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Archive for March, 2010

Window Light on a Fast Moving Train

Mar 22

In In The Field at 5:38am

Lots of eyes on Washington this week. Made me remember this picture. Joe Biden, then senator from Delaware. We do so much currently with flash to re-create window light. And there it is, on a cloudy day, just waiting for  tri-x.


I was shooting Biden for People magazine, which really used to do good stories, and do them in B&W. Started as the brain child of Dick Stolley, People has been a juggernaut of magazine publishing for years, though I gather now it faces stiff competition from the likes of US, Them, Now, We, He, She, and It. (Whatever would they all do without little Suri Cruise?)

Anyway, the story used to go around (and it might have been apocryphal for all I know) that readers’ surveys conducted by People always cited the fact that folks enjoyed the stirring color photography which dominated the magazine. Which was odd, ’cause there wasn’t a damn thing in color in the magazine except the ads and the cover. This I’m sure was one of the great coups of magazine publishing–to produce a black and white weekly that somehow at least some of the readers thought was color.

The black and white persona of the magazine was reveled in, right down to the Black and White Ball held every year. Flush with success, the magazine would generously host a bash at the end of every year, and invite even us scruffy freelancers to don a tux and show up. There was a participatory spirit that dominated that era, not the “us vs. them” mentality of now. The magazine realized its’ success depended on the ongoing input and creativity of the band of oddball, goofball (I fell into both categories) shooters out there who contributed every week, and refused, at least for a time, to crush us. The tandem of picture editors up there, Mary Dunn and MC Marden, were the type you would walk through fire for on a handshake.

Things change, as they obviously have for Mr. Biden above, who really has gone onto to greater things. Back then, when I shot this, he was just returning to the Senate after a series of life threatening aneurysms and other medical complications nearly took his life. I met him at the Wilmington station, simple and easy, and just sat down across from him and went to work with a Leica M4, quietly observing his introspective mood about his first days back to work, as the train sped him towards the hill. The soft window light helped the mood. Simple job. Me and a Domke bag, and the future VP.

He’s certainly come up in the world, while I haven’t made much progress, remaining a scruffy freelance content provider. He did me a good turn, actually. I was supposed to be home that night, I mean pretty seriously home, but the lateness of his scheduling precluded that. I had to stick with him, and the story, and spend the night in DC. He called my house and got the voice answering machine and apologized on tape and said it was his fault and if anyone in the McNally household was ever in DC he would buy them lunch at the Senate cafeteria. So far, my daughter Caitlin hasn’t taken him up on that, but knowing Caity, she just might. More tk….

Santa Fe, First Day

Mar 16

In Lighting at 8:35am


Got a good class here in Santa Fe. We started rocking and rolling yesterday, just examining light shaping tools, exposure differences, control of light, both with big and small flash. As I said during the day, we shoulda all been arrested, ’cause we were having too much damned fun. Professional boxer Clara de la Torre came in to be our demo model. It was cool. We did some pretty simple, straightforward umbrella stuff, and then decided to head in the direction of bad ass light.


I’ve messed around with this type of light before, which is pretty ideal for athletic bodies. Thing is, I mostly have done it with small flash. For this, we kinda went gaga, and mixed 3 different light sources. The main overhead is an Elinchrom Ranger plugged into a beauty dish. It is, as you see, table topped over Clara, coming right down on her, shading her eyes, making her look like she belongs in the movie poster for Goodfellas. Then in the background, we got identical strip lights going, both running off Quadra packs and heads. Right down at her knees are two SB900 units, banging into a silver Lastolite reflector sheet. Then, in front of her, and low, is another SB900, zoomed to 200mm to tighten the light spill, and further concentrated by a Honl 1/8th inch grid. On top of the grid I layered some gaffer tape, to cut the light down to a super specific spot, i.e., Clara’s eyes. Then of course I drove Dustin and Sarah, the studio assistants, completely nuts by having them edge down the spill of the beauty dish with hand held tri-grip solids. As you can see, they took that puppy down to basically a sliver of light. Sarah’s side is more completely flagged. Dustin kinda screwed his side up:-)

