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Archive for the ‘In The Field’ Category

A Gift at the End of the Year…

Jan 5

In In The Field, Lighting, Thanks at 11:54am

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Everybody’s got a bucket list, or something akin to it, I imagine. Photographer’s bucket lists are most likely pretty extensive. It’s not average, almost certainly. (That’s a presumption that any “average” bucket list exists, which is most likely not the case.)

But, I guess what I’m saying is that a photog’s list is not just, “I wanna climb Everest!” It’s, “I wanna climb Everest and carry a drone up there and make aerials of the top!”

“I wanna meet JLo!” Not enough, perhaps. “I wanna meet JLo and photograph her for the cover of Vogue!”

Obviously, there are most likely a lot of unrealized items on photographer’s bucket lists. I’m certainly in that boat, or bucket, myself.

But I did get one lately, with all thanks to Scott Kelby and his intrepid group, and their legendary patience for my meandering imagination. Their home office in Tampa sits just about right at the doorstop of the Weeki Wachee Springs, home of the America’s favorite underwater creatures, the Weeki Wachee mermaids.

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I went diving years ago with these legendary ladies of the deep, sinking an American Olympic snow boarder into the springs to be attended to by merfolk as he did his swirls and turns in a somewhat weightless environment. It was a fun, and obviously bubbly shot. It was also only marginally successful, falling short of my hopes, for reasons, as I look at the picture now, I really can’t remember. I just have always wanted another go at trying to make a picture down there.

It’s not easy. Or, maybe it is when you have sun. Which is never guaranteed. For instance, on the morning of our Kelby shoot, it was hard to distinguish where the fog stopped and the water line started. Pea soup, in other words. So, I was glad I had toted in about 10,000 watt seconds of Profoto flashes into the viewing theater and had them lined up at the windows, ready to pick up at least a bit of the slack.

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This is all for a coming video class that is less instructional than it is a fun account of an attempt at a very uncertain photographic adventure. Not too many folks are going to wake up some day and think they might want to light the Weeki Wachee Mermaid Springs, to be sure.

The class has a working title of “Photographing Your Sense of Humor,” though that may change. Making an odd, quirky, or outright funny picture is hard to do. At one point, when I was a staffer at LIFE, I was allowed to do a series of tongue in cheek looks at America’s winter Olympians by putting them in offbeat environments. It was a reasonably well received effort, and actually, a couple pictures have stuck to me a bit over the years, which means, at least, they weren’t instantly forgettable, as so many pictures I’ve shot are.

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Some years ago, I had sold a notion to Sports Illustrated to photograph the elite of the PGA tour in a way that visually represented their playing style or spirit, or the persona they have created for themselves out there on the links. Someone would be “The Battler,” styled as Rocky with a golf club; another would be “The Professor,” the player who studies the courses most thoroughly. The setting for him would be obvious. Another might be “The Machine,” renowned for his clinical precision.

And another might be “The Risk Taker,” the guy who’s always going for it, trying for the killer blow, going for the long ball, over all manner of hazards that would make a more prudent player pull up short. He ends up in the water, frequently. To represent this, I had the notion of dropping a golfer in a reef, addressing his ball, nonchalant as could be, trying to improbably save par. But here in Weeki Wachee, he would be assisted, yea, even directed, by the locals, in this case, mermaids.

So, my imagination goes out for a silly ramble now and then. In the case of the pro golf crowd, it was not appreciated or understood. Even with the muscle of SI behind me, the golfer’s agents, who only see the color green, would not play. They wouldn’t even ask the golfer. They thought I was a nut job. They might be onto something, there. Witness below…..hmmmm.

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The underwater mermaid picture we just did is obviously highly illustrative, but it is one where I wanted all the subjects in situ, real time, not just disconnected pieces to be composited later. Here’s where the current state of camera tech really is helpful. The film image I made of the snowboarder, seen up above in the post, was shot on Ektachrome, has that traditional, seriously blue cast caused by underwater conditions, even with all the flash I applied. With the D810 I dove with for the current golfer with the mermiads pic, not only is the post production of digital able to bring this back to something approaching dry land color, but the resolution of the D810, combined with its remarkable high ISO capacity, makes it a wonderful tool for making this shot. Specs on the final pic are, 1/200th @ f8, ISO 800. Underwater crispness is not an issue, given the res of the 810. We are living in an era of amazing photographic tools.

