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Archive for March, 2009

Diaries, Questions, and Thanks…

Mar 30

In Books at 4:38pm

First off, many, many thanks to all the folks who have written to me about The Hot Shoe Diaries, and encouraged me along the way through the blog or email to finish it. I’m very grateful. As I mentioned a little bit, it was a bear to write. Talking about small flash means talking about light, which means talking about the whole shebang. The whole shebang requires a bit of thinking, a process I’m profoundly uncomfortable with. But it is out in the stores now, and I simply wanted to say all best to everyone. The book has prompted some queries, so thought I’d do a bit of a Q&A on the bloggarini.

Q: The “Hot Shoe Diaries” is a bit of a strange name for a photo book. Wazzup with that?

A: Yeah, you’re right. Hot Shoe obviously references the flashes, and it is in fact, a bit of a diary, or written a bit like one. It is an ongoing, mildly rambling account of flubs, miscues, gaffes, successes, failures, dropped flashes, blown exposures, rants, raves, and the (until now) interior ruminations of a 30 year photog. I’ve made lots more bad pictures than I’ve made good ones (every shooter has) and there has to be some value there in the scar tissue of a photographic career. So I kinda wrote like I shoot it–all over the place.

Q: Given the title, have there been any problems with folks confusing this particular photo book with books about something else? Do the bookstores put it in the wrong section ever?

A: Yeah, I guess a little bit. Couple folks found it in the adult book section, and one saw it up there with the bodice rippers. Some of the things that link to it on Amazon are pretty great, though, like there’s a link of the book to these…..

And these…..

I tried buying ’em for Annie, but I got the eyebrow, ya know? She was like, “I’m not wearing those. I can’t walk in those.” My response? “That’s okay!”

A few people might think it’s a bit of a crime novel, with the K-Man in there a couple of times. I thought about writing it a bit like a noir novel…..

Q: Speaking of the K-Man, who is he?

Mark and I go back a ways. We worked together on a couple of annual reports. He was the client, I was the shooter. He has always been interested in photography, even back when I used to give him grief about the disposable cameras he was shooting. He got me back though and recently blogged a pic he made of me, which shoulda been disposed with the camera that made it. Over numerous Jamesons and a few Johnny Walker Blues, we realized we both were fans of noir movies and crime novels and such. His blog and his photography often go in the direction of mystery, mood and selective light. It’s a fun blog, and there are more adventures awaiting the K-Man on the streets of Gotham, to be sure. Below is Mark’s, uh, disposable effort….

Sheesh…look at that, and the question that springs to mind is, of course, who’s the ass?

Q; The book has done pretty well so far, but let’s face it, Scott Kelby is still the man, is he not?

A: No question. Scott is, like, the number one selling author of our time or any time, and the reason for that is, he’s a damn good writer and a teacher whose humanity and humor shine through even when he’s talking about the frikkin’ liquify tool, ya know? But, one of the reasons Hot Shoes is doing well is because of my own little guerrilla marketing campaign. I target Scott’s books, ya see, cause I know people are gonna go right there to those shelves to buy ’em. And then, I look around, and well….see for yourself……

Q: What’s with small flash? Why is it a topic of interest?

A: David Hobby.

Q: Now hold on, here. You mean to say one guy started this whole thing? This planet wide fervor over all things strobist?

A: Yep. David, from what I know, started teaching flash informally a few years back to get some friends and fellow shooters on track with it. He began blogging, called it Strobist, and the rest is history. He has built a worldwide community of learning, sharing and participation around the phenomenon of small, portable flashes. Pretty incredible.

Q: Why did you stick a flash in the chicken?

A: Didn’t have floor stand for it, and I found a dead chicken worked pretty well. Hmmm…..does that qualify as a field tip?

Q: Who’s in the gorilla suit?

