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Archive for December, 2008

Goodbye ’08

Dec 31

In Uncategorized at 10:42am

The horse’s name was Bill, as I recall, and this little girl’s mom had been called up to serve in the Gulf War and she was staying at a neighbor’s for the duration. Shot if for LIFE back in ’91 and its one of those rare frames that kinda stick around. Figure we could all use a hug right about now, with 09 getting pretty damn big in the viewfinder.
On the last day of some year, I got gas at a filling station on Manhattan’s West Side, just off Riverside on 96th. The station’s gone now, of course, as most are in the Big Apple. An elderly African American gentleman was tending the pumps. We stood, staring out at the cold, saying nothing (hey, we’re guys), listening to the gas moving and the meter ticking. The dollars and cents wheels moved much more slowly back then.

He finally looked over at me. “How you doin’?” he asked. I allowed as I was doing okay. I said something along the lines of “Made it through another year.”

He snorted and looked at his watch. It was about 4 in the afternoon. “Few hours left. Don’t get cocky.”

Been a little light on the blog lately, but for a good reason. My final final deadline for The Hot Shoe Diaries is this weekend, and ink hits paper in late January and the book ships in late Feb. Done. Out the door.

Lots of thanks to offer for making it through this year, to lots of folks, certainly those who stop by this blog now and then. I’ll post again with some notes, thanks and thoughts in a couple of days. Happy New Year to all, and let’s keep pushing pixels in 09…..more tk.

Its Alive!

Dec 19

In Equipment, Upcoming Events at 4:54pm

Yes, indeed, the Dobbs Ferry Workshops are alive once again. I’ve gotten pinged a bunch over time about reviving them, so we contacted our old studio building back on the Hudson and they said come on back. We will have a classroom/studio room, and the run of this old funky factory building down by the train tracks and the river. Great setting. Lots of peeling paint. Dingy hallways. Loading docks. Photog’s dream.

They will run Jan. 19, 20, 21, 22 and 24. We will have breakfast and lunch, snacks, free parking and multiple models, all days. Class size is limited to 12. Fee is $350 for a 10-11 hour day. We will go hard all day, showing examples, shooting demos, working big flash and small flash. Participants get time behind the camera as well as time gripping for shoots and moving gear. We will talk about light all day.

Bogen Imaging and Adorama have stepped up big time to help us out, and we will have toys galore, from big AC power packs to Elinchrom Rangers, Octas, beauty dishes, umbrellas, soft boxes, flats, panels, long throw reflectors, Skyports, c-stands. The whole deal.

We will use SB800 and 900 units, and craft i-TTL solutions that will rival the big flash solutions, and show how to move fluidly between big flash and small flash, and mix the two.

Beauty of working in Dobbs is how close it is to NYC, either a 35 minute train ride (we will pick you up at the Dobbs station, and drop you at end of day) or 45 by car from mid-town Manhattan. And the building is big. And we can move around, and move fast. We had a great time when we did these a few years back, and then we kinda let ‘em go when we moved the studio a bit north to CT.

But they’re back and they’re alive. Hit Lynn with an email at lynn@joemcnally.com, or phoner at 203-438-4750. She’s got details and class lists going.

You can also view the workshop announcment here, or download a PDF version here.

THE LKE! (LIGHTING KIT FOR THE ELDERLY)

I thought Jeff (jsnyder@adorama.com) was gonna shoot me when I posted all this stuff and told the world to give him a shout. (But then he wouldn’t wanna hurt an old person.) Typical Jeff, though, he scrambled all the below together, so now you can go individual and get the pieces, or the entire kit, and save $25 and get free shipping. Bob Krist is also very relieved, cause he thought he’d have to start staffing up at home and putting all this together to ship out, and that would interfere with him watching Oprah every afternoon.


The entire kit listed below is SKU# JMLKE, in Adorama’s system (Though, it’s so new that it isn’t yet on their website- So if you’d like the entire kit, please contact Jeff Snyder directly at jsnyder@adorama.com; the same goes for the Westcott umbrella and Morris bracket).

