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

Archive for October, 2010

Fall in New York

Oct 28

In Rambling at 6:54am

Looked like one those familiar adventures yesterday in NY.  Had a shoot setup, with my bud, RC Concepcion. It was raining, all day. Go or not go? For a magazine assignment, no question. Just go. But a self assignment? Hey, I could have another latte and do some more computer work. Or watch the new Robin Hood movie for the eighth or ninth time. I could stay here and look out the window, or some other equally necessary and demanding task.

Or, I could hoist the backpack, and once again, trudge through the weather with an anvil on my back, and a tripod in my hand. Met RC, who is this wonderful font of shooting enthusiasm, and off we went. Had made arrangements via a dear friend, who has friendly neighbors who have that rarest of NY things–a view.

We saw some blue sky walking over, and our spirits rose. Then we went inside an elevator, and like some beam machine from Star Trek, it transported us to another world. We were all of a sudden up and out on a misty deck–and in the heaviest rain of the day. We stood there, getting soaked. Went inside and started dripping on towels, shoulders slumped, about to have the “What bar do you want to go to dude?” conversation when RC’s eyes went saucer like, and he shouted, “Get the cameras!”


Outside, the skies had cleared, and it was like one of those fellas from Greek mythology just threw a multi-hued javelin right into the park. I think that’s about 83rd St., right in the middle of the Great Lawn. That’s NY, right? Just when you think you got a one way ticket to Pismo Beach, you turn around and you’re in Fat City. (The opposite happens much more frequently.) Never seen a rainbow like this in the park, but that’s mostly ’cause I ain’t ever had a view like this before. In my second apartment in NY, I could see the park from my fire escape if I taped a mirror to a broom handle and ran it out a few feet.

Fall in NY also means it’s time for PPE at the Javits Center. If you see me walking around, talking to myself like a crazy street person who somehow got a speaker’s credential, interrupt me and say hi. Or come to my class this am, starts at 8:45.


Did I say walking around? Make that limping. Went to the chiropractor yesterday. He scanned my feet. See the ones on the right? Those are optimal feet, like, ones that have an arch. The ones on the left are mine. He was shocked. He said, “You have really flat feet!” I guess in chiropractic school there’s a course called “Stating the Obvious 302.”

I’ve been carrying lots of gear on the equivalent of pancakes for 35 years. My body’s basically a train wreck with legs. I’m Irish Catholic, so I readily accept that fact that if something doesn’t hurt, I should check my pulse.


Hey, at PPE, got this thing going. I’m going to BE winging my way by the Adorama booth, where there will be a stash of autographed copies of my new LIFE book. I’ll be tweeting things like, “I”ll be at THE Adorama Booth from 3:15 till 3:30. First one to come up to me in the booth and say some nutty phrase that will be in the tweet gets a book. No hi’s, or how are ya’s. Just walk up and say the phrase, which will be something incredibly stupid I’ll dream up like, “Group A, Channel One,” or, “Ansel Adams used a point and shoot.” Just the phrase. Get a book. I’ll be doing it all 3 days, and will have short times I’ll be at the booth. Got like, 40 books. Hope to give ’em all away. Stay tuned to the twitter alerts!

Welcome to NY everybody….more tk….

Notes from the Islands

Oct 24

In In The Field at 9:18pm


Ever run into somebody you just really all of a sudden need to photograph? Such a thing occurred last week in St. Lucia, at this year’s edition of our class that should be called, “let’s take some flashes and go someplace really, really nice.” That really nice place once again was Anse Chastenet and Jade Mountain, truly a piece of heaven nestled by the Piton Mountains in St. Lucia. It routinely ranks as one of the top destination resorts in the world, and exists because of the audacious creativity and tenacity of its’ owner, Nick and Karolyn Troubetzkoy.

My good friend Michael Allard introduced me to Barbara Cadet, who at that moment was sending beautiful sounds from her alto sax into the Caribbean night from the Jade Mountain Club. She has long been a fixture in the island music scene, a powerhouse not only with her saxophone in her hands, but also in terms of nurturing Carib musical talent. She exudes sweetness and soul, and when I shook her hand, I was pretty determined to get her in front of the camera.

Turns out it was a fortuitous meet, as she is coming out with a CD, and needed a picture. I kinda said, hey, you know, I’ll shoot it for you. She thought I was doing her a favor. Turns out, it was the other way around.

That’s ’cause there’s certain folks out there who just step in front of the camera and own it, plain and simple, and she’s one of them.  Lighting was dead bang simple. Quadra pack into a deep Octa, Drew holding it on a paint pole.


