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Archive for the ‘In The Field’ Category

Old School Meets New School, Part II

Jun 23

In Gear, In The Field at 1:51pm

On vacation, I will often take an exotic lens with me. Read the rest of this entry »

A Postcard for FDNY

May 29

In In The Field, Lighting, On Location at 7:51am

Ten House is located on Liberty St., spitting distance from the World Trade Center site. They just got two new rigs, and it fell to 10 Truck chauffeur, Aaron Burns, who doubles as the house photog, to shoot a postcard of these brand spanking new machines. A postcard, and maybe a shot to put on the wall, if things worked out. Read the rest of this entry »

Room With a View

Mar 17

In In The Field, Links at 3:49am

I’ve always enjoyed getting my camera in a different place. It’s rewarding, and occasionally daunting. Recently, an effort made by TIME magazine, and spearheaded by shooter and Senior Editor Jonathan Woods, got a whole lotta camera in a different place, which resulted in a truly unusual, not to mention massive photo.

The crew at TIME were kind enough cite my efforts at getting to the top of the Empire State building as inspiration for their drive to the top of #1WTC, now the tallest piece of real estate in the US. Here’s a link to their “making of” video.

I’m very thankful to them for citing my pix from high places, though I daresay they’ve offered too much credit. I’ve simply hauled my sorry ass up a bunch of towers. These fellas took it to a whole new level (sorry!:-) by cranking up a gigapan effort, and booming out a camera off the structure, and knitting together perhaps the most highly resolved image of Manhattan ever made.

I climbed the Empire State numerous times, and got to the light atop the mast four times. Some of those efforts resulted in no pictures, but, on my last climb, I finally did get an image that has hung around for a while. It was in concert, as always, with my good friend Tom Silliman, who has guided me to many high places.

There’s a certain synchronicity here. The pic above ran in the Oct. 2001 National Geographic. Which meant it hit the newsstands about two weeks after the Trade Center towers had disappeared from the New York City skyline. Geographic got a few letters about it, not irate ones, but missives that mentioned the somber, bluish mood of the picture as having some sort of emotional resonance with the events that had just occurred.

Now, all these years later, that tragic wound in lower Manhattan is healing, and out of it has risen up yet another amazing, silvery exclamation point of a building, one that will anchor the landscape of downtown for all the years to come.

Also, back then, before it was called a selfie, I actually shot one, up there at the light, with a Coolpix and a fisheye attachment. That’s typical of me, of course, to be ahead of cultural trends. (Joe make joke.)

Many thanks to Jonathan and the crew at TIME for the mention. They have, in turn, inspired me to continue to get my camera into unusual places. More tk….





On Crossing Borders….

Feb 28

In In The Field at 4:40am

I have to imagine that one common thing we share as photogs is an innate fear of crossing borders with gear. It probably expresses itself differently for everyone. Maybe it’s tightness in the chest, or the icy tentacles of dread reaching down into your guts, making you seek out the first bathroom you see after your passport is stamped, or the forced smile and mildly overblown effusiveness of our greeting. “Hi officer, how are you today? Just look at my smiling, innocent face. I couldn’t possibly have a live animal in my suitcase, so no need to go looking!”

Most of the customs folks I’ve ever met are quite decent, and they do an important job. (I travel so much I know some of the crew at Kennedy Airport.) They certainly face off with a onslaught of exhausted travelers, trying to get somewhere, scurrying to make a connection, and are just one question shy of getting surly about the whole deal. It is, after all, a border, a crossing. Everybody on both sides most likely wishes it could be easier.

We do carnets, all the time, for our gear. It’s like a visa for your equipment, and most of the time, it’s a magic carpet. The officer checks a few things, random, signs off, and you’re on your way. But you have to be careful with those, too. I traveled by myself to Moscow once, with eleven cases of stuff, and I had one number—one number—wrong on my carnet, and it was all confiscated. Everything. I left the airport without a shred of gear. Took a couple days, and the efforts of my fixer, and some, uh, carefully administered dollars to retrieve it.