FREE SHIPPING AND a $25 SAVINGS if purchased as the “kit”, vs individually

GTBHMI GIOTTOS MH1004 MINI BALL HEAD – 1 $12.95

SB300405 STROBO ACCESSORY SHOE- 1 $10.95

BG3373 BOGEN 6′ RTRCTBL 5-SCTION STND-BL – 1 $58.50

WEUMB43WSC WESTCOTT 43″ WHITE SATIN UMBRELLA – 1 $19.99

STCIM2500BK HARDIGG STORM IM2500 CS – BLK – 1 $120.95

FAHSG18 HONLPHOTO 1/8 SPEED GRID F/POTAB – 1 $24.95

FAHSG14 HONLPHOTO 1/4 SPEED GRID F/POTAB – 1 $24.95

FAHSN HONLPHOTO SPEED SNOOT 8″ REGULAR – 1 $24.95

FAHSNS HONLPHOTO SPEED SNOOT 5″ SHORTY – 1 $19.95

FAHSS HONLPHOTO SPEED STRAP F/SHOE MT – 2 $9.95

FAHGK HONLPHOTO ROSCO GEL KIT F/SPEED – 1 $24.95

BG175F BOGEN SPRING CLAMP WITH FLASH SH – 2 $54.90

MTH-202 MORRIS BRACKET – 1 $27.95

THE BEST ASSIGNMENTS ARE FREE….

Dec 15

In Thoughts at 11:12am

They are gifts we give ourselves…..

You already know the ones…the ones that really terrify you. The ones you think you can’t handle. The ones you think are way, way, beyond your capabilities. Gateway assignments. The ones you need to take. They come in on the phone (rarely) or in the email of your imagination as loud as the “TERRAIN! TERRAIN! TERRAIN!” warning in the cockpit. You must respond. You must engage.

Increasingly, these are the ones you give yourself.

On the other side of that job, win, lose or draw, you will be a different photographer, and presumably, absolutely, a better photographer. Like a redwood, you just accumulated another ring. You could liken it to a scar, the way things go in this business. I try not to think about it.

But here’s the beautiful thing about scars. They are on the surface. Not attractive perhaps, but at the end of the day, inconsequential. They don’t affect your core.

Someplace at or near my core, I’ve got this fortress. It is well fortified, and I don’t let anyone in there. No tedious editor, no residue from a soul blasting job, gets in there, ever. Cause inside there lives whatever makes me love doing this as much as I do. Dunno the why’s and wherefore’s of it. I don’t unwrap it or turn it upside down and shake it, trying to figure out what’s inside, cause I might break it. It is what makes me hold my breath at the camera, makes me curse my mistakes and short circuits of mind, will and body, and gives me the recurring nightmare that I am swimming underwater and when I try to break the surface I find it is glass. I can’t break through and I am breathing water and jaysus-be-jaysus where the hell is the next good frame? Why can’t I figure this out and why haven’t shot anything worth a good goddamn in the last bit of forever? Is this the end of the road and the limit of my talent? I wake up in a cold sweat.

Nice, huh? The miracle of photography, sitting on your chest in the middle of the night like a big wet dog, panting in your face, demanding to be fed.

Like the boxer in the song, photographers remember every cut. I certainly do. (It’s just that way with the Irish.) Those cuts are the jobs, the frames. I can remember what I said before and after certain rolls went through the camera. I can remember what I had for breakfast that day and whether I was just shy of 5.6 at one twenty fifth. I can remember the smells in the air, and just how miserable, elated or terrified I was. Often, I can’t remember what I did yesterday, but those are yesterdays I didn’t make a picture.

Ironies abound for photographers. They are occasionally huge and cruel and we either laugh them off, smile through our tears, or are crushed by them. Some are small and produce rolled eyes and a sigh. We are on assignment to shoot the CEO, but we come up the freight elevator. Our work adorns the hushed hallways of corporate palaces even as our demise is plotted and graphed. The rakish, insouciant legacy of a Robert Capa and the derring do that produced those pictures that are the stuff of our collective memory is celebrated and paid lip service, but hey, wait a minute, look at these expenses! That was then fella, and this is, well, now.

Or, we attend a photo gathering where a picture editor exhorts us from the podium to step it up, work harder, get to a new level, and push the envelope. Then that picture editor goes into closed door meetings at their shop and advocates against raising the day rate.

