Did you catch the live feed of the Red Bull Stratus jump a few days ago? A brave man named Felix took a weather balloon up to space and then jumped back down to earth. He had 35 cameras with him on his adventure and this Red Bull video gives us a look at them. 
One of the most exhilarating things about Baumgartner’s space jump was the ability to see so many different angles of what was going on, both as photos and video. To ensure that the cameras would work, the Red Bull Stratos team turned to Flightline Films, which has been providing aerial photography services since 1984. The company’s had extensive work in the upper atmosphere, including work with Virgin Galactic to photograph its spacecraft.

All of the cameras had to be tested in extreme cold and heat, as well as near-vacuum conditions. Specialized filters were applied to compensate for the intense sunlight at the edge of space. Some of the cameras had to be placed in pressurized housings filled with nitrogen gas to ensure they’d continue to operate.

In addition to the 9 cameras on Felix’s person and capsule, some of the images of the flight were also captured by helicopter. Airborne Images was in charge of the chopper, which was equipped with a gyroscopically stabilized HD camera that was manufactured by Cineflex.

Stuff like this is always fascinating to me because of the sheer amount of planning required. Check out the video below:

And here is some of the final results, the jump from Felix's point of view:

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of meeting and filming the founding president of Trent University, Thomas Symmons, or Tom as he prefers, for a heritage tribute video that’s being put together for one of his colleagues.

Born in 1929, Tom is also an author and attended University of Toronto (B.A. 1951), Oxford (B.A. 1953, M.A. 1957), and Harvard University.

His old estate-like home nestled in the rolling hills on the outskirts of Peterborough, Ontario was so beautifully decorated and appeared so rich in history that it was hard not to feel immediately welcome from the moment I stepped inside the door. His wife gave us a quick tour of his library and study, both of which included many high-backed chairs, plaques and diplomas on the walls, pictures showing relations to the British Monarchy and even a letter from the Pope - he was very recently knighted by the Pope, even though (he was quick to point out) he isn’t Catholic. He serves as chairman, chair person and/or officer for more organisations than I can count and has also received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal honouring his significant contributions to Canada.

This is a man who is so accomplished and wise that even before he speaks a word, you understand his legacy and influence because it just emanates out of his every pore, and on top of that he’s remarkably humble about it all.

He shared many stories like the story of his father being shot down over France in WWI and meeting a Canadian nurse, who later became Tom’s mother. He recounted stories of having tea with the queen mother and after many cups she would always ask if he wanted a “nip of something else” – which usually meant gin! (Sounds like the queen mother knew how to have a good time! :P) He was even a guest at Charles and Diana’s wedding and has watched “the kids” Prince William and Harry grow up. He reminisced a bit about his relationship with the royal family and finally said, “Prince Charles is a deeply intelligent man.” – a nice comment from someone I feel is quite intelligent himself.

As part of the video interview I was shooting, we asked Tom to sit in one of his royal-esque chairs and read a book by the window overlooking his garden. We picked random books from different piles, put them by his side to let him flip through. As I was shooting, he perked up and said “How time flies! I’ve forgotten I wrote the forward to this novel…” And so there he was, reading his own words in an acclaimed book we chose at random off the shelf, one of hundreds if not thousands of books in his great house.

A still photograph wasn't planned, but I couldn't walk out of this place without one. I asked his permission and he said it wouldn't be a problem. I only had a few minutes with him as time was getting short and we had to shoot other subjects at a different location, so I acted fast – grabbed a flash and threw on a wide angle lens. My goal was to photograph him in what I felt was the most inspiring room in the house – his study – with all the books around him – and awards – over half of which aren’t even in the frame. I wanted to show the overwhelming amount of work this man has done and continues to do, and the “weight of it all” so to speak.

Physically he is clearly aging, but mentally… he’s as sharp as they come. 

It was great to meet you, sir!
Click to enlarge and read the full article as seen in Canadian Musician (March/April issue 2012).
If there's one thing we as artists, specifically photographers, struggle with more than asking for money... I don't know what it is. 

Seems like every artist in the beginning stages of their career comes across the daunting task and begins the inner battle of deciding what they're worth and what to charge for their creative services. 

It's true, vision and creativity is a difficult thing to place a price tag on. How does one even begin to place a dollar figure on something that doesn't even exist yet, with little to no experience behind you to prove you can create it? How can you perform with the weight of money and expected performance on your shoulders? How do you charge friends for something they think should be free? How do you ask money from another starving artist?

It's easy. You just do it. And it doesn't have to be as scary, or as difficult as you think it will be. It also doesn't have to ruin any relationships you've already spent time and effort building. 

Why you need to charge money for your photography services.
Ninety percent of small businesses fail within the first two years. With few exceptions, working for free is the fastest way for freelance photographers to become part of this 90 percent. Photographers like any other business owners need income to survive, and the industry itself as a whole relies on it's own community to stay alive. If all photographers stopped charging money, the community and support system we rely on to find work would collapse. Its a (sad) fact of life that money makes the world go round and the business of photography is no exception.

