Dragons happen

Dragons happen.

Lately I’ve committed to making it a habit to write every morning. If I don’t have something in mind, then I commit to write gibberish until I’ve completed at least 20 minutes of writing. Yesterday I wrote up some affirmations and goals — which included writing more. That’s where it ended. Nothing was flowing. I felt stuck — and besides, I had a good excuse: I had to run downtown to check on a photo job in progress. Up, up, and away I go.

On my way back in to the office, one of my team hands me a soft, brown, bubble padded envelope from the mail. It was hand addressed and personalized with a black Sharpie. I wasn’t expecting anything, but surprises are always fun! I laid it on my desk, hung my coat, and scratched the ears of my dog, who always comes running to my office to greet me when he gets to work before I do. I contemplated brewing another cup of coffee.

Again, I sat at my computer and acknowledged that I hadn’t written anything significant yet this morning….but wait, I can distract myself with that package on my desk! I opened it up and there was a small book and a hand-written note. The note began, “Kevin, Handwritten letters are an under appreciated & under used form of correspondence. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed seeing your letter to me...”

It was from John, my friend at CreativeLIVE. He had given me a book called, The War of Art when I visited last and I absolutely loved it. I sent him a note thanking him for it, and for the impact it had on me. Here, now, in perfect synchronicity, he gifts another Steven Pressfield book, Do The Work.

Synchronous because Pressfield is synonymous with persistence. He is the consummate advocate for fighting the dragons of fear and resistance. His words are pointed and poignant — he doesn’t pull punches. The wisdom in his prose finds its way to your heart, bypassing the clutter of your mind.

John knew the book would speak to me when he saw the artwork on the inside of the book jacket. It is a knight fighting a dragon. I have always loved dragons and what they can represent. For me, they are icons of fearlessness, wisdom, and benevolent power. And there are also the other dragons — like the dragon of fear that needs to be fought on a regular basis. This was a dragon of resistance.

And so I had another one of those amazing moments where my answer appears seemingly from outer space, from this mysterious connection we have with the world and the people in it. I tacked the cover dragon to my wall, in front of my desk, just below a favorite painting that reminds me to face fear with blind courage. I got busy writing.

When I got home I read the book through, cover to cover, just as I had the first book, The War of Art. And as before, the messages resonated with me in a remarkable way — as if I had told the Universe, “I need some answers!” and it graciously delivered.

So I put down the book and did the work. I just started to write and it felt good — not because I was writing anything mind blowing, but because I was fighting that dragon and just getting started. That is literally the most difficult hurdle for anything worthwhile in our lives. Get started.

The beauty in getting started is you now have momentum on your side and that is a powerful ally. Dragons get very discouraged when you have help on your side. Get started. Don’t quit.

The biggest realization I’ve had, from Pressfield’s illumination and from my own recent discoveries, is that getting started and keeping the momentum going is really the hardest part — and, it is all we need to do. The details, help, and “how-to” will appear soon enough to assist you, but only if you are riding the good dragon of Persistent Work.

Is there a Dragon in your way today? In your life?

Facing Dragons and unexpected gifts

Dragon motif red.png

So I did a secret presentation in the San Francisco studio of CreativeLive last week, just before my publicly broadcast 2-day presentation. I was invited by the staff of CreativeLive to do a "20 minutes of Genius” talk, just for them – no cameras. That was a bit intimidating. “Genius?” I didn’t feel qualified to fill those shoes, but I knew I could share something meaningful with them, nonetheless. 

I decided I needed to share some things I’ve never publicly shared. I asked them all to agree to keep everything I said private, and I was actually pretty nervous – and I don’t usually get too nervous anymore before a talk. I gave my talk and felt really good about it. One of the things that I shared near the end was the realization that we don’t always know where, when, or how the “reason” or result of our actions, or f#¢k ups, will manifest or make themselves known. I believe there always is a gift, or lesson, but it can take years for the realization to hit – sometimes. Occasionally, the gift is quite immediate and may even try to sneak by you.

My live program on creativeLIVE last week. You can still  get the 2-day business class!  at a great discount right now.

My live program on creativeLIVE last week. You can still get the 2-day business class! at a great discount right now.

Fast forward a couple days and I’ve completed my 2-day live course. Everything went smooth and I had a wonderful studio audience that I really connected with, and felt I had truly impacted. I was very grateful for the entire experience – including the amazing team at CreativeLive that constantly blows me away with their professionalism and genuine caring. This was enough of a gift already.

We had our little wrap party, with some wine, beer, sparkling water, and edible treats – some green and some red. I said goodbye to my students one-by-one, hugging them as they bid farewell. I was finishing my drink with my host, Jim, and my broadcast tech, John. The song, “Closing Time” played on my internal turntable.

At the end of my live program, I had mentioned some of my favorite books – readings that had significantly influenced my personal and business life and success. John said this made him think of his all-time favorite, and recalled the book, The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. 

“Have you read it?” he asked me. "It rings a bell," I said, but maybe that’s because I was thinking of the classic, The Art of War, by Sun Tzu – which I have read. 

“Wait here.” he said as he ran out of the kitchen, leaving me hanging. I polished my sparkling water and burped. 

Seconds later he returned with a fresh copy of the book in hand. “I keep a stack of them on my desk to give people whenever I think they’ll dig it.” 

I took one look at the cover and knew that I had to read it. It was speaking to me already. I thanked him sincerely, and accepted the gift.

We finished up our drinks and packed up our bags. I headed back to my cozy airbnb and contemplated going out with some friends to dinner. Being the introvert that I am, (yes, that seems contrary to the qualities of a public speaker, but that’s another story) I was feeling like I just needed some down time to recharge and reflect. I also wanted to try this delicious looking Nepalese restaurant that was down the street. I found out they delivered, so I phoned in my order and sat down to read, The War of Art. 

