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Archive for April, 2008

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.


Apr 8

In Lighting at 7:58am

Some folks have asked for a couple of lighting diagrams of stuff that has been up on the blog, so here goes.

Shaft o’ lite… wall, no context.

Wall Color…..2 SB 800s on the floor open up detail and color. Only shot a couple frames here, and moved the EV dial around a lot, but I think we were at plus one or so. The units are literally just laying on the junk pile on the floor in front of camera. Nothing fancy, just a little blow of light, pushing it at the wall from a low angle.

Cowboy Phil…..this is shot right after Phil realized his pickup was missing, hence the mildly mournful look.

As you can see, the SB unit is high and camera left, basically in profile light position. Ran it through a hand held one stop Lastolite tri-grip diffuser, and got the diffuser just off the camera frame, as close as I could get it. The two SB units to camera right are on floor stands, on the tarmac, hitting him from low and slightly behind him. Gelled with red, running at a pretty seriously minus EV, as I recall. Kinda fun. Again, only shot a few frames and moved on. If I stuck with it and finished it, I might have brought the red lights higher and maybe used only one. Right now I got a bit of light wrapping around his shoulder and clipping his ear.Think that’s okay. If the camera side of his face was completely dead, dunno if I would like that. But, if on assignment for a mag, I surely would have pursued a couple of options for different looks. Come to think of it, keeping that light off Phil’s ear might have been a job and a half. I mean, Phil’s a great guy, but he’s got ears that belong on a basset hound.


Mentioned the other day we had a bunch of our DLWS buds in group A mode with SB800 strobes. Think it was twelve, which is pretty substantial for one of the groups, and I joshed about how it might be a record. No way, of course. You can push this stuff, though. The plane shot above was done in the era of SB80, SB50, SB30 technology, with some SB26 units thrown in for good measure. I believe we used 53 units. Lit the plane, the pilot, the cockpit, the maintenance cart, the cargo hold, the engines, and the background hangar. Brought in the fire truck for a nice wet runway, and kept my fingers crossed.

Damned if it didn’t work. No radio triggers. Everything is line of sight internal slave eye trip. Here’s the diagram:-)

Kathy Siler for President

Apr 6

In On Location, Thoughts at 5:26pm

I know it’s dangerous to take an ostensibly photo oriented blog into politics, especially with the current messy state of affairs we find ourselves in, but I think I have a great idea here. (Photo by Brad Moore)

Obama-mania is careening around the country, and the Hil-Billy circus is like watching a What’s-Behind-Door-Number-Three game show, and amidst all the hucksterism McCain is trying to appear presidential, though that’s hardly advisable given the current state of disrepair of the highest office of the land. His people might better counsel him to try appearing more like, say, a carnival barker, so he can make as much noise as the Dems.

I’m just leaving Tampa/Orlando, heading to New Mexico, Land of Enchantment, pueblo architecture, bleached cow skulls hanging above every fireplace (This is attractive?) tacos and wind chimes. (The southwest serenity scene is cool and all, but honestly, after about a week or so down there, if I hear another frikkin’ wind chime I tend to be tempted to get a sawed off shot gun and give it some special air mail. Must be 30 years around New York, I guess. Is the fact I’d rather hear a taxi horn than a wind chime weird?)

Oh well, it’s a great place, and I love to go down there, as I often do to teach at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. Beautiful place, and great people, and I’ve been blessed to work with a bunch of them, as I’m about to again this week, shooting on location in SF for another Kelby Online Training video. More on that tk.

Anway, the deal is I’m flying away from Photoshop World. What a great week! Talk about terrific people. Never met a more congenial, enthusiastic group. Did a couple classes, and ran around crazy busy, which was great except for the constant pangs caused by running past the doors to classes where cool stuff I need to know was being taught by great instructors and I couldn’t manage to go. There is such talent hovering around in the instructor’s room I was hoping to just go up to them and do a Vulcan mind meld, given the Star Trek theme this year. I mean, you got Scott Kelby, whose particular genius started the whole shebang, and Dave Cross, Matt Kloskowski, that sexy Klingon RC Concepcion (RC, shoulda given you a solo bit….”I’m Too Sexy for My Phaser, too sexy for my phaser, too sexy for my phaser…”)

And Ben Willmore, Terry White, Moose Peterson, Corey Barker, and on and on……..just crazy.

