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Archive for June, 2008

Vive la France!

Jun 27

In Seminars & Workshops, Thoughts, Travels at 1:55pm

In France teaching for the National Geographic Expeditions Workshops.

Just came out of Boston, and a terrific week shooting on the streets of that Celtic crazed city. I truly felt for the production coordinators on this shoot. They had to constantly re-up the ante with the city, battling for photo permits until, finally, it came down to this; the last day of our shoot was in the city center, on Thursday, the day of the celebration parade. They offered to hold up the parade a day or so for us, you know, so we could get our work done, but we were gracious, and said no, no, it’s been 22 years, you guys go have fun:-)

During these negotiations we relied on Brad a great deal. It’s a little know fact that he is tight with Celtic coach Doc Rivers, staying in the background, advising him about off season moves, and always pushing to have KG attack the basket more, especially when the Lakers are in the penalty.

Folks in Boston were so happy we worked around their parade they let me spend some private time with the O’Brien Trophy.

The trip to France was tough, though. Flew outta Logan and had less than an hour to connect at Charles de Gaulle airport for my hop to Marseilles. Ran a road race through the massive CDG (my dad played in my head while I was running–from his military days, he used to say “over the wall with Charles de Gaulle” when facing difficult tasks.)

Got to my plane with minutes to spare, completely soaked in sweat. I mean, did you ever see the Albert Brooks anchor bit in Broadcast News? I was dripping. My condition stopped just shy of singing in the rain, but I was still massively embarrassed and tried to slink into my seat, unobserved, as best I could. Whew! Maybe out of sight, but surely not out of mind as people’s olfactory facilities were probably kicking in big time. I was a stinking mess.

But then I relaxed and remembered. This is Air France! I’m probably the best smelling person on the plane! Quelle joyeux!

I jest of course. The French get a bad rap. Google “Frenchman” and the first hit is: “Supercilious sumbitch who suffers the slings and arrows of all things un-Gallic with barely restrained contempt.” Mais, c’est ne pas vrai, mes amis! I have been treated graciously and warmly by my French hosts, colleagues, and have had routinely wonderful encounters here for many years.

I figure the French are a bit like New Yorkers in the image department. Folks from the Big Apple are often thought of as brusque, rude, and impatient, unfairly so. I’m sure you are familiar with the old NY joke/story of the out of towner, most likely from the Midwest, irretrievably lost in the asphalt jungle, knowing he has to ask directions, but terrified of doing same as he has heard about New Yorkers and their attitudes. He swallows hard, sucks it up and approaches someone who looks like the stereotypical denizen of da big city. (Sallow skin, sunken, darting eyes, hunched shoulders, racking cough, eyebrow twitch, and a pre-disposition to take anybody who interrupts them, slows their pace or generally just causes them aggravation and tear ’em a brand new, strategically located orifice). The visitor clears his throat tremulously and, sounding as deferential and pleasant as possible, asks, “Excuse me sir, could you please tell me how to get to the Empire State Building, or should I go fuck myself?”

Ahh, mais oui! We find ourselves in one of the truly blessed and non-stop pleasant places on earth, Arles, in the south of France. I am teaching with the unique and gifted Elizabeth Opalenik, and the Italian force of nature, Diana Grandi. Both are approachable, resourceful, talented, and fun to be with. Our class has been great, as usual a terrific mix of people, personalities and talents from all walks of life. We have been rolling through villages, olive fields and abbeys, photographing where the Romans built arches and Van Gogh walked and painted so memorably.

Arles is the home of the legendary Lucien Clergue, a definitive and vibrant photographer (and dear friend of Elizabeth’s) who intertwines his art and life in a truly blessed way. At his amazing home, in a class visit arranged by Elizabeth, I had the good fortune for him to stand (momentarily) for my camera. Didn’t get the pic I wanted, but did okay….

When I teach, I try to get even a single frame I like for myself during any given week. Sometimes it happens, many times no. Ze good frames, zee’ are so hard to come by, no? It is a bit easier for me to find a few pix with the Nat Geo classes than my lighting classes, as in these, we are not so driven by the application of artificial photons emanating from large pieces of picture making hardware. Here, we talk about everything from exposure to light, to holding cameras to light, to making folders on the desktop to light, to f-stops to light, to…..well, you get the idea. Then we go someplace spectacular and shoot some stuff. Ca c’est tres amusant, oui?

Came close to a good frame this week with a picture of the hands of a boules player in the park.

