Peter's Journey with Strobes
Every photographer that starts to shoot portrait, I was fortunate that I had no clue I wanted to be a photographer. I didn't want to be a photographer, all of a sudden I just thought, hey these guys are cool. I was hanging out with them and I was like, it's kinda cool to take pictures and I kept getting, "Why aren't you picking up the camera?" And, I was like, I could shoot my friends, I guess I could get into it. I had actually taken ... Okay, I said I'd never taken a photography course, I did take photography in high school and I learned a little bit of dark room in high school but I got my report card back and the teacher marked off the check box that says, lax enthusiasm. (audience laughter) I have that report card somewhere, I'm going to find it and frame it. I think it's just awesome. It's awesome. But yeah, I never worked with strobe, I never did anything and I hadn't picked up a camera, shot a camera since high school. I would borrow my stepfather's camera back in high school. ...
So I think when you pick up a camera, and in my case since I was modeling, I was watching, I was involved and I was like, okay I've shot with natural light a lot of the time, I'm going to start with natural light but every time I work, people are using strobes, like that time when I went to Italy and shot with Maurizio and he was using the strobes outside with the batteries and they were small, and I was like, this is what I need because I don't have a studio. I was like, I'll shoot everybody outside and I'll use these strobes. So I did. I was in all these studios and I was like, well now I need pro-photos everywhere. Every studio has these pro-photo packs, I gotta figure out, I gotta want that and then we do this as photographers, new gear comes out, we see gear, we want gear and then I wanted the gear and then I got the gear and then I didn't know what to do with it. I had all this gear and I knew it was for a specific reason but I had no clue what to do with it. So one day I'm on a, I had bought the Acute 2H 24, Acute 2R 2400 pack, right? 2400 Acute 2R. And I was starting to buy modifiers for it and stuff. And I'm modeling and this guy takes the pro-globe. The pro-globe, right? You know what it is? It's just a round globe that looks like a light bulb and you put it on the light. And he hung it right here next to me while I'm modeling and I was like, I left the shoot, I was like, I need to buy that thing now. (audience laughter) Great! So what did I do? I went out and bought a pro ... Do you know the last time I used ... I don't even know where the pro-globe is in my studio. So, you really have to ... I had Cathy said to me, where's Cathy? Oh there you are. You said to me, you like to rent your gear and try it before you go buy stuff. I think that's a great idea. If you can do that. You know, I didn't need a pro-globe. I mean what the heck? I didn't even know what I was doing with it. I just saw what he was doing and was like, okay I gotta have that. So, I don't think that's the case but the other thing was, I didn't have a base. I didn't have my foundation light. I didn't understand what I was doing. I was haphazard. I was trying everything and getting nowhere fast. And it was scary because I was starting to work. I was starting to gain a living at this, doing this natural light stuff. I was getting jobs for Reebok, they wanted me to shoot all their shoes for their ads. And they would Photoshop the shoes into the ads. I was just doing it in the window with natural light. And I was like, I gotta get lights I think to do this work. My friend was working for the ad agency and she gave me these wonderful jobs and that is how I paid for the ... Every time I got a job, I bought a new piece of equipment. And I built my kit that way. So, you don't have to go bonkers all at once, you get a job. But my thing was, is that I'm going to go with what I know I need ultimately and I'm going to buy the best stuff. So I always did that but I saved until I could do it. I remember, you know, not having ... I remember not having enough money to buy a pair of sneakers I wanted back then. I was like, I can't buy these sneakers. I was looking for the best deal online on these pair of sneakers that I wanted and I couldn't buy them and I didn't want to buy them because I didn't want to spend the money because I wanted to save up for my lighting or something. And I was walking around New York as an ex-bartender, still modeling, a terrible actor, not making a living and I was like, there is nothing that's going to stop me from making money with this camera. Nothing. So everything went into photography. But I want to show you the pictures I was making, while this was going on. So, this was one of the first shots I took with that Lumiline kit, in my brother's living room. It's my friend, Mike. And I love it. And I still love it. And, I don't know how I did it. I don't know how I did it. I just put the light up and I started to play. And I don't know if I could do it again. (laughs) I mean, I just love it, you know? This is Cohari. He's a model, friend of mine, good buddy of mine and