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Archive for November, 2008

Things to be Thankful For….

Nov 30

In Thoughts at 11:50pm

Anybody who knows me a little bit knows this is my favorite picture. Its my oldest daughter Caitlin, about six months old, trying to walk. She couldn’t quite get the hang of it right then, but trust me, she already knew walking was where it was at. She saw that people who could walk could get places faster, and she was definitely interested in that, even as a tyke. Heck with this crawlin’ shit! I’m gonna walk!

Wasn’t too long after this she indeed was walking, and very soon thereafter, running. She has pretty much lived her life (she’s 23 now) with the pedal to the metal.

Much to her old man’s consternation. She has had, well, a tumultuous early life, let’s put it that way. She pushed the envelope, her’s and mine, and we have had some tough, angry times. But its not all on her. (Never is, right?) I’ve been a here and there dad, being a roving photog. We used to use the term “magic daddy” sometimes when she was small. She would go to bed and I’d be there, and wake up, and I’d be gone. Or vice versa. Sometimes when I would be home, I really wasn’t. Tired or distracted, we’d snuggle for a bedtime story, and once, I just said, “You know, sweetie, dad’s so tired tonight I don’t think I can get through even one story.”

She reached over a tiny hand (she was about two) and patted me on the shoulder and said, “Don’t worry daddy, just do the best you can.”

I put alot on her, of course. Between being gone, and also kind of making her my daughter and my son. Got her scuba certified when she was 12. Took her on her first night dive three dives after her cert. Trust me, when the ocean gets inky black, it can freak even some experienced divers. She was unfazed, and fascinated.

She rode a horse like a bat outta hell. Coming back from camp, she allowed that she had won the competition where you stand on the horse’s back, barefoot, holding the reins. I didn’t really want to know. She once broke her arm snowboarding, and sawed off the cast after about a week cause it was “bothering her.”

She kind of just knows. She can sit at the tiller of a boat and know how to drive it. I let her drive my pickup on the NY State Thruway and points everywhere when she was 15. (Yes, its true. I’ll never be the cover subject of Parenting magazine.) I put both her and her sister Claire on a dog sled years ago for a joyride and Claire got seriously cold. Caity opened her jacket, untucked her shirt, took Claire’s boots off and stuck her sister’s feet next to her skin, and then just folded herself on top of Claire. She just knows.

She’s a pretty good grip. She can handle a c-stand and ratio a pack. She’s been to the Eddie Adams Workshop at least seven times. But she has no interest in photography. She kind of grew up in a photo hothouse. Her mom is the DOP of the New York Times. Her dad is, well, her dad. She has chosen a different path. Can’t say as I blame her.

But she’s a tough kid. Cool under pressure. She’d be good to have in the foxhole with you when the chips are down.

Two days before Turkey Day, she was leaving her boyfriend Ryan’s house early in the morning, and she hit black ice. Her car slid right off the roadside where there should be a guardrail and plunged down a 40′ ravine, rolling over twice. It came to rest upside down. Caity was left hanging in her seatbelt, also upside down, and covered in blood. She was lucky to still be conscious. There is no sight line from the road to the ravine, and no one saw her go over. She could have easily bled to death at the bottom.

She unbuckled her belt. And was collected enough to grab the oh shit handle above the passenger door and with both feet, bust out the passenger window. She clambered back up to road, still spilling blood everywhere. She doesn’t remember walking back to Ryan’s house.

At the hospital, she got 3 stitches in her hand. All her cranial wounds were left to close on their own. Cat scans were negative. She was stiff and sore, but told me she was thinking of going to work that day. Wiser heads prevailed.

As I told her tonight, maybe the best genetic gift I gave her was a hard head. I’m very thankful for that.

More tk….


Nov 22

In Friends, On Location at 1:34pm

Currently operating inside the mysterious land surrounded by the yellow border. A strange and wild place where the terms “internet access” and “cellular service” are evidently new. This has to be the case, cause the mere mention of them produces wide eyed stares of confused wonder followed by gales of laughter and shrieks of delighted amusement.

