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Archive for July, 2013

A Family Album, a While in the Making….

Jul 31

In Friends at 8:09am

Donald Blake holds Cayus, Deidre Dean’s new baby. Shot on July 27th, 2013.

I understand a popular phenomenon is the concept, or game, of degrees of separation. It posits that in this ever-shrinking world, we are all connected in surprisingly close ways. True enough, I imagine. But, as a weary photog, I rejoice in the simpler connections that pictures I’ve made of people along the way provide. A lifelong family photo album, if you will.

I started photographing Deidre and Donald years ago. Unlike many photogs, who understandably search for the new face, I am often content with those who are familiar to me. The trust that has built over time is not to be ignored. Nor is the ongoing inspiration that can fill my imagination, and my lens, with people I know and love.

“D,” as I refer to her, is a one woman Cirque du Soleil, a performance artist who has regularly been able to physicalize my somewhat bent imagination. (I wrote the Cirque comment once about her in a book, and she has embraced that as a wonderful compliment.) Donald, the Moses of the Southwest, has become my lifelong friend. On the occasion of my recent birthday, he and his honey Mary Jo gave me a necklace with a silver eagle, with embedded Arizona turquoise. Donald said to me, “Joe, you have the eye of an eagle, and I want you to have this.” It instantly became one of the treasures of my life.

So it goes. I started making demo portraits of these two when I started teaching at the Santa Fe Photo Workshops. Over time, I became fast friends with the model community there, and, in between teaching stints, they’ve become a staple when I have some measure of commercial work, an idea for a book picture, or a wacky portrait notion I might want to experiment with. In turn, they would call me. D once rang me up and said, “Hey, wanna shoot me? I shaved my head!” Those sessions, with D having been cast as a prisoner of war in a small indie, became part of a book project. 

Donald ended up on the cover of a book, Sketching Light, after a five minute demo portrait session in pre-storm conditions in New Mexico.

D and I wandered through the New Mexican forest, after the fires a couple years ago. One of the things you don’t worry about when she is in front of your lens is range of expression.

Donald, aka Moses, helped me engage in a bit of whimsy with a speed light.

And now Deidre’s a mom. And, as luck would have it, she knows this photog who’s always up for doing a baby portrait. 

Technically, the pictures above are simplicity itself. Virtually all of them are one light portraits. The B&W baby portraits are done with a 74″ Elinchrom, with a D800E setup for monochrome and a 5×4 aspect ratio. Donald with the church, and D as a prisoner are both done with an Elinchrom beauty dish. D in the forest is lit with a shoot through version of a Lastolite 8 in 1 umbrella, on a paint pole, with speed lights. And the wind whipped portrait of Donald is a small Elinchrom strip light.

Neither of these folks would have ever come in front of my lens were it not for the friendship of Nerissa Escanlar, who has, for many years, been the liaison between the workshops and the model community in Santa Fe. She is moving on now, to Washington DC, where no doubt her tireless energy and decency will straighten the whole mess there out.

Friends, and pictures. A family album, built over time. More tk…..


GPP Pops Up in London!

Jul 25

In Seminars & Workshops at 8:14am

Really looking forward to a short, wonderful trip to London this September for the GPP Pop Up with three colleagues I value and respect enormously, Greg Heisler, David Hobby, and Zack Arias. For two days, in a couple of venues, the four of us ping around the compass of shooting, lighting, adapting and surviving in this business. Greg goes high end, and opens up the door to his prodigious noodle and shows you the why and how of the way he imagines light. Zack goes DIY as only he can. I keep it small with just a couple of speed lights and ad hoc live shooting of portrait subjects I find in the audience. And David steps outside the box to talk about taking all the technique and creating an ecosystem for yourself as a photographer that you can manage and thrive in.

Best thing for me, is when I don’t teach, I’m in one of these guys’ classes with a notebook. And another best thing–London is one of the most amazing cites to be in, ever. I went to photo school there for six months, talked my way onto a fishing trawler and put into the North Sea (in November) for a couple weeks, shot a FedEx campaign there, and lived on the Isle of Dogs for National Geographic for 17 weeks. Yep, you guessed it–I’ve logged lots of pub time in England. When I lived in the East End for that stretch, all while London Docklands was being built, my local was the Tooke Arms, where the bartender would simply, without being asked, put a pint of Ruddles on the counter as soon as I walked in.

