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Archive for October, 2009

Mongo Make Pano……

Oct 29

In In The Field at 7:57am


In New York City leading a National Geographic Expeditions Workshop. Doing alright so far. Haven’t lost anybody yet. Nice group of folks. Hope they’re not disappointed that I’m not, you know, Nick Nichols, or somebody like that who’s got a lot of great Indiana Jones type photo stories. “I stood there in front of the enraged water buffalo, with the only thing between me and his massive horns was my Nikon DS4000XL Red Sonja series camera with the 12 to 3000mm over under combo zoom with the bore sighted grenade launcher. I had one round left…” I make up stuff like that, but nobody in the class believes me.

I think it’s going okay, even though I was pretty mean the other day and told everybody they had to go into a shop in Chinatown and get a portrait of an owner. Lots of ’em got yelled at. Heh, heh, heh. Welcome to the intensely human experience of being a photog and trying to work it out ad hoc. Sometimes, you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes you get yelled at, or worse.

Shot the above in two pics and then dropped ’em into PhotoShop. Oh, yeah. Am I smokin’ on post or what? You see, the DLWS gang–Moose Peterson, Laurie Excell and Kevin Dobler–think I’m not listening when they’re up there teaching. That may be because of the guttural, snoring noises I make from the back of the room and the large drool stain on my t-shirt that inevitably results whenever the room goes dark. But I do absorb certain things. It’s kinda osmotic. You can’t hang with Scott Kelby and Moose and Matt Klowskowski and all and not pick a few things up.

I mean, I joking here. This is embarrassingly basic. I dropped these two guys into photomerge and sat there at the computer, staring at it like it was a slot machine. I did use the string of pix to talk to the class about exposure though.

Shot both frames ISO 200, hand held, aperture priority. But, I had to change up my EV compensation in between shots, because the brighter, sunset section of sky would push my shutter speed higher and I would lose the glow of the city. It’s a small thing, but significant for the file. The matrix meter reacts to the brightness of the sky, and if I let the camera fly on it’s own, the city for that portion of the pano would have been a touch darker. So in between frames I adjusted EV, and ended up actually with the same shutter speed across the two pix, which makes sense, cause the city at that point is a constant source of light, requiring the same exposure. It’s the sky that is constantly changing, if only slightly.

Here’s a screen shot of both in Aperture….



Feeling stupidly giddy about this, cause I don’t do this type of thing very often. Running the pano below, cause the horizontal constraints of the blog make for not really being able to see long, skinny pictures. Pushed both pix as jpegs into PS, and did a couple basic curves to brighten certain areas, and then used the Nik darken/lighten center move. Like that option, cause it harks back for me to newspaper work in the 70’s. There was a National Press Photographer’s Association “style” back then that really pushed us to burn the heck out of the corners of the print, and of course ferrocyanide (bleach) the eyes to bring them out.


Back down on the street, it was business as usual. Shoot and move, shoot and move. Visited the Apple store on 5th, and shot a pretty typical up looking view of the spiral staircase there.


Liked the graphics of it, until of course an Apple employee stepped up and told me I couldn’t shoot up at the stairs cause somebody might be wearing a skirt. Now in Manhattan the array of people who could be potentially wearing a skirt is widely varied, so I could understand their concern. But really–all you see are the bottoms of shoes. Do I look that desperate? The guy who complained to me musta had the nuns.

So, cause I was acting like a pervert in the Apple store, I had to go to St. Pat’s. I like St. Pat’s. Lit candles in there for the birth of both my children. They’ve got little sanctuaries, alcoves, devotional areas–I don’t know what you call them–all around the sides of the church, and three of them are devoted to saints I am fond of. I’m a pretty irreverent sort, but I do have favorites. On the left is St. Jude, patron saint of lost causes. I embrace him for obvious reasons. Then there’s St. Michael the Archangel. I took Michael as a middle name cause I thought he was cool. He was like the Chuck Norris of angels, cause he kicked butt and took names. And then there’s St. Anthony, who looks after you when you lose stuff. (Very important guy for me to know.)

And for the first time ever, I saw the guy who takes care of the candles. Never think about it, right? But there has to be somebody who does it. Very nice man.



More tk….

Kelby Tours, DC Stop

Oct 27

In Lighting, Seminars & Workshops at 7:53am


As I always say, what could go wrong? 5 hours of live lighting in front of 950 people. Thankfully they were very gracious, easy going people, who were an enormous source of support and good will all day long. Very cool.

