Archive for the 'Sekonic' Category

Robert Gerhardt, Visual Sociologist

October 11, 2010

Robert Gerhardt came to photography in a way few do. As a Sociology major with a concentration in Anthropology at the College of the Holy Cross, Gerhardt was not the typical art school photography student. Encouraged by his anthropology advisor, he took a photography course so he’d be able to document things during field research.

Harold Feinstein, a student of W. Eugene Smith, was my first photo teacher, and within ten minutes of the first class when he was showing us his photographs, I was hooked,” Gerhardt explains. He soon came to realize he could write endlessly about sociology and anthropology, “but a photograph says so much more than any writing can ever really do.”


©Robert Gerhardt


Gerhardt went on to receive an M.F.A. in Photography from the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University. Working both between degrees and after his M.F.A., Gerhardt has worked at several major museums, photographing art work, which paid bills and continues to enable him to explore his true photographic love, street shooting.

Just as it’s not often you see a full-time photographer coming out of Sociology and Anthropology majors, it’s not often you see a substantial photographic project get kicked off because of a quote from a Henry Miller novel. The long passage, which is from Tropic of Capricorn, begins “But I saw a street called Myrtle Avenue, which runs from Borough Hall to Fresh Pond Road, and down this street no saint ever walked….” The passage inspired a project now in its third year, and almost didn’t happen. “I had just gotten Tropic of Capricorn out of the library on a whim, and I was looking for whatever my next project was going to be. I came across that passage,” Gerhardt explains. “It made me think, ‘I’ve got to check this place out.'”

Since Miller published the novel in 1938, areas of Myrtle Avenue have been both been changed and time has seemingly stood still. As any competent sociologist or anthropologist would, Gerhardt is chronicling what he’s found, often with brutal honesty. “Parts of it are drastically different [from the novel] and parts of it you think would never have changed,” he reports. “It goes from Hipsterville Central down by Fort Greene through some really bad parts, Bed‑Stuy and Bushwick, and that sort of picks up again once you get back to Ridgewood and Queens.”

What has remained unchanged for Gerhardt is his constant companion, his Sekonic L-508 meter. “It’s seven or eight years old. I always have it on me,” he says. “It’s always in my bag. As the light changes during the day—shade versus sun and all that kind of stuff—you sort of have to. I mean, you can use meters in cameras, but they’re never as good. For shooting, especially the building exteriors and stuff like that, you want to know what the range is. It’s very easy and quick to use, which I like. That spot meter function, is above and beyond I think, the greatest feature of it.”

While his day job consists of shooting in the studio all day, for his own work, Gerhardt is always moving and adapting to changing light conditions of the street. Typically shooting with black and white film, he is also working on a project shot in color on Manhattan’s 42nd Street and Times Square area. Many of the photos in this series are shot surreptitiously. “I do shoot from the hip a lot, mainly because I don’t want to disturb people. I try to shoot it unknown for the most part,” he says. For all his personal film work, he relies on just a few cameras. Previously he was shooting Leica M6s, but he now has a pair of Nikon F3s. He primarily shoots Ilford film, and prints on their paper, doing his own darkroom work.


©Robert Gerhardt


Another major project Gerhardt has undertaken has been his work documenting the Mae Tao Clinic, which offers free medical care to refugees and others crossing the border from Burma to Thailand. The things he saw and the images he captured changed his view of the world. “The first person I met when at the clinic, other than my translator, was a 24-year-old woman who and lost both of her legs to a landmine,” he recalls. “You meet somebody like that and you’re like, ‘this is a completely different world than where I’m coming from.'” Upon returning home, Gerhardt sent them CDs of all the images he shot.

Currently, Gerhardt has a show at Johnson State College in Johnson, Vermont until December 20th. On October 27th, he’ll be doing an artist lecture there, as well. His show will also travel to South Carolina in November and December. Syracuse, New York and Dayton, Ohio will have it in January and February. Next year’s dates also include the University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana next fall.

In another documentary photography project, The Straphangers, Gerhardt shot in New York City subways for three years. During that time, even in post-September 11 New York, only one person spoke to him about his photography. It seems the disinterest of New York Subway riders was the perfect environment for Gerhardt to document essentially unseen. What remains is a series of images where virtually no subjects make eye contact with the lens. Workers are crammed into subway cars, each looking in different directions, each in their own world, yet pressed toe to toe. There are diverse faces which comprise the city, and their isolation stands in direct contrast to the density of the place they’ve chosen to live their lives. Gerhardt examines this unflinchingly. He has given us nothing less than an updating of Robert Frank’s vision of America.