I am the last staff photographer ever, at LIFE magazine. I didn’t get that mildly undesirable title by doing anything in particular. I just kept shooting assignments, and then they fired me. Later, the magazine did its final, absolute death spiral. Like Santino in the Godfather, it took a lot of bullets, but it finally went down for good.

Round about that time, the Time Warner colossus was seeking to “build a bridge to the visual community.” and instituted the Eisie’s, a prestigious series of awards in honor of the legacy of Alfred Eisenstadt. It was determined that LIFE would be the host and sponsor magazine, much to the dismay of TIME, then the big budget gorilla of the photo world.

During my brief tenure at LIFE, I agitated to do stuff, as all of us do. One result of my agitation became a story the mag called “The Panorama of War.” It won the first Eisie for journalistic impact.

I found myself on stage, at a gala hosted by LIFE, accepting a LIFE sponsored award for a LIFE assigned and published story. Mildly ironical problem, though, as I stood there, prize money and the paperweight of the award in hand, was that LIFE magazine had fired me the week before the ceremony. I chuckled inwardly as I smiled at the podium. I even smiled at Norm Pearlstine, the boss of the whole deal, who was sitting in the front row, looking for all the world like he was in a dentist’s chair. I actually felt bad for him cause he had come over to run Time Warner from that sea of type known as the Wall Street Journal and had never met a picture he understood. Here he was at a photo banquet, fer chrissakes, and later, he had to give out the most important award of the night, and thus make the longest speech. He had a terrible time pronouncing “Sebastiao.”

So it goes, and it always has. We are on our own. Whether we are on assignment or on staff or on Flickr. Whether we are making a buck or winging it, unfunded and unfazed, on the increasingly threadbare seat of our pants. That’s as it should be. Trust me, When it comes to corporate belt tightening, housecleaning, and general neutron bomb keep-the-building-lose-the-people cost cutting, we are both the baby and the bathwater. We get thrown out. They will never understand that picture gathering cannot be plotted on a chart, estimated in a graph, or measured in people hours relative to numbers of units produced. Thank God. If they ever figured it out, and really understood the astonishing alchemy of it all, they would want to be us, and trust me, there’s already plenty of us.

One of my heroes is Frank Hurley, the shooter on the Shackelton expedition. He was one tough nut of an Aussie. When their ship, the Endurance, got locked in the ice, he stripped down and dove into the frigid hold to retrieve his plates.

Hurley “is a marvel,” wrote Frank Worsley, captain of the Endurance. “With cheerful Australian profanity he perambulates alone aloft & everywhere, in the most dangerous & slippery places he can find, content & happy at all times but cursing so if he can get a good or novel picture. Stands bare & and hair waving in the wind, where we are all gloved and helmeted, he snaps his snaps or winds his handle turning out curses of delight & pictures of Life by the fathom.”

As Shackleton said, “What the ice gets, the ice keeps.” The Endurance was doomed. The crew was stranded. Hurley kept shooting.

The ever prescient David Hobby just threw a big rock into the pond of our psyches. Lots of ripples, from Chase Jarvis to Moose Peterson, to Vincent Laforet to the gang over at Sports Shooter. Just like a couple hundred photographers at the exact same location will produce a couple hundred picture points of view, there are lots of opinions out there, from “Yeah, that’s the deal,” to “Is he crazy?”

Not crazy at all, methinks, and that’s not to say we should all apply for non-profit status. I think what David is talking about, really, is not dollars and cents but growth and direction as a photographer, increasingly an isolated task, as the more collective staff photographer experience withers and dies. My advice to young photographers has always been to join the staff of a newspaper or wire service. Get some editor on your case, putting your ass on the street and your eye in the camera everyday. Come back to the wet darkroom to soup your stuff with the rest of the shooters and kibbitz, compete, spin tales, drink beer and give out shit. And listen. And learn.

That is increasingly anachronistic advice, of course. Digital has changed the deal, and the curves in the road upcoming for all of us are steeper, sharper and many aren’t even on the map yet. More so than ever, we are on our own, crafting a path unique to our skills, intentions and career goals. Take a look at Doug Menuez’s recent musings on career path.

