3 Portraits of Mark Pauline, Founder of Survival Research Laboratories (SRL)

I recently photographed Mark Pauline, the founder and director of Survival Research Laboratories (SRL), for Hi-Fructose Magazine. Check out issue 48 of Hi-Fructose for a brief and fascinating history of industrial art pioneers SRL written by John Law. I've been a big fan of SRL since reading about their crazy machines and performances in the 1980's, so this assignment was very special for me. 

Below are 3 portraits from the shoot.

1. After I arrived at SRL headquarters in Petaluma, CA, I spent some time walking around and looking at all of the amazing machines. Mark was working on a project near the table pictured above, and I set up the general framing without interrupting him.

Existing lighting was a mix of daylight and fluorescent. I turned off the fluorescent lighting to control color temperature. I set my exposure to have the room be a little bit dark.

Next, I set up a single Nikon SB-910 Speedlight on a stand to camera right, aimed at the ceiling. The ceiling was wood, which gave the light a warm tone. The Speedlight was used to light both Mark and the background.

I asked Mark to pose for a few minutes once everything was ready. I did a few quick lighting and exposure adjustments, made sure I had a few options by reviewing on the back of the camera, and then let Mark get back to work.

I really like the orange against green color palette of this shot, the hotspot on the screen in the background, and some of the supporting details like the calipers and WD-40.

Technical Details
Nikon D750 with 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II lens at 82mm
1/100, f/3.5, ISO 400
Nikon SB-910 Speedlight fired with a Pocket Wizard

2. Mark was working in his office inside the warehouse, which was made of salvaged glass. I set up the camera on a tripod outside, and took a few test shots. I liked the angle, and started experimenting with overlaying the out of focus wires in the foreground. 

Again there were fluorescent lights in the room which I switched off. This image is lit only by a mix of low level ambient daylight and the light from the computer. 

Sometimes you can find a portrait by just observing and keeping things simple. 

Technical Details
Nikon D750 with 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II lens at 135mm
1/60, f/3.2, ISO 800

3. I'd been photographing the machines at SRL for a couple of hours, and kept coming back to the idea of using this spot for a portrait. The device that Mark is leaning on is a flame thrower.

I set up the camera on a tripod and played with the framing. A monolight was set up on a C-stand to camera right. I used a 22" beauty dish for a crisp look. The 130º beam spread allowed me to light Mark and the surrounding area with one light. The overhead fluorescents were turned off, and the exposure was set to have the ambient background light trail off into darkness. 

I used a stand-in to get the positioning pretty close before asking Mark to pose. Some slight adjustments were made to the framing, lighting angle, and exposure. Once everything was set, Mark stepped in and took the natural stance that you see above. With just a little bit of direction to optimize the positioning relative to the machines, I knew this image would be a winner.

The portrait ran full page in Hi-Fructose Volume 48, and I'm really pleased with the way this one turned out!

Technical Details
Nikon D750 with 35mm f/1.8G lens
1/125, f/8, ISO 160
Einstein Flash Unit with 22" beauty dish and diffusion sock

Many thanks to Mark Pauline for his time, John Law for the great article, and Attaboy for the fun assignment!




Hi-Fructose Magazine #18: Billboard Liberation Front

Second generation operatives of the BLF ponder their next mission in an outtake from Hi-Fructose Magazine #18 -- by Joe Reifer
Second generation operatives of the BLF ponder their next mission in an outtake from Hi-Fructose Magazine #18 -- by Joe Reifer

Issue 18 of contemporary art magazine Hi-Fructose hit the streets recently, and features a 6-page piece on the Billboard Liberation Front (BLF). I've been a huge fan of the BLF's advertising improvements for a long time, so it was a big thrill to photograph 3 generations of BLF operatives for Hi-Fructose. BLF honcho Jack Napier found this amazing empty warehouse location, which I scouted a few days before the shoot. I was really fortunate to have friend and talented photographer Riki Feldmann on this assignment to help with the lighting.

We used the huge 86" Alienbees PLM with a diffuser on the key light, and then kicked a bare-bulb fill light off the floor from the other side. A Canon 5D Mark II with a 24-70/2.8L was tripod mounted for the group shots, and a second 5D II with a 70-200/2.8L was used for the individual portraits. PocketWizards were used to trigger the strobes, and everything worked without a hitch. The shooting time was about 2 hours for 25 portraits and 4 group shots.

As expected, the BLF was a rowdy and hilarious group to photograph. Riki and I were about to mark where to stand for the portraits with tape on the floor, and then someone spilled some whiskey. When people asked where to stand for their portrait, we told them "between the puddle of water, and the puddle of whiskey." In the large group shot in the magazine, there is a dead bird on the floor. One of the BLF members made an amazing disguise out of a bucket and a cardboard box while he was waiting to be photographed.

In addition to the piece on the BLF, issue 18 of Hi-Fructose features some really amazing art -- I was particularly blown away by the eerie, futuristic ruins of Jean-Pierre Roy. The interview with Mr. Roy is superb -- he speaks very eloquently about his work, and I found some interesting artistic parallels to abandoned places night photography (more on that later). Attaboy and Annie Owens put out a really fine publication -- look for Hi-Fructose at a bookstore, gallery, or museum near you.