©Robert Gerhardt


For his most recent project, Gerhardt has chosen to document a mosque and community center in Brooklyn, New York run by the Muslim American Society. He was given permission to photograph the mosque and meetings in an old catering hall after reading about their struggle to convert an old convent on Staten Island into a Muslim community center. These images remind us the United States is comprised mostly of immigrants and their descendants. He has photos of signs about Ramadan written in a schoolgirl’s careful hand, a young daughter in a hijab at prayers with her father, and a Muslim man in a plaid shirt with an American flag pin on the pocket. The photographs are moody, and his use of available light suits the subject matter perfectly: people continuing traditions of their ancestors in an unsure time.

In much of the body of photographic work Gerhardt has presented, he documents a United States unlike the one we were raised to believe in. Streets are devoid of traffic, restaurants are torn down, abandoned homes sit on the edge of woods, parks stand without grass, flags hang forlornly. Unfulfilled potential is an underlying message in much of his work’s subject matter.


©Robert Gerhardt


Rarely shooting in direct sunlight, Gerhardt’s platinum skies and grainy shading are apropos aesthetics for the psychology he is attempting to produce in each image. He meters and exposes his shots carefully, rarely accenting any particular part of his frames. The result of this approach tells us this is the way the world is, nothing is worthy enough on its own for attention, and almost everything is chaotic. He truly is a sociologist and anthropologist visually documenting these quirky humans found at the beginning of the 21st Century.

Robert Gerhardt Photography

Written by Ron Egatz

Video 4: Advanced Metering

October 6, 2010

Mark Wallace is back with the fourth and final Adorama video of a four-part series on metering. This installment focuses on using the Sekonic L-758DR, with Wallace demonstrating some advanced concepts of incident and reflective metering. He mounts his meter on a stand and positions it where he wants to check his strobes—a trick he often uses in the studio. He also explains how to use the meter with the zone system, and includes still images fully documenting different exposure settings.

Thanks for a great series and all the knowledge, Mark!

Don’t forget to check out Part 1Part 2 and Part 3 of this four part series.

After you’re done learning from one of the masters of metering, check out all the Sekonic meters to step up your game and nail your exposures in-camera, saving you countless hours trying to tweak them in Photoshop or Lightroom.

Emily Knudsen: From the Bomb Shelter to Restaurants

September 20, 2010

Not many photographers her age have as much film experience as Emily Knudsen, but she feels fortunate she does. Originally from Lebanon, Connecticut, it was in high school where she took a photography course, learned darkroom skills, and shot countless rolls of 35mm film. “I had a Pentax K1000, and that was my first real manual camera,” she says. “It was given to me by my father. It had been his and had been given to him by his father.”

Knudsen refers to her grandfather, the K1000’s original owner, as the spark of her interest in photography. In the 1950’s he had built a Cold War bomb shelter in his basement. This he later turned into a darkroom, where he developed film and printed. “That was a big hobby of his. It got traced down through my Dad and then to me,” she says.

©Emily Knudsen

Although she has since joined the digital revolution, Knudsen’s roots are firmly planted in her film origins. “This might sound kind of silly, but for me the one big attachment and the thing that really hooked me using that camera—and really getting into photography—was the feel of the shutter and advancing the film,” she explains. “I loved it, just that feeling. You had just completed the picture, you put the shutter down. Take your picture and you complete it by advancing the film. I loved that.”

Learning basic skills in her high school class, Knudsen then started looking for higher education opportunities in photography. “I went to get my senior pictures done and asked the photographer where she went to school,” she recalls. “She went to the Hallmark Institute of Photography. That’s how I got into rethinking Hallmark and it sounded perfect because it was such a short program and it was so intensive. It was all photography and, more importantly, not the photography, but the business end of it.”

©Emily Knudsen

Attending Hallmark right out of high school, Knudsen initially studied portraiture. Being a self-described people person, she thought this was the way to go. Eventually, she learned working on commercial assignments such as products was more to her liking, with food photography at the top of her list. “You’re there in the studio and you can take as much time as you want,” she says. “Pressure’s off, unless something’s melting. It’s just you and your subject, which can’t talk to you, or rush you or anything. I am very picky in just about every little detail. I really find myself liking that and just liking to have my own time and just working by myself and styling things the way I want them.”

After she built a general portfolio covering a range of photographic styles, Knudsen graduated and began working at a portrait studio. Her assignments included lots of babies, children and some families. She grew tired of this type of shooting, and eventually took an internship at The Improper Bostonian. Soon, she was photographing food again, more than she ever had in school. She was sent on location, which initially made her anxious, as she was used to studio lighting. Turning a challenge into an opportunity, she researched photography and food both online and in food magazines. Drawing inspiration from her research, she soon found her vehicle. “The more I looked at the food photography I liked,” she recalls, “it just looked like natural light.”