Charging a fee for your photography establishes value and respect. These are extremely important characteristics of any successful business venture. You can't get caught up worrying about other people's financial situations. Helping out a 'starving artist' for free because you want to be nice isn't accomplishing anything, because guess what? Technically as an amateur photographer you are too! Let's shed some light on this topic in another way. Let's pretend said starving artist waves down a cab and askes the cab to drive him home - 20 blocks away. The guy sits in the car and says Hey driver, listen times are tight and I really need to get home in a hurry. Except I have no money to offer you. What do you think the cabbie is gunna say? Guess what pal, can't help you. Times are tight for everyone - take a hike.

(See 12 Excuses For Shooting for FREE - And Why They're Bogus)

More importantly, imagine 5 years from now when a client you shot free pictures for actually has a budget, let's say $2,500 for a large project requiring two days of shooting - who are they gunna call up? The photographer they used back in the day that gave up his time and talent for free? Or are they going to ask around or go online in search of new professional photographers to work with that cost roughly $2,500? 9 times out of 10, it's the latter. Who would you rather be? The guy who gets the call for free shoots ("networking opportunities") at the local rock club on 90's playback night, or the guy that gets a call once a month from a marketing agency when they can afford you and your rate - let's say, a rate of hundreds or thousands of dollars? I think I know the answer.

Truth is, we've all been there. The excuses for shooting free work are endless. The most common being that its to build a better or more diverse portfolio. But in your initial stages as a photographer you can shoot nature, the city you live in, small concerts, friends and family for free as much as you want to build your portfolio. It's important you understand that when a stranger comes knocking at your door for photography - that is your cue to start building a name and brand for yourself in the industry beyond your comfort zone by charging a fee. It's not your cue to initiate the same freebie/portfolio conversation you've been having with friends and family.

How (much?) to charge for your photography services.
When I was just 16 years old I got to say I was a professional photographer. Why? I shot my first wedding and charged the bride and groom $300. Such a low price that most pros would laugh, but it was something at least. Some people would ask, though, how could I charge anything when I was still so young? The answer is: I had spent countless months building my skill set shooting nature, architecture and portraits for close friends and a family, plus I shot a family wedding and all things considered I was feeling good and prepared to charge for my work. I was confident in my talent and ready to take on something new and outside of my bubble, and I wasn't about to do it for free. 

The question then became, what do I charge? I did some research on other, much more experienced photographers in my area and found that they were charging roughly $1,500 and up for weddings. Great! I knew that if I was significantly below $1,000 any bride and groom would be silly not to sign on the dotted line. Plus, I had nothing to prove - they had already inquired with me for the work - which means they like my website of nature and portraits and believe in my ability to translate that same vision into wedding photography. I didn't need to sell them on me, I needed to sell them on the price. This would become the single most important business skill I ever learned. How to price myself.

There is no one-price-fits-all formula in photography, because pricing almost always depends on the client and requirements of each shoot. But here's some advice to get you started and help you get it right.

  1. Get pricing from other photographers in your area. Ask friends of friends who work in the industry for their rates or pricing advice. If you are brand new to the scene, place your price safely below what the veterans are charging. The safe number is probably somewhere around 30% less. Yah, that might still sound like a lot. Guess what? Photography is a specialized, often expensive service that people pay for every day. Get used to it and stop feeling guilty about it.
  2. Ask the client what their budget is. This is the best thing you can do actually and is my favorite way to go about setting a price. You will avoid charging too much and scaring someone away, you'll also avoid charging too little and selling yourself short. Everyone is happy. If their budget is too low for you, you can try to coach the client into a happy medium between what you had in mind and what they can afford - usually people can afford a bit more than they initially admit, you just have to explain exactly what your service includes to make it worth their while.
  3. Aim to at least cover your expenses. If you can go shoot some pictures and just have enough money to cover your time, travel and a meal that's not so bad when you're just emerging as a photographer. That is ideal and should be your goal. $50 is probably enough gas or train ticket money to get you pretty much anywhere in Ontario and maybe get some McD's along the way. That's a Win/Win scenario: you didn't lose money doing the job, the client who couldn't afford much ended up getting an awesome deal on great photos and you just started a great working relationship. 

Being a photographer is definitely no walk in the park. It takes a lot of hard work, time and effort to get anything remotely like a consistent income flowing your way. It also takes a lot of time, many years in fact, to learn every facet of the business and get comfortable in your own skin - especially when it comes to charging people for your time and creativity. Even if you're the most talented photographer it's possible you'll struggle to make a living - especially at the start. But one thing is for certain - shooting for free won't help you change that fact. Start charging people, even if it's only enough to cover your gas or train ticket, clients don't need to know the why behind your price. Just charge them something so that if nothing else you can start to compensate for your expenses, and one day you'll see yourself staying in the black. What's more is you've helped keep all the photographers around you in business as well, by helping maintain the idea that photography is a service worth paying for and just because every grandma and their fat cat owns a camera doesn't mean everyone can take a good photo.

Ultimately one day making a wonderful living doing what you love will be the fruits of these labors. Just hang in there. And believe in yourself.

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Follow me on Twitter @mattvardy and share your comments or questions. I will happily answer all of them!
There's one thing I really enjoy doing, almost as much as photography, and that is tackle a problem and solve it visually... in other words, graphic design.