And it was a bit of a production, getting all the pieces to work together, for sure. Below are some watery production pictures from the day. The water was cold, so I thankfully I didn’t notice how much I was sweating this out.

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What was wild to me was the way the fins of the mermaids, which above the water were a neon, shiny pink, reacted to the flashes. I’ve provided here a step by step, from the original to a somewhat halfway post treatment, to a full-blown finished file, which is otherworldly. The golfer is concentrating, and the mermaids offer their input as to how to rectify his dilemma. Their finny appendages are fairly glowing, with even more vibrance than they even have in regular daylight. Unpredicted, but fun.

Jpeg out of the camera….

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Partial re-touch….

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Full blown re-touch, fins aglow!

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Almost all the light is coming from the theater, which is camera left. I’m triggering all the flashes from an on camera underwater flash, which in turn is triggering another trigger flash, which in turn is triggering the dry land power packs which is in turn triggering the hand held Sea & Sea Pro flash that Cali is literally floating around with. It’s not the first time I’ve deployed an underwater VAL and I suspect it won’t be the last. He did a great job, consulting my LCD periodically to determine how close he could get without over filling the mermaids. And Jon Cospito in our studio did a great job on the post. The shot at the beginning of the blog is a final, with the our finny, colorful friends of the deep toned down a bit.

Numerous things went wrong, and we only had thirty minutes with the ladies of the deep to get it done, given safety regs. Being underwater magnifies more than just the image you see. It hampers communication, slows things down, and makes a fix a laborious, time-consuming effort. We came close to not getting it, but we recovered some problems, and ended up with a shot that comes close to a picture that has lived in my imagination for many years. It was risky, to be honest, trying not just to do this, but do it while being recorded, fer chrissakes. It’s a good thing there was no audio track running in my regulator as it would have been a non stop string of language that would have made a pirate blush and the mermaids swim away.

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Many thanks to John Athanason, who made it all happen for us at the park, and to the artist in residence, photog Andrew Brusso, a long time New York pro who has relocated to Weeki Wachee, for his assistance and guidance on the underwater microphone. And of course to the underwater stars, Chelsea Stewart and Danielle DeMonaco, and our intrepid golfer, Dane Karcher, a noted free diver and all around wild man.

And to the Kelby crew—Adam, Mark, Jennifer, Meredith, and Lisa—thanks for attempting to film one nutty idea. And special thanks to Curt Leimbach and Kathy Porupski, who worked unbelievably hard and shot a lot of fun and important BTS stuff.

More tk……and….HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYBODY!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

B&W Challenge….

Dec 18

In In The Field at 6:02am

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Cher, just as Moonstruck was breaking, and she was on her way to an Academy Award. Upper East Side of NYC, 1987. Tri-x, one flash. More tk….

B&W Challenge….

Dec 17

In In The Field at 8:14am

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Circa, The Church Lady, SNL, NYC. Tri-x. More tk….

B&W Challenge…

Dec 12

In In The Field at 8:03am

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Have always loved to shoot black and white. Started in the business in newspapers and wires, back in the 70’s, when color was considered an exotic beast. There is this challenge associated with B&W imagery flying around on the internet, and I’ve been nominated for it numerous times. Just haven’t taken it up, given the hectic nature of flying, shooting, running the studio, flying, teaching, assignments, flying….

Lots of miles this year. My Delta account for the year is at 420,000. (I get bonus miles cuz I travel so much and luck into upgrades, but it’s still a bunch of miles.)

But, I’m determined to mix into this B&W challenge a bunch of pictures, old and new, and actually Instagram a bunch of monochrome images from my student portfolio, the one I showed up with in NYC in 1976. Therein is the reason no one hired me as a photographer.

