds while saving money. Unless you’re on deadline or have an antsy art director breathing down your neck. Then all bets are off.


Friday Night Lights

Zoom Street Photo by Derek Pell

I took a Nikon SB-900 AF Speedlight for a spin Friday night. Needed to nail down some shots for a  Noir feature in the February issue.

Got off cheap because the model was Zoom Street’s DV editor, Wendell Sweda. Unfortunately he left his trench coat in Santa Monica, so we had to go with the black, Exorcist look.

Also wanted to come up with a more traditional cover than this one. We needed flesh and blood, a film poster look.

The location was Clayton’s Coffee Shop in Coronado. Atmosphere was dead-on with one minor exception: they still had their Christmas lights lit!  Not exactly the effect I was after, and it marred the nice  Alamo-arch.

We were pressed for time so there was no elaborate set-up. I kept the Speedlight mounted on an old Fujifilm S3 Pro and—in the shot at the top of this post—rotated the head and bounced the light off a gold reflector clamped to a C-stand. I hand-held the camera, shooting wide (18mm) with most of the shots taken from a crouching position. I wound up with two shadows for the price of one, a nice surprise I hadn’t noticed in the viewfinder. (Double Indemnity, anyone?) I added the “Dutch Angle ” in post.

Below, you can see the holiday lights, (click on the image for a large view)  but the spill from the SB-900 overpowered them leaving just the scraggly cord. At first I was bothered by the two protruding spotlights above the lettering, but my wife thought they nicely echoed the subject’s eyes.  Since the composition is strong, the lights got their sentence commuted.


The SB-900 is one hell of a powerful flash. Incredible range, flexible, fast. It gives you total control over the lighting—indoors and out. And if you can afford  three of ’em, you’ve got a wireless juggernaut.


We’d also planned to shoot some interiors at a Lebanese hookah bar in downtown SD, but we couldn’t find a parking spot. It was late so we decided to pig-out at Denny’s and call it a night.


I’m not posting the final cover shot here because, hell, I want you to catch it on the front page  of ZS  next month.

Is photography still a good way to get girls?


I’m often asked that question by aspiring young photographers fresh out of community college. Armed with a diploma, digital camera, reflectors, and a tripod, these young men are  aburst with enthusiasm, chomping at the bits to make a splash in the glamour biz.

The short answer is no.

Today everyone carries a camera so it’s hard to tell the Steichens from the Nikon-toting psychos. Actually the former always carry a Model Release. Worst of all, professional photographers are often mistaken for tourists and women are not (repeat are not)  attracted to tourists.

TIP: never wear a camera strapped around your neck. Doesn’t matter how expensive it is, you look like an idiot. Sling it over your shoulder and keep your head down.

High quality reading


Glamour photography (a.k.a. Galmour)  has a rich history. In 1826 Charles and Vincent Chevalier created the world’s first “babe-magnet,” a wooden box capable of preserving cheesecake. The camera became so popular with bachelors that mass production was invented. Then came the legendary classic TV show, Love That Bob, which drew thousands of untalented males into the profession. Finally, in 1966, Michelangelo Antonioni ‘s art film Blow-Up appeared and the rest is, well, Wikipedia.


As a child I ogled the babes posing for Bob Cummings. Sometimes I mistook “Uncle Bob” for my father. (My uncle’s name was Bob, too, small world.) My dad was a professional photographer who did his share of fashion. I devoted more time browsing through model books than reading the Hardy Boys. Guess my path in life was set in stone. (You’d have to be stoned to set out on that path.) I’ll have plenty more to say on this subject, but will save it for future posts. In the meantime here’s a nostalgic vid.

Reprint Covers I’d Like to See (#2)


This bugger has been through about 26 printings since it first reared its ugly head  in 1996.  And—sheesh—the cheapskates at Dover Publications haven’t bothered to update the original cover. This was the only book I ever sold in a flat (no royalties) deal, and what a mistake. They made a bundle despite practically giving it away. Well, at least with my updated cover design above the book has the originally intended title. (The editor thought  he was being clever and called it Bewildering Beasties. Alliteration, get it?)  I kept the colors kind of nauseating so it still looks like a Dover book—why mess with success?—but it’s available for reprint to the highest bidder.

On second thought make that the highest blogger.

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Little Red Roadster (Reprint Covers I’d Like to See #1)

If there are any publishers out there looking to buy some cheap reprint rights, you’ve come to the right blog. I have several dozen out of print titles you’ll want to consider. Hell, I’ll even forgo royalties for a reasonable buy-out fee. Face it, the market is death valley and you can’t afford to hand out those nice fat advances for books that wind up selling 400 copies. At least some of my books earned back the advance, which is more than you can say for Joyce Carol Oates. Anyhow, I’ve been updating the cover designs on some of my classics. Here’s a fresh do-over for The Little Red Book of Adobe LiveMotion.

cover art by Derek Pell

You can even change the title to The Little Red Book of SWiSHminimax 2. Sounds sporty.

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