all my friend's were models so I would be like, do you mind coming in? I want to try some stuff. And I took those Lumilines and I put soft boxes on it, I didn't know what to do and I just pointed them at them. I just took them and pointed them, I was just experimenting. I haven't looked at these in a really long time. This is Zack. This is the guy, after he was on the rock in Central Park, and I figured out the shutter sync, I took this picture. Three, two, one, shabang. And, this was me attempting to build a base. But if you look at these pictures, everything is different, I'm not really sure what I'm doing. I didn't know what I was doing. I love them. But I didn't know what I was doing and I didn't know how to recreate them and I didn't know how to build a business around them. But I loved them. I was searching. But I didn't have the answers. I was just doing it on the fly. I took him and I just started to mess with him. And I did this way back then. And that's in front of that window. Mixing natural light with the strobe. And I don't know how I did it. And I love it. I love it. But I couldn't build a base from it. I did that! I don't know how I did that. I mean I don't do that now, I mean that's that kick that's too blown out for me, that's not my thing. A lot of photographers do this and it looks cool. You'll see a lot of athletes shot like that, right? And it looks cool, it's not my thing. But I did it. I was trying to take everything I might have seen, or a picture that I might have saw that I wanted to try to emulate and I was trying to do something with it. But again, does it look anything like the one before? If I put portfolio together of these, would you know what you're getting when you came in to see me? I had no base. I was having fun with it but I had no base. I took those Lumilines and I was like, okay, there was a Gucci ad that ran where there was like this highway and I was trying to get the ambient light down which you do with high speed sync these days, right? And you get the ambient light down. Or you can do it with a neutral density filter and open up and get it down and shoot the flash. And I put the sun in there and I'm down on the ground and I'm shooting up at this guy and I love it! I loved, it was the shebang for me. When I got that polaroid, I was dancing around like a kid in a candy store. Like, people in the street were like going nuts. This was on the westside highway, this is the thing where all the cars go to get on the cruise ships. It's still there. I shot it and that was the shot. Now, I don't know why I put the pole through his head. I know you're thinking, you put the pole through his ... I don't know! I didn't know what I was doing! I don't know why the pole's going through his head. Whatever. It's not about that. It's about me trying to find my base. This is Kevin, he was one of the models in the agency and I went to Mood Fabrics. That's the place where they use, like Mood in New York is the hottest fabric place. And the guy ... And I was like looking for fabrics and I was like, I'm a really new photographer, I just want a background of something and he's like, well I've got this fur thing but it was like, it was like 1000s of dollars, I forget how much it was. It was all different furs and you can't really get a good glimpse but it was this fur-like blanket type thing and he's like, "I'll let you borrow it." I was like, "Really?" He's like, "Yeah." I was like, "Wow." So I went to the agency and Kevin was one of the hottest guys at the time and I put this up and I put one soft box here and I got that picture. Again, I love the work. I still had no base. I took that. (laughter) I love the work. I still didn't have ... Has there been one shot in here that's consistent? That you would say, "Oh yeah, that photographer took it." You see what I was doing? I was searching. I know you guys are searching. You don't have to have the answer now. I didn't have it. I certainly didn't have it. Don't wrack your brain over this. You have to find it and you have to do it by being consistent. You have to build your foundation, put your light in your back pocket when you're shooting. You're done. You start to build from right now, you decide what you're going to do and you're going to do it consistently. Over and over and over again. Until you can build a portfolio. This was obviously shot a very long time ago. This was on the roof of that first apartment in the studio I was in. And those are the, that's a world trade center. And I was playing. I had a blue filter on the lens and I had an orange gel on my light to knock out the blue. So I got him that color and everything else went really blue. I was trying. I was trying stuff. I didn't know what I was doing. And I love it all but can I use it? It's not me. It was searching. I told you, my grandmother's house, we were tearing it down. So I was like, I'm gonna do a shoot. So I got a bunch of friends and I started just messing with them and we got a stylist and we got some hair and we did some stuff and I told them to tug on a vacuum cleaner. (laughter) Act like you're fighting over a vacuum cleaner. Then