Archive for December, 2009
At the risk of repeating myself….
On New Year’s Eve day, late in the afternoon, quite a number of years ago, I stopped for gas. An elderly gentleman was tending the pumps, and we struck up a conversation. Innocuously, I alluded to the fact that I had “made it through another year.” He snorted and looked at his watch. “Few hours left. Don’t get cocky!”
To all, many thanks for reading the blog, and stop by on Monday. I’ll be confessing my photographic sins from 2009. More tk….
Hope everyone is having a great bunch of holidays. We had a houseful of people Christmas Day. 20 folks, all hungry. Annie did an amazing meal, and I didn’t blow the barbecue end of the deal, thankfully. That was ’cause my sister Rosemary ran the grill basically, and I just did what she told me to do. (Thus proving that a knuckle dragger like me can listen even when standing at the grill, where usually the sheer raging din of testosterone drowns out all rational thought and conversation and all that is heard is a series of hoots, clicks and grunts.)
We had lots and lots of family over, including my niece Michelle, fairly recently married to her husband, Mark. When she was born in ’75, she was a first in many ways. First for my sister Kathy, first new baby in the McNally clan for a long time, and for me, my first baby photo subject. (My kids came later.) On vacations, summers, visits, her nutty Uncle Joe always had a camera in his hands. She was young enough to think it was fun, and thus tolerated me. And over her early years, I built up enough imagery of Michelle’s moods and mysteries that for my ’78 Christmas gifts, I printed a calendar of 1979 according to Michelle.
It’s showing wear and tear now, yellowed with age, but the prints have stood the test of time really well. Which is a good thing, ’cause the negs on all these pix have vanished. This was not a one click, send it to Apple deal back then. Made the prints in the Daily News lab, where I was a studio apprentice, a way station on the path to being a shooter at a union shop like The News. As a boy in the studio (you weren’t classified as a man in newspaper parlance until you were on the street as a shooter) I used newspaper printing paper and chemistry, which was a pretty good perk of being back there in the fumes, and then dry mounted the prints on boards. (Obviously not archival board, if you look above.) Then I did Kodaliths of calendar sheets, and printed those. Made 6 calendars, so there were a lot of long nights in the lab after work. It was cool, though, ’cause I was back printing again, something I had always enjoyed at school. The B&W negs were all run through a Versamat machine, state of the art dry to dry processing at the time. I viewed those monsters as high powered mulching machines that you dumped your roll into one and end of and said novenas till it came out the other.
So in January, Michelle proved her mettle as Nikon shooter, F2 in hand.
But, come February, she proved to be more thoughtful, pensive, even. I guess I would be too, if I were wearing a hat like that:-)
By Easter things were definitely more lighthearted. Shot this, believe it or not, with a 500mm mirror lens. Nikon made a couple catadioptric lenses, which were short, stubby, incredibly difficult to focus accurately, and, in the case of the 500, a fixed f8. Needless to say, they don’t make these anymore. God knows why I was shooting that lens for this, but it did make the Daily News centerfold for Easter Sunday, 1978.
Then came summer, and my favorite shot of her, hair so blond it disappeared in the sun.
By September she had once again grown pensive, even a tad mysterious. It might have been that milk mustache disguise.
Outdoors for October. Is there a photographer in the world who has not thrown leaves in the air to get a fall picture of a kid?
Then of course, there were turkey insides to investigate for November.
And at the end of the year, Santa’s visit.
Turns out these were just the beginning of Michelle’s adventures in front of the camera. She grew up so tall and beautiful she took a hiatus from college at one point to make a tour of the NY fashion agencies. Did some work in the Big Apple, and then made the model’s traditional winter trek south to Miami Beach. Down there on the sand, 12′ silks and frames on highboys bloom everywhere as the swimsuit and summer wear catalogs are shot while most of us freeze our butts off up north. It so happened that I had a big job to shoot for Nikon, and I had some budget, and an open ticket to shoot anywhere I wanted. We headed for Miami. It was around the introduction of the SB26 and the new fangled device of a built in sensor panel that would enable it to trigger off other flashes. This was big news at that time. So, I shot this….
But I also got Michelle in front of the lens. I had no particular yen to shoot in Miami, but I thought I could throw Michelle some work, and at the same time let her mom know about how things were going. Michelle could always handle herself, but she was a like a sweet, easy going guppy who just jumped into the shark pool of the Miami fashion scene, and her booker wasn’t sending her out all that often for work. So I played the role of the NY asshole fashion photog with a budget and made calls to her agent, jumped up and down and threw a hissy fit about why wasn’t I seeing the portfolio of this fabulous girl I have heard about? I might have even used a French accent, I can’t remember.
While shooting this, I kept saying ridiculous stuff at camera, like, “That’s good sweetie, yeah, that’s really pretty!” My assistants were chuckling, shaking their heads and looking at me like I just fell off the turnip truck. “Dude, she’s not sweet, she’s hot!” “Yeah, well, I’m her uncle, so don’t even think about it!” It was a long way from playing in the leaves.