I’m of course sitting in the surf, flopping around like a Beluga whale who took a wrong turn, with the incoming waves funneling sand into my shorts with the speed and urgency of a high powered cement mixer. My wife Annie, who found herself at the shoreline with a new P7000, managed to run some mildly embarrassing video while I was, as I noted at the time, in the process of being involuntarily exfoliated:-)

It was a great week in the islands. Scott Kelby came down, and did his usual amazing class in Lightroom and Photoshop, making the mysteries of post production truly simple. He had a blast, check out his post over at Photoshop Insider. The class had a great time as we also visited the guys at the Soufriere Fire Department. Garvey Charlemange is in the middle, flanked by Shian and Henry. Many thanks go out to the SFD, as they really rolled out the red carpet for the class.



We managed to tackle shooting groups, hi speed sync, dragging shutter, flash and blur, gels, flash at sunset, light shaping tools, you name it. We used Tri-grips of various sizes, Lastolite panels, hot shoe flashes, Quadras, c-stands, and VALS. We did lots of experimentation with very expensive electronics near or in large bodies of water, with no casualties, I’m happy to report.


All in all, for the folks who live down in St. Lucia, it was just another week in paradise. For us, though, it was truly special as the hotel staff once again bent over backwards to help move us about in vans, boats, in the jungle, on the beach and in town. Back home in the Northeast now, happily watching the leaves fall. Have a big lighting class at PPE this week. LIFE Guide is out–went to top in three categories last week for a bit, which was fun, at least for a few minutes:-)


…..more tk….

LIFE Launch…

Oct 19

In Books at 7:43am


Today is official release of a book I wrote for my alma mater, LIFE magazine. What a long strange trip photography is. I shot my first job for the magazine in 1984, and managed somehow to survive editor changes, shifts in format, style, and even the change of the physical size of the magazine to keep shooting for them right through the nineties. Just about 1995 they asked me to become their first staffer in 23 years, which also meant I became the last staff photographer in the history of the magazine, as it is no longer publishing. As I always point out, being the last in a series of 90 staff shooters at this illustrious picture magazine probably means that someone writing the history of this field will probably associate my name with the death of photojournalism:-)

It was an honor to write, given the fact that my editor was Bob Sullivan. Sully and I have done stories together over the years for LIFE, Time, and Sports Illustrated. As I always say about him, he is one of those editor/writers who know more stuff about more stuff than just about anybody I know. He gave the book coherence and structure, and a sense of the English language that my location influenced photo dialect falls far short of. He can switch hats from sports to news to music to celebrities in a heartbeat, which has made him the perfect editor at LIFE, which was about all that and more.

LIFE of course continues in electronic form as one of the most popular photo sites of the web world. is a treasure trove of the current pictorial news of the day, as well as a rich mix of images from the archives of the magazine, many of which never saw ink on paper, and are only now just being published for the first time. I’m the guest editor at the site right now, and I had a wonderful opportunity to ramble a bit about my favorite LIFE shooters and their images. Check it out here. Also do a stint on holding cameras, and a section called “dynamic photography.”

The LIFE Guide is just that–a guide. It can take a newbie right from opening the box containing the new digital picture machine right through composition, light, lenses, and color. Predictably, given the author, it is not a dry, nuts and bolts account of f-stops and shutter speeds, but more of a mix of basic information, leavened with 30 years of field experience offering notions of when it is appropriate to bring that information into play, and fly by the “rules,” or just chuck the manual and go with your head and your heart.

It’s got lots of stuff….





Not to mention a fairly bent set of tips…..:-)


They did the smart thing of making it with a semi-hard cover, flexible but tough, and of a size that is fairly easy to stuff into a camera bag or backpack. I plow through basics such as aperture and shutter speed, rule of thirds, lens use, light and color, and even a bit about flash. It is, well, soup to nuts:-) Hoping to make the basics fun, and to keep folks who already have those basics tucked away in their noodles entertained and intrigued with field strategies, and lessons from a whole bunch of hard won (and lost) assignments.

More tk…..

First Off….

Oct 18

In Thanks, Tours at 7:20am

Many, many thanks to all for the heartfelt notes, stories and condolences sent over the last few days. As was often mentioned, these little fur balls come into our lives and wrap themselves firmly around our hearts. It was wonderful and emotional to read so many stories about so many people’s pets, and their lives, and how much they loved them. Hard to say goodbye, even though we pretty much know that’s what we’ll have to do. I can only be thankful, and smile, knowing now that so many who stop by this blog have or had their own Nigel:-) They are all up there somewhere, and we’ll see them again. Blessings and thanks to all……



Shot this the other week onstage at a Kelby Lighting Tour stop in Tampa. Worked with the high flying Mick, and was able to demo this as an example of high speed sync. Shot this at 1/8000th @ f4, ISO 800. Just a couple of frames, ’cause on those tour days, we move fast, and don’t linger overmuch on any particular setup. Liked this one, though.

The lights are on sticks, either side of Mick. Essentially, it is all sidelight, no frontal illumination at all.  Could have easily overpowered this dim room in “normal” operation, and shot at, say, 1/250th @ f8 or so, but wanted to demo the sync capacity we have now, which reaches stratospheric shutter speeds.

