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Archive for April, 2009


Apr 28

In Travels at 8:19am

Was in Paso Robles last week, teaching a workshop launched by my buddy Syl Arena, he of the Pixsylated blog spot and the homemade wood frame box with 12 Canon flashes attached to radio poppers operating at high speed sync, otherwise known as the Hi Speed Square of Death. I think he did some self portraits with it, and that’s how his hair got that way.

Syl’s doing a cool thing, opening the Paso Robles Workshops, which promises to be an interesting, eclectic series of offerings in an interesting, eclectic setting. He knows everybody from the mayor to the police chief to the winery gang, and all have welcomed the workshop as another creative turn for the town. Everyone was gracious and easygoing, but then again, this is the heart of sun drenched, mellow, wine country, where conversations are dominated by words like “nose,” “big fruit,” “hint of licorice and elderberry,” and the like. You’d be mellow, too, if you drank that much wine. At times the entire town seemed to be a large day room at a high end psychiatric facility, with lots of pleasant people making a sort of disconnected wander through their day. It was really quite lovely and easygoing. Syl also fixed us up with a couple of cool locations that were right out of The Shining. (See above–two SB-900 units out the window, one inside, lighting the model’s face, with a 1/8″ Honl grid.)

Speaking of distracted, I left with the apartment keys, which meant that David Hobby, who is teaching there this week, had to jimmy several windows to gain access. Sorry, man. I tried to think of something devious prank to do, like take several of the diet Mountain Dews in David’s refridge and attach them to pocket wizards connected to a heating element, so I could trigger them remotely and they would explode at all hours of the night. But I realized to work out a flash engineering marvel like that I would have to call, uh, David Hobby. Oh, well.

The workshop signaled a return to working with MD Welch, who just launched a blog as bent as MD himself. He’s a good shooter who, given the fact he hails from idyllic Reno, Nevada has a wild portfolio. Any collection of pictures of Roller Derby gals with names like “Priscilla the Killa” bears looking at, I tell ya. And, between the two of us, we have most of the dialogue to virtually every bad movie out there memorized.

Headed to LA, and had a great weekend with Annie, who is also traveling, and then got up at 3am Sunday and hit LAX, bound for NY. Dubious about this Delta/Northwest merger thing. Delta’s a decent airline merging with a bad one, and the resulting economy of size probably spells more passenger pain.

Fast forward to NY, where I am in a hotel just by Madison Square Garden, which is relatively quiet right now, given the fact that it is playoff time so the Knicks aren’t playing. This room has all the charm of a holding cell for recidivist offenders. Well, I guess it’s not so bad. It has the basics–bed, roof, bowl, spoon, latrine. Last night I swear I heard something that distinctly sounded like a police baton being dragged across bars and a harsh, world weary voice shouting “Lockdown!”

My view when I woke up….complete with an individual promoting his series of books that evidently coach people to riches by becoming real estate predators. Nice.

Oh well, I calmed myself by gazing serenely out at the bucolic view from my window. I love the smell of rotting garbage and diesel fumes. Combine that with the racket of a broken air conditioner, the wail of police sirens and insistent blaring of taxi horns mixed with bellowed Russian curses from the drivers of those taxis, and well, my joy is complete. There’s a set of office windows not 20 feet from mine. If those folks come in soon, I swear I’m gonna moon ’em.

The ironical fact of being a shooter. You’re told to charge, gotta be there, we need ya man, you’re essential, a star, a go to guy! We’re such insecure sons of bitches that we still listen to all that crap like a googly eyed schoolgirl, and even believe it, right up to the moment we check into hotel reality.

Photographers. We’re often like brightly colored wind up toys placed in front of a brick wall.

Life on the road…..more tk.

Small Flash in Paradise

Apr 22

In Seminars & Workshops, Tips & Tricks at 9:38am

Plus Scott Kelby. I explain below, or go here.

It’s funny how life works out sometimes. Especially funny, at least occasionally, if you’re a photog. Jay Maisel has famously said that being a photographer is “a license to steal experience.” Some good, some bad. Some as quick as a fast shutter speed, others stick with you.

One really, really good one stuck when Travel Holiday magazine sent me in 1994 to St. Lucia, to the Anse Chastanet resort hotel, one of the truly beautiful destination hotels in the world, to shoot a cover story. I remember Bill Black, the photo editor there, calling me. I was stunned. Usually, I get sent to Siberia in February (twice so far) or Alabama in August (blessedly, just once to date). But St. Lucia? This hotel? Spend ten days? Shoot pretty pix? In panorama? Me? There’s a magazine out there that wants to assign this type of idyllic adventure to me?

