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Archive for May, 2011

Welcome Summer…..

May 29

In Memories at 8:24pm

Claire at the shore….awaiting a storm.

And memories of the Jersey Shore. Quite a number of years ago, a photo magazine sent me a query about my favorite place to go in the world. It was, I believe, further refined a search than that. It was, as I recall (and my memory may be a tad awry here) about my favorite place, at my favorite time of year. Something like that. They evidently sent it to numerous photogs, a survey, if you will, seeking their thoughtful, well traveled wisdom.

I believe they sent it to some pretty high falutin’ shooters, and I can only imagine the responses they got from this group of urbane, worldly folk. Well known to be highly impressed with themselves and their exploits, they were the type to not be disinclined to inform others of the excellence of their own personal adventure. Unspoken of course, between the lines of their responses, would be the overriding sense that their particular, nuanced appreciation for the finer things was finer, well, than yours’.

“Cannes in the fall is marvelous. The streets are filled with energy and delight, and there’s this little coffee shop on Rue D’Ego, where the espresso is made from beans grown in soil matured with the dung of sacred cows. Not to be missed.” And so forth.

Sigh. I’ve never been much for surveys, especially ones where virtually everyone responding is a teller of tales. I dutifully sent mine back in and said simply, the Jersey Shore. When my kids were small, we would trek there, our own version of Operation Desert Storm. Minivan, beach umbrellas, Little Mermaid towels in tow, we would take the beach in no less a determined fashion than if we had arrived via an amphibious assault craft and rolled onto the sand in a fully armored Humvee.

The wind and the whitecaps were always good companions, and the only sounds louder and more piercing than the screech of the gulls would be the squeals of kids as a chilled wave from the North Atlantic would catch up to their mad scramble back up the beach. My globe savvy buds at National Geographic would always cluck their tongues and mock my pedestrian choice of vacation spot. Bill, my editor, would query me as to my expertise in the breaststroke, as he fancied it the only stroke applicable in those waters, which he imagined to be virtually teeming with hospital waste and discarded syringes. You would presumably push back the floating refuse whilst keeping your head staunchly out of the water.

I took all their ribbing in good grace, as I (along with thousands of others) was onto the fact that the Jersey shore is a rightfully celebrated place, with rough, relatively clean waters on the ocean side, and smooth waters on the frequent bay sides of various islands and peninsulas projecting into the Atlantic. Those calm inland waters easily accommodated a rowboat filled with children bent on crabbing. A long string, a large safety pin, and a raw piece of chicken were all you needed to attract a hungry crab, who would resolutely cling to his chicken nugget as he was hoisted into the boat. The only truly rough seas ever encountered were self generated as inevitably a crab would get loose in the rowboat, and nearly cause a capsize by single-handedly spinning four or five kids into a maritime version of the Penn Relays. Tough to actually run in a rowboat, but they managed. Worse would be the days when no crab was interested, and the children would sit there grumpily, string in hand, patience melting away like a snow cone in the hot sun. The kids would always have one of their grandfathers out there, a veteran fisherman and shore dweller,  and he would wink and tell them, quite sincerely, that “This is the exciting part about fishing.”

I always found the exciting part to be the end of the day. You would pick up a floppy hatted, sun block slathered baby out of the sand, much as you pluck a sugar cookie out of the tin on the kitchen counter. Sand everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. I have thought of marketing the idea of zwieback toast actually dipped in beach sand as better than a binky for teething babies. The kids would get cleaned up, the sun would dive into the bay, and the wind would do it’s nightly acceleration, blowing in storm clouds from the sea. Exhausted children, basically asleep in their dinner plates. Nighttime would call for a hoodie and a glass of red wine, and some thinking. (Why does staring out to sea always feel like the most pensive thing you can do?)

Haven’t been to the Jersey Shore in years. The waves and the wind are echoes now. Kids are grown. Making different memories now, just as wonderful. But, when summer arrives, I do remember the shore…..more tk…

The Language of Light DVD Page Is Up!

