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Bedsheet Thief Strikes Yet Again, This Time In Venice….

Jun 15

In On Location, Seminars & Workshops at 8:21am

In yet another case of bedsheets disappearing from hotels, the suspected perpetrator of these thefts struck again, operating in unusually brazen fashion in front of 5 or 6 horrified onlookers in Venice’s historic San Marco Plaza. Going from hard light to soft light, he allegedly pulled the sheet from his equipment bag with a flourish, uttering what has become the bandit’s signature location phrase….”Let me just whip this out.”


Venice is a beautiful city. Amazing. It has a patina and character that is all its own, which might stem from the fact it is under water a great deal of the time. The Cafe Florian is undoubtedly one of the most historically significant places in the ville, and what makes it truly wonderful is that you can plop yourself smack dab in the middle of its beauty and character for the price of a cup of coffee. An expensive cup of coffee, to be sure, but still, one of the red velvet chairs in the joint can be yours’ for a cuppa joe. Anybody who has had the dubious privilege of spending 5 bucks in a Starbucks for a triple vente soy bean no foam iced latte’ knows that it don’t come with a red velvet chair and wall art dating back to 1720.

I’ve been thinking about shooting here ever since I first came to Venice 3 years ago. It’s just an amazing place, dripping with history and ornate detail. Given the way my noodle often operates, I was sitting in there and it crossed my mind that it would be an interesting portrait venue for maybe, I don’t know, lemme guess, a ballerina! Mongo like!


The opportunity here came about via the good graces of Marco Tortato, of Manfrotto, makers of all things to hang lights and cameras from. His wife, Sylvia, handles public relations for the cafe, and I was allowed to shoot there in the early morning, before any caffeine seeking crowds descended. Not only did Marco facilitate the shoot, he worked his magic all week with our VSP class, pulling and hauling gear, and providing us with C-stands, Manfrotto air cushion light stands, Justin Clamps, Tri-flashes, Lastolite tri-grips for diffusion and reflection….(Hmmm…..diffusion and reflection. Sounds like that should be a desk at the state department. “Department of Diffusion and Reflection, may I help you?)….

I digress. Anyway, our class was kitted out admirably with the gracious assistance of Marco and Manfrotto. We toodled all over various water bound locales, even shooting early am in San Marco……


The above is one SB900, zoomed to 200mm, and placed outside the columns on one of those little floor stands that come with the unit. Full cut of CTO. 70-200mm lens on the camera, and an SU800 linked to the hot shoe via 2 SC29 cords, firing just to the left of the columns. The light is maybe 40-50 feet away from the CLS trigger. Kinda set this up for the class, and everybody got a chance that morning to work with light and wonderful dancers. Thanks to Beatrice, Barbara, and Celeste who arose earlier than any other ballerinas in recorded history to make this shoot happen for all of us.


Shooting inside the cafe, the setup was a bit different. Gelled all the lights warm, and just let them rock at a 200mm zoom from about 20 or so feet from the glass. No diffusion, just hard, warm light.


That combo produced a slashing, shadowy light, and it pushed the color button pretty hard. Eventually I put a 4th SB900 in there, Justin clamped to an existing stand, and just banged that down into the ground, hoping a little bounce light might grace the ceiling, which was equally reflective and gaudy as the walls. Had a traditional Venetian mask on hand, which Beatrice graciously wore for a few frames.


Enter the bedsheet. We clipped it up with a couple of plastic A clamps brought by Frank Keller, who attended the workshop, and is on the very beginnings of an intersting photographic path. That big swatch of diffusion softened the light and filled the whole room with detail embracing, easy going photons.



As they say, a face in a place…..


Up early and off to the airport. Commercial job this week. Drew’s been in Nashville shooting the lollapalooza, or bananarama…something like that. It’s a music festival. As you saw last week, he’s a good music shooter who always manages to talk his way on stage somehow. He’ll pick me up at the airport. Had no choice but to get up early. Nigel’s been getting bigger. I think he’s about 21 pounds now. That boy is hungry all the time. He jumped on the bed about 3:30, and you can’t sleep through that. It’s like somebody just dropped a bowling ball on your pillow. More tk….