Glad I got this cause I frikkin’ stalked the guy. He had great character to his hands and an interesting way of hitching them together on his backside before his next toss, a repeated ritual roughly akin to, say, Derek Jeter re-wrapping his batting gloves every time he steps in. He had the added bonus of basically wearing black no seam paper, as opposed to something stylish and colorful, which the French have a penchant to do.

Also went not to a bull fight, but to a bull ring to watch this crazy competition as these guys try to pluck bits of string off the horns of a pissed off bull who is running them down like a freight train. If any of these bulls ever catch one of these dudes, he’s gonna lift more than some string off of ’em.

They keep getting in the ring to do it over again and again, which is not a reasonable course of action, if you want my opinion. Talk about thinking with your nuts. They even bring out fresh bulls, all the while these dudes are getting more and more tired. Plus they actively try to agitate and irritate the big fella, perhaps even farting in his general direction. “Ha, ha, come back here and I will taunt you a second time!”

Did okay pictorially, not great. But had nice light for sure. And managed to catch a couple of portraits, one showing the potential for damage. Also resurrected my old 180 f2.8. Not an internal focus lens, thus slow by today’s AF standards, but a great lens nonetheless. Small, light, fast and sharp. Pop it onto the D3 and it rocks.

So, flying home. Air France to JFK. I’m in seat 17, just outta biz class. They have this drape between the two sections that’s kind of gauzy and see through, muting the light and giving those comfortable chairs up there even more romance and appeal. My imagination wanders as my eyes strain to see more clearly. I hear music and laughter. The popping of champagne! The clink of crystal! Shit, I think they got a belly dancer up there! Damn, where’s my ticket? Maybe they need a photographer!

None of that is going on of course. I’m really tired. This trip started on June 2nd, and I haven’t seen home since. Which is why the rate of blogging has been slow of late. Back to normal (what’s that?) next week. Got some things to share, and actually, a couple of major announcements.

Au revoir, France! And fond goodbyes to my class. We had great people I really enjoyed. One of them was Monica, who to me, was the walking definition of a dame. Great lady, of a certain age. Monica’s been there and done that, all with style and flair. She’s a pilot, and a traveler. She carries herself with a certitude and a formidable feminity (think Lauren Bacall), and she deals on her own terms. This is a woman for a confident man.

She turned to me at the end of the week, and arched her brows. “Very nice class, Joe. I really enjoyed it. You have a flair for the ludicrous, and I don’t hang around with anyone who doesn’t.”

How do you say, “more tk” in French?

Honl Rocks….

Jun 20

In Lighting, Seminars & Workshops, Travels at 3:56pm

I tell ya, these new Honl attachments for small flashes are pretty cool……

That’s Briana again, with my class at the Maine Media Workshops, posing at the window screen in a room at the Windjammer Hotel, a truly four star property that usually houses the YoFo’s, the young photog groups that come up to MMW every summer and jam into this establishment with the usual aplomb, verve and hormonal overload generally associated with their age group. If the newly spruced up walls of the old Windjammer could talk, oh my, we’d have one sweaty screenplay indeed.

We had a great week with my class. We rocked a bit at Firefly…….

And we did a session at the Lincoln Street Schoolhouse in Rockland, and then finished up the week at the Windjammer. I like using the location as it is a good place to show how to throw a light from a distance (like the parking lot) through a window to create different feels and moods. Hard light, soft light, warm light? You can produce it all with one source (an Elinchrom Ranger and a long throw reflector). Gels and a bed sheet can take you from soft, neutral, cloudy days to hard slashing sunset light. Lastolite skylite panels come ideally sized for this, at 3×3, 3×6 and 6×6. Frame up the diffusion material and drop ’em in front of the window, and you got the room lit. Lessee….

Above is Ranger, half cut of CTO, average camera exposure, light source about 40′ away, no diffusion….

Drop the exposure about a stop and half, you get more warmth. Close the curtain, and you get the concerned young man checking the parking lot shot.

Shift the positions of your models, draw over curtains in indiscriminate fashion, and you have a a bit of a soap opera drama, or bits and pieces of light you can drop your drummer, bassist, and rhythm/lead vocals dude into for the garage band CD cover of the hot new group, Disaffected Young People.

Hmm…here I have digressed again. I started off discussing the nifty new thingamabobbers springing from the mind of shooter David Honl. They are pretty cool. David Hobby had an early version of the honeycomb grid over in Dubai, and naturally I began to lust for it. As soon as I got back, ordered a couple speed straps (essential to pop on the attachments) and a barn door, snoot, and a grid. They’ve been rattling around in my bag till the Windjammer screen deal, as seen in the pic up top. But first I tried to light the screen with just a gelled, raw SB800 zoomed out to 105, with no dome diffuser on it. Then I had the bright idea to light the room blue. Inventive, as always, that Joe. Bet no one ever thought of that one before.