I'm fortunate to have a steady stream of design jobs on top of my photography to keep me busy. One of the more common things I do month-in-month-out is design posters for events around the city. Most frequently these posters are for my own LiveMusicTO events, but I also get called upon from random clubs and concert venues around the GTA to create engaging visuals that will advertise their event and attract customers.

Step One in the process (pictured above) is always to get in the right mood. Today's design project was for a club in Oshawa, ON and so I started playing electronic dance music to get myself in the right frame of mind for the job.

Below are the design instructions that were sent to me over text messaging.
Now begins the fun part. My wheels start to turn and brainstorm about the words "white out".

Couple obvious things come to mind: The fluid eraser used to make corrections and blizzard conditions in snowy weather. My favorite of the two thoughts was the fluid eraser - what does a fluid eraser do? Well, you spread it over top of words. This lead me to think of how I could reveal, rather than erase, the words on the poster using a brush-like tool in Photoshop. In keeping with the snow/precipitation theme I thought I'd incorporate soft blue hues.
I'm feeling happy at this point with these out-of-the-box ideas. However, as I started to build the rest of the page I began to realise that perhaps this is a little too "indie" for a general dance party event. A little too Nuite Blanche if you will and not enough Party.

Below you can see the gradual evolution of the ideas into the final product. You'll notice I eventually gave up the brush-like effect for something more legible and basic; although I enjoy the simplicity of the first couple designs more, they weren't suitable for this east-of-the-city demographic. I also started toying with the idea of mountains and snow more heavily, to emphasize the winter theme (time of year) as well as adhere to the client's initial request.
On a day-to-day basis I'm hard at work on many photography related things, which also includes my work at livemusicTO. livemusicTO focuses on the music scene in Toronto; hosting events, blogs and artist interviews as well as live music photographs.

Thanks to my 'job' over there I'm often browsing many live music blogs and websites trying to stay in touch with what's cool and currently revolving around Toronto musically. Time and again I notice a few things that bother me a bit and I think a lot of photographers are missing the mark. The frustrating part isn’t necessarily that they aren’t talented enough or don’t have enough passion, it’s simply that they’re using the wrong techniques or equipment to get the job done right. Some common faults: poor timing, bad clarity, too many of the same images and wrong flash or camera settings.

I think what a lot of young photographers forget is that the power of a photograph lies in its ability to tell a story. And this applies as much to live music photography as it does nature photography. If all your photographs are the same close crop of the lead singer or drummer for example, you’re missing more than half of the “story”. The collection of photos as a whole should ideally share the experience of being there. If the viewer leaves your gallery only knowing the colour of nail polish the lead singer wears, you’ve missed the mark and the lasting value of your images will be lost. Sure, one photo might be spectacular, but if the pose you’ve captured is almost identical to the other 100 images you made public… it’s going to be less memorable.

I recently had the opportunity to explore these ideas when I photographed Aaron Gillespie (The Almost, Underoath), Parachute Band and NineOFive at a concert in Ajax, ON last month. In my attempt to tell a story, I discovered some keys to success that I’d like to share with you.

  1. Use more than one lens. You’d be amazed what a difference it can make sometimes to simply try a different lens. Swap out the telephoto for a wide angle and see what happens. Constantly switch back and forth and keep things interesting.
  2. Focus on more than just the band. The band is great and all, but guess what – so are the fans! And capturing the energy of the crowd as well as the band is imperative in telling your “story”.
  3. Move. Too many photographers stand put in one spot. Move around, hit all four corners of the venue and see what different perspectives offer. The fog or lights might look really dumb at the front of the stage, but when you take a step back they look super epic. Get into the center of the crowd and see what it looks like from their point of view.
  4. Use the right ISO. If your photos are going to be used for web-only, why not max out your ISO settings so you can get the fastest shutter speeds possible? By the time your photo is shrunk for web, the harsh grain will become fine grain and you’ll get rid of the annoying blurs that most live photography images have. You want to be able to freeze all the action. 
  5. Shoot in Manual, Shutter or Aperture priority. The automatic settings on your camera are working against you, they are the enemy. Switch to manual, or if you're not comfortable with that yet use one of the priority modes so you can have full control over the clarity of your images when shooting people that are on the move constantly. You'll also be able to compensate for the lighting, and capture the most beautiful colours once you harness the power of these shooting modes.
  6. Use a diffuser on your Flash. No one wants to see a band caught in the headlights of an on-coming car (aka your harsh on-camera flash). Buy yourself an inexpensive diffuser to reduce the harshness of your flash and help spread the light evenly on your subject.
  7. Leave the tripod/monopod at home. You’ll look like an idiot, but more importantly you won’t be able to move fast in reaction to the band’s movements if your camera is attached to a fixed object. Being mobile is essential to capturing exciting photos. Anticipating the band’s next move is everything and if you’re stuck on a pole your chances of being able to move quickly or creatively to capture the next lunge or stage dive are limited.

So this concert wasn't your typical high energy club show. It was inside a church, the venue had seating and so the crowd wasn't able to move a whole lot. It posed a great challenge for me to tell a story or capture the live energy. Sometimes it helps to add context to the event by showing the crowd lined up, the posters lining the halls or the catering/production/sound checks. Sometimes as a photographer you have to create energy for yourself. Find crazy perspectives no one else will think of, that help tell a story, share a message or portray energy whether or not it was even there.

