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Archive for October, 2008

Notes, Thanks and…. In the Beginning, There Was Greg….

Oct 22

In Friends, News, Thoughts, Upcoming Events at 8:41am

Lessee….bunch of stuff….this just in, from David Hobby….many thanks to him from one half of JoeBob….me and Bob Krist did have a punch up on the new 900 video, and we’re thinking of doing a tag team guest appearance now on WWE;-) I loved Joe Bob’s reviews. Just loved ’em. My kind of movies always scored well, in other words, those kind of movies where stuff blows up, the women are as fast and sleek as the cars, and there is a subtle exploration of the nuances, depths and shadings of the human condition…you know the kind of movie I’m talking about….sort of a “Harold and Maude Meet the Killer Bugs from Ice Planet X” type of thing.

David’s onto something with that chainsaw. I think I’ll put it in my cargo bags, and it’ll be the first thing I bring out on location when I get to someone’s house. Kind of an ice breaker, ya know? More on that tk…

Many thanks to Scott Kelby for the mention of the Geographic cover story this month. I’ve shot for the yellow magazine for over 20 years now, which is wild to think about. For me, it’s just humbling to share ink with folks who have gone before, like Jim Stanfield, Bill Allard, Sam Abell, Jim Richardson….list goes on. More on adventures with Wilma, our striking cover subject, in blogs tk.

Ahh, location work. Shooting the spread above, we slid into a Spanish national park at sunrise, because it offered the only glimpse of the type of rocky terrain Wilma and her cohorts most likely experienced in their day. The cave where they found the new Neanderthal DNA, about 30 klicks away, is now surrounded by deciduous forest. I was a tad nervous, as we unloaded things, cause we did not have a permit to shoot in the park.

I’ve snuck into more places and shot pictures from more spots that I ain’ supposed to be than I can remember. Nothing unusual about that. Most photogs wouldn’t have a portfolio to show if they actually listened to the word “no.” And there are lots of folks out there with the word “no” already teed up on the tips of their tongues. I call ’em the walkie talkie assholes. Give somebody a 3 week course, a flashlight and a walkie talkie, and they can ruin your day. But I digress.

I was more worried about the light. Sunrise was not looking good. Pulled out an Elinchrom Ranger pack, which is my field light of choice. Gelled it warm and slapped a tight grid spot on it. Made some decent pix, but there was no rationale for this warm golden light hitting Wilma’s face, while the rest of the world was obviously gray.

But I should remember this morning the next time the light don’t work out, but, being a photog, I probably won’t. A slice of sunrise came through a break in the Eastern clouds, and hit the rock face behind Wilma. It was all I needed. I got about 10 frames and we were done.

Then we decided to move Wilma and give it another go, as it were. She is, well, not a delicate flower. She is 200 pounds of silicone wrapped around a steel frame. The best way to lift her is to circle round back, crouch a little bit, throw your arms around her ample pelvis, and basically give her a good, hard shag. Up she goes off her pedestal, and then you can trundle her, rather ingloriously, wherever you want.

We were in the process of doing this when around the corner came a patrol car with two Spanish National Park rangers in it. “Hola!” “Yes, she is naked!. But she’s not real!  No, its not what you think. See? She’s not inflatable!” The whole thing had to have looked hinky and kinky at the same time.

Luckily, one of our party spoke fluent and evidently persuasive Spanish, and engaged the officers while I told Brad to take the shot cards and put ’em someplace the sun don’t shine. We were allowed to leave, along with Wilma. I miss her, actually. When she was wrapped back up in bubbles for her drive back to the Netherlands, it was quite emotional. I told her it would be alright. Even if we never see each other again, we’ll always have Spain.

Photo East is coming up, and the toy warehouse will be spilling all over the Javits Center in NY, with widgets, gadgets, biddybops, thingamawhooziewhatzis, fast glass, smart cameras, whopper hard drives, and a lot of yakkin ’bout pictures. I’ll be doing some of it myself, teaching small flash on Thursday morning, doing a couple stints in the Nikon Booth, and signing some posters for Epson.

A word about Epson and Dano Steinhardt. I ain’t exactly Moose Peterson, JP Caponigro, Jay Maisel or any of these kind of master printer/shooter guys, but Dano continues to be an enormous source of faith and support for my studio, year after year. He is one of those guys who stays in the background, facilitating photographers, showing them the latest and greatest Epson stuff that in turn makes their stuff look great, and all the while, one of the best kept secrets in the industry is that Dano is one helluva shooter. He makes incredibly beautiful imagery out of things most of us walk right by. I think the key here is seeing photographs. He sees. And then he distills all the jumble and cacophony that attends just about any walkabout of modern life into clean lines and stunning symmetry that makes sense, not to mention beautiful pictures.

