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Archive for October, 2010

One Small Flash, Very Far Away….

Oct 13

In Lighting at 2:24pm


Shot this the other week in Tampa, of our wonderful model Hope, doing her best Lady GaGa on stage in front of adoring fans. We occasionally end our days teaching lighting for Kelby Seminars this way. One little light, way far away.

Been playing with line of sight forever, and am very involved in the beta versions of the coming Pocket Wizards for Nikon TTL. More on that soon, as the units evolve through testing phase.

But, right now, I am content to mess around, sometimes surprisingly, with how far I can trigger a light. This light is an SB900, zoomed to 200mm, at the back of the auditorium, probably 70′ from the stage. 1/250th at f2.8, ISO 400. The folks in the audience stood up and went gaga (ouch!) for Hope.

Which of course blocked my hot shoe flash commander from seeing the light in the back. D’oh! (I swear, sometimes I am Homer Simpson with a camera.) Drew and an SC29 cord to the rescue! He held the light up off camera and got the light to trigger. You can tell he’s doing that, cuz the cord shadow is right there on the seamless, in the lower left:-)

Okay, indoor trigger, controlled environment–doable. Outdoors, another story. Tried an experiment of late at the New Hampshire version of DLWS. The bridge must have been (being conservative here) 150′ away. Proceeding on the premise that the Lord looks after a fool, we first tried with Kevin Dobler holding an SB900, and me trying to trigger from the bridge with an SU800. Didn’t work, which figures, ’cause there is an IR shield on that unit, which has to sap the optical signal over distance.


Then, Drew Gurian, and Mike Grippi, both from my studio got out there, and I tried triggering with a hot shoe mounted SB900, no dome diffuser, zoomed to 200mm, and still no go.


Here’s where it got interesting. It was pretty dim conditions, lots of rain and mist, and the TTL transmission was not working, line of sight, over that difference. When the light sensor panel on an SB900 is in TTL remote mode, it is looking for a specific frequency of light from the master unit. In other words, there is a specific language being exchanged, if you will, where the master unit pulses with a signal that is bundled with information for the remote. As we have said many times, kind of a morse code for flash.

So, I let things loose, and Drew set up the remote flash as an SU-4, non-TTL, manually slaving flash unit. Over the years, I have always been impressed with how sensitive this mode of triggering actually is. Set up in SU-4, the remote flash is simply reacting to any sudden increase or pulse of light, and not looking for a specific signal to direct it how to behave. I’ve had SU-4 flashes, for instance, triggered in NYC by an emergency vehicle passing by a block away. So, now my master is firing in straight up manual flash mode, full power, M 1/1, still zoomed to max, 200mm.


Voila! Ze flash, it fire! Of course, it’s a dumb as a post manual unit now, and not a “smart” flash, driven by TTL signals originating back at camera. To change the power settings, I have to shout to Drew. That didn’t work, ’cause we were so far away, over a rushing stream, so, by golly, AT&T actually stepped up to the plate, and I was able to call his cell. More power!


Now, the camera’s in manual mode, and the flash is in manual mode, and I am just playing that time honored background/foreground game. Grippi is zapped with the light, and the scene is muted via the combo of shutter speed/f-stop. But, here’s the thing. The flash is neutral–white light. Tends to not actually blend in with the forest scene, yeah? Little bright, little white. Calls attention to the not particularly artful use of the flash.


So, I threw a gel on the flash to warm it. A full CTO does two things simultaneously–warm the flash, and cut the power. Now the ruggged Grippi looks a bit more appropriate to the scene, even though he’s much more comfortable in Bushwick, Brooklyn, than the woods of New Hampshire.

But then, a strange thing happened. Manual SU-4 triggering mode stopped working. Just gave up. I speculate that the light level had picked up at that point, so the light sensor on the remote flash was not longer picking up a differentiation in the levels of light. My commander flash would pulse, and I’d get nothing on the remote. Hmmmm…..