Then, I opened that Pandora’s Box known as Photoshop, which to me is like a large, ornate mansion with about 75 rooms and 15 bathrooms. I’m standing in the lobby, looking for luggage assistance. But, here’s the great thing about the internet. I hit one of my stored Strobist links and voila! I got a path to follow in PS. DH has a detailed high pass layer deal in there that is simple but pretty cool. Naturally, like a kid with a new toy, I went Nike on the file, and got the top result. The file outta the camera is below, after dropping a black point. Of course in the original file, there’s my Honl grid, poking into the bottom edge. Didn’t bother me too much, it being in a dark area. Rather have the light where I want it in this instance, than pull back and lose some of the snap and concentration in the face.


Did I overdo it? Dunno? I’d love to hear if you love it/hate it. The light of course, was what I was after during the demo. Really liked the feel of the strips. Nice and smooth for the rim. Did this on previous occasions with mutliple small flashes serving as the backlight, triggered again by an overhead beauty dish. Got the below, which is nice, but as you can see, the rim light effect is a touch more splashy and uneven, due to the smaller sources.


This is also done without the benefit of the low, frontal, gridded SB unit, hence really nothing in the eyes. This is Aaron, who’s been on the blog before and  is a supremely capable athlete. This iteration of this style light was just about attitude and physicality, and not dedicated to seeing eyes and facial detail.  More tk….

From the Low Desert to the High Desert

Mar 15

In Travels at 9:11am


Rick, Santa Fe, New Mexico.


Dockworker, Dubai.

That was the week that was, surely. No blog post last week. Anything I might have written would have been just as incoherent as my schedule. I never plan it this way. Only an idiot would actually plan it this way. Hmmmm…….

But I had a bunch of stuff just box car up last week and bump into each other, mostly in the air, in the middle of some time zone my body and my noodle was completely unaware of. But have been shooting a lot in between my travels, and pretty happy with a few things. Up top, the formidable Rick is shot with an overhead Ezybox Hotshoe Softbox, and a Ray Flash ring light fill. The fellow on the docks was very simple, straightforward–Lastolite Tri-grip diffuser and an SB900. 50mm lens at 1.4.




Had a blast at GPP in Dubai, and was once again able to get together with the extraordinarily talented faculty that gathers there every year.  At the end of the week, one highlight was a shoot out with David Hobby, Zack Arias, and JoeyL. I was appointed moderator, kibitzer, and all around pest. It was all in good fun, but, as I pointed out to the audience, if they read between the lines, what they saw in with David and Zack were two extraordinary photogs working out a problem and coming up with a good picture in a matter of minutes. Hopefully folks noticed how DH built his picture and his exposure scenario piece by piece, and how Zack meticulously directed his subjects. Very cool. Drew and I hadda boogie to the airport, so we missed JoeyL, and his Polaroid performance.

Then zapped straight through to Santa Fe to hook up with the Mooster, and DLWS. And of course, up top, the famous Rick, keeper of the keys at the former New Mexico state pen. This week, I’ve got my regular lighting class at the Santa Fe Workshops. As I mentioned, have done some fun shooting lately, will be blogging about it during the week.

And, trust me, I haven’t forgotten all the sins! There were just a whole bunch, so here I am, committing the sin of lateness. They’ll be up soon. More tk…

Whose Knees Are These?

Mar 4

In Friends, Seminars & Workshops at 11:14pm


Okay, I ‘ll give you a hint. He’s at GPP in Dubai. He uses speed lights. And this is the 3rd time in this millennium he has worn long pants. Give up? Mystery man revealed here.

(I also went to his class on social media and if there is anybody on the planet who knows more about the role it is currently playing in our industry, I certainly don’t know them.)

Speaking of knowledgeable people in exotic places, my buds Eddie Soloway and Renie Haiduk are heading for Africa. Both are wonderful shooters and teachers. Eddie’s book, A Thousand Moons, is simply one of the most beautiful books I have ever held in my hands. Definitely check out his website, and Renie’s. Hit this link for info on the Africa trip……


Still in Dubai…..