Yanik's Photo School says:

on June 15, 2009 at 8:28 am

I’m loving it Joe! It brings me back to when I was in Venice many moons ago… except I had a $40 Kodak film camera then. :) You just make me wanna go back with all my gear! I forgot how beautiful it is! Thanks for the memories! :)

Francesco Bonomo says:

on June 15, 2009 at 8:34 am

awesome shots, Joe, and incredible location, I think I was there years ago. Your pictures made me want to go back! :-)
Hope you had fun in Venice, ciao!

Sherri says:

on June 15, 2009 at 8:38 am

These are fabulous. Please continue to add your set up notes! They are most inspiring for all of us who love to tear things apart just to know how they work.

Ronald says:

on June 15, 2009 at 8:48 am

Hi Joe,

Thanks for the great post! This is a workshop I would love to attend at some time! Do you do this Venice workshop every year?

Thanks for sharing all that great lighting stuff with us…


Fred Troilo says:

on June 15, 2009 at 9:06 am

Wow – Just beautiful images Joe!

R. P. Washburne says:

on June 15, 2009 at 9:06 am

And what a great workshop it was! Thanks Joe for all the attention and insights. If you weren’t there, get in line quick for the next available opportunity – you won’t regret it.

James says:

on June 15, 2009 at 9:09 am

Is that a *spiral-bound napkin*?!

That is… that is just awesome…

Jeff SNyder says:

on June 15, 2009 at 9:13 am

Love the shot with the columns…Looking forward to the Dobbs Ferry Workshops in a week…

Jay says:

on June 15, 2009 at 9:18 am

Isn’t that supposed to be..”Excuse me while I whip this out!”?

—Sheriff Bart

Great stuff Joe, Thanx for sharing!


Josef says:

on June 15, 2009 at 9:47 am

Hello Joe, thanks a lot for sharing this – breathtaking shots. I’m so jealous you were shooting there!

Jeff says:

on June 15, 2009 at 9:51 am

Well, ya got my 12yr old laughing with this one Joe! You can be he will be watching me like a hawk when we go on vacation this summer.

“Dad, put the sheet back……Dad……Dad….are you listening????”

Hans says:

on June 15, 2009 at 9:59 am

After this blog no bedsheet is save anymore in photog hotel rooms all over the world Joe. Nice to see you picked Florian btw, such a rich & historic place. Thanks again for a wonderful time and creating a very steep learning curve. Cheers, Hans

Cindy Farr-Weinfeld says:

on June 15, 2009 at 10:04 am

Joe, this entry was AWESOME! I love your sense of humor, and of COURSE the fabulous pictures–I love how you combine what would seem to be incongruous elements like a ballerina and a coffee shop (admittedly a gorgeous, ancient coffee shop) and come out with haunting results. Looks like so much fun, I wish I’d been there! Cindy

Sissel says:

on June 15, 2009 at 10:11 am

Hey…I follow your blog like a daily meal…but did I miss something? Who is Nigel? Beautiful work as usual. And I really like your new look. And Franks stuff.
Thanks for posting.

Cary says:

on June 15, 2009 at 10:30 am

The proper phrase is “Excuuuse me while I whip this out”.

Joseph Rowland says:

on June 15, 2009 at 10:32 am

Great Stuff as always! If you ever need a place to crash in NY I’ll make sure we strip the beds bare before extending an invite. Thanks as always for the napkin lighting plans, they help visualize the photo and how you executed… I think you have a “numnuts” post-it flip book in your future.

Ranger 9 says:

on June 15, 2009 at 10:33 am

As long as you’re stealing diffusers out of hotel rooms, wouldn’t you gain a bit of efficiency if you stole the shower curtain instead?

Jay Mann says:

on June 15, 2009 at 10:34 am

Mongo, Numnuts and The Bedsheet Thief. What a trio of characters!

