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Archive for June, 2011


Jun 27

In Friends, Links, Upcoming Events at 8:58am

From the weekend…Maggie was indeed a beautiful bride. Pinned to her dress were her granmother and grandfather’s rings….

New week…tomorrow, Tampa! Gridding it! Details here. Another season of the Grid is kicking off!

More tk….

Maggie and Pictures Past….

Jun 23

In Friends, history at 1:11pm

One of the best things about being a shooter, and, sorry young photogs, you have to wait for this particular delight–is getting older. Reason being is that you accumulate. Throughout all the travails and disappointments, the blown jobs, the missed calls, the times you zigged when you shoulda zagged, the broken pixels, the random attaboys, the monthly stare down with bills that aren’t getting paid, you receive, occasionally, the sheer unadulterated joy of having a camera in your hands at just the right split second when it all works. Not to get too frikkin’ Catholic about it, but those shards of time when gesture, light, and lens all work in concert with your head and your heart and that click becomes a frame that stirs emotion, creates memory, and provokes reaction–well, that’s like confession and communion all at once.

You accumulate pictures, to be sure, by the pound. Also stuff–trust me, you don’t want to go into my garage. (I needed that fiber optic unit precisely why?) But, just like an intricately woven fabric, the threads of a photographic life interweave, repeat, and get denser and richer over time. Those accumulated photos make connections, sometimes powerful ones. Sometimes ones you go back to, time and again.

In my freshman year of college, in gym class no less, I was alphabetically arrayed behind a guy named McDonald. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was already a fine photographer, and had firmly and completely cast his lot in school already. He was a photo major–done deal, no looking back. A photo major then and now, after spending an amazing career 35 year career as a newspaper shooter in Jersey. I of course was still deciding whether I was gonna major in journalism, peyote, hitchhiking around the Northeast, or pissing off my parents. (If they awarded a GPA for that last one, I’da graduated with honors.) Fast forward a bit, and Dennis married a wonderful lady named Maureen, and they had a daughter and a son–Maggie and Brian.

Maggie became over time, one of my all time favorite models. She was always a sprite, so she looked younger than she was, and was way smart, so she could take direction and pull off a shot. Like the one below, where she became a “latchkey kid” for a story about caring for your kids. I needed some pathos, some sense of “It’s getting dark out there!” for the photo to work, and Maggie pulled it off.

I’ve shot her for Nikon, for LIFE, and occasionally, just for fun. Maggie loved the camera, and it loved her back. She would resolutely take the modest modeling fees I would offer and do her own form of accumulation, called “The Europe Fund.” I always knew she’d be a traveler.

She has covered lots of ground in her young life, to be sure. She went to Williams College, which incidentally was rated as the #1 liberal arts college in the country, and amassed a lollapalooza of a GPA. She now holds two separate Masters degrees from University of Pennsylvania, and has worked already in India and Cambodia. Her field is foster care, families at risk, caring for kids. Helping people, in other words.

Her version of runaway bride.

My daughters, Caitlin and Claire, basically grew up with Maggie and Brian, every summer for 13 summers, down at the shore.

LBI and ice cream.

All of us, waiting for the bathroom at the Chalfonte, Cape May.

Kids on wheels.

She was a beautiful kid, playing dress up all those years ago. Then, just this past spring, I shot her engagement portrait. The real deal, this time. In a few days, she’ll be a beautiful bride. Everybody accumulates memory, but as a shooter, you get to illustrate that memory book.

On Saturday she gets married, down at the shore. I think I’ll probably shoot some pictures.

More tk….

Update from the City

Jun 22

In Friends, history, In The Field at 7:59am

Work is pretty crazy right now. We are shooting in the field, catching up with folks from the original Giant Polaroid project of nearly 10 years ago. It’s hectic, but rewarding. There’s a wellspring in these people of good feeling and the power of optimism. There’s also the vibrancy of life in the big city, which I have always thrived on, photographically.

We’ve had a couple bobbles along the way, in terms of getting the show out on the floor of the Time Warner Center for the 10th Anniversary, but hey, it’s New York. It’s not a straight line to anywhere, here. (Is that a sentence? I think you know what I mean.) But we are committed, and going forward, even if Louie Cacchioli, a bunch of firefighters, and the gang at my studio have to pull and haul crates and set up frames.