And guess who makes it all happen? Kathy Siler. She pulls together the whole deal, gets everything done, schedules stuff, puts out fires, spins the wheels, works an absurd amount of hours and somehow floats through the hallways looking like she just had a spa day. I mean, there’s not a hair out of place, and every problem is greeted with the warmest of smiles, the serenity of a bhagwan, and the confidence of a Navy Seal. Unflappable, in a word.

The problems vanish. The thing runs smoothly, and the thing in question of course is Photoshop World, this conference of over 2000 rambunctiously creative folks, many of whom are involved in photography, which means the whole deal is inclined to behave like an overlarge pre-k class. And she keeps the whole thing on time and on the rails. Amazing.

Hence my write in vote. She probably doesn’t want the job, cause she seems pretty happy working for NAPP and all. But I tell ya, we need help out here.


Apr 3

In On Location, Thoughts at 12:10am

Last week was a week and a half. It went by in a whoosh, which is always the way of a DLWS week. We start off on Sunday afternoon, clean our sensors, have a cookie and Boom! It’s Thursday.

We were in Moab, with lots of reds rocks, but the twist of the week was going to this little ghost type junk pile of a town called Cisco. I realize that last sentence might offend the 3 people who live in Cisco, but there ain’t no getting around it—the burg is basically a big car garden by the side of a very lonely county road.

But I loved it. Give me old, dilapidated, run down and rusted out any day of the week. Why is it that photographers look at a place most people would figure to be a likely setting for a crime and go, “Cool!”?

Got home late Thursday night. Had a bit of a family weekend, thankfully. Monday. Up at 3. Back on a plane. Oh well. Staggered through LaGuardia Airport. For whatever reason, I tripped the metal detectors, and I wasn’t even trying to pull off a Spinal Tap. Dunno. My fillings, maybe? Had to get frisked and wanded. Generally speaking, when you hear somebody snap on a rubber glove immediately behind you, it’s not gonna be a good day. I tend to disappear, and imagine the wand thingy is the thingy that Bones used to use on Star Trek. “Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a miracle worker!”

There was great stuff in Cisco, even though I’ve never been a very good “thing” photographer. I tend to need people, context, story line, that sort of stuff. I’m liking photographing things of late, though. Maybe I’m tired of 30 years of people asking, “How long is this gonna take?” (Answer: “As little time as possible!” Big smile.)

It’s wonderful, actually, being a people photog. I’ve met amazing folks. But it has it’s downside, too. I got introduced to the vagaries of photographing very important people a long time ago. My first cover of Sports Illustrated was of Herschel Walker. If you remember Herschel, you’re either old, a real football fan, from Georgia, or a bobsledder. Herschel was switching leagues, and headed for the Dallas Cowboys. This was big news.

To work with somebody like Herschel, you need to deal with a sports agent. Some are wonderful. Others are like gum on the bottom of your shoe. The situation here was that the deal was done, but the ink wasn’t dry on the signatures, so the only cover I could shoot was of Herschel with the Dallas helmet halfway on. I’m not kidding. Only game in town. Shoot it with the helmet just off his head or don’t shoot it.

Not one to let the fact that I knew the picture was gonna suck before I even took my cameras out of the bag stand in the way of a cover fee, I shot it. Met Herschel, who was a great athlete but a bit of an odd duck. He kept referring to himself in the third person, as in, “Herschel has to do what’s best for Herschel.”

Right. And Joe has to do what’s best for Joe and shoot this job and get back on a plane to the planet earth.

Anyway, high angle, 3×4 soft box in close, out of focus greenery in the background, and we were done. It alerted me to the fact that a soulless snap of a photograph could do just fine as a cover of a national magazine. Covers are not photographs, they are trained seals, designed to make noise and entertain. They need to jump through certain hoops, like being visible on a newsstand from 30 yards in a sea of other pubs trumpeting weight loss solutions, have large swatches of out of focus monochrome so star spangled type and a sticker announcing this month’s subscriber contest actually enhances the picture, and a bland little corner to accommodate the bar coding.

Cisco, by comparison, made no such demands. Cisco was, in fact, a very good friend of mine.

(This is another one of those weeks. Here teaching at Photoshop World. Whoah! Pretty crazy. Lots of fun. Time flying. More tk.)