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Super skunked by the super moon

Colin
November 16, 2016

The Supermoon has been all over the news this week and it seems everyone on earth was excited for it, except Neil Degras Tyson.

As a photographer, the opportunity to capture something that may not happen again for another decade is what I live for, and so I went the whole nine yards. I came prepared and spent almost an entire day scouting  to find the perfect location.

The Moon

The moon is a tough one to shoot because this time of year (in Australia) it doesn’t actually cross the entire sky, it rises in the northeast and sets in the northwest. The other difficulty with shooting the moon is you need to capture it near the horizon to create a sense of scale, rather than just a blurry spotlight in the sky.

So my plan was to find a spot where it looked like the moon was going to graze the top of Mt Warning. In trying to find this perfect location I drove almost a full lap around the mountain to find a spot where everything lined up perfectly and I could make the image I had in my head.
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After I’d done all of the scouting in passing I’d joke, “I bet it will be cloudy” – I would end up eating those words. The entire day the sky was clear on the Gold Coast, but about an hour before the moon rise clouds rolled over the horizon, and of course they blocked the moon.

Having spent so much time scouting for the first location, I didn’t put together a contingency plan to capture the moon set, facing the other direction. I drove around for a bit trying to find a somewhere to come back to in the morning, but location scouting in the dark usually doesn’t work so well. Lesson learned, don’t forget about plan B!

There is a bright side, I did get a nice sunset!

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Fstoppers Flash Disc review

Colin
May 6, 2016

It seems everytime I leave the house my camera bag is heavier and I am always grabbing extra lights, triggers, and batteries. But, when it comes to flash modifiers it can be a tough decision.

Everybody loves softboxes but they’re difficult to transport, especially if you’re shooting somewhere hours away from the car. Umbrella’s are easier to pack but still need to be lashed to the outside of your bag, and don’t play well with gorillapods. For me, the ultimate modifier is something that can be stuffed down the side my camera bag, is lightweight, and doesn’t require much faffing around.

Obviously struggling with the same issues as me, Patrick Hall and Lee Norris from Fstoppers created the Flash Disc.

What is it?

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Packaged in a little black zippered bag, the flash disc is a compact 12-inch pop up softbox – think those tents you pull out of the bag and throw into the air to set up.

In its compact state, the Fstoppers Flash Disc can easily be stuffed into small gaps in your camera bag, a pocket or even lashed to the outside thanks to a small loop.

It worth noting the Flash Disc deserves due respect, and nearly gave one of my assistants a black eye. If you’re not paying attention it can slip away from you and ‘pop’ you right in the face.

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The back of the Flash Disc sees a grey card and the front is as you would expect white diffusing material. Designed to be universal with speedlights the Flash Disc uses a glorified elastic band to secure the flash head. I’ve yet to find a speedlight that it doesn’t work with but there’s definitely some that fit better than others.

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It seems Canon flashes fit the best, their rounded profile slips into the band nicely. Boxy square flashes however do not, and it’s quite fiddly to get square flashes into the disc. I had a fair bit of trouble wrangling the FlashDisc onto my LumoPro LP180 flashes and an ancient Sunbeam Manual Flash.

With that said, once they’re on your light stand will fly away and take a sandbag with it before the Flash Disc leaves your speedlight.

Okay, but do they work?

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It’s worth noting again this is a 12-inch softbox and not a huge 40-incher, so they’re not going to produce the same light. Because of it’s size the FlashDisc needs to be quite close to the subject, but it does produce nice soft light.

For portraits and products they’re pretty useful as you can place the FlashDisc just out of the frame but still close enough to reap the benefits of a small modifier.

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Photo: Phil Gray

It does take some fiddling around to get the flash discs in the right position when they’re mounted on a static light stand, but if you’ve got an assistant they are awesome. Because they’re small and lightweight it’s no trouble at all to get your assistant to dangle the light with the FlashDisc very close to the subject.

Also due to their feathery nature they pair nicely with Gorillapods, and my favorite thing is to wrap them around a tree branch or pole in a spot you wouldn’t be able to put a standard light stand.

Do you actually use it?

Absolutely! The Flash Disc is extremely versatile and is great for a variety of looks. Check out the gallery below to see how I’ve used the FStoppers FlashDisc. Even when it’s not close enough to for that creamy soft light it still diffuses the flash head nicely for something a bit more dramatic.

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The biggest reason that I like to use the FlashDisc’s is they’re so packable. It’s a rare occasion I’m shooting within 5-miles of where I parked my car, and it’s just not practical for me to pack in (and back out) large soft boxes, they just wouldn’t survive. Weighing just 113g adding the FlashDiscs won’t add much to your already heavy pack

As it is I get funny looks riding single track on my mountain bike with my big camera pack and light stands, can you image what people would do if you had soft boxes strapped to my pack?

Final Thoughts

For such a small modifier, the Fstoppers FlashDisc’s pack some serious punch. Whenever I take speedlights with me I always stuff them in my bag. They’ve definitely got their limitations and and $49.95USD they’re also not cheap, but the FlashDisc’s have become an essential part of my kit.