Photographed Keith Johnson of Ladder Six the other night. Keith is a big, gregarious guy, with an even bigger heart. He drives the tiller truck, 54′, in length, and I’ve seen him u-turn that puppy in a space you’d swear you couldn’t turn around a Subaru. It’s got a driver in the back, Keith up front. As he says, the guy in the back has really gotta keep the wheels straight. “Some guys, you know, they freelance a bit. I’ll look in my rear view mirror, and I’m driving in the left lane and he’s driving in the right, and that’s a problem,” he says, laughing. But his expertise is well needed at fire scenes. His job is to get this massive truck in close to a building, and finesse its’ position so ladders can reach those in trouble.

I’m trying to catch up to people, and shoot pictures that reflect their lives now, 10 years after the dust cloud. One ongoing devotion in Keith’s life is to his daughter, who is just an amazing kid. So she came into the house last week, and we went out on East Broadway for a picture. I asked if we could roll the truck. He said sure. I asked if that would be difficult to do. He looked at me and said, “Hey Joe, wanna see how difficult?” He turned and shouted over his shoulder, “Ladder Six, we’re rolling!”

More tk….

Advanced Lighting Techniques in the Islands!

Jun 20

In Uncategorized at 4:57am

Not doing our Dobbs Ferry Workshops this year. Time to give that old building on the Hudson a rest for a bit, wonderful as it is. Instead, the only workshop our studio is doing this summer is once again in paradise. Hit this link for details, but here’s the schedule.  We start on Monday, August 15, and run for 5 days. Doing things differently this year in that we will bypass the basics and jump straight into using small flash in the most expressive of ways. We will try multiple flash techniques, play with exposure ranges, use gels and filters, shoot fire at night, do character portraits, flash and blur, hi speed sync. We take it to another level, in a place that has so many levels to offer in terms of inspiration. St. Lucia–one of the truly beautiful spots on earth.

Monday Program:

Morning Session: 9am. Class meets in air conditioned conference room equipped with digital projector. Morning is devoted to assessing participant  portfolios and determining objectives for the week. Each participant to bring no more than 10 images for review and discussion. They can be the participant’s images, or images not their own that they admire and wish to know more about, or emulate in some way.

Break from 12-3.

Afternoon session: 3pm. Instructor slide show. Demo of sensor cleaning techniques. Review of basic lighting strategies. Afternoon shooting session in teams with a model assigned to each team. Basic assignment: Use one light well.

Tuesday Program:

Meet in conference room at 9:30 for image review and critique. Time in class available to select and edit images for max of 3 per student to project.

Break from 12-3.

Afternoon demo and on location discussion of shooting interior/exterior environments effectively, with emphasis on using flash to balance exposure zones encountered in the open air rooms of Jade Mountain. Each team disperses with models to a selection of rooms to shoot for the afternoon. Assignment is to create mood and ambiance, while effectively using small flash techniques to blend interior and exterior environments.

Wednesday Program:

Meet in conference room at 9:30 for image review and critique. Time in class available to select and edit images for max of 3 per student to project.

Break from 12-3.

Afternoon Session: Instructor demo on blending flash with intense sun using advanced technique of high speed flash. Situation created to simulate wedding on the beach, and employment of techniques to successfully shoot a bride and groom in a fluid way as event unfolds. Teams assigned models, and rotate with various models, including wedding couple, for afternoon.

Alternative Location: Soufrieres Fire Department. Working to craft location driven, multiple flash portraits that show character and drama.

Bonus Evening Demo: Instructor will light and shoot a romantic dinner for two in terrace setting, showing selective flash techniques for couple at table, while blending sunset effectively. Use of gels, exposure techniques, grid spots, snoots.

Thursday Program:

Meet in conference room at 9:30 for image review and critique. Time in class available to select and edit images for max of 3 per student to project.

Break from 12-3.

Afternoon Session: Photography in the jungle. Panning and blurring techniques with flash and jungle bikers. Demonstration by instructor in the art of creating images that move. Also portrait techniques demonstrated in intense, beautiful jungle environment. Teams assigned models to shoot for afternoon. Each team will have access to an experienced biker.

Friday Program:

Meet in conference room at 9:30 for image review and critique. Time in class available to select and edit images for max of 3 per student to project.

Break from 12-4.

Final Afternoon session: Meet in class to for final Q&A session and review of techniques learned. Last session late on Friday, class gathers on beach for spectacular “flambo” sunset session, with fires on the beach, models and flash lighting with gels. This session will employ new “radio TTL” equipment from Pocket Wizard. Wrap up gear at dusk, and retire to beach bar for goodbye drink. (Or several.)