©Emily Knudsen

Blessed with an encouraging editor at The Improper, Knudsen quickly began forming her signature style. When on location at a restaurant, she will move dishes near a window to take advantage of natural light. “I usually mix a little bit of flash—I just bounce the tiniest bit of flash to fill in shadows, but I’m all about the natural light now,” she says. “I almost don’t know what I would do if I had to photograph food in the studio.”

Part of the appeal of working this way is the verisimilitude, according to Knudsen. Although this flies in the face of what most commercial photography is about in our age of heavily retouched hyper-real media, this young photographer has her reasons, and they are honest and full of integrity. “It seems more natural,” she explains. “It’s as it should be. That’s how you view food when you’re going to eat it. It’s a shame when you view food and it doesn’t look appetizing. It’s a shame.”

©Emily Knudsen

With her editor sending her to Boston’s better restaurants, Knudsen is fortunate in that the great culinary artists she’s documenting are all about presentation. Arming herself with a Canon EOS 5D and working with accomplished chefs, she rarely has to ask them to change things or use different dishes.

With her photographer grandfather deceased before seeing his granddaughter following in his footsteps, he would be proud. Knudsen knows how to make dishes look their best, and quickly builds strong rapports with chefs. “They’ve worked with photographers before,” she says. “They know what works. I put a lot of trust in them to prepare the food because they really do know what they’re doing.” That said, she does make small styling tweaks now and then, such as wiping something errant off a plate, but she largely lets the chefs present as they wish.

©Emily Knudsen

Coming from a film background, Knudsen relies on her early training and applies it to the digital world. “I am all about getting the shot right in camera,” she states. “That’s something I learned from film. You’ve got to get it right in camera. The flip side is that using a digital camera, you do have that ability to instantly view what you just took, so you really can get it right in camera. Obviously, metering is very important to me. I like to play around to see what works.”

Light metering is part of her approach, although her eye for food photography in natural light is very accurate. “The first time I ever used the meter was at Hallmark,” she says. “That’s where I learned it. That’s where I got my Sekonic L-758DR meter. It is a huge help. I use the meter more so when photographing people, when I’ve got my lights out and everything, but even on location, just to get that light right, I rely on my Sekonic. I’d rather just have the shot right and go home and tweak a few things and call it a day. I like being happy with what I have and knowing I was able to get it right in camera. I carry it around everywhere, and it’s always held up for me.”

©Emily Knudsen

For the times Knudsen does pull out strobes, she relies on Profoto gear. “I use them whenever I shoot people” she says. “I have the AcuteB 600R’s and I use mainly the three by four softboxes. I love those soft boxes. I also have a Beauty Dish which I use occasionally.” To fire off this gear, Knudsen uses PocketWizard Plus II units.

©Emily Knudsen

For the immediate future, Knudsen sees herself staying in Boston and learning more. Although she’s out of the bomb shelter darkroom, she still uses film now and then for personal projects. Her professional and impressive food photography is digital, and that’s where she’ll keep her focus. We don’t know where opportunity and career changes may take this young shooter, but we’d be happy to sit down to a plate of almost anything Knudsen has photographed. She makes it look that good.

Emily Knudsen Photography
Emily Knudsen Blog
Emily Knudsen on Twitter

Video 2: Exposure Compensation

September 15, 2010

Mark Wallace returns in this second Adorama video of a four-part series on metering. This installment focuses on exposure compensation. Watch Wallace demonstrate how cameras expose for 18% gray, whether shooting a solid black or solid white wall. He teaches us how to set exposure compensation to underexpose by two stops, making a black wall black. Conversely, he moves in the opposite direction by two stops to have a white wall correctly register as white.

Moving to practical applications of exposure compensation, he photographs a model wearing black against a black background, and white top against a white background.

In a great practical demonstration, Wallace also shows what’s going on via the LCD panel on the back of your camera while employing exposure compensation. Thanks for the demystification, Mark!

As a precursor, don’t forget to check out Part 1 of this four part series.

After you’re done learning from one of the masters of metering, check out all the Sekonic meters to step up your game and nail your exposures in-camera, saving you countless hours trying to tweak them in Photoshop or Lightroom.

Sean Armenta’s One Light Beauty Setup

August 2, 2010

Fashion, beauty, and lifestyle photographer Sean Armenta has released a video detailing how he sets up one light (a beauty dish) and some homemade reflectors to light a typical cosmetics campaign ad. That’s right. You heard correctly. One light for professional results you’d see in any fashion magazine.

Along with the beauty dish, Armenta also utilizes a Sekonic L-358 meter. At the ready is a bank of PocketWizard Plus II units.

Sean Armenta | One Light Beauty Setup from Sean Armenta.

Armenta put this video together for the behind the scenes video contest.

We had previously checked out Armenta’s career and work in “Sean Armenta’s Ornaments of Women.” You can see more of his work and writing at the following links.

