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Archive for May, 2010

Wide Lens, Tight Spaces

May 25

In In The Field at 10:18am


The Nikkor 14-24 f2.8 is a pretty cool lens, but ya gotta be careful tipping that puppy around, or pushing it in way close for a portrait. On board a nuke sub, though, especially with 30 degrees down on the dive planes, it’s gonna get a little tippy here and there, mostly ’cause you’re standing at an angle that generally is reserved for mountain climbing and the like.

It’s the perfect lens for the tight spaces of a sub. Shot this with a little fill flash the other week in San Diego, onboard the USS Hampton, a Los Angeles class fast attack sub out of San Diego. Great day. Hit 600 feet on a dive, and did some of what submariners call “angles and dangles,” which you can guess the nature of. Great crew on board, who really looked after us landlubbers. We were the guests of Commander William Houston, the CO of the Hampton, and Commodore Brett Genoble, who is in charge of the Point Loma sub base. They really filled us in on the nature of the mission of the boat.

Hadn’t been onboard a nuke boat since the book Day in the Life of the U.S. Military, where I went out on the boomer Henry Jackson, out of sub base Bangor, in the state of Washington. The boomers are huge by comparison to the Hampton, which is designed to dive deep, and move fast. Regardless of size, though, the subs are absolute marvels of space use and economization.

On the Jackson, crewman takes a rest just a few feet from a ballistic missile. Welcome to the strange world under the waves.


Up at Bangor, the sea lions like the warmth of the boat’s power plant, and just park it there all day long, getting toasty.


My thanks go out to the men and woman who serve across the board, and especially the crews who undertake this very daunting task and lifestyle. When they slide under the waves, they are gone for a while, and few know where they travel. Especially grateful to all the folks at Point Loma who made the visit happen. It coincides with a book effort I am currently writing for my alma mater, LIFE Magazine. More on that tk…..

Big Canyon, Small Flash

May 18

In Lighting, On Location at 2:02am

Been experimenting with seeing how far I can throw a commander signal from a hot shoe mounted flash to a set of remotes. Figured Dead Horse Canyon would be a good place to try. So last week, got up in the middle of the night and went out for sunrise in Moab. Got in touch with our bikers, Beth and Sean, through Poison Spyder Bike Shop in Moab, which, for me, has been the place to call if you want to work with good riders. The folks who either work there or are connected with the shop can really rock it out on a mountain bike.


Triggered the remotes from an SB900 on my camera. It had the diffuser dome off, and it was zoomed to 200mm, which is a good strategy for squeezing out a few more yards of range. All three remotes are hooked up on a c-stand via Justin Clamps. All have 1/2 cut of CTO warming gel on them, and they in turn are zoomed to 200mm, to get punch and direction along the lines of the rising (hopefully) sun.


Sean and Beth took turns, and I just kept adjusting at camera for the changing light. I was swinging the camera left and right to maybe do a pano stitch, so I took it out of aperture priority and just slammed it into manual. After experimenting a bit, I decided I needed all the juice I could get outta the lights, so I sent them a signal to fire at manual, 1/1, the max power you can get from the 900.




They both did great out there on the edge of the canyon. And the lights did okay, too. Consistent fire and recycle, ’cause each 900 was hooked to an SD-9 external battery pack.


Then there was this tree, which is evidently famous. It’s all bent up, kinda like it was growing one way and then decided to make a u-turn back the other direction. It’s cool looking, as trees go. My buds Kevin Dobler, Moose Peterson and I worked out a lighting combo that had two 900 units warmed up with CTO gel, and at first zoomed to 200mm, firing at the tree from both camera left and right, with each flash being about 20 or so feet from the greenery. Changed up the zoom when it looked like the lights were getting too spotty, and widened them both out to about 85mm. Group A to one side, B to the other, in case we had to ratio them differently. Saturated the sky with underexposure, and powered up the lights.


And, I became one with the tree. Figures. We’re both a little bent.

Couple schedule things….