Thanks again for the inspiring images. I was able to play my favourite internet game, “Guess the lighting setup”. You should make a weekly contest, winner gets an original Numnuts sketch.:)


Adam says:

on June 15, 2009 at 10:53 am

Amazing work!

Melli says:

on June 15, 2009 at 10:54 am

Love your drawings/ diagramms.

BTW, just finished reading your book. Inspiring. Now I just need to figure out how to get together the right Canon gear. 😉

Moose Peterson says:

on June 15, 2009 at 11:08 am

fantastico….mystro! Just a gorgeous use of light.

Ken says:

on June 15, 2009 at 11:14 am


I really like all of these shots…wow, so nice and clear.

Ken in KY

Charles Verghese says:

on June 15, 2009 at 11:15 am

You pilfering has yet again inspired me to do the same for a family portrait shoot tomorrow. Thanks Joe!!

Great to see these posts with your thinking and setup. Thanks for the insight into your environment.


Israel Z. says:

on June 15, 2009 at 11:44 am

Beautiful images! thank for sharing all your knowledge with the rest of the mortals…

Rehan says:

on June 15, 2009 at 12:05 pm

Joe, you the man. Great lighting and great pictures.

Ben Madden says:

on June 15, 2009 at 12:37 pm

So, it seems that a certain traveling photog leaves behind a trail of confused chambermaids, who can be heard uttering THEIR trademark phrase:

“No sheet.”

No offense Joe, but sticking a ballerina in the scene isn’t an automatic slam-dunk, IMO. It just looks out of place, contrived, in this setting.

I would like to see a couple elderly Italian gentleman at one of the tables, maybe one of them smoking a pipe.

Marshall says:

on June 15, 2009 at 1:10 pm

Really beautiful stuff man.

Luke Townsend says:

on June 15, 2009 at 1:21 pm


if you would only shoot dance I would be a happy man

Ties Prak says:

on June 15, 2009 at 1:38 pm

Hi Joe. Great item again and wonderful pictures.

Just wondered if you ever tried the radio poppers, instead of using multiple SC28s?

BTW, love your books!

misty mac says:

on June 15, 2009 at 2:15 pm

fabulous post. the golden cto’d light on her tutu is a fabulous combination.

Gordon says:

on June 15, 2009 at 2:25 pm

Joe, very entertaining post as usual…and really very beautiful images. Thanks for continuing to share your work with us

Richard Stokes says:

on June 15, 2009 at 2:31 pm

Excellent work. I hope this is some of what I will be seeing at your class next Monday.

Florin says:

on June 15, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Wonderful shots dear Joe.

I am just wild guessing that for the bedsheet over the door “Florian” setup you have used an SU800 triggering the flashes through a side window… could you add a note on that?


Casey Figlewicz says:

on June 15, 2009 at 3:01 pm

Joe, Great Pics and I love the new website and blog design!!. So I have a question. Off-camera lighting. I could really use some basic to advanced education on this. Everything from cable connections to makeing it happen. I currently shooting with the 5D Mark 2. I have the pocket wizards Mini T1 and T5 and I am getting so much in consistency its ridiculous. Got any advice?

Eliot Baker says:

on June 15, 2009 at 3:08 pm

Joe! I love the Photo you did of the tattoed guy carrying the wagon wheel with the asian writing on the wall/door! how can i buy a print?

jakob says:

on June 15, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Its all nice joe! As always! Love that story, even if I dont understand every single word :-)
the facebook-jakob-swiss-guy.

Francesco Bonomo says:

on June 15, 2009 at 3:23 pm

@Ben Madden: “would like to see a couple elderly Italian gentleman at one of the tables, maybe one of them smoking a pipe”

Ben, asmuch as i would’ve liked to see a picture like the one you’re suggesting, no smoking rule in public places in Italy…hence, the ballerina :-)

Eileen says:

on June 15, 2009 at 4:38 pm

Very nice indeed. I’m going to start saving my pennies in hopes of coming to one of these workshops one day. In the meantime, thanks for sharing so I can learn and daydream at the same time!

Bill Bogle, Jr. says:

on June 15, 2009 at 5:10 pm


Love the post, and the wonderful shots.