On Nikons, hi speed is enabled in the camera menu–E1 is the custom category and number. For Canon, it is a click on the flash itself. Hi speed sync is a useful tool, but not one you might wish to trot out every day, mostly because the hi speed operation requires the flash to pulse throughout the entire exposure, robbing the flash of some of it’s power. I used 4 flashes on this, and I had some surplus f-stop, so it can easily be done with two, one per side. One thing to remember–I turn the flash heads vertically, to line up with the vertical nature of the subject. Small thing, and not completely necessary, but if feels logical to me. (But then again, logical to me, is well, uncertain territory.)


The above is the type of thing we do during our tour stops. Got some upcoming, check them out here.

Fast flash for a high flyer….more tk…..

A Personal Blog Today….

Oct 15

In Friends at 8:13am

No speed light stuff today. Apologies….

About a dozen years ago my wife Annie made a pretty courageous leap of life and changed everything, all at once. What does one do when you shuck off all that is familiar, and move to a new and strange set of walls, have no money and a couple of sticks of furniture?

Well, when you take a chance like that, and rescue yourself, sometimes, you reach out at the same time and rescue others. So Annie the animal lover packed herself off to the shelter, and thought she had decided to take home a little black ball of fur when, out of the same tiny fur ball, another head popped out. Brothers. She took ’em both.

Formula One fan that she is, one became Nigel, after Nigel Mansell, and the other Arie, after Arie Luyendyk, both legendary drivers. The three of them made a home, and a life together.

And then I showed up on the doorstep, courting Annie. Trying desperately to impress, I did all the usual guy stuff. Calls, dinners, movies, walks and talks. Flowers. First time I sent roses, I called the local shop, and made the order, and when I gave the address, the smart guy who took the call said, “Oh yeah, yeah, I know that place. We’ve delivered out there before! Lots!”

I was left of course to, uh, clear my throat, and say something diplomatic, like, “Yes, well, of course. I’m sure the lady in question is not without her admirers.” I think the shop is called Wise Ass Florist.

In the midst of all my desperate attempts to be noticed by this lovely lady, I wasn’t completely aware that my activities were being measured and judged by another. A sage and protective guardian–Nigel.


See, Annie trusted Nigel’s instincts so thoroughly that if he didn’t like you, you were toast. She placed a lot of faith in Nigel’s ability to size up a guy’s intentions and character, and in fact, if Nigel squinted hard at you, and slunk upstairs, you might be in for some tough sledding.

Thankfully, Nigel and I had it going on right from the first, probably ’cause we’re pretty similar. Couple of goofball lugs, very motivated by the phrase, “What’s for dinner?” He did look at me hard, though, at first. Looked at me, looked over at Annie, and then back at me. And then let me know the deal, in his way. It was like, okay pal, you have my permission, but if you ever don’t treat her right, it’s between you and me, understand? And it’s been our understanding ever since.

We’ve watched a lot of TV together-he likes NCIS. There’ve been mornings when he would help me out by walking over my keyboard and sending email. Other mornings when Annie’s on the road and I’m sacked out, tapping my forehead gently with his paw to remind me it was past breakfast. Keeping me company on one of his favorite perches–our flatbed scanner. (Drives folks in the office a bit nuts, having a scanner full of cat hair.)

He was pretty good with small flash, too. He really got into the Strobist series.


I’m struggling writing this, mostly with the sense of tense. I’m trying to describe this stuff in lighthearted fashion, as if it’s still going on. It’s not. It’s going to be hard thinking about Nigel in the past tense.

A little while back, seeing Nigel not be his usual, gregarious self, Annie took him to the vet. The diagnosis was Hemangiosarcoma, among the most aggressive and deadliest of cancers. He had been dealt a tough hand of cards. It mostly strikes dogs, rarely cats, which confirms my suspicion he was, indeed, part pooch. (How does that happen? How does a few bastard rogue cells completely snuff an ebullient little life force like Nigel in 3 short weeks?) He retreated into dark places, under beds and into cabinets. We did our best to make him feel comfortable. He knew what was up. The wisdom in those eyes of his spoke volumes, right to the last.

Now he’s gone. He’s in the ground, with a small marker. I put roses on his grave. I have to figure they were his favorite ’cause whenever I gave them to Annie, he would try to eat them.

I’m writing this, knowing I can’t read it to him, the way I would occasionally read to him about the Yankees or the Knicks from the morning news feed. But I think we had a good last conversation. Told him I was sorry about trying to teach him to be a VAL. I thought that little speed light harness thing was gonna work:-) Of course, he quickly let me know he was more suited to the director’s chair than to grip work.

Thanks, bud. Thanks for watching over Annie. Thanks for letting me in the house. Thanks for occasionally letting me use my pillow.


Just, you know, thanks…..and Godspeed…I’ll see you on the other side. More tk….