Of course, this magazine is out of business. But, may it rest in peace, cause the reverb for me has been long lasting. This assignment introduced me to great people who work in a wonderful place.

Anse Chastanet is one of the most amazing marriages of sea, sky and greenery to be found on earth. It is nestled literally into a tropical forest. The rooms have no windows, no phones and no TVs. No need. The view is the entertainment, and the music is the birds, many of whom wish to sit with you at breakfast.

I became friends with the owners, Nick and Karolin Troubetzkoy, who have stepped aside from the general run of tourist frenzy and made a place as beautiful and tranquil as the water. Risk takers, just in the last few years, they crowned the jungle retreat of Anse Chastanet with another, even more audacious piece of exotic architecture called Jade Mountain, which is nothing short of unbelievable.

The shimmer and colors in the picture above rise up from the infinity pools in each room, or haven, as they are called.

I also met Michael and Karyn Allard,  a remarkable couple who have lived and worked in St. Lucia for many years. The redoubtable and indestructible Michael is affiliated with Cannondale bicycles, and has resolutely carved out dozens of trails in the jungle hillsides, working with 1996 biking Olympian, Tinker Juarez, master of the 24 hour endurance race. At the top of one of the most difficult trails, there is a bell, and, if you can make it, you get to ring Tinker’s bell. (I have never made it. I guess cause I never tried. Probably too busy at the beach bar, ringing my own bell:-) Karyn is an organizational force of nature who, along with the Troubetzkoys, marshalled the efforts to artistically graft the Jade Mountain edifice into a steep jungle hillside. We met when they were running the dive shop at AC, and Michael was the person I trusted to scuba certify my oldest daughter. A stone’s throw from the beach, the diving is great, especially night diving.

I have been blessed to do a bit of the hotel’s photography over the years, and the ever gracious Karolin has always welcomed me to this piece of paradise. She is remarkable host, juggling the myriad details of resort running every day. As you can imagine, in a place where everybody has a tendency to slow down, her average day is a mad sprint. We talked last year about a lighting workshop. I could imagine no better place.

Hit the link here, or above, and read more about this unbelievable oasis. We are going in July, and the workshop days run the 6th through the 10th, intro party and greet on the evening of the 5th.

Classes will run from Monday July 6 thru Friday July 10
Arrive July 5 and depart July 11 or 12
The week will be an informative, intensive look at the possibilities of small flash, and the nature of what is beautiful light and how to use it to make your pictures more eloquent, expressive and beautiful. Each day will involve shooting all around the lush grounds of the resort, working with models, heading into jungle locations for action flash photography of mountain biking. During the “bad light” of the day, classroom sessions will take place discussing the theory and the practical use of flash photography. Each day of shooting will be followed the next day with a critique of the efforts in the field. The critique sessions will spur further investigation of the practical, fluid use of flash photography and how to improve your skills.
……..For five days, workshop participants will work with Joe and his assistants to ramp up their skills using flash, and deal with: Available light, and how to recognize good light; mixing flash with available light in a seamless and beautiful way; use of reflectors and diffusers; how to control and fire remote flashes for sophisticated, professional results; use of color and gels; the essentials of exposure; and how to craft a wonderful quality of portrait light which is essential to make storytelling photos of our subject.


Hotel reservation inquiries can be sent to: [email protected]

and to see more info. on the resorts, check out the following links:

Lynn at our studios has more details…[email protected] I’m busy working on figuring out how to use one of those little umbrellas that come in the drinks as a fill light…..more tk….

Goodbye, Bird….

Apr 20

In Friends, history, Stories at 1:26am

In the summer of l976, a youthful goofball named Mark Fidrych blew fastballs past just about everybody with a bat in their hands on the way to a 19-9 record, a 2.34 ERA, and the Rookie of the Year award. America’s pastime grew more and more fun with each start, as the Detroit youngster with a ball cap stuffed onto the hay bale of hair on his head threw strikes, talked to the ball and skipped about the mound like a three year old in an FAO Schwartz.

He was having fun, and so were we. Then he blew out his arm. Tried a comeback or two, but the zip was gone, and hitters he once had in a trance were jumping on his stuff. As fast as he hit the national radar screen, he was gone, a rueful footnote. Dang, Mark. That sucked. It woulda been so much fun watching you pitch for a few more years. (I woulda loved to shoot him pitching, but SI never gave me that duty, knowing full well I can’t shoot anything moving faster than tree sap in the wintertime.)