Okay, got some blue going in background, but not a lot. Hmmm…Blue is is camera right, and camera left, in the room, bouncing off the opposing walls. So why no blue behind Briana?

Went vertical. Got nothing now. Smart move on my part.

We put in workshopper Jim Messerschmidt, and got the blue back….

Must be his aura. He’s a terrific NY Post photog. Trust me, anybody who pounds the streets of New York City as tabloid shooter knows the blues…..

Hmm….still not working. Then, in the time honored, “coulda hadda V-8” moments we are all visited with as photogs, I thought, well, Mr. Brain Surgeon, maybe you’re not getting your blue cause you’re filling the room with unchecked, non-directional warm, yellow light! Why don’t you use one of those Honl things you just spent money on!

The honeycomb grid banged the foreground and sharpened it, in a no spill, no frill way. The group B blue fired, and group C went away, cause when you grid a light, one of the corollary effects is to have your remotes potentially not see it. I was too lazy to fix it, and besides, me and the class had the lobster Friday night dinner coming up in about an hour, as I recall, and we had some serious, post Workshop, Maine coast drinking to do…, untrue to form, I actually left well enough alone.

Done. Check out the Honl stuff, seriously. Fits well into a camera bag pouch, and has no weight. You can see below, for years I used the very inelegant solution of gaffering a circular spot grid meant for a big strobe on top of my small flashes. Pain in the ass, though it worked. Went through alot of dough on gaffer tape, though.

Only downside to the Honl stuff is I wish I had thought of it myself……

Outta North Country. Just finished a hard but wonderful week of commercial shooting in Boston. Just a great group of folks to work for, really like family. We just shoot like crazy and knock back pix all week, and have fun doing it. Blessed with working for one of the all time great art directors for this ongoing series. More on these pix in future blogs. Shot over 200 gigs in 3 days….that’s over 10,000 frames, which is why I use a D3 and not, say, a D80. That D3 shutter is made of tough stuff.

In Logan Airport now…..heading for France. Great week in Maine, though, as I look back. Terrific class. Always relaxed and enjoyable up in Rockport. I could almost live there, save the winters. Maine in February! Yikes! Do people just stay indoors for a couple months? I guess that could work, but then again, as was famously said in one of my all time favorite sports movies, Slapshot, you can only drink so much and screw so much. More tk……

North Country

Jun 12

In Seminars & Workshops at 10:41pm

In Maine. Love it here. Come every year to teach at the Maine Media Workshops. I’ve brought my kids a couple of times, and I always prepare Caitlin and Claire by regaling them with stories and images of the McNally Clan loading the giant oxcart and trekking into the great North Country, far beyond the mountains and the reach of other fierce, warlike clans. I paint them a picture of their role, foraging along side the cart in the near forest for roots, nuts and berries, dressed in simple homespun garments. They just roll their eyes.

They are used to dad’s overactive imagination. Whenever I have landed a major National Geographic story, I would tell them to gather round the campfire and listen. Father has slain the great woolly mammoth! There will be meat, tea, flour and sugar for the winter! They’re like, “Yeah Dad, that’s great. Can we have some money to go to the mall?”

Oh, well. Here in Rockport, home of the Workshops, one coffee shop, and Chalky. He’s a good guy, really, even though his mandate in life is to chalk your tires and then ticket you if he comes back and discovers your vehicle has overstayed the two hour limit for that parking space. He has the gait of an old dog, the gruff demeanor of somebody who has fended off too many whiny ass parking violators in his day, and a memory like a bear trap. I’ve gotten to know him a little bit, mostly by asking him if he’ll let me do his picture. He refuses. Always. This has gone on for, like, 10 years. It might be me. The idea I have is to close off the main drag of Rockport, put him in the middle of the road and make a chalk outline of his body in the road, like a crime scene, with him standing over it, wielding his all powerful chalk wand like Thor wields the mighty Mjolinir.

