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Archive for the ‘Fun’ Category

A New York Wedding!

Sep 4

In Fun, In The Field at 8:14am

Gene is a good guy, and a good shooter who works at Adorama. He was about to get married, last week, at City Hall in downtown Manhattan. He mentioned to his colleague, Annie, my wife, that he kinda, sorta, needed somebody to take some pictures. Annie made a call.

How could you not shoot a joyous few hours like this? Gene’s bride, Olivia, was radiant and beautiful. Gene himself was so over the top in love I coulda used his bald pate as a Group B kicker light. Sharing this day with them was a great way to start the year. (I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve never gotten off of school schedule. August is always dog days, a reprieve and recharge period. September means back at it.)

The day started early at an East Side hotel. Olivia donned her veil (very proud she had found it for $5) and pulled herself together while Gene clutched the marriage license and engaged in deep breathing exercises. Rings? Check! ID’s? Check! Metro card? Check!

And off we went to the subway.

If New York City were a human body, the subway system would be the veins. They nourish the city by ushering people on a mission to every nook and neighborhood. On a subway car, you hear everything from Swahili to French to German to Farsi to English—the unique, mixed jargon of the underground. Very international, which is to say, quite local, given the fact of New York.

Gene, from Ohio, and Olivia, from Zimbabwe, fit right in, and given their attire, and the fact they had a photog in tow, were warmly received on the six train to City Hall and the courts. As block after block zipped by overhead, the congratulations flowed, and good spirits filled the car. It was such a treat as a shooter. Instead of being greeted with the usual mix of subway suspicion and indifference, punctuated by the occasional growl of annoyance at a flash pop interrupting the morning look at Page Six, I was an honored guest. People suggested shots, and had no problem with me squeezing into a crevice on a bench to get an angle.

We flew to City Hall. And found some light along the way.

Once inside, I found myself in an effervescent swirl of happy humanity, all of them there to simply declare their love of someone. This wasn’t atheist, or Christian, or Jewish, or Buddhist. It didn’t have a color, or a preference. It wasn’t about where you were from. It was about where you were about to go with the person you had just declared your love for.

Now, it’s still a government bureaucracy. You have to stand in lines, take a number, report to windows, have documents checked, and pay a fee. But, given the mission of the folks on those lines, there was none of the irritated clock watching and tense conversations that often occur when the public faces off against an overworked bunch of folks behind a counter. Think of a deliriously happy version of the DMV.

At a civil service like this, with literally hundreds of people waiting to give each other their first married kiss, the ceremonies are short and sweet. You walk in single, and three or four minutes later, you’re married. You walk out to the cheers and clapping of total strangers, who bid you good luck, and then walk in to try their own in a whole new chapter of their lives.

I thank Gene and Olivia for the invite to their wedding day. And Annie, who made the call. She snapped this Iphone shot of Gene last week. I’m sure today, he’s back at his station at Adorama, doing his thing, which he does quite well.

Being part of their nuptials was a great way to start the fall, a breath of cool air to blow out the sogginess of a long summer in the big city. It was also a powerful antidote to our current, roiling season of discontent and politics, announced daily in tiresome headlines that fairly reek of nastiness, exclusion and blame mongering. It was a wonderful, emotional reminder that when you find your beloved, your life becomes automatically good.

For the technically minded, the pix were all shot on Nikon D4 cameras, with ISO ratings ranging from 200 to 1600. A little bit of hot shoe flash was mixed in here and there. On the bridge we used a shoot through umbrella, with two SB900 units firing through it, maxed out, given the harsh sunlight. A lot of frames were shot with available light, and I pretty much, for the backgrounds, just let New York be New York. Lenses were 24-70, 70-200 and a 35 f1.4. Post was super basic–a bit of burning and dodging and contrast. Couple got sharpened a touch. Couple others had some NIK lighten/darken center. Other than that, these are JPEGS out of the camera.  Gene and Olivia, with their expression of love set against the vibrant mess of NYC, are as real and durable as the concrete they walked that day.

May the road rise up to meet you both…..more tk….

Dropped Dead Ducks

Aug 1

In Fun, Lighting at 6:46am

Just back from Asia for a stint, and I have to say it was a complete honor teaching and working alongside Zack Arias. He explains his minimalist style and approach so clearly and well, and it’s pretty terrific watching him in action. I have to say his theories and practices with “one only” style of lighting influenced me greatly, not only in my photography, but in other areas of my life as well.

For instance the paintball arena. Below is kind of a “one light” approach I used for paintball. Okay, call it “one shot.”