On a whim and a prayer, I went back to TTL. Damned if it didn’t start working again, and very consistently. Full TTL control, from here to there.


Back to aperture priority mode. Minus two at the camera EV. Pretty straight up, power wise, on the flash. Cool! One reason this worked was, typically, a suggestion from Moose. I keep my plastic filter holders on my flashes, just as a matter of convenience. He told me to try the commander, sans the filter holder. Sure enough, I put the filter holder to my eye, and the plastic is not completely clear. Has a bit of a plastic haze to it. So, in the brightening of the day, from 150′ plus, we had TTL, aperture priority exposure control. Go figure.


All images made with the new Nikkor 28-300 zoom, which actually worked very well for this.

On another note,  if you’re on the other side of the world, be sure to check out our 2011 Asian Tour website, hosted by Louis Pang, our good friend, and great shooter based in Malaysia.  We’re running some amazing deals right now that end on Monday, so if you’re thinking about going, now’s the time to sign up…click here for more info.


more tk….

Staying Organized..

Oct 11

In Advice, Equipment, Tips & Tricks at 8:28am

Always a challenge, right? Photogs–we’ve all got our bits and pieces, our favorite gadget, our go to, get out of jail free light or lens that saves our butt in the field. We accumulate all this stuff, and travel with it, and just keeping up with it sometimes seems to be half the battle.

If you know anything about the way we travel, it’s that we generally have a good chunk of gear.  And with that gear comes an utter mess of cords, batteries, flashes, lenses, stands, etc.- if we don’t have a good organizational system intact.  So it seems as though every few months, we’re coming up with new ideas, altering our packouts, and just trying to make traveling with a bunch of stuff as painless as possible.

Which leads to this…


We typically travel with two wallets of gels: color correcting and theatrical, and until recently, we had been using old leather business card wallets- which were great, but not exactly organized.

The issue was that the gels were all kinda mixed together, and to find say- a 1/4 cut CTO on the fly, wasn’t always as quick as we’d like.  We had a couple of really nice Think Tank card wallets sitting around, and while Will Foster was working on a packout, he came up with the idea of ripping the middle seams out to fit gels. Will’s a local shooter who’s not only a good guy, he’s one of those folks who stare at a problem for a couple minutes and come up with a simple solution.


So out came the Exacto blades, and a little while later, we had a much more well-organized gel system.



May seem like a small thing- and it is- but with as much gear, and as little time as we often have to pull off a shoot, this is definitely a time saver in the field.


Dunno what Thinktank is going to think about us, uh, customizing one of their smaller pieces of gear, but they do make great stuff. We have traveled internationally a lot this past year, and have shifted to their wheelie bags for carry on gear. Much easier at the big international airports, where the gates always seem to be about four or five miles from the baggage belt. More on those tk……

Dang…Double Dang….

Oct 7

In Books, Friends at 5:17am


Just caught up to this column by Ashley Gilbertson in the NYT, all about Tim Whelan pulling the plug on his tiny photo bookstore in Rockport, Me. Dang. Above is a portrait I did of Tim in his shop a number of years ago, with his beloved pooch, Maya. It is one of my favorite pix, understandably, ’cause the combo of the little shop and Tim’s company was irresistible.

It was a rite of passage as an instructor up at Maine Media Workshops. Finish your class, get paid, and go and leave a chunk of the check behind at Tim’s store. A wander (make that more of a shuffle, the place wasn’t very big) through the shelves and the stacks just made you feel good. It made you think, it made you wonder. It always ramped up my sense of curiosity about somebody else’s visual take on the world. You felt hemmed in by paper and ink, and that always felt good. And then there was Tim–easygoing, conversational, knowledgeable.

To say it was like taking a step away from the madding world is a bit redundant, because if you are in Rockport, Me., you’ve already taken that step. It was, however, quiet time, which is always in short supply. Contemplative. Dare I say, kinda like going to church–but much more fun.