May 23

In Videos at 5:12am

Thank goodness. It’s been a long, but fun road. It has been out for a while, of course, circulating around on this bus thing:-) But Drew, the gang here at the studio, and our friends over at Few Loose Screws, really took some time to work on a great page that has trailers, pieces of lessons, and just about everything you could want to know about the new DVD…check it out HERE, or, if you’re reading this on the blog, just scroll right and click on the Language of Light image up top for more info.

From one light to a whole bunch, from an empty white wall in a studio to busy locations, we push the envelope of small flash, emphasizing the big three of light–color, quality, and direction. None of the pix are post-processed. The stills in the video are shown just as they dropped out of the camera. Win, lose or draw, it’s all on video. Along with some madcap bits, guest appearances, interviews, and a special tech section from former Nikon tech rep Anne Cahill, who is a lot more coherent and logical at explaining things than, say, me.

“Owning this DVD set is like having Joe right there with you as you learn. I highly recommend this for anyone interested photography!!”Chris Schaecher

“Whether you are a beginner or advanced, amateur or pro, he talks your language….Whatever system you use, you’ll be able to apply this knowledge and put it into practice with much success.”- Brad Matthews

“What I really appreciate is the process by which Joe builds on the initial concept, and improves, tweaks, changes, and corrals the light to make the final image sing.  Lots of instructional DVDs present a lighting concept and a final image, but not the successive approximations that are required to get from point A to point Z, the final image.  And for me, that’s the ultimate inspiration contained in ‘The Language of Light’.” – Steve Wylie

Enjoy! And to the folks who have seen it and sent comments, praise and critique our way, many thanks…..more tk….

Shadows on the Concrete….

May 16

In In The Field, Travels, Videos at 1:01am

Hey gang….blog’s been, well, a little light lately. Truth be told, I had a hard book deadline to meet, so I shot 13 portraits (none of which I can show here quite yet) in 17 days, then jumped on a plane and headed out to California for a Digital Landscape Workshop Series stop. Whew!

In between finishing the portrait series and coming out here, I managed to spend a wonderful day with Scott Kelby and a video crew from NAPP. They started in my studio, and my garage, and shot everything about that day in the field from the conceptualization of it, to the lens selection, to the packing of the truck. In between we took a tour of the  studio workroom, and talked about pictures, from the ones we were about to shoot to the ones hanging on the wall. I’ve got some of my own stuff up on the walls, but we are blessed at the studio with lots of work from other shooters I have known for many years. And we talked about it all. And then we talked and filmed some more while driving through traffic into the city. And then some more, walking around, assessing the location. And then some more, while shooting. And wrapping. A whole day in other words, from packing the lights to using them, from shooting the job to going back home.

The above is the kind of stuff I shot, which is to say the kind of stuff I’ve shot in NYC for thirty years. A day in the life of a shooter. It won’t be out right away, as they’ve got a bunch of editing to do, but it should be a fun class to take a look and have a listen to. One Quadra flash, with a honeycomb grid. That’s it. One light, high angle, done deal.

Many thanks to Scott and the gang for hanging in the Big Apple for a day. Nothing like shooting in the city……more tk….

Louie Called Yesterday….

May 3

In Thoughts at 7:30am

First thing he said was, “It’s a good day, pal.”

Louie is an extraordinary guy, and an average one at the same time. Average in that he immigrated here from Italy as a youngster, and made a life, as many have done. Extraordinary in his decency, humanity and good will. On 911 all those years ago, he took extraordinary to another level.

Trapped in a smoky stairwell, he slipped and slid down railings, past hundreds of terrified people, to reach a door leading to the lobby of the still standing tower. It was jammed. The lobby was filled with debris from the already collapsed tower. He called for some big guys to help him wedge the door open, and told people to follow his light. There’s no way to tell how many people he saved that day.

Racing against what everyone knew was about to happen, they headed towards West. St. The tower came down. Louie was engulfed in suffocating ash. He had no oxygen tank. As many firefighters did that day, he’d ditched his to get lighter. In the blinding soot and smoke, he stumbled and his hands found, as he put it, “a miracle thing.” Another oxygen tank, abandoned by a firefighter. He clapped it to his face. He estimates he had a couple minutes left.