A stranger should be able to look at your photos and know exactly what they missed if they weren't there. Hopefully what they missed was a damn good time, thanks to your photos. I don't claim to be an expert on the topic and I'm not always the best at practising what I preach, but I hope some of these tips help you next time you're out shooting a live music event. - Matt Vardy.
I'm currently typing this as a memo on my blackberry, sitting 39,382ft in the air travelling at 510mph on a flight returning home from St. Lucia - my first destination wedding!

But this trip turned out to be much more than just a nice vacation and wedding photo session. The country truly left me speechless and wanting more, with so many amazing memories, visuals and experiences.

The thing that fascinated me most was not the extreme beauty of the mountainous landscape, but the people who call it home. I will say upfront that it's not for everyone, at times throughout my 7 day stay the people were incredibly cheerful - but sometimes they seemed more dangerous and in some cases clearly distressed. It was really an eye-opening journey I'll never forget because going into this I was under the impression St. Lucia was one of the premier carribbean destinations, but surprisingly I found it to be on the verge of poverty rather than luxury.

Perhaps the most unexpected part of my trip began immediately after landing, and I'm not talking about the 30'C heat. The resort I was staying at was located on the northwest side of the island - complete opposite in relation to the airport, which meant after the 5 hour flight I had a 1.5 hour shuttle (small van) drive through the countryside, fishing towns and villages before ever reaching my actual destination.

No longer than 10mins into the drive I realised this was no ordinary place and this drive would be unlike any other I've taken in my entire life. While most people in the van with me were kind of upset about the drive, I was thrilled and definitely pulled out my camera.

Arrivals and Departures at the airport
Van driver
My window to the St. Lucian world
As it turns out I think the photos I took during the drive to and from the resort are actually some of the most compelling images I've ever taken - pushing the boundaries and out of my comfort zone. I had no choice but to adopt the classic sort of Henry Cartier Bresson "shooting from the hip" look since the van was constantly moving - at times going 100km/hr, or winding up down and all around through hills and rainforest villages. It was hard enough just to keep myself from being nauseous let alone take photos out a tiny window as everything sped by outside. But thankfully I made it work and some keys to success were high ISO, shutter speed priority and constantly keeping my eyes on the road ahead in anticipation of what might pass by my window next.

Some photos merely document the setting: houses on pillars to avoid flooding and landslides - roadside souvenir stands in the middle of nowhere - city streets packed with bustling traffic - banana farms - mountains - and even stray animals of all kinds. The photos I'm most excited about, though, are the ones which I think capture the emotion of the people and the 'human condition'. The way they exist and interact with one another and tourists was just so foreign to me and is what I enjoyed photographing most.
Man watching workers repair a roadway which collapsed due to landslide
House on cinder block stilts - a common sight. Helps avoid damage from flooding.
Roadside fruit market
Sign covered in bullet holes
If he/she repairs furniture the same way they do windows... I can't imagine business is very good.
Shacks and scrap vehicles line much of the road
Winding, steep roads
One day I took a guided land and sea tour around the island. There was one small fishing village called Anse La Raye where the jeep stopped and we were able to get out and walk around. I left the group and wandered off on my own. Down the street I came across a man named John who told me he was the grounds keeper of the local church and invited me to follow him around - to the church, his fishing boat (more like a canoe) and his home. It was incredible and of course, as is custom in these areas, I tipped him which will help him provide for his family.
People on the Jeep. The little girl was named Danielle - a real trouper.
John's mom
Man teaching me how to play the steel drum
This seemed to be a recurring theme throughout these "pit stops" in the small cities and villages - locals are quick to approach and offer help or goods for purchase. Usually they were really friendly, but the odd time I was approached by some pretty sketchy characters, so the need to be smart and aware was definitely there. It wasn't uncommon to see a man walking down the street carrying a machete - although this was the one thing I was never able to get a clear shot of.
Man selling souvenirs on the edge of a cliff
This creek served as the local laundromat, evidence of St. Lucia's African/French heritage
Old dog sleeps under this car
If you're like me, when you look at the collection of photos above they're definitely not what you expected to see when you heard the name St. Lucia. Reason being, tourism is the number one export in this country - and to most people these rundown roadways and villages wouldn't be condusive to a paradise island nicknamed "The Helen of the West Indies" (after the famous beauty of Troy). Although I prefer to visit the small villages, most would prefer to stay in a secluded resort. The resort I stayed in is a far cry from you've seen above, definitely "sells" better and ultimately made the perfect location to have a wedding. Below would be the images you'd expext to find in a St. Lucia travel brochure.

In summary, the island truly is beautiful in many ways both geographically and culturally, but it has it's surprises. Not all of them good, not all of them bad, just a healthy mix of both which is fine in my books... it was a photographer's playground.
I’ve always been a fast shooter. I don’t know what it is about me, or my way of thinking, that makes me work so fast (and efficiently, I hope?) but I often get “the shot” I envision much faster than expected sometimes. I think it comes from experience mostly, and knowing how to handle situations. Case in point, (and little known fact) some of the more popular shots in my music portfolio such as There For Tomorrow, Mayday Parade, We The Kings, Breathe Carolina and Steve Aoki were all one minute shoots done backstage at concerts. There was zero time to setup. I literally took around 3-5 photos before these artists were dragged away from me by managers and/or media.