Sean Armenta Photography
Sean Armenta blog
Sean Armenta on Twitter
Sean Armenta on Facebook
Sean Armenta on Flickr
Sean Armenta’s Workshop

Written by Ron Egatz

Sekonic on flickr

July 23, 2010

If you’re interested in seeing what other shooters are doing with Sekonic meters, check out some of the results posted at the Sekonic Light Meter group on flickr. Comprised of a friendly group of photographers, their discussion page is full of posts where questions are answered, tips are shared, and all things Sekonic are explored.

A wide range of photography is represented by the members. With currently almost 1600 images posted, use this important resource for inspiration as to what you can accomplish with your Sekonic meter. You can browse the images without being a member, which is free and easy to do should you choose to. The individuals on the discussion page are friendly, helpful, and encouraging. Join the party and watch your photography and metering skills ramp up!

Sean Armenta’s Ornaments of Women

June 22, 2010

A famous quote attributed to Martin Luther reads like this: “The hair is the richest ornament of women.” This 500-year-old quote is something Sean Armenta intrinsically knows and understands. Although capable of a wide variety of fashion portraiture, it’s the exotic hair and makeup sessions where Armenta truly shines. Paul Mitchell, the North American Hairstyling Awards, and a host of hair salon magazines have all benefitted from Armenta’s expertise at capturing complex hairstyles, from the elaborate to the outrageous.

©Sean Armenta

Born in Vancouver, B.C., Armenta was raised in Los Angeles and Orange County of Southern California. Now living in Santa Ana, he became interested in photography during his childhood, when his mother was constantly taking pictures of him. “I have albums upon albums of childhood photos my mom took of me,” he says. “Looking back, she was a really great portrait photographer. She taught me all the basics of camera operation and the fundamentals of exposure and depth of field. I learned off her Nikon F2 and basically shot that into the ground.”

While Armenta worked to build his own portfolio, he assisted a variety of professional shooters, including commercial, portrait, and fashion and beauty photographers. First exposed to fashion photography in the 1990s, Armenta’s immaculate, elegant style was originally influenced by giants such as Herb Ritts, Patrick Demarchelier, Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton, and Peter Lindbergh, who then ruled the industry.

©Sean Armenta

“I love their clean, classic style, and their work to this day is absolutely timeless,” Armenta says. This timeless quality is something he strives for in his own work. “I definitely have an appreciation for a classic and simple aesthetic that’s iconic in nature. We rarely see a purity in photographs today that was definitive of their work. As far as more contemporary photographers I am inspired by Sarah Silver, Steven Meisel, Mario Testino, Javier Vallhonrat, Eugenio Recuenco, and Solve Sundsbo.”

Armenta uses some very interesting lighting effects in his portraits of models. Reflections from a mirror ball, or edge lights with colored gels quickly come to mind from the range of images he’s known for. When asked how he deals with these different intensities of light, he’s very straightforward. “Iʼm not a very technical or mathematical person,” he declares. “I light organically and visually. Having an amazing tool such as the Sekonic L-358 at my disposal has given me the advantage I need to merge the technical aspect of lighting with the creative and visual aspect of it. Being able to precisely measure light throughout the entire frame is key when using multiple lighting sources and achieving challenging effects.”

©Sean Armenta

When Armenta was building his portfolio early in his career, he worked with Tania Russell, a well-known makeup artist in Los Angeles. Experimenting with a new makeup style, it called for a closeup. His results caused Russell to comment he had an aptitude for beauty photography. “I’ve been passionate about shooting beauty ever since,” he says. “I attribute my love for beauty photography to her.”

The Allure series on his site features some truly artistic makeup work, using models faces’ as if they were blank canvases. The photographic challenges these different colors and textures produce can be formidable. “Different cosmetic products will have different reflective properties,” Armenta explains. “A dewy foundation on skin will have a different reflectance to makeup that has more of a metallic finish. Pre-visualization and proper conceptualization of lighting is so important. Choosing the right lighting modifiers, lighting position, and careful metering are all essential parts of dealing with these challenges.”

©Sean Armenta

Along with incredible makeup, elaborate hairstyles is an area Armenta excels at capturing with his cameras. He often works with two talented Paul Mitchell hairstylists, Noogie Thai and Lucie Doughty. Most of the work they’ve done together has been nominated for various categories in the North American Hairstyling Awards. Canadian Hairdresser International, Modern Salon, Studio, Vibra and other hair magazines have featured shots Armenta has captured of their work. “It’s definitely a challenge lighting different hairstyles, different types of hair textures, and different hair colors and finishes,” he states. “Trying to get the hair to move the way you want and photograph the way you intended also poses its own issues. When you provide a collaborative environment and get everyone involved in the creative process, it becomes much easier to overcome obstacles.”

