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Archive for July, 2009

Tri-Grips in the Trees

Jul 30

In Seminars & Workshops at 9:16am


One of the truly hard things to handle out there is dappled light. Big blue sky, hot sun, breeze pushing the leaves every sort of which way, hot spots all over your subject like some sort of plus 2 EV measles. Sheesh. Drives ya mad.

Tri-grip diffusers come in 48″ sizes, which covers a fair bit of territory, used properly. Now using it properly might mean you gotta climb a tree. So that’s what I did today out at the Google campus. Part of being a photog is never growing up of course, which means you still climb trees at uh, well, an advanced age. The diffuser, placed thusly, provided some open shade quality–soft and even–to our wonderful model, Crystal. Gave the photog a fighting chance of beating back the hot sun/hard shade condition he was confronted with. (Photo above by Jeremy Joslin.)

Got another day tomorrow out at Google. Great place. 16 cafeterias. Hell, they’re not cafeterias, they’re like, 4 star restaurants you can eat at for free. I had the blackened salmon today. I wonder if they need staff photographers? This is wild. I mean, I came outta newspapers, where guys would raid the futures file for any gig that had a buffet attached to it. Some PR firm would send out invites to cover the announcing of the groundbreaking of the Museum of the Obscure Antiquities, and shooters would show up, pop a couple frames that would never have a prayer of seeing ink, and then attack the lunch line. A long, proud big city tabloid tradition.

On the way to Silicon Valley, stopped in Phoenix, or, Luke AFB to be exact, and shot with a colleauge,  Kenneth Robert, who had the unique assignment of making a picture of the bride of an F-16 pilot with the F-16, as a surprise.


It was like, 110 degrees out there. We had a wonderful, if melting bride, radio trigger trouble (no mystery, it being an Air Force base, with radar, all sorts of RF, and most likely some sort of double secret probation type frequencies blasting around). Not to mention the general mayhem that often occurs when the sun drops outta the sky faster than the stock market on a bad day. Fun to do, and working with Kenneth and the gang from his studio was terrific. Can’t wait to hear the report of the groom’s surprise on wedding day when he gets a framed 24×30 of his bride and his plane, in the same picture. Cool.


Here’s a shot of the Googlers…..we got one more day on campus, then Friday,  opening stop for me on Kelby Tours. South San Fran covention center. Over 700 people. Yikes. May the TTL be with me….more tk….

A Morning With Eisie and Carl….

Jul 27

In Friends, history, Thoughts at 4:56pm


And Gordon, Ernst, Margaret……..

Had a terrific week in Santa Fe. Great class. Nice bunch of folks who produced some pictures that were much more than nice. We rocked and rolled all week with big and small flash, in the usual collection of fascinating places, working with the unusual, interesting and beautiful faces of the Santa Fe Workshops model community, many of whom are my dear friends, and populate numerous pages of The Hot Shoe Diaries. I’ve got a great relationship with a bunch of the folks who pose for the workshops. Like Deidre. She called me last week and said, “Hey, I shaved my head! Wanna shoot me?” Answer below.


More on D in a future blog….

That’s always the fun stuff. Every week long workshop, I host what I call the business breakfast to talk about the un-fun stuff. It’s generally a long meal, peppered with nettlesome questions about how to survive as a photog, how to make it, construct portfolios, find clients, price jobs…..the grist of turning our passion into pictures that make money. I do this during the daylight hours. If we met for dinner, it would most likely become something of a religious drunk, with many tequila laced epithets, confessions, admonitions and apocalyptic descriptions about just how wrong the business of photography has gone. The entire conversation would simply degenerate into a bunch of extended vowel sounds, kinda like a set of James Brown lyrics.

I attempt to be coherent, and thoughtful, though it’s hard. When you hear about a recent cover of Time magazine being bought off Istock for $30, it’s easy to just think about reaching for the sawed off and giving them sumbitches what for. But this whole numbing process has been going on for so long it would be difficult to sort out the most deserving sumbitches, and truth be told, some of them be us.

So you know what saved the day? What elevated us all? A visit to Sid and Michelle. The Monroe Gallery of Photography currently has a show called “A Thousand Words.”  Walking into those four walls adorned with those pictures is to leave all the other crap behind, and be lifted up by the most beautiful breeze you can imagine. The images cut to the chase and the heart. You get goose bumps. Your eyes sting. You remember why you picked up a camera in the first place.

Sid and Michelle are so knowledgeable, and for them, the pictures on the walls are family, just like the people who made them, though a fair number of those shooters are gone, which makes preserving their legacy all the more necessary. They told my class stories and a bit about their wonderful philosophy, which is, simply put, that pictures are important, and have value.