The way the GPP Pop Up is designed maximizes learning and variety, in short amount of time. Each class is focused, and different from each other. And, did I mention it’s in London? It’s a city I can never get enough of, and of course now, we’ll be there in the wake of the entire UK being gobsmacked by a cuddly new royal. And, I’m dropping this blog now, as a reminder, as you can get an early bird discount on the whole shebang if you act before July 31. So now’s the time to say, as DH mentioned over at Strobist, “Hey honey, summer’s over, tickets are cheaper, the weather’s great, how about London for a week? Oh, and look there’s this thing about photography and it’s only a couple days! Right in downtown! Just a hop, skip and a jump to Harrods!”

London’s calling……more tk…..






F-Stop, Shutter Speed: A Powerful Combination

Jul 22

In On Location, Tips & Tricks at 7:01am

When you first take a camera in hand, this black box with a lens on it can seem to be a glaze inducing riot of numbers, symbology, and menu options. 2.8, 4, 5.6, plus or minus 2 EV……..if you’re not numerically inclined, there is, to say the least, potential for confusion. The shutter speed dial has more logic, right? Twice or half, depending on which way you turn it. Initial forays in making f-stops and shutter speeds work together like a seamless duo, to produce dependably predictable results, can induce one to look shiftily around the room, making sure nobody is watching, and quietly dialing the camera over to “P” mode. Just go and shoot. Let the camera do the math.

But that’s like not voting on election day, and then complaining about the result. The camera’s brain can average things out, at least most of the time, reasonably well. But what it can’t do is interpret the numbers and see potential for those numbers, working together, to produce a different look, or looks. It’s like asking an adding machine to write an essay.

The three pictures below were all shot in the same hallway. The location is the same, but the math of each picture is different.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Gift of Photography

Jul 15

In Stories, Thanks at 6:17am


Is one that is given, or accepted, freely. As a shooter, you can be the recipient of many gifts over the years: The grace of someone’s time, the whimsy of their expression, the fleeting emotion of their eyes the lens traps, forever. Read the rest of this entry »

Hi Tech Machine, Low Tech Flash

Jul 11

In Lighting, On Location at 6:58am

So how do you shoot a medical marvel that is an absolute tech wonder, producing and providing highly detailed maps of the interior of the human body, but, on the outside, sort of looks like a big refrigerator with a hole in it?

The only sexy thing about this machine, visually speaking, were the blessedly intense, focused red beams that created the cross hairs used by the technicians to “aim” the scanner. The patient slides into the machine, and the device is aligned with assist of these beams. Turn the lights off in the room, which is one of the first things I often do when I walk into an environment, and you basically have the picture below.

Once again, up pops the irony of being a “flash photographer.” At any given moment,  the most important light you deal with is the ambient light. What exists, is the first question you grapple with. Then, and only then, after you wrangle what exists and what role (dominant, background, fill) that light will play in the photo, can you mess with flash.

So in the darkness, with a D800E set at f5.6 at ISO 400, I sorted out a shutter speed of 4 seconds. Which was fine, as my “patient” wasn’t going anywhere. Of course, in this iteration, I’ve got a red light and no context, or information. Luckily, I had a wall behind me, flat and white. I turned the head of my SB 910 backwards into the wall, and shifted my color balance to incandescent. That flat wash of light off the wall, un-gelled, and plain white, defined the machine, and the tungsten WB gave it a bluish cast, which I felt would work better than dead bang white. One flash, on camera, re-directed, gave me color, tone, context and editorial content.

Still couldn’t turn on the overhead fluorescents to provide the background illumination, as their overall, blah quality of light, filling the room (which is what they are supposed to do) bleached out the intensity of the red aiming beams, and those red beams were the anchor for the picture. So, I kept the room dark, and flashed the background of the photograph with two SB units, each slightly warmed with a CTO (color temperature orange) gels. I believe the gels were fairly mild, maybe a quarter cut, or 25% of the truly warm tone a full conversion gel would have presented. They are placed, TTL, in Group C, which is always the group I use for the background lights in any photo. I switched my on camera flash to double duty, acting as a TTL main light, and the commander for the background fills. Done.

But, was I really done in the darkness? As is said in The Game of Thrones, the night is dark and full of terrors. I was moving fast, needing to clear the room of my gear so they could get back to scanning. I had a nice picture, one I knew the client would be happy with. So I plunged ahead.

Now, I love Manfrotto stacker stands. I just don’t love them when they’re actually in my picture. Doh! They had to be retouched out in the final TIFF sent in for the book. As I always say, whenever you are feeling lock solid and dialed in, think again, and check again.

In the darkened hallways of my mind, the ghost of Numnuts is cavorting about and laughing, and that laughter echoes, as it has for my entire career.

More tk….