I shot this beautiful woman and she was my muse for years. I mean when I first picked up a camera, this was it. I was shooting my wife as much as possible. I love these pictures of my wife. It's really, have you ever shot your spouse? You guys know how difficult it is, right? Like, I don't shoot her anymore, that's dangerous. But back then, I used to love it. I'm kidding, she's probably watching. I'm going shoot you, don't worry. (audience laughing) But I love these pictures of my wife, I absolutely love them. But again, does it look like my work now or does it look like anything I do now? It doesn't mesh, it doesn't fit the puzzle. I love looking at them. And I love her. And I'm fortunate, I don't know how I pulled that off. (audience laughter) I was just messing. This was in Ny-ar-ki. Remember the picture of the guy I had in the window? This was later in the day, and the house was being torn down so I was like, let's do something weird, so we just started spraying the hose everywhere. But again, I didn't know what I was doing. Then I had this guy spray the hose at my wife mopping up the floor. I was attempting to be some sort of fashion photographer. An then was like, okay, let's take a bunch of tools and just bash in the walls. And back then I thought it was cool and I was trying and I was playing. I want you guys to play and I want you guys to try. But again, I want you to start to hone it in. You're going to start to find it. I still wasn't finding it at this stage of the game and I had a dilemma. I had a problem. I had a major problem. Because I was working but I wasn't able to get it done. I didn't know anything about this. I didn't understand this. Right? We know it now. All of us know it. All of us know it, all of you guys know it. You know it. I use it now. I didn't know it then. I understand how I can control light a lot better now. So inverse square law. Intensity of light equals one over the distance squared. So as you're moving, this is from my illuminating the face tutorial on Fstoppers, which you can get the discount off of if you use the code creativelive, go grab it. You can see that if the light, you see how close I shoot now with the lights? None of those pictures, the lights were that close. I just didn't know. Right? So now I'm using the light for what it's designed to do. I get the light doing exactly what I want it to do. Through doing that. Every time you double the distance of light from your subject the light output drops 75%. I didn't know that, that's crazy. Use the distance of the light away from your subject to control shadow density and you can change the contrast of the image. You're changing the shadow density, which is changing the contrast. So as you're practicing this stuff, I want you to attempt to get your lights as close as you can. Get them right outside that frame and work there, start there. I have had opportunities, that have come out of the blue, which have been pretty cool. I got a call, I was working in that studio and the woman who ran the studio knew somebody that was working for Levi's and Levi's was doing a stint, a little thing on The Apprentice. So yes, I worked with the Donster. And I was on The Apprentice. She asked me, she was like, "Do you want to do this? Do you want to go on The Apprentice and go on national TV, well you need to shoot a Levi's ad campaign." I'm like, what kind of question is that? Of course I do. I wanna do that, are you kidding me? But guess what? Who had no base? I had no base. I was freaking out. I was like, an ad campaign? I have no idea what to do. Luckily, I had a friend who is a really good photographer, he's amazing, you should look at his work. His name is Beau Grealey. And he was assisting like Steven Klein and all these big time photographers and Steven Klein's assistant and all this stuff. And I went in and I ... And I called them and said, look I don't know what I'm doing. I'm going to be the first to admit, I have no clue what I'm doing. I got this Apprentice thing, potential job would you assist me on it and would you do my lighting? And he was like, "I'll do it, no problem. That would be great." So I said, also would you come over and show me a bunch of lighting setups? And he's like, "I'd love to." He was awesome. So he came over and we started to work with all the gear I had. And as he set stuff up, I was taking notes. And I took notes, then we set something else up and I took notes. And he shot me and I shot him and we just looked at the pictures and stuff like that. And that was it, I took all these notes and then he left. And I was like, okay, I think I got it. Well guess what? I didn't get it. I didn't really get it at all. I was like, I got a couple of things but I had to practice and make these things my own. But that was his ideas that he was giving me, that weren't internalized for me so I didn't really get it. So after that, we go on this Apprentice job and I was like, you do it, I'm just going to press the button, you do it. I didn't know how to light a white background. I didn't know how to light a subject. I was petrified but I got the job and I was like, I'm