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Category Archives: location shooting

One of the more popular trends in photography today is the use of parabolic reflectors.  Now we are not talking about small metal reflectors but rather large and in several cases significantly larger umbrella shaped reflectors; at one end of the spectrum are the 5 to 10 foot tools like the Broncolor Paras, and the Profoto Giants, and at the other end the Mola Setti  and the  Elinchrom Deep Octa,  are examples that come to mind.  The quality of light that these shapers produce is truly wonderful, and is owed in part to a combination of their size, shape, depth, surface finish, and in some cases the ability to focus the light source.  With the exception of the Elinchrom, few of these light shapers are extremely portable, and none lend themselves for use with speedlights.

 

I have had a long standing love affair with these larger parabolics, as I like the directional properties of light they produce.  They play a prominent role in my photographic lighting.  I found myself looking for a smaller version that I could easily carry and have the option of using with speedlights.  Hensel must have seen me coming, because their 32 inch (80cm) Master White Parabolic Umbrella is just what I was looking for.

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Now I am not a big user of ‘traditional’ photographic umbrellas.  I have four of them:  Three came in lighting kits, and the fourth, a 60” silver model I purchased after using a 5 foot Profoto Giant, hoping I might get similar results for a fraction of the cost.  Not even close!  The distinctive deep profile of the Hensel was too hard to resist.  Vinnie at Foto Care, placed an order with Hensel USA and within a few days the umbrella which I have dubbed “Paralite” arrived.

 

The umbrella which is extremely well made comes in its own carry bag.  The setup and take down couldn’t be easier; if you have ever used an umbrella, photographic or rain, you know exactly what to do.  Get a light stand, the flash of your choice and you are ready to go.  The light from this umbrella is smooth as opposed to brilliant, which is no surprise as the interior is white.  Because of its shape, the angle of spread is narrower than a conventional umbrella of the same size.  The results are a directional but diffused light, with more defined shadow and contrast.  While you may be able adjust the position of some lights along the umbrella shaft, I would not characterize the Hensel as “focusable” in the same way that the Broncolor, Profoto, and Mola products are, as the shaft is relatively short.

 

For the portrait, wedding and/or location shooter looking to travel light, this umbrella is just different enough to be compelling.  It’s portable, easy to set up, and offers diffuse yet very efficient light.  If you are using a speedlight, consider using the widest setting for the best light distribution.  Hensel USA tells me that contrary to conflicting information on some retail sites,  the umbrella comes with a two year warranty. 

In my opinion,  the “Paralite” is a real winner.

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Whether you are an enthusiast, emerging or working photographer, wherever you reside or are planning to shoot, it is prudent to find out what the regulations are with respect to photography and photographic equipment.  I can think of very few places where this is truer than in New York City.

 

I thought I would start with a quiz on taking photographs on the sidewalks of New York City.  Answer each question True, False or Depends:

 

1.     I am using a tripod/monopod on the street:  I do not need a permit.      

2.     I will be using an apple box as a prop: I do not need a permit.

3.     A permit gives me exclusive right to use the designated sidewalk.

4.     I am shooting with off camera strobes: I need a permit.

5.     I need a permit if I put my tripod on a dolly.

6.     I’m working with just a reflector and no flash:  I do not need a permit.

7.     I need insurance to get a permit.

8.     The Permit is free.

9.     I am planning on shooting in Central Park and will be using a couple of light stands and props:  I need permission from the Park management before I can get a permit.

10. All parks in New York City are subject to the same regulations with respect to permits and fees.

 

 

The answers:

1-True, 2-False, 3-False, 4-Depends, 5-True, 6-Depends, 7-True, 8-False (see update) , 9-True, 10-False

 

There is a very easy way to determine whether or not you need a permit to photograph on the streets of New York City:  If your camera equipment is handheld, you do not need a permit.  Tripods, monopods, and shoulder stabilizers like the Bushhawk 320 are all considered handheld.  Place anything down on the ground — an apple box, a prop such as a chair, a light stand with either a flash head or reflector attached, a battery pack, any wires, or mount your tripod to a dolly base, and you need a permit. If your light, power source and all wires, or reflector, are being held by an assistant as opposed to being placed on a stand, you do not need a permit as the equipment is considered handheld.  Even with a permit, the photographer does not have exclusive rights to use or block the sidewalk.  You must leave adequate space for people to use the sidewalk, as well as having ingress and egress to residences and businesses. 

 

The regulations for still photography on the streets of New York City fall under the purview of The Mayors Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting (MOFTB).  The Regulations as they relate to whether you need a permit or not are clearly meant to separate the casual shooter, enthusiast and tourist from working photographers.  The MOFTB production coordinators are knowledgeable, helpful and efficient with respect to answering questions, directing you to appropriate parties when permission is required prior to permitting, as well as processing permits.  It should be noted that if you need a permit for still photography, you actually will be filing out and submitting the Motion Picture-Television Permit form. The process and documentation required to be filed is outlined and available online.

