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Archive for November, 2008

Speed of Light….

Nov 11

In Friends, Lighting, Seminars & Workshops at 2:56am

Wish I could move that fast. In Montana currently, still catching up to my life. Did a shot tonight as a class demo of Tyler Miller, Jake Peterson’s bud at MSU and a photo student there. He’s out with us on DLWS helping out in between college classes. Jake is helping out to. Take a look at his work. Like father, like son. Nuff said.

Shot TTL with one SB800 flash into a Lastolite Ezy Box softbox light. Man, have they turned the corner on this light source by putting the interior baffle in it. They are flying off the shelves, rightly so. Small, light, collapsible, it is one of those things now that is always in my bag.

Also shot Kevin Dobler (aka Flyboy) today, by a creek somewhere in Montana. One hard, unbaffled (unlike me) SB900 my assistant Drew was trying to hold while fighting off some crazy bush growing out of the rocky hillside leading to the creek. Frikkin’ thing was like that plant in Little Shop of Horrors, but he hung in with the light.

Like the pic…gotta talk to Kev about wardrobe.

So in the words of the song, how did I get here?

Blew outta PPE on the last day, leaving NY, the Javits Center, my money and my credit cards in the men’s room when I changed, heading for Newark Airport and then Stockholm. The cc cards were recovered and entrusted to Mike Corrado, my blood brother at Nikon. Dunno about Mikey havin’ my Amex. When I come back and get my bill I might have to explain a bunch of questionable movie rentals to Annie.

Hit Stockholm Sunday am, and knocked back some zzzz’s, then hit it hard on Monday with the first day of our Nordic lighting tour. The whole tour was ponsored by Nikon Nordic, and put together with great effort by an assemblage of Nikon personnel in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. Great folks. Had a blast in Sweden, our first stop, even though my pictures were pretty average. We did try a few things and opened a few doors for folks, like using an SB900 from about 70 feet away, as in this shot of Katerina, a Nordic champion body builder.

Saw this elevator in the back of the room and just had to try it. I always wander, ya know, and the people who organize this stuff start getting elevated blood pressure. (“He’s supposed to stay on stage, not in the lobby!”) Oh, well, what’s a WT-4 for anyway? I was working wirelessly with Nikon’s transmission system, which was pretty cool, except when I got to the edge of the transmission area, which made the battery operated unit work really hard and thus overheat. I could always tell cause I had that sucker in my pocket, and I would, you know, get that warm, fuzzy feeling. It was comforting.

Wish I coulda finished this one. There was promise here. On stage, Katerina and I had fun, but I was dealing with a light sponge of a backdrop, and fought that puppy all day long. At the end, I’d call it a draw, but that’s probably over generous to me.

Made a new bud. Lars, the Nikon PMTR for Sweden and points north, is a great guy, incredibly knowledgeable about Nikon stuff, and a real good clock watcher. With typical Scandinavian precision, he tried to keep me on topic and on schedule, which is de facto impossible, so we engaged in  week long banter that stopped just short of a Rowan and Martin schtick. I would ask when I was supposed to be done, and he would deadpan back to me something like “one minute and 45 seconds.” Hah! What a kidder!

Actually, he was serious most of the time. I had to create several lighting scenarios in two one hour blocks, so it was time to rattle the photons and forget about the finishing touches. Did okay, though. Got this, with Nicklaus, an incredible leaper.

Just hadda keep my head in the game and keep working out solutions. Just like being on location. Not a lot of time, and too much to do. A real shoot, in other words…..

Leapin’ Nick was shot with a 3×6 Lastolite Skylite Panel from camera right and slightly above him. We tried spotlighting the background, which was a dangerous move on my part, especially with the spot flash being hand held by an audience member. Oh, well, what could go wrong? Lots, trust me:-)

Onto Finland! Went from the stage in Stockholm to the airport to Helsinki, arriving late at night.

Hit the stage the next day, getting there early, well before the gear, the grip and the lighting. Took a look at the giant schmatta hanging in the middle of this large, beautiful white wall, and said, okay, that’s gotta go. (I of course, had asked for backdrops at each locale, but, photographers, ya know? We change our mind all the time.) Created a pretty large central aisle through the audience so I could get long lens stuff cranking. Worked a lot of wide angle in Sweden and it got real messy, real fast. Amazing how quick you can get off a background with wide glass, as below of Matt our break dancer.