gonna go on The Apprentice. And we shot this Levi's ad campaign. And I shot it. These were the pictures from it. And it went on air and it was cool. I was so excited that I did it. I felt like wow, how did he do that? I remember he had these strips like this and then he had this thing like this and then he had the light back there. I don't know how much he was hitting the background with it and he was doing this and he was doing that. And I was like, okay whatever. And I had a great time on The Apprentice, it was awesome. I went back to my studio and I got call. And the call was this ... The call was, "Do you know a photographer in Los Angeles?" From a friend of mine, who was an art buyer. And she had been the one that gave me all the Reebok jobs and really helped propel my career and I was like, "Not really that I would recommend, I don't really know anybody." And I was like, "Why?" And she's like, "There's this job in LA and it's this weekend, I just need to find a photographer out there." I was like, "How much does it pay?" And she's like, "It's 20,000." And I was like, "I'm gonna be in LA this weekend." (audience laughter) I was like, what?! Are you kidding me? So I was like, damn, I just did The Apprentice, I know how to do that lighting. I was like, I don't know why I was cheap, I should have just flown Beau with me, he's kicking butt with photography at the time and now he's like superstar. So, I don't think he was assisting, he was like, "I'm not going to assist anymore." I was like, "Okay." So I was like, I'll go to LA and get an assistant, so I got to LA and I got an assistant and he was a friend of a friend and we got on the set of this job, this $20,000 job and I started to try and recreate this. I was like a fish out of water. I was a mess. It took me like ... The client was like, "What's going on?" I couldn't make the background look right. I was trying to flatten out ... I didn't know anything about the inverse square law. I didn't know about my modifiers, the guy that I got to assist me, he didn't help me. I was a complete wreck. I got the job ... Once I got the lights set up to where I liked it, it went fairly well. So, the shots looked good. The client was happy. It just took me an extra hour and a half to set it up. But once I got it ... I would have walked in their today and I would have been like, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. Let's get the models in and start shooting, no problem. I had no base. I had no base. And I was given a base from somebody else. So I hadn't internalized it. My sensitivity to that work was not there. My human light meter sensitivity thing was non-existent. I needed ... You guys are getting where I'm going with this? I'm going at you right now. I'm going straight for you. I want you. I want you to think about what it is that's going on with you. How you're going to develop your base. And how you're going to get there. Everything I went through made me the photographer I am today. Every problem area, every challenge, everything added up to what I do today. And I wouldn't ever give any of it back. Everybody says that in life, right? I wouldn't change a thing. I would not change a thing. So I don't care how frustrated you are right now, I don't care what equipment you have to work with right now, you're gonna start. And you're gonna start by figuring out one step. I want you to make goals for yourself. My goal was to be the best head shot photographer in New York at the time. That was a pretty loft goal. I feel fortunate that I obtained that. Anyway. I want you to look inside and think about this and I want you to go home or wherever you are, a lot of you are at home, and I want you to figure out your next shoot and what you're gonna do and what light you're going to do next and how you're gonna build your base. So you're never in a situation where you're not confident as a photographer. All my teaching, everything I do is so that you can stand here and know what you're doing and be more confident. That's what I do. That's what I want from you. And if I did that for you today, then that's it. That's amazing. Even if I got you thinking about it, that's what I care about. I'm going to go back to dissecting the face and we're going to go through this and then we're gonna ... Do we have questions?
No, we're good right now.
Okay, let me go through dissecting the face, guys. But I just wanted to build that in it because it's an emotional component for me. It means a lot, it's hard work obviously to get any ... Any successful photographer, I envy them for what their doing because we all know it's hard work. But it can be done, you can do it, you can figure it out and you can take those images that mean something to you and when you go and do a setup that you know looks great, where's you confidence go? You're subject is confident in you. Those two guys told me how excited they were to work with me after working with me that time. How much did that do for me? I love that, guys. I'm confident behind the camera, I know I can give something to the people in front of the camera. I want you guys to be able to do that too.