Stephen Frink has oft been cited as the “Last Pro Photographer Standing” in the Scuba Industry. While this appellation might upset a few working photographers, no one can deny that the length, the breadth and, of course, the depth of this man's work far surpasses anyone working as a pro photographer today. His images are as legion as they are timeless and many of them were produced prior to the digital revolution. Unlike myself, when Stephen produces a great image. It has nothing to do with luck or the volume of shots taken. It has everything to do with preparation, direction and skill. Stephen is driven by his work and it shows. I have only known Stephen a few years but I have always been impressed with his work ethic, his willingness to accept change as well as his humility. Oh yeah, his images have impressed me longer than I have known him. He's a true image pioneer.
When recent happenstance afforded me the opportunity to tag along with Stephen on a photo shoot for Tilos. I jumped at the chance. Actually, I kind of wedged myself in there hoping that no one would resent my presence. To be sure, I was pretty nervous that I would be asked not to come at any moment. I was relieved when Stephen showed up and gave HIS blessing on the morning of the shoot, I was ecstatic. The thrust of this article to be about the Tilos shoot and how Stephen made it work!
Tilos (tee-los) is a family owned business with deep roots in the Scuba Industry that suffers from a brand recognition problem. In actuality,you might be diving their gear branded by another manufacturer and not even know it. If they don't make it, one of their brother's or sister's factory does. The cooperation by these manufacturers is as cool as their gear. Their stuff is solid and priced right.
Stephen went with local talent for this shoot. This was the first time for both Meghan MacCullum and Jack Whittle and they were excited. Who wouldn't be? Both are active instructors for different dive shops in the Florida Keys. They are young, active, look great and their chemistry together was exceptional. What a perfect pair to promote the lifestyle choice of Scuba Diving.
Stephen's camera setup is amazing. He uses Canon 1DsMKII and 1DMKIV digital SLRcameras, both of which fit into his Seacam Silver housings. I have seen many camera housings in my life, but few can compare to this Seacam. The fit and finish are awesome even compared to other highend housings. There are no short cuts taken and Stephen has total control over his art. In addition, he uses a Super Dome with the appropriate ports for the wide angle lenses he uses. While I would not recommend this to a newbie, many of our more accomplished semi-pros should really consider it. No, a great camera won't make you a great photographer, a lousy camera will make you look lousy. He complements his camera with SEACAM Seaflash 150 strobe as well as an Ikelite DS 161 with either a S180 or S45 view finder, depending on the type of shot. Frink often uses lights and umbrellas on the surface but for this shoot he only used reflectors held by one of the support staff. I couldn't keep track of all the lenses he used but they were all wide angle.
For those of you wondering how I edged into this, it was all because of Key Largo Dive Center's boat. The boat is a converted lobster boat and could easily hold a dozen or more divers but its rated a six pack. Yes, its probably the roomiest sixpack you'll ever be on. I dive from this boat a lot and heard it was in dry dock for some repairs and a re-paint. So I dropped by the boat yard unannounced to see how things were progressing. You never want to be a distraction here, but the two captains were head down in the lazzerette scratching their collective heads. They had a steering arm to remove and it wasn't cooperating. With thirty years in the automotive repair trade, I looked at it and knew right away I had the tool for the job. In short order I was helping Capt. Dean and Capt. Larry with getting the boat ready. That was a bunch of fun and a little sweat just by itself, but as we put the boat in the water I found out why we had such a hard deadline: the Tilos Photo Shoot! “Would you mind? Could I please???” Since I was now considered “crew” and have the prerequisite working papers for charters in the Keys, they told me it was up to Stephen. We took the boat out for a shake down cruise the night before. No need having problems show up during the shoot!
Not all of the pictures were to be on/off the boat or on the beautiful coral formations just off of Key Largo. There had to be a number of shore shots to show off the Scuba Lifestyle and Tilos gear. If you hadn't already guessed, someone like Stephen Frink has an incredible number of contacts. So we pull up to this mansion in Ocean Cay on the Port Largo Canal. One side has dockage on the canal, while the other side is on the ocean with a beautiful pool. I got to meet the owner, Bob, who is an awesome guy. The next time I would see Bob would be at the Marine Mammal Conservancy helping out stranded Pilot Whales. Anyway, the grounds and house are simply gorgeous. What an awesome place to show off gear and promote Scuba in general.
The Tilos Shoot
Sothe day arrives and I am helping to load the boat. We had sandwiches, fruit, snacks and drinks for everyone. Gear, and lots of it, was freed from shipping crates and piled just aft of the forward cabin. It looked like we enough gear for 20, even though only Steve, Capt.Larry and the two models would be diving.