A: It’s really a gorilla. The Nikon Creative Lighting System is so simple, even a monkey can do it! (Geez, I’m goin’ straight to hell for that one.) No, it’s just me. After years of chimping, well, that’s what happens. More tk…

Hot Stuff on a Cold Day

Mar 25

In Lighting, Seminars & Workshops at 1:58am

At PSW in Beantown, where winter chill lingers. We felt it for sure down at the shipyards yesterday, where we went to shoot on the NAPP Photo Safari. Great day, great group, and a tough bunch of models who braved the chill in shorts (for a while) and open toed high fashion shoes. They were a hard working group. Cassandra here had great range, so I put her by the explosives bunker (live rounds in there, what could go wrong?) and told her to act out some sort of espionage type escape deal.

Lens was 14-24mm f2.8 (very sharp) on a D3 at 250th of a second at around F13 or so. Two SB900 units, group A camera right, and group B camera left, lighting the, uh, explosives. We had a, uh, blast. More tk….


Mar 22

In Upcoming Events at 11:23pm

Heading to Beantown for the big meet up at the twice yearly NAPP fest, Photoshop World, ’09. Looking forward to it. I’ve been to many, many photojournalistic conclaves over the years, some of which have been truly profound and moving, while others have been sort of listless and self important. Let me say that “listlessness” is not on the menu for Boston. The energy of the PSW gatherings is bracing. People are jazzed. Truly jazzed. I mean, people camp out at the doors for Scott Kelby’s classes like they did outside of Apple stores the night before they released the Iphone. And what Scott doles out in terms of wit and wisdom is worth alot more than an Iphone, so it’s no mystery why folks are lined up.

Ahoy, matie! Mooster and I do a pre-con Safari, where we lecture and then hit the high seas with a bunch of folks to do flash portrait sessions on board the USS Constitution. It’s a great opportunity for Moose and I to explore our future as Somali pirates. Hey, I figure it’s one of the few growth industries around. It’d be cool, you know, going “Aargh!” and making off with a supertanker. (How do you say that in Somali, I wonder?)

I really don’t have the cojones to be a Somali pirate. Worked there once, in Mogadishu, and it is one seriously crazy place. Before I went in I had dinner with a journalist bud in Kenya, and he had this advice. “If you wanna go somewhere and the Somalis don’t wanna go there, don’t go, cause the Somalis are not chicken shits.” Quite true. I hung there for a week, tended to by my translator, my driver, and my own personal Somali army of 5 guys armed with Kalashnikovs. It’s the only way you could work at the time in Mog. Every morning the steel gates of the hotel would open and we would plunge into the craziness. My guys were strong with the Aidid clan, and they got me in touch with this bunch on a technical, which is Somali speak for a Toyota pickup with a heavy caliber belt fed weapon in the back. Might be an interesting option for Detroit to offer. Could boost sales, especially the way folks drive in say, LA.

Main drag, former financial district, downtown Mog. Shot with a Fujica 617 camera on 120 film.

Got in on a Red Cross plane, go out on a drug plane. Little Cessna puddle jumpers are gutted and stuffed with bales of khat, and then flown from Nairobi into dirt airstrips near Mogadishu. Somalis chew it and kind of buzz their way through the day. Can’t say I blame ’em considering everybody’s armed and there is no rule of law, no police, no fire department, very little running water and electricity, and an economy that makes our current state of things look positively rosy. I’d stay buzzed, too, I think. Difficult place, and sad…..

RC will be there. too. That’s RC as in “Non-Stop Concepcion.” Can’t wait till he bounds out of nowhere, camcorder in hand, in his patented guerrilla interview style of video interviewing. Probable question: “Joe, what’s the coolest thing about CS4?” Joe response: “Uh, well, umm, I, uh, well….I’ve always liked the number 4! So it’s bound to be a cool program! Right? Huh? Is that good?”

