Norman Kushner’s Niche and Gear

November 5, 2009

A professional photographer for close to 30 years, Norman Kushner has seen trends, technologies and studios come and go. Getting his start in Brooklyn all those years ago, Kushner now enjoys a deep knowledge of both the history of the New York and New Jersey photography scene and the gear pros use, including the modifications which he’s known for. This post is the first of several detailing his practices and custom alterations of gear he uses to get the job done.

Starting at a time when the wedding photography business was controlled by large studios, as opposed to freelancers operating on shoestring budgets, Kushner found himself apprenticing for a well-known photographer who taught him many aspects of the business. Weddings and bar mitzvahs not only bring about technical challenges unique to any photography assignment, but atypical social interactions (how to deal with caterers, what to do with film wrappers in the old days) and logistical queueing issues (best positions to shoot from during wedding ceremonies, what happens next in a bar mitzvah, etc.).

As Kushner learned the ropes, he crossed paths with Tony Armato, a photographer and machinist who achieved legendary status for his New York-area hardware modifications and brackets. Soon Kushner was working for Armato and making similar hardware modifications and fabrications. With necessity the mother of invention, Kushner began to build custom solutions for situations he encountered in the world of bar mitzvah photography.

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©Norman Scott Photography

Kushner is often called upon to shoot his bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah subjects in synagogues against stained glass windows. To properly balance the backlit windows and light on the subject, Kushner has come up with the following solution.

Referring to the above photo, Kushner says, “My Sekonic L-358 is invaluable when producing images like this. To get this type of shot, all ambient light must be turned off. The exposure is based solely on the stained glass and your flash. You don’t want the walls around the stained glass to be lit artificially at all. Start by measuring the ambient light coming through the stained glass. Make sure you measure through the lightest or brightest color of the stained glass, as this will set all the other colors in the window correctly. If the darkest colors are exposed for, the lighter colors will become overexposed.”

Depth of field is critical, he cautions. “Keep your subject fairly far from the stained glass window. This will keep your flash from hitting the glass and contaminating it, which will ruin the glow. It also creates a nice depth to your image. Set your flash off to the side to create a nice side lighting. Set your exposure so as to underexpose the stained glass slightly. You don’t want the colors to overpower the photo. Since the f-stop is controlling the flash exposure, use your shutter speed to control the exposure of the stained glass. By using the Sekonic meter and PocketWizard combination, it’s very easy to set your flash exposure. By taking your reading the Sekonic will fire the PocketWizard, setting off the flash. The flash exposure is adjusted by setting the power on your strobe or by actually moving the flash closer or farther away, or a combination of both.”Kushner has developed a series of hardware for his craft. Among pieces he fabricates from scratch is a custom-made solution which mounts both a PocketWizard and a softbox.

©Norman Scott Photography

Here is the same hardware with a PocketWizard MultiMAX, Nikon SB-800 and softbox mounted.
(C)Norman Scott Photography 732 536-5111  009

©Norman Scott Photography

Norman Kushner has made a living taking photographs full-time for close to 30 years. We look forward to learning more techniques from his vast experience in future posts.

To create the bar mitzvah image at the top of this post, the following equipment was used:

  • Sekonic L358
  • Two PocketWizard MultiMAX Transceivers
  • Nikon D3
  • Nikon SB-800
  • Light stand
  • R4108 Norman Umbrella Stand adapter
  • Attached to the umbrella stand adaptor is a Stroboframe Flash Mount Adapter, Standard Shoe-type
  • Gitzo Carbon Fiber Tripod
  • Really Right Stuff L Bracket
  • Really Right Stuff BH55 Ball Head
  • Small Rectangular softbox rotatable from vertical to horizontal
  • Nikon off-camera flash, softbox, PocketWizard, Sekonic meter with built-in PocketWizard.
Written by Ron Egatz
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