©Sean Armenta

Armenta has no preference regarding shooting in studios or on location. “Each offers their own challenges,” he says. “I shoot according to what the situation calls for.” He cites living in Southern California and its weather as definitely making things easier for location work. Aside from the lack of precipitation and benefits of temperature, the lack of humidity helps with controlling hair, particularly the more elaborate sculptures hairstylists create.

©Sean Armenta

Some spring cleaning once brought about one of Armenta’s most unique shoots. I asked him about the fashion series with natural textures and abstracts projected onto a seamless white background. “I was cleaning out the studio one day, and I came upon a box of old transparencies I had shot several years ago,” Armenta recalls. “At that time, there was a fashion photography trend of projecting images over the model and using that as the key light. I wanted to try something different and actually light the model and the background separately. I used an old 35mm slide projector to project the transparencies onto my studio cyc, then I used a 22” beauty dish with a grid to light the model while keeping the strobe off the background. In addition, I gelled two umbrellas on either side of the model to provide some colored rim lighting, but I did not have those heads fire. Instead, I simply used their 250 watt modeling lights in order to introduce motion blur as the model moved around on set. To arrive at my exposure, I first determined what my continuous lighting was reading at, for both the projected background image and the gelled umbrellas, taking into account that I wanted to drag my shutter to produce motion blur. I believe I decided on 1/8th of a second for my shutter speed at 400 ISO. After that, it was a matter of adjusting the output of the beauty dish to match the f/4 aperture that the continuous lighting produced at that shutter speed and ISO. Not only was I trying to introduce motion blur, but I also wanted to shoot at a shallower depth of field in order to blur the projected image behind the model. The images were shot on a Canon 5D with a Canon 50mm f/1.4 tethered into Capture One.”

©Sean Armenta

Armenta credits his mother with teaching him how to use in-camera meters, but has taught himself handheld incident light meter reading. “When I bought my first set of strobes, I also bought a very basic light meter,” he recalls. “When I progressed and graduated to a Speedotron lighting system, I wanted to be able to trigger the strobes wirelessly. The best option for that is using a PocketWizard system, and of course, Sekonic offers the RT-32 Radio Transmitter Module for the L-358, so I also upgraded my light meter with that and I still use the same meter today.”

The L-358 Armenta uses has been in his gear bag for six years. “That in itself is a testament of its build quality,” he says. “It’s held up to studio use, the beach, the desert, and travel. The technology used in Sekonic meters helped me immensely in producing the quality of lighting I strive for in my work. I’m looking at upgrading to perhaps a Sekonic L-758DR. I’m also looking to purchase the Sekonic C-500R color meter in the near future to help make it easier experimenting more with mixed lighting scenarios.”

©Sean Armenta

With his six-year-old purchase, Armenta feels his Sekonic investment has paid off. “I canʼt sing enough praises when it comes to my L-358, especially in difficult shooting situations,” he explains. “Just being able to trigger my lighting from far away is amazing to me. I try to go out to Joshua Tree National Park at least once a year for a location shoot, and that’s where the L-358 really pays off—when we are trying to balance ambient light with strobes. I can position my lighting exactly where I want to nail down my exposures easily and accurately, regardless of what the environment throws at me. When youʼre high up on a huge boulder and the power pack is out of reach, you donʼt have to have someone fire the pack for you to get a reading. The L-358 also shines when it comes to determining lighting ratios when using multiple lighting sources. Sekonic meters make you more efficient and precise. This translates into less time spent adjusting lighting in the shooting stage and also less time and money spent in post production having to fix lighting issues.”

©Sean Armenta

Although primarily known for his unique beauty photography, Armenta is game for almost any subject matter. Celebrity and music are two areas he cites which he’d eventually like to try his hand at. “I love photography, period,” he emphatically says. “Even though I focus on beauty and fashion, if anything outside that realm should come across my table and interest me, I would definitely shoot it. While beauty is my focus, I love shooting fashion and lifestyle.”

©Sean Armenta

In the future, Armenta is interested in larger beauty advertising campaigns for larger clients such as major cosmetics manufacturers. He’s nothing but bullish on his goals. “I want to be the next big name in photography—the next Steven Meisel or Mario Testino,” he says. With work this strong so early in his career, there’s no reason why this can’t happen. Until then, we’ll be satsified with his continued beautiful portraits of the richest ornaments for women.

Sean Armenta Photography
Sean Armenta blog
Sean Armenta on Twitter
Sean Armenta on Facebook
Sean Armenta on Flickr
Sean Armenta’s Workshop

Written by Ron Egatz

Peter “Hopper” Stone: Action, No Drama

May 3, 2010

Shooting everything from underwater wildlife to Somalia’s famine victims, Peter “Hopper” Stone is best known for the still photography he does on major motion picture sets. How he became a shooter for the big studios is a tale he describes as “a long and winding road” from his hometown of Stamford, Connecticut.

