I made it to Northwest Montana again this March and I set up a freestyle skiing shoot with a couple of the guys for a morning at Big Mountain in Whitefish, Montana.  Packing for the shoot took a bit of thought.  Stay light, but bring the lights.  I brought my D4, 4 SB900 Speedlights, 4 PocketWizard Flex TT5s to trigger the lights and a fifth to sit on the camera with a PocketWizard AC3 to allow me to adjust output from the camera.  I mounted everything on a Four Square bracket and jammed the bracket in the snow / ice with the lights trained up to where the skiers would jump.  All of this fit in my Gura Gear bag along with two lenses – a 24-70mm and a 14-24mm lens.  The shutter speed was well above the sync speed of 1/250 second but with Flex TT5 hyper sync, it was no problem.  The speedlights really made it possible to light the skiers while they were airborne and get a good exposure at a high enough speed to make it all work.  Oh, and I don’t ski — a little bit of an obstacle and it certainly added some unnecessary drama as I walked (perhaps trudged or slogged is a better way of describing it) through snow and ice to arrive at the jump site where the guys were getting ready.  I fell only once on the walk out, and fell into a snow bank / drift only twice on the hike back to civilization.  I must admit that I had thoughts on the walk back of heart attack, death, insanity slipping in, but the images made it all worth while.  And, here are some of the images:





enjoy the end of winter, everyone.  Thanks for stopping by my blog . . . Mark

crashed ice. TT5s, and speedlights

It was a weekend of Red Bull Crashed Ice competition in St. Paul, Minnesota.  If you don’t know Crashed Ice, you don’t know adrenaline.  Check it out here.  Red Bull can really stage an event.  Totally awesome and a bit mind boggling as 115,000 hearty Minnesota folks, much stouter than me, showed up for the finals on Saturday night.  I arrived with the idea to use two speedlights to shoot the skaters, and trigger the lights with PocketWizard Flex TT5s.  Red Bull was cool with the use of speedlights and I was grateful for RB’s progressiveness.  Not all sports promoters allow lights.  The TT5s worked wonderfully, and even the Eneloop batteries cooperated despite some pretty chilly conditions in St. Paul, especially when the sun set.  The sport creates lighting challenges as the ice is very reflective and I didn’t want to trigger the flashes in the direct path of the skaters.  The skaters race down a course at speeds of upwards of 40 miles per hour so timing the shots was a bit of a challenge and concentrating helped keep my mind off of the tingling in my exposed skin and toes.  The course winds past the Cathedral of St. Paul and the structure provided a dramatic backdrop for some of the shots.  The TT5s allowed me to easily sync at shutter speeds well over 1/250th second.  I also used one SB900 on camera after a bit of an unexpected technology issue at the finish line:  I was perched above the ice 20 yards past the finish line…. turns out that on occasion, the skaters stop their run by crashing into the wall where I was standing.  I was fine, but the impact sent the speedlights flying off the Manfrotto bracket I used so I switched to “on camera” for a shot or two after retrieving a speedlight, a TT5, and batteries that escaped their chamber, all of which went airborne for a small distance.  Anything for the shot!  Here is how some of the shots came out.




Thanks for stopping by my blog.  Mark

sports to the max . . .

Sports, action, competition . . . and it feels like the trio have taken me from Tehachapi to Tonapah taking shots of athletes of all levels in action in all types of sporting endeavors.  Great fun.  During a match, no flash, just high ISO, high shutter speed, and great excitement.  For the sportraits, speedlights, speedlights and more speedlights, triggered by PocketWizard Flex TT5s.  Here are some of my travails over the last few months.  I hope you enjoy . . . I have.


Peace Baby!

Thanks for stopping by my blog . . . Mark

sports variety

More exploration of sports and sports related shots, this time the grit of boxing, a bit of fitness, high school track, and a baseball theme.  All were taken with a Nikon D800, and except for the fitness shot (borrowed Elinchrom lights for those shots), all were lit with one or more SB900s in a FourSquare, triggered by PocketWizard Flex TT5s, my current lighting set up of choice.  There is great variety to be found in sport and sports portraits.  As Michael Jordan said: “Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game.”


thanks for stopping by my blog, . . . Mark

. . . the D800, Flex TT5s, and some more sports shots

I continue to explore sports shots lit with speedlights.  Here are some equipment comments and some recent examples from a few recent shoots.  Except for the soccer shot, I used my FourSquare and SB900 speedlights in high speed sync triggered with PocketWizard Flex TT5s; and  for all the shots I used my new D800.