The longest conversation we ever had was about the various body parts and organs he’s had go missing. I was very sympathetic, and it was certainly interesting, but didn’t gain me any personal traction in the old parking situation. Son of a bitch ticketed me twice yesterday morning

Last night the class went to Firefly, where I made the above picture. (Tech notes below.) It’s run by Andy Swift, who is an artist, a mechanic, and a genuine Maine character. He restores historic fire engines for a living, and runs his business out of an old chicken barn that used to house 33,000 of the feathered darlings. It is quite simply one of the best places I have ever been, chock full of stuff–fire trucks, wheels, engines, parts, tools, and toys. Andy used to have Osama bin Laden targets in his backyard which he would regularly chew threw with a 30 cal.

Andy also did the restoration on a historic hose wagon that became the ceremonial hearse for FDNY after 911, an emotional, powerful project. I gave him my 911 book back then, and made his picture. Yesterday, I gave him my new book, The Moment It Clicks. Our mood was much lighter. He was laughing and joking with the class. I signed the book for him….”Dear Andy, happiness is a belt fed weapon.”

Techy stuff……

The lady in the two location pics is Brianna Borkowski, who works often with the workshops, and has always been patient and hard working with my classes. In the top photo, knocked it out with 6 SB800 units. Two are above camera, running through a Lastolite 3×6 Skylite panel. One is below camera as a beauty fill, firing through a Tri-grip diffuser panel, hand held. There is a unit camera left making the warm ceiling highlight, and one in the way back, giving a little squib of light to the far, far wall. And one is bang on in back of the American flag, flying around and creating backlit type effects and shadows.

Then there’s Brianna in the boiler room, all glammed up. We take her to the nicest places! This one is done with Elinchrom Rangers. Two are camera right, out of the room in the parking lot, with 1/2 cuts of CTO (color temp orange filters, the filter that makes a strobe balanced for neutral daylight look like 1-800-DIAL-A-SUNSET. Boom! Got the room taken care of. Lit like fading daylight, when in reality, the place was so dark the AF on the D3 was workin’ hard. For up front, took an Elinchrom beauty dish through a 3×6 Lastolite Skylite Panel, and then filled just a touch with a hand held gold side Tri-grip reflector. Add a dash of Brianna type photo model attitude, and we be done. More tk….

News and Notes

Jun 10

In Links at 7:07am

Granted, my blog isn’t generally where you would go for current photo news and tidbits of information about the latest and the greatest way to jam more pixels onto the head of a pin. “Sony Announces New 27 Megapixel Lapel Button Camera with Automatic HDR Mode!”

Sheesh! I don’t know how guys like Scott Kelby and Moose Peterson do it. They’re onto everything. For me, it’s tough. I wake up every morning and generally can’t find my ass with both hands. I mean, it’s the new millenium dude, and I’m still struggling with my first rough draft of the 70’s.

The news in my head plays like an old Firesign Theatre routine:

And now the news….Red-lighted sky slated to appear in east! And now for the rumors behind the news….

Couple of things, though…….

I met Tim Mantoani last Friday. He’s given himself the unenviable task of tracking down photographers (talk about herding cats) into the Polaroid 20×24 studio in San Francisco and New York to push forward his long term project, Behind the Photographs. What he requests is that you bring in one of your most well known pictures (a short list for me) printed and simply stand with it. Sounds simple enough, but the wonderful catch to the whole deal is that you are standing in front of the Polaroid 20×24 camera, a truly unique instrument. (I might be missing my guess here, but I believe there are only 6 Polariod 20×24 cameras in the world. There are now Wisner cameras which will accomodate 20×24 film, and Tim owns one of these.)

He has been remarkably persistent with this project, pursuing it now for the better part of two years. You can see the results of his dedication here.

It is becoming a terrific and complete document that, I believe, will stand the test of time. I mean he’s got Phil Stern, Walter Iooss, Greg Heisler, Jean Pagliuso, Jay Maisel, Dave Burnett, Bill Eppridge, Carl Fischer, Barbara Bordnick, Neil Leifer…..Lots of folks. Lots of pictures you’ve not just seen, but had your life, your sensibilities, your sympathies, your appreciation for that which is beautiful, significant, and lasting molded, altered, informed and shaped by. Many of these images are some of the larger footprints we will leave behind. (Photos by Brad Moore)

Michael Clark just recently posted his spring newsletter. He is one of those guys who shoots perfectly composed pictures while hanging from one hand on a rock over a chasm in the great out there. He does a lot of really great climbing and outdoor sports shooting. We got to know one another in Santa Fe a few years back, and I look for his newsletters and blog all the time cause they are loaded with good images and info.

And….drum roll, please….our own Syl Arena has launched a blog… Now I call Syl “our own” cause we met at Santa Fe and he has been a prime mover and shaker in keeping our group talking and laughing together on line. I mean it was quite the class, with a range of personalities from Syl to “Machine Gun” Krista Lee.