Same thing can be said about Kriss Brungrabber and Mark Astman of the Bogen Corporation. Their commitment is unflagging in support of photogs, and photographic education. If we decide to do something together, we do it on handshake, and its a done deal. Good people, and Mark in particular, who has been out on a bunch of my workshops, is a striking presence as a photo subject. Sort of a William Holden who knows everything about Elinchrom flashes:-) I’ll be hanging in the Bogen booth a bunch, with my buds Bill Frakes, Drew Gardner, and of course, Moose.

Strikes me a whole bunch of the yakkin’ about to occur on the West Side of NY is gonna be about light, and lighting, which means flash. Hmmmm…..interesting thing, this flash stuff. Lots of folks playing with it, yanking it around, trying different stuff, myself included. It’s all good, some of it is even really good. But it gets me to thinkin’, always a dangerous thing.

I really feel alot of the conversations about flash and light we’re having nowadays wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for Greg. When I say “Greg” I mean Heisler. To me, he’s always been one of the one name photogs, up there with Annie and Avedon.

Greg changed the way we all see. He burst onto the magazine photo scene in NY, oh, about 1980 or so, trotting out Norman 200B’s, gels, camera work and color that popped our eyes, stopped our hearts, and made for legions of imitators, myself included. He started working for Geo, LIFE and doing annuals for outfits like RCA (Remember that name? Remember the dog and the victrola?) and doing special projects like Day in the Life Australia.

His take outta the land of Oz just flat out flattened folks. He brought to the pages of that book color and drama that had legions of experienced shooters looking around and going “Wassup???” And of course the next question was, “How do I do dat?”

In the years since, Greg has shot about a bazillion TIME covers, and done it all, from the movie lots to the halls of state. No one has done it better, or with more panache and versatility. He single-handedly changed magazine photography by introducing a “look” (I might call it style) that all of sudden re-directed the missions of magazines and editors everywhere.

Olympic athletes have been one of his fortes. I’ve been involved with Olympians to a degree as well. You know, every four years, you get a call and start working with these amazing athletes. Its been fun to do.  And every four years, like clockwork, I have had my ass kicked. I would shoot somebody, think it worked real well, and then Greg bombs into town for a day, no less, and leaves with this ass kicking TIME cover. Frustrating. Maddening. Inspiring. Head shaking. In a word….Greg. A look see at his website is a must.

Bye Brad…

Oct 17

In Friends at 5:54pm

I’m such a lousy card player. I was running two pair, king high, and Kelby comes back at me with a full house and there goes Brad. Damn. It was worth calling, though, cause Scott had wagered RC Concepcion.

Me and RC hanging together wouldn’t have worked, though, cause both of our businesses would go straight down the tubes. We’d be playing with da baby too much. The beautiful Sabine is almost 2 months already.

We’d be like, wake the baby, wake the baby! Our long suffering wives would just roll their eyes. Annie and I are so happy for RC and Jen. A beautiful baby girl that Jen can put in pointe shoes real soon, and RC can buy pretty dresses and remote controlled monster trucks.

That’s what I was doing with my first, Caitlin. Kept bringing home Tonka toys, oversize cowboy hats and robots and stuff. My ex would just shake her head. “She’s a girl, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

I’m really happy for Brad, cause the NAPP gang is a great group of folks and he’ll have fun and his already considerable skills will grow enormously.

Have to admit I threw him in the deep end from the get go. He blogged about his first outing with the Coast Guard, trying to boom a SB unit out over the waves while I’m in the water with a couple of Coastie rescue swimmers. I kept asking those guys, “Hey, you guys okay? Everything alright?” which is a constant reflex action with my subjects, cause I always want them to feel good and be comfortable.

Then I realized how stupid that was cause these guys are waterborne supermen and the only one who was gonna drown out there was the idiot with the D2XS. Not exactly a flotation device.

Cool thing about that night was that my good friend Tom Sperduto was out there with us. Tom is a helluva shooter and a photo whirlwind, and he got this.

I’m bobbing around in the drink and Tom was shooting from a Coast Guard rescue boat. This frame will be the cover of a book set for release next year called Rescue Warriors.