Day started with Drew, Will and I on the loading docks at 6am getting a boatload of gear up into the Wash. DC Convention Center. Ah, the glamorous life of a shooter. At that point, it’s just a matter of racing the clock to get ready for the doors opening at 9. Both Drew and Will worked incredibly hard, going full blast with only 3 hours sleep.

We started simple. Basic TTL strategies, using umbrellas, Tri-grip reflectors, diffusers, you name it. The guys are very tolerant of me, cause, while there is a general plan or outline to the day, I often riff a bit here and there, and try stuff just for the heck of it. We were blessed with two terrific, talented people in front of the lens, Jen and Tory, who worked with us. Tory didn’t even hold it against me that I called him Corey a good deal of the day.

Simple umbrella and a fill board for Jen.


Then a single Tri-grip diffuser for Tory.


Which became two Tri-grips, with Drew and Will hand holding both, along with the flashes.


Tory has one of those faces that really work well with all manner of light, and most folks reacted well to the idea of doing moody, simple light, TTL, really quickly. The two pics above took about 3 or 4 minutes to do, even with me burbling incoherently into the microphone.

Then Tory went the exec route.


This was an interesting set, in that I got myself into the woods using 4 flashes, all of which needed different power settings, but  only had 3 groups to put them in to set those power ratings. Something hadda give. Luckily, I was able to play with positioning of the lights, and eliminate the 4th flash when the low flash directly in front of Tory put enough catch light in his eyes. It was a good place to be, though, cause it was good information for everybody in the room. We were on the doorstep of either making TTL work, or sending the flashes a message to all go manual, then ratio one of them down, power wise, with the time honored method of neutral density gels, or just forgetting about wireless hoo hah and going with a radio/manual power solution. Everything we tried was valid, and it was fun for the audience to kind of participate and work this out.

Then Tory got into athletic duds, and we tried another iteration of rim light with gels, and a Honl grid light for the face. Never really finished this photo, but it was going in a good direction. Will is just off camera to the right, hand holding the gridded speedlight.


For the last hour, we bring out the Rangers, just to show how strategies might vary between big lights and small lights. Went with an overhead beauty dish for Jen, with a small softbox underneath of her, for a pretty straightfoward beauty light look. Popped an SB900 into her hair for good measure, again taking a look at ways to mix different types of flashes. Will employed the wind machine, aka the eyeball dryer. I couldn’t resist dropping in a little glamour glow on this in post. The post stuff is really seductive, I tell ya, even for a goober like me who doesn’t know how to use it. I mean, I’m capable in a meager way of doing basic darkroom stuff, but I look at PhotoShop and filters and stuff like I’m a twelve year old holding a rocket launcher. “Wonder what this button does? Holy shit! I just blew a hole through my photograph!” Personal opinion? There are some filters and sliders and moves out there now that should be labeled, “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here.”


Then at the very end, we put a Ranger Elinchrom with a long throw reflector at the back of the auditorium, along with an SB900. Just threw light at the stage. Any guesses which this one is?


Then of course, at the end, we asked for some audience participation to be Jen’s entourage/bodyguards. Da guys were a hoot.


Lotta fun. Hectic day. Each setup transpires in minutes, and we go non-stop. Many thanks to everybody in the audience, Will, Drew, Jen, Tory, and the Kelby gang, who really know how to pull this stuff together. More tk….

Flash Seance Held in Remote Part of Michigan

Oct 23

In Seminars & Workshops at 12:10am


DLWS Michigan. It was raining. Hard. So we didn’t get to go to a lighthouse, one of my favorite things. Stayed indoors, and pooled our flashes. Group A, B, and C. Total, 25. I personally think it had nothing to do with technology, it had to do with this charismatic group of photo folks levitating the light out of their SB units.

Great DLWS, even though it was held in the middle of nowhere. Though someone corrected me today, quite defintively, telling me that it was not the middle of nowhere, but that Traverse City was the biggest city in the lower portion of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Or is it the upper part of the lower peninsula? That’s where I was? How does Moose Peterson get me to go to places like this where there’s a whole lot of wet leaves on the ground?

But I am trying, lest Moose loose patience with my meager landscape efforts. I did shoot a tree. And I enjoyed my walk in the forest.


But I have to admit, being a people shooter, I was far more interested in doing a portrait of one our participants, Kim. (Also shot at f2, like the tree above.)


Shot with an Ezybox Hot Shoe Softbox, toted by Drew, who was using a Sylinator paint pole light lifter. Had a good time just working down the light to accomodate f2. Been experimenting a bit lately with real minimum DOF portraits. Dicey with the sharpness thing, but fun to do.

