Without light, it would be tremendously hard to make a photograph. #deepthoughtsbybenjamin
Luckily, we’re surrounded by natural light and as a creatives, we have many different options to add to that light, shape it or take it away to get the quality of light we’re looking for.
I’m passionate about light in my imagery, so much so I was asked to write a book on it. I’m on a pursuit to master light and I love to teach other photographers along the way what I’ve learned so far.
One of my favorite company’s that help me shape light is Photoflex. My standard go to wedding rig (modified to fit two speedlights and a Octobox SMALL from the previous link) is built out of their ShoeMount system and I’m a big fan of their 3′ and 7′ Octoboxes.
I’ve begun an exciting addition to our business, video. (Side note: I actually don’t like the term video, I feel it takes away from the cinematic nature I want my projects to look like. Henceforth, I dub my “video” work cinema–because I can ; )
Whether I’m shooting fusion (a mix of stills and cinema) at a wedding or working on a documentary, I need light. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if instead of hauling around two completely different lighting kits, I could haul around one? While I feel like the lighting industry isn’t “quite” there, I believe Photoflex has helped us creatives get closer to that goal. Enter the Northstar continuous LED light-source.
The Northstar is a daylight balanced, flicker free, completely dim-able, auto voltage sensing unit, built like a traditional mono-block style strobe light. A huge advantage of this design is that I’m able to use my Photoflex softboxes with this unit. It also comes with a snoot reflector that allows you to add honeycomb grids to create a narrow beam of light, or spotlight. Grids are sold separately. Or you could poke holes in waffles and use them, but not gluten free–they crumble.
Upon unboxing the unit, I did feel a little sad because I thought my friends had forgotten a part or two. All I saw on the head of this light was a small square of LED’s. The unit has a 100 watt output that claims to be equivalent to a 1,000 watt unit. Having worked with numerous 1k light-sources in my pre-photography days, I was skeptical of this claim, especially emitting from such a small area–until I turned it on. (Note from a “professional”– don’t stare at a light source when you turn it on, even if something doesn’t happen right away. Some units, the Northstar included, take a moment to power up. It hurt real bad.) All the parts were there.
My friends at Photoflex were kind enough to allow me to put the Northstar to the test for a small plethera of projects, here we go:
I was tasked by one of my favorite creative agency’s to create some artisan style photos for a new baking company in town, Honest Baking. When I arrived, I was greeted with the smell of things honestly baking and I was honestly a bit disappointed that the awesome surface for which I had to work, was a dual level surface that couldn’t be taken a part. As a creative, I also have to be a problem solver and it all worked out fine, due in part to the high output of the Northstar and softening capabilities of the 3′ Octobox. I used a silver reflector to bounce a bit of daylight as well as Northstar light back on the product.
The Northstar helped me to supplement the daylight coming through the window to make it look, well, like there was more daylight coming through the window. This also saved me from having to increase my ISO, and shoot too wide-open. While in the past I’ve been happy to set up an assortment of speedlights to achieve this look. It was nice to walk in, set up one light, turn it on and “what you see is what you get.” Honestly, I got to eat a cookie after the shoot. Worth an order for sure!
Next up, I traveled to a wedding on the Oregon coast and decided I’d like to see if I could incorporate a continuous light source into my wedding day set-up. At this point, Speedlights are still the way to go for me out in the field, literally a field, creating light that is soft on the subjects despite the time of day or placement of the sun. Mono lights are still my trusty go to source for bouncing a lot of power into the ceiling of a large hall, creating an evenly lit softbox above the action. But what about a simple way to make portraits during the reception?
What I was hoping for was to set up a station in the corner that would provide me a way to make portraits of the wedding party and guests that would be flattering but wouldn’t require me to power up speedlights, cause the overheads to go off, or have to keep switching radio channels for triggering.
The Northstar made this so effortless and I was stoked to just be able to walk up to the station and shoot, easily being able to make feathering adjustments because, again, what I saw was what I got. In this particular set up, I placed the light to “cross light” the subject. The light from the 3′ Octobox would then bounce off a neighboring (almost) white wall and bounce back, as if off a reflector, which is what I would have used had the wall not been there. I was able to shoot these portraits around ISO 400, 125/200th of a second at f2.8 to f4. You’ll notice the difference in spread of light across the subjects, particularly in the last image of Brendon. To accomplish this short light effect, I placed the Northstar slightly behind him and feathered the light toward the camera. I’m sold on having a continuous light source at weddings from here on out.