A career in photography is a journey without a destination. And really, do you think someone’s gonna buy you a ticket to someplace you can’t even point out on the map? Try writing “meander” on a travel requisition and see how far you get.

I’m not suggesting you don’t need to make money as a shooter. Far from it. But those pictures we get, the ones we keep close, the deepest cuts, if you will, are really of our own volition and making. And those are the ones we seek and need, or better, the ones that seek us. They are way stations. You will stop there, or need to stop there, no matter if someone is paying you or not.

Cause what we are talking about here is food for the table and food for the soul. You gotta sell your stuff. You gotta pitch clients. You gotta make some dough with that fancy machine you have in your hands. And there is no problem with that. It is in fact, a very honorable and wonderful feeling to make your living with a camera. Trust me, I have shot all manner of jobs. I’ve shot for clients I shouldn’t have worked for, just to keep the studio alive. I’ve shot bad deals just cause I wanted the pictures so bad. I’ve shot wonderful jobs that have pushed me personally and professionally. I’ve even gone to photo heaven. In the last couple of years I’ve worked for a client whose art director is a wonder, the people running the show have become like my family, I’ve been treated fairly and I’ve expanded creatively. And, along the way,  I’ve shot jobs so thoroughly mercenary that in my head I don’t hear the whir of a motor drive, but the kaching of a cash register. Its a wonderful sound. It means I will be able to keep that camera in my hands a while longer, and extend a little further, reach a little deeper, and stay the course. What an amazement! I got paid to do that which I love!

Many pictures I shoot nowadays have only me as the client. They are pictures I need to do and want to do. I fund them myself. Did one last week in Vancouver. Wanted to work with a dancer, so came in early, rented a studio, paid an assistant and paid the dancer (I always pay the dancers, they work just as hard as we do and make even less) and shot some pictures I really like. When I finally get home I’ve got a studio, six square feet of chrome diamond plate flooring as a backdrop, a smoke machine, some heavy gauge chain, a battered chainsaw, and a physical trainer whose endearing nickname is “The Pain Chisel” all arranged for. Can’t wait.

I could gin up a portfolio of fancy flying, dancing, body bulging, glam type pictures and bring them to one of the stylish, au courant type magazines, and they would laugh me out of the building. I’m realistic about this. For better or for worse, I grew up shooting for mom and dad’s magazines–LIFE, National Geographic, Time, Sports Illustrated. At a place like Vogue or Esquire or GQ, I couldn’t get arrested. At one of the hipper men’s magazines, a book I’ve shot a couple covers for and a couple years back knocked out a fashion piece involving the U.S. military (which they liked so much they expanded the story from six to ten pages) I had to go in and show my book to the new, thirty-ish photo editor. He liked my stuff and was very respectful. As he closed my portfolio, he looked at me and said, “You’ve had a great career.”

In other words, “I’ll hire you for an editor’s note picture if I can’t find someone else at the last minute.”

Okay. Picture editors at places like this are relentlessly searching not so much for good pictures, but for buzz. Occasionally, good pictures and buzz coincide. Tough thing is though, even when they are able to stuff good pix into their mag, it is so graphically cluttered (the printed version of a sound byte) you can’t really enjoy ‘em anyway. Hell, lots of times you can’t even find ‘em.

Will some of these pictures I pursue on my own ever sell? Dunno. Never been much of a stock shooter cause my stuff has been so assignment specific. I get sales reports now with my pictures turning around eye popping amounts of remuneration, like a recent one I got from a prestigious bastion of publishing erudition for all of $4.67. Jeez, never thought a stock sale wouldn’t even get me into the movies. Shit, that one won’t even get me one of those big boxes of Raisinets.

I get a check like that and I either laugh or cry, depending on how many days I have left to pull together the mortgage. I look at these picture statements and I feel like a kid in a Cape May arcade who just turned about $50 of cash money into a clutch of “admit one” tickets that gets dumped into the counting hopper and spits out a chit that allows him to pick out anything in the shop that’s worth less than a buck.

This is not a good business model. My accountant on occasion has mentioned my endeavors lean more towards “hobby” than profession. Okay. The numbers don’t add up. Pretty much, I’ve never added up either, even to my parents.