The food came before I knew it and I tried to keep reading while I answered the door. That didn’t work well. I gave my full attention to my friendly delivery guy, tipped and thanked him, then plated the chicken curry and momos. I can’t remember the last time I ate with one hand and held a book with the other, but it had a very erudite feel to it. 

When dinner was consumed, I plopped down across the couch and continued to read until the book was completed and fully digested. Fortunately, it is a quick read. I think the eloquence and directness of the writing, mixed with the brevity, made it particularly poignant. I could not wait to read it again. There were passages I wanted to underline. There were words in there that moved me, and I knew they were worth scribing in my inspiration notebook. 

“The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more resistance we will feel towards pursuing it.” – Steven Pressfield.

This smacked me in the face.

“We’re facing dragons too. Fire-breathing griffins of the soul, who we must outfight and outwit to reach the treasure of our self-in-potential and to release the maiden who is God’s plan and destiny for ourselves and the answer to why were were put on this planet.” – also from the book.

Gulp. I love dragons. How did he know? I have a little toy Dragon on my nightstand – my Dragon of Fear. It reminds me to face those fears when I fear them the most. I brought my Dragon for show-and-tell at the private talk earlier. He was now sitting on the desk across from my couch.

The next morning I boarded my plane to head home and before they could say, “Please put your devices in airplane mode…” I had my new book out for a second read, notebook and pen at the ready. The journey was one of the shortest I’ve ever had, despite the 2 legs and 1-hour delay. 

As I lay comfortably back in my own bed that night, I wondered if receiving this gift of inspiration was the actual, deeper reason for my visit to San Francisco to teach. In my talks, I had proclaimed how we can receive these lessons and gifts in very unexpected ways. I realized once again that sometimes it takes time to realize the purpose of an encounter or experience, but sometimes it happens immediately. I may have thought I was going there simply to teach – but in the final moments, before I left the building, I was given the gift I came there to receive. 

One of the other things I challenged my students to do in the live class was to actually, really, track everything they do during a work day for 2 weeks. This helps us to see where we misspend our important time, or use it less efficiently. Often, the simple act of recording something can influence you to change or improve – like recording what you eat, or when you exercise. I have found that simply writing down the realizations I have about the unexpected gifts & lessons in my life makes me more grateful for them – which translates directly to an influx of more gifts. Funny how that works. 

My Lightweight Lighting Essentials Kit

This lighting kit contains all the essentials to create the 3 basic lighting styles I teach in my workshops: Large Window, Medium Diffused, and Crisp & Direct. With this setup and a little education, you can create amazing lighting in any situation, indoors or out. The kit uses speedlights exclusively, as they are super portable, powerful, and extremely versatile. Optionally, you can use 2 speedlights behind some of the modifiers to double your light output. 

Note: this page will be updated as I find newer and more betterer options ;-)

This is the full Kit. See below for details on each item.

This is the full Kit. See below for details on each item.

My Lighting Notebook. Knowledge is king! 101 lighting setups shown and explained so you know exactly how to use all this stuff.

 

Westcott Scrim Jim 4’x6’ kit on B&H. Perfect window light anywhere. Fire your speedlights through it or diffuse the sun. 

 

Westcott LunaGrip 5-in-1 Kit: Designed by Kevin Kubota. This is my main tool for the most useful lighting style, medium diffused. Comes with collapsible 5-in-1 reflector/diffuser. Similar to a 40" soft box, but easier to pack, faster to setup, better in the wind, and more versatile. Use also as a perfect flat reflector holder with the silver/white cover. I use two of these – one as a main light, and the other with reflector for fill.

Rogue Grid for speedlights. Give your speedlight a soft spot light for dramatic lighting and controlled beam spread.

 

Gorillapod Focus for holding speedlights and attaching them to just about anything or anyone.

Cullman CB 2.7 mini ballhead for attaching your flash to the Gorillapod, or a lightstand

Sticky Filters for Flash. Instantly gel your flash for color balancing or groovy effects.

Singh-Ray 77mm (Thin Mount) Vari-ND Variable Neutral Density Filter. These are optional, but really cool for creating some dramatic lighting effects outside with flash. When you want to combine flash with sun, these are more efficient than using high-speed sync on your speedlight.

Westcott Light Stands Simple, basic, affordable. With some simple clamps, two of these will hold your Scrim Jim straight up. You can get dedicated clamps for the scrim if you anticipate holding the frame up at different angles. 

 

Kupo tilting adapter for attaching your LunaGrip to a light stand or handle. Technically, you could attach it without the tilt adapter, but then you have less flexibility for positioning. 

Lastolite Extending Handle. A handle is much more mobile than a light stand, assuming you have a handy assistant to hold it. I love using a handle because it enables me to move around more, perfecting my light, and getting a wider variety of images in a shorter amount of time. 

Yongnuo Nikon starter 2-pack (includes on-camera controller and one flash transceiver): 

2-pack Nikon additional transceivers for extra flash units: 

 

For Canon, order below models. Not sure why B&H doesn’t have the Canon starter set same as Nikon. 

Yongnuo Canon on-camera controller (need one of these and also transceivers below for each flash): 

Nikon SB910 Speedlights These are my favorites so far. There is a new Nikon SB5000 that I haven't tried yet. These lights have much more power than any of the generic brands.

 

Optional, but will come in handy eventually:

Triple Flash holder for combining speedlights to increase output or decrease recycle times.

Bolt battery pack for speedlights give 1400 full-power flashes with 1-second recycle time! Pow! I love this pack because it's very compact and light. Make sure to order the appropriate cable for your brand and model flash. Nikon cable here. Canon Cable here. You can even charge your phone or tablet with this and the USB adapter cable.