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Archive for November, 2009

The Answer Man…

Nov 30

In Friends at 9:26am


Is there any limit to how much stuff Terry White knows about bunches of stuff? I’ve known Terry a little bit for a while now, but got to know him better during the recent DLWS excursion to the wilds of northern Michigan. (Terry’s a Detroit guy.) He’s with Adobe (about 13 years) and runs one of the most respected tech blogs in the blog world, and is on top of technology the way I’m on top a plate of strawberry pancakes after a sunrise lighthouse shoot:-)

We shot this early am portrait of Terry in the cornfield with one SB900 and a tri-grip diffuser. He’s just got one of those gregarious faces that belongs in front of the lens. I’m surprised he’s smiling at me, ’cause he shared a car with both myself and Drew. Poor Terry. On the way to sunrise shoots, he was just so ready to sink into a passenger seat dream state in the pre-dawn Michigan gloom when Drew and I metamorphosed into a pair of overlarge, one year old golden retrievers in the back seat. I’m like, punching Drew, whispering, “We got Terry White in the car! He can’t get out! Ask questions!”

Drew would start lobbing queries from the backseat, little annoying firecrackers going off inside the otherwise pleasant reveries of Terry’s early morning head. And, because he is first and foremost very gracious, and also because his incredibly nimble mind invariably engages any question about anything that might even be a distant cousin of the pixel, he began answering. It was great. He was stuck with us, and Drew was throwing all manner of stuff at him. Drew, trying to be ingratiating (and to let Terry know he’s pretty tech savvy, too) asked if he had seen this particular, latest and greatest app? Terry twisted around and eyeballed Drew over his glass rims. “Yes, I do know about that app. It’s actually the app of the week on my blog.” D’oh!

Pretty terrific, at least for us. Given that short time in the car, I hatched a plan. Terry would be a great house guest, right? So I’m going to invite him over for the weekend. Hey, yeah, it’ll be fun! Watch the Lions! Annie’ll make some great food! Have a few beers, relax! And then, just when he’s relaxing, I would casually mention…..”Have you seen our studio? You know, like, our work stations?”

And then we’d have him! He’d sit down, ’cause he’d be curious about how inefficiently our stuff is set up, and boom, we’d pull out a document roughly akin to a physics textbook filled with questions. I’d be calling up to Annie, “Hey honey, got some more hors d’oeuvres goin?” “Terry! Wanna beer? Something to put your feet up on? Reading lamp? Cigar?”

He’d be onto us immediately, of course. I’d wake up to the sound of a car door in the middle of the night, and Terry, desperate to get out, would have called one of those New York City car services. I’d race downstairs, chasing the car as it headed down the driveway. It’d be like the last scene in Shane, you know, where the kid runs after the gunslinger shouting, “Shane, come back! Momma’s got some chores for you to do!”

Except now it’d be a hi tech version of that plaintive call….”Terry! Come back! The Ipod still needs a’fixin!”

More tk….

Many things to be thankful for….

Nov 26

In Thanks at 10:27am

There are so many things to be thankful for, every day. Too many to list here for sure. One of those things, for me, is the readership of this blog. I am always honored by the fact that you stop by, regularly or occasionally, and for your thoughts, input, questions and critiques. It, for me, is all part of the adventure, one that is evolving for all of us almost daily. This whole idea of greeting the world with a camera in your hand has changed over time, but yet another thing to be thankful for is that while the numbers of pixels change, the basics of picture making don’t. These turbocharged computers with lenses stuck on them are nothing without our heads, hearts, and guts driving them.

So, community, and the sharing of information is important, and I thank everyone for that. The internet laces us all together now, and in this digital maelstrom it has largely replaced the post deadline bar gatherings of ink stained wretches that were the staple of my early days as a shooter. (Not entirely replaced, thankfully. Still happens, if only every once in a while. This development might be for the best, perhaps. After several beers, the information and wisdom exchanged at these meet-ups, while certainly colorful, is mildly suspect.)