Being prepared for anything and, more importantly, being able to adapt to anything have probably become the two most important things in my life let alone my photography.

So back to the title of this post – the one minute photoshoot. I’d like to share a very recent experience with you and a few things I learned along the way as I made the best of a situation as fast as I could.

On day 4 in the recording studio with Lights I arrived ahead of everyone else, and as I walked through the halls of the building I noticed a heap of furniture against the white brick wall. (*my creative mind screams* Awesome!) I must have walked by this at least half a dozen times before on previous days, but never really thought much of it. But this time was different for whatever reason, maybe because I was feeling more comfortable and had the freedom to explore before the day got started. So amongst the chairs, electronic pianos, guitar cases and road bikes (common recording studio stuff, right?) was this humble little black leather couch. I’m thinking… white brick wall + hard wood floor + couch = cute/simple portrait of Lights on couch. Perfect, right!? I cleared the stuff away from around the couch, snapped a quick test shot and went inside.

Lights arrived shortly thereafter and we hung out for a bit, played some iPad video games and I realised this day was already going to be pretty relaxed - no one was really feeling the need to get down to business right away. Turns out we were waiting for a few special guests to arrive and there was some time to kill. This gave me the opportunity to ask if I could take a couple portraits outside in the hallway. “Of course!” she says after I showed her the test shot on my camera and what I had in mind. That was key - and in a more difficult situation would have meant half the battle won because if I was working with someone who was more uptight than Lights (i.e. 80% of most people), showing a rough idea of what I want to achieve helps them visualise the end result. It also proves you know what you’re doing, and by already having an idea in mind this reinforces the fact that everything will be quick and painless.

Regardless of how much fun we were having in the studio that day, I knew she was there to get work done – not necessarily be harassed by me for photos unrelated to the project at hand. So being conscious and respectful of that, I wanted to make it quick. I grabbed my 7D outfitted with a 10-20mm Sigma and off we went to the hallway. I was in such a rush that I didn’t even think to grab one of the two flashes I had with me as well.

I had a rough idea of the exposure I needed thanks to the test shot I took earlier. But when Lights sat down, I took one shot and examined it and a couple things were going wrong: a) I didn’t like the look of her on the couch and I thought maybe this was a terrible idea and b) the shadows on her face were really dark because I had no flash/reflector/nothing. Now, the funny part about this whole situation is that Lights is a really cool person and if I asked her to wait a minute while I ran and grabbed a flash it would be no big deal at all. But I’m so used to shooting under pressure with people on tight deadlines that the thought never even entered my head. Also, as a photographer you always want to appear like you know what your doing - if you’re running around switching lenses and making weird faces or sighs your subject is going to lose interest in you. So I did what I do best I guess – I adapted. I needed to capture as much light as possible. I ramped up my ISO to 1600, decreased my shutter speed to 1/40 and brought my aperture down to 4.0. I knew this was the slowest shutter speed I could get away with - because the most important thing at this point was to ensure the photo was crisp and clear regardless of how dark it was. I knew I could bring the RAW files to life again later in Photoshop.

I snapped a few more shots and something still wasn’t quite right – it didn’t feel like Lights. It didn’t feel like me either, if that makes any sense – the composition was uncomfortable and wasn’t fun or engaging at all.
Something had to change, so I asked her to lean forward or rest her arms on her knees and I took one last shot. I glanced down at my camera and I knew that was it. That was the shot - the best I could do with the equipment I had and the crazy deadline ticking in my head. I showed her, she was happy, and we both went back inside and got to work! It was a nice reminder that you don’t always have to have a million flashes and hours of shooting time to get a great shot:
So to summarize the point of this post:

1) Always be prepared - have a vision in mind, play it out in your head
2) Know your equipment like the back of your hand - what are the limitations
3) Make the best of situations - stay calm, find solutions
4) Be professional - be courteous of your subject
and most importantly 5) Have fun - be approachable and sociable

…because it will show in the photos.
This past week I was out shooting a friend at night for a new music project he's working on. I had originally hoped to start the shoot earlier in the evening, around dusk which would have allowed for some natural lighting and some photos without flash - but since traffic and other circumstances got in the way we were forced to start later than anticipated and it was DARK.

Now, in most situations like this it would be easy as a photographer to freak out and think the shoot is going to be a total bust. But that is never the case and I always tend to find a solution.

Before David arrived I frantically searched through my gear to see if I had brought my mobile studio flash which would certainly come in handy/ideal to use in this situation. Unfortunately it seemed that I had forgotten it at home (later in the week, I found it buried in my car lol) and so I would have to quickly come up with a Plan B.

Like most photographers these days, I always have a flash diffuser with me - my preferred choice is the Gary Fong line of flash accessories. I knew from experience that as a last resort this would definitely help me achieve a broader and softer flash spectrum (as opposed to shooting without it, causing the flash to be very harsh and direct - absolutely terrible for portraits).

But - the hidden gem in my camera bag as it turns out would not be the flash diffuser, but rather my flash bracket which I also carry with me but rarely use. By combining the diffuse light from the Gary Fong and the added reach of the flash bracket, these two accessories turned out to be the perfect one-two punch for amazing portraits on the fly in the middle of the night. See figure below.