She’s married now, and of course I showed up with a D3 to make a few snaps. She spent some time with Cassie, the family pooch in the midst of pre-wedding craziness.
And indulged me in post wedding, “What just happened?” silliness at the reception room bar.
I consider myself very lucky to have a beautiful niece who smiled at a photog relative all these years. She allowed me to write a little piece of our family history with a lens and a camera. As I look at that calendar now, Christmas 2009, I realize I remember precisely nothing of Christmas 1978. Virtually everything about that day and that calendar, for instance, is gone. Michelle’s all grown up, the F2 is a museum piece, and film has been replaced. (Who could have imagined?)
What remains? The pictures. And, now that she’s married, maybe, someday in the future, there might be another little blond photo subject. And, with any luck, I’ll be there, with a camera. More tk….
I work with Kelby Media a bunch, and, as I have said before, they are like family. So much so, the intrepid Scriv, their videographer, volunteered his lovely wife Kandra for a shoot we did not too long ago. (Why do guys persist in doing this to their women? Putting them on the spot? What part of “Honey, I don’t like surprises,” can’t we figure out? The phrase, “I don’t think that would be a good idea,” doesn’t leave a lot of room for interpretation, really. And it’s often uttered, methinks. Might be right up there with, “Thanks for the gift, honey! Got the receipt?”)
Anyway, Scriv talked Kandra into doing some work in the studio. I figured it was a good match, me and Kandra. She teaches kindergarden. She is also one of those very typical photo subjects–not exactly prone to love the camera, not completely certain of what to expect out of the whole process, not really trusting the photog (who the hell is this guy? he’s from New York!), and just, in general, a wonderful, attractive, bundle of anxiety. She kind of walked through the studio door like it was Stargate, you know, and there was this weird universe on the other side, with flashing lights and people assuring her it was all gonna be alright, fun, even.
Fun? Yeah, we all tell our subjects that. Then why are they out there on a big sheet of white paper all by their lonesome like some poor X-ray patient, just about naked on the table, eyeballing some Dr. Frankenstein roentgen machine, looking around for the lead shield, while we huddle behind metal and machinery? Ever think about that when you tell folks this’ll be “fun?”
Anyway, we started simple. One light. That ‘s all we were allowed. Straight flash. Okay, a party picture. Hot shoe, TTL Accurate exposure, shadow on the wall.
I still get giddy when it works, though, which is indicative of how much I get out. Maybe it’s because I grew up with flashes that had all the subtlety of Thor’s hammer and would basically irradiate your subject. As a measure of how long I’ve been doing this, check out the scene at Studio 54, circa 1977-78.
Sly, post the first Rocky.
Making a living on the streets of NY, as a kid with a camera. Geez….I look at where we are now. These pix were manual focus, manual flash, manual f-stops and shutter speeds. Lots and lots of misses, trust me.
Back to Kandra, still ill at ease. Understandably. My first picture did not merit confidence. In terms of light it looked like a close cousin to the pix above. But as I said to her at the time, this will get better. She was clearly unhappy, and did not trust my usual line of patter. (Remember she’s a teacher, so she has a real good BS meter.) Here’s the thing. I was being straight with her. I told her it was looking good, and she just needed to relax. She countered with, basically, you tell that to everyone, so I don’t believe you. I looked at her right back and said, no, if it wasn’t going well, I would call time, re-group, and let you know it wasn’t working, ’cause that’s my job right now. That full frontal veracity seemed to convince her that I wasn’t, you know, completely full of shit.
Next frame…..we start to craft light for what is a terrific face. Again, just one light.
This is one speedlight through a big Tri-grip one stop diffuser, with a little bit of passive fill off the floor, I suspect, it being white. The size of the Tri-grip comes into play here. I generally use the smaller versions for ease of handling, but this was the biggie, the 48 incher. It smooths out the spectral nature of the small flash, and opens the door to some worthwhile portraiture. You can tell the position is above her face and slightly right of camera angle from the fall of the shadow on her camera left cheek, and uh, the fact that the diffuser in in the frame. This part of my approach I don’t recommend.
This is pretty much the set, one light, off the camera, 70-200mm lens, with an SB900 as a commander.
With A clamps, we pinned the monster Tri-grip to an Avenger boom arm to make life easier for Drew, and to enable him to hold a fill board and a fan. I figured Kandra took the leap here, so we were gonna give her the star treatment; hair and makeup, lights, camera, fan, her own trailer, a 3 picture deal, office on the studio lot, the whole nine yards. (Actually, out of all that, I think we maybe gave her about five or six yards.) The addition of a fill board really perked up the light a bit, and of course, the fan gives the windswept look. (All production pix by Erin Nutini.)
