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So This is Like, 347 Speed Lights…..

Jul 9

In On Location, Seminars & Workshops, Travels at 12:12pm


Joe make joke. This is not small flash. This is not a job for small flash. This is the kind of job that makes your speed light start calling those internet 800 numbers that promise, well, enhancement…..

We were in the neighborhood of 30,000 or so watt seconds on this one. This is the LBT, or Large Binocular Telescope, which is the largest ground based telescope in the world. Shooting this observatory was the lynchpin of the telescope story I just shot for Nat Geo’s July issue. It sits atop Mt. Graham in Arizona, at about 12,500 feet of elevation, or just enough elevation to make climbing steel catwalks with a couple large power packs in hand a dizzying experience. Size wise, it is the equivalent of a 22 story building.

Vantage point is from a 175 boom crane, which in the wind at 12,500 feet gives new meaning to shimmy, rattle and roll. The crane operators on the ground were watching the boom pole dance around in the sky and were saying novenas that the wind didn’t pick up and exceed limits. If that happened, they woulda pulled me outta the sky. Bye- bye picture.

What shocked the heck outta me was that we did it in a day. Rob Stephen from San Diego, Dan Bergeron from LA, Drew and myself hauled 40 plus cases of gear up there at dawn, had the crane truck blocked into the side of the hill, staged the lights, tested, clamped the cameras into the basket of the boom, got the position, did a lot of light tweaking over the radio, shot the picture, had dinner, boxed everything up and drove over 100 hairpin turns off the mountain at about 2 am the following morning. Life inside the the yellow border…





Great workshop going here at Anse Chastanet, Jade Mountain in St. Lucia. We are having a ball. The island is so beautiful every turn you make just astounds. Yesterday Claudette posed in spiritual fashion for class in the jungles by Anse Mamin beach. The gang hit the beach and Drew and I got into the pool with the Sylinator. Scott Kelby shows up today to start his Lightroom magic. The class is stoked……

Tony says:

on July 9, 2009 at 12:17 pm

As always Joe, I am mighty impressed with what and how you shoot.

And life looks pretty rough in that last picture in the water. Tough job, but someone has to do it, right?!

I must get to one of these workshops asap.

Michael Wiesman says:

on July 9, 2009 at 12:22 pm

Awesome shot of the LBT Joe! Do I even dare ask for the lighting diagram on this one? haha. Can’t wait to see the rest of the images in the July issue.

Mike Palmer says:

on July 9, 2009 at 12:23 pm

I would be stoked also!!

Dave Kallaway says:

on July 9, 2009 at 12:33 pm

All I can say about the St Lucia experience is “heavy sigh”…wish I was there! How many of you who read Joe’s blog on a regular basis are saying that right now?? Love the pics…DK

Evan Travers says:

on July 9, 2009 at 1:01 pm

The photo at the top is awe inspiring. Such commitment and effort can only lead to such a spectacular result. Well done!

Gregg says:

on July 9, 2009 at 1:05 pm

Hot dang! I was wondering when you were gonna do a story on the telescope images. More please.

Billie Muller says:

on July 9, 2009 at 1:41 pm

Those views! I am really having withdrawls from all this desert sand!
The telescope pic is fantastic Joe!

Graham McBride says:

on July 9, 2009 at 1:47 pm

Wow Joe, we are all looking for the lighting set up!!! only joken what a amazon picture…

Eileen says:

on July 9, 2009 at 2:09 pm

Great opening image – might have to buy that issue to see more. The St. Lucia workshop looks hot (in every sense). Me jealous. Hope to see lots more pictures from the island.

Marshall says:

on July 9, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Um, I have great experience in holding things, and I like water. Soooo, I would be the perfect complement to your team in St. Lucia! Awesome stuff man, keep the inspiration coming.

James says:

on July 9, 2009 at 4:21 pm

The only thing I can say is that when I looked at the pictures in the magazine I didn’t think about the lighting. I thought about the telescope.

you make it look easy.

Simon M. says:

on July 9, 2009 at 5:58 pm

Very nice Location ; )
How do you call the shaft in the last picture?
The one, with the softbox on it.

Thx for answer.

Mark A Higgins says:

on July 9, 2009 at 7:09 pm

way to work you ass off to get ‘the” shot

Lauren Holland says:

on July 9, 2009 at 9:53 pm

What a wonderful job you have, Drew. Lucky man.

dave bingham says:

on July 9, 2009 at 10:31 pm

AMAZING scope photo. Diagram PLEASE. it’s masterful work, especially for a self-proclaimed “numnuts”


Frank Burch says:

on July 10, 2009 at 1:43 am

Just read the Cosmic Vision article on my way home from Hong Kong. At first I was a little disappointed as I thought the article said “Comic” Vision and was expecting something humorous. I know…humor in NG, what was I thinking? Anyway, as an AZ resident, with a daughter at the University of Arizona, I ended up really enjoying the article. I haven’t visited the Mt. Graham International Observatory in years, but now I find myself wanting to return. Some of those shots were truly mesmerizing. Well done!

James Arendell says:

on July 10, 2009 at 3:10 am

Shame about the converging verticals though:-)

jenni says:

on July 10, 2009 at 5:10 am

the first photo is spectacular!!!love the pictures!great job…..