From the Atlantic Ocean, we embarked on a three week road trip that brought us through DC, So. Carolina, Ohio, Arizona, Washington, Texas, Georgia and finally, Mexico. Along the way, Brad tried to get on a plane with 3 knives in the Moose pack which drew great attention from those folks in the TSA, lost his passport, lost his wallet (in Mexico), and, in trying to search for the wallet, stood up under a tractor trailer and creased his forehead to the tune of about 12 or so stitches.

Ohio, making like Greg Odon…….

In Georgia, making like a mad scientist….

Then off to Mexico for the Baja….

I got a rap on my hotel door about midnight. “Brad’s in the hospital!”

I go into the emergency room and had one of those Something About Mary moments, you know the frank and beans scene, where everybody’s trying to take a look and be sorta helpful? I thought, okay, can’t be that bad, and I looked over the surgeon’s shoulder.

“Holy shit!” There was Brad’s cranium. Dang! He really nailed himself.

I felt bad, but not that bad, cause the road is a tough task master, and I hadda get up around 4 that morning and get ready to cover the Baja 1000, which is well and truly one of the most miserably difficult things you might ever want to shoot. I’ve always told my assistants that if they falter, flag, or bog down, I’ll leave ’em by the side of the road. “Better you die now than we both die later,” is the rationale I offer. I say this with the most engaging of smiles. They think I’m kidding.

As you might imagine, I was pretty much outta patience with my young jedi, so much so that if the doc had offered me a DNR form I just mighta signed it, right there and then. (“Yeah, doc, just put him down. I know this is what he’d want…..”)

Glad I didn’t, though, cause Brad developed into a terrific studio and road assistant who can work the computer as well as a D3. He’ll be missed around here. Nigel’s favorite spot in the house was down in Brad’s room, by the glass doors to the backyard, where there’s a stone wall that’s like an apartment complex for chipmunks. Nigel spent hours down there, staring at these little guys, probably writing a recipe book in his head. Nigel watching chipmunks is like me watching Monty Python. Just can’t do it enough.

So Annie, Nigel, Lynn and I will miss him. (So will Ari. Have to mention Ari, or Annie will get upset with me. Nigel and Ari are both her boys, and she loves them equally, whereas I am quite obvious about liking Nigel better. Nigel is just a big lug with a enormous heart and a dog like capacity for companionship and affection. Ari is very cat like. Kind of pissy and standoffish.  Plus I’m convinced he’s got gender issues, which makes him even more difficult.)

Another page turns in the adventure book. He’s bound for Tampa this weekend, and starts with Scott, who, being the teacher and friend that he is, will open doors for Brad that I can’t even find the keys for.

Via con Dios, my well traveled friend. Just the beginning of another kind of road trip. It’s already a long way from Jackson, Tennessee. More tk.

A Fond Farewell from Brad

Oct 12

In Uncategorized at 11:59pm

I began working with Joe a little over two years ago. As you can imagine, the knowledge I’ve gained in that time has been both invaluable and almost made my head explode. But to truly understand just how much I’ve learned from Joe, you have to know what my starting point was.

Assisting Joe was my first job right out of college. I took some photo classes in school (at Union University), and interned at the local daily paper (The Jackson Sun) during my senior year. I was competent enough to use a digital SLR (started out with B&W film in a Nikon FM2, then migrated to D70/D100 territory a year or so later), could throw a flash on the camera and dial it up and down, and knew how to use levels, color balance, and hue/saturation in Photoshop. That was about the extent of my “expertise.”

When I first showed up at Joe’s house/studio, his then-assistant Scott Holstein showed me the garage of gear. He started pulling out case after case of lights and stands and softboxes and you-name-it. I didn’t even know what a freakin’ c-stand was, so I was slightly overwhelmed. Scott assured me that, over time, I would get to know the gear inside and out and find “my way” of packing everything. I kind of scoffed at that statement, but was kind of re-assured by it at the same time.

Over the next couple of months, I was at the studio a lot while Joe was gone teaching at various workshops. I began learning the vast archive of images from Joe’s 30+ year career, both film and digital, and attempting to hone my Photoshop skills and just figure out how things in general worked around the studio.

A month or two into the job, I finally went on my first shoot with Joe. Talk about literally being thrown into the deep end…

(Photo by Kyle Niemi)

We went down to Jersey and shot the U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmers off the coast of Atlantic City. That’s me hanging off the side of the boat with an SB-800 on the end of a boom arm trying to shed a little light on the scene without falling overboard (wasn’t too worried about it, though, thanks to our subjects). Before this, I had never used an SB-800 beyond basic on-camera fill flash. Imagine trying to communicate with your boss, who is bouncing around in the water, while a helicopter hovers just above your head, spraying water everywhere, and not knowing what the heck you’re doing… That was me on this shoot. Luckily, we had Coast Guard photographer Tom Sperduto on our boat as well, and he helped with everything and made the shoot a success. At the end of the day, Tom told me that next time we saw each other, I would know the flashes inside and out. He was right. Next time we saw each other, we had a laugh about the job, how clueless I was at the time, and how far I had come in just a few short months.