KRK Ryden portrait for Hi-Fructose Magazine

Portrait of KRK Ryden -- by Joe Reifer

I recently photographed painter KRK Ryden for Hi-Fructose Magazine. His house/studio is packed with amazing toys, artifacts, books, and paintings. I went back this week to pick up one of his amazing 3-D prints -- complete with 3-D glasses, and the print is scratch-n-sniff! These beautiful handpressed prints were made in editions of 25, and are sure to be sold out soon -- reasonably priced at $150


Mars-1 Portrait

Mars-1 (#42) -- by Joe Reifer

Mars-1 (#42) -- by Joe Reifer

I photographed painter and sculptor Mars-1 yesterday afternoon in his San Francisco studio. These images were shot for Hi-Fructose Magazine. I made some images of Mars-1's latest paintings, and then began to do some detail shots around the studio. Painting details, palettes, paintbrushes, etc. -- I noticed my reflection when walking by this space age looking television sitting on a shelf.

Lighting Setup

I asked Mars if we could pull down the TV. We placed the TV on a ladder in front of his latest paintings. The overhead fluorescent lighting was turned off. A Canon 580EX was placed on a stand behind the TV to light Mars, and a second 580EX was used to light the paintings. The second flash was attached to a lower ladder rung with a Bogen 175F Justin Clamp. Both flashes were placed on E-TTL Slave mode. A Canon ST-E2 wireless transmitter was used in the hotshoe to control the flash output -- the subject light on group A, background on group B.

A small lamp was left on to act as a kicker on the TV. Exposure time for this image was 4 seconds at f/8, ISO 400. I considered gelling the 580EX 's with 3/4 CTOs to balance to the room lamp, but decided to go for a warm/cool lighting mix to add complexity.

Color Temperature

The color temperature for the lamp was about 3500. I set the color temperature in the RAW converter at about 4500, which resulted in:

  • The light on the TV is about 1000 degrees warmer than neutral - very warm, emphasizes orange/yellow tones.
  • The light on the paintings in the background is about 1000 degrees cooler than neutral, which brings out blue tones in the background that play against the orange of the TV.
  • The light on the subject is mostly flash, but the room lamp also shone on him during the long exposure. This mix gave reasonably neutral skin tones in the 4500 degree range.

More complex color temperature adjustments could be made by making multiple RAW conversions at different color temperatures, and using layer masks to blend the TV with the reflected image. Of course it's best to get things as close as possible in the camera.

Compositional Notes

The double reflection was a happy accident discovered when taking a few test shots. The camera was positioned on a tripod in front of the TV in an area that was kept dark. The camera was triggered with a cable release while standing outside of the TV reflection area. The dust on the top of the TV was left to give extra shape and texture. Slight variations in position were shot in order to help control where the scratches on the TV fell in the subject's reflection.

The first images contained a lot of ceiling in the background -- luckily there was a big piece of black material in the studio, which was secured to the ceiling with pony clamps. Using a black background really improved the shot. It's a good idea to keep a piece of non-reflective black material, some clamps, and a roll of gaffer's tape in your car. I also keep a white sheet in the back of my car, which can act as a diffuser, or as a ghost costume for night photography.


I wanted to make sure I was respecting Mars' time, as he's busy getting ready for a solo show at the Jonathan Levine Gallery in New York. I continued to check in with him during the shoot to make sure he was having fun. Mars was very patient and enthusiastic about taking the time to help make an unusual location portrait. Thanks to Mars for the hospitality, and Atta for the fun assignment.


Editorial Photography: The cost of doing business

Maybe you've been slinging a camera for a few years now. Shot some local events. Had a few things published. Maybe even got paid for your photos a few times. You are not alone. The modern era of inexpensive digital SLRs has created opportunities for many amateur photographers to get published, and ponder the dream of becoming a full time professional. I am here to splash some cold water on your face. There are very few people who can make a reasonable living as a full time editorial photographer. Witness the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) Cost of Doing Business Calculator. (Might be helpful to read the FAQ before proceeding). The calculator adds up the major expenses you'll have as an independent photojournalist, your desired income, and how many days of shooting you expect to bill in a year. The number you get is your cost of doing business. Let's proceed to the calculator and enter some numbers, shall we?

We'll use a broom closet as an office, a cheap cell phone plan, a spouse's insurance, and go with the most shoestring budget on everything we can. Think Top Ramen. Now assuming you are young and have cheap rent, let's enter $24K as your desired annual salary, and 100 days of shooting per year. That's 2 grand per month salary, and an expected 2 days of shooting per week. I end up with about $800 per week on the calculator. So now I need to bill 2 days per week at $400 to get by. Or 4 assignments as a stringer for a paper at $200 each. Or bill three days at $800 this week, and nothing for the next two weeks. Try fiddling around with the number of shooting days per year in the calculator. Or put the salary of your current job into the calculator, and realize your day job isn't so bad.

I did a week long workshop with lighting master Joe McNally back in 2004. Joe is one of the top editorial shooters in the country -- he's shot for Time, Life, Sports Illustrated, and National Geographic. These big magazines pay about $500-600 per day. Unless you can get a month long assignment from Geographic, it's going to be tough to make a decent living as an editorial photographer. Some of the best advice I got from Joe is that in the photography business you have to be an octopus. While one arm is doing editorial, you've got another arm that's doing stock, one that's teaching, and another doing portraits. How many arms do you have, and what are their photographic capabilities?

I don't think the transition into a full time photography career is impossible. If you have the drive, a plan, and some business sense you can make it happen. In a future episode we'll talk a little bit about some of the compromises that may be necessary to achieve your goals. In the mean time, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.