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Archive for the ‘Friends’ Category

Gifts

Dec 30

In Friends, history at 9:16am

Round this time of year, I usually send a message to my buddy Bill down at the Geographic about the richly rewarding experience of the passing of time, the accumulation (hopefully) of yet another year of wisdom and experience, the wonder of change, the increasing depth and importance of friendship, not to mention the shooting of a few more good frames. (The latter of course, unlike the certitude of aging, is never a given. There have been years gone by when I’ve looked around and thought, wow, I really shot a bunch of crap this past twelve months.)

The language of my missives is often ornately descriptive, flowery, even. A rhapsody to the passing of time. Then of course I yank his chain and say something to the effect of “There goes another year down the drain.” He generally responds by advising me to do something that, when considered, is anatomically impossible.

Good picture, bad picture. Tick, tock. Keep breathing, sometimes, seemingly, right through the lens. A day with your eye to a camera can be like a breath of fresh, beautiful air. At other times, back there at the eyepiece, it can feel like a bad asthma attack. So it goes, as they say.

Still, despite frustration, pitfalls, bad jobs, errant pixels and the like, passing another year with a camera in hand is cause for celebration, which is good to be able to say. At this point in my life, the calculus of making pictures is an interesting one. Not too often does it come down to, “Hey, let’s go take some cool photos!” and off I skip into the sunset, with a DSLR, a fast zoom and a light heart. As time marches, I factor in the love of the click times the degree of difficulty/expense figured against the fee, minus the arthritis in my knees divided by the 3:30am wake-up multiplied by the length of the line at JFK over the missed connection plus the cranky subject doubled by the weight of my bags. The sum of that is…..I still go shoot.

I guess I’m feeling that Father Time thing especially this morning. I’m looking down the pipe of a huge and physically challenging job for a client starting soon, and I put on weight last year, writing the book. So now, back to the gym, and back to occasionally seeing Ederin, my boxing teacher. I’ve known him now for over eight years. Massively quick, and fit, he regularly makes me feel clumsy, stupid, slow footed and witted. (To make a photographic analogy, think about the first time you took the camera out of the box. That’s how I feel every time I get in a ring with him.) Recently, he was counseling me to keep him away. “Joe, think of me as a zombie, and if you let me get too close, I’ll bite you and infect you!” A few minutes later, backpedaling with spaghetti arms, he was closing in, up against me, chest the size of a movie screen, smiling maniacally, face close to mine, shouting, “I’m a happy zombie now Joe! I’m eating you!”

But then, every once in a great while, I connect. I move through a combination with authority, my legs and arms working in concert, and when I hit his target mitts there’s a flat, satisfying crack that bangs off the cinder block walls of the gym and reports back. On the rare occasions when I do that, Ederin spreads his arms out and nods. “That’s it,” he says. He thankfully leaves out the “dumb ass.” Christ, he could be a photo editor.

But, with the passing of time, there are gifts. One I’ve come to appreciate as I’ve stuck with this is the sense that, much more important than the ever crucial, actual photograph, is, at least at times, the connection that photo might make to someone who views it. And what might happen around that photo. I guess, it’s about the wonderfully important, positive effect of pictures on our lives. It isn’t about whether it’s your best photo, or how hard you struggled as the shooter to make it. It’s about the reaction to it, and how that might affect someone’s life in a hopefully good way. You become linked to that person, even if you don’t know them. Ever see those projected maps of the world used by the FAA, and air traffic controllers? In the early part of the day, as flights get in the air, there are lines tracing the flights, city to city, all over the place,  like the beginnings of a spider web. As the day progresses, so many planes are aloft, the earth might as well be a ball of string. Same thing happens when you throw a picture aloft. It takes flight, and makes connections. Destinations? Multiple, and unknown.

Thankfully, I’m connected, wonderfully, with my good friend RC Concepcion, and his lovely wife Jen, and daughter, Sabine. They are dear friends. And recently, they gave me a wonderful gift, a kind of a present that started with a picture. Win, lose or draw, good day or bad in the field, things like this are the reason to keep putting your eye into a lens.

A gift I gave myself this year was finishing Sketching Light. Again, many thanks for patience whilst I doodled and bumbled. My dear friend Syl Arena gave it a thumbs up on his blog. Seeing as Syl knows his way around a Canon speed light better, literally, than the Canon engineers, his positive review was very welcome. I always tease Syl about being like that Denzel Washington character, Eli, from the movie. He has the book of Canon in his head, and he travels the world dispensing its wisdom.