So, here we go. Above, a shot the other week from London’s Hyde Park. Lone sax player, outside Winter Wonderland. Shot with a Nikon D750, which is a camera I now take with me just about everywhere. Light, fast and the high ISO is ridiculously good. I can see why it got named Camera of the Year by Pop Photo. Congrats to my buds over at Nikon Ambassadors. Coupling it with a new lens as well, the 20mm f1.8. The twenty has always been one of my favorite lenses. Back in the day, if I went out with two lenses, it was invariably the 20 and the 180 f2.8. So, very happy this new piece of wide, fast glass came to be.

More tk….

 

Up to Our Old Tricks….

Oct 9

In In The Field, Jobs at 9:02am

 My dear friend and former editor at National Geographic, Bill Douthitt had a cover to be shot that involved a bare chested guy with a mouse. He called me. No idea why.

It’s quite a serious science story, actually. Roughly put, the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) just broke a story about how researchers are engineering mice to act as “avatars” for a particular patient, so they could examine cancer biology from a more personalized perspective. 

The cover notion called for a shirtless male, with a shaved head (to intimate, potentially, someone involved in a chemotherapy protocol) holding a mouse, proffering it towards the camera. The intense light is on his hands, and thus on the mouse, who is the star of the show. Easy enough to do, but the control of light was obviously my paramount concern.

 Naturally, the mouse had a rep, and a handler. (Thank God, not a masseuse and a publicity agent.) She was a bit of a diva, ignoring my requests and crapping all over our patient model’s hands. But she did look at the camera once or twice, and those looks provided just enough personality for the cover shot.

Due to a tight budget, it was seat of the pants stuff. I set up a studio in my driveway. There was only one law governing the entire day. My unbelievably patient wife, Annie, has been historically gracious about obstructions in the driveway, a garage filled with photo junk, and even, quite recently, two mostly naked, body painted models running around our kitchen, preparing for a forest shoot in the backyard. But there was no give on this one. No mouse in the house. 

Bill and I stayed in touch via the miracle of the internet throughout the shoot, as I was sending him samples of the lighting, the cropping, etc. I have great confidence in him as a picture editor and have spoken of him before on this blog. He was a picture editor at the National Geographic for 34 years, until he was exited, as they say. This happens a great deal nowadays in the print journalism game. We worked together quite frequently, until, of course, we didn’t.

Happens. When I was a staff photog at LIFE, I was shown the door. At Time Warner, they call it a “reduction in force.” So, in the hallway vernacular, I got riffed. Same thing happened to Bill, though they probably call it something different at the Geographic. Given their particular bent for reporting on the natural world, maybe it’s referred to as “the circle of life.” I digress.

Anyway, what started as a stark silhouette became a semi-silhouette, with a shimmer of detail in the face and body. The background was lit with two Profoto B4 flashes, punching the white. When the call came in to open the silhouette a bit, I introduced two Profoto 1×6 strip lights on either side, both sporting egg crates to control the flow of light.

Up front, a 1×3 RFI strip light, fitted to a B1 unit, also outfitted with an egg crate, washed some detail up into the bottom of his hands and forearms. Overhead, a B1 governed by a ten degree spot grid became a snappy, intense main light. Then it was all up to Eric, our wonderfully serene human model, and our rodent friend, upon whom we bestowed the name, Trixie. She of course needed some guidance now and then. 

The lighting broke down like this: Two B4’s with heads wrapped in black wrap to pop the background; two B4 big strips for edge light on the model; one B1 overhead in a 10 degree spot for the main; and one B1 underneath in a small strip for under lighting the hands. Every light has a specific job. The camera is a D810, and lens is 70-200mm f2.8 Nikkor. Exposure specs: 1/200th @ f22, ISO 160, lens set to 170mm. The set sorta, kinda looked like the sketch below. The solid black overhead nixed any potential for ambient light to influence the equation. We brought space heaters on the set so our talent was comfy. Whole shoot, including the lunch break, took 2 hours. Setup was the key. That took a while, getting all the pieces in place. 

Studio in a driveway? Sure made it easy to put the gear away. More tk…..