Okay. Clean background, room to work. Where to put the light? In the rain on a balcony outside the gallery hall which we were supposed to stay inside of! Bagged an SB 900 and put it out there, about 80′ from the stage. Waited then, for the folks to show up.

And they did. Wonderful folks. Great, actually. We had a terrific day. I was told the Finnish people were going to be amiable but quiet. And indeed they were. Real quiet. Studious, which was understandable, cause I was speaking my brand of hyper caffeinated English and I don’t even understand myself sometimes when I yak like that. So, introductions were over, and I looked out at them, and they looked, quietly, back at me. Hmmm….

The unsettling thing was that they were all wearing horned helmets and carrying broadswords. Shit, I thought, I better be good. Kidding!

Nicklaus was up first, and we worked through some single flash, hot shoe basics using my buddy, Mr. White Wall. Got a couple decent frames, real quick, real simple, but you know, the kind of stuff a trained seal could knock off. Okay hot shot flashy pants from America, now whaddaya gonna do?

I asked Nicklaus to jump and I hit him hard with the 900 on the balcony, which was coming through windows and rain and the crowd and nailing him as he hit the top of his jump. (I mean, most of the time at the top of his jump. Bill Frakes I ain’t.) Triggered it with an SU800 running off two daisy chained SC29 cords, mounted to a stand and aimed out the windows toward the 900 sensor.

Bango! Shadow games. This shot came up, and ya know, full blown, on two projectors, and its, well, its kinda unexpected, just one flash, from the balcony etc. Most of the audience didn’t really pick up on where the flash was right away. When you nail this, live, in front of an audience, on the fly, you kind of expect maybe reaction? A, you know, “hmmmmm, good idea,” kind of murmur. A burble of restrained approval, perhaps? A song to Oden?

Zero. Nothing. Coulda heard a pin drop. Geez, I thought, this is gonna be a long day. But then! A question from the nice lady in the front row! I woulda answered it in detail even if she was asking the color of my boxers. But, fantastically, she asked if that could be done with an SB800. I started to spew textbook bullpucky about the power ratings and the zoom and then, whoah, I coulda had a V8! Try it! Good information, win, lose or draw. All I hadda do was replace the light.

We got this. Damn interesting. See the fuzzed edge of the shadow? Dramatic, I think, argument for the upgrade to the 900. That 200mm zoom throw is cleaner, harder, and obviously has more edge clarity. Cool. Either an interesting shadow experiment, or somebody’s flash went off and my exposure partially clipped it.

Another point of information occurred here. Working a 70-200mm from the back of the room, and the photos were translating through the WT-4, real slowwwwllllyyyy. The ever vigilant Lars called out to me, “Joe, where is the WT-4?” I was sitting in a chair, and it was in my back pocket, so I was quite literally sitting on it. I raised it up higher, and it worked splendidly. So, if you’re gonna use it, don’t put it in your butt crack.

Onto Matt, the break dancer. Put two SB units in the hands of two folks in the front row, camera right and left, no umbrellas or nothin’. Hard, crossing light. Copy light, basically. Got Matt upside down, with, predictably, two shadows on the background, coming from two crossing lights of equal power. Okay, finesse the light? Possible, of course. But—moving fast, and wanna adios the shadows? Blow the background away.

Quick put up 4 SB units on two stands, either side, high and low on the stands, using Justin Clamps, dialed up the power. (“Targeting the main generator now, my lord. You may commence your attack at any time.”) Bye bye shadows. Still have the hint, but I, heh, heh, still had 2 more stops left in the background units. Poor little shadow. Wanna see God?

Pushed past this and got Katerina on stage. Very lovely person, with great physique and equally great hair,
which we started to play around with immediately. Almost right away, got another question from the audience! Yes, sir!!?? (Refer to the pictures up above, with the leaping, shirtless, Nicklaus.)

“In the interest of equality, could you ask her to take her shirt off?”

I don’t know how to say “WTF?” in Finnish, but I did my level best. I turned to Katerina, who was gracious and bemused, in that calm, self assured way that having 18″ biceps can afford you. I told the questioner he could take it up with her directly, but he should be aware that there are windows in the back of the room and we were on the sixth floor, and Katerina might not have gotten her workout in that day.

More tk…..

This Just In…..