1 - Gary Fong diffuser
2 - Canon EX Flash
3 - Flash bracket
4 - ETTL cable for flash bracket

Basically, what the flash bracket+Gary Fong combo allowed me to do was shoot as if I had a studio flash with me. And especially on Manual mode, the results were really striking - I was surprised. Not 100% ideal, but the shoot went well and the client is happy - that's what matters most.

By creatively making use of the flash bracket I was able to angle or stretch my flash in different ways - thereby directing the light in a variety of directions and creating shadows behind the subject in such a way that no one would ever know the source of light was actually attached to my camera. Getting your flash away from your lens is the most important thing in this type of work, to create more flattering light and shadows. There's nothing worse than the direct flash deer-caught-in-the-headlights look.

Here's some raw out-takes from the shoot. Notice the soft lighting on the face as well as the direction of the light which could easily pass as the result of studio lighting triggered off-camera:

I would definitely recommend these accessories and if you don't already have them, go pick them up. They are relatively inexpensive in comparison to strobes/stands/power packs, easy to use and most importantly lightweigt and mobile. Ask your local Henrys or Vistek about the availability of these products.

By the way, you can check out more band portraits in the Music portfolio.
So as some of you might be aware from my Facebook/Twitter updates, in mid-August I had the opportunity to go on vacation and visit my brother who lives in The Bahamas. The best part: my visit was a total surprise! My cousin and I (who also came along) had my brother fooled into thinking we would be visiting the following week.
As soon as we landed in Nassau we decided before heading to the house that we would grab some groceries and much needed drinks before my brother came home from work. I heard stories of how expensive most foods are down there in comparison to Canada and the US because virtually everything has to be imported because is it either grown or manufactured elsewhere (for obvious reasons; this particular island was only some 20 odd miles long). Even the most basic items like bread and milk are double or triple the price. That being said, the booze was so cheap I could hardly believe my eyes! Side note: I learned that a favourite cocktail for the locals is gin mixed with milk (puke).

So we were fully stocked up on water, food, booze and all the essentials like KD and headed to the house hoping to still beat my brother home from work. And what happens? We meet him in a roundabout just a few blocks from home! Haha... even though our surprise plan was sort of ruined – we wanted to be hiding in the house when he got home – the look on his face as he entered the roundabout and noticed his girlfriend’s car with us inside it was priceless. He stopped and pulled over to take a good look at us. I was in the front seat, my cousin and his girlfriend in the back… He must have thought we were strangers! But as soon as I waved and smiled at him, he recognised it was me and burst out laughing and came over to greet us all with the biggest smile and hugs I think I’ve ever received. It was awesome! Until this time I hadn’t visited him since he moved away about 1-2 years ago. This visit was long overdue. And so my first Caribbean experience began!

Stray dogs called “Pot Cakes” are scattered all over the islands apparently and go, for the most part, ignored – though some people, my brother told me, always carry a bag of dog treats in their car to feed dogs on their way to work. My brother being the animal lover he is decided to keep two of them and give them a better life. Cleverly named Eddie and Murphy, they were great company and a lot of fun to be around. Very thin, this seemed to be the norm in these parts of the world. One thing that I couldn’t believe was how well they survived and seemed perfectly at home outside in the heat; it was constantly above 30 degrees Celsius.

My brother’s house was amazing [red check mark, below]. I could have spent the whole week just hanging out in his backyard which he shares with his landlord and includes a pool, tons of palm trees, gazebo, outdoor surround sound stereo and everything else you could ever ask for. There were tropical frogs, geckos and other wildlife running around all over the pace – especially at night. Hanging out in the mineral-filtered pool, cooling off with some Kalik in hand (“Beer of the Bahamas”) and watching the sun go down was the best feeling in the world.
For the first few days we did a bunch of day and night trips to various nearby beaches, including flipper beach, jaws beach and an exclusive yacht club beach. The day spent at flipper beach was particularly awesome. We packed a cooler fool of food and drinks, and headed out to the National Park where the beach is found. My brother convinced the rangers to let us drive through the bush and literally park right on the beach. We unloaded our snorkeling gear and off we went - dove right into the water and explored some coral reefs and an abandoned pier. We played football around the pier, diving into the water to catch the ball. We also came across some cool stuff like this crab below, and the sunset was to die for.
We’d been in the Bahamas since Wednesday at this point and on Saturday we all wanted to do some of the more “touristy” things like take one of those explorer boating packages to Norman’s Cay and Exuma (cost around $200US) but my brother just so happened to have a friend on Facebook that owned a powerboat docked at Paradise Island [blue check mark above] and was planning an excursion of his own out to these islands and welcomed us aboard! It was amazing – and definitely worth the huge savings for all of us (…or so we thought…)

I can’t remember exactly in which order we visited various Islands and harbours… I was just living in the moment, along for the ride in every sense of the word. But throughout the beginning of this boat trip, we all had the time of our lives. We anchored and/or beached the boat at various little islands and coves, some uninhabited protected wildlife sanctuaries… seemingly undisturbed by anything except us at that very moment. We hopped out of the boat, grab a beer and some snorkeling gear and literally just sit in the sand or water, sting rays and schools of fish swimming by as if we weren’t even there.

