Archive for January, 2008

Gapers Gone Wild at the Sundance Film Festival


So for the past few years I’ve covered the Sundance Film Festival at Club Harry O’s as their house photographer shooting concerts and in paparatzi mode for the club. This year was a lot different as I was covering Scum-dance for Wire Image instead. It was a lot easier not dealing with the madness that is Harry O’s during Sundance and I had to work a lot less days. It all worked out pretty well and I actually did meet some great people I hope to see next year. I did however experience gapers gone wild at Deer Valley for a charity fund raiser ski race. Basically it was a nastar course with a bunch of corporate people and man it was amazing. There were a few people that could kinda ski but everyone else, wow. Amazing. Gapers gone wild, Sundance edition! There was so much carnage at one gate where it got tight. Everyone trying to beat the person next to them carrying way too much speed for their ability into a sharper turn. Homeboy in the photo below didn’t fare so well. So I leave you with Gapers Gone Wild and a paparatzi photo that I basically took over and over and over and over and over again during Sundance. Stoked it’s over, had some work, going to buy some new gear and get back to shooting skiing. A big juicy storm is on the way and it’s gonna be sick!

Gapers not making the turn.  Ohhh that’s gotta feel great!Yes, he is for realDennis Hoper, Charlize Theron and some other actors I could care less about.  Yes, that same photo, over and over, and over again.

History of snowboarding in Whistler mini documentary


I just checked this out from Dano‘s blog, thought I’d pass it along for anyone that hasn’t seen it.  Cool little vid on the history of snowboarding in Whistler done by Brian Hockenstein and Lenny Rubenovitch.

Mountainsmith Odessey Photo Backpack Review


This is one big pack. It’s huge. It’s capable of hauling a studio on your back!

I got this pack to carry my big strobes and the battery power pack, I’ve been able to get 2 small power packs, 3 heads, light stands, grids, reflectors, pocket wizards and other random stuff. It currently weighs in at 55lbs all loaded up, and now I know what a little fat kid feels like walking around with it on. It’s a sturdy pack with big, strong zippers, extra handles, lots of pockets, pockets and more pockets. It’s made to haul as much gear as possible.

Front viewSide viewBack viewSide viewTop View

Now all that being said it still is a backpack but it’s not really something you’d want to go very far with it on your back because chances are you’d have as much gear in it as you can fit and it would be a tough hike.

The Odessey has side pockets (both sides) for water bottles, or other gear, like a tripod or light stands or something of the sort. The top handle is thick molded rubber and can handle a lot of weight. The main storage compartment is back-accessible with big burly zippers. Now I’m not very excited about the design of the zipper location. The zippers are attached to the straps, so the possibility for the zippers to blow out and all your gear to fall out is there, although not likely due to the huge zippers. One of the things they built into the pack as a little insurance is a back-up buckle at the top (by the top handle) for a little extra security in case of a zipper blow out. Check out the top view to see that.

Back to all the pockets. There are two sets of front pockets, big and bigger. In the outermost pocket is room for a whole lot of stuff. Random odds and ends, clamps, grids, reflectors, whatever. It’s just about the same width as the pack itself. It also has a smaller interior pocket to hold keys, change, sunscreen, whatever. See the photo with the yellow pocket for detail. In the next pocket behind the front pocket is the laptop compartment. As if you don’t have enough gear in the main compartment, you can throw your laptop in it too! There is a padded sleeve inside that compartment where you can put the laptop, or whatever else you can think of. I usually keep gels and other small random things in there. The tripod holder is also on the front face of the pack with a fold out carrier to support the feet of the tripod. Now if that wasn’t enough storage, there are also straps at the bottom of the pack to hold even more gear like a sleeping bag, jackets, whatever.

Fully loaded

Main compartmentSide handleLaptop pocketTripod holderTop handleBottom viewFront pocket

Side pockets - light standsRain cover

They also went to pretty great lengths to pay attention to little details like little pockets to hide your excess straps. Now most of the time it doesn’t matter, but when traveling, or say putting the pack on a snowmobile you want to keep your straps out of the track. Hiding them in little compartments keeps them out of places they can get caught up in. It’s little but it’s a nice touch. The interior pockets are spacious and can hold cords, cards, gels, adapters, probably even clamps too! The final touch is the rain cover. Hidden in the bottom zipper of the pack it pulls out and protects your pack from a rainstorm.


Internal Dimensions: 1835″ x 15.5″ x 5” 46.9 x 39.4 x 12.7cm
Dimensions: 20″ x 16.5″ x 7″ 50.8 x 41.9 x 17.8cm
Weight: 7 lbs. 11.4 oz. 3.68 kg
Volume: 2197 cu. in. 36 L

Overall it’s a great pack for what it is. The straps could be designed better so the pack carries better but that’s my only real complaint. It’s a beast, meant to carry as much as you can possibly put on your back without breaking it in two.

Alien Bees strobes – a 3-year review


The Alien Bee 1600’s - offered in many choice colors.So there’s been a lot of questions about Alien Bees on – a forum I post on a bit so I thought after using them successfully for 3 years I’d post a review on them.

Keep in mind this review is targeted specifically towards action sports photographers. In my case, primarily ski and snowboard photography.

So here’s my take on these things, I’ve had quite the learning experience with them as they were my first big strobe.

I found out the hard way that the durations get longer as you power them down, contrary to speedlights and a lot of the strobe systems out on the market. I have the 1600’s and they are usable depending on the situation for action.