Heading to Florida on Friday to teach lighting in Orlando, courtesy of the Orlando Camera Club. Great bunch of folks, and the organizer, Wayne Bennett has been tireless at putting together what looks to be a terrific program. Here’s the link….

More tk….

Strange Rocks

May 11

In In The Field at 11:02pm

In Moab, Utah, a good place to look at rocks. There are magic rocks, you know. Out west, certain formations have strange, almost mystical powers to make people disappear, or do odd things. Witness my bud Moose’s blog from a bit ago, where some guy named Joe Blow Tourist was sitting on such a rock, and simply vanished! Pixel dust. Ended up as a broken pile of bones at the bottom of the canyon.



The rock in question is not in Moab, it’s in New Mexico, the land of enchantment, brother moon, sister sky, and uncle indigestion. The magic of the rock was also visited upon Moose, albeit in a different way…..

Now here we are together, again, amidst the rocks. We went to visit a famous one this morning, dutifully arising in the blackness of the night, and traveling to meet the sun. Our group arrived in the gloom, and of course, there was already someone there, tripod arranged, clad for the long haul in the chilly darkness, shoulders set in absolute determination to get the shot. As we all would be, having spent half the night hugging a tripod, cold comfort indeed.

“Don’t cross that line,” was the cheery greeting to our gaggle of shooters. Understandable. Spending hours stamping your feet in the cold focuses both the mind and the camera, and it is natural to start to feel, well, proprietary, about this mute piece of stone. Reminding him that this rock belongs to no man, and we could all work together to secure a few precious frames produced, well, not exactly a gesture of teamwork.

But salvation arrived in the form of whole busloads of Asian tourists! I turned and saw so many of them flooding into this little piece of canyon land I thought I was watching a battle sequence from The Last Samurai. Bubbling with enthusiasm, each with a point and shoot in virtually every pocket, they quite wonderfully turned the steely, territorial attitudes of the pre-dawn into a something akin to a celebration of spring and sun on the rocks.



Being a people shooter more than a rock shooter, I applauded this event. These folks were great. Talked to a few, shot some pix with them, and then I noticed the gentleman who seemed to have developed a portrait franchise on the left edge of the arch. He posed everybody carefully, shot multiple frames, got subjects to twist hips and legs just so. I think, you know, I look, well, for 6am, damn good.


It was just a terrific, energetic morning. I love watching folks with unabashed photo enthusiasm, all shooting each other against this most famous of rocks, and shooting “me and my baby” shots. There were a few crusty moments as the mentality of “shooting the rock” met head on with the mentality of “shooting me in front of the rock.” But it was cool, and made the whole trek out there worth it.

And I did, at the end, get a rock picture.


Night before our canyon adventures, we had very different subject matter–an old ramshackle town called Cisco. I guess there was one similarity. Just like in the canyon, the old shacks and decaying junk around Cisco did not move. Usually I regard locations such as this as portrait settings. Tina, one of our participants, agreed to be a subject in front of an old trailer. Sun was pretty much down, so a put a flash in the distance, roughly at the angle where the sun had been.


Got an angle of incidence/reflection highlight, and then moved Tina’s wonderful face into the frame, lighting her with an EzyBox Hotshoe softbox (24 inch). Two lights, TTL, done deal.


Off to San Diego shortly, to the NIK Summit. Organized by the legendary Tony Corbell, this gathering should be very cool, and in, of course, a cool place. I feel bad going there actually, ’cause my arrival will probably interrupt their non-stop run of beautiful sunny days. Weather Jonah Strikes Again! Alan Hess already tweeted that he is sandbagging his house and preparing for the torrential rains and flash floods that will attend my arrival. More tk….

Gotta Love a Woman With a Cleaver…

May 9

In In The Field at 10:53pm

American Photo- Spread 1

Had a great time earlier this year, teaching and working in Malaysia. Drew and I were the guests of Louis Pang, who is one of the premier wedding shooters in all of Asia. We were blessed to work with Evon Tan, absolutely one of the most fluid and creative people I have ever shot with. So much so, I wrote about it in the coming issue of American Photo (May/June). We hit the colorful streets of Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown, and just rolled for all of about two plus hours. All small flash, all done TTL.