Nov 7

In News at 10:30am

Amazon just posted one of their 2008 listings…’ the link

Let me take this opportunity to talk about the guy who wrote #1. The guy who wrote #2 would still have a bunch of loose cannon thoughts, bromides, non sequiturs, and arcane mumbo jumbo rattling around in the sieve of his brain were it not for Scott Kelby, sitting in the back of a DLWS class, listening quietly in the shadows.

At the end of that lecture, Scott, the Don, the dean, the man, the legend, the “capo di tutti capi,”  leaned forward into the solitary spotlight over his table (no one else sits there, ever) and with the harsh overhead light still shading his eyes, pushed his double espresso off to the side, and said, “Joe, come take a walk wid me.” As I recall, everyone else in the room put one hand to their face in astonishment and fearful anticipation. With their free hand, they made a sign of the cross.

I think I know what they were thinking. “Joe’s gonna write dis book, or Joe not comin’ back.”

Seriously, Scott and I were on a lonely Vermont road, and frankly, the leaves weren’t talkin’ to us. Scott said, “Ya know, all ya gotta do is write down what you say in class.” He already had the title in his head. Honestly, he had the book in his head before I had it in mine. He edited the book, asked me the right questions, and the vapor in my brain became ink on paper.

He was the prime mover, the thought provoker, the editor, the mojo, the guy who opened the door. Most importantly, he’s my friend.


She’s off the newsstands now, of course, it being November, but I remember feeling bad for her, kind of all by herself, in the middle of the science and adventure section, fer chrissakes. I mean she’s right next to Field and Stream, and their cover subject got fuckin’ antlers. And there she is in all her resplendent Neanderthal female pulchritude, all by herself. I was hoping they’d put her in the Beauty and Glam section, ya know, so she could give Angelina or Reese a run for their money. She’s back in the Netherlands now, with her creators, the ever brilliant Kennis brothers. Felt so bad, I sent her some mascara and some skin cream. Maybe next time, if she hits the treadmill, loses the spear, and does some tweezing.

Lookit all those magazines! Always amazes me. There’s a magazine for everybody and everything, I suppose, right from Spudman, Voice of the Potato Industry, to Compressed Air Monthly, which I’d be a natural for. Also this one, which I found on location.

Thought of sending them some promo stuff. Figure if I take two Bogen magic arms with super clamps, and rig a D3 on a ball head, clamp the rig to the arm rests of the next coach seat long flight I’m taking, use a 14-24, with the face recognition focus jazz, and program a timer to fire the camera every 3 or 4 minutes, I’m bound to catch myself drooling all over my t-shirt. Be the perfect ice breaker for sending them a portfolio. More tk….


Nov 6

In Lighting, Tips & Tricks at 6:45am

In the next few blogs, I’m going to detail some stuff I’ve done lately in classes and demos. It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, hence you might notice I am writing about, for instance, PPE, which happened two weeks ago. Once again, a day late and a dollar short. Story of my career. I could try to put a cool spin on it and tell you I was just tryin’ to pull an SI, you know, that old trick of selling you a magazine that describes ball games you saw a week ago and you already know who won. Hey, its worked for them for a long time.

So, here goes…..


My big lighting seminar at PPE was fun. Had a bunch of great folks, and we rocked and rolled for 3 straight hours. I changed things up a bit this year, actually. Most of the time, when I do this stuff, I just pull somebody outta the crowd and we kind of simulate a shoot. This year, I asked my friend Vanessa, one of the loveliest ballerinas I have ever worked with, to come in and be a subject.

In a full blown studio, with an imported stage floor, Vanessa is capable of astonishing things.

She also makes for an amazing close-up photo.

On the stages at PPE, which are not set up for a photo shoot, we remained a tad less ambitious. I had to jury rig things a bit, drop a background, commandeer a section of the audience by moving a bunch of chairs, but after some pulling and hauling, we had something resembling what could have been a studio. That sounds like a complaint, but its not, considering I have set up studios in far less auspicious spaces….hmmmm….lessee

*An electrical closet in the basement of Sydney’s Olympic Stadium, to shoot Mo Greene for a cover of TIME that never ran. The lighting here was a lead pipe cinch. The hard part was getting him into the damn room. I was exhausted, and had fought my way from the finish pit into the guts of the stadium, dumped my gear, switched on the lights and crashed back into the interview area which required me shambling over a couple of metal barriers that were just at the absolute appropriate testicle crushing height and got in front of him and his entourage, which included his manager, a very large man who looked a bit like Ving Rhames and sounded a lot like James Earl Jones. He headed an agency called USW, or, Use Speed Wisely. He got in my face. “Can you guarantee Mo Greene the cover of TIME magazine if we go with you?”

