Rock 'n Roll: Jaleel King

Anything worth accomplishing is going to include hurdles and barriers to overcome. You can treat them as the reasons you can't do something, or you can simply refuse to acknowledge that the barriers exist and plow through them.

This is Jaleel King, and this is how he rolls.

I was introduced to Jaleel by Mike Allebach's video feature on him. If you haven't seen it yet, here it is:

So after watching the video a half-dozen times, I reached out to Jaleel to learn more about him as well as his wheeled approach to lighting. As you can imagine, it was not a piece of cake for him to pull this off. Especially while working on a budget.

He cites Joey L and Jeremy Cowart as two of his lighting compass points, and he is always trying to refine his mobile lighting rig to find looks of his own. Currently, he is using an AB800 and Vagabond Mini-Lithium pack. He has an Einstein on his wish list, but that'll have to come later.

After a bout with a (not surprisingly) problematic wired-sync setup, he moved to the PocketWizard Flex platform, with its ability to remotely control power levels on the AB800. That remote control ability has been a lifesaver.

But still, there's the sheer precariousness of his rig. Says Jaleel:

A major issue is the stability of the rig once I start moving, as well as weight shifting. I'm a manual wheelchair user so having the stability is a must, considering the many obstacles I face like hills, broken or bad sidewalks, etc.

No kidding.

He uses a combo of multiple Super Clamps and a Magic Arm to bolt the lightning rod mobile boom to his wheelchair:

Yeah, I am thinking that thing would need some strength and ballast down below. That much weight up top is gonna be unsteady no matter how much you have in the chair.

Oh, and it's not like he's trying, either. The first words on his "About Jaleel" page say, and I quote: "I am in a committed relationship with chocolate cheesecake…"

My kinda guy.

He's swapping to a new wheelchair soon and will be starting the lighting support design process all over again. So I'm putting myself in Jaleel's shoes and thinking what options are available to him in terms of lighting style, mount, etc.

Being more lighting-minded than a machinist, here's my first thought: Definitely kill some height from that rig. Maybe augment his approach to lighting and buy him some stability at the same time.

Being a wedding/portrait shooter, I would suggest a mobile beauty light setup as an option. One soft source from right behind (and just above) the lens.

As a wedding/portrait shooter, the look is sorta "on-camera-flash-goes-glam". Kinda like this:

So, you collapse your existing vertical mount. It should thus marry to the chair much more firmly, too—and not top-heavy. You'd need an inexpensive, soft, contained light mod. I'd recommend a Photek Softlighter II, 43" -- under $100.

It gives gorgeous light. And the removable shaft extension makes it particularly suitable in this instance.

The AB-800 would fire backwards from right behind you (actually leaving you direct access to the power slider right by your head w/o the need for wireless). The light is reflected into the umbrella then further softened by the diffuser.

You could even mount it to one side of the back of your chair and shoot at the angle to keep it directly behind you for max mounting stability. And given the light is right over your shoulder, if you mount the stand collapsed, you could alter the light's height pretty easily using just your upper body mobility.

Certainly we have some engineers, machinists and hackers amongst the site's already photo-oriented readership. Heck, there might be other wheeled photogs who have already found some cool solutions for all I know.

I'd love to point your collective brains at crowdsourcing some ideas. Jaleel's on Twitter, there are contact forms on his site and we always have the comments below. (But FYI, I am going to be away from internet a lot this week except at night. So please be patient with comment moderation.)

Jaleel King, I salute you. I can't remember the last time I was inspired to this level by another photographer. You rock, man.


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Blogger That Photog said...

I'm a mechanical engineer and a photographer. I'd suggest going with a power pack/head system as the pwr pack could be chair mounted and the head would be a lot lighter. I'd also consider rigging up a rope off the back of the rig (instead of the sand bag) which could be attached to a cam cleat or something to quickly adjust the light height. Sure would be fun to noodle this one a little!

December 03, 2012 1:00 AM  
Blogger Kevin Li said...

This is very inspirational, sometimes we give our self excuses to why we can't do something, but seeing this makes me feel like I shouldn't let anything stop me from achieving what I want.

Thank you for sharing this.

December 03, 2012 2:08 AM  
Blogger PShizzy said...

Lumodi makes a really light beauty dish for hotshoe flashes. As in under 8oz (I just weighed it). I've used it with good results before strapped to an SB-800 or similar, and the whole thing screwed into a monopod for light on a stick.

From there, I'd look at using the extension arm on a C stand complete. Not sure of the mounting point, but to me that would be a light/sturdy arm for something like the hotshoe flash/lumodi combo.

a long ttl cable could work for TTL if needed, or just a pc sync cord. Maybe a wireless option for power control, like the pocketwizard TL.

