All images by Mike Fulton. Used with permission
Mike Fulton and Cody Clinton have a unique approach to wedding, fashion, and high-volume photography. They are the driving force behind TriCoast Photography – a Southeast Texas-based studio business. Previously selected as Kodak’s Photographers to Watch, Mike and Cody have landed prestigious assignments around the globe from germany to Mexico to Uganda. Mike also serves on the Professional Photographers of America Board of Directors.
We had a moment to pick Mike’s brain about effective TTL flash techniques and his former life as a crime scene photographers.
PS: Mike is actually teaching two courses on creativeLIVE on July 15-19. One is on TTL flash (July 15-16) while the other is on volume photography (July 17-18). Both are free to watch live.
Phoblographer: You entered the photography world a long time ago, but you didn’t start out shooting what you’re shooting now. What was your first position?
Mike: I always enjoyed photography, but I never really thought I would end up where I am now. I joined the police force and shortly after, I entered the Crime Scene Investigation unit.
On a crime scene, you never have that much time to poke around. That’s when I started to explore my photography ‘crush.’ Just like the process of getting the right shot on film, crime scenes are unforgiving; you only get a limited amount of time to get a feel for the scene and take the right shot. Photography was the start of every investigation – documenting the scene shot by shot. It was really just a small part of my job but probably the most important one.
Phoblographer: How did you go from taking crime scene shots for the police department to wedding, fashion, and high volume photography?
Mike: As my skills developed, I quite my weekend job as a security guard for local bars and started shooting weddings. It was a great escape from Crime Scenes – a balancing act for the soul you could call it. I found them fun and easy to do compared to a Crime Scene. I used to tell myself before every wedding “in the CSI world I send people to Death Row, today I am just a wedding photographer.” When you put it that way, all that pressure that professionals talk about kind of evaporates. From there I ran back into my old friend Cody Clinton who had picked up photography and we started capturing weddings together. I found the partnership made weddings even more easy and fun and gave us more time to be an artist as we only captured half the wedding (Cody covering the ladies and I covering the guys – coming together for the wedding and reception). From there we expanded (as I think most photographers do) into portraits – Seniors/Grads more than anything. The Volume came about as a pure business decision as we wanted a new studio and in order to get it we needed more income. The Volume aspects of photography gave us that option and allowed us to be more successful in our community.
Phoblographer: You and Cody use TTL flash to get some of your best shots. Do you ever receive flack from other pros for it?
Mike: TTL is in many ways the red-headed stepchild of photography, especially with the traditionally traded and older generation photographers. Many photographers want to understand and be in control of EVERYTHING and therefore they always shoot in manual. There is nothing wrong with that but for us, TTL allowed the freedom to capture the image at any shutter speed, any f/stop and most importantly, it gave Cody and I the time to think more about posing and interacting with our clients – selling the experience more and worrying less about running back and forth to the off camera light adjusting the power. Once we fully understood how to use it to our advantage, gave us the freedom to be better artists, we just had to let go of the control somewhat which again many artists have a hard time doing.
“in the CSI world I send people to Death Row, today I am just a wedding photographer.”
To add to the mess, the first generation of TTL was not the best and many photographers never looked at it again so they have negative thoughts on the entire process. It is not until one understands the entire modern TTL system and allows us to reboot their mind one can truly enjoy the freedom it offers. In our 4-5 day workshops we have two types of students. The newer ones – this type will take to TTL concept and run with it, understanding it and loving the freedom it provides. The older students will understand the concept from day 1 but it takes 2-4 days of rebooting their brain to actually make it work. This is not the traditional way of learning photography or using off camera lighting, however it is effective if you give it a chance. So while we teach the science behind TTL, the method of our style using TTL, many times we are really there to continue to help reboot the students brain into allowing an “old dog to learn a new trick or two.”
Phoblographer: When you were working for the police force, did you use TTL? How exactly did you do this?
Mike: Yes, this is where I learned the power of TTL in its purest form. As a crime scene investigator, I learned that TTL would not only put out the correct amount of light but also using the communication between Canon to Canon or Nikon to Nikon flash units I could control the power of the light from my master flash mounted on top of my camera. So this allowed me to walk one time through a crime scene placing my flash or flashes in the areas I needed them to be and then walk out the same way I came in. Then capturing the scene all from one place. This power allowed me to control the light and cause less disruption to the entire scene. BOTH a very needed and valuable concept. This really freed up my mind to focus more on the case and less on getting great shots. It was not until later when we got into wedding portraits we started using the TTL aspects on living people. TriCoast’s concept of fast, portable, and easy aspect of TTL lighting all comes from the foundation of capturing Crime Scenes back when I was a CSI Nerd.
Phoblographer: We know that vision comes first, but we have to ask: what’s in your gear bag?
Mike: We like to keep it as light as possible, finding that when we travel too much gear gets in the way and costs more money (especially when you fly overseas). Our main bag is the ThinkTank International and inside we generally carry the following:
– A Full frame Canon body camera (5D, 5DMkII, 5DMkIII)
– A 1.6 cropped Canon Body Camera (7D)
– These two cameras give my lenses two different looks
– I use the 15mm fisheye, 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8
– Cody uses the 16-35mm L f/2.8 and 70-200mm f.2.8
We both have generally two or three flashes in our bag and RadioPopper PX and JrX units for our wireless triggering devices. We also carry Black Rapid camera straps, rechargeable batteries, LumaQuest OCF kit which includes a nice little softbox, gels and other add on items.
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