We run when others walk. We work when others play. We adjust our schedules to accommodate theirs. We present the flimsiest of reasons to insist that we be allowed to keep doing that which we need to do, something for us that is as necessary as breathing. Paid or not, it is what we do.

By the way, at the age of 76, Frank Hurley came back off assignment, and shrugged off his camera bag and sat down, saying he didn’t feel well. He was dead the next morning. I suspect there was still film in his holders.

More tk….

BYE BC….HELLO CAL!

Dec 14

In Seminars & Workshops at 2:37am

It was time to leave Vancouver….maybe it was the rain, but my imagination was getting a little dark.


Done with two SB 900 units, TTL, with the trigger device being the SU800 attached and extended off camera via the use of two linked SC29 cords. I do this often to extend the TTL signal and reach units that are fifty or sixty feet away in a creepy alley. The SU800 is perched atop a light stand and aimed so it will clip the sensor of the green gelled light that is on a floor stand and sitting behind Pooyia, Vancouver based shooter and Vancouver Workshop assistant for the week. He embraced his role as “lunatic in the alley with the axe” with a disturbing amount of fervor. Up front, my friend Hannah does the  noir “young damsel in distress” thing incredibly well. She is lit with the Lastolite Ezy-Box Hotshoe light, the new one with the interior baffle. It makes a great, localized, portable portrait unit. Nice and soft, not too much spill. It too, is positioned so the SU800 can see it.  It looked something like this on paper….

Hannah Coleman is a wondrous New Zealander and one of the truly talented ballerinas I have photographed. We worked together on the Nikon SB900 video, when she was dancing with the Boston School of Ballet. For the video, she pulled some absolutely stunning dance moves, in addition to this amazing sort of on pointe catwoman. (Halle Berry move over!)

She mentioned she was leaving the school to dance for the Calgary Ballet Company. Hmmmm….things pass into the rolodex of my noodle, and when I was heading for the Vancouver Workshop, I pinged her on email. Wanna do some pictures and work with the class?

She basically emailed back the words, “En route.” It was a terrific stroke of luck for the class as they had Hannah flying, leaping, turning and twisting, all with grace, enthusiasism and good humor. I threw my hoodie on her and brought her outside by the docks to do a TTL fill flash demo, and she immediately turned into the most beautiful hobbit you’ve ever seen.

The above is TTL, shoot through one half an umbrella. Left the backing on half of a Lastolite all in one, and then took some stripes of gaffer tape over the diffusion half, just to break up the light a little. Kept moving around her hand held, cause the flash is giving me some stop and sharp oomph, and the background is okay if it gets a bit moved and fuzzy.

My thanks to the BC gang for making it a wonderful week.

Onto the mild climes and laid back style of mid-coast California, and the Lepp Institute, run by the non-stop duo of Hal and Victoria Schmitt. We had a great class and a good time, knocking around the Los Osos/San Luis Obisipo area, or “SLO” if you want to pull off being hip and local.

Its stressful for me, though, to be in these super relaxed, hip, California type villes, mostly cause after being around NY for 30 plus years,  I jaywalk like crazy. Jaywalking is a lifestyle in NY, a non stop life and death board game played by motorist and pedestrian. It spices up your day, gets your heart rate going and provides ample opportunity for any of the aggrieved or irritated parties (that would be all of them) to be creative verbally, and loudly. I would be in SLO and simply cross in the middle of the block or against the light, and get eye daggers from the crowd at the corner, those relaxed and civic minded folks who are there drumming their fingers and obeying the big electric hand. But then, we’re here in grape country, and I figure its easy to be relaxed and pliant if you routinely have a half a bottle of wine for breakfast.

I found this great crosswalk in SLO….

Its got these sensors that activate flashing lights in the pavement when you walk into the street! Cool! I was fascinated by this and kept walking back and forth for a few minutes, much to the dismay of the traffic pattern on Higuera St. Some motorists got outright annoyed, but then I figure in downtown SLO, where every other shop seems to be devoted to the sale of pizza, there can’t be a real rush to get anywhere. Also, what was novel to me was that the lights were pointed towards the cars, alerting them to the presence of crosswalkers. (Not cross dressers, we’re considerably south of San Francisco.)