So my hat’s off and my thanks are offered to everyone who participates in picture making, that endeavor that is so essential and necessary, yet so frivolous and fragile. Chasing good pictures can be as complex and cerebral as an unsolvable math problem, or as muddy and ridiculous as a greased pig contest. At the end of the day, we often fall short. Thankful for that, too. If I didn’t regularly goof up at this, and the grid of my thumbnails didn’t frequently spell out a message of failure to me, my desperate Irish Catholic need to embrace suffering might impel me to do something else.

So, thankful for it all. For the pictures and those who make them and share them, and also share the travails of going click on a regular basis. Thankful today for my family and friends. And Annie…..especially thankful for Annie, without whom the world would be monochrome, and my pictures would be just so much noise.

Thankful Vanessa came to the bridge! Some folks have written in about this pic, so I’ll parse it out a bit.


Lens (mm): 14   ISO: 200  Aperture: 8  Shutter: 1/40  Exp. Comp.: -1.3  Flash Comp.: +1  Program: Aperture Priority  Focus Mode: AF-C  White Bal.: CLOUDY


Got a pretty nice quality of light on Vanessa because of two things. Volume (size) of the light source, and closeness to the subject. (Where have I heard that before?) The light panel is perched just at the edge of the frame, camera right. Drew is floating the bar with the 3 SB units about a foot, foot and a half away from the panel. Someone asked why the two independent VALs? Basically because of foot traffic on the bridge, having two guys as large as Will and Drew seemed reasonable, and with the wind potential up there, used mini-booms instead of a paint pole. Mini-booms are sturdy stuff, but heavy, and one guy would get tuckered out pretty quick holding up the whole rig. Used an SB900 hot shoed as a commander, cause the camera was almost under the remote flashes and I needed the commander signal to translate upwards, not vector out from the hot shoe in linear fashion, which is what an SU-800 would have produced.

Got pretty good recycle with 3 units cranking away, and ramped up the quality of light at the same time. Vanessa does her mystical, pensive muse thing, stunning as always, and made my job easy. The city and the sky gave us a gift in the background. Done. Thankful, yet again.

More tk……

A Different Kind of Landscape Workshop…

Nov 23

In Seminars & Workshops at 8:12am

Strange things happen when you turn a Moose loose in Times Square.

Yep, the first ever Digital Landscape Workshop Series event in the Big Apple is over. Everybody survived and to my knowledge none of our participants are currently sloshing around at the bottom of the East River wearing cement shoes, or squatting in tiger cages in the belly of a tramp steamer flying the Liberian flag and headed for the West Coast of Never To Be Seen Again. Thank goodness for that.

New Yorkers once again, disproved the universal bad rap of being discourteous, brusque and just generally annoyed. Our group was received with open arms and an almost universally positive reaction to their requests to photograph strangers on the street. To get everybody in the mood, I told that old saw of a NY joke: Lost, desperate tourist on the streets of NY needs directions, but is terrified of approaching anyone cause he’s heard all the stories about rude, nasty New Yorkers. He is irretrievably lost though, so he summons the sand to approach someone who appears to be a “typical” denizen of the urban jungle and asks, timidly, deferentially…..”Excuse me sir, but can you please tell me the way to the Empire State Building, or should I go fuck myself?”

No visit to Times Square is complete without a, uh, photo session with the Naked Cowboy, a regular fixture of that particular neon laced stretch of streets. Now, how he found Moose, and even knew his name, and requested his presence for a photo shoot, I’ll never know. One of those NY coincidences, I guess:-)


We toodled all over the city as well as Jersey based vantage points. From Liberty Park, to Weehawken, to Chinatown, to the Brooklyn Bridge, to Central Park, to St. Pats, to… get the idea. Many a mile was legged out. Traveled light and fast. Saw lots of stuff, beautiful views and interesting faces.


As a surprise for the class, I asked Vanessa Moore to join us on the Brooklyn Bridge. She is one of the most exquisitely talented dancers I have ever worked with. I mentioned I was walking on the bridge, and would do a lighting demo, and folks could join me if they were interested. Then I mentioned that they sorta should be interested, because for the next few minutes, I would be very interesting, as opposed to my normal state, which is to be duller than C-span. I started talking lighting theory, and Vanessa swept around from behind one of the bridge towers.