I shot back. “No, but I can guarantee you he won’t be on the cover if you don’t come right now.” Sometimes I can’t believe what comes outta my mouth. (Anybody at any of my classes at PPE would agree.) Mo turned out to be quite a nice guy who laughed a lot, as anybody who had just been crowned fastest man in the world might be. He looked at me, shooting and blabbering like a magpie at the lens, and just said, “Man, you’ve had too much coffee…”

Cool. Cover never ran.

*In the men’s washroom of the Will Rogers Coliuseum in Ft. Worth, I shot a bunch of cowboys on a painted drop. Some of these actually saw the light of day in Sports Illustrated. Used a hot light on the background and hand held a Mamiya RZ Pro II camera with a motor and a 150, which was kind of like hand holding a cinder block with a lens on it. Hence the vibration of a little camera movement around the subject.

In the boiler room backstage at the Osaka, Japan Opera, I shot a series of SB lit portraits for the NYC opera company…..Tight quarters, but I thought hey, if I need a smoke effect, maybe I can turn one of these valves….heh, heh…..

Did the double exposure in camera with TTL flash, which will be the subject of an upcoming bloggaroodi.

Anyway, Vanessa was incredibly patient while I babbled my way through some setups. We stayed pretty conservative, and got a couple of good snaps, answered some questions, and worked the SB units really well. It was fun.

We got this if Vanessa doing Spiderwoman by taking 2 SB units and clamping the to the back of a chair in the audience with Justin Clamps and bouncing them down into the gold 6’x6′ reflector that comes with the 6’x6′ Lastolite Skylite Panel. Had to ask a couple of folks in the front row to hold it in front of them, sorta like it was a picnic blanket, and then we kind of wailed away.

This was done with a low and high fill, probably early on in the demo, umbrella up high, and low gradation from an SB on a floor stand in the background. Tough to miss with Vanessa. You could light her with a car headlight, and she’d look terrific.

Then I went upstairs and did a stint for Nikon in the booth, and basically, I exploded on stage. (“Our first drummer exploded on stage…..”)

Or rather, the flashes did. Sheesh. I was running fast, and came up from 3 straight hours of being tethered into my computer and jumped into it with a couple of drained flashes and a drained camera, which was now jacked into an HDMI cable the size of a water main. Lumbered onstage like I had the QE2 on a tow line.

Felt like Igor up there, throwing the wrong switch, and making the monster get angry. When batteries get low and weird, the system gets wonky. It’s kind of like the camera starts talking Serbo-Croation and the flashes are replying in Chinese. The only bright spots was seeing some buds in the audience. Jeff Snyder ([email protected]) of Adorama,  the magic man, he who can produce gear no one else can find, was there, and David Hobby. At one point I appealed to David to come up on stage and work me out a manual flash solution. Wisely, he waived off.

I actually wondered for a second if I was working with SB900 units that had once been loaned to David. With a chuckle, he told me they were coming to me next, and he had gone into the electronics and randomized the circuitry. David knows this stuff so well, he’s capable of doing that. I can barely spell randumize.

Okay. Meltdown! Whaddaya do? Go to the happy place. As on assignment, when things implode, as they invariably do, I go there, breathe deeply, actually think on Annie for a few seconds, look back, smile outwardly, laugh in the face of danger, and figure the sumbitch out. Got a new camera, a couple new flashes, and went right back at it with a brand new bag. As I always say, when shooting, the likelihood of the bread falling buttered side down is in direct relationship to how expensive the carpeting is. The crowd was great, though, and laughed with me, at me, whatever.

Tried a bit an experiment this year, with another class, based on The Moment It Clicks. Encouraged by Lauren Wendle, who is the publisher of PDN, I did a two hour conversation, really, with a bunch of shooters in one of the classes. It was called “Tips for The Working Photographer,” or words to that effect. We discussed strategies in the field, relationships with clients, tough times, ups, downs, why’s and wherefore’s, editors who help you or sabotage you, in short, we took the deal anyplace we wanted to go, and just did some real, honest confrontations with the reality of being a shooter. I was very direct, and didn’t sugar coat anything. It could have easily evolved into kind of a religious drunk, if we had moved the venue to one of the watering holes on 34th St. A young shooter who had won a spot to the Eddie Adams Workshop, and here for a month from China, came up after and told me it was the most honest photographic discussion he had been party to and thus the most worthwhile 2 hours he had spent in this country.