Just some thoughts

December 03, 2012 2:19 AM  
Blogger Jay said...

Wow, that looks like a very sturdy rig. Myself, a manual wheelchair user as well, use a Lumopro reflector/boom arm clamped to the top portion of the cage of my wheelchair just above where the fork bends down to become the foot rest. A Lumopro mini clamp has done the trick so far but it does slip occasionally. When that happens I can use a second clamp on the bottom portion of my cage, directly below where the first clamp is affixed, to stick the brass end of the reflector/boom arm into and that holds it solid. However, when I do that I lose most of the adjustability in my set up, being limited to what the umbrella swivel can do.

Currently I am using one or two hot shoe flashes, triggered by a PocketWizard and usually only a Lumiquest Softbox III with one or a 34 inch double fold umbrella two. The umbrella makes enough torque that it does like to pivot on its own at the end of the boom arm regardless of how tight you secure the knobs.

I really like Jaleel's modifications and willingness to modify his chair for his photography. I just hate adding extra weight to mine and appreciate being able to use existing products to work with my lighting so that they can be clamped on different places or used in a variety of ways with the same gear. That said, every time I need to lower the boom arm to adjust the power on the hot shoe flashes I get a little antsy for something like Quadra Rangers or something with a pack that I could hang on my feet and adjust much more easily.

December 03, 2012 9:52 AM  
Blogger Simon said...

Beautiful story!

I'm thinking this rig could benefit from a pivot to mount it to the chair.

Imagine an arc that you mount the flash to one end and the power pack to the other (as counter weight). You put a joint (the pivot) somewhere in between with a possibility to lock it.

With correct measurements, the pivot's brake could be released to allow the power pack to act as a stabilisation. If the chair inclines forward the weight would bring the lighting toward the back to counter the effect!

I'd love to help more but i'm in montreal. Hope he finds closer volonteer!

December 03, 2012 12:35 PM  
Blogger plevyadophy said...

I love this guy already.

I am way too far away to help (England, United Kingdom)but I think it would be real cool if folks posting here could get together and go help the guy set up a lighting rig.

He's a great guy, and inspiration. And how the hell he manages to cover a wedding shoot in a wheelchair is beyond me. He's just awesome.



December 03, 2012 2:02 PM  
Blogger plevyadophy said...

I love this guy already.

I am way too far away to help (England, United Kingdom)but I think it would be real cool if folks posting here could get together and go help the guy set up a lighting rig.

He's a great guy, and inspiration. And how the hell he manages to cover a wedding shoot in a wheelchair is beyond me. He's just awesome.



December 03, 2012 2:03 PM  
Blogger nomorspam said...

I'm thinking Elinchrom Quadra In a 28" Westcott Apollo. I think a 43" Softlighter may become more of a sail in a light wind than it would be a light modifier. (the Apollo could have the same problem.)

December 03, 2012 4:06 PM  
Blogger Felicia Perretti said...

This is so amazing! Inspiring..

December 03, 2012 4:43 PM  
Blogger Marc Kelly said...

something tells me their may be a mechanical engineering student(s)/class in the Philly area that would chomp at the bit to help him out. Sadly, I know of none right now?

December 03, 2012 4:43 PM  
Blogger Dream Boy Martin Kimeldorf said...

For posting this I send a huge hug and kiss.
Man you got soul as does the Joel and vdieographer.

Makes we weep with hope

December 03, 2012 5:26 PM  
Blogger Kimla Life Imagery said...

I caught your class in Austin last year for the Flashbus Tour. Had been a fan before, but the class revealed your compassion. This article further exemplifies that no matter how popular/successful/busy an artist gets, there's always time to recognize others. Thank you very much. God's blessings.

December 03, 2012 5:46 PM  
Blogger Peter Tsai said...

I think he would be far better served with a quadra ranger pack system, no real mass in the head as it weighs next to nothing so its nice and safe to have boomed up high. The pack is light enough and the skyport would yield the power control. An added plus would be the LED modelling light he could use at night, heck maybe even shoot it with low DoF continuous like that.

December 03, 2012 5:46 PM  
Blogger Kevin Good said...

Something like the Norman 400 seems like it would be a great idea (echoing what "that photog" said), keeping the batteries mounted low for center of gravity, and the Normans have super lightweight heads.

December 03, 2012 7:54 PM  
Blogger Hillary- A Photographer Friend said...

So great to see Jaleel being increasingly recognized for the amazing, talented and totally optimistic fellow he is. I'm proud to say Jaleel is a friend of mine and he really is a huge inspiration to all of us who know him. Very cool to read all the ideas to help him with his lighting challenges!