Do you use the FlashDisc’s? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below or on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

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Behind the Shoot: Pittwater Council

Colin
April 18, 2016

For those of you who’ve been following me on social media, you’ll know I just was down in Sydney working on a project for Pittwater Council.

The council contacted me just after I moved to the Gold Coast wanting photos of people riding bikes in recognisable areas of Pittwater, specifically large hero images to be used throughout an upcoming council document.

As Pittwater is one of my favorite areas of Sydney I jumped at the offer and immediately began wrangling riders and scouting locations to shoot.

With this being a fly-in-fly-out assignment I was worried about inclement weather, but lucky for me my rain jacket stayed in my bag the entire weekend.

The Kit

The project involved everything from action landscapes to very setup portraits and required a large kit. I’d organized an assistant for the longest day of shooting, but I still didn’t want to lug big strobes and battery packs around, so instead I opted for every speedlight I owned and plenty rechargeable AA batteries.

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See I wasn’t kidding about the batteries

Gear:

The Shoot

Kids

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After I picked up my bags and grabbed the rental car I headed straight out to do some scouting. I had most of the day to scout, but had scheduled my first shoot of the trip for that afternoon.

They say, ‘never shoot with kids or animals, because you won’t be able to direct either of them.’ Having worked as a Ski Instructor I know how much fun it can be to work with kids, but I also know how difficult it can be to get them to do anything – I was pretty worried about this part of the shoot

Same as skiing, if you put a bike under a kid and tell them to ride around for a while they’re stoked until they get tired, and then they cry.

Lucky for me the bike stoke lasted until we were packing up, and the kids only started crying as their parents tried to wrangle them home.

It was quite grey throughout this shoot, and some of the photos were pretty dull and lifeless. Remember all of those speedlights and batteries I packed? This is exactly why, a couple of strategically placed flashes can be the difference between a muddy boring photo to one that is full of life and contrast.

The Roadies

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As part of the brief Pittwater Council wanted large format hero images, so basically ‘bike landscapes’ – big scene little rider.

We had two locations to cover, Whale Beach and Chruch Point. The plan was hit Whale Beach at dawn to catch the sun coming up over the ocean, and then run over to Chruch Point while the light was still good.

These are the photo’s I was the most excited for, what respectable photographer doesn’t get excited for a dawn shoot?

I’d organized a group of riders from the Manly Warringah Cycling Club to help me out, and they were awesome doing as many hill repeats as I asked. It was fast paced and a little bit stressful as we only had so much time while the light was good.

From a technical standpoint this section of the shoot was pretty simple, with the focus being on composition and a quick shutter. I did use flashes for some fill on a couple of occasions, but for the most part I didn’t need to mess with lights.

Special thanks to my assistant Zacc for chasing me around with heavy gear and driving the rental car as I hung out the back.

The Family

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After we finished with the roadies, Phil from Pittwater Council brought his wife Lara and their cute baby daughter Ashley to be my ‘utility riders’ and ‘happy family on bikes.’

The light was still quite harsh and this is where the speedlights came in handy. In almost every shot from this section of the shoot, I was shooting into the sun and using one LumoPro speedlight, with a flash disc on the end of a 10ft light stand, held directly above the subject(s) just out of frame as a fill. This provided a flattering soft light and awesome results.

The Kids Part 2

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By this time in the shoot Zacc and I had been going for about 14 hours. The council had organized some teenagers to shoot with around Avalon Beach.

Having no idea what I was in for, when some surf groms showed up on bikes I was stoked. The light was becoming glowy, golden and getting better by the minuet. This section of the shoot was a breeze, the teenagers were awesome models and hardly required any direction to get the shots we were after.

The Commuters

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I got to catch up with my friends Kath and Fiona as they were my ‘fast commuter’ and ‘slow commuter.’ Pretty straight forward, I’ve shot both of these gals before so they know how I like to run things, and other than saying, ‘again’ don’t need much direction to get the shots.

The Take Away

Every shoot I do I learn something, and this shoot was a challenge. Not because the weather conditions, or because I had a precious model who was a pain to deal with, or even that the shooting was that difficult.

The hardest thing was the logistics of coordinating all these separate groups of people, some of whom I didn’t meet until the day of the shoot – it’s actually pretty scary to depend on people you’ve never met.

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Photo: Phil Gray

It was a stressful weekend, but just about everybody was on the ball. As the way things often happen one of my subjects had something come up last minute, and couldn’t make it to the shoot leaving me unable to fill their slot on such short notice. Fortunately I gotten plenty of great images from the rest of the shoot, and wasn’t stressed for images.

Overall the shoot was a massive success, and we came up with some fantastic images. Massive thank you’s to Pittwater Council, Phil Gray and family,  Alexis Kaless, Brad Ward, Evan Snow, Peter Mcnamara from Manly Warringah Cycling Club, Dave Musgrove and Cell Bikes, Kath Bicknell, Fiona Dick, and Zacc Larkin; I couldn’t have pulled off this shoot without each and every one you.

Check out my favorite shots from my weekend with Pittwater Council

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