Ron Martinsen also was wonderfully gracious over on his blog, citing the book, and showing some of the spreads.

I’m reading this book now and loving the hell out of it. It’s going to be my holiday vacation companion (even more so after I get my Kindle Fire on Christmas <g>), and I think you might enjoy doing the same. This version has more depth and details as well as a couple chapters to set your bearings before he dives in to the good stuff. Based on a 2 hour skim of the entire book, I see nothing that will keep this one off my highly recommended list, so I’m going to jump the gun and say this is a “great to have” book.

Many thanks for the kind words, guys. I’m quite sure the long suffering, ever patient Peachpit team–Ted Waitt, Lisa Brazieal, Charlene Will, Kim Scott, Scott Cowlin, and Sara Todd–appreciate them, too. They were about to transform themselves, I think, from being book editors into a SWAT team, and show up in my driveway with a bullhorn. “Just give us the book, Joe, and nobody gets hurt.”

More tk in 2012…..Happy, safe, and blessed New Year to all…..

At Home with Donald…

Dec 14

In Friends, Rambling at 9:12am

Laughter comes easy to Donald and I. We’ve know each other for ten years or so, and to me, it’s just one of the small but rich gifts of this nutty business that he ends up on the cover of this new book. He’s a decent soul who takes his honey out for several spins on the dance floor every Friday night, sips Cuervo like it’s medicine, and always has a bit of a twinkle in his eye. As he said to me once, “The day they put me down, all the music in the world’s gonna stop.” I think he’s right.

Home. Feels good after a tumultuous year. For the rest of the year on the blog, I’ll be focusing on some of the highs and lows of another year of survival as a shooter. I looked around my tiny apartment in NYC in 1979, and realized I was paying all of my meager bills with a camera, and knew right then that I was a professional photog. At that point in time, being called a pro was high praise indeed. It was a mark of distinction that acknowledged the fact that your pictures were not only being consumed by people and influencing them every day, but that your livelihood flowed through a lens. It was a stamp of approval that only a hardy few could merit and sustain. So, as we approach 2012, 33 years with a camera in my hands and counting. Sheesh. I get points for stubbornness, anyway.

But, lots of highs and lows, as always. The new book is one of the highs, and it’s a fun read. Lots of survival lessons in there, right next to the lighting diagrams and production shots. Having my friend Mr. Blake on the cover of Sketching Light is one those wonderfully odd pieces of serendipity that occasionally come a shooter’s way.  Donald looks a bit stern and forbidding on the cover for the gentle soul that he is, but I know he likes the picture.

Shot this during a workshop demo, when the sky and the wind just gave me a feeling I could find my way to a picture.

On the other hand, one of the more notable lows occurred this year aboard Flashbus, when a hard turn ended me up in bed with David Hobby. He reported on this incident thoroughly in his blog of yesterday:

Also, if anyone woulda told me five years ago that one day I would be traveling in a tour bus with Joe McNally, I woulda told them that they were nuts.

And if anyone woulda told me five years ago that one day, I would suddenly and unexpectedly find myself in my underwear, sharing a bed with McNally, I woulda punched ‘em in the mouf.

Suffice to say you never know what turns life has in store for you. Especially an unexpected hard left-hand turn by a bus, resulting in the above. After that, I slept in full clothing.

Lots of laughs, twists and turns out there on the road.

The picture up top was shot by Kent Skibstad who attended a workshop and who wrote to me that the workshop “really kickstarted my photographic career, thank you!” It was a wonderful note to get as a teacher.

More tk…

Many Thanks…

Nov 17

In Friends, Videos at 6:46am

Had a wonderful time yesterday at NAPP. Just great. The folks in Tampa are well and truly family. We started the day with The Grid, with Scott Kelby and Matt Kloskowski throwing out questions to Trey Ratcliff and myself about popular “myths” or rules that get passed around in photo circles, like, “Never shoot somebody’s portrait with a wide lens,” and the like. There was some good discussion in the midst of general mayhem and laughs.