André says:

on July 10, 2009 at 6:46 am

I saw your photos in the new NatGeo. I dont need to say that they are fantastic, do I?

Keep the GREAT work!

I have one question. For editing photos, do you use nikon’s software? Or lightroom?


PS: I hope you understand the english I wrote, I’m portuguese.

Chris Biele says:

on July 10, 2009 at 7:46 am

Oh, please stop. If you post any more St. Lucia pics I will be forced to read your blog with my eyes closed… The beauty is killing me.

Dan Cooper says:

on July 10, 2009 at 8:52 am

Joe, totally amazing once again. I’d love to see some of the et up BTS shots, those are just as much fun to see. Great shooting.

Gregg says:

on July 10, 2009 at 8:59 am

You need like, “Helmet Cam”, like the extreme sports dudes have. Down hill moutain biking, snow boarding, BASE jumping…

Nat Geo photography…

Michael Erb says:

on July 10, 2009 at 11:03 am

I just got my NG issue the other day. Having just discovered your blog, and trying to learn flash photography myself, I looked at that picture of the telescope and wondered how Joe would light such a place. I guess next time I should read the photo credit!

Hans van de Vorst says:

on July 10, 2009 at 11:05 am

A day in the field is certainly better than a day in the office… I wonder if you ever see an office from the inside Joe. Btw thanks again for the workshop. I had a fabulous shoot for a client with an impressed art director. I’ll keep following lights. Cheers, Hans

ahmadzamri says:

on July 10, 2009 at 11:34 am

i’ve just got my july nat geo this morning. and im impressed with the cosmic pix. i dont know thts urs. its my habit to open ur blog everyday and today wht a suprise!!

great2..Im inspired by you!

fozan malaysia says:

on July 10, 2009 at 12:29 pm

awesome shot….hehehe

Affiq Artisme says:

on July 10, 2009 at 12:33 pm

Woahh…the last pic..
i never think to shoot dat way!!
at dat place!!
in that moment!! woaahhhh..

Barbara Bruckman says:

on July 10, 2009 at 1:09 pm

I look forward to spending time perusing inside the yellow border every month and was WOWED this month with your photos and the article that accompanied them. It’s always nice to know what’s behind the scenes of your beautiful, mysterious images.

Curtis Copeland says:

on July 10, 2009 at 1:22 pm

WOW! Great work on lighting up the telescope Joe. My wife and I went on our honeymoon at St Lucia. What a beautiful island. We stayed at Ladera. Awesome!

Marc says:

on July 11, 2009 at 8:29 am

I agree with the previous comments… awesome photo of the LBT.

So seriously… what kind – and how many – flash units did you use? How does one know how much power will be needed to light such a telescope?

It’s a pity that you don’t have any snapshots (or video) of the setup, like you did with the “change a light bulb” story. But I guess that would have extended the time beyond 2 a.m. …

Great work, as always!

Malinda Hartong says:

on July 11, 2009 at 8:31 am

As far as the helmet cam suggestion, how about getting a Flip Mino HD with 1 hr of recording time, in addition to the helmet/bike gizmo, and havin at it for You Tube & the Blog!
That’d ROCK!
Especially on a boom on a crane on a mountain in Arizona! We even hang ours from the rear view mirror while driving in level 3 snow emergencies, then flip the video during editing. I put mine in a cheapo little water bag from the outdoor store and took it rafting with over 100 folks from the blind assoc yesterday. IT was the ONLY thing that stayed dry! And i’m stoked the editors posted my story AND photos (not my favorite one, but…) I, a photographer, got a byline. Anyway, if ya wanna see flip clips, just yell.

Marshal says:

on July 11, 2009 at 3:29 pm

I suspect NG chose you for this job not only for your extensive lighting experience, but just as much because you’ve proven to not be afraid of heights. I mean considering that Empire State Building shoot…

Marshal says:

on July 11, 2009 at 3:33 pm

Looking forward to seeing more from the St. Lucia workshop. Considering the beauty of and in that place, Lightroom would’ve been the last thing on my mind. I’d want to be outside the whole time.

Josh Zager says:

on July 11, 2009 at 11:00 pm

I was wondering what softbox you were using in the picture of you in the pool?

momo says:

on July 12, 2009 at 12:03 am

great post :)

Tit says:

on July 12, 2009 at 2:50 pm

Wow great shot joe i like the pics of an Indian (hindu) old woman.. like the exposure PERFECT…!!

Deb says:

on July 13, 2009 at 8:48 am

Love the pic of Joe in the water – I am SO trying this in our pool!

الشله says:

on July 24, 2009 at 11:46 pm


>>> Good

Tang says:

on August 9, 2009 at 11:35 pm

Hi Joe! Scott and you have disappeared in 31 days. Are you ok?

George Alexandrou says:

on November 16, 2009 at 10:05 pm

The first time I traveled to St Lucia, I knew that I had landed in paradise. With lush mountains, fresh fruit everywhere and secluded coves, St Lucia is picture perfect Caribbean. Ladera Resort is then the Caribbean resort.

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