Rolling along here. In classes last few days, not the desert. Had a seminar day yesterday, so wanted to show the gang the notion of doing a commercial looking, bright, open white background kind of shot that lots of clients love, ’cause it is in fact, bright, white, and they can load it up with logos and type. Also wanted to show you could do a shot like this with TTL small flash.


Cross lit the background, which means taking the right side lights and throwing them to the left and vice versa. Alessia, who is just terrific in front of the camera, is leaping up and basically into the light coming from a 3×3 Lastolite one stop diffuser panel, supported by a c-stand. And there’s a floor skip coming off a 3×6 silver panel laying on the floor, with one SB unit bounced straight down into it. Group A, B, C, all playing together well. We started real small in the seminar, showing options for one light, hot shoed to the camera, and then built scenarios up to this, with a bunch of SB units working together, not only to cover the set, but to give a pretty good recycle time at 1/250th @ 5.6.

And, in the “this just in category,” Syl Arena of the Pixsylated blog madness is the headliner over at Seems somebody figured out Canon flashes:-)

Heading back stateside this weekend……more tk….

It’s Raining Here….

Mar 1

In On Location at 2:43pm

It’s not supposed to be raining here. This is Dubai, that giant mushroom of concrete, glass and steel that erupted out of the sun blasted sand and became a magnet for all things over the top. Put the adjective “tallest,” or “biggest” in front of any number of things, and they be here.

I’m convinced it’s me. Bad weather just follows me. Last year in Las Vegas, in the springtime, fer chrissakes, I lost a day’s shooting to a snow storm. Here, where for a chunk of the year the temperature dial is set at “fricassee,” it just ain’t supposed to rain like this. Wild. I used to think it was because I’m Irish Catholic, and I just kind of tug my own personal set of rain clouds around with me, and the following gloom would create an atmosphere conducive to repentance. But now I think I’m just a weather Jonah. A million years ago, I shot so many football games in the rain that at one point I put my 300 4.5 to my eye and watched what I thought was a massive dust speck inside the barrel of the lens just sprout legs and crawl across one of the interior elements. So much moisture had gotten in that thing it was like I had my own personal Amazon rain forest, right there in my camera bag.


Still, though, even after all these years, I remain undaunted. It was looking bleak the other day, but I still went to the desert, looking for non-existent light in the midst of swirling, pre-storm sand. Worked with Sahar, a beautiful Persian dancer, who fuses elements of traditional Sufi and dervish dance styles with modern hand movents and body language. The uncertain sand prevented her from doing her spinning style of dance, but we managed a few frames before we got the hell out of the desert, thunderheads hard on our heels.

Got back to the hotel just as it cut loose, and it actually rained so hard at the rooftop restaurant here, a good portion of the wait staff was dispatched, armed with mops, to combat the rising tide sliding through the doors and towards the tables. Dubai is known for commerce, industry, and increasingly, photography. It is not known for drainage. It’s like Atlanta in a snowstorm, with people staring blankly at streets that just became canals, wondering what to do and when it will go away.

It could also not be me, I’m relieved to report. It could be the city is just having a tough water week. At the Dubai Mall this week, the giant aquarium sprung a leak. The official mall website read thusly:

“A leakage was noticed at one of the panel joints of the Dubai Aquarium at The Dubai Mall and was immediately fixed by the aquarium’s maintenance team.”

A leakage was noticed? Fellas, they just about had sharks sliding through the Benetton in there.

Here of course for the GPP yearly photo fest. It’s a very cool event. Great faculty, great attendance, nice people. And, it was good to go back to the desert, even briefly. I have pursued dance off and on for years, just a photographic hobby I love and keep returning to. Put a few pix lately on the blog of dancers in strange places, and some folks have asked if it’s a new project. Not really. Been doing it a long time. I convinced my reluctant editors at LIFE to send me to Moscow , ’cause I had a contact at the Bolshoi Ballet. They really didn’t want to do it, and when editors really don’t want to do a story, to a photographer that’s a sign from the heavens that it needs to be done. I hectored them about it, and finally they relented and said I could go, albeit unsupported. So, as a staff photographer at a multi-billion dollar company, I used my frequent flier miles to get over there, and I stayed in my fixer’s tenement. It wasn’t a great apartment, but it was a great location. More tk…..