responsiveslider_lol_02 The Language of Light DVD - More
MeetJoe_02 Meet Joe McNally - More
inthebag What’s in the Bag? - More

Archive for February, 2009

Donald and the D3X

Feb 27

In Equipment, Friends at 10:38am

Man, does Donald have a face made for a D3X….

Shot at 1/4 at f8, D3X and the new Nikkor 50mm 1.4. Long time since I used a 50, and this thing is sharp, sharp. SB900 off to camera right, Tri-grip diffuser, 5 minute portrait session. Aperture priority at minus 2 EV, no comp dialed into the flash. The 900 has the dome diffuser off, and is zoomed to 200mm, which gives it a little punch and gets it under the brim of cowboy hat. Donald remains one of my favorite people. We were talking about women yesterday (What else is there to talk about, except photo gear, and then only for a couple of minutes. Then we go back to discussing women.) He and his honey spin on the dance floor every Friday night in downtown Santa Fe. I have a standing invite for dinner over at their place, and I’m gonna take him up on it this summer.

We were talking about how much our women mean to us, and how having one special woman in your life makes it all worth it. Though he did say, his eyes twinkling, “Joe, if the Lord ever invents anything better than women, I’ll take a dozen.”

Speaking of women, let’s talk women with cameras for a moment. (Now here’s a great discussion, right? Women and gear in the same sentence. Yikes! My wife works for Nikon and is a terrific shooter, and knows the gear and tech side of things as well as anybody. I always tell Annie I knew she was the right woman for me the first time I ever went into her refrigerator and the butter compartment had no butter but was filled with AA batteries. That’s the girl for me!)

Stacy Pearsall is a truly talented shooter who was military photographer of the year twice (first woman ever to do it) and is being featured now on Oprah. She is retired from active duty, and has taken over the directorship of the Charleston Center for Photography.

She is married to another great shooter, combat cameraman Andy Dunaway. Check out their work and their site. Between the two of them, they have, I think, about 5 or 6 Iraq tours, in addition to previous conflicts. As is common with military shooters, they are versatile, adaptable, and come back with coherent, story telling, beautiful imagery out of situations most of us wouldn’t even lift our heads up to look at. (If we did, we’d be looking for an exit.) Speaking of versatility, a few years ago Andy, went from combat camera to Washington DC for a stint as Rumsfeld’s photog, where he applied his skills tailing the former Defense Sec.

Annie and I are working on teaching together down at the Center this spring. It’ll be good to see them both. More tk….


Feb 26

In Links, News at 2:18am

Can’t say enough about the folks at NAPP. They got Photoshop World coming up, and they be cranking on that, and at the same time, they launch today this cool tips and tricks show featuring Scott Kelby, and the other KMan…Matt Klowskowski. Now here’s a couple of guys who know, right? How many pages of the manual has anybody out there read? How many times do you get to a point on a job and you wish you could remember where that custom function was? Scott and Matt have read and remembered it for you. All that stuff– the bells, whistles, buttons, dials, dive planes, air horns, g-thrusters, and cloaking devices of the new digital SLRs made by Nikon are handed out in bite sized chunks of video. Gotta check it out. I did, and right away I had one of those, “I coulda had a V-8!” types of forehead slapping moments. The live view white balance deal Scott showed was very cool. As was the command dial feature Matt showed to scroll your pix on the LCD on some of the camera models. Check it out at

I’ve been having a blast doing the Kelby Training Videos. Shot the above for a new one called One Light. Put myself in a box and could only take one light out of it. Used two lights, actually, but not together. I compared and contrasted approaches using one SB900 Speedlight, and one Elinchrom Ranger. Big light, small light, but always one light. Tried to push the envelope a bit and see what we could do with that particular limitation. Also, continued my history of tempting fate by combining expensive electronic equipment with large bodies of water by dragging a Ranger with an Octa (yep, the 74″) into Tampa Bay to shoot Bo, an unbelievably amiable, patient, terrific teenager. Hey, it was Scott’s Octa. Come to think of it, it was Scott’s Ranger, too:-)

Other news…very cool. Jeff Snyder sent me this the other day..the Bogen Tri Flash Bracket is #LSTF3PFS  and will be $69 at Adorama. Considering Jeff is close with the folks at Bogen, particularly Mark “The William Holden of Flash Photography” Astmann, he should be able to get a bunch when it comes out next month. Tried it a couple times, and it rocks. First did a demo at our lighting workshops in Dobbs Ferry last month, where we had the first one in the country, and Mark shot a cell phone pic of it.