 

Update:7/12/10 Effective July 11, 2010 there is a $300 fee for processing the aplication for a Permit. Read the most current information here

 

If you are not utilizing equipment which requires a permit, you may want to apply for what is called an Optional Permit.  While you need to know the date, time and specific location where you will be shooting, there is no insurance requirement.  An Optional Permit offers some evidence to property owners, security or law enforcement personnel, who may not be familiar with the subtleties and nuances of the regulations for photography on City owned property and question your right to photograph at a location, that you have the “right and permission” to use the sidewalk for your activities.

 

If there is one area where the permission and permitting process may appear difficult to navigate, it is where the Parks are concerned.  The handheld rule applies to most New York City Parks (including Central Park).  If you are using equipment that requires a permit, you must get permission from the Department of Parks and Recreation manager for that park or in the case of Central Park, the Film Office of the Central Park Conservancy, before applying for the permit through MOFTB.  There are, however, three public parks in Manhattan — Bryant Park, Battery Park City and the Hudson River Park— for which permission to shoot and permitting are administered through dedicated Conservancies, which results in very different application processes and cost, permit fees and regulations.  While the permitting process for these parks is aimed at photographers shooting for commercial use, if you are shooting for a non-commercial use and are planning on using any equipment (tripod included) in addition to your camera, it is best to check with the appropriate Conservancy in advance because their definition of “handheld” is much narrower than that used by MOFTB.  In checking with the Battery Park City Authority, for example, I was told that use of a tripod would require a permit. 

 

Many people do not realize that the park property extends to the adjacent sidewalks.  So in the case of Gramercy Park, for example, which is a privately owned park located on Manhattan’s Eastside between 20th and 21st Streets, while you can get a permit from MOFTB to shoot on the sidewalks across the street from the Park, the permit will explicitly exclude photographing on the sidewalk which runs around the Park because while it is open to pedestrian traffic, it is viewed as an extension of the Park property.

 

A lot of the process of shooting stills in New York or any city involves using common sense:

 

·        Whether you have a permit or not, you are expected to comply with any request that law enforcement officials may make.  So if you are asked to move…

·        If you have equipment, keep it as contained as possible. Have adequate assistance to help setup and dismantle your equipment.  Make sure your equipment is not left unattended and/or does not become a safety hazard.

·        Be respectful of people living and doing business in the location.

·        Be mindful of pedestrian and vehicular traffic and do not block the sidewalks, buildings or streets in a way which is disruptive.

·        Remember that you are expected to comply with all posted City regulations and rules-including parking and those governing park admissions.

 

Now go take some pictures!

 

Here are links to some additional resources that were not embedded in the above text:

 

Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting

Bryant Park

Battery Park City

Central Park Conservancy

Hudson River Park

I often look at equipment with an eye on whether it will allow me to accomplish a task more efficiently:  More efficiently for me usually translates to mean easier to carry and easier to set up, as most of my work is on location.  So it was with great interest, and I’ll admit a healthy dose of skepticism, that I went to the Calumet Photographic Store on West 22nd Street here in New York, to spend some quality time with their Portable On-Site Background System (PBS).  I say skepticism because I have tried collapsible 8′ muslin systems, as well as the more traditional crossbar type background support systems and have yet to find one that has impressed me enough for consistent use. In fact one of my more embarrassing photo shoot  related stories centers around the difficulty I had trying to get a collapsible background back in the bag.

 

When I arrived at Calumet, I was greeted by Ron Herard.  Ron handed me the bag which housed the Calumet system and we headed upstairs to their second floor gallery space.  While Calumet lists the kit as weighing 12 pounds, it did not feel that heavy.  When we got upstairs Ron asked me if I would time how long it takes him to get the system out of the bag and up for use.  One of his colleagues doubted it could be done in less than five minutes.  Well for the doubting Thomas, it took Ron a grand total of 2 minutes and 40 seconds.  I watched in absolute amazement:  An adjustable stand, a central cylinder in which you insert 4 flexible rods with round ends, 4 flexible extension rods, an 8×8 sheet of muslin which fits on the “arrow” tips of the extension rods, and you are good to go!  It is simple and intuitive.  It took me 3 minutes and 12 seconds to take the PBS out of the bag and erect it.  Not bad for a first timer!  I was able to dismantle the frame as quickly as I erected it.

Also surprising to me was the fact that the system does not require any additional clearance beyond 8 feet to erect.  Unlike the traditional cross bar support systems which require additional space on each side to accommodate the footprint of each stand, the Calumet PBS does not.  This is one elegant and efficient solution.  The muslin sheets have pockets on each corner which fit securely on the rod arrow heads.  The pockets are well reinforced.  Additionally the tautness of the fabric and frame interface, acts to stretch the fabric:  This resulted in a substantial number of wrinkles and creases in the folded sheet that was used either being reduced significantly or eliminated.  If you are getting a sense that I like this system, it is because I do. 

 

One of the downsides to this system is that you may not want to use this system against a window or with a light source  directly behind it as the stretched muslin is thin enough that the x frame may be seen.  Others may find the lack of availability of a floor apron as a drawback.  But all in all I found the system superior to the other alternatives I have tried and yet competitively priced.

I thanked Ron and Store Manager John Dessereau as I left, but not before placing an order for my very own.

For more information on the Calumet PBS, click on the blue highlighted text in this entry.