I get to work all day in the cold and the wind and the dust, and then stay up most of the night in the even colder wind and dust. My crew is fantastic, and after preparations have been made, we gather around in the inky blackness to discuss roles and assignments. They are clad, much in the manner of the highway outlaws in The Road Warrior, in ski masks, goggles and heavily padded protective clothing. They climb into pickups, outfitted with generators and racks of bristling flashy things and disappear into the void. I stay at camera central, and at the appropriate time, open the photon torpedo tubes. Then, in an homage to the James T. Kirk school of overacting, I raise my eyes to the heavens, extend a clenched fist and in an impassioned, breathless voice, say simply into the radio, “Fire.” Flashes in the dark. Screams in the night. I’ll say no more.

Sometime between 3 and 4 am, I retire to my resplendent rental lean to and rest and dine on a hearty mix of canned soup and Advil. About 7am I head to a local hotspot to send my pictures to the all powerful Oz, otherwise known as my editor. The process is fascinating, which is good because it is so lengthy. Kilobyte by kilobyte, my pictures fly through the air with  dispatch and efficiency. One by one. The carrier pigeons of the internet. I wait, listening to a song that is evidently about a pickup truck, a dog, the earth moving, love lost and a stolen Bible. I did not know they put such stories to music!

Its okay, though, cause this hot spot is also a place called McDonalds. The food here is fantastic! Are there more of these elsewhere?

A pidgeon returns with dispatches! A message from Oz! “Pretty interesting.” Tremendously effusive endorsement of my meager efforts! Translation? You can’t go home yet.


Seek out Jersey style bloggin’.

Mark’s the one who got me goin’ with the noir thing. He’s a good shooter who is real disciplined about assigning himself, putting together a structure and a timeline which makes sure he stays behind the camera.

He’s been over in Europe of late, working away, hitting the road again, which means, Road Pig strikes again!

He’s been takin’ Flo the pig out on the road for years, and she’s getting’ a pretty good tour. Now, of course, her adventures have an attentive audience back at home with Liv, his toddler, waiting for news of both dad and Flo.

Mark and I did some road touring a few years back, knocking out an annual report. In a couple of years, back to back, we did several states as well as Sweden, Poland, England, and Italy. We were scouting in the old city section of Warsaw and Mark had to run back to hotel. (He’s the responsible one, the one who’s gotta keep things together, on schedule, and ya know, he’s got a screwloose shooter out there with him who has a tendency to go rogue at any moment and here we’re tryin’ to project a good image for the company. So it fell to him to be filing reports and talk to home base, as well as make sure I stick to my meds.)

So he goes back to the hotel, and I’m standing there in old town and who walks by (with an entourage of course) but Roman Polanski, scouting for The Pianist. Walked right by. Of course I had my mouth open and my lens cap on, which doesn’t bode well for me if I ever wanted to go the paparazzi route. Mark got back and refused to believe me. To this day, he refuses. Oh well…

Funny how life goes. Years ago, Magnum shooter Alex Webb and I got to be friends on an NPPA Flying Short Course and my daughter Caitlin and his son would get together and play. We’d hang out a bit at Alex’ apartment over in Brooklyn, and a couple of times, the wonderful Hungarian born photog, Sylvia Plachy, would drop by, with her elegant viewpoint and daring adventurism with a Widelux in her hands. Coupla times, her teenage son would drop by. He would play with the kids a bit, and say virtually nothing to the alleged grownups. He seemed to be always working on a old car, or projects like that. Years later, Sylvia’s son, the quiet teen, Adrian Brody, turns in an Academy Award performance in The Pianist.


Great light, nice shot, kinda Daniel Craig-esque, doncha think?…Looks like an ad for a Bond flick, fer chrissakes, though I would be the first to admit “Klowskowski” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite the same as, “Bond, James Bond.”

Matt may have a future in the movies as a Photoshop action espionage hero type. His first feature….”Pixels Only Die Twice.”


Check out Pyxsylated.

Another coherent, fully fleshed out, informative blog from the irrepressible Mr. Arena. Great explanation and field demo of Radio Poppers.

Here’s the problem, and the reason we got trouble, right here in River City.

He’s out there with MD Welch.

What happens when two loose but very talented cannons hit the road, mixing in flash, roller derby girls, and radio poppers? Good blog, good pictures, but Lordy, Katy bar the door, go to the mattresses, do whatever it is you do, but Syl and MD are in town…..Got to know the both of them in a lighting workshop in Santa Fe. We had a great class, great time, and the class has stuck together. Talk about a buncha characters. We had everybody in there from Syl and MD to Krista “Machine Gun” Lee.