I really kind of felt bad about it afterwards. I mean, I didn’t mean to hit him in the face. I was actually shooting his direction just to distract him, seeing as he was launching paintballs at my daughter Claire. Turns out she really didn’t need my help, as she was smarter, smaller, faster and more agile than the rest of the hulking, testosterone fueled males she was out there in the jungle with, all of us near keening in our desire to just splatter somebody.

Creative Asia was a wonderful gathering, and I was very proud once again to be included alongside friends and colleagues like Louis Pang, Zack and Michael Greenberg. Zack and I traveled on from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur, where we taught big seminar days together, as well as individual classes. We were located at Taylor University in KL, which had this weird, checkerboard type of Astro-turf quad out there in the middle of the campus. It was so odd, I took the class out there into the microwave oven of midday Malaysia in July to experiment with line of sight TTL transmission in bright conditions, and also high speed sync for small flash. We were accompanied by the resolutely beautiful Evon Tan, who it has been my pleasure to work with on several occasions.

It being as harshly lit and hot as the inside of an incandescent bulb, I naturally asked Evon to start jumping.

She did this listless, sort of puppet with cut strings hop into the air, and I, gracious as ever, excoriated her from a distance. (I was shooting a 70-200mm from a balcony.) I shouted something like, “Hey Evon, could you put a little effort into it? Like, you know, that looked somebody dropped a dead duck from a third story window, you know?” Or words to that effect. Evon and I have worked together before, as I’ve noted. She responded righteously and vigorously, answering my call. Effectively, the big dipshit from the States was trying to get an Asian super model to act like a high school cheerleader from Kansas.

Showing the very few frames I shot later, the consensus was that the dropped dead duck frame worked and the rest of my offerings were garbage. Drew actually led the charge on that. Back at the studio, Cali confirmed that the above was the most interesting frame. I looked at them, perhaps being a bit sensitive to the recent passing of a birthday, and asked if this was a generational thing. No, no, I was assured. This was nothing like their collective disapproval of the tan socks I relentlessly wear with half boots, the Jesus sandals I have a penchant for stumbling about in, the fact that I like Joni Mitchell, or my tendency to use gels on my lights in a style that disappeared with pet rocks.

Anyway, the class had some questions about line of sight transmission working in bright light, which we resolved pretty well. (It worked, from about 100′ away.)

Finals on the select were 1/500 @f16, ISO 100, lens zoomed at 140. The three flashes were arrayed on a Lastolite rotating tri-flash, which enabled me to orient the light sensor panels in one collective direction. Given the bright conditions, I sent the flashes a signal to go manual, full power, wanting a lot of DOF to keep the weirdness of the grid sharp. Now, could you do this with a flash pop from a single bigger light? Of course. I’ve done that more times than I can remember. Could you use a medium format system with a leaf shutter to gain access to higher shutter speeds? Of course. But, we were teaching speed lights, and this is the gear I had, and the blazing sun was the hand we were dealt.

At another location, late in the day, down in Chinatown, I borrowed Zack’s Paul Buff light and put it across the street with a gel, and lit a restaurant Evon and I had frequented before. One light, far away.

As I always say, ya gotta love a lady with a cleaver! More tk…

Talking Down Under

May 28

In Friends, Fun at 12:54am

Winding down now, after a month in Australia. Heading home this week. It’s been a wonderful trip, and I’ve learned a lot. Such as…

G’day is actually one word. And when an Aussie says it, even to a total stranger, they generally really mean it.

I would be hard put, I think, to use the word “uptight” in the same sentence as the word, “Aussie.” Folks down here are pretty relaxed and easy going about most stuff, which is probably quite healthy.

They do talk a little strangely, though. Being here has been a wonderful adventure and education in language.

For instance, I went to the State of Origin Rugby match the other night, which is a huge event in the Aussie sports world. (This is referred to as “going to the footy.”) It was fun, and quite an amiable affair, with folks cheering for the home side and all. There was only one “incident” where an inebriated Queensland fan sort of danced along in front of the New South Wales fan section, his gestures suggesting to that section of the stadium that they engage him in a level of physical intimacy that would have been anatomically impossible for that many people to achieve, at least simultaneously. He was forcibly exited by security, to much cheering and a beer shower.

All my mates were cheering for New South Wales, so I sat in the blue section, and got with the program. They scored first, but ultimately lost. The Blues did, however, have a terrific cheer. “Queensland are wankers!” Pause a beat. “Queensland are wankers!”

I asked what the specifics of being a wanker entailed, and was told it meant that you know, you’re just a tosser. Okay! That explains that!