It was almost a religious event out there, wading through the crowd with big Will toting a 3×3 Lastolite panel on a stick and Drew with another stick and arm arrangement with 3 SB900 units firing through the 3×3. Used 3 units cause I knew we would potentially be a bit of a distance from Vanessa and would draw a fair amount of power. Also saturated the heck out of the background at around minus two EV.

I tell ya though, at the end of the workshop, I felt like my brain and body were functioning around minus two or three EV. NY can take it out of you. Recuperated with the gang at my house with barbecue, Fuerza Bruta, dinner at City Hall restaurant, and a bunch of lazing around. Won’t see the DLWS folks again till San Fran in January. Pretty much home bound now, and lovin’ it. More tk….

Heading East

Nov 16

In Seminars & Workshops at 6:03am


Yep, heading for Malaysia, courtesy of the efforts of Louis Pang, one of the premier wedding shooters in that country, and for that matter, all of Asia. Louis and I got to know each other when he took my lighting class at Santa Fe this past year, and the irrepressible Louis had ideas. When he gets ideas, actions follow. He went home, put together a plan, launched a website, and off we go. Or are going. First week in February, Drew and I will be in Kuala Lumpur, working with photogs from all over Malaysia and points east. Here’s the link.

We’ll do a series of one day intensives, with small groups, and then a big day in front of a bunch of folks. It’ll be fun. In my off time, as I often do, I’ll work with dancers, to keep pushing that archive.



We worked last week in NY with Trent, a terrific model, athlete and all around crowd pleaser. Gave this great expression for a sports portrait. Shot TTL on stage for a great group of folks who came by the Javits Center for a Kelby Location Lighting tour stop. Lotta fun. Over 800 people. Yikes. Trent handled it real well, and even gave me the old, “Joe, you’ve only got five minutes” routine when he morphed from athlete to executive.


Did ’em both, along with other sets,  in an hour, moving fast, and chatting my way through thinking about the light. All my mistakes (Lord knows there are plenty of those) go right up on the screen immediately as I shoot, along with frames that are more finished. It’s a bit of a tightrope, but it’s fun, and people get into it and are real supportive. Main thing I try to convey is that it is never a done deal, lock solid, take it to the bank success from the first frame. It’s a process, and there are blind alleys and rabbit holes galore you can run yourself into. The main thing, as always on location, is how you recover. Where do you go next? How to pull this job out of the fire? Like an ER doc, you find yourself looking at your picture and saying. “How do I save this patient?” In the emergency room of location photography, you gotta move fast, be decisive and turn on a dime.

It’s nuts, but fun. More tk….

Letter to a Young Photographer….

Nov 9

In Advice at 9:43am


Lectured last week at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. In the photojournalism department, the students all had that traditional mix of energy, enthusiasm, angst, and doubt so typical of that time in your life when you have just picked up a camera and are looking at it, wondering where it will lead you. The usual mix of questions are ever present: Who do I work for? Can I make a living? Will I ever be any good at this? Will my pictures have impact?

Nowadays, that traditional line of questioning is accompanied by another significant set of queries. What is the future of all this? Will I shoot video or stills? Can I get a job where somebody pays me more than a nickel for my photos? Will there be any newspapers left in a few years? Should I also go to business school? How many pixels do I need? What the hell is going on and how am I going to fit in? When I left school a traditional path for many J school grads was small paper to slightly bigger paper to mid-size daily to a big metro. It was a process. It had potential structure and pace.

Now, graduating into this field is like blasting into hyper space. The destination’s uncertain, and the road is a blur.

The raft of questions I fielded last week brought me back to a letter I received some years ago.

Dear Joe,

We met a few years back, I was,  I guess, a runt high school kid with a camera.  now, I guess I’m a lost science major, have no idea what I want to do with myself, and everyone just tells me to do what I like. I can’t justify transferring to what I regard as the large year round summer camp of arts school, but have no idea what to do with myself, now or in ten years. I know this is a little weird getting an email from someone who you might not even remember meeting years ago who, at 19 is going through a midlife crisis, but I appreciate any thoughts anyone might have other than the “follow your dreams” which doesn’t fit with my New York cynicism.  I guess I was wondering, as I was told to wonder, and ask everyone I know (or “kinda sorta” know) who does something interesting for a living, how they wound up doing what they were doing?  Anyway, it’s a heavy question with a ton of run on sentences.