One of SI’s big sellers every year is the “Where Are They Now?” issue. Where do all these big time athletes go? What is their life after the diamond, the field, the court, the rink?

Some years had passed, so Bird qualified for a “where are they now” treatment. The Bird was back on the radar. SI was wondering where he had flown. The editors conferred. “Hmmmm. Who do we send to take pictures of this zany, eccentric chatterbox of a former athlete who still seems to live in a fantasy world?”

The first time I met up with Mark, he was making a go of it as gentleman pig farmer just outside of Boston. He approached me and the story carefully, as one would who had the experience of the world’s media pounding on his door and screaming for his time and then blowing away like yesterday’s newspaper. He had learned the hard lessons of fame, and exactly how ephemeral all that bullshit really is. So we took it a step at a time.

But he warmed up. Didn’t take long. Mark was such a bubbling life force that he couldn’t hold himself back from engaging. Remember, he used to talk to the frikkin’ baseball on national TV. Reserved is not the adjective for Mark, at least for long.

We talked, we laughed. I got on my knees into a bunch of pig shit to shoot him. A neighbor’s youngster watching the whole deal called him a buckethead. I agreed. Then he called me that, too. Again, I agreed. A pair of bucketheads, out there in the mud.

More years passed. Once again, SI wanted to know about the Bird, and wanted to know big time, like, you know, cover story. “Lessee, Fidrych is still a nut job, right? McNally available?”

This time I went back out there at the behest of my dear friend Mo Grise, now Mo Cavanaugh. Jesus, I miss Mo at the other end of the line. As an editor, she was that wonderful blend of empathy, enthusiasm, love of photography and the engagement of people that making good pictures requires. She’s a mother of two now, with a third on the way, and I daresay, she left the picture game at SI just about the right time. We went up to Massachusetts together, to meet the Bird, along with another feathered creature, Sesame Street’s Big Bird.

Days like that are the reason I have been a shooter for 30 years. Dreams of more days like this are the reason I remain a shooter. Met Mark again, and we just smiled. One more time around the block. Pair of goofballs, out there now with a yellow, nine foot, talking bird.

I also rented some baby chicks, which Mo had a helluva time wrangling, cute as they were. Little suckers are apt to go anywhere. I put the tiny darlings all over Bird, and he got down in grass and played with ’em just like, you know, a kid.

Lost the cover. Lost it to a grouping of the very first iteration of the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. (I was shooting for SI, you may remember.) I’ve lost so many covers in my career, I don’t even think about ’em. But this one stung, mostly cause, once again, Bird had ventured. He played the game, opened his door, and his heart, and didn’t get the cover. I felt bad in the way a field person does, that way that a NY managing editor with a regular table at Elaine’s can never know about. You make a bridge, right? You connect. You push a little, prod a touch, and do your job. You come back with pictures, and, on those best of days, something that remains in your heart. A good feeling. Maybe, even, a friend. You never, never promise anything, cause you know how it goes once you drop those pictures into the giant maw of a powerful weekly magazine.

But the promise is there, nonetheless, hanging in the air, the elephant in the corner everybody tries to ignore while they continue pleasant conversation. The cover. Hope I get it. Not for me. Really wanted it for him.

It went away. The story ran, and it was a good story, and by NY publishing calculus, everything was cool. “Hey, he got ink! Who’s he to complain? Story ran, he should feel lucky.”

Yeah, I guess.

It was a good story. One paragraph….

“To feed the hungry furnace of his mortgage, for instance, he now works as an independent subcontractor, laying sewer pipe and doing road repair with the aid of a 10-wheel Mack dump truck he bought in 1986 for $88,000. “The truck has kept the fahm goin’ and kept my life goin,” he says.  The other day, though, on a road repair job at afternoon drive time, he accidentally dug into a water main that had been mismarked on the macadam.  Which is how Fidrych–perhaps the most famous man in America during its bicentennial summer–found himself standing, forlornly, in the slapstick spray of God’s seltzer bottle. “I don’t know if you evah seen a broken watah main,” he says. “but 100 pounds of pressure through an eight-inch opening, that ain’t no small thing.” No, Indeed, and thus there appeared a geysah ovah Woostah.”

Now he’s gone, killed underneath that damn dump truck. I won’t go to see the Bird again, for another of our ten year reunions.

We had a prop jersey for the shoot. He signed it for me, and I have it framed. He simply said, “To Joe….what it is… Bird.”