Bill Eppridge’s pictures from RFK’s campaign are on the wall, and Sid showed the class Bill’s book. In A Time It Was, Bill’s visual record of Bobby’s campaign, is the charred master print of the busboy cradling the senator’s head. It was damaged in the Laurel Canyon fires that swept through Bill’s home, but the core of the image is still there, and the charred edges make that moment all the more searing and painful to look at.


The lead photo of the show is Eisie’s famous drum major shot. I used to bump into Eisie all the time as he padded the hallways of the 28th floor of Time Inc. “Hello McNally,” accompanied by a fairly dismissive wave of the hand was generally as far as the conversation got. As the story goes, Eisie was waiting at the elevator on 28 with a bunch of other photogs. The doors opened and they all crowded in, the diminutive Eisie found himself in close quarters, surrounded by younger, taller photographers.

He looked around. “I used to be just as tall as all of you,” he said in his German accent. He made a couple dramatic shrugs of his shoulders, the kind of motion you would make if you were carrying something heavy. “The equipment, the equipment,” was all he said.

Driving through the desert. Damn hot. Blogging from the van. 10 hours to San Francisco, where Drew and I do two workshop days at Google, and then a stop for Kelby Tours. After that, we disappear into the land of the yellow border.

More tk…..

Small Flash, Big Machines

Jul 23

In Lighting at 10:40am


James, who’s a welder by trade and a heckuva nice guy, picture above to the contrary, posed for my Santa Fe Workshops class yesterday. Shot this as a quick demo. Worked three SB units in this scene in an old power plant out there in the desert. Top light, gelled blue, is zoomed to 200mm on the SB900. Packs a pretty good wallop, even though it is literally two stories up from our position in the basement. The main light is a speedlight with a Lumiquest 3.0 softbox. Backlight, another SB, gelled warm. Pretty easy to do…the small size, far away position of the blue light makes sure the shadows from the floor grate stay sharp and defined.


Quick hit. Busy week. Really love it here. Always unexpected. After all, it’s New Mexico, where as they say, reasonable calculations based on experience elsewhere… More tk…

Heading West….

Jul 21

In Tips & Tricks at 9:09am

Got a grab bag of stuff I’ve been meaning to catch up to here…..

First, there was the Justin Clamp. Now comes The Sylinator. Sounds better, I think, than a Shure Line paint pole with a metal screw on thingy–Though David Hobby, at his Strobist workshop at Paso Robles did come up with “Metalhead.” Cool.


The pole comes in long and medium reach sizes…..And below, the metalhead…..



So, the naming of the Justin Clamp. I shot the first all digital story for the National Geographic. I didn’t really know diddly about digital process back then (and don’t know much more now, I confess) but it was okay. Not that many people knew a whole bunch about it, anyway. It was the time of the D1X, the first digital camera I thought approached the quality of Kodachrome. No matter to me what was happening inside the camera. It was a camera, and I was shooting a story, same thing I’ve done for quite a while now.


I was hanging SB-80 flashes all over aircraft with these cheesy, flimsy, third party piece of shit hot shoe clamping doobers, and getting frustrated as hell, cause the little ball heads really couldn’t hold more than a thimble full of weight, and they were always slipping and the flashes would spill light in unwanted directions.

I called my bud Justin Stailey, then of the Bogen Corporation, and complained. Photographers. We’re good at complaining. I said there had to be a better way, and Justin being Justin, found one. He brought some off the shelf Manfrotto parts over to my studio and cobbled this little Frankenstein of a clamp together. I said perfect, that’s what I want, give me 10 of them. (Shoulda asked for a percentage. Bogen’s sold a ton of these things.)


I wrote about in American Photo, and called it the Justin Clamp. Got Justin in hot water, though, cause his professors at RIT were pretty upset that a relatively recent graduate all of a sudden had a frikkin’ piece of equipment named after his own self. Justin is now with Leica cameras, and exploring the wonders of German optics.

So let’s see if we can turn the trick with this goober. I’ve really gotten fond of the combo of the Sylinator and an EzyBox Hot Shoe softbox, one of the new ones with an improved bracket (fits the SB900). Gary Astill, the resident genius behind all the springy, twisty, bendy Lastolite things that leap out of blue bags and run around making nice light for you has further improvements in the EzyBox tucked up his sleeve. Stay tuned.


I must be fond of the Sylinator, cause you can get a deal on it in tandem with The Hot Shoe Diaries on Amazon.