We will also be using a lot of the new Pocket Wizard TTL techniques and gear. Those units have really come together, and are perfect for work where you want to show lots of the environment in a sweeping way, and thus have to hide your flashes, out of line of sight.

It’s gonna be fun. More tk….

Shooting Fireworks

Jun 13

In Books at 5:22am

Summer’s here! Time to shoot some fireworks. Below is a small instructional essay from the Life Guide to Digital Photography. I’ve shot some of the biggest fireworks displays in history, so I just kind of dove back into those to remember things I did right and things I did wrong. And things I didn’t think of at the time, or should’ve remembered to do. If you read this, or get the book, you might have an easier time than I did, being out there thinking, “Geez, I wish I had remembered to bring….”

Everybody loves to shoot fireworks. It has lots of connotations—holiday, patriotism, hot dogs, weekend, kids, family. Time to relax. Time to shoot some pictures.

Okay, make a checklist. Camera. Wide angle zoom. Telephoto zoom. Flash cards. Cable release. Spare camera battery. Tripod. Headlamp, and hand held flashlight. Watch with timer function. Black card. (More on that later.)

That’s pretty much the photo kit. What else to think of? Rain gear, both for cameras and you. You can get fancy rain gear designed for cameras and lenses, or just use plastic bags and baggies. Couple of bungee cords to keep the bags on the camera if the wind starts whipping about. Water and power bars—you’ll be out there a while. Bug repellent. Comfortable clothing and shoes. The car might be quite a ways away, and you’ll be walking a fair piece.  Advil. (Advil is always on my equipment list.)

Anything to do beforehand? You bet. Scout the location. Best to know what you are getting into, where they shoot the fireworks from, what the background will be like. How big will the display be? How long will it go for? Most fireworks displays are well over in a half hour or less, and if you are stumbling around in the crowd looking for a spot and trying to setup in the dark, you’ll just be starting to make decent exposures as they light up the sky with the crescendo and say goodnight till next year.

That’s right, next year. Most big shoot ’em ups are yearly events. Argh, the pressure!

So scout. Get your spot. Get there early. I mean early. Like, be the first car in the parking lot. Pack a soft cooler sling bag, throw an icepack in there, and know that in that bag is your sustenance till maybe late at night. For jobs like this, my Ipod and earphones are a must. Maybe a collapsible chair, and a small waterproof tarp. Think your way into this. What could go wrong? It’s a photo shoot, so the answer to that is, just about everything. Try to ensure success by envisioning the shot and the potential problems in making the shot before you walk out the door.

Like, do you need a permit to put your tripod down? Did you have to call the town about this adventure? Most likely not, but in this post 911 world, photographers are often treated as being just this side of a recidivist offender, so it might be worth a phone call.

Okay, prepped and ready. Time to frame up the shot, which is a bit trickier than you might think. First off, when I shoot fireworks, I always get my frame, plus about 20%. I can always tighten up, but I want to give those fireworks room to play up there in the heavens. Frame too tight, you’ll have tracer lines of color going right out of the upper part of your picture, creating lines of interest that will pull your viewer’s eye right out with them.

So give them room to breathe and determine whether the shot is horizontal or vertical. Remember that most fireworks pix, if they are just of the explosions in the sky, are, at the end of the day, an exercise in color, nothing more. Even something as splashy as a pyrotechnic display needs context. So perhaps you can frame up with the object that is being celebrated, such as the Statue of Liberty. Or use the semi-silhouetted crowd as a foreground element. Or boats and bridges out in the water, with the water acting as a giant reflector board filled with color.

The variations that may occur with your framing are the reason to have at least a couple lenses with you. As mentioned above, two reasonable zooms, one wide and one telephoto, should do you fine.

Metering? Yikes, how do you meter a fast moving rocket moving through the black sky? The answer is, you don’t, really. This is a situation to shut off a bunch of the auto this and that on the camera, and go manual. Also, make sure to turn the flash off. Some cameras will read the darkness in in certain modes and activate that puppy. Ever see the opening of an Olympics, where thousands of people are using point and shoots, and their flashes are going off like crazy? Know what they’re lighting? The shoulder of the person in front of them. Fireworks, unless you are trying a radically different approach, are generally a no flash zone.