Before working with Joe, I had flown a total of two times, roundtrip. Now, on Delta alone I have almost 90,000 miles under my belt, including unforgettable trips to Mexico, Istanbul, Berlin, Rome, Vancouver, Spain, and some of the most beautiful places in the United States. I’ve worked on shoots for National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest, Nikon, and FedEx. Heck, I’ve even played paparazzi and shot Bruce Willis, Justin Long, and Maggie Q at the Berlin premiere of Die Hard 4!

(It’s a bit out of focus, yes… But it’s Bruce Willis! Yippeeki-yay!!)

I met some of the top basketball players in the country, as well as some of the most well-known and respected photographers of our time (such as John Dominis, Jay Maisel, and many others). I’ve been on sets with snakes, toads, birds, toy rat-dogs, and even an elephant named Suzie (and that was just one one shoot, which also included a helicopter ride around Manhattan)!

Suffice it to say, I’ve had a great and eventful two years. But, I’ve decided that it’s now time for me to allow someone else the opportunity to work with and learn from Joe.

Drew Gurian will now be filling my shoes as Joe’s assistant. If you’ve visited the blog, you may have seen him in this header image.

That’s his band, Far From Westfall, and he’s the one in the middle. He plays the drums, which should be fun for Joe when Drew’s downstairs practicing at 2 a.m.! Anyway, Drew’s a good guy, and I have every confidence that he’ll do a great job working with Joe. At least he already knows what a c-stand is:-)

As you may’ve noticed in Joe’s post the other day, Drew was with us this week in Vermont at DLWS. Sadly, this was also my last DLWS event as a staffer.

It’s been a great two years with this crazy bunch of people, and I’ll miss them a whole bunch. I can’t recommend signing up for one of these workshops enough!

But, I have a feeling that this will not be the last you hear of me. Actually, you may start seeing a lot more of me. I’m heading down to Florida to work with Scott Kelby and the rest of the gang at NAPP! To be perfectly honest, I’m not 100% certain what Scott has planned for me, but I do know that he’s going to keep me busy.

Thanks to Joe and Lynn for everything they’ve taught me and allowed me to be a part of during my time with them. You guys will be missed…

So, that’s it from me. It’s been an amazing two years, and I’ll always look back on this time with fond memories. Now it’s time for me to load my car and head home to Tennessee for a little while before heading to sunny Tampa!


Stalking the Wild Leaf

Oct 8

In Seminars & Workshops, Stories at 11:02am

These new cameras are amazing, I tell ya. I fell down on a DLWS shoot and the camera went off and I got this. Cool. Outright cold, as a matter of fact. It was freezin’ out there, stumbling around in the pre-dawn. We were at Calvin Coolidge’s summer vacation estate, and were blessed with good light and frost everywhere. I shot this with the unbelievably sharp Nikkor 105 f2.8 micro and just let it rip on a buffer upgraded D3 writing to a Lexar 8 gigger UDMA card. That combo just smokes, which I was very happy about cause this landscape photography game is rough, man. It’s early morning, I’ve had no coffee, and I’ve just done a face plant on frosted grass, trying to concentrate, and focus, and compose, and remember to program minus EV into the camera, and think about the picture and all the while Mr. Winky’s turning into a popsicle. Sheesh. Time for consecutive high on the motor.

It’s been a rough week. I flew from San Fran to Kennedy last Thursday. Cheapie ticket, but I got up front because I fly Delta so much I usually end up in the running for one of the wide ass recliners. Guy next to me was a hard charger for sure. Sat down, and started reading the paper and immediately threw a section down on the armrest which spilled over into my seat by about 2 inches.

Aha! Armrest competition! Ze games are afoot! Nothing turns me into Hellboy faster.

I immediately put my elbow down on the paper. Now he has to ask me permission to read the rest of the news of the day. Screw with me, eh, pal?

Next I took a spare section of the Times and folded it and slapped it down on the arm rest, so at least 3 inches of it (with guys it always comes down to inches) spilled over on his side, plus making sure it was the folded bit, with a sharp edge, right there over his knee.

