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Maddie at the Piano…

Apr 10

In Equipment, Lighting, On Location at 7:43am

Or, maybe, Little House on the Prairie? Dunno. Doesn’t really matter, cause I just like the picture. One of those things about being a photog, is that you can occasionally make a notion a reality by making a picture of it.

Let me explain. I teach a bit at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, and during the lighting classes, we often go to pretty cool locations, with some models, who are also pretty cool, and try some portraiture and some lighting solutions. We use everything—big strobes, small flashes, reflectors, Octas, strip lights, beauty dishes, and even, when one presents, a lace curtain.

Maddie here is Mawgie’s daughter. Mawgie is one of the loveliest, liveliest people I have ever met, and she brought along Maddie to a class we had recently. Everybody had a ball with her, and being a bit of a ham, Maddie didn’t mind all the photographic attention.

You know how faces stick in your head sometimes? You just see a face, and it hangs around in your photo imagination. When I saw Maddie, I thought, you know, one of these days I might try to get a picture of that kid.

So we were doing one of the Kelby Online Training videos on lighting, and we were pretty determined to get out on location and away from Tampa, where we had shot the first four. Hello Santa Fe! Phone call to Mawgie. Whadddaya think?
Next thing we know, we found ourselves at Eaves Movie Ranch, run by Thomas Wingate, a dear friend and possessor of one of the great all time American faces. Thomas has been the subject of more photos than Carter’s got pills and he deserves every one of ’em. He honors the lens with an instantaneous combination of grit and dignity that you just don’t run across every day of the week.

At Eaves they have this old ramshackle (actually, everything out there is pretty ramshackle) saloon that always gives up a good crack at a photo. I’ve wanted to do a couple of simple shots in there over time, and never really had a chance, till Maddie sat down at this dust laden piano, which stands by a lace curtain, yellowed with age and dirt. Pulled the curtain over the window, and she dressed in frontier wardrobe, courtesy of another great cowboy subject, Thadd Turner, who’s got this terrific stash of cowboy and cowgirl duds.

Put an Elinchrom Ranger out in the street with a long throw reflector, and just pointed it at the window from about ten feet away. Ran it on the B port of the Ranger, which gives only 30% of whatever power setting you have programmed, hence the light was real minimal, just a small pop through the curtain. That enabled me to shoot it with my favorite telephoto, the Nikkor 200mm f2, wide open at f2, at 250th of a second.

And of course Donald came along. Already blogged a bit about his decency, wit, and presence in front of a camera. Told him I did that, and he was quite pleased, though he hasn’t seen it. He admitted he’s been having a problem figuring out how to turn his damn computer on. He tries to keep things simple. Doesn’t have a cell phone. He did tell me he and his honey complicated their lives a bit this year, though. “We learned a new dance step,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye.

The pix of Donald and Thomas were shot, by the way, with one light. Again, an Elinchrom Ranger, stuck outsided the building and bouncing down into a white sheet, mimicking and amplifying the hard sunlight that was bouncing around out there.

I always say a bad day in the field beats a good day at the office, anytime. Gotta figure out what a great day in the field compares to, cause Tuesday was one of those days.

Oleg Shpak says:

on April 10, 2008 at 8:10 am

Great photographs!
I wonder where this yellowish tone come from? Is it filter on elinchrom, color of curtains, color balance play during postprocessing?
It is an interesting and strange to me choice of lens for the photograph of Maddie. Is there a line of thought why you used this long telephoto instead of let’s say 85mm [to get a little bit more background with piano]?

steve says:

on April 10, 2008 at 8:17 am

These are classic and wonderful portraits. They have the warm look of late afternoon sun, which adds punch. Did you do anything to warm up the light or white balance?

KL says:

on April 10, 2008 at 8:26 am

Love the shoots, lighting and info Joe.

When I grow I wanna be like ya!

Ken In Kentucky

Thad says:

on April 10, 2008 at 8:41 am

Wow. That shot of Maddie made my jaw drop. Beautiful light! Such a classic image.

Larry Eiss says:

on April 10, 2008 at 8:50 am

These are tremendous images and great lessons in the power of a single light properly used. That shot of Maddie is the sort of image you just keep coming back to. What a great model she is! Thanks for doing this. Maybe if I read you long enough one day some of what you say will make its way far enough into my gray matter to actually become a part of the way I naturally shoot.