One of the coolest things we explored at the start of the trip was a seaplane which crashed in the ocean and was mostly preserved in the water. “The Bahamas were a mecca for drug smugglers in the 1970's until the government got its act together and cleared them out. The most notorious of them was Carlos Lehder who bought Normans Cay to use as his base. Although all is quiet and peaceful now the evidence of its previous history is very obvious – his semi-submerged drug runner’s plane lies in the anchorage.”

We anchored close to the plane and swam out to it, I was able to stand on the wing of the plane and also dive in and swim through the main fuselage. My brother’s camera was waterproof and he was able to capture photos of some of the wildlife that have set up camp around the plane and now call it home.
From there we went to what was believed to be the actual cove where drugs reached shore. And interestingly enough – the tides were constantly shifting in this area – which provided us with the perfect opportunity to beach the boat in the middle of the cove, hop over the side and out into the ocean water (only about a foot deep) and just lay there, soaking in the sun and getting a sort of natural massage as the tide rolled in and out over top of our bodies. Beautiful! And I guess as a druglord back in the day, this truly would have been the perfect spot to do business since many ships wouldn’t be able to gain access to the beach; the water was so shallow. We also stopped nearby at a series of Islands called the Exumas, which are home to an endangered species of Iguana. I got up close and personal with some of them and hand-fed them grapes. Super cool experience.
By this time it was starting to get late and some much needed food was in order. Apparently a few miles away there was a Restaurant and Lodge called MacDuff’s. So we headed off in search of some food! We reached MacDuff’s about a half hour later. Since the tides were constantly shifting we had to anchor about 25 feet from shore and wade our way in, to save damaging the boat. Walking along shore, you could see a bunch of little cabins in the bush and as we made our way through the pathways we finally found the restaurant. Talk about remote! This place felt like it wasn’t even on the map, but breathtaking nonetheless. We sat down at a wooden table and ordered some food – thankfully for me there were some “American” options like chicken fingers – which I ordered – if you know me; you know they’re a favourite of mine. For the record, these were no Jack Astors chicken fingers, but they still hit the spot. The room we sat in was essentially just a raised deck, with canopy above and screened-in all around. The screens did little to keep the mosquitoes and “no-see-ums” (a biting insect so small it’s nearly invisible) away since the floor was littered with cracks and I was literally getting eaten alive. About 2 minutes after sitting down I had about 30 bites all over my skin. I ran back to the boat to grab a shirt, came back to meet up with everyone and continued eating.
Meal was fantastic! The sun was sinking and it was about that time to head home. Dun Dun Dun… *cue Jaws theme song*... So we all pile into the boat. By this time, our captain and his girlfriend are absolutely wasted, it’s been a long day of drinking and such; and the probability for bad decisions at this point was at an all time high (literally). I was fairly sober because that morning I felt sick and wanted to take it easy all day. As we were leaving I was talking to one of the girls who tagged along for the trip about what we’d do if the boat were to break down in the middle of the ocean… in a thunderstorm. Funny I should say that, because sure enough, not even 15 minutes after leaving shore and heading home, a series of alarms start going off on the boat’s dashboard. UH OH. This can’t be good. The boat is losing power quickly. My brother notices that the oil indicator is flashing for one of the motors – the boat had two 250HP outboard engines. So we head to the nearest harbour called Highbourne Cay in search of oil in hopes that this would fix the problem.
Finally we make it to the harbour. First of all – its absolutely STUNNING just like pretty much everything else in this part of the world. And to top it off, there’s massive yachts parked at all the docks… one of the boats was bigger than most houses I've seen in my lifetime. Ok so surely, we’ve come to the right place – there’s gotta be someone here who can help us! We find a spot to tie the boat up and head to the general store up the hill. It’s about 6PM now. Big sign on the door says store hours “8AM-5PM”. We’re screwed! So we ask a few of the other boat owners if they could spare any oil. My brother seems to know everyone, and here we are in the middle of nowhere and he happens to know one of the familys docked at the harbour, their boat was beautiful and for good reason - they own the Sandles resort franchise! After approaching a few of the other boats asking for help, a good samaritan donated 2 bottles of oil to us and we topped up both engines. But unfortunately, this didn't solve the problem and the alarms continued to sound.

So we head back out to sea (in retrospect, we probably should have stayed put). And the debate begins: do we try and make it home before sundown on one engine, or do we try to find a room to stay back at MacDuff’s. Captain makes the call that we should probably play it safe and try and get a room at MacDuff’s and re-assess the situation in the morning. Off we go back in the direction of MacDuff’s, it would take us over an hour on one engine running at about 10% power so we radio ahead to them (never would have guessed a restaurant could receive a distress call from a boat, but I guess in this part of the world when help is needed you need all the help you can get). “Mayday Mayday come in MacDuff’s” one of the girls speaks through the radio after many failed attempts at getting a response. Finally they respond. We tell them our situation and ask if there are any rooms available. As luck would have it, no rooms available. But they offered to leave a light on for us so we could find the shore. Great thanks! ...