I shipped 47 cases of gear once to Chile, to photograph telescopes. That was comparatively easy, actually. I think they looked at this mountain of battered cases that surprisingly got burped out of the baggage belt and just gave up.

Once, I made my way from Rwanda once to Uganda, and went through three checkpoints, and at the last, the guards took all my stuff, including my clothes, and threw it out of the trunk onto the ground. I had hidden my medium format shot film inside the cavernous cavities of my 6×17 pano cameras, and the rest of my shot film was wrapped inside a plastic bag filled with really funky, unwashed clothing, so my film made it. That was thing about the film days. After shooting for a couple weeks on a job, that shot film became much more valuable to you than any lens or camera, and it was not easy to hide or store 60 or 70 rolls of medium format film. Here, take the gear! Just leave me my film.

On another occasion, again leaving Rwanda into the Congo, the border guard didn’t bother with my passport, and simply said, “Avez vous quelque chose pour moi?” Uh, why yes, young man, have you met Andrew Jackson?”

Traveling from Ingushetia to Grozny, my intrepid fixer, Igor, who happened to be the freelance correspondent for the Russian edition of Playboy, took a bunch of copies of the magazine and threw them on the visor of the rental car. When going through a checkpoint, the first thing the young Russian conscript would see would be a lovely lady, hi-beaming him through the windshield.

“Can I have magazine?”

“Sure, can we go?” Sure! And onward we’d roll.

I recently made another trip to Canada, which is a place I’ve done a lot of work, and love to go to. I’ve taught up there, shots jobs all over the country, and once did a huge commercial job for Fedex right on the border, north of Seattle. For whatever reason, though, no matter how much I’ve done the transit, the US-Canada border remains the most difficult, nerve-wracking crossing I have ever made. Now, it must sound ridiculous for an American to complain about anybody’s border formalities, as we have a reputation for being a mite prickly ourselves, but sometimes going into Canada can have its moments. (I wonder sometimes if it’s like we get tough on people for a while, so they correspondingly ratchet things up? Dunno.)

On my first transit in, I really should have had a work permit. I was doing not just lectures, but also seminars, and the officer explained that was “providing a service,” and thus required a work permit.

She was quite nice, and told me her range of options included sending me home. But, she opted to allow me to purchase a one-time work permit, right then and there. Took some time, as she made calls to check me out, during which time my cell phone was quarantined, but it got done, and I was thankful. Paid the fee, got the documents, and was on my way. Took a two and half hours, but I crossed the border.

I thought my troubles were behind me, but I did have to bounce from Vancouver to Washington DC for LIFE job, and then back to Van. She assured me I was good to go, as the dates on the work permit extended through my return trip.

Having been thus stamped and approved, on my return, I approached the customs podium with confidence. The officer noted my work docs and said those papers should answer all his questions.

Actually, just the opposite happened. The work permit was apparently confusing to him, it unleashed a barrage of queries, the first of which was, “Do I have a criminal record?”

Now, I’ve done some criminally stupid things on jobs, with a camera in my hands, but I’ve never been arrested. He seemed dubious, and asked again. “No,” I replied. He changed tactics, asking if I had ever been “in trouble in Canada.” I did teach a Kelby seminar in Vancouver one day with a case of food poisoning, but I didn’t think that was the vein of trouble he was potentially mining, so I again, replied in the negative.

He was pretty relentless, and brought my docs to two other officers to confer about them, and me, I imagine. I was feely poorly, as it was after midnight, and I was an unshaved, scruffy mess. I mean, I would not have let me into Canada simply based on aesthetic considerations.

He took a red magic marker and began to furiously scrawl on my immigration form. He was really bearing down, so much so I grew wide eyed and tried to look over his counter on tiptoes. I saw that my document had basically become a fourth grade art project, featuring large, looming letters, mixed in with perhaps an exclamation point or two. He handed it over to me and told me to move on, but said that “We’re going to continue to check you out.”