With his mother and older brother involved in photography when he was a child, eventually Stone started making enough noise until rewarded with his own Minolta A5. A scholarship for a year in Rome gave him time to pursue learning the photojournalism ropes, after which he moved to Helsinki for five years. Then, it was on to Mexico City for almost three years, where he covered the North American Free Trade Agreement story.

©Peter Hopper Stone

At the start of his career, Stone was in his twenties and witnessed “the tail end of the golden age of photojournalism,” as he calls it. The news industry witnessed the fall of Eastern Europe, the U.S. invasion of Panama, the fall of the Soviet Union, the First Gulf War, the crisis in Somalia, and the disintegration of Yugoslavia, all in fairly short order. The expense of sending journalists to remote locations became prohibitive, and editors realized freelancers were heading to war zones on their own dime. Freelancers were abundant. “All they had to do was wait for the film to come across their desks,” Stone explains. “That was the decline of that kind of editorial business. You had to risk your life and some magazine would pay you for three days, plus local expenses. Now that’s over.”

©Peter Hopper Stone

During that time, Stone covered some of the cruelest and ugliest aspects of human behavior. He went to Somalia during a newspaper’s freelance-freeze because no staffers would agree go there. Stone makes clear the reason he went was not the adrenaline rush of getting shot at or navigating a road with land mines. “That’s not exciting. No one in their right mind wants to be excited by someone shooting at them. These locations are insanely interesting. You learn a lot both about the human condition, and about yourself,” he says. “You come away thinking what’s important and not important about you. It helps put things in perspective. 36 hours after leaving Somalia, I was back in Helsinki listening to my friends talk about their lives and problems they were having with the economy during that recession. I came away glad these were the problems we had, as opposed to the problems I had just come from. Shooting in a dangerous place like Somalia really helped me understand the world.”

©Peter Hopper Stone

In 1991 he joined Black Star, working internationally and for local press in Finland, where he worked as a newspaper photographer. In Mexico City as a Black Star stringer, he also did corporate work. “By 1996, I saw the future,” he says. “I had to argue for two days with a newspaper over a $25 expense. I didn’t want to hit middle age doing that. I found myself sitting in a movie theater and watching a film. As the credits rolled by, I saw the words ‘still photographer,” and I literally pointed at the screen and said, ‘I want that job.'”

Stone took three classes at what is now called Maine Media Workshops, where he studied Unit Still Photography with Kerry Hayes, who became his mentor. When the course was over, he bought a sound blimp and moved to Los Angeles. Eventually working his way into the coveted world behind the scenes of major film production, Stone discovered there were things he liked and didn’t like about working on different types of films. Action and comedy were quickly identified as his preferred assignments.

Peter Hopper Stone for the film Daredevil, © 20th Century Fox.

In short order, Stone came up with his own analysis of the work he did for his new movie studio clients. “I call it diet photojournalism,” he says. “Your job is to lay low, stay out of the way, not affect events, and capture the story.” The difference between working in Hollywood and his previous photojournalism is “they don’t shoot live ammunition at you, and no one’s going to attack you or beat you up. The worst thing that can happen to you is some actor or director will yell at you and ruin your day.”

Particularly within the genre of action films, Stone enjoys to work as second unit photographer, and did so on the first Spiderman film. “Second unit is where all the cool stuff happens,” he says. “All the stunts, all the explosions, all the big stuff. I was hooked. It’s a logistical challenge. They’re working on making this huge movie, and the still photographer is just supposed to get their shot. They might be shooting it with eight or ten cameras. You can’t be in the way. Sometimes you can’t even ask questions. If it’s a big explosion, they’re doing it just once.”

©Peter Hopper Stone

On comedy films, the operative word is “fun.” Stone likes working with the actors on those films. Equally at home working on dramas, which he finds slightly more demanding. Stone doesn’t like encroaching on delicate scenes as they play out. “When there’s a crying scene or a heavy dramatic moment, the last place I want to be is in that room. They don’t want me there, and savvy photo editors will tell you not to bother.”

Stone has become an expert at the psychological negotiations necessary for moving in and out of a film set, navigating explosive directors, moody actors, and crew attempting to assert their small spheres of influence. “You need to find out who you play well with,” he says, laughing. “You work hard to get the shots which have been requested, but you don’t want to be pushy. There’s a lot of moving to different locations in order to avoid personality conflicts. Everyone’s there to make a movie, and there’s tremendous financial pressure to get everything done on time. I’ve become very good at making myself unobtrusive.”