By this time darkness has fallen, and we finally reach the shore at MacDuff’s again. Us Canadians, we’re sort of freaking out while everyone else is laughing and carrying on having a great time talking about camping on the beach and roughing it for the night. Me: I was thinking this isn’t what I signed up for AT ALL, with only the shirt on my back and one bottle of water. But with no other options available to me I had no choice but to go with the flow. We’re nearing shore and… buzzzzzzz… you guessed it. The no-see-ums and mosquitoes are quickly on the attack. We’re all literally being eaten alive. This was going to be the most unpleasant night I’ve ever spent camping hands down. Everyone else quickly felt the same and realised this would be no easy-breezy survivor beach getaway. So we collectively decided to drive back out into the middle of the ocean, in order to catch a breeze and keep the bugs away. In the coming hours this would prove to be a great decision to beat the bugs, but a bad decision for our safety and well-being…

Captain anchors the boat about 1-2KM off shore. “We’re staying here for the night, this boat ain’t movin’ no matter what. Do not touch the rope; we will not move this boat. We’re gunna rough this night out folks, I’m sorry.” he kept on saying in his drunken state. By this time it was only about 9PM, and the captain and his girlfriend were downing the Bacardi like water and blasting the on-board stereo as loud as possible trying to turn this night into a party. The rest of us, sitting there in the middle of the ocean as lightning and thunderstorms loomed on the horizon, weren’t so stoked on the situation. We were in a predicament no doubt. Stay out at sea and take the thunderstorms on head first, or go back to shore and take the mosquitoes on head first. We had no protection against either bugs or thunderstorms; no bug spray, no cover, no warm clothing – you name it. Just a cooler of booze, Doritos and each others company is essentially all we had.

11PM rolls around, the music is absolutely BLASTING in everyone’s ears and the thunderstorms are headed straight for us. The winds are picking up. The sea around us is absolutely silent save for the echoing thunder off in the distance. We all knew it was the calm before the storm, and summer storms in the Caribbean are hardly friendly. I’m literally sh*tting my pants at this point. This could be Hurricane Roxanne headed for me for all I knew - things were not looking good for us by any stretch of the imagination.

BAM! Lighting strikes and the battle against the storm was on! The boat rocked back and forth, up and down, every which way you could imagine – the anchor amazingly holding firm in the seafloor – acting as a saviour but also tugging the boat this way and that like a raging bull. The boat had almost no shelter from rain except a tiny overhead canopy above the driver seat; the rest was completely open to the elements. We got SOAKED by the rains. One guy named Ron (who was the closest thing to a Pirate I’ve ever met) curled up under the bow of the boat in a small cubby whole. The rest sat and hung on for dear life, I stood and held onto the driver windshield as best as I could as the boat continued to rock and bounce around like Mother Nature’s play toy. At this point we’re all in dire straights; I’m terrified and shaking from the pouring rains and I’m cold to the bone. The girl next to me is screaming and bawling her eyes out, I offered her some shelter under my towel and together we held on for dear life…

I started arguing with the driver to take us back to shore; I said mosquitoes won’t kill me but lightning, sharks and barracudas (if the boat were to flip) and hypothermia certainly can and we needed to get the heck off the water. “Nope. We will not move this boat. No one touch the rope. Swim to shore if you have a problem with it” He slurred in response. I wanted to kill this guy, but had no choice but to do as I was told since no one else seemed to back up my train of thought.

We survived two of these storms, the second was the worst and amazingly after the second one ended around 2AM the sky above us cleared and the storms continued to crack and thunder but passed some distance away from us. Keep in mind – the music is still blasting. And we can’t convince the driver to turn it off for love nor money. The Bacardi was still flowing and we all realised at this point it would be a sleepless night. If you have to go to the bathroom, guess what – you’re doing it off the back of the boat.

I would have loved to take photos throughout the night but my camera isn’t waterproof and was safely stowed away and I didn’t want to risk bringing it out of hiding. Let me tell you it was the craziest and most scary experience of my life that I’ll never forget.

Finally 6AM rolls around and the sun begins to rise. (did I mention the music is still blasting?) and we all think to ourselves – THANK GOD. LETS GET HOME. Buddy turns his GPS locator on, and we begin our journey home on the one engine barely functioning. I think the waves traveled faster than us. Normally at proper speed the ride home would take roughly an hour, but the GPS estimates our travel time back to Nassau at current speed is 7 hours. When I heard that I was seriously contemplating jumping over board and drowning myself! 7 HOURS! In the heat of the sun, no water or shelter, no food besides chips. This was truly a nightmare. No one was speaking to one another, we were absolutely exhausted save the captain who continued to drink and carry on, keeping us awake for the entire ride.

About 6 hours later we made it back to the harbour, trust me it felt like a lifetime. My body and face was burnt to a crisp, we’re all severely dehydrated, heat-exhausted, seasick and have just spent a total of 28 hours on this boat.

As soon as we reach the dock my family and I pile out and head to the car and hit the nearest gas station to freshen up and drink some water. Disaster averted, but it was definitely a painful ride home. We reach my brothers house around 12:30 in the afternoon and we all crawl into bed and sleep the day away after some much needed KD.

After such an awful experience and with only one more day left to spend in the Bahamas we decided to hit Breezes all-inclusive resort [green check mark above] to make up for the epic fail and waste of time spent on the boat. The pool and drinks were amazing, the king bed was heaven and the food was to die for. Best decision I ever made, and rounded off our trip nicely.