Heh heh heh! I positively revel in this immature playground bullshit. Too bad its not AeroMexico. I coulda been a real charmer and double ordered refried beans just blasted my way to JFK.

The paper thing hadda be uncomfortable, but he said nothing. I shoulda been more sympathetic, cause he was reading the Wall St. Journal, so he mighta been a number pusher and things are probably shaky at the office and maybe he just hadda sell one of his homes or some shore property cause he’s worried that little Johnny might not get the GI Joe with the Kung Fu Grip for Christmas. Me, I ain’t got a job, so relatively worry free on that level. I’m not gonna make myself redundant, as the English say. I’m a photographer, and trust me, that’s redundant enough:-)

Now, to get real annoying, I pull out my D3 and turn on the vertical horizon thingy and put on my Bose noise reduction babies and start making like I’m flying the airplane complete with sound effects. Swear to God. He’s looking at me now like I’m nuts and he wants to push the attendant call button, but he’s too cool to do it.

He takes the paper off the armrest and leaves me alone for the rest of the flight. More tk.

Encore Adorama….

Oct 7

In Seminars & Workshops at 12:17am

In Vermont with my DLWS family, Moose, Sharon, Laurie Excell, Kevin Dobler and the intrepid Brad Moore and Drew Gurian. (More on the lads tk.)

The family just got bigger. Jeff Snyder is here, and Adorama is on board as a sponsor of the Digital Landscape Workshop Series. Cool!

Here’s the thing about Adorama. They are big, but also small at the same time. You meet them, sit down and talk, and, even though you might be talking about the business, it feels like you just had coffee around the kitchen table and yakked about the poetic justice of Joe Torre managing in the playoffs yet again. I’m happy to hang around with them.

Lectured this week at the Adorama shop, and we had a full house and a great time. Affable guy named Keston was in the front row, so he had to take the pain of being my subject for small flash demo. We took it from this…..

To this…

…in short order, with a combo of SB800 and 900, Lastolite tri-grip diffuser, a Lastolite Skylite panel, Avenger c-stand, and some willing hands from the audience. (You can tell about the diffuser panels, cause, uh, they’re, uh, in my picture. Sigh.)

We moved fast and had fun, and even K-man was in the audience, without the fedora and the mohaska this night.

Adorama’s Monica Cipnic, a photo veteran and force of nature, runs the education program. As she has told me, what was once a part time job has now kicked into high gear and she’s logging full time plus hours every week, orchestrating educational photo programs, which are really worthwhile and really, really reasonably priced. We’re talking about a bunch of stuff for next year that should be pretty cool.

Overseeing the Adorama shop is Harry Drummer, who is a delight. A handshake with Harry is a done deal. He’s got a canny knack for knowing what photographers need, a quick mind, and he’s always got a twinkle in his eye and the beginnings of a smile on his face. A good sense of humor goes a long way in this biz, especially right about now.

But, Jeff Snyder is the one in the field making all this happen. I am guessing here, but I have to imagine it is his influence that has awakened this sleeping giant of a camera shop and catapulted it foursquare into the middle of a whole bunch of shooter’s lives. Witness Adorama’s sponsorship of, and their generous support of the Giant Polaroid 911 project. Now they are out here in the woods of Vermont, supporting shooters, stalking chipmunks, reaching out, listening, and making it happen.

Speaking of family, my sisters Kathy and Rosemary are here, too. They’ve always done a bit of photography with point and shoots, so my wife Annie fixed ’em up with a D40 and a D60 and they are in hot pursuit of the falling leaves. It’s great to have them here. I told ’em this’d be fun, though I think they were wondering about that at 5 frikkin thirty this morning, especially when I told Kathy that where we were going didn’t have flush toilets. But they rocked it out on program…..

Kathy shot this……

And Rosemary shot this……

Cool. They’re already shooting better landscapes than I can, even though Moose has been trying to teach me now for a couple of years. I guess I’d be more comfortable out here if the barn or the tree looked at their watch and told me I only had five minutes to shoot.

Came up a bit late on Sunday, and was further delayed by the receipt of my first speeding ticket in quite a while. Seems I was trying to put a small Vermont town (redundant?) in the rear view a touch too quickly. Hmmm. I got such authority issues I never look at the officer until the last minute, and when I did turn my attention out the driver’s window it was a bit of hoot, I tell ya.

Cause standing out there was Eeyore with a badge and a trooper hat. Same ears, same voice. “Sir, did you know that you were…” Etc. etc. etc. He was very courteous, but I knew there was no backing this up to a warning. Oh, well.

I’ve had some travel adventures of late. More tk.