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Archive for July, 2008

Welcome Adorama!

Jul 8

In Thoughts at 12:41pm

Long blog. Apologies. This is a history that doesn’t sum up in a couple of grafs. What I am celebrating here is the resiliency of the photo community, and the welcome partnership of Adorama Camera here in NY. They have stepped up to help me shepherd a collection of pictures stemming from the events of 9/11, and we will collaborate via this blog, education and lectures. Please read on…..

Back in 2001, things weren’t great in the photo biz, I tell ya. It was heavy sledding, trying to get work, staying afloat, keeping the studio running. Little did I know that just around the corner the jalopy known as McNally Photography, a sleek machine with a couple of flats, transmission trouble and a top end of oh, about 22mph, was going to get bulldozed by this event called 9/11, which changed all of our lives, forever. Everything after that day became, “the new normal,” a phrase that grew out of just how thoroughly, absolutely, and irretrievably everything was now different.

Like many NY shooters, I had a love affair with those towers, those twin exclamation points at the end of Manhattan. They were in lots of my pix over the years.

In a moment of youthful exuberance, I actually climbed the antenna on the North Tower.

Then they were gone, replaced by this giant dust cloud of destruction that floated out and settled on all of our shoulders, hearts, minds and spirits. “What to do now?” was the oft repeated question. How to deal with the sadness, the rage, the confusion, the uncertainty? How to make a contribution? On some level, no matter how miniscule?

I’m a photographer. Pictures are what I have to offer. (It’s the only thing I really know how to do.) But I did not go to the streets, like so many of my colleagues. Quite a number of them were already at it, in heroic fashion. I could add very little to what they were doing. I stayed at home, hung with the kids a bit, and stewed. First time out with a camera after the day was to shoot Mike Piazza, then the Mets catcher. SI was doing a piece on how athletes played a role in lifting our hearts and minds.

In 2000, I was assigned to shoot pictures for a very small story (which was never published) on a unique photographic instrument called Moby C, which at the time lived on the lower East Side of NY. Moby after the whale, not the musician. (His birthday is Sept. 11th, l965, by the way. Sept. 11th is also my dad’s birthday, back in 1912.) This camera is the world’s only Giant Polaroid camera, invented at the behest of Dr. Land himself. It is the size of a one car garage. Its lens came from a U2 spy plane, according to legend. At f/45, you have about an inch of depth of field. You cannot focus the lens–you have to focus your subject by moving them back and forth in tiny increments. There is no shutter, you have to work camera obscura at the moment of exposure. I used about 25,000 watt seconds of strobe, mostly run through a 12×12 silk. The strobe system was wired to a Mamiya RZ 6×7 camera, bore sighted under the Polaroid lens. We would pose the subject, then wait for the interior workings of the Polaroid to spool up (there are two technicians inside the camera when you shoot, and they have to prepare things, like switch on a Black and Decker wet dry vac to suck the Polaroid film to the giant backplate of the camera). Then I would go dark in the studio, pull the cap of the Polaroid lens, fire the Mamiya and thus render an instantaneous dupe, one a huge positive, and the other a 6×7 transparency.

Huge indeed. What results after the exposure is a life sized image, 40″x 80″. You lay it out on the floor of the camera, wait 90 seconds (it’s the same Polaroid paper that comes in your over the counter cameras) and then peel the chemical backing off. There you have it.

I had convinced the elegant and easy going Jennifer Ringer, a principal with the NYC Ballet, to come and work with me during this first, experimental day with the camera. We made some nice, big pictures of her. (I was chuckling inside during this shoot, harking back to our old philosophy at LIFE magazine: “If ya can’t make ’em good, make ’em big and in color!”)

Made seven successful images that day, which is a lot of production for this behemoth of a camera, and found I had a bit of an affinity for working it. (Try anything once, right? Just have faith and remember the Lord looks after a fool.)

