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Many, Many Thanks

Jul 14

In Lighting, Stories, Thoughts at 11:12am

To everyone who read last week’s blog, and to those who have commented so graciously. As I mentioned, the greatest reward of doing that project has been meeting a very special group of people, and the lasting friendships that have resulted.

Lots of folks asked about contributions. I mentioned Ellen Price, who is the curator, and she can be reached at [email protected] She has worked incredibly hard at keeping the pictures on people’s minds, and putting it forward, especially to the folks making decisions down at the Memorial Museum. She also has obtained NYFA (New York Foundation for the Arts) status for the collection. If you email her, she can give you a link to the Foundation. Any funds accrued there would go to the care and feeding of the pictures. No money comes to my studio. For me, for now, thanks to the partnership at Adorama, the collection and the storage will remain stable for some time to come. Hoping of course, that they actually start building the memorial, which is an emotionally charged, tortuous process. Getting everybody on the same page in NY is a long haul, to be sure.


The above pix from the bad old days in NY, when I started at the New York Daily News….

Dudley and a couple folks were inquiring on Flickr about recent settings I used in a Kelby Training Video, specifically using 1/60th @ f5.6 as a kind of middle of the road starting point. Speculation was that using a sixtieth could introduce camera shake, and why wouldn’t I go to a higher sync? I think that was kind of the basis of the thread.

There was some further thinking along the lines that I’m an old newspaper dog, and that’s what I grew up with, and…they’re right. Youse guys got it knocked! Sixtieth used to be top end for shutter sync when I first took a camera in my hands. Old habits die hard, what can I say? I’ve always felt comfortable there, hand holding a camera when using flash, especially when I am dominating the exposure with that flash. (Pretty much figure I could throw the camera in the air at a sixtieth with flash and come away with something sharp. Come to think of it, most of my better pictures were made that way:-)

There’s more of course, just a bit of personal history. The Daily News was a real union shop. You went from being a boy on the newsroom floor, a copy boy, specifically, to being a boy in the studio, as what they called a studio apprentice. You weren’t a man until you went on the street as a shooter. Apprentices would do jobs like maintain the Versamats (70’s style processors, sort of like throwing your film into a wood chipper), captioning, filing, all the boring studio stuff. I was running the machines one day and the “Inquiring Photographer” came in with his roll of 20 exposure Tri-x. He was the guy who would ask people questions on the street, like, nowadays it might be, “How do you feel about the Governor playing grab ass with high priced call girls while running the business of the state?” He would write down their comments, take their head shot, and that was that. He had been doing this for, oh, about 75 years.

So he gives me the roll, and I stuff it into the machine, and it comes out blank. (That wasn’t an uncommon result for some of the guys at the News.) I brought it to him and he naturally blamed me, and started ranting and raving. “What did you do to my film?!!” I told him there had to be a problem with his camera, or he had made a mistake. He looked at me and said he couldn’t have made a mistake, he had shot it at a sixtieth @ 5.6!

And then it dawned on me. This guy had been on the streets for a major metro daily for years, and he thought the entire world was set at 1/60th @ f5.6. Okey dokey! That’s what I thought, too!

As boys back in the studio, we never took any of this shit particularly seriously. We would just roll our eyes, and try to have some fun. Passing the time could include inserting old style flash bulbs into the sockets of the boss’ office desk lamp, or tormenting some of the more colorful members of the staff. DJ was still on the street back then, even though his eyes were fading. He was a true NY original, and a dirty old man. Vain to a fault, he also wore a wig. This presented possibilities.

John Roca, still a terrific shooter, still at the News, and I got a small picture out of a girly magazine and taped it to the work desk just below the air intake for the pneumatic tubes that would powerfully suck the plexi containers filled with deadline pictures out to the photo desk. It made a big hissing sound, and you would insert the container, and with a big Thwock! it shot out to editors in the massive newsroom.

The picture was small, as I say, and taped down. Yo, D! Hey take a look at this! He can’t see shit of course until he bends his head over about 6 inches from the image of this young lady, and thus right in the firing line of the tube. BOOM! Roca and I hit the switch. This hairpiece just lifted right off Danny’s head and started traveling to the news room when, Danny managed to slap the top of his head and catch a couple of strands. Those strands held, and he hung onto his rug. All for the best, really, cause out in the newsroom they were waiting on page one, and not a wig to come flying out of the tube.