The talk was a bit nervous as we steamed over from Key Largo Harbor Marina to Bob's house. This was a first for all of us and we did not know what to expect. Stephen drove there in his SUV since he had a ton of camera gear that was not needed on the boat. It was a short trip to get there and then we were hauling the gear a short trip to the pool. Stephen went right to work giving the gear special treatment so that it would look great in his images. Once he finally had things organized, he started to shoot. While he was shooting the owners were busily prepping the models with their gear. As I scrubbed an endless number of new masks, wetsuits, masks, snorkels and you name it were being prepped or put on a model. Everything was being photographed in it's turn.
To suggest that Stephen was focused sounds almost like a pun, still he was aware enough of his surroundings to not let little distractions affect him. No Prima Donna, Stephen was cordial at all times and quite happy as he worked. It was interesting to see the different angles he contorted his body in order to get just the rightshot. Stephen doesn't rely on luck. His stock in trade is skill augmented by imagination, hard work and genius. Its a great combo and has paid him dividends throughout his life. He happens to use a lens, but it's my opinion that he could do anything he set his mind to. Fortunately for us, he chose photography.
Earlier I mentioned his situational awareness. Quite often he would ask you by name for something never having looked in your direction. You were always rewarded for your endeavor with a thanks and a smile. He also used this awareness to exploit his resources. He made sure he had a spear gun for the shoot (it was mine) and he used the rugged sea wall as a prop for pictures of Jason in a camo skin looking like he was headed out for some grouper. Since the light wasn't just right, he had a crew holding the reflector to fill in the shadows. He created several scenes out of Bob's back yard. I probably only saw two of them until he started shooting. He also did a number of shots on the dock by the boat because he liked the colors of the chairs. Fortune and great images favor the prepared photographer who sees all of his surroundings.
A bit later and we were all on the boat. If the models were excited before, they were really excited now! Working with such a great photographer had removed most of the jitters and was truly energizing for them. In reality, part of a fashion photographer's job is to bring out the best in the talent they are using as well as the fashion itself. Stephen gave clear concise instructions and these two young instructors were listening, doing and gaining a ton of incredible experience during this short shoot.
As for me, I was doing my best to be useful by cleaning windows, keeping extraneous gear and items out of the way, assisting Stephen and making sure all of our guests were well taken care of. It wasn't all that difficult if you anticipated events correctly. It seems that I got lucky and no one complained. Keeping the staff and crew well hydrated was paramount. Stephen loves Gatorade and we had plenty on board. Jason loved the cupcakes and Megan seemed a bit self conscious about what she ate and drank. Still, it was a long day and I was not going to have anyone “crash” because I didn't keep them fed and watered.
Our second destination was the very shallow side of Molasses Reef. There were no mooring balls so we anchored in a huge patch of sand. Capt.Dean, our captain, kept the scope long so the anchor wouldn't pull away in such a sensitive area. We were in only about 10 foot of water and Stephen got in position for some Giant Stride Entries. I didn't count how many they did, but the two models worked tirelessly. Down and up. Down and up.
Timing was critical for them to be in sync as well as for Stephen to capture that perfect moment of them being in air. The amount of work put into this one shot was amazing. Stephen wasn't satisfied with the lighting at this point, so we moved to another part of the reef for some underwater shots. I lost count of how many times I tied off to mooring balls.
No, I didn't get to dive with Stephen on this shoot. I was surface support and pretty happy to have landed that role. Capt. Dean, the Tilos owners and I watched their bubbles trying to imagine how the images would turn out. It was during this time that I tried to catch up and get ready for the next set of needs. Stephen had agreed to me taking a camera and recording the shoot from my perspective and you'll see that some of the pictures had me swimming to get the best shot. I was not nearly as skilled or prepared as Stephen and it shows in my lack of great underwater images. I did snorkel a bit above them, but nothing came out well. In addition my battery decided to call it quits.
After we had all the dive shots we needed, we headed back to Bob's place for some sunset pics. Again, Stephen exploited his resources to create and capture those unique moments. There weren't many needed and Stephen doggedly worked until he looked up with a smiling face and said “Well, we're done!” C'mon Stephen, everyone knows you're supposed to say “That's a wrap!”. The day, which started about 7:00 am for me finished up just before sunset. I must admit that I was tired and yet Stephen had done all the work! We all met for dinner at the Fish House Encore and Stephen made sure that he would get the shots to them in the way they wanted. I'll be sure to include a few here with my story so you can be the judge as to how they came out.