December 03, 2012 10:03 PM  
Blogger R. J. Kern said...

Jaleel, thanks for sharing your story. Especially this time of year, it sure does feel good to gain that perspective of what many take for granted. I'd really love to contribute to your success in any way I can. As a fellow wedding photographer and strobist fan at heart, I'd love to figure out a way to shoot a wedding with you in 2013. Where there is a will, you know the way. Contact me via Twitter or website. And about that Einstein, I'd like to help. Kindest Regards, RJ

December 04, 2012 12:38 AM  
Blogger Cal Kaschub said...

Your story and your indomitable spirit are a true inspiration! I'd like to help with that Einstein, too.


December 04, 2012 9:37 AM  
Blogger MikeScottPhoto said...

"Based in Philadelphia, PA but have wheels.." Love it. A positive attitude, sense of humor and photographic skill.. inspiring indeed.

December 04, 2012 10:06 AM  
Blogger Mark Davidson said...

That Photog is exactly right. You do not want the mass of ANY monolight at the end of your boom when you have a base that is a wheelchair.
I feel the Dynalite 800 makes all the sense in the world. First the head is very lightweight and holds modifiers securely. Second, the power pack produces 800ws and could be positioned for his access to the power settings. He could even use a wired sync! The added bonus is that the minimal weight of the pack would be down low and could be driven by his Vagabond.
I would be willing to donate to a fund that would help pay for that setup.
I admire his ingenuity and spirit. What a wonderful story.

December 04, 2012 11:46 AM  
Blogger Doug McEwen said...

I am an engineer, sailor and photographer. "That Photog" is correct, Jaleel should install a rope off the back of the rig instead of the sand bag, which will reduce weight overall and more importantly, from the top of the rig. I suggest a 1/4" polyester yacht braid line using a 2:1 purchase with a Harken 2636 block on the hook at the end of the boom, and a Harken 2646 single block with becket and cam cleat at the bottom, mounted on the vertical pipe. The blocks are ball-bearing (ie high quality) but only weigh 1.6 and 4.3 oz respectively - even including the rope, this will be vastly lighter than a sandbag. I am willing to order these items along with the necessary bits and pieces and have it shipped to Jaleel if you can provide me with a shipping address. I live in Canada, so shipping directly from me to him requires sending the hardware across a border - I fear import duties would be triggered, so shipping direct from a web supplier such as West Marine would probably be best. I have a number off specific recommendations regarding installation which are too detailed to describe in the comments section of the Strobist blog - if you can provide an email address for Jaleel then I can send pictures and a written description of how to do the installation. (For example, the cams should be turned upside down for his application, and he will need to install an eye strap to the vertical tube on his wheelchair using hose clamps).

December 04, 2012 1:17 PM  
Blogger Adam Matheson said...

Inspiring, and serves to remind me not to complain.

December 04, 2012 1:50 PM  
Blogger plevyadophy said...

As per Mark Davidson, I too would be willing to donate to a fund to help him finance his rig. I hadn't thought about a fund in my earlier comment in this thread.

December 04, 2012 7:00 PM  
Blogger 528photo said...

Jaleel has played a pivotal role in this photographers career. Before meeting Jaleel or knowing he was wheel chair bound, I recognized and admired his work. I responded to a photo assistant job request he posted in a group we both belong to. Jaleel had already filled the position but took the time to chat with me and offer some advice to an aspiring photog.

I have since become a friend in photography with Jaleel attending his gallery exhibition and hanging out with mutual friends. I am also the proud owner of two signed Jaleel King prints.

For those interested, I encourage you to take a look at Jaleels body of work. I really admire his fashion images but his street photography is among my favorite images from any photographer of any genre.

Jaleel :sorry for getting all corny and sentimental on ya but I appreciate all you have done for me and glad we became friends.


December 05, 2012 5:50 AM  
Blogger Doug McEwen said...

There are two benefits of attaching a strobe to the wheelchair: to allow for a wide range of near-axis light mods, like a super-duper on-camera flash bracket; and because it might be awkward to maneuver a wheelchair around a near-axis light stand. Perhaps I don't understand all the challenges, but I don't see why Jaleel could not set up ordinary stands for off-axis lights. Therefore, I would dispense with the boom on the chair, and stick with a vertical mast only (and thus near-axis light only from the chair). A boom creates a large offset mechanical load, normally counterbalanced with a sandbag. The sandbag could be moved low on the chair by using a rope and single pulley block on the mast, but it still adds a lot of weight to the chair and bending force on the boom, especially if he upgrades to a heavier monolights and larger modifiers.