You touch my heart for all of the times I watched Blazzing Saddles (with Young Frankenstein, all time favorites from the same year), but it was “excuse me while I whip this out.” It must have gotten lost in the translation from Italian.

Remember, he was not bluffing. Here is the scene on you tube:

Bill Bogle, Jr.

Mark says:

on June 15, 2009 at 5:20 pm


I actually LIKE the ballerina (or Harley guy or bodybuilder or DJ/Rapper or whatever) in a scene like this. Maybe it’s the way my mind works, but it gives the scene different life. Yes, elderly gents smoking a pipe may fit…. (wait! A pipefitter in this scene! Yes!)..and I’m sure would be nice. But it’s the juxtaposition of the person and the scene which is what I like. Dunno…that’s just me. :-) ‘Tis all good.

And Nigel may just be bigger than my two dogs..combined!

Phil says:

on June 15, 2009 at 6:29 pm

Alton Marsh says:

on June 15, 2009 at 10:41 pm

Mongo do good. Him get extra bone.

Sara Churchill says:

on June 16, 2009 at 12:26 am

Breath taking imagery. Ive seen lots of your work Joe and this ranks with the best.


numbeos says:

on June 16, 2009 at 3:14 am

Joe, totally amazing work as well as so inspiring setup for us…I’m addicted to your blog and the way of your writing:)

Air jordans says:

on June 16, 2009 at 3:57 am

Great work!the photo very beautiful!

Simon Keitch says:

on June 16, 2009 at 5:16 am

Wonderful location and model, perfectly lit. I always keep a white sheet in my bag; this has reminded me to ‘whip it out’ a little more often…

DrillerAA says:

on June 16, 2009 at 7:21 am

Spectacular shots. I do love the sketch though, that is really clever.

Joe McNally says:

on June 16, 2009 at 9:13 am

hey, sorry….Nigel is one of my wife’s cats. Love the big lug. he’s a bit of a chow hound, though, and he’s been putting on weight. He’s gotta be over 20 pounds now. Annie gets very defensive if someone says Nigel is fat. She’ll just say, “He’s big boned.”

Mark says:

on June 16, 2009 at 9:31 am

Nigel! :-)

Kevin Williams says:

on June 16, 2009 at 2:06 pm

awesome and inspiring, as usual!

Ray Mabry says:

on June 16, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Joe, your posts are extremely helpful to me. Thank you for putting so many details into you posts. Oh, and your images molto bella.

Leif Eliasson says:

on June 16, 2009 at 2:47 pm

Rely nice work as usual – reminds me of last year VSP in Venice.

Carl Cox says:

on June 16, 2009 at 9:34 pm


You could totally print a book of nothing more than your napkin diagrams!

Wonderful images made in Cafe Florian! Your lighting is nothing less than magical.


matt h says:

on June 17, 2009 at 12:09 pm

We have a passionate love affair with Italy – going back on our 4th visit this year just south of Rome, seriously thinking of making it a permanent move. These are gorgeous images – I’m not jealous at all… Much!! I love the richness of the colours and the lighting. As you say, Italy is just dripping with history, character, charm and just cries out to be photographed. Just wish I was any good at it!

Igor says:

on June 17, 2009 at 4:33 pm

I am really curious if the pink dress was intended or accidental? White, red, green, silver would be better IMO but pink? Unless I wanted to break from golden/red/greeen palette and introduce something beautiful but completely out of line, alien to the interior. Was that the idea or is it my taste out of line?

joseph rowland says:

on June 17, 2009 at 7:49 pm

Joe- new Nat Geo just arrived, loved the photographs in Cosmic Vision

Mike says:

on June 18, 2009 at 1:16 am


I’m just stumbling on your blog here as I’m sourcing inspiration for a joint head shot/editorial shoot tomorrow. I have H.S.D and M.I.C. and I your numnuts self description always cracks me up. Great blog and great pics! Thanks Joe!

