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TTL in Dubai

Mar 8

In In The Field at 10:09pm

Enjoying Dubai, as always. Mohamed Somji and Hala Salhi always put on a class act of a photo program in this wild city. Today was the last day of a four day lighting bootcamp I taught here at Gulf Plus Photo, 2012. The group of instructors here is just a marvel of photographic diversity and experience. I could sit and listen to the wit and wisdom of the likes of Greg Heisler, David Burnett, Zack Arias and the whole group of shooters here literally all day. This has always been a “pass it on” industry, and one of the wonderful givebacks for me has been watching our young guys at the studio, Drew Gurian and Mike Cali, soak all this up. Drew has been a regular here now for three or so years, and this trip, a first for Cali, was his Christmas gift from the studio. I can see them just soaking all of this stuff in.

(Typical exchange: I was telling Greg about Drew shooting an impromptu head shot of the legendary and formidable John Loengard of LIFE magazine. John just needed an updated photo, and Drew, making conversation with John, inquired as to who shot John’s last head shot. “Eisenstadt,” Loengard airily replied. Drew of course at camera tried to suppress the onset of the shakes. Greg laughed and said to Drew, “Whoa, Eisenstadt, huh? Those are little shoes to fill!”)

Ah, the diminutive Eisie. Small in stature, huge in talent.

I had a great group of folks in my class, and we had a lot of fun pushing lights around in the sand and the intense sun of the Middle East. High speed sync, anyone?

Our last location today was a marble and tile manufacturing plant, and, much like New York City, you could definitely see the air you were breathing. By the time I left, I felt like Pig Pen. But it had, as they say, character, which made weathering the dust storm very worth it. Most reasonable people look at a place like this and go, “Yuck!” We as photogs charge in with a mad gleam in our eyes shouting, “This place is fantastic!”

Whenever I teach, I try to find even a brief time to shoot. Win, lose or draw, I just feel better getting my eye into a camera, even for the briefest of encounters. (And honestly, if you’ve survived in this business for any degree of time, you are no stranger to fast photo sessions.) But, shooting and continuing to breathe are closely aligned activities for me, so I always try to conjure something. At the end of the class today, when the bus was being packed, I asked the lovely Samar to step into an ancient bay that is often filled with tiles, but today, was completely empty.

This is a pretty typical situation for me to rely on TTL. I used a rotating¬†tri-flash attachment with three SB900 units firing into a Lastolite 8 in 1 umbrella, which is a super simple light shaper I’ve come to really like. You can pull a center window out of the middle of the umbrella in shoot through mode, which produces a controlled light flow that is damn close to a soft box. Last thing I wanted was light to leak sideways onto these wall, and light them up with flash. It was important they stay looking like they’re being hit with only daylight. Hence the corralled but soft quality of light from the 8 in 1 was perfect for this situation.

Scoped around on aperture priority, and decided minus one EV worked. Had Cali suspend the umbrella just out of frame, and directly over her face, with a paint pole. Three units, all with dome diffusers, all in group A, all running at minus 2.3 EV. Cloudy balance, tweaked to A4. No gels. Hand held D3X, ISO200, manual focus. 14-24mm lens at f4.5 at 1/4 second. 16mm lens throw. Was lucky with the color and flow of the dress. First frame, at 5:10:45. Last, 5:14:05.

Even a couple minutes behind the camera can make you feel better. More tk….

Darrell says:

on March 8, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Awesome as always Joe.

I began doing small panels here in Atlanta. I was surprised how nervous I was in front of a crowd.. but the second I start shooting.. it begins to come together.

andrea says:

on March 8, 2012 at 10:58 pm

What happened to the edges around the model. especially around her arms.. like a black halo ?
I the picture on the top more.

andrea says:

on March 8, 2012 at 10:59 pm

i meant
“I like the picture on the top more.”

Steve Schuenke says:

on March 8, 2012 at 11:09 pm

Less than 4 minutes…1/4 second handheld – wow and wow. Was this rear curtain with the model dropping the green material during the exposure?

josh says:

on March 8, 2012 at 11:10 pm

Andrea – I’d say she’s moving (to get the part of her clothes up like that) and you’re seeing what the flash didn’t “freeze” during the shot. Especially at 1/4 second exposure. I’d guess rear-curtain sync based on the look, and I think Joe mentioned using rear-sync often (always?) on the site or a book, or I’m just hearing voices.

andrea says:

on March 8, 2012 at 11:10 pm

oh well.. now that picture is gone… silly me I didn’t know the picture on the top was random ! Sorry !

andrea says:

on March 9, 2012 at 12:02 am

Thanks.. yep I understand that, now that you mentioned I think I saw that effect before. But is it pleasing to have this dark glow ? Is it just me ? Maybe it could be reduced by having the ambient light more present for example by using higher iso ?