Shot this at 5.6. One speedlight and a fill board, TTL. This shoot brought up a couple things in my head. One is, to work inside the box. I know everybody talks about “thinking outside the box,” but in this instance, because we were all about one light, I was inside that one light box. No “27 Speedlight Joe” today. I had one light and a camera. I harked back to the words of legendary photo director and creator of the “Photography at the Summit” workshops, Rich Clarkson. He always admonished photogs who brought too much gear. “When you bring all that stuff, you have no clarity of thought.” He’s right. Sometimes it’s good to not have options. (Jay Maisel offers his own variant of the same theme: “The more gear you take, the less pictures you make.”) You may look down the block and say, whoah, that would look nice with a 600mm, but darn all I’ve got is this 28.” Not necessarily a bad thing. On this day, your eyes see like your 28, and if you work it right, they will see quite clearly.
The other thing is the confidence level of your subject. If you can brew that up somehow, and engage them in the process, and make them feel good about themselves and what they are projecting into the lens, it is so much more than half the battle. All faces have their own particular power, irregardless if they get in front of a camera frequently, occasionally, or not at all. Those folks who run screaming from a camera might actually have the greatest power. It is the photog’s job, out there in the shadows of the set, to unlock that power. Whether it’s with your light, your mood, your manner, or your BS. We have to open that door, and, once open, we then have to return to our subjects that promise we made to them by inviting them into the studio. To take care of them. (Asking someone to come in and do their portrait is an unwritten contract that obligates both parties.) Our subjects venture a great deal. They expose themselves to an unflinching process. They move, smile, and turn. The camera simply stares back. It’s a machine. We have to put a human face on that machine, and our leap of faith, our potential risk, has to be as great as theirs.
Kandra survived. (Scriv, who volunteered her for this ordeal, survived, too. I knew behind the lens, in addition to making good pictures of Kandra, I held Scriv’s life in my hands:-) She even, I think, had some fun. On another shoot at an old junk yard, once again, we needed subjects. She volunteered herself this time. And this time, she stepped in front of the camera like she owned it. Very cool.
For me, it was a shoot fest. I was part of a three shooter team that went in on an event this weekend and just didn’t stop. Collectively, shot roughly 265 gigs. I’m knackered, so not much of a blog for Monday, but will catch up a bit by mid week.
Just got word, actually via Scott Kelby’s blog, that The Moment It Clicks was cited by Professional Photographer as a “Hot One” for 2009. I did not know this was happening. But then again all of 2009 happened while I was finishing my rough draft of the early 90’s, so CNN needn’t be threatened by my news gathering capabilities.
It’s cool, though I don’t ever remember me or anything I ever did being referred to as “a hot one.” I mean, Sister Mary Regina in 6th grade used to call me “a dumb one” on a fairly regular basis, which is maybe close. She was a member of the Sisters of the Precious Blood, and she went about her day making sure it was your blood, not her’s or Jesus’ or anybody else’s that was gonna be the blood in question. About four feet tall, she would be on you so quick you thought you were dealing with a black and white ninja, and not a member of a religious order. Her version of the samurai sword was a wooden ruler she had snaked up her sleeve, and she could whip that thing so fast you woulda thought you were dealing with Travis Bickle in a habit. “You talkin’ to me?” She really took that whole “vengeance is mine” thing straight to heart.
But never a hot one. A sorry one, occasionally, and to be sure, an odd one. But hot? Cool. I’m gonna go tell Annie:-)
Couple folks asked about the screen shots in last week’s blog, and why in the published photo it looks like one big screen in the middle row, while in the others all the screens are the same size rectangle. The screens are a grid, all the same size. The published shot shown on the blog is made from a physical tearsheet from the mag. The black edges of those center screens got swallowed up in the gutter, so you don’t see it in the tear. But all the screens are the same size.
A few folks were interested in the a sketch of the light grid for the hyperwall deal of yesterday, so made a quick Iphone pic of the above. Now, when the figures are silhouetted against the screens, the foreground lighting (the 2 units on left) are off, and you get real mood and saturation.
When you need to see what’s going on the in the foreground, the other two units crank up. One is for the face, and one is for the ground, which is important to see, otherwise the guy just….floats….in….space…..
Easy to trigger the whole deal by just bouncing the commander signal off the drop ceiling. Then, just play with the values and power of the lights. Pretty straight forward. Obviously, the Honl grids are on the foreground lights so they don’t spill everywhere and kill the saturation of the screens.
Hey, leave it to Scott Kelby to take Groups and Channels where they have never been before–T-shirts! And hoodies and coffee mugs. Just ordered a bunch. Pretty cool, and what’s even cooler is that all the dough goes to The Springs of Hope Orphanage in Kenya, which Scott has been helping for some time now. Check these out at cafepress.com.
My bud Moose Peterson is in someplace called Bosque del Apache, which if you say it quick, sounds just like Santa Monica. Anyway, check out his blog ’cause he’s just shooting some amazing bird stuff. Read his blog today, and he says, “Our third day of Base Camp Bosque was a killer! There’s no doubt the bird count is down but it only takes one bird to make my day!” Gosh Moose, I feel the same way!
I gotta get that boy out more often……..more tk…….