Bus_Rider_Mexico_NS306Girl_in_Doorway_NS307Ironman_Underwater_newMcNally_283_G_v3 copyRwanda-Pano_NS026.tif
responsiveslider_lol_02 The Language of Light DVD - More
MeetJoe_02 Meet Joe McNally - More
inthebag What’s in the Bag? - More

Archive for September, 2012

Gotta Love Europe!

Sep 28

In Upcoming Events at 4:37am

Very honored to have two shows going up this fall in Europe, in Copenhagen and then later in Stockholm, at festivals called Fotomassan. The organizers just sent me the notices about the show, and their choice of a select from the group of images that will be displayed.

Needless to say, it’s been my experience that over in Europe they’re, well, a little more blase’ than we are here in the States about showing human architecture. Which of course is one of the specialties of the wonderful dance group, Pilobolus. Really have fond memories of working with them, and trying to show the marvelous constructs they can make onstage, just by using their amazing, articulate bodies.

I really pushed to include them in a story I did for Nat Geo about human performance, which was largely a celebration of the athletic body. How fast, how high, how far we can push the human form were the central questions of the story. But, I argued for including dance in the coverage, submitting to the editors for their consideration the notion that the artistic expression of the human body found in the world of dance was profound and significant. I can’t recall if they agreed or not. I think I just went ahead and did it anyway.

It also brought me full circle, in a way. Very early in my career, I had the privilege of working with Moses Pendleton, one of the co-founders of Pilobolus. and now the creative director of Momix. He was whimsical, gifted and spontaneously creative in front of the lens.

The world of dance remains such a wonderful partner to the camera. More tk….

Workarounds….

Sep 24

In In The Field, Lighting at 7:10am

Photogs, well, at least certain photogs, are legendary screamers, right? They get upset when things go wrong, and things always go wrong, so stories about on set grouchiness abound. We’ve all, I’m sure, heard about the prima donna shooter, male or female, who explodes on the set when the latte’s not the right temperature, or missing the nutmeg flakes on the hot foam. There are also the divas, the ones who look disdainfully about and tell the crew, “Give me God’s light!” and then retire to the location vehicle for, uh, extra-curricular activities. Then of course there are the unprepared, those who blow a gasket about stuff that should have been fixed and set before the airplane tickets were bought.

You have to pray for patience on most photo shoots and try not to reach, screaming, for the eject handle. One mildly amusing story came years ago from an assistant to a somewhat vociferous, overlarge photog, who got his comeuppance after badgering the location help for days on end. Seems his size made him a bit tippy, and he was in the waves, trying to get an over/under shot, with a housing. You’ve seen these pix, with the camera half out, half in the water. (They’re on the cover of, you know, Field and Stream all the time, with the hapless mackerel straining for the deep, and the triumphant fisherman, rod bowed like hairpin turn on the Pacific Coast Highway, fighting to board him. I always feel bad for the fish, and have consoled myself by figuring it’s gotta be mechanical, ’cause I can’t figure out for the life of me how they do that stuff.)

Oh, well, back to the waves. This photog insisted to his assistants that they literally lash him to a dock piling to stabilize him and the camera. Which they did. When he finished the shot, he handed the camera up, and waited to be untied. Whereupon his beleaguered assistants waltzed away, down the pier, got themselves drinks with big umbrellas in them, and watched the tide come in. Turtle like, literally pinned to the piling like a butterfly specimen, he had no recourse but to wait to be released at their discretion. He didn’t scream so loudly after that.

I tend not to be a screamer. I suffer the slings and arrows of location photography with relative equanimity. That’s not me giving myself absolution, by the way. I’ve said and done stupid stuff, been a jerk-brained idiot, yelled at people, mostly myself, punched walls, sometimes with my head, literally bloodying myself out of rage and frustration. But, most of the time, I’m pretty calm. The bigger the problem, the calmer I get. Little stuff still can make me nuts. Big stuff, well, figuring that out gets too interesting to get mad about.