Hmmm. Things stick with you, right? A week after 9/11, I sent an email to the only guy I knew who had a bunch of cash and would give me a quick decision; the editorial director of Time Warner, John Huey. John’s basically an old Southern newspaper man who kind of looks at you sideways, lets you babble, and then tells you what he thinks. He’s smart as a whip, quick off the mark, and does not suffer fools or photographers gladly.

I sent him the email on a Thursday night. He gave me money for the project Monday morning. The pressure was on. He was taking a huge gamble with his company’s dough, $100,000, to be direct about it. He looked me in the eye and drawled, “Joe, you spend $20,000 and get me no pitchahs, that’s okay. You spend $100,000 and get me no pitchahs, we got a problem.” He kind of drew out the word, “prrroblem.” I gulped and left his office.

My notion was that this camera was made for people of stature, a heroic instrument, if you will. You have to literally stand for your portrait. You collect yourself in the dark, holding still, waiting for the strobe explosion. And then you are done. One shot. (90% of our subjects we did in one exposure. Each sheet of Polaroid cost $300. I dreaded blinkers.)

It became a document known as Faces of Ground Zero. It toured through seven stops, opening at Grand Central Station, and coming back to NY a year later. For the anniversary show they threw a huge tent over where they usually put the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. It was seen by lots of people. The Polaroids and the resultant book(s) helped the sponsors, Time Warner and Morgan Stanley, to donate close to $2 million dollars to the relief of downtown public education. In the tent at the Rock Center show, we sold about $40,000 worth of books in 3 weeks. All of it went to the downtown PTA’s.

It also acquainted me with an extraordinary group of people, many of whom I stay in touch with to this day.

Danny and Joanne Foley. The Foley’s are one of the most giving, decent, loving families I have ever met. A firefighting family. Danny promised his folks he would bring his brother, Tommy, home. Tommy was on Rescue 3, one of the first responders. Eight men were on that truck. None came back. Danny stood for this picture a few days after finding Tommy’s body. In the year after 9/11, he stepped up and took his brother’s place at Rescue 3, in the Bronx.

Joanne, about a year later, at the family farm, with Tommy’s cowboy hat.

Jan Demczur, a Polish window washer who scraped through 6 inches of sheet rock with his squeegee blade and thus saved the 4 people he was trapped in an elevator with. His squeegee is in the Smithsonian.

About a year after, Jan didn’t go outside much, and was living very quietly.

Mike Wernick, who survived the 93 bombing, and 9/11, now retired. His story of the day is powerful and moving. When he came into the Polaroid studio, the shock of it was still on his face.

Mike and his wife Nuri are one of the most loving couples I know. They survived that day quite simply because of that love. Together they run a motorcycle garage in Manhattan called Rising Wolf (one of the only bike garages in NY) and I managed to shoot this from the back of my assistant’s Jeep a couple years ago.

My good friend, Louie Cacchioli. Louie saved a lot of people that day by keeping his head and telling them to follow his light. Out on West St., running from the second collapse, he was overtaken by the cloud of ash and soot. Blinded by the smoke, he felt along the ground and stumbled onto a discarded oxygen mask. He clapped it to his face. He estimates he had about 30 seconds left.

Later that year, he looked at the skyline from the Staten Island ferry.

Years later, he posed for the prototype D3.

I always describe Louie as a firefighting Robert DeNiro. He tends to make women swoon. He’s retired now, and gives lectures and tours at the WTC site. He was the cover of the book (go figure) and it is one of the blessings of my life that having a camera in my hand enabled me to meet this man.

Joe Hodges. A veteran firefighter who could have easily retired after 9/11, but chose to stay on. “The older guys have to stick around and show the younger guys the way,” was how he put it.

Joe works now at at the Governor’s Island house, and I shot this on July 4th a couple of years ago.

I’ve always been convinced the project worked quite simply because it was photographs of a bunch of really, really good people. We had luck, to be sure. The camera never broke down. Good thing, as it really has no spare parts, and is finicky to work at best. Most guest shooters would make, maybe, 5 images or so (you rent the camera on a daily basis, at that time $2000 per day, plus $300 per sheet). There were days (and nights) we pulled over 40 images out the machine. It kept working.