Okay…cool with that. No sense blowin’ sunshine up anybody’s skirt at this point. This is damn hard to do, which is why its so much fun…more tk.

The Javits Center

Nov 2

In Seminars & Workshops, Thoughts at 6:56am

Photo East was great. It always is cause I see lots of friends and colleagues I never get to see, and I had some good classes, but man, was it busy. There were folks sloshing around everywhere in the Crystal Palace of the Javits Center on the far west side of Manhattan. It really sits there like a space ship in the middle of kind of the only stretch of streets in NY, NY where there just ain’t much of anything else. That’s why I guess they can get, you know, like $5.75 for a bran muffin. Hey, some fiber in your diet’s worth it.

Whilst wandering through the swirl of ones and zeroes mixing it up in the Javits ozone, I wondered how many PPE folks might recall the guy the place is named for,  Jacob Javits of NY. A tailor’s son who became a Senator, he was by all accounts a devoted public servant, a champion of civil rights and a remarkably decent man. He helped shaped NY and its future with intelligent stewardship, moderation and common sense advocacy, traits tough to find in the political hubbub of today. I don’t claim to have known him, but I did photograph him, in his waning days, those days when a case of ALS was inexorably gaining the upper hand. He fought the disease with grace and dignity, two traits that marked his political life.

Shot it in 1984, when I was really still a pup shooter. I can remember the light at camera left, a Norman 200B with a Chimera 3×4 softbox, Nikon F3 camera. I remember him being affable, though he really only communicated with his eyes. He was nattily dressed for the photo, though I suspect he always was, photo session or no. His silk neck scarf partially hid the respirator tube he depended on at that point. He attempted a smile here and there. I worked alone, and quickly.

The photos I shot that day won’t stand the test of time. In fact, they already haven’t. Average snaps of an above average man, encased in plastic slide pages for over almost 25 years. But I remember the day, and the man, and that human intersection that occurs on a photo assignment. I remember my battered 200B, very dependable, and the equally dependable F3, with its distinctive shutter noise. I remember, too, back then and now, the sense of boundless possibilities that start dancing in my head, most destined to go unfulfilled, whenever I pull a camera out of a bag. The adventure begins! Sometimes it ends gloriously, sometimes rudely, sometimes not at all, and sometimes with me just about begging for it to be over. This one ended simply, quickly, quietly. A job, nothing more.

But it reverberates, every once in a while, in my head and surely no place else, when I wander the Javits, past the memorial sculpture of him and his office chair, and then into the aisles, where in the midst of jonesing after the latest in high speed circuitry and supergig flux capacitors, I think of a small slice of a day in a life long since gone. For me, this has always been about stories, and memory.

My personal hero and mentor, Carl Mydans, former staffer at LIFE, impressed this on me. During a lecture, he put up a picture he made during the Cuba missile crisis of a U.S. destroyer forcing a Russian cargo ship bearing missiles to turn around on the high seas. The picture, by all measure, was average. A record frame from the air of two boats in the water. Then Carl, in his stentorian, made for radio voice, read from his caption book. He described the weather, the time of day, the hum and crackle of the radio transmissions, the stern voices heard on the ship radios, indicating there were to be no compromises, turn around or be sunk, the faces of the young servicemen with him watching tense history unfold a few hundred feet below them. Carl, whose book, Photojournalist, is a must read, described the completeness of the moment, down to the wind in his face, his exposures and lens choice, and this simple photo of a crucial pivot point of our time, all in his Bostonian accent, clear and authoritative.

(Carl grew deaf in his later years, so that amazing voice grew correspondingly louder. The day I was fired at LIFE, I bumped into him right at the juncture in the hallway where the business side and the edit side of LIFE joined. It was of course, a business side decision to ax a great deal of the edit staff. Carl grabbed both my arms in his hands and told me in no uncertain terms how despicable he thought all this was, how unnecessary, how short sighted, how etc. etc. My smile grew wider and wider as he grew more descriptive about the greedy bastards, because I knew those words and that voice were echoing all the way down the hall and into the oblivious sanctums of those who only see numbers.)

In the fog and burble of the Javits Center, I can still hear his voice.