The Foster’s beer campaign in America has convinced, I’m sure, lots of Yanks that it is the brew of choice down under. Definitely not, I am assured. Most self-respecting, beer drinking Aussies (and that would be the entire country) would rather be caught dead than drinking a can of Foster’s, which is routinely referred to as “cat piss.”  Which is not, perhaps, as negative as it might sound. Beer down here is generally referred to as piss, and if you’re “sinking the piss,” you’re drinking bunches of beers.

In the beer department, the way to go (and this is an admittedly limited research sample) is Crown Lager, aka, “Crownies.” It’s a limited sample as I’ve never been able to drink lots of beer. In college they referred to me as a “two can commando.” Down here I’m a “two pot screamer.”

And, if you drink a lot of beer, you’ll have to “take the kids to the pool.” (Go to the lavatory.)

If you really, really drink too much beer, you might end up having a “liquid laugh.” Back home, we might refer to upchucking as having a Technicolor yawn, or a long talk on the big white telephone.

Went to the movies in Sydney and bought a Gold Class ticket. What a treat! You go to smallish theater and are shown to a incredibly comfortable recliner of a chair, and waiters will bring you snacks, beers, wine etc. Awesome! It was $40 for the ticket, though, which is pricey. They do offer half off on Gold Class tickets on Tuesdays, though, and their marketing slogan for same is “Tight Ass Tuesdays!” Somehow, I don’t think that slogan would fly back home. There would be somebody offended, somehow, and the results could involve placards, protests, lawsuits, and the like.

We trekked overland from Sydney to the Gold Coast and to Melbourne, so I’ve seen a bit of the country now, which of course I didn’t when I was here shooting the Olympics. When working an Olympiad, you basically see the inside of the sports venues, and the inside of your hotel room, briefly, before you pass out from exhaustion every night.

So, I’ve seen the Big Banana, and the Big Merino. (I missed out on the Big Prawn.) And, in keeping with the Aussie philosophy of everything being big, I have to say the Big Merino’s testicles are, as they might say in Aussie speak, “absolutely bangin!”

If you’re a bit loopy, or behave foolishly, you might be referred to as having “kangaroos loose in the top paddock.” Back home, I’m proud to say we have equally innovative phrases for dimwitted behavior, such as, “one or two fries short of a happy meal,” and “one sandwich short of a picnic.” You could also say someone didn’t drink from the fountain of knowledge, they only gargled.

I kept hearing that people were “absolutely wrapped,” which means they enjoyed themselves. At first I thought this condition was “rapt,” as in rapt attention, or maybe even tending towards rapture. But, then, the only time I’ve seen Aussies approach rapture has been when we’ve offered some of our subjects a case of VB beer in return for signing a photo release. I mean, they stopped short of speaking in tongues, but their eyes definitely glazed over. I later learned I was indeed wrong and the word for pleased or entertained actually is “wrapped.” Cool.

I would guess the opposite of being wrapped would be to engage in a whinge. “Whinge” is akin to whining or complaining. When I’ve gotten together down here with some fellow photogs, and we’ve imbibed a fair bit of alcohol, we’ve come quite close to having ourselves a right good whinge.

If I’m surprised by something at home, I might say, “My Goodness!” Down here, some folks express surprise by the phrase, “Holy Dooley!”

If you’re a Bogan, you apparently don’t dress particularly well.

A pash is evidently a long, passionate kiss. Caution. This could lead to rooting.

Giving it a good try, or perhaps keeping too much for yourself, is referred to as a “fair squeeze on the sauce bottle.” And if you think a lot of yourself, it might be said that “you’ve got tickets on yourself, mate!” This type of individual might also bear the nickname “Figjam.” (F**k I’m good, just ask me!)

If you play hooky from work without being sick, you are “chucking a sickie.” Men’s swimming trunks are “budgie smugglers.” (My Aussie mates did seem to enjoy the phrase “banana hammock,” which I offered in return.) A “bush oyster” is what you produce when you blow your nose. A “journo” is a journalist, an “ambo” is an ambulance driver, and a “garbo” is a garbage collector.

If you’re really, really busy, you could be “flat out like a lizard drinking,” or a “cat burying shit.”

Anyway, gotta shove off here. Going to go into Melbourne to have a Captain Cook and a walkabout. Day off today, actually, so I’m being a bit of a bludger and not doing any yakka whatsoever. Had my brekkie, and it’s London to a brick I’m not doing much today. Going to put on my trackie daks and my sunnies, and see a little of the city, and just spend some quiet time, ’cause since I came to Oz I’ve definitely been yabbering a fair bunch.