So we kept working. Our last subject was Rudy Giuliani. He finally came on the last night. We were out of money, out of time. We shot 2 Polaroids of hizzoner, and closed the doors.

Things you don’t think about while you are in the throes of a project like this, are, what happens next? When the Rock Center show closed, I became the owner, lock, stock and metal framework, of about 10 tons of photography. (The framed pieces, which form the traveling core of the show, are 4’x9′ and weigh about 300 pounds.) They reside currently in museum quality, climate controlled storage in a warehouse in New Jersey.

That’s a lot of pictures.

That’s also a pretty sizable storage bill every month, which I have handled pretty much on my own for the last 7 years. Sometimes I just shrug and think of it as a second mortgage. Other times, when there has been no work and less grace in this business, it has veered close to breaking the studio. There have been nights I have woken up and simply thought, well, I’ll just get a permit from my buds in the fire department and set the whole thing ablaze and be done with it.

Together with Ellen Price (, who is the curator of the collection, and has worked more pro bono hours on its behalf than I can remember, we have plied the hallways of corporations and spoken to many about its survival as an important record of that time. Jan Ramirez, now the Chief Curator & Director of Collections at the 9/11 Memorial Museum, has been a champion of the collection since early on, when she was at the NY Historical Society. Along with Alice Greenwald, the Director of the Museum, they have issued a letter of intent to acquire, which has been a huge blessing. It means that sometime down the road, these pictures will find an appropriate home.

Many powerful people came and spoke powerful words while standing in front of these pictures in the days after 9/11. So powerful, they are not the kind that return the phone calls of a freelance photographer. No surprise there. (Or, I’m sure to any who have made their living over any period of time with a camera. I write occasionally to my alumni magazine at Syracuse, to the section which details the comings, goings and achievements of past graduates. I simply say, “After 35 years, Joe McNally is still jobless, and living around New York City.”) Funny, they’ve never published that.

This was impressed on me even further at the 5th Anniversary of 9/11. We staged the Polaroids again, this time at the NYC Fire Museum. We had no money… not a dime. We made entreaties, asked around as best we could. Nothing. I have a loose affiliation with Getty Pictures, so I wrote to my editor at the time, David Laidler, a good guy, who’s no longer there. Came back with a no. Alright. I’m nothing if not tenacious. I wrote again, more, shall we say, pointedly. Getty coughed up $10k. I chipped in five grand of my own dough, and we had enough to pull off a show.

The crates weigh about 2,000 pounds, and we had no funds for a forklift. So groups of off duty firefighters would come in shifts to pull and haul. I tried helping, but Keith Johnson of Ladder 6 just turned to me and said, “Joe, stay away from the crates. We’re firefighters. We’ve got lifetime disability. What happens if you throw your back out? You’re a freelance photographer. Nobody gives a shit about you.” True enough.

So, they sit now in crates, once again. I spoke recently at Adorama, and had a great, fun audience. I presented a few of the Ground Zero images. Memories of that time are still powerful. Jeff Snyder, who came to Adorama from Penn Camera, and I have been friends a long time. We started talking. He set up a meeting with the administration of the store, which was not held over a conference table the size of a football field on the 60th floor of a midtown tower. We sat in a small room over a camera store. It was like meeting the family. In fact, it was meeting the family. We shook hands. There were no lawyers, no contracts, no clauses with subsections 1 through 17, paragraphs D, E and F.

Adorama now is a partner in helping me keep this collection together and finding it a safe harbor. The people in these pictures trusted me with their images, thoughts and feelings in those tortuous days after 9/11. They made the effort to come to a camera that sounds strange, despite best efforts to describe it over the phone. They have formed their own, informal, emotionally connected community. I owe it to them to see this through. Adorama, will now help me do that.

There’s a reason they call it “the photo community.” Because it is.

