Photo Gigs: John Solano

Interview by Jill Waterman

Hollywood Light: “When we photograph clients in a smooth and fluid manner the experience is much more enjoyable for them,” John Solano says.

Q&A with Nikon legend John Solano, co-developer of the Lowel GL1 gunlight

PDNedu: Where did you study photography in school?
John Solano: Art Center College of Design.

PDNedu: How long had you been working professionally when you came up with the idea for the GL1 HOT light?
JS: I’d been shooting professionally for 18 years when I found a need for a portable hot lighting tool that would run on batteries. I wanted a Hollywood style light, but I wanted it to be fast and portable.

PDNedu: You built a prototype for the GL1 based on skills gained from tinkering with model cars as a youth. Are there other skills or characteristics developed then that you find helpful as a professional?
JS: Believe it or not, it’s learning to play chess. It makes you have to think five steps ahead of others. When I’m shooting weddings or events, the bride and groom are like the king and queen on the chessboard and everyone else are the other pieces. When I’m shooting, I plan my moves from location to location. Having the foresight to know what to do, what to say and how to make people feel Is key—how to not let the King and Queen of your live chess game be in danger of the bad energy of the people around them.

Initially, the GL1 had a halogen light source but this changed to LED lighting. Please talk about the differences between these two types of lighting and describe the advantages of making this switch.
JS: The original design was made with a Halogen bulb.  Run time on a 12v battery at 2500 mah was like 25 minutes of constant power. The great minds at Lowel said it would be re-designed into an LED, to give a longer lifespan on the battery, and they said it was the future. They refused to make it with a Halogen bulb, and they were so right. They made a better tool.

PDNedu: Please provide technical details of the GL1 gunlight. How much illumination and over what range? What is the battery life and how long can it run on one charge? How much does it weigh?

JS: Here are the specifications:
-High powered focusing LED light source
-Dimming Range 5- to 100-percent
-Focusing Range 5:1
-90 CRI for high quality color output
-3000K color output
-1/4” and 3/8” stand mounting options
-82MM threaded front element allows you to add a Tiffen 80B to covert to Daylight balance output
-Rechargeable Battery
-AC Power Supply
-Dim via trigger with feel or by dial for a fixed exposure
-Battery life of approximately 1 hour on a full charge
-Power consumption 25W

For further details, click here.

PDNedu: You partnered with fellow wedding photographer Brian Marcus in developing this light. What skills and/or insights did Brian bring to the table?
JS: Brian is an amazing, third generation photographer based in New York City. I met his father, Andy Marcus when I was 18 years old and used to work for his best friend out in Los Angeles. He personally knows the owner of Lowel Lighting, Steve Tiffin. He was able to get a meeting and do a presentation. Steve Tiffin took one look at the prototype and wanted to produce it. Brian ads his speaking skills to educate photographers at conventions, and handles the business side of our venture together. He had most to do with the branding style of the existing unit.

What are the terms of your partnership? Did you set up a formal partnership or collaboration agreement?
JS: Brian and I are 50/50 partners in our venture together. We made our initial agreement over a handshake.

Have your respective roles and responsibilities changed over time?
JS: Brian and I are both involved in the business. He handles the Facebook Page and I handle the Google Plus Business page. We’re both dynamic and do whatever each of us needs the other to do. We’re both constantly trying to book speaking engagements at conventions to teach hot-lighting techniques.

PDNedu: How long did the process of developing the light take from introduction to product launch? Were you and Brian involved with any research and development stages of the product?
JS: It took five years total, mainly due to their insistence on going LED. At the time LED technology was rather new, it was best to wait for it to evolve and arrive at a better, brighter and less power-consuming bulb. Brian and I had several meetings with Tiffen in New York. We were brought in on several paramount issues of the light design. We both speak at the Tiffen Booth at Photo Plus, CES and WPPI

PDNedu: How has the development of the GL1 Hotlight impacted your photo business and/or other aspects of your career?
JS: Using a Lowel GL1 allows us to photograph faster and to be more dynamic. Being dynamic gives me the ability to move from location to location with ease. No need to look for power to power the light. We shoot more sellable images in less time, that’s what’s most important. At events, clients show up late. We still have to produce images that are stellar. You can’t print an excuse.

When we photograph clients in a smooth and fluid manner, the experience is much more enjoyable for them. I find that success in this business comes down to this: No one remembers what you said and they don’t remember exactly what you did. All they remember is how you made them feel.