I was determined to do a re-shoot of a portrait for a friend I had messed up on. I blew a picture. Big news there, huh? But, you know, it’s not the ones you get that populate your dreams. It’s the ones you miss. Needless to say, my dreams are very full, and colorful. I’m actually glad I don’t remember most of them.

We were on location early on one of those amazing Montana mornings, where the sunrise is a piece of heaven you can actually shoot. Light drenched, with panoramic skies just rolling out an endless carpet of color, it could have made a country boy out of this city kid right then and there, at least momentarily.

Of course, I got shit. If I don’t anchor my frame with a human being, I am frequently lost. So I turned to my friend and fellow photog, Kevin Dobler, who’s a quintessential good guy, and a very fine shooter. This magnificent dawn occurred on the road outside his family’s ranch, which I know is a very special, emotional place for him. I offered to do his picture with the road and sky meeting in vast Montana distance. It was not a good effort. No fault of Kevin. Totally my fault back at the camera. I couldn’t get a feel for the frame, as sometimes happens. I finished bothering him with my clicking, and he was happy enough, but I wasn’t. In my head, as I often do, I made a check mark, looked at the land and the light, and thought, okay, next time I’ll get you.

The next time was about two years later, and I had been chewing on doing this again for a while. (I’m a real water under the bridge kind of guy.) I planned it out in my head. I was going to make a special effort, with an Elinchrom Ranger, a 74′ Octa, c-stand, the whole business. A full blown, big flash, one light character driven portrait of the man and the land.

Drew and I went through a checklist of gear the night before. But the next morning, when Drew, a really good shooter, and a formidably capable first assistant, came to me with that, you know, look, I knew something was awry. Out on that frozen road, he looked at me sheepishly, and said, well, we got the Ranger pack, we just don’t have the Ranger head.

Okay, then, at least we don’t need a sandbag for that big light, ’cause that’s what that Ranger pack just became! Stay cool, and think. I wanted the big Octa feel of the light, and I wanted to shoot B&W. This particular morning was Montana on mute, not the riot of color of last time. How ’bout merging big flash and small flash?

I had never put SB units inside the big Octa, but there’s always a first time. We quickly performed impromptu surgery on the guts of the Octa, gaffering, clamping, and otherwise festooning it’s speed ring and ribs with a total of four hot shoe flashes. I did quick math. At full power, they can put out roughly 60 watt seconds. Four would give me a pretty good push of light at max. I couldn’t shoot fast, or much, but, I could shoot. I had a couple SC-29 cords with me, so I could run another light off the camera and actually inside the Octa. That SB unit became both a flash and a commander.

Okay, all lights at manual 1/1 power. No TTL nuance, or letting the little darlings decide things all on their own. I dragged my shutter all the way to 1/20th, and wrangled (hey, I’m shooting in cow country) f13 out of the lights. A mix of ambient and flash to be sure, but with enough declarative flash pop to edge Kevin’s rugged face. I went to monochrome, and a 5:4 aspect ratio on my D3X, and shot with a 24-70, racked to 32 millimeters. I tried long lens but that didn’t work so well. The middle-ish wide angle aspects of this make the road feel like it goes forever, which in Montana, they do. Kevin is the anchor for the frame up front.

What did I lose doing it this way? Well, I lost about 700 or so watt seconds, which limited my flexibility, for sure. At 1/200th of a second (max flash sync speed for Nikon with a third party power pack) with the Ranger at full bore, I could have made that Montana country road look as dark as a Manhattan night club. But that wasn’t my intent. I had to do a more delicate dance with the ratios of ambient to flash, given the limited power supply, but that balance was where I was headed aesthetically, anyway. How do you know when you have the right mix in a situation like this?