Again, many thanks to Jeff Snyder, Monica Cipnic, and all the folks at Adorama.

Rollin’ with The Pride of Midtown

Jul 2

In Equipment, Lighting, On Location at 9:27am

That’s what the 54 house calls themselves. They are unquestionably the most popular and photographed firehouse in NYC. Literally millions of tourists are spread around the world, at home, with pictures of this house and “the guys.” In terms of runs, they are the busiest fire company in all of NY.

The guys are incredibly patient and easygoing about the constant stream of pedestrian traffic that flows in front of their doors, and the resultant, endless requests for photos and a smile. They are a great bunch. I got to know a few of them right after 911. One of my friends is Rich Kane, the driver of 4 truck. Rich is a veteran firefighter, good guy, terrific photog, and resident firehouse sex symbol. Mike Corrado of Nikon is also his good friend (they shoot a lot of sports together). So a few weeks ago, Mike, Rich, Brad and I got 4 truck together with a D700.

Strategy wise, it’s good to do this with a ladder truck and not an engine, cause as you will see, the up top ladder gives you a base of operations and a sturdy, extended platform to hang your rig off of. The gear needed to do this:

4 Bogen Magic Arms, each with 2 Bogen Super Clamps; 1 heavy duty Gitzo monopod; 1 SC-29 cord; 1 D700, 1 14-24mm f2.8; SU-800 trigger; 3 SB800 flashes; Justin Clamps; gaffer tape; gels; ball head; metal cable lanyards; zip ties; Pocket Wizards. (Couple notes later about ball head and PWs.)

Okay. Get what you figure will be the main light positioned first. That pretty much is standard placement, something on the dashboard, affixed with a Justin Clamp, and a warming gel. The flash from here, muted and adjusted properly, simulates instrument panel glow, at least in theory, though these shots have been done so often, everybody knows a strobe is down there. Okay, first result.

Would you let this man drive a fire truck? Hmmm….

Okay, one light is not enough. The cab of the that truck is large, and black. More punch is called for, or the driver will look like Dracula on a high speed run to the blood bank.

Had the notion I could maybe hide a light behind and somewhat obstructing the rear view (which is okay, given the way Richie drives:-). This light got a heavy red gel, and then some gaffer tape treatment, and a series of zip ties to make sure it didn’t go missing during a run.

All the while, you have to finesse camera placement and angle. I’m racked out to 14 mil on the zoom and the camera is upside down for convenience sake. (Hey, it don’t know.)

First few tests showed we had to bury a third light in the cab, filling the passenger side just a touch. Again, trying to avoid the big black hole in the photo type of deal. But, the system is running CLS/TTL so the 3 receivers have to see the impulse from the SU800. We hot shoed it–no go. This is where the SC29 is invaluable. Pop the SU trigger onto the 29 cable and hook it to the camera, then run that puppy out along the monopod, lock it into place with another Bogen Super Clamp, and boom, the strobes see the signal and you still have full wireless TTL. I could have locked the strobes into SU-4 mode and popped ’em with PWs, but then I’ve got 3 units to ratio manually, and I’m crawling all over the truck, sometimes in the street off a run. Rather play with the values from one source, the SU800, and program strobe punch from there. It’s talking to the camera, and vice versa, so there will be a natural variation to the feel of the light as the truck zooms from light to dark areas of the street.

The camera’s out there, right? I’m pretty nervous, cause NYC streets ain’t exactly the autobahn. More like a donkey cart trail. Lots of bumps. But then I relax. It’s Corrado’s camera! I use the Manfrotto Hydrostatic Ball heads pretty religiously, but opted here for the Really Right Stuff system, cause I was unsure of whether I would go horizontal or vertical, and the RRS L bracket seemed to make sense. Mistake. (It’s the little things you don’t think of , ya know?) The L bracket I had for my D3 didn’t configure to the bottom of the D700. Man I had to give that set screw a pretty good, well, screwing, to get it to lock and then it was still kinda fragile looking and cattywampus. That’s where more zip ties and cable lanyards came in. I didn’t want the camera disappearing under the wheels of the rig, or, worse, flying through Richie’s windshield. (In the interests of safety and given the fact this was a live fire vehicle, Mike, Richie and I rehearsed getting the clamps and the monopod off the ladders. We got it down to about 30 seconds, within limits in case of a call.)