Lots of frames. Lots of fun…more tk….

At DLWS, Everything’s Jake!

Nov 19

In Seminars & Workshops at 6:37pm

Just finished another year with my dear friends and family, Moose and Sharon Peterson, Laurie Excell, Kevin Dobler, new addition Drew Gurian, and of course, the chip off the old Moose, Jake Peterson, seen above. Out near Bozeman, Montana, they’ve got this city that is basically the archeology of rural Montana (is it redundant to say “rural Montana?”). This repository of Montana history is called Nevada City. Anybody else think that’s odd?

At any rate, they’ve got old houses, jail cells, water towers, general stores, barber shops, and of course, my favorite, old trains. They’ve even got a historically significant, two story outhouse, which I imagine created some interesting problems if both floors were active at once. Every time I see an outhouse and have a camera in my hands, I think of Rich Clarkson’s story about being on site at some location and the corporate staff photog came over to meet him. He was trying to impress Rich and let him know he was available for freelance work, which is understandable, since Rich is a legendary shooter and editor who shaped talents such as Chris Johns, Jim Richardson, and Brian Lanker back in his days as the DOP of the Topeka Capital Journal.

Rich is a pretty easy going sort once you get to know him, but he presents a somewhat flinty, no nonsense editor exterior, so the meet probably had this poor shooter nervous cause he introduced himself as being “the in house photographer, but I do outhouse work.” Ouch.

I stared for a while at this railyard jalopy. It didn’t move.

But I had a thought, always dangerous. Wonder it would look like if the sun were setting off to camera right? With clouds like this, you can conjure the direction of late light, so I dialed in a little angle of incidence, angle of reflection sunset type of deal.

Spread out 4 SB800 units in a line, designed to fan out warm highlight along the length of the rail car. That did okay. Lit the train up pretty well. Couple of problems occurred, like light spilling immediately onto the ground in front of the flashes, giving away their position. A little gaffer taping, and some artful cropping (What’s the easiest way to get rid of a problem in your picture? Crop!) and it was starting to look okay.

Programmed in minus 4 stops EV into the D3. Yikes! Had never done that before, but it seemed to work. Now I got highlighted train, cool moody sky and a big black hole in the foreground of the picture. Enter Jake.

We swiped his mom’s hat, and his bud Tyler’s jacket, stuffed an SB900 into the Lastolite EzyBox (just like its name, pretty easy, nice light), moved that off to camera left, gave it to a Moose to hold (they’ll do that, its just part of their moose biological instincts) and knocked out a few frames.

Very happy to be a part of DLWS. Great friends, good times, pretty stuff. I mean, being the sort of people oriented, general assignment knockabout photog I’ve been for my whole career, I’d have to bribe somebody or get an editor really drunk to get an actual assignment to go to shoot sunrises and old buildings in Montana. If I asked to do something like this, my editor friends would look at me like I just lost a few more of my marbles. (“No, Joe, no big sky country for you. But we do have something involving people who don’t want to be photographed standing around in an ugly fluorescent lit room!”) Oh well.

DLWS goes to Yellowstone in January. I can’t believe I’m looking forward this much to freezing my ass off.

Still Bouncing Light….

Nov 17

In Equipment, Lighting, Seminars & Workshops, Stories at 7:24am

Out here still trying to get caught up to my life. Running behind everything, per usual. Hit Penn State on Friday, and did a small lighting workshop in the afternoon, and a lecture Friday night. The program at PSU  is driven by John Beale, veteran photojournalist from the Pitt Post Gazette, and Curt Chandler, who has forged alot of new ground in multi-media, both at the Post Gazette and at the Penn State program. Great school, great students, all of whom benefit enormously from the real world stuff that John and Curt bring to the party. Visit was orchestrated by my wife, Annie Cahill, from Nikon. It’s great to go with her to places where she is so obviously revered and see the fruits of the 80 hours a week she logs, the emails she returns, and her steadfast, disciplined, relentless professionalism. She brings it, 24/7. By comparison, I’m a non-stop goofball.

Nikon supports the Penn State phojo program, so it was fun couple of hours mixing it up with students and small flash. Sarah, a photo/theater arts major was volunteered to be a subject and turned out to one of those smile machines for whom it is impossible to look bad in a photo. Per usual, she was cringing at all her pix, and my standard response to someone as effortlessly wonderful in front of the camera as she is to remark, “Oh, so if you think you take a bad picture what are the rest of us supposed to do? Put a bullet in our brains??!!”