In Manhattan, they’d be pointed at the pedestrians so the drivers could aim their vehicles better.

Anyway, through the good relationships Hal and Victoria have with the local community, we gained access for the class to the Madonna Inn, which is, well, one of those places that happen only in America. Each room has a theme, from “Caveman,” to “Love Birds,” to “Sugar and Spice.” The gaudier rooms are a little piece of Vegas tucked away in California wine country.

For a lighting demo, we put Samantha, a lovely model who can look like peaches and cream one minute and Aphrodite the next in one of the uh, more understated rooms. Luckily, she showed up looking like she had just been dipped in the cotton candy spinner at the county fair, and thus fit right into all the sparkles and spangles of this exceedingly pink room.

Now, one could drive oneself batty lighting this funhouse, and try to manage every little bit and piece of glitz on the walls, but life is really, really too short for that. So I put up one big ass light–an Elinchrom Ranger with a long throw reflector boomed off the balcony just outside the windows. Cranked it out there as far as the boom would take me, and racked out the power and let fly. It comes through the window in the shape of the window, predictably, but then hits the walls and does unpredictable things, kinda the way sun light dappling through the window might. One light, no waiting!

More tk….


LIGHTING KIT FOR THE ELDERLY

Dec 10

In Books, Friends, Travels, Videos at 12:16am

Its small, airplane friendly, easy to use and very light so even photographers of, well, a certain age can lift it. Bob Krist demonstrated his lighting kit in the new Nikon SB900 video…..

And people are going nuts about it, emailing him, wanting to know about every bit and piece. He showed the kit during the video, pulling out all the stuff, but not a couple of the crucial items, such as the heating pad and the flask of Geritol.

He’s one tough sonofagun, though I tell ya. Check out the fight we had on the set…..

Actually, it was a pleasure to knock out this instructional video with Bob, who is one of my dear friends. When you are still carrying cameras and shooting great stuff at his age, there are several things that are true. You are a complete gentleman and a pro. You know your stuff and learned a long time ago that this business is all about what comes around going around, again and again. Bob, who considering his career as a Geographic shooter and peerless travel photographer and writer, could easily have let Mr. Ego out for a healthy, career long romp, has never done that. He checks the self important bullshit at the door, rolls up his sleeves, and gets to work. He is one of those rare commodities; a good shooter who is also a good teacher. He communicates well, and his avuncular “Sit back and Bob’s gonna explain it all for you” style puts people at ease and lets them learn in a zone where they are comfortable making mistakes and asking questions, which is the real key to any teaching environment.

Bob and I are the same age, by the way.

Take a look at a couple of his pix…He has, as he says, over time, covered the waterfront.

He has a new book out…..

.

This tome is a must if you want to dive into the competitive world of travel photography, either as a pro, or as traveler who simply wants good pictures to show at the end of the experience. He talks composition, lighting and flash, photographing people, using color, you name it. He shows you work flow and what to do with all those gigabytes when you come home. And he talks turkey about how to survive out there, right from when you get on the airplane, to getting to the hotel and then up and down the river at dawn or dusk. In a word, its complete. The whole nine or even ten yards. Right from when you pack your bag till when you get home and unpack that same bag. (If you read this book, there might even be a good chance that when you unpack, you’ll still have the same stuff you packed:-)

One of the things Bob has learned over the years, is to travel light. So, here you go…..

The Bob Krist Lighting Kit, As Seen on TV!

Bracket:   Morris MTH-202

Smallballhead:   Giotto MH-1004 Mini Ballhead

Cold shoe on ballhead: Stroboframe General Purpose shoe

Compact lightstand: Bogen Manfrotto Retractable
Collapsible Umbrella: Westcott 43″ Collapsible Umbrella with Removable Cover

Grids, Snoots, Speedstraps, Colored Gels.

Rolling case: Stormcase iM2500

You can get most of this stuff from Jeff Snyder at Adorama (jsnyder@adorama.com) and if you ping him, he will be able to put the whole damn thing together for you.

Trust me, if Bob can pull and haul it, so can you:-)

More tk…..