I tell ya something that saved me. The big LCD in the back of the D700. I had to check angle and exposure periodically, out in the street, and looking at a small, dark monitor whilst standing on the bumper and arching backwards hanging onto the wiper blade of the truck would have made for a long night. Also, perfect type of shot for full frame. Nuff said.

If you notice the background to some of these production pix, you’ll see it is a memorial. Engine 54/Ladder 4/Battalion 9 lost 15 men on 911. It was a rough time. Firehouses are resilient places, though. They bounce back. Lots of banter. They hang together and love each other like brothers, and just like brothers, cut no slack and take no prisoners when it comes to dishing out grief. If you are short, or bald, or have a big nose, and maybe are packing a few extra pounds, it’s well, noted. The operative phrase here is, “Don’t limp.”

Especially true for probie firefighters, who join the house and have to jump to for everything during the course of their probation. One of the things I did that night for the house was shoot new head shots for a bunch of the guys. We had a recent addition to the house in front of my lens, and see the shadowy figure in the background, high on the truck, bucket in hand? It is called, no mystery here, “bucketing.”

He smelled the prank and stayed dry. But a firehouse is not for the faint of heart, or the easily damaged. Guys will be guys. A veteran of the department I know pretty well used to go fishing to pass the time. To do this he would affix a dollar bill to a well worn wallet and attach the wallet to fishing line, crack the firehouse door, slip it out on the sidewalk and see what he could reel in. Most folks got a laugh and appreciated the joke, though he did say there were some interesting reactions when he did this at a house right next door to a methadone clinic.

Probie’s get lots of attention. Witness the power sit up. At some houses I’ve heard about, the competitive and eager to please new guy is told it is a strict house workout routine to push out sit ups while being restrained via a towel over the forehead, held by another guy. Invariably, the towels slips momentarily over the fnugys eyes, while he continues to try to power through the situp. While blinded by the towel, another firefighter, usually the biggest guy in the house (one house had a guy so big they called him “double date”) strategically locates himself in a squatting position over the hapless probie. He of course is buck naked. The towel intentionally slips and the new guy does an accelerated face plant into a butt crack. This is called fun.

Back to the streets. Had lots of misses, but a couple of real good hits. The other reason to work with 54 house photographically is that their zone includes Times Square. Talk about Friday night lights! The streets are almost daylight bright, except it’s neon.

I’m in the cab behind Richie, driving the camera with a Pocket Wizard. Lots of frames, cause you never know. You’re making what is hopefully a series of educated guesses. And depending on lots of variables to hopefully tip your way.

I can’t comment all that intelligently on the D700 (Pipe down right now, Mike. Corrado will read this and shrug and say, what else is new?) because I had it in my hands for only a few minutes until I put it at the end of a pole and hoped for the best. But, strategically, it was a great solution because you have the bright LCD, 12.1 megapixel FX (full frame) CMOS sensor, terrific metering system…in short, a package that gets most of the way to D3 in a smaller, lighter body. That played huge in my head as I watched the camera dropped into space on the end of a boom pole that was waving around like a swizzle stick.

We’ve made big prints of these shots for the house, though, as one of the guys riding in the truck commented, “Oh, yeah, that ‘s my wife has been asking me for, big prints of Richie Kane driving the truck. She’ll be so pleased.”