Dana says:

on March 9, 2012 at 12:05 am

Whoa….love the photo, amazing quality of light throughout, and the movement in the dress is absolutely perfect.

Bernhard says:

on March 9, 2012 at 12:54 am

Thanks to you Drew and Cali for a great workshop and the good advice we received from all three during the shooting sessions. Sunburn will wear off, the insight will remain.

Andor says:

on March 9, 2012 at 3:21 am

Amazing shot and nice, handy bts. info as usual – wish to be there to attend!

Van says:

on March 9, 2012 at 6:21 am

Great shot. Cloudy balance and no gels? What is tweaked to A4 you mention? Thank you.

Chris - Smudged Photo says:

on March 9, 2012 at 7:43 am

It’s amazing how two different ways of shooting flash can produce such great results. You always seem to prefer TTL, whereas Zack seems to always use manual. Just find it interesting!

John A. says:

on March 9, 2012 at 8:38 am

Awesome portrait Joe!!! This portrait looks like hours were put in to it, and I’m a little timid to say that it almost looks like an HDR background… but I feel like after following your blog and reading your books, I know better.

Thanks for sharing! …oh, and be sure to give Mr. Heisler, Prihoda and Hobby an extra hard time at the shootout! :)

ChasVS says:

on March 9, 2012 at 10:12 am


Love seeing your wonderful work and appreciate your taking the time to detail the technique used to achieve it! Bravo!

RobyFabro says:

on March 9, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Good shot and firm hand,at 1/4 second you managed to keep the background pretty sharp!I have to look into the Lastolite 8 in 1 umbrella, it sounds pretty versatile for location work.

JC Ruiz says:

on March 9, 2012 at 4:39 pm

I’m not sure what I enjoy more, the photos or the words to describe the photo setup or the whole story togther.

Shane Kelley says:

on March 10, 2012 at 3:23 am

You say it so well “shooting and continuing to breathe are closely aligned activities for me”. Every time I wonder why I’m trying to reinvent myself in a new city (Vancouver), sans press affiliation, or credentials, after working for large newspapers for 25+ years (Toronto then Montreal), I get the link to your blog in my inbox and you remind me it’s more who I am than what I do. Curses…now I’m redoing my website. Have to admit I preferred just showing up for assignments versus having to find them. Thanks for all the positive vibes :)

Rick Lewis says:

on March 10, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Geeez…..1/4 sec hand held???….Now I really feel old. I haven’t been able to do that for years:-) Great post Joe!

Irjohn says:

on March 11, 2012 at 10:24 pm

Love the clairvoyant shot.

Zach Thomas says:

on March 12, 2012 at 12:05 am

Joe! I love this shot!….should have called it the green glow in the desert on the heels of your Vegas post. I recently wrote an entry on my visit to Dubai with the 14-24 Nikkor last year trying to capture architecture. Here it is –

Happy journeys !

Paris says:

on March 12, 2012 at 5:23 am


The most difficult thing is to do it simple, and for Joe that’s always the case!

Any insight on the the post? Very interesting background!

Thanking you,

DaveB says:

on March 12, 2012 at 9:13 am

Joe…. HUGE THANKS for taking the time, making the time to share your passion for life through the lens… hmmm maybe that is a new acronym PTTL…the ideas you share serve as an inspiration to get out there and keep shooting…

Hannes Uys says:

on March 12, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Joe you write so well and you create an enthusiasm for photography where I haven’t somewhere else as on your blog. Clean and beautiful images. Thank you.

Victoria - Washington Boudoir Photographer says:

on March 13, 2012 at 7:04 am

Great shot, I am gonna have to try that lastolite set up! My husband has been to Dubai several times with the military, he’s always talking about a club called “amnesia” he likes there!

Sunil singh says:

on March 14, 2012 at 1:42 am


When are you coming to South Africa?

We too do Photography here , HA HA !

Ryan M says:

on March 14, 2012 at 1:44 am

Hi, Any Photos from your Flash Bus at GPP 2012?

Sunil Singh says:

on March 14, 2012 at 1:52 am

1/4 second and -2.3 fill flash and to have that Face That sharp, Wow Wow Wow!!.I love what the lowered ambient (-1 ev) exposure has done to the overall feel of the picture.

John says:

on March 20, 2012 at 10:54 am

Great class, Joe! I especially enjoyed the opportunity for us to do our own individual setups, and the morning critiques were awesome, too. Still, your image puts us to shame. Great job!

Tee says:

on March 20, 2012 at 2:04 pm

I love adore your photographs. It takes a genius mind to come up with an image so rich in color, light quality and environment and hold a story. I admire your work tremendously. Thank you for being an inspiration.

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