Got one issue of the mag with me, so just plopped it on the floor of the hotel room and shot the spreads  real quick. It’s a fun read, and goes about as fast as we were shooting. Lots of TTL issues, off camera advice, EV adjustments on the fly, and the like. Fun, in other words. Like this very short video, again shot by Louis Pang.

American Photo- Spread 2

American Photo- Spread 3

More tk….

Traveling Light

May 2

In Travels at 9:03pm

Home now. Recently did 10 stops in 14 days for Nikon Europe’s Speed of Light Tour. Been doing this in various shapes and sizes now for 4 years. It’s really Annie’s doing. She’s routinely adored by her colleagues both here in the US and abroad. (Trust me, I understand.)

But she rarely gets to see her mates from Europe and Asia, save at big international events, like what just occurred up Vancouver way. So I think they dreamed this up a few years ago just so they could get to see her over on the continent on a yearly basis. Beyond the likability factor, she also commands enormous respect for her knowledge of all things digital, her ability to communicate and teach well, and her non-stop force of nature work ethic, and, well, you get the idea.

Me? I’m, like, you know, happy baggage.

I bounce into these various locales, halls, conference centers, and theaters sight unseen and try to light ’em up ad hoc right then and there, and talk through small flash, TTL, hard light, soft light, movie quotes, fast cars, German coffee, Viennese beer, and why the hell isn’t this cord working right now? It’s all off the cuff, and everything I shoot goes right to a screen, which is fun, and has a big gulp factor right there along with it. I also spend all day with a microphone around my neck which makes Annie very nervous.

Been experimenting with getting the most I can out of one light. At the Brabus Motor Works outside Dusseldorf, there was a huge screen essentially made out of strings, so I put up SB900, zoomed to 200mm, with a slight warm gel about 30 or 40 feet away from it. Blogged this last week….


But also managed to move my subject around a little, let the strings drop, and move camera angle to get these two looks. 



Couple of different looks from one light on a stick. The nice thing about trying light like this, and putting it through something, or around the door and down the hall is that it might end up….unpredictable. Umbrella? Cool, looks nice. Soft box? Okay, been there, done that. But through a bunch of strings? Or glass bricks? Or something? Anything? Might be fun. It also might suck. That’s a given. But to light well on any level is to experiment, continuously.

Onto Berlin, and this amazing cave like night club place. I had a notion, always a dangerous thing. Ended up doing this with Christian, a body builder, in front of the bar. Nine flashes. Why do I do this to myself? We tried at first to work it out, and just crashed and burned. It was the kind of setup that needed time and attention, two things I didn’t really have available. The audience was gracious, but they were like, huh? I kinda shrugged.  Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But then, during dinner hour, the crew said, hey, you know, if you want to get this, we’ll stick with you and get it. So we did. 9 lights, one hour. Everybody came back from dinner, and we walked through it, piece by piece. It was a hoot. There were three lights on Christian, three back on the bar, one up top on the upper level, one for Caligula back there, one bounced for fill, and we got ’em all triggered TTL with an SU800 held up above camera.


In Hamburg, got a chance to work with an amazing couple, Mr. Olympia Oliver Reinhardt and his wife, Iris. Two tri-grips, each to the side. Gave up on this way too soon. Shoulda really stuck with it and worked it out, ’cause they are stunning together. But the mandate of these days is to move fast, and present as many issues and as much information as possible, so kept moving.


At Munich, we worked in a great studio with a cyc wall. You woulda thought I could leave well enough alone, but I went out to the dumpster and pulled in two broken wooden pallets, and put 3 SB900 units on the floor and let ’em rip, creating a, well, irregular shadow pattern.


Into which we dropped Tobias, a body builder whose arms and chest had a life of their own. Put him here.


And here.