I’ve met some really nice people here, and made some wonderful friends.  It’s going to be tough to say “hooroo.” (Goodbye.) And that’s the fair dinkum truth.

More tk…

In Transit….and Many Thanks…

Apr 30

In Fun, Thanks at 7:33am

Flew home yesterday from Dusseldorf. 18 hours here, and then another plane (hope it’s really big and has lots of engines cuz it’s going over lots of water) to Sydney, and magical land of Aus. I had a blast down there during the Olympics and this is a return visit I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. Here’s a tour link for our itinerary down there.

But, before anything, I just have to thank the incredibly wonderful folks who came to Essen for this past weekend’s Nikon Solutions. The whole Nikon team did amazing stuff, but I really have to single out Yasuo Baba, of Nikon Germany. Where he gets the energy to do so much of the creative and logistical planning a huge event like this requires, I’ll never know.

Mostly, though, I have to thank the folks who came out to the expo. They were amazing and gracious, and made Annie and me feel so much at home. Throw in great beer, good coffee and lots of laughs, not to mention an elephant, Marco the amazing body builder, a ballerina, and a couple of wonderful models from the Czech Republic, and well, you’ve got a fun weekend, that’s for sure. Once again it was my honor to teach with all the shooters there, and of course my long time bud, sports shooting legend Bill Frakes. He had basketball players, rhythmic gymnasts, heavy weight lifters, you name it.

When you’re shooting live and stumbling around, essentially doing a location shoot in front of 400 plus people, you really feed off the participation and energy of the folks in the crowd. Once again, thanks to all who hung in there during some fun shoots…..all best, and Annie and I already can’t wait to return!

More tk….

In Today’s News…New Classes at Kelby Training

Feb 6

In Fun, Videos at 8:30am

Just finished two new classes for Kelby Training, which are in the pipe, and will most likely come out fairly shortly. They’re pretty in depth looks at creating, with just light and a plain wall, an environment in which dancers can thrive, create their own sublime shapes, which then, at camera, you simply hope to capture. I’m a big believer in the fact that when the camera observes a performer, it simply stands in service to their creativity.  Consequently, the best thing a shooter can do is provide a comfortable place for them to experiment, light them simply and well, and then sorta, kinda, get the hell out of their way.

I’ll never be known as a dance shooter. I’ll really never be known as any particular kind of shooter at all, being resolutely, the generalist. (I spun from this studio into a job for the Geographic where I’m traveling with 27 cases of gear, two Suburbans, and negotiating the shooting of large, static objects.)

And I enjoy both of the above styles of assignment in equal measure, though I have to admit that the interaction with dancers is a helluva lot more fun. It’s a safety valve for me, to shoot dance. Think of a vent on a pressure cooker.  I’ve always been a star struck kid when it comes to virtually any of the performing arts. Recently, I was in Vegas for a gig, and I took my youngest daughter with me. (Her first time in Vegas, and she really liked it. Should I be worried?)

We went to the “O” show, and both sat there with our jaws dropped at the exquisite talent on stage. I feel the same way about looking through the lens at dance.

The above set featured modern dancer Jeff Mortensen, and he was able to create whimsy in the air, assisted by two Elinchrom Rangers into long strip soft boxes, one directly overhead, and one off to either side, depending on his gesture. I “found” Jeff through the long standing relationships of David Cooper, a friend and fellow shooter based in Vancouver. David is one of Canada’s leading theater and dance shooters, and his daughter Emily (who calls herself Mini-Cooper) is not far behind in terms of skill. They are prominent members of the creative community in Vancouver, which is a city I love to go and work.


I was also able to work with Lisa Gelley, Josh Martin, and Shay Kuebler of the 605 Collective modern dance troupe based in Vancouver. They are dedicated to creating new versions of aesthetics in the air through the intricate interweaving of their articulate bodies while in flight. Above is Josh, lit with two TTL speed lights. Below, bigger lights were used, a combo of Ranger and Quadra.

Keeping things simple, we used just one speed light for the above shot of the soulfully expressive Bevin Poole. Here’s where you need to explain yourself as a photographer, and try your best not sound like a complete lunatic. I had no relationship, really, with Bevin, until she walked into the studio. I had just seen her picture. But for some reason, I saw her short hair sort of tufted and her face and body painted in some way shape or form. I don’t know where that came from, it just did. Here’s where collaboration with an excellent makeup artist is irreplaceable. I discussed this off the wall notion with Tamar Ouziel, an extremely talented HMU artist in Vancouver, and she immediately got on board with it, made suggestions, refined the idea and made Bevin up. Bevin, bless her, listened to me, a complete stranger, as the first things I said to her were that I wanted to paint her face and body and nestle her in a bird’s nest of tulle. She listened, smiled, cocked her head to the side, and said, “Sure.” (This is another reason to love working with dancers. They not only agree to your fevered, improbable imagination, they then take it and enlarge it, enhance it, and embody it.)