Then, the best thing of the trip happened. We went to a deserted beach. It was deserted for very good reasons, in that it was freezing and raining. But a couple of terrific free spirits had slept out on the beach for the whole night, hoping for some wave and wind action in the morning, and instead found their isolated stretch of sand invaded by about 40 folks with cameras. I approached one of them, JonTan, and simply asked, you know, how about making a few pictures?


It was the picture of the trip. Shot again with the Ezybox on the end of the Sylinator. My thanks go out to Vlad and JonTan, who were very patient with our us and all of our pixels.


In DC today, doing a stop for Kelby Tours. Doing live lighting for 5 hours in front of over 800 people. What could go wrong? Shot below is from the first one I did, in San Fran. (Pano stitch by Drew Gurian.)


Like before, I’m sure I’ll be so damn nervous I’ll be in the hallways out back of the place, looking for a place to yak…and then I’ll get a camera in my hands and it’ll be okay.


Will Foster, a great guy who freelances with us, was so impressed by Drew’s workflow blog he went ahead and re-christened him……DREWBO!


I can just see Drew now, standing in front of the computers in the office going, “Okay pixels, I’m comin’ for ya. This time it’s personal……”

More tk…..

The McNally Workflow..

Oct 20

In Computer Technology at 6:28am

So this is one of those topics Joe and I are asked about on a very regular basis.  We usually just answer these questions one-by-one, but got an interesting email from one of our readers, Jose Fernandez, a little while back, and figured I might as well just lay it all out.

Here’s why I do the post-processing, not Joe:

As a disclaimer, and to cover my ass, I’ll be the first to admit that we as a studio don’t necessarily do things the “right” way.  Are we entirely satisfied with our post-production/archiving process?  Not exactly.  The thing is, any busy photo studio is constantly producing massive amounts of imagery, and keeping up with it all isn’t always a walk in the park.  On top of that, technology is one of those amazing things that we all are challenged to stay on the cutting edge of.  Computer software, hardware, camera gear- it’s all evolving so quickly, that even if you know your best option today, in another week there’s something else out there that’s potentially better.

Speaking of which, we’re happy to say that our entire studio is now archived on Drobos. We’ve had three 4TB Drobos, along with an old Apple X-Serve RAID (8TB) for some time now.  Just made the move to off the old X-Serve RAID and replace it with a 16TB  Drobo Pro, which is much quieter, more energy efficient, and the user interface is much more intuitive.  Funny (well, not really) how five or six years ago, that old X-Serve was top-of-the-line, cost well over 10K for 6TB of storage, and we’ll be lucky to sell if for a grand now…oh technology.

As for the hardware basics, we have four workstations in our studio, which is entirely Mac-based.  Each station is equipped with an Apple 30″ Cinema Display, and mine is also graced with a Wacom 21″ Cintiq.  Sounds like a lot of screen space, and it is- but having all this speeds up the post-process tremendously.  The Cintiq brings a lot of fun back into editing, that you never knew was there with a mouse.  Once you build one into your workflow, you’d have to be dragged kicking and screaming to go back to a mouse.

I’m not gonna get into PS tutorials, color calibration, etc., as not to bore you to death, but I do hope to just lay out the BASICS of our workflow, and hopefully start a discussion with all of you- so here goes.

The Software: Aperture is the heart of our system. We organize our files on it, and shoot tethered with it in the field. Joe also does his slide shows out of Aperture. It’s a really varied program with lots of processing and organizing power.

-Whenever we can on location, we shoot tethered into Aperture or  Nikon’s Camera Control Pro 2.   Both are great programs in their own right, but there are certain strengths of each which dictate which one will be used in specific situations. The loupe tool in Aperture is a great quick way to double check sharpness while on the fly, and we can easily compare recent shots side-by-side (which CCP doesn’t do).  Aperture also allows the camera to write to the card as well as the computer, which the current version of CCP does not. (Which can be dicey.) With that said, for demo purposes at workshops and such, Aperture’s a no-brainer, since we’ll typically shoot jpeg’s at these types of events.  When it comes to RAW files, they both have issues, so take your pick.

Another occasional tool we use for quickly browsing files in the field is Photo Mechanic.  It’s a really fast, down and dirty way to view thumbnails and make selects.

-We import our cards using Aperture’s Card Importer, a plugin for the program that let’s us import up to eight card simultaneously, while adding metadata.