Okay, now set up manual. Fireworks are brighter than you might think, so you don’t need to open the lens really wide, which is a bit counter-intuitive, I know, ’cause it’s dark. But my experience with fireworks wide open is that you drain the color out of them. They’ll just register as a white streak. Be careful. You can over-expose fireworks quite easily.

F8 is a reasonable starting point. Some photogs I know go even lower on the aperture scale, down to f11 or even f16. Over time, you will find which settings work for you. (I used to take notes at the end of a fireworks job, just to keep myself tuned up for next year. No real need for that anymore, as the metadata tells you what works and what doesn’t.)

Set the shutter to bulb. This mode keeps the shutter open as long as the release button is pushed. But you are not physically pushing that button are you?! No! This is absolutely a job for a cable release. Nowadays, most cable releases are simply electric cables which jack into the camera and activate the shutter. When you punch the button on the cable release the shutter is at your command, and will stay open as long as you want. And, very significantly, the button you are pushing is not on the camera or the tripod. With lengthy exposures, even the slightest jiggle or vibration is the enemy.

This is important, because at f8, the shutter will be open for a while, meaning anywhere from four to 10-15 seconds. (Remember if you have a foreground element in the picture, such as a monument, you have to make sure that lit up monument is exposed properly. In many ways, that foreground object will determine the length of your exposure.)

Again, due to the brightness of fireworks, you can work at a reasonable or even low ISO. Something in the neighborhood of 100 or 200 will do fine. The faster your ISO, the shorter your shutter speeds, which will deprive you of recording those wonderful tracers of light into the sky.

Some shooters time the launch of the rockets and open their shutter accordingly, keeping it open for, say, 8-10 seconds, then closing down. This ensures that they will record the path of the pyrotechnic into the night sky, and it’s explosion. This is a fine approach. Give it a try.

Others use a black card. A black card is just that, a black card. Nothing mysterious or fancy. It can be a piece of black cardboard, or foam core board. Or it can just be an index card covered with black tape. (Be sure it is not shiny tape. That might pick up slivers of light and reflect it back into the lens.  Use a matte black type of photo tape, often called gaffer tape.)

This way, you can keep your shutter open for very lengthy periods of time, and record multiple starbursts. You open the shutter, and shoot one explosion, then cover the lens with the card, and wait for the next. You can experiment with this trick, and produce really terrific results by layering multiple fireworks into one picture.

(Also, say, you have the Brooklyn Bridge as an architectural element in the foreground, and the proper exposure for it is f8 at 10 seconds. This limits your fireworks shooting range, right? Gotta get the bridge right, so the exposure is a done deal. But, with the black card, if you are quick enough, you can uncover just the upper portion of the sky, while blocking the area of the lens which is recording the bridge. This is dicey. You have to move the card quickly, hovering it around where the bridge ends and the sky begins. If you have ever made a black and white print in the darkroom, think of this as burning and dodging right at the camera lens. Can’t keep the card static or it will create a hard line of obvious exposure change. It has to hover, quickly jiggling around that sky bridge borderline. If you pull this off right, you can keep your lens open for several batches of fireworks, extending over 20-30 seconds, filling the sky with color. But—this is an  experiment! Back yourself up by shooting some “straight” frames.)

At the beginnings of the digital rage, this technique was a bit problematic, because seriously lengthy exposures produced a lot of digital noise. The longer the shutter is open, the longer the chip is “on” building up heat with every passing second. That sensor heat would really fray away at the quality of the digital file you would be trying to produce. Bad news. Long time exposures were the Achilles heel of early digital cameras. Predictably, advances in digital camera technology have smoothed out a lot of those problems, but it is wise to experiment with your particular model and see what its’ tolerances are. As you might suspect, the higher end models handle long exposure well, while the more basic cameras will have limitations. Get to know what your camera is capable of. In many current cameras, you can turn on a function called “long exposure noise reduction.” Hugely helpful.

Other bits and pieces: Don’t shoot all night long at one exposure. (If you are on bulb, you definitely won’t anyway.) But this is an occasion for bracketing, and shooting as many frames as possible. Also, shoot right away when they start! Fireworks displays can build up a lot of smoke over a series of explosions, and if you are smack in the wind pattern that blows that smoke towards your lens, you can end up thinking you’re shooting a war zone. So shoot immediately, and fast.

Have a good 4th of July. Try some of this out, and have a hot dog on me. More tk….