The news wires are buzzing, of course. Reactions range from flag waiving happiness, to cautionary reminders about the future and the complex world we live in. A murdering, soulless bastard is gone, but time and history have proved there may be more in the wings. Certainly, for the armed forces, who routinely stare down the most harrowing situations, there’s a sense of a job done, and done well.

I guess I’m thinking about all this, a lot, partly because of the news, and partly because I’ve reconnected lately with many folks I photographed right after 911. There’s a wonderful sense of the positive with all concerned. There’s the healing of time, and the staying power of life ongoing, of watching kids grow, of having another dinner at the firehouse, another run, another day. I was with Danny Foley this past weekend, who continues to fight fires from the Rescue 3 company in the Bronx. His brother Tommy was also with Rescue 3 and was lost on 911. Every day on the job, he straps Tommy’s mass card to his helmet, and walks into another burning building.

Just doing some thinking this morning. Happy’s not the right word. Nor is elated, to be sure. Satisfaction? Hmmm…don’t think so. The new buildings down there are going up, but all those people are still gone. No undoing it.

Guess I’ll go with Louie. He said it, simple and direct. It was a good day. More tk….

What We Rolled With…

May 2

In Equipment, Thanks at 5:16am

Done. Home. 12,531 miles. Flew out. Drove back, and not in a straight line. Life on a bus. A three foot wide, moving, turning, stopping and starting bed. It was like sleeping for five weeks in one of those beds that have the magic fingers, and the bus was a never ending supply of quarters. It was, you know, fun. But then, I have a broad definition of fun.

We’ve got a lot of people to thank, first and foremost all the folks who came out to a stop. Lots of gracious, easy going flashinistas investigating light out there. Good crew, good questions, great enthusiasm.

Our ever wonderful VALs, or volunteers. In every city, they were terrific. We could not have pulled this off every morning without the consistently willing, good-natured groups of folks who were there when we stumbled off the bus at 6am, looking and feeling our best. We would rub our eyes, look around at the loading dock or dumpsters, and mumble, “Where the hell are we?”

Adorama. They put the gas in the tank. Harry Drummer, Jeff Snyder, Monica Cipnic, Brian Green, Jerry Deutsch–all of them made the wheels on the bus go round and round…and round and round…and, well you get the idea.

Heard on the road: Me to David after the entire crew knocked a few back before boarding the bus. “David, I’m concerned that we’re losing control of this bus.” Grippi, walking by, without missing a beat. “Shut up old man.”

We had sponsors. David and I reached out to folks we know and respect in the industry, and tried to make the Flashbus a worthwhile day. They all pitched in, and what they pitched in with, attendees walked out the door with. Schwag bags, and giveaways galore.

Manfrotto and the Manfrotto School of Excellence helped out big time. We rolled with a ton of their stuff, from Lastolite gear to stacker stands to tripods for still and video, fluid heads, monopods…you name it.

Heard on the road: Jeff Snyder to me in the morning. “You look like Nick Nolte’s mug shot.”

We gave away about 100 Justin Clamps. They easily have to be the most popular clamp in the industry, at least for small flash folks. What we have done to customize ours’ is to fit them with Frio cold shoes, another free item in the bag. Yep, Frio gave out freebie coupons for thousands of their cold shoes, with free shipping.

A forest of Frios! David H sold me on these guys. No moving parts, one size fits all. (Or any that I know about.)

We rolled, literally, with Thinktank. They are simply making some of the most intelligent stuff out there to put gear in. What I’ve done with their rollers is take out all the dividers, wrap all the cameras and glass in velcro protective wraps, and snug everything in there.

Heard on the road: Joe, struggling with TTL, turns to the crowd…”Okay, what do I now?” From crowd…”Call David Hobby.”

Our staff fell in love with two Thinktank numbers; the Retrospective bags, and Shapeshifter backpack.