Actually, I’ve been getting better at the post stuff. Just got the suite of NIK filters. That stuff is cool, and makes things alot easier for a thunder thumbs like me. You’d think I’d learn faster, being at PSW and all, but it stays busy, so I don’t get to many classes. If you are out there, though, and trying to decide what you’re doing for the week, PSW is very cool. High energy, lots of like minded folks, great classes. You can really tune it up in the three days.


When PSW ends on Saturday, I jump on plane for the Middle East and the Gulf Plus Photo conference. Third year in a row. Just an amazing workshop, in an amazing place. Talk about a faculty. Teaching there will be David Hobby, Cliff Mautner, Vince Laforet, Chase Jarvis, Bobbi Lane, Carol Dragon, David Nightingale, Drew Gardner, Zack Arias, Asim Rafiqui, Chris Hurtt, and Robin Nichols.

Just makes you want to stop teaching and go to a bunch of classes. My hat’s seriously off to Mohamed Somji and his staff for pulling this off at a time when it is tough sledding even in a money haven like Dubai. He has stayed the course and organized all this in the face of daunting odds. It is the central clearing house for photo education, chat, and networking in all the Middle East. More tk…..

DLWS…Far and Away….

Mar 18

In Seminars & Workshops, Travels at 9:04pm

Just being in Hawaii with DLWS brought up in my head the kind of cool places the Moose man tows us along to.

Vermont in the fall….

Yellowstone in January….

Really big rocks…..

Eastern coastline…..

Western coastline…

And now, the islands….

Definitely cool. I’ve been shooting a lot of stuff that don’t talk to me. That’s rough, cause I’m kinda chatty, and it’s hard for me to get into that serene, “become the forest,” kinda mood. Moose is trying to teach me, though, and teaching is one of the many things he’s good at.

So goodbye Hawaii….heading for the mainland. Actually happy about that. Nice to get back to someplace where they number their streets. I mean it’s tough asking where Kalihalimannawanna St. is. “Oh, I see, I take a left on Makalakaleka Avenue, bear right on Nakepunawallamaka Blvd. and then at the T intersection…”

Man, if you’re a non-islander, it’s a challenge.

Anyway, it was a great trip. DLWS rocked. Moose and I shot together in a pool. Yep, me and the Mooster in our bathing suits in the pool, whole class watching us. I tell ya, put us both in there and it was definitely high tide. Water sloshing over the sides, and me and Moose out there like a coupla channel buoys. Shit. I think he brought a D3X out there with him. Pretty ballsy, but then again, I think it’s Mike Corrado’s camera. Don’t tell Mikey!

High speed sync,  one SB 900, 8000th at about f2.0, 200mmf2 lens. I tell ya, that lens is the sharpest telephoto lens I’ve ever used. It’s opened new doors for me with my dance photography.

Got a chance to update Where Is Laurie’s Hair?

In the pool!

She used Drew’s hair gel cause she said her hair wasn’t behaving. Hadn’t been to the salon in a while, which really surprised me, cause usually the top of her head is as meticulously tended to as a Japanese garden. She’s just been traveling alot, doing her own workshops, and hadn’t gotten in to the hair guy to do the blond tips she usually sports. The staff was really disappointed, cause we’re all in agreement that Laurie’s got really great tips. Hmmm. Did that come out right?

Moving along, here’s the crazy kids who make all this happen, my dear friends Moose and Sharon…..

Nice light, nice folks…..

Speaking of folks, I saw something on Kauai that really stuck with me. We were at the blowhole (no, not the U. S. Senate) but the Spouting Horn, right on the shoreline, where onrushing wave action sluices through rock formations and spouts 20 or 30 feet in the air. They have a fenced off observation point and i was up there, just doing my usual lazy ass thing. Spouting water! Cool. There it goes again. Where do we eat?

An elderly couple shuffled up the path, and I mean shuffled. These folks were ancient. Had probably been together 60 or so years. He had a cane, she used a walker. They were both stooped and bent–a pair of walking S curves. They got up to to the fence and looked out, enjoying the day and the late light.