You just know. Hate to be inconclusive, but this becomes a matter of taste. A good guideline is often to work your flash up to a value that is one stop over the ambient conditions. Thus when you expose for that flash value, you automatically have subdued the background somewhat. But that is a general, and generally breakable, rule out there in the world. Once you have the frame and the values dialed in, ballpark-wise, it becomes a matter of personal taste, and what is possible technically. Here, I had just enough flash to give the photo a look. And if I told you this was a Ranger head and pack inside that Octa instead of a bunch of ragtag small flashes, you’d believe me, ’cause the look of that light is definitely smooth, like you would expect out of a 74″ source.

Misses don’t have to be forever. Keep a rolodex of failures in your head. (I’ve got an unfortunately large rolodex!) They inform your conduct in the field, always. And sometimes, you can go back and fix ‘em, even just a little. And try to think, not scream.

More tk….

Field Test- The ioSafe Rugged Portable Hard Drive

Sep 20

In Computer Technology, Equipment, Field Test, Videos at 7:19am

Hey guys, Drew here.  ioSafe recently approached us about testing out a a couple of their Ultra-Rugged Portrable Hard Drives, so we thought we’d give them a bit of a workout…

These guys boast some pretty impressive stats (see their site for the full scoop):

  • crush resistant to 2,500/5,000 lbs. (depending on model)
  • fully suspended to withstand drops of 10 ft.
  • waterproof to 10 ft., in fresh or salt water, for up to 3 days

If you search around a bit, you’ll find videos of people showering with them, handing a drive and a hammer to a toddler, and even shooting one with a shotgun…all of which it survived.

We can only hope that our drives won’t ever have to deal with that, but we definitely run our drives through the mill more than most.  Already this year, we’ve logged about 150,000 miles on Delta alone, and between Joe and I, we usually have about 6TB of drives with us.

For several years, we were using a bunch of LaCie Rugged’s, but found that the firewire ports were prone to burnout, and we’ve had several crash on us over time (as can and will likely happen with any drive).  The thought of them being “rugged” was appealing, but they didn’t really live up to their name, and felt like we always had to baby them.

Enter the “Ultra” Rugged drives from ioSafe.  We’ve been trekking around the world with six of these guys (1TB units), and after 5 months of abuse, I think we can give them a solid thumbs up.  We’ve happily ditched our LaCie’s, made these ioSafe drives our primary on-the-road storage, and so far, it’s been smooth sailing.

Here’s what we like about them:

– Right out of the box, they come with one year of data recovery service (up to $5,000), which starts as soon as you enter an activation code on their site.  You also have the opportunity to upgrade that to three or five years.  That’s some peace of mind, before you even take the drive into the field.

– The build is impressive.  They’re definitely heavier than our old drives, but the all-metal construction is solid, and we don’t feel the need to be extremely delicate with them, as we do with other drives (as clearly seen in the video up top).

Note from Joe….. Drew and Cali had a great time messing with this drive. I kept coming up with cheeseball blog titles like “Taking a Drive for a Drive,”or other nonsense, but they wisely overruled me. And, at the end of the video, that’s not me screaming. It’s my crazy uncle who does our archiving. More tk…

Another Epson Ad!

Sep 18

In In The Field, News at 8:09am

Just finished shooting another Epson ad for their “Finish Strong” campaign. This one was inspired by the portrait work of Corinne Alavekios, a wonderful shooter, based near Seattle, who embraces the continuous cloud cover and soft light of the Pacific Northwest as a motif for her beautiful, luminous pictures of young women and brides.

The conundrum, or essential difficulty of shooting these is you have to get used to a change up in your thinking. The hopefully dynamic, wonderful shot you create for an ad campaign runs quite small, while the production, BTS shot, or, as it’s referred to on the set, “the shot of the shot,” dominates the real estate of the ad. I shot both ends of this last year for Epson, and got to work with the incredible Anti-Gravity performers, who are a group I’ve had a relationship with for about 20 years now.

But then, having knocked out that relatively complex shot, which ran small, we had to shoot a production shot of doing the shot, which ran huge. This was handled by our own, intrepid Drew Gurian. We shot the ad pic, and then re-staged and blocked out an arrangement for the production image. It being an ad, all the pieces had to fit, puzzle-like, into the art director’s layout, sized and designed for a spread, and a vertical presentation.