©Peter Hopper Stone

Recently, Stone has been branching out with cinematography. He’s using HDSLR’s and working on expanding his reel with shorts, spots, and promos. After attending last year’s Collision Conference in Los Angeles, which centered on the merging of stills and motion, he saw the industry changes already taking place. “It’s coming whether we like it or not,” he says. “Between the Red One and the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, this is what’s happening now. Still photographers have to adapt.”

Awash in camera bodies, a Nikon shooter for fifteen years, Stone is currently shooting the Canon 1D Mark IV. “I’m one of the very fortunate few who got his hands on one of them in January,” he says. He brings a wide range of lenses and a sound blimp to jobs on movie sets. Although he doesn’t use them on movie jobs, he owns and shoots a Mamiya RZ and a Mamiya 7.

“I’ve got a Sekonic L-758DR,” says Stone. “When used with the target, it’s a magic, bullet-proof light meter. I always knew the back of your camera is not the greatest reference, including the histogram. It’s horrible. I’ve got three profiles for the three main cameras I use. They can be off by as much as half of a stop. That’s why I rely on the 758. There’s no more guesswork. I tell cinematographers about this device all the time.”

Peter Hopper Stone photo for the film Daredevil, © 20th Century Fox.

Stone uses PocketWizards on-set often. When large stunts or pyrotechnics are being performed, he often uses them on multiple remote cameras to get as much coverage as possible.

Stone’s moniker — the one most people know him by — was given to him on the set of Three Seasons, the first American film shot in Vietnam after relations with that country began to normalize after the war. “I showed up on the set with long red hair,” recalls Stone, laughing. “I had a scarf around my head, a couple of earrings, and five cameras around my neck. People said, ‘You look like Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now!’ There were already three people named Peter on the crew. I never liked my own name, and I was hoping a better name would come around. I kept it.”

Three Seasons poster based on photography by Peter Hopper Stone, ©October Films.

Although the desire to travel to exotic locations and shoot stories still has a certain amount of interest for Stone, he understands and accepts the reality of the market for photos. “The unfortunate truth is when the majority of producers are looking through a photographer’s work to decide if they will hire you for a film, they’d rather see a mediocre photo of Tom Hanks on a filmset than a great photo of a real person they don’t know taken in the real world,” Stone explains. When he was once showing his book to get a job on an action film, the producer came across a journalism photo. “What movie was that from?” the producer asked. Stone replied, “that wasn’t a movie. That was the war in Yugoslavia.” The producer shrugged his shoulders and turned the page. “I guess it wasn’t action-filled enough for him,” Stone says between laughs.

Peter Hopper Stone Photography

Written by Ron Egatz

Cara Tobe Taking What She Gets

February 24, 2010

How did a nice young woman from Madison, Wisconsin wind up in Paris, where, she reports, “it’s cold and rainy?” Photography is the culprit. “I absolutely love it here,” says Cara Tobe. “It’s a great place to be a photographer. Everything is so beautiful and inspiring. Even the small things, like traveling in the Metro and the people you see there. Nowhere else in the world matches up.”

©Cara Tobe

Currently she’s attending Spéos Paris Photographic Institute, a small international school centered around career photography. “Photography has opened so many doors for me,” she says. “It brought me to Paris and changed my life. I want my career to be in photography.” Tobe has also lived in Switzerland’s Alps and Milan.

In Wisconsin, Tobe was shooting film up until eighteen months ago. She now has an all-digital workflow. Currently working on a portrait project, Tobe is scouring the city with a black mask and asks strangers to be photographed while wearing it. At school she’s creating product photography for local glassware artisans.

©Cara Tobe

Her free time is taken up with street photography and she’s very drawn to Fashion Week. “I’d like to get more involved with creative portraiture, something a little more creative than catalog shooting. I love being around everything happening with Fashion Week. There might be fifteen or twenty different venues, unlike Fashion Week in New York. They’re all around the city, and in each venue the lighting is completely different, the runways are different. One show might start at nine in the morning, and the second one is an hour later in a different arrondissement. You have to immediately figure out your position to the runway, what the light is, what your settings should be. It’s very fast and very exciting. You don’t have control over your lighting, like in a studio. A lot of times there’s a light show, or the lights may go out altogether. You have to take what you can get.”

©Cara Tobe

To make sense of these rapidly changing conditions, Tobe relies on her Sekonic L-308s. “I absolutely love it,” she says. “It’s consistent, and not too big and clunky, so I can fit it in my backpack and it takes up no space. It works perfectly. I always have it on me. My camera’s in front of me and my light meter is always in my pocket.” Tobe shoots a Canon 5D with a variety of lenses. For runway work she’ll typically bring a 70-200mm and a 24-70mm.