They’re a good bunch, and I certainly represented myself better that Friday night than I had in our most recent encounter. I had gotten one of those contracts, you know the ones, that tell you they are not going to pay you any money, but they are taking from you all rights to your intellectual property, in perpetuity, in the known and yet to be discovered universe (I tell ya, the reprints rights on the moons of Jupiter are going to be a gold mine, hang onto those.), for all time, yet again, and furthermore, and by the way, we own your house, too. Instead of fire bombing that particular publication, I went to Times Square and stripped down to my u-trou with a couple of pithy things written on sandwich boards.

Just when I’m at my most undignified (a not infrequent condition) 4 Truck rolls through Times Square. “Hey Joe–what the f^%%$#(*&^%%k are you doin’?” Oh well….

Hey there’s links like crazy to the D700 and SB900 out there. Those links will give you more technical skinny than I can. I just feel lucky we have tools like this. I mean, I started with a Nikkormat, and then my first motor driven camera was an F. As Marty Forscher used to say, “you can hammer a nail with that camera.” True enough, but that wasn’t what it was for, was it?

Availability is always an issue in the early days of stuff. Got a call yesterday from Jeff Snyder, who I mentioned in my blog yesterday. Jeff is one of us. He is in the trenches, shooting and experiencing all the ups and downs of shooting that we do, so he is, IMHO, the real deal. He is just about single handedly responsible for taking his (relatively) new posting at Adorama and using it to catapult that operation more into the forefront of our industry. Witness the Sportsshooter site. More on Jeff and Adorama in a day or so. But he advises contacting him direct via his email— He’s like the man behind the curtain, pulling levers, making connections and working his butt off to get gear to people.

More tk……

Just When We Figured out the 800….

Jul 1

In Lighting, Tips & Tricks at 10:30am

Along comes the 900. I’ve had two for a few weeks now, and the unit is, well, smooth. What can I say? Ed Fasano, a General Manager at Nikon, asked me what I thought after handling it, and I told him, “Well, if the SB800 is a real nice Chevy, this baby’s a Cadillac.”

It’s bigger, stronger, sturdier. It has crucial additional features that will go a long ways to making CLS a more complete system. It has a guide number that is the equivalent to the power of a thousand suns! It will retail for $33.95 after mail in rebate! I’m lying!

Smooth light. The unit has three light distribution patterns, standard, center weighted and even. So, for the first time we can really address the quality of the light we are getting at the source, in addition to the zoom control. Have I done the old flash against the wall test to check for the distribution pattern? No. That would be waaayyyyyy too thorough for me. I kind of took it and thought I would see how it interacts with the human face in the way I often approach portraiture.

I prevailed upon my daughter Claire to take a break from the non-stop pool lounging she is currently engaged in since school let out and come out for some pictures with her best friend, Amanda. I suggested they do something to illustrate the closeness they feel as friends. Overhead is two SB900 units, bounced into umbrellas (Lastolite All in Ones) and then running through a Lastolite 3×6 Skylite Panel. The panel is diffusing light and blocking sun, as we shot this in my driveway, with some black paper hanging from the overhead door.

But I like the light. It wraps, and it is, again, smooth. It’s tough to articulate about light in a reasonable way. I use terms like smooth, rounded, harsh, angry, voluptuous, poppy, dreamy, soft, rich, evil…sounds at the end like I’ve described your average afternoon on All My Children.

But then I decided to not give the unit a break with lots of softness and went to a simple, reflected umbrella, which is not generally my light of choice. Just keep it basic and see what it can do. Amanda here is holding up the wall.

Same deal here. Umbrella camera left, up high, middling distance from Claire.

Simple is the way I might describe this. Easy, even. Running aperture priority at minus 2EV to keep the wall a bit dense and below middle gray. Claire is lit with the 900 in group A, the only light in the mix. Put a little extra power in the strobe to compensate for the muted nature of the frame.


You know the selector button in the back of the SB800. They key to the kingdom? The button that allows all? The one that was reluctant to respond when punching it in a frenzy? The one when crunch time is happening on the job and your lights are completely set but you gotta make a change and you are pushing and pushing on the button so hard you feel like you’re that kid in Gary Larsen’s cartoon about Midvale School for the Gifted? Cause nothing’s happening? Or, you happen to have a thumb the size of a ham hock, and you can mash that baby all day long and it’s giving you flat line, no response? That one?