For this one, we had responsibility only for the production picture, and left the “shot” up to the magic of Corinne and her team. She writes about our day in the river here, in her blog.

Of course, as always, there were things to solve about this shot as well. As you can see, it was a “fluid” situation. The eye of the exposure needle I had to thread was to light the foreground just a touch, to pull in the details of the sky, but not make that foreground area look too “flashed.” Not a job for small flash! This was big flash all the way, using an Elinchrom Ranger, triggered with Pocket Wizards. The light source was a 74″ Octa Indirect soft box, hoisted on a high roller stand and stabilized with waterproof sandbags. The bigness, and soft quality of the Octa gave me a prayer of matching the overall soft quality of the cloudy day.

And of course, the usual production details abounded. Corinne chose the location, and handled the talent, the hair, makeup and wardrobe, all configured to match her ongoing style of portrait work. (Corinne chose the young ladies well! They were out there in that river in frilly gowns for hours on end. I swear they were direct descendants of Lewis and Clark. Tough Pacific Northwest girls!)  On our end, Lynn in our studio had to figure out how to get a dock built. Harder than it sounds. It had to accommodate three people, obviously not sink, be relatively stable in the current, but at the same time be mobile enough rotate into various directions of light and background. It also had to be suitably worn and weathered to look like it had been around since the days of the sailing ships.

Lynn worked her magic and of course found Perfect Docks, in Lake Stevens, Washington. Frank Sovich did an amazing job creating an artistically terrific 600lb. dock for the young ladies to step onto and for us to push around in the muck of the river. And of course there were myriad other details, such as food, RV, travel, permits and insurance. I’m a big fan of guerilla style, just go do it film making, but when you have a crew of 15 people, and a dock and an RV and an Octa on a highboy in the river, you ain’t exactly low profile. This type of thing has to be done by the book.

It was also fun once again working for Epson and the folks from M&C Saatchi. Stephen Reidmiller was terrific as the art director, maintaining a sense of the ad and the placement of the elements even though he was looking at comps in what occasionally was almost chest deep water. And of course we had the redoubtable Mike Grippi out there with us. He hauled the lights, pushed the dock and, at the end of the day, hoisted Corinne for a celebratory shot. He was Flashbus crew, out of Ridgefield, Ct. but now has re-located to Portland, Oregon. Glad he’s out there, as he just jumped in a car and headed up to help us out.

Then of course there were the waders. We all spent a good four or five hours on a cool, cloudy day in a river that at times felt like it was being directly fed by a glacier. Dano Steinhardt of Epson, as usual, was the maestro of events, keeping all of us moving forward and holding steady to idea of the ad, even as the dock was drifting, and the light was changing, and the rain was threatening and everything from our toes to our, well, uh, the, uh, rest of us had gone numb in the river water. The waders really saved us, and of course, everybody took a pair home at the end of the day. Dano, well, he maybe should have left his on location. See below.

[ylwm_vimeo]49631579[/ylwm_vimeo]

More tk….

Sisters…

Sep 13

In history at 7:42am

It’s been fun watching the Williams sisters make a lot of news of late, from gold medals and grand slam victories to a cover story in the NYT Sunday Magazine. It’s been amazing to see these two take their talents as far and and as long as they have. When I first encountered them, Venus was the budding star, nobody really knew about Serena, and they were a pair of funny, mildly awkward teenagers.

They were kids, really, with braces and beads in their hair, which was something of a signature fashion statement for them at that time. But even in their goofy camaraderie, you could see the beginnings of their power and talent.

When you’re a people photographer, it’s kind of like having a really big version of a family album. You make a photograph of someone, presumably because that person is in the news, or is very good at some particular thing or another. You might stay in touch, or shoot them again at another point in time. Or you simply sit back and watch them live, grow and achieve. Your pictures are kind of like your kids. They’re a great way of noting how time flies, and how, every once in a while you can stop it, however briefly. More tk…