Mark was what he was, at every moment. He threw a fast ball right into our hearts, and we loved him for it. Like Peter Pan, he always seemed suspended by wires, floating through a daydream of a life. I’m sure there were dark times, moments and memories. That was never shared with me. The Bird I knew, just a little, was a big kid with a big heart, a cartoon character with a Boston accent, and a slightly, wonderfully cockeyed view of life around him.

The last picture I made of him that day was the Bird walking with the Big Bird, over the hill, and through the grass. Laughing and chattering, as birds do.

Farewell, Mark. Godspeed. What a flight it was…….more tk…..

Zack Light!

Apr 13

In Friends, Thoughts at 10:14am

Check it out……Zack Arias posted a group shot done in a dark theater with like 30 subjects with one Speed light.

So the pressure was on, as he relates. Nothing like shooting a group shot of a bunch of other shooters, fer chrissakes. Especially, you know, you’ve got Chase Jarvis, Cliff Mautner, David Nightingale, and assorted photo luminaries in the shoot. I mean, people who know what they’re doing. And of course, you’ve got David Hobby and Chris Hurtt floating around, telling Zack, you know, hey man, “It’s reaaallllly dark in here. Like f-nothin’, man! Whaddaya you gonna do? You’re screwed!”

And DH had a pocket wizard in his pocket, dialed into Zack’s channel, you know, just to really mess with him. (He didn’t, ultimately. He showed mercy to Zack, who was on stage with his camera and tripod doing a pretty good imitation of Albert Brooks in Broadcast News.)

The shot’s amazing. It definitely falls into the “Holy Shit” category for me, cause I saw it done and I was like, dude, you know, this is kinda out there….But man, he nailed to the wall. Plus, everybody looks good! There’s the deal. Tough shot, tough spot, knocks it back. Nice job, Zack….

Actually took the weekend off. Saw family, hung with Annie. Behind with the blog a bit. On another plane now, heading for Tampa to see my buds in the Kelby Clan. Scott, RC and the gang are really rubbing off on me. In the last two weeks I actually bought an Iphone, and opened up a Facebook account! I might even start tweetering, or whatever that is called. As I pointed out in my first post there, that’s something I could do in between tooting. So, that might end up being a fairly frequent activity for me. Who knows. Mongo meets technology. Dropped an f-bomb on my first post too, just to get it out of the way. I’m from NY, you know, so saying fuck is kind of like clearing your throat. My language will probably get worse this year too, cause I’m taking Jay Maisel’s NY workshop down at the bank. Looking forward to being eviscerated in the unique and wonderful way Jay can do that. He’s so smart, and funny, and keen eyed, and steeped in the world of pictures…I can’t wait.

Anyway, got a couple posts coming that should be fun. Gonna concentrate on camera work for a bit, cause there’s still so much to learn. When I was at GPP, I went back to the desert. I had gone out there last year, and it basically kicked my ass. I was experimenting, fooling around really, which is really the core of what I do, and, while I learned some stuff, when I came back, I really felt most of my pics were about as dry as the sand I was standing on. Also, in one instance, I felt I had failed a dancer, which I hate to do, cause they work so hard.

The dancer in question was the lovely Alessia. Did okay pix of her last year, mostly due to her expressiveness, but I’m nothing if not tenacious, so I went back this year and shot this with her.

It’s overwhelming out there in the sea of sand. You cruise through it, and look, that’s wild, but how about over there? That’s cool, too. Maybe keep going and see what’s over this ridge? More desert. This year, I stood for a minute and did a 360 and was like, that’s nice, okay, that looks awesome over there, and yowza that’s great, but hey, didn’t I just see that dune? Like an endless bolt of rumpled fabric, the dunes fold into each other with no starting or stopping point. I started to realize just how dismaying it would be if instead of having a couple of Land Cruisers waiting for me, I was out there by myself and I looked down at my hands and instead of seeing them holding a D3, they were holding an empty canteen. It’s wild, endless, and relentless.  Put something down, and a few minutes later, it’s gone. The desert rolls on and on, and if you stayed still for a bit, it would roll right over you.

That’s what it did last year. When that happens, man, it makes for a long plane flight home. When it comes to missed pix, I’m not exactly a water under the bridge, yesterday’s news, turn the page kinda guy. I dwell, ya know? Brood, even. Ruminate. And then try it again. I have a history of doing this type of thing. On a LIFE assignment, I lost a whole camera rig–motor driven Mamiya Pro II, 50mm lens, the whole deal, in the Great Salt Lake. If you were gonna choose a lake to drop a camera in, that’s not the one. It was February to boot. Freezing. Ice everywhere. Tripod leg slides off a rock, and the whole thing pitches into the drink. I remember turning to my assistant, the reporter, and my subject with a tight, unamused grin and said, “This could hardly be construed as positive.”