Ugh! Mongo make flash work now.

Well, say goodbye to that puppy. See the wheel above, in the middle. Key in virtually any function with a tap on the appropriate button and spin that wheel. Plus/minus EV, groups, channels, the whole deal. Once you get yourself set, see the lock symbol? Yep, you can lock it so you don’t thunder thumb it to group 9 or something I am often prone to do. See the temp scale? Cool! Burst away! The unit will tell you when it’s heating up. It gets to the top of that thermometer, a klaxon horn sounds and a pre-recorded voice screams “Emergency Blow!” Kidding of course.

See the on/off/remote/master switch? Thank you, strobe wizards! Do you realize if you multiply how many times you use this unit over the course of your life by the number of seconds it would have taken you to punch through the SB800 4 box grid and get to the options menu and drop the 800 into either master, remote or SU-4 (let’s say, 15 seconds) that you will be given back probably enough time to watch all of the Rambo movies and seriously ponder the nuances of characterization and subtleties of the human condition that define those movies? And how much richer your life will be because of that? All due to the simple on/off/remote/master switch. No more punching through the menu. Go click, you’re there.

The unit zooms to 200. Which means it can throw light from a good distance.

The light here is TTL, zoomed to 200mm, blasting at Claire from maybe 40′ or so. Not artful, especially for Claire, but good indication of things to come, and things that might now be possible. I’m speculating I can maybe make a 900 a master, and zoom it and get more reach for the signal to my remotes. Just a hunch, and as I get cranking better with these guys, I’ll report back. Check out the shoes. I always joke with Claire that her first word was, “Chanel.” She is a fashion plate, along with her friends

Tried another simple umbrella approach on this, and thank goodness for TTL, cause I’m shooting one handed and holding the stand on a rocky incline with my shoulder and other hand. Managed to get it pretty close, and it is wavering around up there, but the exposure stuck with me, and I came up with teenage girls and their sneakers. I always remember a Time cover story on Diane Keaton, shot by Douglas Kirkland I believe, many years ago, where Diane is on the rocks of Central Park with goofy shoes and a wide lens. Nice frame, as I recall. I’m always harking back to work, footnotes in the random stock files of my brain.

And….TA DA! The unit swivels 180 each way for a total of 360! Yep! It is the Linda Blair of strobe units. Swing that light head. It comes to a click stop of course, and then you go back the other direction. But it is a full 360 which means we just got away from the angling the unit to maximize sensor reception but at the same time potentially compromising the approach of the light to the subject. This feature alone is worth the price of admission, to me. I was showed this out at Nikon and I almost kissed Lindsay Silverman on the lips.

And…drum roll…final note of the morning. It’s got a computerized gel system. Huh? Yeah, that’s kind of what I said. But here’s the deal. You put the camera in Auto WB (gotta be there) and then slip one of the gels that comes with the units into a holder. The gel has computer chips embedded in it, and the holder makes contact with the unit and translates a color temp back to the camera. In other words, put a full CTO on the strobe, and the camera internally adjusts to an incandescent white balance.

The below is a little light flash on camera through a Lumiquest Big Bounce. Bit of CTO on the strobe, daylight balance for the scene. Color pattern about what you would expect.

But, put the full cto on that comes with the flash, and it signals the white balance shift. And you get this.

Bears exploration, to be sure. Pretty nifty technology. Feel very blessed to have experimented with this stuff. Mike Corrado at Nikon told me I was the first shooter to have my hands on it. Dunno on that, but if true, it means I am the first shooter to have broken one of them. Mike, sorry! One of them pitched off a stand and came up scott free, not a mark on it, except the dome diffuser cracked a bit. My bad. Not looking.

Tomorrow, pictures you get when you mix a ladder truck of FDNY, a D700, Times Square, Mike Corrado, and 3 onboard SB800 units. More tk.