Steve Gray says:

on June 18, 2009 at 2:40 pm

Great stuff, joe. I have a dumbass (I’m not even qualified as a numnuts yet!) color balancing question. With your shots using the full-cut CTO, are you setting the camera on flash WB?

Amber says:

on June 18, 2009 at 3:42 pm

Just discovered your blog from a friend and I think I’ll definitely be visiting often. What a great post and gorgeous images. I’m inspired :)

florian says:

on June 18, 2009 at 7:32 pm

Hey! Thats my cafe!
Very cool and inpisrational. I iwll have to steal some sheets now.

T. C. Knight says:

on June 19, 2009 at 10:45 am

What with the hotels I end up in sometimes, the “borrowed” sheet may be the color of a full cut CTO. I quit stealing sheets a few years ago. Just bit the bullet and bought one and keep it in my bag.

In the photos above, IMHO, the bedsheet made the shot.

Paul Keating says:

on June 19, 2009 at 12:56 pm

@Steve Gray:
Pending Joe’s response, I would guess he shoots in RAW, meaning the camera’s white balance setting is ignored, though *may* be applied by the capture software at PP time. However, the final WB likely ended up set near flash temp in order to maintain the orange cast of the CTO gel.

Saul says:

on June 19, 2009 at 5:19 pm

I’ve almost finish to see your tutorial “Working with Nikon SB-900 Flashes” another great tutorial,so I understand the bedsheets thief joke.. so funny. But what I do not understand at all is why companies like Nikon and Canon are still using infrared system with all the limitations of range, point of view of the units, etc. when there are a lot of radio systems out there that are so reliable and way better ? As one of the masters of TTL portable flashes can you explain this ?

Eric says:

on June 21, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Is that napkin spiral bound?

Rich Bianchini says:

on June 21, 2009 at 10:50 pm


Just wondering if you were shooting through the bed sheet or bouncing the strobes off of it? I
Sorry if this was already answered in the comments. I scanned them and didn’t notice anybody asking a similar question.


Jack Fussell says:

on June 22, 2009 at 5:30 am

I think you’ve inspired us all to steal bed sheets and take some amazing shots….love your work.

Tom says:

on June 22, 2009 at 11:13 am

Joe, please share some more pictures from this workshop with us. I would have loved to be able to attend but my schedule didn’t permit this year. If it runs next year then I hope to be able to join you.

Marshal says:

on June 23, 2009 at 12:23 am


Wonderful shots from Venice! Beautiful photos from a classic city. And speaking of classic or classy, your pics of the lovely Michelle Pfeiffer(my spelling right?)in your Classics gallery are great also.

But I have 2 questions regarding the Classics gallery in your online Portfolio.

Who is the exquisite looking woman in #4/29 and the beautiful Asian model near the Hollywood sign? That one I believe was #23/29 in the same gallery. What was the assignment or story for each of those two?

Fayyaz Ahmed says:

on June 23, 2009 at 10:20 am

Great blog Joe! and much love to Nigel! wud love to see some new photos of Nigel..

Marc says:

on June 23, 2009 at 4:44 pm

Nice entry, Joe.

Early morning must have been REALLY early morning. Even at around 8:00 a.m., there are already people walking around the Piazza San Marco and the Cafe Florian, so achieving a shot where hardly anyone (except the model) is on the picture can be quite frustrating.

Cafe Florian in HDR, no flash used:


Mike Venice says:

on June 24, 2009 at 3:44 am

Good article your:
Bedsheet Thief Strikes Yet Again, This Time In Venice….

Very nice!
Thank you very much.

Deb Ryan says:

on June 30, 2009 at 7:17 pm

Hey Joe,

That last shot of lauren is beautiful. I’ll have to get a copy for her father. And thanks for the compliments, they mean a lot….but your still only getting 10% off…LOL


Lauren Stewart says:

on September 30, 2010 at 1:11 pm

bowling balls are dangerous on the foot if you mishandle it.::*

stanza says:

on February 12, 2011 at 12:39 pm

oh man you could totally print a book of nothing more than your napkin picture! nicely captured images made in Cafe Florian! Your lighting is nothing less than magical.

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