I mean, we were shooting stuff like this….

And this….

And, yep, you guessed it. I got more mail about the Tri-flash than the fashion models. Photographers, we’re strange. More tk….

It’s Done…It’s Real…..

Feb 22

In Books at 11:59am

Finally…it is done. 320 pages, and the thing kicked my butt, up, down and sideways. I thought, naively, hey, write a book about small flash…cool!

Thing is, you start talking about light, you start talking about color, and exposure, and f-stops, and EV compensation, and white balance, and well, the whole technicolor enchilada. I was really gettin’ stymied. The book….the book……the book. Everyday I tried to write I would plop myself down in front of the computer and stare at the screen with about as much energy and appeal as a big turd that just dropped out of a tall cow’s ass.

I finally turned a corner, thanks to Annie and my long suffering editor, Ted Waitt, with them beseeching me to drop the numbers and the specifics and the half stops of clogged imagination and just write about using a flash. So I mentally put myself at the front door of my house, gear in hand, and just started writing about everything (well, not everything) that crosses my mind as I go out to shoot a small flash job. It really cleared the decks of the tramp steamer of my brain and became a section up front in the book called, “What I Use and Why and When I Use It.” It runs pretty long, surprisingly, seeing as I’ve got the attention span of gnat and a great deal of my memory bank is used up by storing useless movie quotes.

But this really did open up the barn doors and cleared some cobwebs. I went through everything, tips, tricks, exposure modes, types of flash, types of light shaping tools, strategies, EV, mixing light, you name it. It marries up with a couple other sections on holding cameras, and also holding flash, general notions about quality, color and direction of light, and pictures of the whole camera bag, every item that goes out the door. The whole chapter is called, “Nuts and Bolts” or Don’t Worry. As long as you hit that wire with the connecting hook at precisely 88mph the instant the lighting strikes the tower…everything will be fine.”

Also did a back section that is all buttons and dials.

The book is Nikon-centric, obviously, cause that’s the system I use, and to the extent I talk over buttons and dials and where they are and what they do, they are Nikon buttons and dials. But the much larger part of the book is devoted to using light, in this case, light that comes from hot shoe flashes. I try to show progression and the tools that are used, and how to use small flash in an intuitive way.

There’s a bunch of stuff on light shaping tools, cheap and easy, others, more of a commitment….

There’s several sections of the first chapter, in which one small flash is used…only one….

Some advanced stuff too…

I talk a bunch about color, and how to use, quick and easy…

And everybody’s favorite thing….

And I show progression, from the pop up flash treatment, to a sophisticated quality of light, in minutes, using no more than two flashes…

And of course, Numnuts did some sketches…

So…it’s done. It’s a big reason the blog has been intermittent of late. But it is officially out the door, done deal, and it’s up to the printer now to follow the type out the window, as they used to say. The Hot Shoe Diaries, Big Light from Small Flashes, is out March 12. That’s the date it ships, so dunno when that translates to it actually getting on the shelf. You know, it leaves the warehouse in a shrink wrapped pallet and gets put behind Mrs. McGillicuddy’s Ikea order, and the truck shows up there and she’s at the Piggly Wiggly, so they can’t deliver, which means that pallet stays stuck on the truck for another day or so. Then it makes its way down the interstate on an overnight, and it gets delayed a bit by rain, so it sits in the truck in the parking lot of the Extaxy Gentlem, er, the truck stop, and finally it gets to the loading dock, and the crew there is on their lunch/reefer break, and finally it gets on that little cart that they use in the bookstores and out into the aisles and the dude putting the books on the shelf sees the title, “Hot Shoe Diaries,” and puts it in the romance section, or worse, in the adult titles section, you know the one with the opaque plexiglass covers and the big signs warning you that if you go in there you might actually see a breast.