Would really appreciate any input you may have on the matter……thanks….


Of course I remember you. I am sorry for not getting back sooner, but this last two months have vanished with road work, and I did not want to just dash you off something superficial. Follow your dreams is not a bad thing to do, but I am well aware of the practical limitations of such a plan. The world gets more and more restrictive in terms of a free wheeling approach to life, and despite all the press given to those who strike it rich and play their own tune doing it, there are the much more prevalent stories of most of the rest of us who grapple day to day with exactly the same issues you are facing. A science major in the Ivy League is a pretty strenuous thing to do, I imagine. Art school would be a different atmosphere altogether. I don’t know what might be possible in terms of combining them, or finishing a degree (very important!) and then trying your hand at some art education.

The fact that you put your camera to your eye instead of running on 9/11 indicates something restless and perhaps unusual in your makeup, and as someone familiar with being regarded as unusual, I can tell you it is definitely a two edged sword. The things you struggle with now you will struggle with your entire life. It is the essence of a creative soul, really, without being pompous and overblown about it.

Being lost isn’t the worst thing in the world, either, especially at 19. I hadn’t even discovered photography at 19, but nothing in particular concerned me about my aimlessness. Probably a lack of depth on my part, no doubt, but then it did leave me with room to move and the ability to imagine myself in different contexts. I do know that when I finally engaged in photography, it was like a black hole, an irresistible force that pulled me, my time, my energy and, without exaggeration, my every waking (and sleeping) moment. I had never known such a resonant thing.

I do know I went abroad, and became the lab manager for the Syracuse London photo program and took 9 graduate credits. I left my lab duties in the hands of a fellow student (and my princely weekly pay check of 5 English pounds) and went to the east most tip of England, a place called Lowestoft. There I talked my way onto a fishing trawler (November in the North Sea, lovely indeed) and went off to to do a 2 week jaunt, with hope of making a photo essay along the lines of what I had seen my heroes like Gene Smith do. I remember the smell of tea late at night, and lurching through 40′ waves sitting in the wheelhouse, and the utter blackness of sea around, and thinking, yes, this and the like is what I am cut out to do.

I’ve been fortunate in that I have been able to act on and make a living out of some largely irresponsible urges. I have had a bit of a comic book of a life, I am still drawing the panels. I sense something like a change of scenery may be a good thing for you, if you can afford the time and effort to launch yourself in a different direction and in a different environment.

Don’t know if your science professors possess the capacity to excite and inspire, but I was blessed with a very good and inspirational photo professor who helped me at least realize something larger was always possible. Have you thought of chucking it for a while and going abroad, and trying your hand at some art education? Or trying your hand at anything that comes along? Or trying your hand at essentially nothing? I’m not suggesting something totally out of bounds or dangerous, but the search for something that propels you, draws you, and simply becomes that which you cannot help but do is in itself a worthwhile endeavor. And if and when the discovery of said treasure occur– eureka! I still love photography, and enjoy the simple act of being a photographer more now than when I first picked up my dad’s camera.

One thing my dad did tell me, and it has echoed in my ears for a long time. He was the quintessential corporate man, a salesman, and in his later years, he became disgusted with the ways of his world, and told me on numerous occasions, “hang out your own shingle.” Which is what I have done, and been happy to have done. The jalopy called McNally Photography has transmission trouble, a couple of flat tires, and not all the cylinders fire, but it still moves, and I drive it where I want to go. There is a great deal of value and satisfaction in that, as I look back. I’m still standing, and lots of others fell away or played it safe or never tried. The simultaneously wonderful and daunting thing is that there is so much still to do, so much ground to cover, and my best work is still out there, somewhere. I am still on safari here, the great picture hunt, as someone once called it.

I don’t know if any of this makes sense. You are just beginning to write your pages, and the thing to remember about this early rough draft is that it hardly matters what you do exactly, as long as you continue to become something close to what you might imagine you want or need to become. Being a bit slow and never prone to academic excellence and achievement, I really have had no choice over the years but to embrace Einstein’s thought. “Imagination is better than knowledge.”

Stay well. Call anytime. Joe