The “Syl” part of course comes from the originator of this gizmo combo, the irrepressible Mr. Arena, of the PixSylated blogspot. He just wrote one of those shock wave blogs, this one consisting of rants and wishes about the Canon wireless hot shoe flash system.


Hoo, boy….at Canon HQ they’ve gone to the mattresses after the world wide ripple of applause and approval about Syl’s very constructive dissection of Canon flashes turned tsunami-like. He’s become an expert at deciphering the wireless series of hoots, clicks and grunts Canon flashes emit in an attempt to display a primitive form of dominance in the exposure scenario. Took him a while to write this, I’m sure. I’ve had these visions of Syl in some isolated mountain outpost, having re-built the Unabomber’s shack, and sitting there with a battered Royal typewriter, a gas lamp, and a bottle of George Dickel, knocking out this manifesto.


My bud Bob Krist is blogging, and it’s a worthwhile read. Worthwhile? He’s got 30 plus years of experience covering the travel waterfront, shoots beautiful stuff, is very generous with his large store of knowledge, and is a helluva nice guy to boot. Even if he does allege he won that knock down drag ’em out fight we had when we were doing the JoeBob Tells Ya About the SB900 video for Nikon. I kicked his ass. I mean, that guy’s old. Uh, wait a minute, we’re the same age. Hmmm…


Anyway, he is the author of many books, font of shooting wisdom and the force behind the LKE, the Lighting Kit for the Elderly. Check it out….


Lessee…long time friend and quintessential photojournalist David Burnett has pointed me in the direction of numerous wonderful photos lately. David has remarkable intelligence and integrity behind the lens, and his work has always been a thought provoking benchmark. He recently had a post on the NYT lens blog about his coverage of the Apollo 11 launch. He also recently did a book on Bob Marley, called Soul Rebel. David’s ability to connect the storytelling dots in the middle of the fracas out there, and bring back something coherent to the readership of mags like Time and Life has always been something to aspire to, and emulate.


Scott Kelby and Mark “The William Holden of Flash Lighting” Astmann have a twofer video up on Scott’s blog. All about the Quadra. We’ve all been looking for something in between big flash and small flash, and the Quadra slides right into that territory. I’ll work with it more this week, and get back with more field stuff.


On the plane. Listening to Jakob Dylan. Something Good This Way Comes…..Good philosophy when you’re out there behind the lens. Patience. A good picture will come, and that one frame will make all the crappy ones we all shoot on a continuous basis just….go away.


Bound for Santa Fe, home of the Monroe Gallery of Photography, run by the wonderful, decent, and incredibly knowledgeable Sid and Michelle Monroe. The gallery is a breathtaking repository of historically important photojournalism that has transcended categorization and is regarded as art. Art that means something. Art that you can chew on. Whenever I am in Santa Fe, that mecca of all manner of art, and I can’t stand to hear another wind chime, or see another painted cow skull, or see another show of poorly shot photographs printed with the collodion print process (which makes them marred, chipped, aged looking and thus somehow “significant”) I go to Monroe and I wander the room.

And I find I’m looking at my memory, right there on the walls. More tk….

Shoots and Ladders….

Jul 14

In On Location at 6:44am

This guy once said, get your camera in a different place. I tell ya, sometimes when you have a camera in your hands you just feel you want some sort of hovercraft. Something that will let you magically float your camera into a different, unique position. That’s what I wanted down in St. Lucia. Instead, I got a 14′ ladder on an inclined tin roof, with a couple of guys for sandbags. Looks comfy, don’t it? By the end of this shoot, I was definitely numnuts:-)


It enabled me to get this, which is no screamin’ headline of a picture, but gives Karolin Troubetzkoy, the organizational and marketing force of nature who keeps Anse Chastanet/Jade Mountain running, a bit of a different look. Anytime you can offer someone something with a bit of difference, you might be ahead of the game, just a little.


What can you say? The place is pure romance. You don’t just look at the pretty flowers and trees. You are in them. You don’t just listen to the birds. They have breakfast with you. And you don’t just breathe the air in that mechanical, gotta keep gulping to keep living way you do when you are walking the streets of NY. You drink it in. You savor it. It is not just another lungful. It is an infusion of well being.

Good thing to, cause I came back to reality with a thud. Lightning in Atlanta closed the airport for a bit on Sunday, and I didn’t roll into my driveway until 3:30am. Kept moving somehow, blogged, showered, and staggered to the truck for the 6am drive to Philly where I’m shooting some annual report type stuff. Today was a corker. My whole body feels like it’s got some miles on it, just like these old Saint Lucian toes I made a pic of in Soufriere.


More tk…..