What’s the connection between the Lowel GL1 gunlight and Nikon D4. 
JS: The Nikon D4 and a Lowel GL1 Hotlight is a marriage made in heaven. The D4’s high ISO capabilities are out of this world. Most of the time I find myself trying to shoot without a flash. That’s the look I strive for, but when the light is flat sometimes you need a little snap to the image. That’s where I bring in a GL1. “What you see is what you get,” this is what I love about using a hot-light—to quickly place light at a specific spot on your subject is a dream.

I love the GL1’s 3000K color temperature, it keeps things very balanced when I’m shooting indoors, in a hotel lobby or a event ballroom. The D4 renders the colors beautifully. I’ve been shooting with Nikon’s since the beginning of my career. I started with F3s to F4s to F5 to F6s, in the pre-digital era. I was using a hot-lighting technique in the film days, but only with 1600 ISO and 3200 ISO film.

Please talk about the other aspects of your relationship with Nikon. How long have you been associated with the brand and how did this relationship come about?
JS: I’ve been using Nikon bodies and NIKKOR glass since I took my first photo class in high school. My first camera was a Nikon F3. I was introduced to them at WPPI in 2005 when I was featured in Studio Photography and Design magazine. I remember the photo editor really liked my work and submitted it to the Nikon Team. I’ve spoke for them at four WPPI platforms. The first was a tag team presentation with Joe Buissink. I was given the opportunity to speak at the Nikon booth at eight different WPPI’s, and they gave me this honor.

Since the release of the GL1, you and Brian regularly do presentations based on this product, and you’re allowed to sell the light directly during these events. Please talk about the significance of this arrangement to your varied income streams and professional visibility.
I am a professional photographer first and foremost. This is how I make a living. The creation of the GL1 was firstly out of pure need for a tool like this. I am proud of the fact that we were part of producing a tool that will be used in our industry for years. The extra money is nice, but I will stick to doing what I do best—taking pictures. The speaking part is very nice and I truly enjoy teaching others how to better their skills. The title of my program is Illuminate at the Speed of Light.

PDNedu: Do these speaking engagements provide additional beyond what you make from product sales?
JS: There’s not much money in speaking at conventions. I do it for the love of doing it. It keeps me sharp and involved in my industry. I haven’t done a multi-day workshop yet, so I can’t say what I like more. I do see what others charge, so that does seem lucrative, but I don’t see myself moving toward this way of making money.

At the moment, I tend to prefer the speaking at platform presentations at conventions, three hours and you’re done! I want to do this three or four times a year—that’s it. I’m not looking to make a living from speaking, I want to travel and meet my peers in different countries.

PDNedu: Do you actively market such promotional opportunities or speaking engagements and, if so, what different methods do you use for this?
JS: I speak Spanish fluently, so I’m looking to speak more in Latin America. I search Internet forums for conventions in Mexico, Brazil and Spain. Several years ago, Brian and I were both given the opportunity to speak at the FHOX convention in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Has coming up with this lighting tool altered your vision or your approach to photography in any unexpected ways?
JS: Lighting your subject with a Lowel GL1 gives me this powerful skill—what you see, is what you get! I can see what the light is doing before I press my shutter. I know I like the lighting before I do anything. People around you at an event can see it too. They ooh and aah with me, thus giving your subject more confidence in what you’re doing.

I could not do what I do today, without my GL1 Hotlight. It’s like having Hollywood lighting in the palm of your hand.

PDNedu: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from your experiences in developing this product that you weren’t taught in school, but should have been?
JS: People don’t remember what you said, they don’t remember exactly what you did—all they remember is how you made them feel! The Lowel GL1 allows me to work effortlessly with my subject. The photo session is smooth and enjoyable. It makes me look more professional when I command my environment with confidence.

PDNedu: Has the time and effort associated with your development and marketing of this light made it harder to balance your work as a wedding photographer or otherwise compromised your work/life balance? If so, how do you keep things in check?
JS: I have an ADD personality. I get bored quickly with things. I need new challenges, new tasks and things to do. This concept was first done out of a need. Brian and I are both involved on a daily basis, answering questions on our Facebook and Google page. We’re connecting with other pros to get them to use the GL1 and submit their work for our pages. I believe it was a smart move to connect with Tiffin in the completion of this great idea. The manufacturers are the lighting professionals. We are photographers, and this is what we do best!

Do you have any new ideas for products or accessories up your sleeve or in development?
JS: I do, I’m working on a remote control function to be able to have a GL1 high up on a stand and turn it on and off and control the dimming. I’ve already made a prototype, but I’m now working on a four-channel version.
PDNedu: Do you have any final, insider tips to share with our readers?
JS: My advice is to be consistent in what you do. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit."  --Aristotle
And alsohe most successful people are great at plan "B."

For a video of John Solano talking about the GL-1 Hotlight, click here.



PDN August 2016: The Fine-Art Photography Issue



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