There’s lotsa stuff that could happen along the way. But it is done. More tk….

Random Thoughts…things I find odd or interesting…

Feb 11

In Rants, Thoughts at 2:07pm

Gary Fong  recently sent out an ad blast special for Valentine’s Day.

Now lemme get this straight. The Fongster evidently thinks a GPS attachment to your camera is somehow a romantic gift, the kind you would associate with Valentine’s Day? Does it come in a heart shaped box?

It might be useful. If in fact you have this, then you can exactly mark the spot where she fucking dumps you. You can take notes and re-visit it by your sorry ass self every Valentine’s Day. And if it comes to pass they build an Arby’s over it or something, you can go in and have a Super Roast Beef sandwich all by your lonesome. My advice guys? Lay low on the GPS and go the jewelry route.

Down in Vegas. Drew and Lynn sat next to each other in the emergency aisle. We’re casting today, and Drew has the wonderful duty of photographing about 150-200 beautiful women. He better be careful not to crack wise or say anything male or disgusting about it though, cause Lynn’ll reach over and slap that boy silly. Lynn is such an amazing producer. I know, come Friday when we shoot, I can walk to the camera and put my eye into it and not worry about anything else, cause I know everything’s been handled. And Drew’s been great. He came into the studio back in October and started traveling and running things without skipping a beat.

Lessee…more odd, ironical stuff. Walter Isasscson just wrote an interesting piece for TIME about the future of newspapers. Tough thing, though, is he writes about saving newspapers in an issue of TIME that’s about 4 pages thick. The supernova egos of the scribes and pundits at TIME must be really gasping for oxygen at this point, as the relevance of the magazine drifts. They still are doing a great job with a fraction of the resources they used to have, but man….TIME was always the photographic flagship as well, even though it was run by word merchants. The very good picture editors up there, like Mark Rykoff and Hillary Raskin, always got good shooters in the right places, even if they didn’t use the pictures all that well. As a magazine, it lives in the world of words. As one of their more peacock writers once proclaimed at a location dinner (I was actually invited), “Joe’s pictures are the whores that sell the chalice of my words.” Hmmm…

Good stuff…kudos to Syl Arena for outing the sumbitch who was just cloning people’s blogs and running it as his or her own proprietary site. Syl led the charge, and the site came down.

Great series of posts from David Hobby. As usual, helpful, informative, and funny. The Harrington link to cute kittens killed me.

I’m ranting of course, and that’s mostly cause I haven’t been able to have my daily morning rant with my buddy Bill of late about the state of things and I’m really missing it. He’s had this crazy bronchial pneumonia, bronchitis, throat thing for the last month or so. He’s been going in to work, but unable to talk at great lengths. I told him it was very clever to vector himself into the work force as a one man viral terror attack. Job security being what it is, if he can knock off a few co-workers, it might be just the thing.

Its jarring now when you get his phone message. I’ve gotten used to the new voice, which is somewhere between Tom Waitts and Darth Vader, but the old Bill is there on his recording, clear as a bell. Told him I thought he should change it up to some sort of Joe Cocker-esqe greeting, something where one protracted, guttural vowel sound would pass as a greeting. This would be punctuated by a resonant splat as he pulls the phone away, makes a long sucking sound like folks do in a Japanese noodle shop, thus accumulating the contents of his nasal passages in the back of his throat, which of late has been something of his own personal Baikonur Cosmodrome. The splat occurs when he then hocks an enormous loogie right up against the plate glass window he has by his phone. Give him a call. I can give you his number.  It’s an altogether bracing way to start the day.