We folded our tents, and got out of the cold, and kind of just in time. But went back the next day, to the same spot, and got a cool portrait of the naturalist writer, Terry Tempest Williams.

So, true to form, I went back again this year, to a vastly different climate. Did some pictures I’m happy with, and I’ll blog some tk. But it felt good, you know, cause I just wanted to see if I could figure out what misfired out there in my head. It’s an ongoing question, right? You’re a photographer, so the first thing you do every morning is walk into the bathroom and stare at the mirror and put a big L on your forehead. Why didn’t it work yesterday? Will it happen again tomorrow? Probably. Maybe. It’s like quicksilver this thing we do. Can’t ever quite grab it and put it in your pocket, patting that pocket comfortably, knowing on this day we got, it’s right there, next to my car keys. My old high school basketball coach used to refer to a really quick, hard to defend player as being “tougher to catch than a fart in a bag.”

Good pictures are like that. Tough to catch. Hard to hold. Probably just as well. If we ever got our mitts on the real reason this whole thing occasionally works, we’d probably play with it, shake it, turn it upside down, and ultimately break it. Best to let it go, and keep chasing it. More fun that way….more tk…..

Dancing in Dubai

Apr 5

In Seminars & Workshops, Tips & Tricks at 4:03am

Dancers are pretty great, ya know? Hardworking, creative, physically gifted, amazing to watch and even more amazing (and challenging) to photograph. I’ve been really blessed to work with some of the most wonderful dancers in the world. It started as a hobby, a sideline, a byproduct of having a studio apartment in NYC right by Lincoln Center, home of two famous ballet companies. I started seeing all these ballerinas in the neighborhood duck walking through the streets to the rehearsal studios, and I became intrigued.

Fast forward 25 or so years, and I am still shooting dance, and happy to be doing so. Teaching currently in Dubai, at GPP, and having a blast. Great workshop, very warm hearted people, and a terrific staff that smooths the way for all the instructors. We’ve got a crew here from all over the world, encompassing a wide range of photo skills. We’ve even got the mad Englishman, Drew Gardner, who from what I hear has all his students alternately thrilled, involved, and terrified.

My classes are about light, and for subjects, I just say, hey, you know, dancers would be great. Enter the Extremers, a Dubai based hip hop group, who, in my short experience with them, appear to have no “off” switch. Typical question…”Uh, can you jump, spin around, tuck your legs, and hang in the air for about 3 seconds while I shoot several frames?” Answer: “Sure!”

Did a few quieter frames as well….

Tried a couple things here. The room I shot the leapers in had a good quality of bounced, warm light already pouring into it from the the fading sun, even though the sun was directly behind the building. So I winged a Ranger pack from the direction of the sun, heading for the big wall, and thus reflecting onto the dancers. Gave that a little camera point of view fill with another pack just overhead of the lens. The fill pack is way low, and the main is maxed out. Can’t say enough about the Rangers. Dependable, rugged, packs a punch and in a day when every watt second you want to buy is like another point on your mortgage, it is affordable.

The lone dancer is shot with the lone Ranger again, blasted through the glass bricks. Sun was already down, but you couldn’t tell when that puppy hit the glass.

Then I got a little fancy with SB900 units. Put two each on camera right and left, low, and blasted them at this leaping line.

Got crossing shadows, which is most of the time a no no, but it seemed fun with all the dancers in the air and their various shapes making Halloween shadows on the drape. Then, I thought, hey, let’s try a triple exposure with two TTL groups governing the first and the third exposure, and the middle exposure running as available tungsten light! After all, this is an advanced class. A little voice in my head whispered, “You’ve never tried a flash mix triple exposure before, numnuts! Think you might wanna test this before you try it in front of a bunch of people???!!!” Naaahhhh…..I guess I had a bit of a fever after watching Natalia, our subject and a wonderful belly dancer shimmy across the stage a couple of times. I mean her arms are making smooth, graceful shapes, her shoulders are squared off, and her face is a veritable oasis of serenity, and  all the while her hips are oscillating like a high speed paint mixer.

So…set the D3 to triple exposure, got Group A and B going to be the bookends flashes, and tested them a bit for exposure control. Tried a couple tests for the hot light middle exposure, and then shot a few. Let’s call it a work in progress. Got a couple things coming up where doubles and triples will be important to handle in camera, so this was a good beta to figure where problems crop up. More tk….