Used white light flash with incandescent balance to push the look into the cool realm, given the blue seats. Used overhead 3×3 Lastolite and fill bounce off the gold reflector sheet that comes in the Lastolite kit. Zapped a backlight snooted courtesy of Honl. Simple. Fun. About a ten minute portrait or so, with all our yakkin’. Michelle Bixby, another student lens lugger (who was just published in USNWR) volunteered as a subject, which was great cause she gave the folding theater seat a run for its money the way she kind of did a transformer type thing to get all her legs and arms into the frame.

The big upside for us of course, was that John swung a couple of shooting credentials for the Penn State-Indiana football game on Saturday, which, given the blue and white football fever of State College, Pa., is kind of like dialing up a couple of front row seats for Obama’s inauguaral. It was way cool. I hadn’t shot a football game in about 20 plus years, so the rust was pretty thick, plus the fact that even when I was doing it as part of my living I wasn’t very good at it.

Last time I shot, of course, it was all manual focus stuff, and the dividing line between the men and they boys (and trust me, I was one of the boys) was the ability to follow focus. I was a contract shooter with SI at the time, and I saw up close magicians like John Biever, Walter Iooss, Heinz Klutmeier, Johnny I, and Manny Milan just knock it back game after game. You could hang these guys upside down with one eye closed and a bug in the other and they would still be able to fine tune the focus on a 400 or so. Biever especially, had radar. (I think he might have had a contract on the side with Lockheed, when they were developing stealth systems.)

The lenses sucked, too, by comparison to what we have now. I had a 300mm f4.5 that was sharp when you shoved it to critical focus and all, it just took about a week or so to get it there. I put it to my eye once and watched a critter make its way across one of the interior lens elements. It looked like a little inchworm, swear to God. Called NPS and told ’em there’s something alive inside my 300 and they said it wasn’t just possible, it was highly likely. I used that puppy in the rain constantly, and there was no aqua-techie, Kata raingear and stuff like that. I didn’t want to use it after that, cause with my imagination I kept seeing this eyeball sucking, multi-fanged squiggly thing like the ones in Aliens poppin’ outta my eyepiece, boring its way into my skull and chewin’ up all my inside wiring. Yecchhh!

Anyway, did all right as a first timer in a long whiles. Was shooting the 200-400 f4 which is a non-stop wonder of a lens. The D3 fears not the rain and the gloom cause ISO 1600 looks like frikkin’ Kodachrome. The shot above is a ISO 3200 frame, cropped in half. Crazy. Nice fillip on the D3 is you can program DX crop into your function button, so if the action is on the other side of the field you can add reach to the lens with one flick.

Me and my honey at the ball game. Annie manages to pull off radiant, beatific, even, in a downpour wearing a garbage bag. My face looks like they just used it for punting practice.

Photo courtesy of John Beale…


On the way home, over the sounds of the rain drumming and Faith Hill on the country station, we heard…. the sound of a tire rim on concrete? Oh, yeah, Annie’s Honda was skating all over Rt. 80 for a minute while we pulled over, to find that Honda made their jack a tad too short! Wonderful. Maxed out, I still needed another at least half inch to push on the spare. Hmmmm… wood block. If I was still shooting a Nikon F, I coulda used that, but wasn’t gonna get medieval with one of my D3’s, and then remembered I had a c-stand! Pulled out the turtle base, put the jack on it, and changed the damn tire.

One of the reasons the blog’s been up and down is I am crashing, late of course, the final writing on my new book, The Hot Shoe Diaries, Big Light From Small Flashes. It’s been kicking my ass. Almost done though, and should be out in about a month or so.

In it, we’ll cover…BRIDES IN THE WOODS! YIKES!


As Donald said that day, “Joe, where the hell is Israel?”





And Now the News…

Nov 11

In Uncategorized at 5:16pm




In Montana, at DLWS, even I can shoot something pretty. Mongo like sky!


Between David Hobby and Syl’s new article on hi speed sync, the mystery is gone. Quick examples here on the fly……

200th at F8…

800th at 2.8

Hi speed sync has never been easier. Read this piece by Syl…top to bottom explanation….dive into David’s archive. Fast light at fast speeds….More tk….