responsiveslider_lol_02 The Language of Light DVD - More
MeetJoe_02 Meet Joe McNally - More
inthebag What’s in the Bag? - More

Archive for March, 2010

View From My Window….

Mar 31

In Seminars & Workshops, Travels at 7:22am


In Abu Dhabi, as the guest of the AbuDhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage and their wonderful emissary, Bader Alnomani.  Teaching here to coincide with the Emirates Photo Competition under the auspices of the ADACH and the FIAP (International Federation of Art Photography). Having a terrific time, seeing portfolios, teaching about light, and in general enjoying Abu Dhabi, which is a city where, previous to now, I had only visited the airport. I see the above scene from my hotel window every morning. It is an immediate reminder that I am not home.

Lessee, my work flow on this one might be instructive.

Wander jet lagged through hotel room in pre-dawn dark. Look out window. The Sheik Zayed Mosque. Also known as the Great Mosque. Nice. Pretty.

Let eyes wander upward to…full moon. Stand there slack jawed, toothbrush hanging from lower lip. Put two and two together. (Not easy for me even on 8 hours sleep.)

Race around hotel room, grab Gitzo, D3X, 200-400 zoom. Look again at moon. Disappearing behind clouds. Curse.

Open patio door. Setup tripod, camera and lens. Hope no one notices I’m still in my u-trou.

Make rushed, bad exposure of moon. Calm down.

Dial in minus 2.7 EV. Make another exposure. Better. Swing camera to Mosque. Adjust EV to minus 2. Make shot. Looks okay. Clouds closing in.

Program camera to DX format to get bigger moon. Program 2 shot multiple exposure. Make shot of moon, swing camera to Mosque. Make second exposure. Doesn’t work. Why? I thunder thumbed and programmed the multiple exposure wrong. Curse.

Do multiple thingy button on D3X properly this time. Zoom. Get big moon. Place in upper left. Swing camera to Mosque. Zoom out. Make another shot. This time both exposures pop up in LCD. Say thank you to St. Jude.

Repeat. One more frame. Moon gone.

Sit. Launch card into Aperture. Cool. Push some sliders. Saturate, contrast, sharpen. Got a preset for blog. Go click. Pic on desktop. Put into blog.

Go to breakfast. Try to remember to put on my pants.

More tk….

Da Guys….

Mar 30

In Friends, Lighting at 1:45am

The Gulf Photo Plus gang has just posted the video from the shootout with David Hobby, Zack Arias, and Joey L. It’s a hoot. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the crowd was the real beneficiary of all the humor, sweat and photographic expertise that was on display during each shooter’s allotted 20 or so minutes. I hadda boogie to the airport, so I missed the processing of the Polaroid with Joey L, but I was privileged to kibitz a bit while David and Zack knocked it back. It was, at the end of the day, after all the “I will crush you” bantering that occurred, just an event based on mutual respect and friendship amongst all the instructors. That of course, and treachery, skulduggery, pocket wizard frequency manipulation, swiped Canon cameras, model mayhem (in the sense there were two, instead of the assumed one), and some dip in the audience with a microphone offering inane commentary.

Check it out HERE.

More tk….

Ybor at One Four

Mar 29

In In The Field at 10:34am


Shot with the 24mm f1.4. I really have been looking forward to this lens. Fast, wide glass is paramount doing what I do. This past year I logged a ton of chopper time for the Geographic, shooting at dusk or flat out nighttime conditions, so chip performance (D3S) and fast glass with edge to edge sharpness  has been hugely important. I’m pushing myself back towards prime lenses. I’m trying to remember how to move my feet. I’m trying not to be on location and stand there like a frikkin’ house plant.

Shot on the streets of Ybor (“Call me Eye-bor”) City during the Safari pre-con get together at PhotoShop World in Orlando last week. Had a hoot out there with a nice bunch of folks, tagging along with my bud the Mooster. Ybor is a real nice, weird place. Friendly people. This gentleman was kind enough to allow me a snap in good light.

Just bought the 24 1.4 from the magic man, Jeff Snyder, at Adorama, which is where I buy all my stuff. He was able to reach into the system and re-direct the shipping so the lens caught up with me on the road. Jeff ( –go ahead, use it, tell him it’s my fault) routinely pulls gear outta the air and pulls the levers needed to make stuff happen on deadline, which is cool. Tougher to make that happen talking to an 800 number.

I still have my 28 1.4, though Nikon stopped making that years ago. From what I know the construction of that lens entailed the use of lead, hence it was banned in a bunch of countries, and Nikon said forget it. I guess the powers that be in these places understandably wanted to save photographers from themselves, knowing we are insecure babies and when things go wrong on location we just revert to a preverbal state, curl into a ball, and start rocking in the corner while sucking on our lenses. I personally don’t suck on my lenses, I just routinely suck when I use them. There’s a big difference.

But I still have it, even though there’s an incurable aberration on the back element, which makes it less than attractive on Ebay, so I just hang onto it. You can’t see the little ding when you shoot at 1.4, and that’s all I shoot that lens at. Which makes it kinda like my old catadioptric 5oomm mirror lens, which has a fixed aperture of f8. I just look at my 28 as a fixed aperture lens as well, only faster and easier to focus.

Writing this on Saturday night. Another wild night at JFK airport. Non-stop excitement. Bound for Abu Dhabi. Never been there, but I’m sure in its’ own way, it’s just as interesting as Ybor City. More tk….

Jim’s Gone….