Back on a plane yesterday. Cell phone envy. I guess I’ve got it. I have one of those really cheap, simple phones. It feels like it tumbled out of a Cracker Jack box. But everybody else on that plane had some Blackberry, Noodleberry, or IPhone with like 300 apps. It’s like a cult or club or something. Moose Peterson actually blogged about being over at Scott Kelby’s one Friday night, watching football, and everybody started comparing Iphone apps. I was teasing Moose, ya know, like whoo…baby, what a wild night! Were the police called?

I mean the guy next to me sat down and just started typing into this thing he pulled out of holster on his belt. Swear to God. It was like sitting next to the Dirty Harry of Blackberry users. This thing was enormous, and had like flashing lights and shit. He could type almost as fast as my youngest daughter, who types faster than those guys talk when they come on at the end of a commercial and need to qualify what was just advertised. “Rates vary in some states. What we just said was bullshit in every state. We really didn’t mean it, what you just saw was a come on cleverly disguised as an offer so we could entice old people to call our 800 number so we can get our mitts on their retirement accounts.” It doesn’t really register cause they talk so fast.

So then we take off and he switches up to his computer which is some sort of monster Dell that makes kind of a Tarzan yell when he opens it, and man he starts peckin’ away on that like he’s getting’ paid by the keystroke. This went on for a while, and I just about had enough so I start pseudo-Photoshopping some pictures I thought might knock him off his stride a bit.  I’ve got the new Macbook Pro, the 15 incher with the glossy screen so there’s no way he couldn’t notice. That thing is so bright and contrasty they could use ’em in the searchlight towers of a maximum security penitentiary.

It worked.I could tell he was sneaking glances, cause he started to make typos…heh-heh.

Today when we left JFK we had to make a tight turn to the runway and right behind us was an Air France jet, and I could just about see into the cockpit. In the interest of international relations, I pressed my face to the window and started mouthing “Frog Pussy!” I think they saw me, cause I swear the co-pilot was mouthing back, “Mick Bastard!” Runway fun.

You know I never really mean offense by any of that stuff. I’ve been on the road for over 30 years, and I’m pretty addled at this point, plus enormously sleep deprived, and that probably contributes to the oddball train of thoughts that trundle through my brain at all hours of the day, especially the early hours. I mean, ya gotta laugh doing this, or you’ll just start weeping uncontrollably. Remember in the Perfect Storm? The boat capsized and it’s over, and the tough guy on the crew, played by William Fichtner (who always does a great job) is standing in an upside down cabin of the boat, his macho exterior cracked and splintered, crying as it fills with water? As photogs, we could all just stop right where we are and do that. But I refuse. Hard as this is, just still love it. Love it, love it, love it. That essential thing, coupled with a mildly bent sense of humor, keeps me going. Bleary eyed, but still going. I’ve come to embrace the shot below as something of a self portrait. That camera made the entire 1000 miles of the Baja race, clamped to one of the dune buggies, and this is how it came back. Battered, beat up, but still shooting pictures. (It was a loaner camera, by the way, Nikon was not pleased.)

I’m sure they’ll box me up and cart me away someday. I have dreams about this sanitarium type place I end up, sorta like the one Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday ended up in towards the end of Tombstone, one of my favorite really bad movies. He’s in a bed, white sheets, white pillows, white walls. Everything white, then he can’t feel his toes, and then…nothing. His reported last words were, “Damn…this is funny.”  It would serve me right to make the passage in monochrome after shootin’ all that damn Kodachrome….more tk.

The Workshops Week, or Two….

Feb 4

In Seminars & Workshops, Tips & Tricks at 12:42pm

Just getting back on top of things….that’s a lie, I’ll never be on top of things. What a crock of shit. Can’t believe I said that. Anyway, update from this particular bug on the windshield of life, the workshops were a huge bunch of fun, and lots of folks liked ’em. In the latter part of the couple of weeks, ran a lighting gig for friends from Atlanta and Florida at Shoot Digital in NYC (my favorite NY studio, Hector runs a bad ass coffee bar) and we were blessed with Martina Redux….