Next thing I know, the gentleman moved away from the fence and held up a cell phone camera, beckoning his wife to look his way. She turned, positively beaming. She had one of those sun hats on, the kind you tie around your neck with a big, old fashioned ribbon. She was beautiful. He shot a couple of those “my honey at the shore” shots. They came together for a brief hug. Then they shuffled off.

I didn’t shoot. It was their moment, not mine. Two things ran through my head as I smiled both inwardly and outwardly. First was how much I missed Annie.

Second came to me as I watched them make their way, very slowly, in the sunset light. They were so frail the sun could have been shining right through them. And they were gone. And soon, they really will be gone, most likely. But they were here. Duly noted with a cell phone camera, an instrument much younger than they are. That snap might have been circulated already to dozens of grand kids and great grand kids, and might be saved, you know, forever. That last trip grandma and grandpa took to the islands. Remember that picture when she looked so pretty? By the shore?

Our pictures are our footprints. It’s the best way to tell people we were here.

Hot Shoeing It in Paso

Mar 16

In Seminars & Workshops at 2:12pm

Paso Robles….the heart of mellow California. Great sun, great locations, great wine, and now, home of the Paso Robles Photo Workshops. This has come to pass because it is also the home of that electric, eclectic redhead, Syl Arena, author of the Pixsylated blogspot. This spring, he will host David Hobby and myself for back to back small flash workshops.

My week is April 20-24, and David comes in for the 27th through May 1.

First, a word about DH’s workshop. He doesn’t teach too many week long gigs. In fact, this, I think, is his first 5 day-er. This in and of itself is very cool. I can tell you a couple things. To stand next to David is to learn from him. We taught together last year at DINFOS at  Ft. Meade, working with young military photojournalists, and had a blast. In addition to the good time had by all, I walked away knowing stuff I didn’t know before. His teaching style is clear, lucid, and to the point. I call it good photography rooted in common sense, problem solving and real communication. Couple that with his formidable shooting skills, his slightly (okay, more than slightly)  bent sense of humor and an overall grasp of where this whole picture taking enterprise resides in the current (and yet to be discovered universe), and his students are in for a bracing week.

Now, if Mr. Hobby is a straight shot to the heart of the matter, yours’ truly is a bit more of a pinball machine. I get there eventually, but only after rattling around, bouncing off a few flippers, making a racket and spinning some wheels. Ever see those overviews, where they look down on a room full of toys and plot the attention span and various crisscrossing paths of children from the age of about two to about seven or eight? The two year old’s path from the blocks to the Wiggle Worm to the GI Joe with the Kung Fu grip and back again is, well, let’s be kind and call it a meander.

But what better place to meander with cameras and flashes than Paso Robles? it’s a great place, and it’ll be a great couple of weeks. For my week, we start in the class and stay with the basics of flash and CLS in the first day or so. What I do to start the week off is spend time going over and showing examples of how light acts with a series of basic light shaping tools. A soft box behaves differently from an umbrella from a light panel from a ring light from a beauty dish. There is a look associated with each light source, and using them in turn, then looking at them is, frankly, illuminating. Just like a woodworker chooses different tools and blades to make different curves and cuts, so it should be with us. Different face, different look, different light, different source.

It’ll also be the first time I teach a workshop that takes its name from the new book, Hot Shoe Diaries, just out this week……

We will then head out for 3 days on location, rambling around Paso town, models in tow. There are some great locations out there, indoor, outdoor, you name it. We will blend flash with ambient, just tweaking what already exists, and we will take natural light and show it the exit, dominating a scene with flash. We will work into the dusk when the sun is just about gone, and make it come back. We will work light and fast with one light, and then break out a bunch. Then go into class the next day and critique what we did. Another upside of having Syl host us is his expertise with Canon flashes and Radio Poppers. He will show us the way with some of the new radio/TTL technology that is out there. (Pocket Wizard is now in the game big time. Check out David’s current post.)

Itll be a great couple of weeks….more tk…..