Mar 24

In history at 10:00pm


Jim Marshall died today. That name might not mean much to lots of folks, even photographic folks, but we are all the poorer for his passing. He was an iconic shooter of the rock and roll scene in it’s heyday. He lived hard, and chased pictures even harder. He didn’t shoot raw files. He just shot raw. His demands for access were as unflinching as his lens. “If someone doesn’t want me to shoot them, fine, fuck ’em,” he said. “But if they do, there can’t be any restrictions.”

An eye that doesn’t blink can be unflattering. One of Jim’s most famous images is Johnny Cash at San Quentin, flipping the camera the bird. Hendrix, Joplin. Jim shot them all. His way. Real isn’t necessarily pretty. But it can be memorable.

“I don’t sign shit either, I own all of my photographs and no one I’ve shot, not Dylan, not Miles, not Cash, has ever complained about how my pictures of them have been used.”

We are at a place where 50 or 60 or 100 shooters all vie for space in the pit for 3 songs, if that. All of them are outside the velvet rope, hoping for a glimpse, waiting for an opening. Jim, working in a different era, made his own openings. His pictures smell of sweat, incense and dope. They pop, ’cause they’re real. And, more importantly, he owned them. He was careful with his negs. As he said, “I took care of my negatives. Now they take care of me.”

Has anyone ever shot a memorable picture of, for instance, Coldplay? I ask this question from afar, as I am not a rock and roll shooter. From what I hear, again,  from a serious distance, is that this is a band, like many, who has left the term “control freak” in the rear view mirror. Absolute control of image, and images. I guess that’s understandable. It’s a business. Good music, to be sure. Sanitized, moderated imagery. Will we look in 20 years? Will that retouched, altered image hit a nerve? Seeing as many shooters now have to sign over rights to gain access, will we ever see it? Because of his talent, and tough stance, and his steely eye through a Leica, Jim gave us memory. I cannot imagine growing up without knowing the picture of Hendrix setting his guitar on fire.

I met Jim several times. That doesn’t mean I knew him. Actually, quite the contrary. I had to be re-introduced every time we bumped into each other. He was always direct, and said on a couple of occasions, sotto voce, “You know Joe, I don’t really know your work.” That was more than okay. It was, in a funny way, validation. He was Jim. He didn’t need to know.

My wife Annie befriended Jim. He was fond of her. (Who isn’t?) She tried to guide him through the digital woods, but their conversations almost always veered away from pixels into matters far more interesting.  He sent her autographed books, and gave her a suite of signed prints, which are on our walls. The print of Hendrix up top is her favorite.

“I love all these musicians – they’re like family,” he said. “Looking back, I realize I was there at the beginning of something special, I’m like a historian. There’s an honesty about this work that I’m proud of. It feels good to think, my God, I really captured something amazing.”

Looking back from where we are now, even more amazing. More tk….

Making Window Light

Mar 23

In In The Field, Lighting at 5:08am

So, referring to yesterday’s blog post, definitely not practical to line the Northeast Amtrak corridor with SB units to create window light. I got lucky photographing then Senator Biden with soft light on a cloudy day, and even luckier with the Tri-x in my camera. (No worries about the greenish windows often present on trains shifting my color transparency film over into “aquarium” mode, and making my subject look like Swamp Thing.)

But now, in our digital world,  in a more static situation, it is easy to make window light with speed light.


As I always tell Thomas Wingate, who’s a great friend and an American original, his face belongs on Mount Rushmore. It is the road map to an interesting life, well lived. I not only enjoy photographing him, I enjoy the time we have when we just say cameras be damned, let’s just hang. This has occasionally involved putting the camera down and picking up a beer, or several. While you cannot make a picture with a can of beer, it is potentially an important component in terms of imagining your next picture.


In this instance, Thomas is being lit by 3 SB 900 units, placed outside the smallish window of the jail cell in Eaves Ranch. I viewed the small size of the window as an advantage, actually, as it is easily sealed off with one 3×3 Lastolite skylite panel.When I say sealed, I really mean that. When doing this, it is generally advisable to let no other stray daylight in. Hence the Avenger c-stand with the extension arm. That arm is able to angle the panel right flush to the side of the building. The only light gettin’ in there now is comin’ from the speed lights.


I remain inside with the camera. We ran a couple of SC-29 cords from the hot shoe of the D3X to a commander SB-900, justin clamped to the bars of the other window. You can see it, over there on the right. It is talking to the window lights for me. I put three out there, which may or may not be overkill. If I had just one, it would be working pretty hard, to be sure. So the extra lights, to me, make sense, especially if you want to move with any speed through a set of pictures.


So here’s the beauty of wireless flash. I can stay in the jail cell, talk it out with Thomas, and shift my lens/f-stop combo seamlessly. I went from the 70-200 at F8, used for the above pictures,  to a 200mm at f2 for the snap below. Without going outside to change the lights. Cool beans. Don’t know which version I necessarily like better, but, when you are moving fast, the ability to flip a couple switches and get a distinctly different result, to me, just enhances your versatility as a shooter, maximizes the efficiency of your location time, and can, at least occasionally, endear you to the art director, if such a person is present on the set with you. Clients love it when you can change on a dime. Versatility and flexibility can mean you’ll get called back, which is generally desirable.


And then, just to see the reach of the light, I put the magnificent Mawgie in there. I’m not saying Mawgie is the type of lady who might get arrested on her wedding day, but hey….


A bunch of my favorite folks, a few speed lights, and a jail cell. What more could one ask for? More tk…..