Klaus says:

on April 10, 2008 at 9:30 am

Thad said it right. Jaw-droppers. All of them.
Cheers, Klaus

Andriy says:

on April 10, 2008 at 9:47 am

Gorgeous photos. My personal favorite is the girl. From the first sight couldn’t even say whether it’s a photo or a work of 18th century master. Very inspiring.

Ziv says:

on April 10, 2008 at 10:10 am

Joe, love the Maddie shot!

“I wonder where this yellowish tone come from?”
Check out the exif data of the photo, Joe’s WB is set to “cloudy”


T. Michael Testi says:

on April 10, 2008 at 10:14 am

You said “Put an Elinchrom Ranger out in the street with a long throw reflector, and just pointed it at the window from about the feet away.”

How many feet away?

By the way awesome shots!!

Joe McNally says:

on April 10, 2008 at 10:57 am

Warmth is due to cloudy white balance for sure, as well as the dirty, yellowed nature of the lace. And the Ranger is out in the street about 10 or so feet from the window….Joe

Joseph Eastburn says:

on April 10, 2008 at 11:03 am

Maddie is so freakin cute! Her range from classic to complete goof ball is awesome. Everyone I’ve shown our workshop video to has commented on the shots with her, more than any of the others. Mawgie should be super proud.

Bill Pennington says:

on April 10, 2008 at 11:25 am

Wow the photo of Maddie is amazing, like a painting. Amazing work!

Stacey Huston says:

on April 10, 2008 at 12:51 pm

Beautiful photo. I am yet to use artificial light, I took a few portrat shots of a baby once and capitolized on the sunlight coming through the window.. same effect as you discussed here. Great and helpful site. Thanks so much for sharing you knowledge

Charles says:

on April 10, 2008 at 3:05 pm

What, in particular, makes the 200 f/2 your favorite lens?

Andrew Ebrahim says:

on April 10, 2008 at 7:54 pm

Last week I heard that you would be appearing on TWiP and I just finished listening to you on TWiP. I must say you provided a lot of insight and inspiration! I’m a huge fan of your work and find it wonderful that such high key photographers such as your self and Chase Jarvis are taking the time to contribute back to the online photography community.


Mark K. says:

on April 10, 2008 at 10:25 pm

My lord these are awesome. Thanks for the views, the knowledge and the inspiration, Joe!

Scott Slattery says:

on April 11, 2008 at 7:42 am

Joe, I totally agree with your assessment of Mawgie! I was in Dan Milnor’s wedding class the week before at Santa Fe and she was one of our models also! Wonderful person! I met Maddie at our closing reception and suggested that she should come and model with Mom – I’m glad she did! Next year I hope to get into one of your classes! Thanks!

Randy Baran says:

on April 11, 2008 at 7:47 am


I shouldn’t be calling the SB-800 “this crazy strobe” but I’m a working journalist and have by no means mastered this flash unit. I have to find tutorials that a “pre-geezer” like me (I’m a year older than you so look out!) can understand or find a course. PJ’s don’t have the luxury of taking a partner on a gig to hold remote lights or block traffic from kicking them over. So to create shadows, I bounce off a wall, and feather. I get all that — learning all the time — but the SB-800 often says, “no, no, no you don’t” and does what its programmed to do, which, at this point, is mess with my mind. I know you get my drift, HELP?!!


Kyle Barnett says:

on April 12, 2008 at 11:55 pm

Fantastic portraits Joe. Are all of these with the 200 f2? I have been saving my pennies for this lens; so hearing its your favorite is perfect timing. BTW – If the wife reads this, I am in no way swayed by the coolness of Joes pic’s Im just “learning” so I can take better portraits of our three daughters. 😉

**Lens Envy**

Washington, DC

Bryon Houlgrave says:

on April 14, 2008 at 1:27 am

Great, great, great portraits.

Jameel says:

on April 28, 2008 at 1:31 am

Ok. I haven’t even read the post yet, but the lighting and colors in that first photo are AWESOME. I appreciate all that you share freely on the blog. Wonderful tips and your personality definitely comes through.

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