Life on the road. Annie was concerned about me getting sick, so she fixed me up with these Hibistat high powered antiseptic wipes, which she swears by. We had lunch on the road together and wiped down with these guys so thoroughly the table we were at  smelled like an ICU. Both of us finished our pre-meal cleansing, and,  holding our hands up like surgeons, started giggling like idiots. I was like, “Okay, honey, want me to scrub in on the mozzarella panini?”

Pocket Wizard supplied posters, which were a big hit, even though David and I both cautioned everyone that when we sign something, the value drops. They are showing us the doorway to the future that is radio TTL. Controlling lights you cannot see. Bye-bye line of sight. The future awaits!

All the images were captured on Lexar pro cards. Plus we gave a boat load of them away. They really came through for everybody. Every stop, David and I gave away screaming fast 600x 32 and a 16 gig card for answers to questions and challenges that ranged from “Who shot the first cover of LIFE?” to “First one to hold over their head a human spleen wins this prize!”

Stuff happens on the road. Drew, trying to manhandle an overstuffed cart of equipment down a ramp, lets too much velocity build and is danger of being crushed by 1,000 pounds of photographic irony on wheels when Phil, our intrepid driver, steps in and stops it. Phil’s comment: “Black man to the rescue again.”

Speaking of heavy gear, all our big stuff got stuffed into Kata bags. Their sling bags are basically indestructible.

Lumiquest was out there with us, big time. Not only for stuff we shot, but as giveaways galore. They anted up with an UItrastrap for everybody, and light shapers as giveaways. It was our honor to have Terry White at the Grand Rapids show, and he captured an LTP in action, perhaps not in a way everyone might choose to use it.

Everybody was gellin’, courtesy of Roscoe and The Strobist. The gel pack in everybody’s bag represents the basics of color control for your small flash.

After spending years in the tethering woods, and breaking platform after platform, one of our sponsors, Tether Tools, came to the rescue with an incredibly well designed platform with a undercarriage for hard drives. Awesome. Plus they make repeater USB tether cables that just don’t quit, and we gave those out at every stop.

Life on the road. I can report that Cali, who fell in love, long distance, with a beautiful young lady whom he had never met, has now met her, and is absolutely over the moon about her, which is, of course, terrific. They’re both talented, wonderful young people, and they appear to be soul mates.  I’m glad it worked out ’cause we gave him a ton of shit about it on the road. Which he richly deserved, because he was consistently acting like a love smitten high school girl, albeit one with a lot of body hair. I mean, I would watch him lift a case, get an Iphone buzz, smile, put the case down and text. Half of me was, “Awww, that’s nice,” and half of me wanted to split his skull with my Gitzo.

Spyder kicked it with the donation of discount cards for everybody, and a giveaway Spyder 3 Pro Calibrator at every stop. Yowza!

Phil, our driver, was super cool. He was like a surgeon with the bus, and he’s a trained bodyguard to boot. Great guy who could boil down any discussion into a stunningly accurate, pithy, five word observation. Bartender to Phil: “You want a glass with that beer?” Phil: “Nah, I’m from the hood.” Raised up in Newark, NJ, he’s out there now driving a vet. Yep, a vet. Here’s what the bus looks like.

Hmmm… Phil and this guy. Can anybody out there say, “Odd Couple?”

NIK Software came along for the ride, with discounts, and, at every stop….drum roll….. a free Color Efex suite, or a Viveza suite of post productions marvels. People went crazy, especially those who were blessed by their parents with the names, Nick, or Nicole. Often these namesakes walked off with complete sets of software goodies.

And Peachpit came through for the readers in our crowds, discounting all manner of terrific books, even though I tried to convince everybody the coupons were only for mine:-) That didn’t work. It was cool to have them out there with us.

For five weeks, we were out there on wheels. Couldn’t have met a nicer bunch of people. Couldn’t have had more fun, and also, couldn’t have learned more. I tell ya, watching the Strobist in action, you learn some stuff, which I will share in an upcoming blog….more tk….

Gear still life pix shot by Cali at f1.2, his favorite f-stop…..:-)