Anyway, I sort of have this background emotional attachment to that f-stop/shutter combo. Silly, really. I do embrace the faster syncs we have now, for sure. One of the most powerful tools in our bags. Gives us enormous control over difficult lighting situations and moving subjects. Another thing that I should really let go of, is the fact that in the days of radio triggers not being anywhere near as sophisticated as they are now, there was always a danger of clipping the radio signal at higher shutters. For instance, at SI, historically, whenever we would light a court or an arena, we used to drop a hard wire out of the ceiling (they might still do it as backup, dunno) so we could hard sync via zip wire to the Speedos in the rafters. Using a radio to trigger at 250th would often fail, cause the signal would have to travel too far to the packs, and by the time they triggered, your shutter would be closed. Never a problem in the studio, cause the radio signal doesn’t have to go far, but that sort of history lingers in my head, so I’m cautious, I guess you would say.


Friday night in the meat district…..SB900 on the background, SB200 for the portrait. What is this man doing? More tk.

Adam Swords says:

on July 14, 2008 at 12:29 pm

That story of the wig and the suction tube had me crying with laughter!

Mark K_NJ says:

on July 14, 2008 at 12:54 pm

Great story, as usual! And it’s funny, I was wondering today how much you ever used a fish-eye, and I think you used one on the subway car photo, no? I think I also remember seeing one from on top of the Empire State Building (did you ever call that guy to fix the light??)

And, what can I say…the last image is brilliant. Calling Dick Tracey…

Dave Feltenberger says:

on July 14, 2008 at 1:20 pm

That first subway shot is *really* great. Part of me wishes it was still like that just so I could photograph the subways and add it to my Traces collection!

Peter says:

on July 14, 2008 at 1:29 pm

As much as I and I guess everyone can get consumed in new tech stuff. I sure do love your stories from the “old” days.
Keeps me coming to your blog and well buy your book which is great inspiration.

I would love to have seen the newsroom getting a wig instead of page one. Especially with a deadline and all that 😉

thanks for yet another great post

Richard Cave says:

on July 14, 2008 at 1:40 pm

Ha ha, we used to sellotape caps (from the toy guns) to the back of the bulb so no one could see it as they fired came a massive bang! The story about the syrup had me in stitches.

We have a game if the photographer ever leaves his camera unattended, various body parts would get shot and the camera replaced.

My favourite area is the dark room and the hi jinks that go on in there. We have a interlock a tube you stand in and rotate the door to get out, door wedges thrust in at the right time would jam the victim in or sellotape clingfilm on the other side so the victim gets caught in it. Or setting up a bowens head with a radio trigger on FP in the corner of the dark room once the guy was working after a hour in pitch black trigger it!

Oh the fun we had.

Cheers Joe for a funny post, like the Marlowe Private Dick picture.


Ken says:

on July 14, 2008 at 2:03 pm


Wonderful blog today. Thanks for sharing all the “good stuff” with me the rest.
I lamely did a video on food photography on my blog, really bad, but I don’t make pay my bills with photography but I am inspired by your work.

And thanks for the Kelby training “stuff”. Show and tell is my game.

Ken in KY

Ken says:

on July 14, 2008 at 4:08 pm

Ken again,

Please tell everyone about your new book coming out.

“The Hot Shoe Diaries – Creative Applications of Small Flashes.”

I can’t wait to get mine

Ken from KY

Luke says:

on July 14, 2008 at 6:41 pm

Joe, my WAG is that the top photo is a ‘J’ train, ‘Z’ train, or ‘M’ train.. Some brown line going into brooklyn, could I be right???

Bill Bogle, Jr. says:

on July 14, 2008 at 8:23 pm

What was it with the old staff photographers? Vanity? We had a local guy at the paper here who was an albino almost, nicknamed Whitey [great, huh! not too pc]. He had coke bottle glasses, and couldn’t see you until he was in close, but he could shoot. He also liked to climb – tops of bridges, buildings, etc. He was always seen with his industrial strength white wig. And he loved the young ladies. Guess that must have been a job description for a lot of dailys at the time.