D800 lore:    OMG!!!

More Thoughtful D800 lore:  ISO:  I have shot up to ISO 3200 and I am satisfied with the low levels of noise the images contain.  Perhaps the D700 was better on this front, but what the hey, ISO 3200 is still pretty special, and it can go higher still with acceptable images.  Focusing speed:  3D tracking with 51 focus points in continuous focus = heaven.  Maybe it is not as good or fast on the focus as a D4 but it is thousands of dollars less and it is still both good and very very good.  Megapixels:  36.3 megapixels = amazing.  It is hard to say much more except as D800s come into circulation, try one and see what 36.3 megapixels can do.  At some point early on, Nikon put out a white sheet warning that with so many megapixels, you might have to use a tripod more often because the slightest shake or quiver would be much more apparent.  I am going on 57, and while I am still steady, I am older than in my D80 days and yet, I have not experienced anything like the white paper warning portends.  Tripods are great; but not any more needed on the D800 than on the D700 than on the D300 etc. etc.  Storage:  I find the images are very lush, but the files generated are huge so, while not a downside in my book, it is something to be aware of.  NEF raw files come out of the camera measuring some 45 megabytes each and if you do any Lightroom or CS6 work on the image, the file size will quickly exceed 100 megabytes.  So, if you do the math, every time you have a 100 image shoot, you will start with 4.5 gigabytes of files, and if you work on just 25 of them, you will have almost 6 gigabytes of images.  That’s a whole lot of storage issues but storage is cheap.  Frames per Second:  fewer than a D700 or a D4, or any of the family of D3s.   For sports action shots without flash, this could be an issue.  With sports speedlight shots, it is a non issue since the camera is still much faster than speedlight recycling time.

Flex lore:  I know there is disagreement as to the Flex TT5s but I enjoy them and they are very reliable for me, with the following three basic reliability observations: 1.) follow the directions – they are very important.  turn the units on top to bottom:  so, on the transceiver that sits on the hot shoe, it must be turned on first, and the camera second; on the unit attached to the speedlight, turn the speedlight on first and then the transceiver and wait for the flash to fire its own test shot;  2.) use the antenna – meaning flip it out of its holder so it is extended out from the unit; 3.) battery power is very important; when the AAs start to run down, the units will likely start to fail.  I use Eneloop rechargeables so I am a little green and because they maintain a steady amount of power that they deliver the failure of the unit is delayed until much later in the charge capacity, at least it seems that way to me.

The FourSquare:  explore the link.  It is a very cool light modifier.  Dave Black uses it.  David Tejada uses it.  “Nuff said.

And, some shots:


thanks for stopping by my blog . . . Mark

. . . just 10 seconds . . . the sports shot


“A lifetime of training for just ten seconds. . . ” said Jesse Owens.  And, yet, the image is not 10 seconds, it is a nano second.  “Approach the game with no preset agendas and you’ll probably come away surprised at your overall efforts. . . ” said Phil Jackson.  But, some planning to get the image is inevitable.  There is technique and luck and access to get a sports shot, and as to to luck part, as Yogi Berra observed, “Half the lies they tell about me aren’t true.”  Here are some of my sports shots, some planned, some not.  Where possible, I used lights – 4 SB900 speedlights in a Foursquare or a quadra. high ISO, high shutter speed, wide angle where possible.  Many of my shots were inspired / coached / taught / cajoled / prompted by Dave Black  and Tom Bol.  I would describe each image as a type of sports portrait, an environmental shot of an athlete doing what they do where and when they do it.



Thanks for stopping by my blog, Mark




I spent part of a morning with some of the firefighters at a local fire department to continue my “workin’ folks” photography project.  The morning started slow, as I talked with them, surveyed the shoot options, set up my lights, and pondered what kinds of shots to take.

Then, in moments, an alarm came in, they said simply “gotta go – fire” and two trucks and an ambulance streaked out of the station and left only me, my camera and my lights.  In the few ticks of the clock after the alarm came in, my heart raced and they were very business-like in readying to leave the station.  Indeed, I was the one that seemed very nervous and they seemed at peace with what they were doing and what came next.  It reminded me “that firefighting is one of the few professions left today that still makes house calls.”