©Cara Tobe

“I don’t like the way a lot of people shoot these days with a huge amount of contrast. It looks too digital to me. I started out using film, and that’s the look I’m drawn to. I miss it. There’s nothing better than the feeling of holding your print from the darkroom or looking at your negative held up to the light. I hope film doesn’t die off. The look is less artificial, and that’s what I try for.” Tobe achieves this look in-camera, as opposed to post-processing in Lightroom or Photoshop.

Tobe’s plans are to stay in Paris “as long as the Parisians will have me,” she laughs. Watch for future runway shots with a film-look twist from the City of Light. Merci beaucoup, Cara.

Cara Tobe’s Web site

Cara Tobe on Flickr

Cara Tobe on Twitter

Written by Ron Egatz

Terry Stacey, Verisimilitude Master of Light

February 9, 2010

Cinematographers live or die by light. There are two big guns in their arsenal: choice of camera and choice of lighting rigs. How they manipulate and capture both natural and man-made light affects the look, and hence, mood of an entire film. Closely related to the art of still photography, cinematographers also have to deal with time and movement. These added dimensions make their choices all the more critical. Since 1997, Terry Stacey has been a director of photography on major motion pictures with stunningly effective, understated and natural-looking lighting.

Terry Stacey takes a light reading on the set of The Extra Man.

In the early 1980’s Stacey graduated from the University of Manchester in England and moved to New York City. “These were the halcyon days,” he says, laughing. He worked as a musician and photographer at The Collective for the Living Cinema. He also shot and edited Super 8 short films and got involved in the nascent music video scene. “There was a huge Super 8 scene, which is a great way to experiment. I learned so much doing that,” he explains.

Arming himself with a 16mm Bolex, Stacey headed to South America and made his own documentaries. “It was all done with available light,” he says. He later made his own films and documentaries in India, Iceland, and England. “I put together a show reel with footage of work I’d done for friends’ bands. That actually got me a job on a really low-budget documentary shooting in Brazil. It was almost a dream. The director responded to my work because of my work in natural light. That documentary got me more work.”

One job led to another, and soon he was in Los Angeles, shooting music videos until he returned to New York to enter the independent film scene. “I was there again at the perfect time in the nineties when the IFC was pumping out great films out of great scripts for just one million dollars.”

Regarding his style of cinematography, Stacey points to his origins. “My roots are in documentaries, so I tend to see things in a more naturalistic way. Things are slightly enhanced, but a naturalistic romanticism is how I see the world,” he chuckles. “To me, the best stuff looks like it wasn’t lit.” He has given his signature natural lighting-look to films as diverse as the groundbreaking American Splendor, The Nanny Diaries and In Her Shoes. In television, he’s shot Dexter, Sex in the City, and a hauntingly sparse, brilliantly-lit extended promo for The Sopranos, among others.

Much of what Stacey does is artful subterfuge. Stacey’s latest film to be released is Dear John, starring Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried. Shot in Charleston, South Carolina. “We had to do a lot of scenes that took place in Afghanistan, Eastern Europe, and Saudi Arabia, and we shot it all in South Carolina.” Stacey says. The production designers and crew specify and utilize props, but it’s Stacey’s job to match lighting from around the world.

Stacey is now prepping a film in Vancouver which is supposed to take place in Seattle. I’m with Cancer is a black comedy starring James McAvoy and Seth Rogen, and directed by Jonathan Levine. “To me, comedies often look too vivid, clean and over-lit. In this one we’re going to go for a softer, muted palette, and show a few more flaws in terms of framing, hand-held cameras, and let windows blow out. Just add some roughness to it so it feels a little more like life. Tattered.”

Terry Stacey on set with a Sekonic L-608 Cine light meter.

In behind the scenes photos taken on-set, Stacey is often shown holding a Sekonic L-608 Cine meter. “I use it all the time. I take it to bed with me,” he says, laughing. His meter of choice these days is a Sekonic L-758DR. “I have it hanging around my neck every day. I used to always carry two meters—a Sekonic and an old Minolta spot meter. I’d put one down, pick up the other, and I’d always lose one. It’s great to now have an incident and a spot meter all in one, and it’s incredibly accurate–that’s the amazing thing. It looks more delicate than it actually is. A lot of filmmaking is in the moment, and it’s great to have it there at all times, ready to go. All you need is a couple of seconds to double-check that reading.”

Stacey can be seen in the January 2010 issue of ICG, using a Sekonic L-608 meter. His career has been spent shaping light and making our entertainment look as real as possible. The the art of filmmaking is better for it. Terry Stacey is the master of beautiful, but not obvious lighting techniques. We’ll happily keep our eyes on what he does.

Terry Stacey Cinematography
Terry Stacey on Wikipedia
Terry Stacey on IMDb

Written by Ron Egatz