Then moved him out of the hard shadow light, and lit him with a couple flashes. The wider he flexed, the wider his smile got. (If I had arms like this, I would smile a lot, too.)


Then thoroughly bronzed Tobias (no need for cloudy white balance here, folks) posed in front of the NPS loaner delivery car. Yep, in Europe, you need a lens from NPS, it shows up hours later, transported by this Lamborghini:-) Ever try lighting a car with speedlights? In less than a half an hour? Yikes, we moved fast. It was fun even though it was the type of shot you could work on for, oh, about 3 days.


In Switzerland, we had another great studio setting. When we walked in, we found Alexa, hanging from the ceiling and decided to light her, right then and there. Pascal Richard, of NPS Switzerland, sorted out a terrific combo of setting and talent for two days of smaller, group workshops, where everybody milled about and stayed close to the action and the lights.


This is 4 SB900 units outside the building. The three in the back are gelled blue, and the key light for our silk flyer is gelled warm. All are zoomed to 200mm, with no diffusion or light shapers of any kind. I loved this location. Ground floor, great windows. Used Win as a subject, too. A terrific shooter who just happens to have, like, 5 Harleys, he’s definitely got the kind of face that has been pointing into the wind and peering over a set of handlebars for a long time. (He’s also a card carrying member of the “Too Much Fun Club,” and has partied hard with the likes of Peter Fonda, so this is also a face that lives life, and well. This is two lights, one outside, and one into a small ezybox hot shoe soft box.



In Frankfurt, another great location, and surprisingly there was a body builder and a ballerina already there! :-)  Ground floor, huge windows, and after I rummaged a bit, a 30′ ladder. Justin clamped a single SB900 to the ladder, trundled it outside and across an alleyway, and leaned it against another building. No one seemed to mind. White light, no diffusion. 200mm zoom.


That light, a white wall, and Marco produced this. Also could look like this from the side, with Daria.


All hard, daylight looking light. Until you put a table cloth in the flashed window. Then you get this.


In Slovenia, everybody was incredibly gracious, and man, Nikon’s  Tomas Puh and Rok Gasparic really rallied the troops. Almost 300 people showed up. I faced the typical photog challenge. What to do with four walls?  Did have a pair of lovely gymnasts to work with, who were great kids. Washed three flashes off the projector screen to get this, which was a lot of fun.


Then I told them they could freelance a move, and boy did they.


This was shot from the audience by the terrific Ljubljana based shooter, Borut Peterlin, whose imagination is about as wide as his lens. On his site he’s got a terrific set of quirky, provocative (definitely provocative), fascinating portraits of numerous cultural icons of Slovenia. He snapped this just as the two young ladies went into the stratosphere and totally overwhelmed my 14-24. I just put the camera down and lost it. Leaping ladies!

Last stop, Vienna, and a movie theater. The darkness of the place was daunting, but also gave me a measure of control. Was able to try a couple lighting scenarios with the lovely Miss Austria, Valentina Schlager.Worked out a nice combo of light for her up front, assisted by two SB900 units in the back of the room.


Then got the audience involved.


Lots of pix today on the blog, mostly ’cause I have lots of thank you’s to offer. The NPS gang over in Europe was terrific. Yasuo Baba, the architect of the whole deal, just spins ideas and creates possibilities like crazy. His team of Michael Ramroth, Nicola Best, and the tireless Nils Pajenkamp and Stephanie Doll were there for Annie and I every step of the way, even down to staying ahead of the volcano ash and jumping on trains loaded with German soccer fans.

Here’s the team, with the NPS delivery vehicle, which Annie got to drive. (Since she’s been back, I’ve noticed she’s driving her Honda a lot more aggressively:-)


I show Marco how it’s done. ms3_9253

The helpful crowd puts a tablecloth in the window. ms3_9387

Setting up a commander to fire the lights outside. You can translate TTL through as many as three SC-28 or 29 cords.


Annie working out a light.


Smoke and silk flyers in Switzerland. _par3282_003



Annie on a train. Saved my biggest thank you for last…..more tk