Then, last night, Scott led me through a fast paced Q&A in between clips of the most recent video I did with Kelby Training called, A Day with Joe McNally. Scott is so sure footed, both in the video and on the set, in terms of leading the conversation, and steering it in a positive, informative direction, that three hours passed quick as a blink. People sent in some wonderful questions, and the whole thing was pretty lively. The thing that always gets reinforced to me during these exchanges is how much passion there is out there for shooting pictures, which is, you know, pretty great.

My thanks go out to Scott, RC Concepcion (who shot the above pic), Brad Moore, Nancy Masse, and the whole Kelby Training operation. I’ve done videos with the Tampa gang since the start of their online training efforts, and watched it, in short order, become literally the best resource anywhere for photo and post-production education. As an instructor, you’re able to teach well, and have fun doing it.

The video of Scott and I in NYC is going live today, so check it out here.

Talking Pictures With Scott

Nov 14

In Friends, News, Upcoming Events at 7:43am

Looking forward to hanging with Scott Kelby and the gang down at Tampa this week. (Click on the image above.) Scott and I did a video together in NYC recently, where we started in the wee hours, right at my studio, in the equipment garage, packing the truck and talking our way through the shoot. We talk about the whole deal, from why certain equipment gets brought or not, to strategies for survival on assignment, to location difficulties and solutions. And not just the nuts and bolts. We talk back and forth about the why of a job, the choice of a subject and the motivation to put your camera to your eye in the first place. And, we wander through the workroom, checking out the stuff on the walls, the accumulation of thirty years of imagery, sprung from travels to what is now over 60 countries.

See the picture up above? I look a bit reserved, don’t I? Calm, almost. Well, as you know, it’s anything but calm when Scott and I get together, yakking as we will in the studio on Wednesday night, and also in the location video we did this summer. It’ll be no holds barred, and all questions welcome. Here’s the link to register.

During the day of the video, I shot dance in NYC, at the old Brooklyn Navy Yard, which was a kick, and something I have always loved doing. Below are a couple of shots we generated that day, one with Jonathan, an amazing dancer who uses the urban environment of NY as a springboard for his artistry, and the other with Jenny Ringer, one of the most elegant principal dancers with the New York City Ballet. Just a great day at a great location.

Hope to chat with you on Wednesday!  More tk….

Moving On, Down the Highway

Nov 3

In Friends at 8:49am

Leaving Moab, Utah. I’m heading home, and Moose is heading for the wild blue yonder, somewhere over Texas. With him goes the Digital Landscape Workshop Series, one of the most durable, inspirational, educational efforts in the world of photography. Moving on.

Like a favorite TV series that comes to wistful but logical ending, DLWS has staged its’ last episode. Moose, redoubtable shooter that he is, has been re-inventing himself for a while now, and sees a future up there in the skies, with the fly boys, and perhaps not as much with the bears and the birds. Not that he’s utterly leaving landscape and wildlife behind, he’s just, as all good shooters do, migrating a bit, following his eye and his heart, and seeing how his formidable skills translate aloft. He’s not really abandoning his vast legacy as a natural history shooter, he’s just adding another chapter in the adventure book.

Me, I’m heading back to concrete. It’s been a wonderful ride, being on the faculty of DLWS. I visited parks and places (and yes, rocks and stumps) that I would not have encountered otherwise. You see, no magazine editor in their right mind would think of me first to go do a story on Yosemite Park, or the great lighthouses of East Coast. (Unless they made the assignment in the afternoon, and they had belted a few at lunch. That’s been know to happen in the world of journalism.)

I always had a bit of a cheeky attitude towards wandering around a park, teasing Moose that “I never met a landscape I couldn’t make better by putting a person in front of it.” But, truth be told, it’s been a thrilling ride throughout the natural wonders of this country. I’ve actually made some good landscape photos, mostly because I occasionally had the good sense to stand next to Moose’s tripod, and peer at his settings over his shoulder.

So, now, at the conclusion of the last of these workshops, I did in fact put a person in front of a landscape. My good friend Moose, out there on the highway. A portrait that’s a bit of both worlds–standing on a seemingly endless, battered ribbon of tarmac, bounded by sage, scrub, mountains and sky. For the technically minded, this is two SB900 flash units, a white interior 24″ Ezybox, and a little skip fill off a tri-grip on the road. Good light, which is something Moose knows quite a bit about.

Be well, and shoot straight, my friend. Continue to enjoy this wander with a camera in your hands, even now, as it leads you into the clouds. More tk…