I helped Lastolite re-design their very popular 24″ Ezybox, creating one with a white interior instead of a silver. (As I’ve mentioned, I kind of feel like a golfer who’s been on the Tour for thirty years, and finally got asked to design a course.) I was happy to pitch in, as I’ve been using the Lastolite stuff for a long time now, and their product manager, Gary Astill, is an amazing designer. I used the white Ezybox for the above. I would have been a bit apprehensive about using a silvery interior on this white on white study. What I needed was a quiet fade from highlight to shadow, and not something abrupt and contrasty. It worked well, as the one light in the picture. What you see below is the whole set, and all of the lighting. (To the left is a heater. With the tempura paint drying on Bevin, she got cold. Dancers don’t have much body fat, so that was a point we made during the shoot in terms of creating a comfort zone for them.)

Keeping it simple, once again, the below is two speed lights, a main and a fill. The main is kind of a new kid on the block called the Lastolite 8 in 1 umbrella, which I’ve been using a lot, mostly in shoot through mode, with the mask on it. It tends to create a more controllable light, with good fall off into shadows, which you can, in turn, choose to fill in or not. What the light is doing here is simple. What the dancer, Alexander Burton of Ballet BC, is doing, is not.

Speed lights were also used for the wonderful leaper, Gilbert Small, below, also of Ballet BC.

The classes really discuss fully the use of all manner of lighting, most of it very simple, brought to bear in the studio, which is, as I always feel, an empty box you fill with your imagination. It also emphasizes the importance of collaboration with the dancers, the makeup artist, and the crew. Any photo that might be any good that comes out of a day in the studio like this is very much the result of a team effort and the creative input of all involved. I was blessed on the set with Tamar, and Syx Langeman,  a talented Vancouver shooter, our own Mike “Double Guns” Cali, and of course David Cooper, whose studio we rented. (Anyone traveling to Vancouver in need of a studio, contact David. His shop is about as comfortable and complete as studios get.)

The above is of Alexis Fletcher, who is truly magnificent. She is particular, as classical dancers tend to be, and she can float through the air as effortlessly as the rose petals we blew into the frame with her. She would look at every frame we shot together, and effectively, she coached me through it. She remarked on my timing, and her form, critically, but also wonderfully. Because of her devotion to craft, she, effectively, pushed me to be a better photographer on the set that day.

A number of years ago, I had a show of my dance work at the Shanghai Art Museum. They asked me to write up something that addressed the notion of why one would shoot dance as a theme. Here is what I wrote.

“I have always photographed dance, ever since I moved to New York to become a photographer. One of my first apartments in the city was on 65th St. just by Lincoln Center, nexus of the dance world, and home to the New York City and the American Ballet companies. Through my windows and walks in the neighborhood, I would see these lissome creatures, hair pulled tight in the inevitable bun, dance bag over the shoulder, lovely to look at, even in their occasionally ungainly, splayfooted gait. Dancers all, making their way to the studios just across from my tiny, dungeon-like  studio apartment.

I grew curious about this world, and managed to find my way into the studios with my camera. There I began to witness the beauty, the audacity, and the sheer grit of the dancer. The reasons for their sidewalk awkwardness became apparent. Dancers are not meant to trudge through the concrete grime and blaring traffic of the city. They are creatures of flight, stopping just short of having wings, with astonishing abilities to parse the human figure into a wide range of shapes and stances, all of them equally, impossibly beautiful. They are meant to be in motion, on stage, magnets for the eye, and thus the camera.

In the course of their careers, dancers will have many partners, but a constant one is the camera. Why else to fly and leap so magnificently, except to have that flight recorded and preserved? No other medium has the ability to slice time, and freeze moments. Given the quicksilver, all too brief career of a dancer, this is highly desirable. The photograph preserves that split second when it appears gravity is suspended, and the rest of us, earthbound earth forever, gasp.

These photographs are my own gasps. I have been privileged to simultaneously have had my breath taken away and my camera to my eye many times. This selection represents a few of those moments. The camera is the dancer’s eternal partner, lockstep in a lovely pas de deux.”

I sincerely thank Scott Kelby and the whole Kelby clan down in Tampa for creating the opportunity to both shoot and teach something that means a lot to me.

More tk….