And..just in. Jeff Snyder, the magician of Adorama–his email is and he is taking orders per a note I got from him this am. I don’t know if you know Jeff, but he is a wiz at navigating the system in the early release of a product. Food for thought….also Nikon has a link on their press room site, obviously…

Make the Voices Stop!

Jul 1

In Lighting at 12:01am

So I’m home after 26 days in a row on the road. Great arrival at Kennedy. Usual deal. One of those line shepherds at passport inspection, probably pulling in at about a deuce, deuce and a half was screaming, I mean screaming, at people to make sure the lines moved fast. Have your documentation ready, have your passports out, your tie undone, your pants down at your ankles, and your vaccination card open! I mean she was operating at the top of a pair lungs that sounded like they were powered by a Cummins Turbo Diesel. She meant well, but for all the world sounded like a Marine DI shouting, “Quit your grinnin’ and drop your linen!”

Or something like that. Oh well….home and it only took about 3 minutes to get yelled at.

But happy to be home, for sure, even though both of my pieces of luggage went missing. They’ll show up. I don’t get upset anymore. Happened so many times, I just shrug. Used to have one of those T-shirts that said the rings of Saturn are actually made up of lost airplane luggage, which actually might be true.

So after some interrupted jet lagged sleep, I come downstairs and wander towards the kitchen. Annie’s already up, and the TV is on, and I hear a familiar voice. Wait a minute. Who is that? At five frikkin’ thirty in my house??!!

DAVID HOBBY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Annie’s watching David Hobby’s new lighting DVD set at 5:30 am on Sunday! I mean the Strobist community is a lot like church and all, but geez…..

A little background. Annie is beautiful, wonderful, fun, smart, kind, decent (about this time, the question forms in your head, “So why’d she marry you?” I know, I know….). She’s also a real good photographer. And a perfectionist. “Perfectionist” and “photographer” are not terms that mix well. My work is so far off course sometimes I coulda captained the Exxon Valdez. I accept that and am used to the whole ongoing photo proposition about the day to day, unpredictable, on and off relationship between the windshield and the bug.

But not Annie. When she takes on a job, in this case a pregnant portrait of a dear and beautiful friend of her’s, she feels the pressure. As we all do. But unlike many of us dyed in the wool photogs, she actually does something about it, like prepare.

And obsess. We talked about the job, as we always do, and she was stressing a bit, and studying. I tried to make her feel better, and mentioned it was kind of relaxed and low pressure, i.e., she’d be among friends, unlike most of my jobs, where I can count the minutes till I wear out my welcome with an egg timer.

She countered with the fact that her friend, who’s got one of those faces the camera just loves, was very excited about the picture, and had gotten her three year olds’ hair cut and, you know, made everything just right. I mentioned the haircut and all as being the least of it. “I heard they put an addition on the house and had the whole place painted, just for the photo,” I said.

She had two words for me, and they weren’t “happy birthday.”

Hence, Strobist on Sunday. It’s cool, actually. The DVD is terrific. Complete, in a word. David’s got a straightforward way of representing the mysteries of flash that make it seem not mysterious at all. I figure that’s at least a bit about his career as a newspaper shooter. When you pound the pavement for a big city daily, you get real no frills, real quick. Down to earth. Improvisational. Fast. Call it good photography that is grounded in common sense. All of that is in these DVDs. If he’s not sold out, order ’em. They’re so good, even Nigel has taken to relaxing and having a brewski, and figuring out strobe.

Three light setup. boom on a c-stand overhead with Honl snoot, Honl grid on another light for the Strobist DVD package, and a light with a full CTO behind the screen for a bit of separation. I tried to figure out what filter to use for David, but came up short.

Part of the deal was closing off the room to ambient light, and a 3×6 Lastolite Panel worked fine for the skylight. Popped it on a c-stand and ran it up there to seal the deal.

You might have noticed the strobes at my temples in the top photo look, well, a little different. More tk….