I replied, “No worries, officer,” in downright cheery fashion. I have found it does no good to get cranky in these scenarios. You are absolutely under the control of the customs officer at hand. You can neither go back, nor go forward, without their blessing. So, if you are encountering someone who is determined to “continue to check you out,” so be it. All you can do is be calm, and honest.

I approached the secondary checkpoint with a document that was now glowing. I might as well have dressed in a threadbare, tattered, stained smock, hung a “LEPER” sign around my neck and started chanting, “Bring out your dead, bring out your dead.” The officer at that point directed me to Area B. On my first entry a week previous, I got Area A, so I felt a little uneasy about this. Had I been downgraded? Or was Area B where the real serious miscreants end up? I envisioned myself perhaps being sentenced to forced labor at a Molson’s factory, or being locked in a room and forced to watch endless repeats of Team Canada’s victory over the US hockey team in Sochi. I was worried.

But then another customs officer approached me, and he was quite friendly. He looked at me and said, “You’re Joe McNally, right?” I said yes, though at that point I thought I was thinking of trying to pass myself off as Moose Peterson. He said, “I’ve got your books.” That gave me the sense my evening was about to get better, unless of course he hated TTL.

But we had a good chat, and he disappeared for a short bit and told me I was okay to go. Adventures at the border!

More tk…..



I Think I’m Working These Guys Too Hard!

Feb 26

In In The Field at 4:06am

Busy couple of weeks. Went from KelbyOne in Tampa to LA to shoot for LIFE, then Vancouver to teach. Left Vancouver on a red eye to Washington DC, continued the LIFE job, and then rotated back to Van for our last days at the Vancouver Photo Workshops. Flew from Vancouver to home, did laundry, jumped on a plane to London, where I am right now.

Cali, our very capable first assistant, stayed with me through Tampa, LA, and Vancouver. I left him behind in Vancouver, on his own for three days, a stint of dangerously idle time from which that fair city has perhaps not recovered. Jon was in Tampa, went back to the studio, re-upped a new gear pack, threw it in the truck and rolled it Washington. He met me when I got off the redeye at Reagan National, and we went straightaway to shoot. Worked for three days, and then he dropped me back at Reagan, and I was off to Vancouver, and he headed north. I rejoined Cali in Van, and we finished our stint there for VPW, and then did similarly quick laundry and chores, and came here to the UK.

While in Tampa, we did a couple videos for the Kelby clan, playing the the notion of motion. One thing we showed was an in camera double exposure, during which the subject moves position. When Cali and Jon were working with me to set the lighting, they gave the camera the above expressions. Hmmm.

Now, we are blessed at McNally Photo with the fact that Lynn, our intrepid studio manager is also the accounts payable department, the production department, the client liaison officer, and, well, the list goes on. She is also the human resources department, thankfully, so if they walk into her office with disgruntled expressions such as above, she will smile sweetly at them and crack them in the back of the head and tell them to get back to work. (Think Gibbs in NCIS.)

Kidding, of course, at least most of the time. Lynn, in addition to running the studio, is also an advisor, confidante and overall font of sage wisdom about photography, and the art of life and business for these young men. We are truly blessed at our shop. In addition to Lynn and the guys, we also have Lynda, who helps keep everything glued together. Everybody works incredibly hard at keeping us bobbing along in the turbulent sea of photographic endeavor.

For the KelbyOne videos, we stayed simple a lot of the time, trying to examine how to make one speed light and one hot light work to produce a simple motion result, such as below. We examined the basics of front curtain, rear curtain, color shifts, etc. We also did some more complicated stuff like hang a camera on a bicycle and an ambulance. They will hopefully be fun to watch.

In Vancouver, I was demonstrating a tight, beauty dish attachment for a speed light, and some high speed flash techniques, and got a couple frames that were decent of Aaron, who has a wonderful face for this kind of a light.

More tk….