Call this cove lighting. Can’t take credit for it. Swiped it from Gilles Bensimon, legendary fashion shooter and long time creative director of Elle magazine. My first cover story for the Geographic was called “The Sense of Sight,” and it was an in depth look at how the human eye works. A coverage item was eye makeup, so I got hooked up with the chief eye makeup artist from Lancome, and off I went to Paris to shoot on the set with him, during a Bensimon fashion take. Man, what a treat. I just sat in the corner most of the day and tried to soak up a tiny speck of what this man knows.

He looked at me and said, “You have ze best job, no? For ze National Geographique, eh?” Seeing as he was making many, many thousands of dollars a day shooting pictures of the world’s most beautiful women, I might have debated him, but I just smiled and shut up. (Good tactic when you are in way, way, over your head.) Thing was, word had circulated on the Paris fashion grapevine that Gilles was shooting at this studio, and during the day these unconsciously beautiful women were showing up, unannounced, to show him their portfolio. He was quite nonchalant about all this, dismissive, even, barely saying a word to these young ladies as did a high speed flip through their books. He would hand it back, and walk away. Crushed, these stiletto shod aspirants would slip back out the door. I remember looking at them (alright, ogling, gawking, jaw on the floor glass eyed dumbstruck staring; choose one) and timidly thinking about raising my hand to get their attention. “I’ll photograph you! I’d be happy to! Really! Your portfolio’s great! I like it! Does that matter?” Uh, no.

Martina is a joy to work with, and totally sweet, but man can she kill ya with a look.

He was shooting in a cove. When you take the time and trouble to rent a cove (think of the shooting set in the shape of half an egg) you might think you would do the expected and shoot into it. No. Bensimon arranged V-flats in the cove, banged his lights into them, which then washed back into the curved white surface and sloshed forward onto the model, who was sitting there on seamless paper. By doing this, he instantly created a huge light source. He settled in, crouching, back comfortably resting on the curve of the low part of the cyc, and proceeded to make pictures. “Voila,” flash. “Voila,” flash. “Voila,” flash. I’m thinking of trying that line of patter next time I do a portrait for SI. You know, in the locker room, going, “Voila!” I think it will be well received.

Trying to show it here. Nigel helped me.

And Vanessa came the next day. Quite honestly, one of my favorite subjects, and an enormously talented ballerina.

Always wanted to blow her hair around, seeing as she’s basically never cut it. Did this with the new-ish Elinchrom deep throat soft box. (That’s the name they’ve marketed it under. Gotta love those wild and crazy Europeans!) Actually, I think they’ve changed the name up but it’s this very deep, mid-sized Octa shaped soft box that produces an amazing, columnated quality of light. It’s soft, but it doesn’t spill or spread. Wonderful. Tried an over/under combo with Eric and Hope, who were terrific, enthusiastic newlywed subjects.

Those things will be a go to soft box for some time to come….

We had Day 8 of The Lighting Workshops, and I didn’t blog, so I really didn’t win my bet with Moose Peterson. He told me I wouldn’t blog every day, but I did for 7 straight days. Sheesh. I don’t know Moose and Scott Kelby do it, cause I got plain knackered. Anway, we were once again blessed with Jasmine’s presence, who is so effortless in front of the camera as to just about defy gravity.

Used a few different approaches to this, mostly starting with the Ezy Box Hot Shot soft box, and then upping the ante to run through a 3×6 Lastolite diffuser panel, if my memory serves. Had low bounce, or floor skip going as well. The bigger 3×6 really smoothed out the light.

Jasmine works so well, we succumbed to plain old natural daylight for a bit. What a great studio…

And then messed with a Honl gridded, SB-900 through a Tri-grip diffuser. Made it soft, but didn’t allow the light to spread and wash out the shadow pattern on the wall.

And Cara came by, FOL (friend of Lynn). She had a great soulful presence so we lit her really simply, with one SB unit through a Tri-grip, camera left.

Phil came back as well and this light is an Elinchrom Ranger with a long throw reflector, about 79-80′ from him, one story down, in the parking lot. Great light. Love dirty windows.

We’re thinking about doing it again this summer. Stay tuned….More tk….