-From there, the photos go either through Nikon’s Capture NX2, then to Photoshop, or sometimes directly into PS.  Really all depends on what I’m trying to do with the photos.  Each program does certain things better than another, and it’s all obviously preferential.  One very cool feature in NX2 is the Color Control Point tool, and I’d suggest downloading a free trial and giving it a go- If you shoot Nikon. (Joe loves this program. He refers to it as PhotoShop for dummies. One click saves lots of potential layers in PS.)

Not to go too deep into this, but in PS, there’s a million things you can do, and even more ways of getting there.  “Typically”, I start with a layer to remove any dust, minor blemishes, etc.  From there, it’s on to curves, etc., etc..  We also have really grown to love the PS plug-ins made by Nik Software.  Used in moderation, they help us make certain effects take minutes which would typically take much longer to do…definitely one of the most useful additions to our post prod. process as of late. For a small operation like ours’, with limited staff, time is a huge factor, and the Nik options really can cut hours out of the post process.

One important point to make is that there generally isn’t a huge amount of post done in our studio.  Joe comes from the Kodachrome generation of sorts, and I’m very lucky to do his post, as he’s one of the few people I’ve ever known who consistently produces near perfect files right out of the camera, and I truly don’t mean that to kiss his ass.  If there’s one lesson to learn from all this, it’s that last sentence.  After all, if your photos aren’t so hot when you shoot them, they’ll probably still suck after post-processing, right?  Strive to make that great frame while shooting, not in post.  That’s a whole different discussion though..

-The last step in our process really comes down to organization.  There’s many ways to go about this, but our weapon of choice for the past few years has been Aperture.  We do all of our key wording and folder organization here, and it’s really a lifesaver.  After all, part of my job is to keep track of almost 30TB of digital files.  I can easily search for any file we need and output a “version” of that file, while never moving the original.  There’s a handful of other programs like this, but Aperture just seems to make the most sense to us.

All of our slide presentations are also done through Aperture, and it’s great to be able to use the bluetooth Apple remote to go through it all.

Like I mentioned in the disclaimer at the start, this isn’t necessarily the “right” way do do things, and nobody can tell you the right way (sorry).  As a photographer, part of your job is to find out how several people you admire work, and take what you wish from it, and I guarantee that if you walked into a room of 10 top shooters, all would have different advice.

Hope this covers most of the basics, and feel free to comment back with any other questions..


Workshop at the Bank, Home Stretch….

Oct 16

In Seminars & Workshops at 9:10am

Last day of this October’s version of Jay’s workshop, or, more descriptively, the class the sun forgot. We’ve had about two hours of decent sunshine this week, and tried to make something out of it. It’s been a good week. Jay tore a hole right through the picture I posted yesterday when I showed it. He pointed out the lettering, “PAR,” “Zurich,” and “Yahoo,” hijacked any discussion the photo might have started with a prospective viewer. I was not wild about the pic, but liked some of the color and mood, which enabled me to not really consider my choice in an complete way. (This is why we need editors of our work.)

Thing is, he’s right. Ever been to a meeting where somebody who hasn’t done their homework, or feels compelled to assert some sort of superiority,  or whose therapist is on vacation, goes off on an irrelevant tangent for several minutes while the rest of the folks present engage in eye rolling exercises? I think that’s what Jay was saying. Those elements he brought to my attention are like that guy at the meeting, squashing meaningful discourse by clamoring for attention and distracting everybody. He also pointed out the bus on the right was not really a New York City bus.

I will try this again.

So I went out and photographed a man with sad eyes….


Classic Jay: A guy comes to him with a whole tray of slot canyon pictures. First one comes up, and Jay says, “This is nice. But, you know, I don’t think you’re challenging yourself shooting all this stuff, cause I’ve never really seen a bad picture of a slot canyon.” Second one comes up. Jay turns and says, “On second thought…..”

It’s interesting now, shooting on the street. The two pictures I feel strongest about I am reluctant to throw up on the blog. One had really nice gesture. A couple in a bar. They knew I was shooting them, and were okay about it. Their body language was great. Lots of questions as I look at the pics. Beginning of the relationship? End? Chance meeting? Pretty wonderful, the imaginings one could have.

The other was of a mentor relationship between a young boy and a 30 something guy. On the subway, the guy was showing the youngster how to warm his hands by rubbing them together. Nice moment. But, it’s a kid and I just dunno. Also, I shot it on the subway, and the pixel police might get me. The way we live now reminds me of a cartoon I saw years ago where this doofy guy comes out of his house in a bathrobe to confront soldiers, tanks, helicopters and a couple of trench coated G-men on his doorstep. They look at him and say, “We understand you tore the little tag off your mattress.”

More tk…..