the milk bottle (oh! is that what it is?!)

I’m always looking for a better way to manage light– particularly small, portable flash (speedlights)– while covering events or otherwise “must carry light” shoots (I mean carry light in pounds, not lumens– no pun intended).  While I’m tempted to buy yet more gear (does it ever end?)– light modifiers are often least on my list of things to get– not because I have something against them, frankly I think they’re all rather beautiful looking by themselves, such as my favorite one to use– the Speedotron beauty dish.  

Speedotron beauty dish

Speedotron beauty dish on location

What’s not to love about it?  It’s made in Chicago, it’s all metal, studier than I– it’s got a high gloss black paint job on the outside with a beautifully clean white center.  It gives any location a crisp sense of the urbane.  And– it projects a gorgeously defined light onto everyone in front of it.  I’ve modified the thing itself several times over with my own light softening fabrics (excess puppet making cloth)– and brackets to attach it to anything that lights up.  I was originally inspired to try the beauty dish by following one of my favorite photographers, Brad Trent.  His work is amazing; he pushes clarity, color, and contrast around like fleas in a circus– and then pushes them just up to the point of breaking– and stays there.

Then– what’s not to love about the beauty dish, I guess is– that it don’t fit in a pocket and it’s rather heavy.  And– I hate to think of it getting scratched. 

So– for events and location shoots where I want to soften the flash from my speedlights– I use, the milk bottle.  I don’t claim to be a genius for using it.  It works, though.  And it’s become one of my favorite tools to use– and I always have it with me.

After having spent most of my performing life in cabarets– and otherwise small venues that dictate portability and a great deal of presentational theater style (my favorite, by the way)– I’ve been inspired to use the milk bottle in a lot of my portrait work– within the photographs themselves.  Like most of my portraits, I like including equipment in the photograph.  It tells the story of how I got to where I did, it shows my thought process, it’s a way for me to play with the people I’m working with, and it’s fun to “show the strings” to the audience, in this case, the viewer.  (Presentational photography…doesn’t sound great…and abbreviated in an attempt to shorten it up into a cool sounding style– is retrograde to the point, as it sounds like one is doing something rather naughty.)

Lenses, understandably, are priced around the same as prize winning horses– and I cannot make lenses myself in my studio.  So– I have no problem spending money on lenses.  However– light modifiers are generally simple constructions that can be…modified– over and over again from many common materials– really any material that suits.  Such as– the milk bottle.

Using the milk bottle is a great way to put a just-met person you’ll be photographing at ease– fumble with it a moment and they’ll undoubtedly ask if it’s a milk bottle– and you’ll be talking to each other, rather than trying to avoid the often nerve-rattling smile-and-say-cheese feeling we all get when the business end of a lens swings in our direction.  And– my favorite thing to do is to ask someone– preferably the person I’m photographing– to hold it.  It gives them a prop– so it grounds them– and again takes their mind off of say-cheese.  It also makes them pose in a necessarily strong way– arm up and out at an angle– with a nice leading line (their arm) to their face. 

joe mazza -- brave lux inc., chicago

the milk bottle with remotely triggered speedlight

One of the best things about it is the quality of light is pretty impressive– especially if you use it on a flash with remote to get it off the camera and at a nice, pleasing 45 degree angle over your smiling people’s faces.

So I proudly say– yes!  It’s absolutely a milk bottle!

Cheers from way over here– to your own beautiful photography.



 a few galleries of photos where I used the bottle…  Jack Mayer, Exit Ghost, surprise birthday party, Wendy Jo Carlton

Gear mongers like myself often love pro and con lists.  So here’s one about “the bottle” that serves as an indulgence– and a parody of my own inane (and sometimes uncontrollable) love of gear.

milk bottle pros

cheap: costs 6.99 (and comes filled to the cap with local, organic milk)

disposable– recyclable (nobody’s going to have to go searching for it if it goes missing during a crazy confusing shoot)

a toothsome tool, if dressed up with some black fabric and gaffers tape (ah, gaffers tape!  the least expensive, but most necessary professional photographer’s tool; my 7d wasn’t really professional looking until it had some black gaffers tape on a boo-boo)

fantastic ice breaker

milk bottle cons

dents easily

frequently jetisons off the flash of its own volition

might be offputting to the few who believe a photographer’s talent is limited to their gear

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