Syl is an excellent shooter and master of color management and workflow. He combines all this with a personality as electric and curly as his red hair. He brings passion to everything he does, which now includes his excellent blog.

And our own Brad Moore is blogging–

More on Brad in a future post. He’s just getting the wind in blog sails now.

Zoom, Zoom, Zoom

Jun 5

In Seminars & Workshops at 9:27pm

Long time, no blog. Actually about a week or so. Been logging a lot of late hours and road time up and down the Jersey Pike, which after all these years, I could probably drive in my sleep, and in fact probably have. You know the old joke, “I wanna die just like ol’ Uncle Elmer, asleep and peaceful. Unlike the passengers in his car, who died awake and screaming.”

Reason for the north south transit of late is that it is time once again for the Department of Defense Worldwide Military Workshop. Held every year at Ft. Meade, a terrific group of young military phojos gather and have their minds bent a bit by the likes of ex-Marine Earnie Grafton, extraordinary newspaper shooter for the San Diego Trib, Preston Keres, a mainstay at the Wash Post, Eli Reed, one of the most gifted of the Magnum shooters, commercial photog Greh Hren, and the list goes on.

The architect of all this craziness is Ken “Make It Their Problem” Hackman, the dean of military photojournalism. He is complemented by Chip Maury (actually, Chip rarely compliments Hackman), former Navy parachutist, underwater demo guy, photographer’s mate, and, as a civilian, DOP of the Indianapolis Star and Providence Journal. They go around dispensing years of photo wisdom, on both the shooting and editing side, coaching and cajoling young shooters, and just in general acting lead roles in their own version of “Grumpy Old Men.” The young’uns are blessed to have these guys to lead the way. Chip gives a talk and a handout he serenely refers to as “Chip’s Tidbits of Bullshit.” Wish somebody had bullshitted me in such a fashion when I was a young shooter. His lessons are signposts to heed when you hit those dangerous, dark curves of life and career.

It usually falls to me to teach a lighting team, with none other than–David Hobby. I tell ya, you can learn a lot from the Strobist. Our team mentor is the Coast Guard’s Tom Sperduto, a terrific shooter who plows through every day at nine frames a second. We have a great team, with lots of energy. The pic below was shot by Stacy Pearsall, who hung with us for a couple of days, and has been Military Photographer of the Year– twice. (Mulitple wins in the Milphog contest is like, you know, Lance Armstrong type stuff.)

Shot with 7 or 8 SB800 units. David and I are VALS up front, either side of the lead, group A. Middle two are group B, and the two guys in the back are group C. We knocked it out, not perfectly, but real well real quick. Speed is often the order of the day for a military shooter. Fast, fast, fast. I just threw the camera at Stacy and said, okay, you run it. Stage it, light it, shoot it. We got 10 minutes.

Later, we headed for the studio.

Now, anybody who can just about cover their ear with their kneecap and calmly look at the camera while balancing on the other foot is, well, extraordinary. Or destined for the Cirque du Soleil. Shelly Guy is friends with one of the guys on our team, and prior to heading for Italy for a performance tour, she helped us out and came into the studio. The light combo here is overhead umbrella with 3 SB units, and a silver fill with one hand held pop off of it. Don’t use silver too often, but seemed appropriate here for the kind of stage quality Shelly has. She has a website, Wonderful person, fun to work with.

And very patient too, cause David put her in a locker. It was slightly bigger than a shoe box. Terrific pic. She handled it with aplomb. Putting me in there would have required a welder’s torch, a sawzall and the base fire department.

Referring to the zoom up top, I went to low one on the D3 to minimize ISO and maximize length of shutter speed. The camera burped out an exposure of 1/5th @ f16 on Aperture Priority. The background is dropped to about minus 2 EV. It was lit with 2 overhead SB800 units through a 3×3 Lastolite panel. The panel is angled overhead pretty steeply, almost table topped, so there is a bit of a brooding feel to the light, given my subject. I call it Goodfellas light. It’s like the light that’s suspended over the table at the back of the restaurant where the Don sits, meting out judgment and punishment. The face is framed in shadow, and the eyes are shaded. You know you better kiss this guy’s ring, pronto. David did me the good turn of reminding me that you need to start your zoom before the exposure, so it will be smooth, and not herky jerky. You get different feels from zooming wide to long and vice versa. Calls for some experimentation.

Up to our usual tricks, makin’ small flashes behave like big ones. More tk.