Alone in this large fire station,  I shot some of what was left behind while I waited for them to return.  I felt bad for not having the presence to yell:  “be safe” as they left.

After a bit, the hook and ladder first, followed then by the other trucks, returned with everyone safe. We then finished my short photoshoot.

Here are some of the rest of my shots.  My lighting was simple:  one SB900 light in a 28” Westcott Apollo softbox very high up and camera right, one SB900 light in a Westcott Apollo Strip Box, and depending on the shot, one SB900 for accent.  The accent light was sometimes red gelled and occasionally, I added a CTO gel to the Strip Box light.  On the blue shots, I used Tungsten White Balance and compensated with a CTO gel.  I tried to come up with some shots that were a little different than what I have seen on flickr and tried to use the lighting to create a mood and to reflect a bit of the firefighter grit.


“What is a firefighter?  
He’s the guy next door….
He’s a guy like you and me with warts and worries and unfulfilled dreams.
Yet he stands taller than most of us.  
He’s a fireman….
A fireman is at once the most fortunate and the least fortunate of men.
He’s a man who saves lives because he has seen too much death.
  He’s a gentle man because he has seen the awesome power of violence out of control.
 He’s responsive to a child’s laughter because his arms have held too many small bodies that will never laugh again….
He doesn’t preach the brotherhood of man.
  He lives it.”

Thanks for stopping by my blog.  Mark

the moment of impact

I have been struggling to perfect water splash shots that are fun to take especially on those rainy  gray days where outside shooting is not an option.  I found three problems to solve in these impact shots:  focus, composition, and timing.  The idea is simple enough  – capture the shot just as the food item hits the water and if it works, there will be a nice splash that is frozen as the food descends into the liquid.  Timing is everything and focus is rough duty.  But, after watching a couple of YouTube videos, here is a combination of techniques that worked for me:  fill a fish tank half full of water.  Use a 70-200mm lens on a tripod and manually focus.  Place a hammer upside down in the fish tank where the fruit, etc. will impact.  Focus on the hammer handle where it meets the water line.  Scotch tape strings on the top of the fish tank to form an X and Y axis to map where the handle of the hammer exits the water (and thus the place where you have focused) and plan on dropping the food at the intersection of the X and Y axis.  For settings, I settled on the following:  ISO 250, f/13, 1/160 second.  I used four speedlights (SB900s) , all on manual power.  The speedlights were in baggies because of splashing water.   Speedlight one and two were set at 1/128 power and pointed into the tank from each end.  Speedlight three is high up on a light stand pointing down on the tank also at 1/128 power.  Speedlight four points at a background when I used either a gold or silver reflector background.  I did not use speedlight four when I used the black background.  The fourth speedlight is set at 1/64th power. The lights were triggered in the Nikon commander mode in manual to set the above settings (lights 1-3 in group A and light 4 in group B), and the shutter was triggered with a cable release.  The occasional  “stars” in the water are water drops on the inside of the tank that I did not wipe off.

Any food with some weight will do.  With that, here is a selection of the results:

I am off to eat a piece of wet fruit.  Thanks for stopping by my blog.  Mark

workin’ folks


Over the last month, I have pursued a project to take portraits of a sampling of working people here in the Midwest.  All in the Midwest is not wheat fields and cattle.  So, I focused on the industrial and service side of things.  Most of the folks I have met are either blue collar workers or are in one service industry or another. Some wear ties, some wear uniforms; some wield tools.  It is my cross section — a record of sorts of who is at stake in these times we are enduring.

Some of the folks I met and photographed are bosses,

some are workers,


and all are trained at what they do.

In this Great Recession  all I can think to do is to provide a record of folks as they really are through my lens and my eye.  All shots were taken with a Nikon D700, 24-70mm lens, and one or more SB900 speedlights usually through a Westscott 28″ Apollo softbox or a FourSquare, triggered by PocketWizard TT5s.  With that, here is the rest of my record:


Thanks for stopping by my blog.  Mark

new galleries

Just a short blog entry to advise that I have added some new galleries:

corporate and environmental shots


and aerials

Please check out the galleries and enjoy!  Thanks for visiting.  Mark