I love engagement sessions. They’re a beautiful time to get to know your wedding client and build relationship. Ashley and Jesse stopped in for an Esession this past week and I wanted to try some continuous lighting out during their shoot. I wanted something large and soft that would accommodate coverage for two people, so I attached the Northstar’s speedring to my trusty Photoflex 7′ Octobox, the largest Octo in the Photoflex family. I could fill a blog post with uses for just this single modifier alone, it’s insane. Attach the 7′ Octo to the Northstar and you have big, bright, beautiful light. If your wallet isn’t allowing you to attach much of anything, here’s a trick: Get a set of two Litepanels by Photoflex and purchase the connector accessory. Be sure to use the translucent fabric. Blast the Northstar at full power through the two connected panels and you have a wall of light. Bam. In this case, here’s the Northstar with the 7′ Octo:
Lastly, I was contacted to create some black and white headshots for a local church. With a simple set-up, I was able to achieve the look they and I were after, again, the “what you see is what you get” ability of the Northstar was very helpful. (To any OCD friends, I apologize my window covering isn’t level, It’ll get it straightened out, I promise.)
In the coming week, I will use the Northstar for one more project, a video for a Kickstarter I’m doing to raise funds to tell the story of the Elisha Foundation and our trek to climb Kilimanjaro this July. Stay tuned for that : )
I did a quick test with the Northstar and my D800 with Rode mic and Tascam DR-60d portable recorder and, while the Northstar unit does have a fan to keep it cool, any output noise is negligible.
A great video interview kit could contain two or three of the Northstar units.
1) main light with a 3′ or 7′ softbox. 2) hair light with softbox. 3) rim light with a reflector and honeycomb grid.
At this point there is no magic bullet for your lighting needs. There will always be the right tool for the job and there will always be advancements to help you achieve the look you want at the price point you want. I appreciate my friends at Photoflex striving to make these advancements.
While there are some things the Northstar cannot due, such as light up the roof of a large venue to create a huge softbox, there are numerous things in CAN do. I can easily see the benefits of including one, two or three of these units into our studio and I’m especially excited about adding this unit to our fusion wedding kit. Whatever light source you choose, don’t forget to shine YOUR light on the world : )
This past November, I was blessed to help lead a talented group of world changing photographers to Kijabe, Kenya, for Workshops With Purpose’s inaugural workshop, generously sponsored by White House Custom Color.
Together with the Nicodem’s (Andrew and Marianne) and Kevin Kubota, WWP was founded to equip media professionals with opportunities to grow their craft while serving in a global environment, immersing themselves in other cultures and realizing the power of relationships and storytelling in their business and personal life.
Why Kijabe? Our dear friends Mike and Ann Mara live in Kijabe with their two children Michael and Janie. Mike and Ann let go of a dream house and thriving medical practice in Bend, Oregon to serve those in need, the vulnerable. Mike is an orthopedic surgeon, and Ann has a degree in international awesomeness (or something close to that.) One looking for inspiration on how to live outside one’s self need not look further than Mike and Ann. Their on ground presence, knowledge of the area, overall inspiration as well as the needs of the hospital made Kijabe the perfect place to start WWP’s journey.
Located on the edge of the Great Rift Valley, Kijabe Hospital was established in 1915 and serves roughly 90k-100k inpatients with their 285 beds, as well as 120k-130k outpatients. The hospital treats all ages and runs at 110% capacity year round, often with extra beds in the hallways. Many physicians and surgeons raise support from friends and family to give of their time serving the hospital, which has the second largest surgery ward on the continent. Our primary goal in working with the hospital was to tell the story of their work with vulnerable patients–those who have received medical attention at the hospital, but were/are unable to pay for their services.
Our first workshops attendees included: Cindy Alain, Tina Erdmann,Maria Lamb, Dan and Stef Moriarty, Daniel Pullen, Crystal Shreeve, and Laura Yoder. One of our workshop attendees isn’t a full time photographer and actually used her vacation time (and a little extra thrown in by her boss) to make the trip happen. Another started a five week documentary trip through Uganda the day after our workshop ended. I told this group on numerous occasions how proud I was of them, and I still am. A moment that stands out in my mind was our final full day in Kijabe. When finished with our scheduled storytelling, I asked the group if they’d like to stay at our guesthouse and rest/edit, or go down to the children’s ward at the hospital–without cameras. Unanimously, the group wanted to go see the kids. We handed out balloons, stuffed animals, coloring books, and gave the parents some much welcomed candy. Mercy, the chaplain, spread her arms out wide and said, “go, whatever you can do to make these people happy, do it!” We forged friendships on this trip that will last a lifetime, I cherish each one.
I’ve never been much for Safari. I love the animals, how they were uniquely created and have thought it would be beautiful to see them in their natural environment. I guess I’ve always felt a bit guilty for taking time out of my trips to go on Safari, when I could be doing other work. In this case, because of scheduling, proximity to Kijabe and a very good price, we decided to include the safari on this trip. I’m thankful we did and I wouldn’t hesitate to do so again. I can here Ann, in her Irish accent now, “You’ve come this far, you have to go.” Thanks Ann.
To be honest, I was a little unsure how it might work to have four instructors for such a small group. It didn’t take long to realize that we all benefited from being able to break up in to smaller groups and let each workshop participant glean from each instructor, and the instructors from the students. It’s also unwise to have twelve westerners walking through a village with thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment. More so than the dollar value, we didn’t all want to be making images at the same time, we came with the intention to give, not to take.
