No sounds, no A/C

As Alice Cooper once said, “School’s out for summer”. Well, almost. It is not summer vacations yet but you can sense it in the air. Yesterday was the year end gala at my daughter’s school. It is funny to call it her school. Not long ago, it was “my son’s school” and before that, “my school”. Ok, that was a bit longer ago but still, you walk in there and nothing much changed. There were of course a few coats of paint since but the walls, the stairs, the classrooms are all at the same place, only smaller than they use to look like.

When I was in 5th grade, I was living across the street for the school. I had a small summer job that year where I needed to bring the office supplies from the front door to the 2nd floor where the storage room was. That was easy! Boxes of pens and pencils, a few notebooks, markers, chalk boxes and then… paper boxes. When you are 10 or 11 years old, a box of 10,000 sheets of paper is a bit heavier than when you’re 35. For a few days, all I did for 2 or 3 hours a day was climbing a staircase with boxes of paper. No complaints, no whining, no A/C…

The thing that was hitting me the most when I was going to work was how quiet the place could be. Schools have a typical feeling during the year with the kids energy floating in the air. During the summer, nothing. Lights are off in the hallways, the few people in the establishment are busy in their office and it give an entirely different feeling to the place. I had that frequent discomfort feeling about being alone in a place that should be alive.

So last night, I was asked to photograph the gala. Nothing artsy, nothing complicated. Just walk around, take pictures of the students and parents, a few pictures of the awards recipients and that’s it. As I was walking between the building where the guests were coming in and where the awards would be distributed, I came across the hallway leading to my old 3rd or 4th grade classroom. The lights were out in the hallway, there was no one around.

A strange feeling of discomfort.

There were no sounds, no A/C.

School's out


The impact of looking back

I just spent 25 hours sitting in front of a computer screen, from 4pm Friday to 10:30pm Sunday, looking at a guy talking about studio photography. He explained a lot about lights, modifiers, accessories, people interactions and more. I don’t do studio, although that statement might change one day, but the principles explained over these 3 days were so fundamental to photography, I knew I would be able to pick up something. Why did I decided to attend that weekend workshop, sitting for 3 days, listening to one person gives me his point of view on how to do things? 2 words: Zack Arias.

I knew the name from a previous video I have seen a while back called Transform, a film made for Scott Kelby’s blog. Transform was message so personal to Arias that is was forcing others to reflect on themselves, to relate to what he was talking about. He opened his film by saying “I am driving at 100mph on a dead end road…”. Who never stopped for a second and wonder what their next step would be and nothing obvious would come up. That can be a scary feeling. I know, I have been there, unfortunately more than once. The 1st time I came across that film, I must have watched it 4 times. That is impact.

So back to Arias workshop. I loved it! I am a gear head and if someone can show me how to use gadgets, I’m there. The workshop was the best I ever attended, not only photography related but in general but by the end of the workshop, all I could think about was to get studio strobes; at least 3. Why 3? 3 looks good… 3 looks good, right?

Then modifiers! Got to get those.


Wait a minute; I am missing the point. Arias’ opening on Friday was how photographers break their necks by acquiring stuff they have no use for, don’t know how to use, and most importantly, can’t afford it. I closed down B&H and eBay and made a list in my head of the gears I currently have and realize that if I can’t pull anything out of that, a studio strobe won’t be the solution. Arias message was clear, work with what you have and not with what you think you want. Works not only in photography; it works in life.

The gears I have are much better, according to the technical sections of the marketing brochures, than what I was using 4 years ago and still, I can look back at some unprocessed work made with a 6mp dSLR, touch it and love it still. New gears today won’t improve that.

I am glad I spent those 25 hours watching a screen over the past weekend. Having Zack Arias looking back on his career and living again the impact of his film “Transform” had on me was an eye reopening experience.

Looking back


Falling down the hole

A few years back, I met a photographer on Prince-Edward Island who was shooting entirely through pinholes and 4X5 film. Her photography had a stunning ethereal look. It got me curious about the equipment used. I built a wooden 35mm but the experienced ended up to be so frustrating; I lost count of how many rolls of film were wasted and in the end, I could not properly expose any of the frames… I then saw those manufactured camera covers with an aluminum insert. I thought this would be the right solution at this point.

I bought the adapter 2 years ago and put it on a shelf after trying it. What a deception it was. The results were nowhere near the image quality I had seen before. There is not much to set with these adapter: no focus, no aperture, no zoom, only ISO and shutter speed. I realize now that this adapter is very dependent on the light quality coming in and the post processing.

Shooting with a pinhole makes you realize how dirty your digital sensor is as every specks of dust on it show as little doughnuts. Larger specks will show sharper. I decided not to remove them all in post; it was close to impossible. Instead, I thought it would look more like an old scanned image, which is as far I think this adapter can go.

Might be something to concentrate on this summer and fine tune. More light will be falling down the hole soon.

Pinhole - 01

Pinhole - 02

Pinhole - 03

Pinhole - 04


Shooting at the D-Clic Photo and Video show

I was invited by Hai Au Bui, founder of Studio4Fun, to use their temporary facilities installed in collaboration with Booth Photographic at the Montreal D-Clic show. I kind of felt honoured to be on their potential photographers list, considering I had only worked with models a handful of times (officially twice) and never with true professional grade lighting equipment! I felt a bit more relax knowing I was shooting right after Vincent Lamoureux, on which I would be able to learn a thing or 2 by osmosis.

I showed up there, not knowing what I would be really facing with. A 10’X10″ dedicated floor space with 3 different 4′ wide backdrops, 3 or 4 strobes with barn doors and softboxes (lighting equipment and reflectors were provided by Booth Photographic) and a few relectors; plenty enough to have fun for a few hours, right? We were blessed with the presence of, right next to us, recruiting models for their agency services. What do models and aspiring models want to do when they sign up with them? They want to get to work!

During the 2 hours I was there, I had the chance to work with 3 models: Maude, Tania and Jessica. All 3 were great models to work with and were very receptive to shooting style proposals.

It was a bit nerve wrecking at times. You end up having that one-on-one photo session with a model, while 8 to 10 other people with cameras stand behind you trying to get the shot too. You start to wonder what they are thinking about; “Why did he put that light there?”, “Why is he shooting from that angle?”, “A 17-40mm lens! The model will be distorted..”. But then you turn around and notice that many are shooting in auto mode and you realize you are not the worse of the bunch.. (come on, everyone is looking for someone worse than them in a group…).

That was a great enjoyable day. Although the environment would be considered as a controlled one, it became a challenge from all the many changing variables such as loosing 2 lights and the big reflector (required for a Booth Photographic presentation) when you are about to do the setup you spent 20 minutes thinking about and have to come up with a plan B quickly. Or when a strobe decides it won’t fire anymore because you did not read the manual.. (Thanks to Jean-Francois O’Kane from Booth Photographic for the explanation about what we were doing wrong). That’s all good; where’s the fun without a few twists?

I am glad I had that opportunity. Someone told me I was completely stepping away from my signature style. I see it as walking into diversity. What’s the point deciding on your signature unless you tried what is available to you? I think that is the luxury you get mostly, if not only, when you are an amateur photographer. By working with more fashion oriented photography, I had to adapt my post processing workflow with new techniques which I ended up using when I did my “Back to the roots” shots. Plus, you get to have 18 year old women staring at you, which has not been that frequent for me over the past 17 years ;-)


On the dance floor




Get out of my head!