I would take my classes there all the time, and, per above, Tim was always a willing and wonderful subject for a lighting demo. Ironically, I put this pic in a new book I just wrote for LIFE, as an example of an environmental portrait, a face in a place.

I can’t feel bad for Tim. He ran a wonderful shop, and I’m sure, has great friends and memories that stem from doing so. From the article, it seems like he is making a sensible move to greener economic pastures.

I just feel bad for the rest of us. Ever walk down the street in a howler of a storm, winds pummeling you like you’re a speed bag, rain flooding your glasses, stinging your skin, ruining your clothes, and just making misery out of everything? (If you’re a freelance photog, you take this walk everyday, even if you don’t know it.) You get inside, close the door, the winds abate, the noise recedes, and you just stand there, thankful for the quiet? (Except of course, for the sound of you, dripping on the carpet.)

That was Tim’s shop, to me. An easy place, apart from the storm. In a way, his photo bookstore was like a good photo. Gave you pause. Made you think. Welcomed you in. Started a conversation, at least in your head. His shelves were filled with reminders of why we do this. I’ll miss it.

More tk….

The iPad Interview

Oct 1

In Computer Technology, Friends at 6:48am

Bill Frakes and Joe McNally iPad Interview from Manfrotto on Vimeo.

While I have to admit to being simultaneously over and underwhelmed by Photokina, one really fun thing happened. Bill Frakes and I did kind of a Penn and Teller, Mutt and Jeff, Harry and Sally…, wait a minute……kind of thing with the iPad, the new must have, go to, touch screen thingamawhooziebopper that promises to change everything. I mean, it’s so cool, even I have one. (Gift!)

What’s not to like about a device that makes all our pictures look snappy and great, even when they’re (at least occasionally)  a bunch of highly processed turds?

Technology aside, the fun thing about the week was hanging with Bill, and then doing this first ever, ballyhooed, much anticipated, cast of thousands side by side interview on the Ipad with him, done at the behest of the Manfrotto School of Excellence. What was even cooler was that we did the interviews at separate times, and both of us, when asked about favorite shooters, and who we looked up to when first taking a camera in hand, our answer came back the same–W. Eugene Smith.

Hanging in this biz for a long time gives lots of stuff to you, one those things being friends and colleagues. I have known Bill for many years, first as a premier newspaper shooter out of Florida, and then, for a long time, one of the cornerstones of Sports Illustrated’s photo operation. He is the quintessential road warrior, logging so many miles every year, he makes me look like a shut in. And here’s the thing: In an age when making a good or even great snap or two seems deceptively easy, Bill defines what it means to be a pro. That means he hits it, and hits it hard every time out. The amount of grief and blockage he’s gotta drill through on every job is daunting. Logistics, shipping, credentials, access, time, weather, prima donna athletes, over controlling PR folks, red face coaches–all can conspire against the shooter and make every job feel like storming the gates of Mordor.

Then, after all that exhaustion, by the way, you gotta shoot some pictures. Which he does, in astonishing and defining fashion, time in, time out. He’s shot more SI covers than I can count, and in many ways re-defined, or even invented all over, how to cover major events. I mean, he’s terrific moving and shooting the sidelines, which is a lot of what sports guys need to do. But, when it comes to the obsessive determination it takes to run 60 to 70 remote cameras at the finish line of the Kentucky Derby just to get that split second, winner by a nose picture, he takes a back seat to no one on the planet.

And then, given the love of his craft, and drive to excel, he continues to do it, year after year, even after the magazine, given limitations of space, and occasionally editorial vision, use only one frame, or, sometimes, none at all.

Which is why, wisely, he is in the forefront of the video DSLR surge, and using multi-media on the web to tell stories with lots of pictures and sound, and not simply be constrained by paper and ink. Check out his website…..

In Tampa….Kelby Tour stop…should be a blast…..more tk…..