This was a much different trip for me then in the past. Typically, I would be working from early morning to evening documenting the work of an organization, being shuttled around to different outreaches and functions, often meeting people in the village who have benefited from the organization’s work. For this trip, I was in a much more administrative and logistical role, so I didn’t get to make as many photographs. That was far outweighed by being able to help others create and capture the same types of images I’ve cherished over the years.
I did get one day in the village and would love to share some moments and stories with you…
Nancy is a Mother of six beautiful children. Suffering from a miscarriage, Nancy was bleeding heavily so her husband drove her to Kijabe Hospital for her to receive treatment. Her husband dropped her off and never came back, she was alone at Kijabe for three months. Finally, due to overcapacity at the hospital and Nancy being healed enough to be able to go home, she was taken back to her village, only to find out her husband had left her for good with all six children. Fortunately, Nancy had a very good friend (pictured with her below) who continues to help nurse her back to health. Because Nancy is the only parent, she is doing much of the farming herself–which is making it difficult for her to completely heal. Still, she is thankful for the attention she received at Kijabe and is working hard to be able to pay them back for their services.
David was traveling on his motorcycle. While stopped, he was beaten by a gang of men, robbed, and left for dead. Suffering numerous physical set backs and still unable to speak, David is continuing to recover. The cost to save his life was great and his parents are working hard selling cabbage in an attempt to pay the hospital bill, which would be high even by western standards. David, who loves his radio, and his Brother (who’s pictured below with him) is thankful for the amazing staff at Kijabe.
Joseph was attempting to cross the main highway that runs above Kijabe and was struck by a car. Kenya is fifth in the world for road related accidents and Kijabe Hospital sees many of the patients from these accidents. Due to severe head trauma, Joseph is unable to work. The burden of providing for the family has fallen to his hard working Father who is now also in danger of losing his house.
Education plays a huge role at Kijabe. The nursing school alone has 200 students and physicians are always looking for new information and techniques that can help them in the field. When not in surgery or on rounds, Mike Mara is often taking part in classes with his peers. Mike is also a pretty stylish man while in surgery…
Three different surgeons from three different continents have all come to one place, Kijabe Hospital, to serve those in need. Inspiring.
Ruth was troubled when her newborn baby, Simon, couldn’t keep any of his breast milk down and was rapidly losing weight. After being examined at Kijabe, it was found that Simon’s esophagus had never attached to his stomach. After a successful surgery and many days in the hospital, Simon went home the day after these images were taken.
The amazing Ann Mara, holding Simon.
A view of Kijabe Hospital from above, the Great Rift Valley thousands of feet below and in the background. Shot with a GoPro Hero 3 Black, lifted with a Phantom QuadCopter.
Many of us on this trip saw some of the most difficult and rewarding things we’ve encountered professionally, personally and spiritually. For those who photographed the Palliative Care program at Kijabe, it was meeting and photographing a woman who has had cancer take over the majority of her face. One group was able to take an image of a dying man with his family, only to have him pass the next day. For me personally, it was seeing a three and a half year old boy in the ICU, struggling to breath through an ancient ventilator (roughly $5500 of the needed $13,000 has already been raised for a new one). Our group huddled around his small body just before our time was at an end in Kijabe, we prayed, left a stuffed animal and balloon on his bed so he could see them when he woke up. He never did. Dennis passed away a day after I returned home. In the wise words of Mercy, the Children’s Ward Chaplain, “we weep, and we move on.” But for every difficult story, there is always a silver lining, the good in the bad. As Switchfoot says, “the shadow proves the sunshine.” That was my mantra to the group, always look for the positive, it’s there, and it’s beautiful.
To say that Workshops With Purposes’ first trip was a success is an understatement. I believe it exceeded all of our expectations and for that, I’m thankful. With workshops fees and a generous sponsor, we were able to donate roughly $10,000 to the vulnerable patient fund which will be used by Kijabe Hospital to help those most in need. Where we go from here still isn’t certain. An untold number of stories remain in Kijabe while new opportunities have risen as well. Whatever happens, I know this: There is neither a shortage of stories to be told, nor world changing people to tell them.
Personally, as I’ve mentioned in the past, leaving my family is the most difficult part of my job–but I don’t have to do it, I get to do it. To be a part of something as life and world changing as this, well, I can only barrow another line from Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman, “love alone is worth the f(L)ight.”
If you are interested in helping Kijabe Hospital out in any way, please contact Ann Mara, Resource Mobilization Consultant, at firstname.lastname@example.org. After sitting in on a meeting with the hospital’s CEO, I can assure you every dollar is critical and used for the best possible purpose.
If you are interested in attending a future workshop, please fill out a contact form, we would love to hear from you.
May 2014 be a life changing year for you.