Keep in mind all this, the effectiveness of your strobe’s duration to stop the action is based on a lot of things, how close you are to your subject (wider the lens and closer you are, typically the object is moving across the frame, very very fast compared to a longer shot.  So depending on that you might need a faster duration in order to stop the action.

Anyways, here we go.

Build Quality:
Built fairly inexpensively and are not designed to be out in the elements, especially in a snow environment.   Of course I’ve found that can be remedied by a clear plastic bag to keep the elements out.   The body of the strobe unit is very durable plastic and after some pretty heavy use has always held up.  The back panel is where I’ve had a durability issue though.  The plugs have broken after being tugged on a bit in some extreme cold conditions after they became brittle.  As far as the internals, I have had to send mine in for repair 5 times in the 3 years I’ve owned these units.  Weather or not they were caused by moisture, or exposure to the elements I’m not sure.  That being said, their repair people are first class and are willing to work with you and help you out if things are urgent.  The repairs have always done very quickly and delivered exactly when promised.

The cables are targeted to be easily replaceable and cheap. Power cable are a standard computer power supply cable. If you need to replace it, chances are you can find one in any town you are in. Same goes with the sync cable, it’s a standard 1/4″ miniphone (headphone) mono cable. Can find it at any Radio Shack or electronics store. I think even at Wal Mart. Reflectors are cheap, period. They do their job and are cheap to get.   Definitely get the sports reflector. It basically doubles the power in the effective area the light is sent to. Using a soft box is easy, just use the Alien Bee speed rings on any soft box, I’ve used a Chimera, Photoflex and something else (can’t remember the brand) on it with no problems. The attachment system for the reflectors, soft boxes are simple and easy to use.

Flash Durations:
Always look for flash durations using the t.1 method. The t.5 method which only measures the duration at ONLY 50% discharge. What does this mean? It means that there is still 50% of the light to still come out of your strobe head. This also means that you need to basically multiply the duration times 1.8x in order to see what the usable duration is beceause, the head is still putting another 50% of it’s light. The method that is useful to us action photographers and that matters is the t.1, that measures 90% of the output.

Taken from the Alien Bees website:

Model     Full Power   1/32 power (minimum)
B1600:     1/600          1/300
B800:       1/1100        1/550
B400:       1/2000        1/1000

I Wish that information was available to me when I first got my 1600’s as all they had was the t.5 method on their site and I did not know the difference between that and the t.1 method.

Also: Contrary to any other strobe on the market (aside from the White Lightning’s) the flash durations GO UP when powered down.

I have successfully used the 1600’s at full power in many situations, of course before I knew what the actual durations were. Sometimes it worked out, sometimes it didn’t but until I found out that the durations went up when I powered down, i blew a lot of shots getting motion blur.

Portable Power Pack:
This is an interesting thing, as it’s one of the only systems where you could actually build your own power pack. You can with any monolight that plugs into a regular wall outlet however these are the only ones on the market that are small enough to even consider putting in a backpack and using them at the locations we tend to go to.

The Vagabond and Vagabond II systems are simply put a sealed lead-acid 12v battery and an true sine wave inverter in a modified beer cooler. The difference between the 2 models is the Vagabond II provides a faster recycle time and more pops of the strobe. They are simple and they work and another nice thing about them, is it’s a portable power system for anything you own that plugs into a wall outlet when your power goes out!

The Vagabond weighs approxamately 20lbs. The Vagabond II is a bit lighter at 18.6 lbs.

One nice thing about the simple power pack is you can save a few bucks and build your own. The important thing for someone building this type of system is that a true sine wave inverter is used. A typical inverter you can buy at most electronics stores and superstores like Wal-Mart are a modified sine wave. These types of inverters will flat out not work for powering the Alien Bees and could possibly damage them. DON’T USE A CHEAP INVERTER!

I personally have one Vagabond and also one that I put together myself so i don’t have to run extension cords (did that for a year and a half) and so I have only one head per battery. I’ll have more about making your own power pack for these later.

Usability in the outdoors:
There is an internal fan in the Alien Bee strobe units. Because of this there are vents on the housing of the Alien Bee heads. Water, snow, etc can get into these. If you shoot in bad weather, this could be an issue. I’m not sure if it’s contributed to my problems with them breaking or not. I haven’t had a specific situation where the head was getting wet and they stopped working. I have tried to keep them somewhat sheltered from the elements by covering them with plastic, leaving the bottom open to allow for ventilation. If you shoot in dry conditions all the time, this should not be an issue.

Light Quality:
The light quality of these are good but not great. It’s not a Profoto or an Elinchrom, the light isn’t as great as those systems, but it’s still good and I continue to use them as a major portion of my lighting kit. The major concern is that the color temperature varies depending on the power settings. It’s not a huge variance, but it’s still a concern and noticeable.

Bottom Line:
They are the best bang for your buck, especially for those working on location where a battery powered system is important. The flash durations in the Alien Bees 1600’s can make it a bit more difficult to work with for action but for most situations, are still usable. They are a good, cheap way to get more usable power as your first big strobe system moving from speedlites. If you are shooting action, I would get a 400 and an 800 and build your own power packs for each so you don’t have to run extension cords for power.  Of course if money isn’t as huge of a deal then a Vagabond unit for each head is of course an option.  If not, one Vagabond unit and a really long standard extension cord works just fine and is what I worked with for my first 3 years working with the Alien Bees system.  I am finally upgrading to an Elincrhom Ranger system, but am keeping my AB’s as a 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th head.

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