Having said this, I think Jaleel's current setup is actually quite elegant. It looks like a Manfrotto 420B convertable boom stand - a good choice if you really want a boom on the chair. The good thing about having used it for a while is that he can now decide if the flexibility of having a boom on the chair is worth the tradoffs. If he really wants an on-chair boom, he should continue with the 420B hardware. But assuming he gets an Einstein, he would have two monolights which positions him well for off-axis light from an light stand.

The mast should be removable from the chair and the chair should not be significantly modified. Jay's experience shows that a Lumopro mini-clamp, or by extension a Manfrotto nano-clamp, is inadequate to attach a vertical mast to the chair. The picture of the back of Jeleel's chair seems to show two Avenger C157 super clamps, two Manfrotto 035 super clamps, and a Manfrotto magic arm. I think it can be done with only two super clamps, but at the cost of fabricating a custom bracket between these super clamps and the vertical mast. I have a small workshop and could do said fabrication if desired.

Regarding the on-chair light mods, since Jaleel has already started his investment into Buff lights, I would stick with Buff light mods. For example, if he wants a mid-size umbrella, the PLM51 can everything the Softlighter II does, but it is slightly smaller at only 43" in diameter compared to the Softlighter at 46". Also, if the extreme silver is used behind the front diffusion fabric, then the PLM has more light output. The Buff 22" beauty dish would be better than an umbrella on a breezy day. Lotsa choices, all affordable and easily attached to an AB800 and an Einstein.

I expect Jaleel's current mast/boom has tube diameters of 35/30/25/20mm. For a vertical-only mast, I would use a Manfrotto 1004BAC with the same tube diameters. The majority of the time, it would only be used with one or two sections extended, to keep the strobe lower and thus more stable, as recommended by David Hobby. But occasionally, extra height would be nice-to-have. The 1004BAC can be extended as high as 12.0 feet - not quite as high as Jaleel's current setup which I expect can give 12.9 feet, but still very respectible.

December 05, 2012 3:49 PM  
Blogger Richard Wintle said...

...and this is why Strobist readers are *also* awesome. What a ton of good ideas. :)

December 05, 2012 9:04 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Maybe he should go for a camera with a faster sync speed (Fuji Superzoom, Canon G1X, older DSLR like a D70).

Faster sync speed = less power needed = smaller flashes. That means less weight and lower complexity with batteries and things like that.

December 06, 2012 3:07 PM  
Blogger 528photo said...

Mike, I asked Jaleel about speed lights and his response boiled down to flash output. I believe he wants to add an AB Einstien for remote adjustments. Also high speed synch of speedlights is useful but dramatically decreases flash output.

December 07, 2012 7:37 AM  
Blogger Bert McLendon said...

I think an awesome kickstarter campaign to PIMP HIS RIDE would be awesome! Of course, keeping it from him would be the hard part but filming the making of his new custom photography wheelchair would be awesome let alone capturing the reveal when he gets it! If you haven't seen Overhaulin yet, the reveal is the best part. This would be awesome.

December 07, 2012 12:27 PM  
OpenID markonestudios said...

I can't really comment on the rig, but man, am I inspired, challenged and thoroughly motivated by Jaleel's story!

Thank you, Dave, for posting this.

No more excuses...

December 09, 2012 5:12 PM  
Blogger Jaleel King said...

I want to first apologize for the late response to everyone. I got a bit overwhelmed with the responses and added to that a few visits to the doctors.

With that said, THANK YOU ALL for support and awesome feedback I've been getting! Should anyone need to reach me or needs help feel free to contact me anytime. :)

Part the major issue I'm going to have going forward is the new wheelchair I'm looking forward to "hopefully" getting. This will mean having to find some other creative ways to get this going, but I say bring it on!

Weight shifting is the biggest issue as the rig does move when I'm rolling but never has come apart. I like the idea of using rope instead of the weight on the back as well as making it easy for me to adjust it with a pull.

I'm not sure how much you guys can see in the image but I actually have a couple of Think Tank lens bags attached to my chair, don't know why I didn't use them sooner, but inside the one you can see is my vagabond mini which weighs next to nothing. While I would love to have a smaller strobe head like an Elinchrom or Profoto my pockets won't forgive me. lol However, the AB1600 gives me lots of power coupled with the PW TT5, hopefully an Einstein in the near future to further reduce weight.

I also want to thank Hillary and Jason for the kind words. Jason that was mushy but I love you bro! :)

RJ I'd be honored to shoot with you! I'll reach out to you soon!

Everyone please feel free to add me on Facebook or Google+, I'm still working through the responses but I will respond.

I'm so thrilled to see there are so many other disabled photographers out here doing it too!

December 09, 2012 7:19 PM  

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