Let’s not forget the past.


nicholas von staden says:

on July 14, 2008 at 10:44 pm

Story…it true..about 20 years ago was at the Daily News after a Jets/Dolphins game at the old polo grounds….one of those cold rainy games your lens kept fogin up and flares from the lights…Another photo looks at me..says” Rome started this way” anyhow after game and back at the News…late 1pm ,a freelance photog comes running into the lab…(small closet room with dugny green walls from the chemical fumes)…with a roll of film from the last Beverly Sills concert….the printer…a older guy who had been at the News since the year I was born…1946….He can’t find the guy to process the film…he can’t do it….don’t know how!..he just prints! you got it..I put my hand up…there were images….got it to the news from to change plates on the fly I guess…there in the newsroom was a little 13in TV on the city desk with and HUGE linked chain and padlock on it! This was a rude awakening for a kid from the midwest……Your stories bring many memories Joe keep it up with the Moments

Michael S. says:

on July 14, 2008 at 10:50 pm

Man, the old stories are great Joe. You a quite a gifted storyteller. You’ll be a great grandfather someday!

Eric says:

on July 15, 2008 at 12:07 am

Great post!!!

Your stories rock, and you seem to have an endless supply stored up just waiting for blogdom.

That last shot is awesome.

Kedar Bhat says:

on July 15, 2008 at 1:59 am

Is that man in the image ‘ON THE STREETS OF NY……’ holding a SB200 with a

CTO gel in his hand too?

your pictures are a great inspiration

kedar Bhat

Barak says:

on July 15, 2008 at 3:33 am

Erm… If the ceiling of that arena was 100 meters high, the signal would get there in 1/3,000,000th of a second (give or take a factor of 10, it’s been 25 years since freshman physics). If the radio failed, it wasn’t because of the additional time to get the radio signal to the rafters.

Barak says:

on July 15, 2008 at 3:35 am

…and what the heck is an SB-200?

ShaolinTiger says:

on July 15, 2008 at 4:40 am

That wig story is freaking hilarious.

Richard Cave says:

on July 15, 2008 at 8:58 am

Hi Joe, there is a bit off interest going on flickr about a new book the hot Shoe Diaries. Could you confirm whether it is a urban legend or it really is happening?

Cheers mate,


octavian brezean says:

on July 15, 2008 at 10:16 am

great pics first ones, the perspective makes the story unique!

Charlie says:

on July 15, 2008 at 12:29 pm

Thanks Joe for such a wonderful post. Like Ken from Ky, I have your latest edition already on pre-order and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. I had the opportunity to shoot with a really nice guy named Mike here in Chicago during a recent photowalk and he told me about shooting with you prior to Photoshop World last year. His enthusiasm was contagious.

Your accessability, your story telling and your genuine desire to help other shooter is a large part of why we are in the mist of such a wonderful photography revolution. Man!, what a great time to be a shooter.

Thanks again.

Anthony C says:

on July 15, 2008 at 11:40 pm

Loved the stories. Ain’t NOTHIN’ like that level of fun and chicanery happening around any newsroom or photo lab (“lab?” hardly) these days, that’s for sure.

Although I didn’t have the priviledge of working at the late, lamented City News Bureau here in Chicago, one old hand told me tales of sending the occasional mouse (caught on site, of course) through the pnuematic tube system that went for several city blocks (!) underground to the various competing newsrooms the Bureau served.

Ken Wilcox says:

on July 16, 2008 at 1:29 am

So is the SB200 a shorter way of saying the SB-R200?

Carl says:

on July 17, 2008 at 1:11 pm

When I started in 1985 as a darkroom tech, we had a part-time weekend guy who ran film and shot grip-and-grin shot. He had a serious tobacco addiction and it took him exactly 8 minutes to knock off a cigarette. The newsroom was smoking, but the darkroom was not (no fans at all, the place would have qualified as a Superfund site). So he’d put the film in the D76, come out to the newsroom, light up, and when the smoke got to the end, go back in the darkroom and dump the developer. He’d pour in the fix, then come out and time it with another smoke. Ditto for wash.

The film looked crummy, no aggitation, of course, but with our crappy reproduction it didn’t much matter. And it offset the other lab tech’s habit of shaking the tank like it was a drink mixer.

J Newsome says:

on August 17, 2008 at 12:56 am

As a long time reader of your blog (well, since the beginning) I have always enjoyed your stories and shooting tips. They have helped me, as a young shooter, learn to solve a lot of problems creatively. Learning to think about light has changed the way I approach photography almost entirely, and my work is so much better for it. I am so glad that I am lucky enough to have started out when all this great information about small strobes was circulating on the web. It’s an exciting time to be a photographer of any age. Just wanted to thank you for being a part of making it that way.
The K man photo is one of my favorites you have ever shot. It’s just brilliant, and the light on K man makes him look like an oil painting. I love it.

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