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Archive for the ‘Jobs’ Category

Still Shooting for LIFE

Oct 23

In Jobs at 12:32pm

Back in 1936, when Henry Luce bought LIFE magazine, and shaped it into America’s window on the world, one might have thought he had some sort of crystal ball. I mean, the magazine has had its share of ups and downs, once being shuttered for six years, then rebounding as a monthly from ’78 to 2000, then borne again for a brief period as a newspaper supplement. In between, it’s been special issues, yearly recaps, and now, quite successfully, a book publisher. I mean, the name fits. The estimable Mr. Luce was on to something. Ya just can’t kill it. Despite the gaps, and changes, various editors (with wildly disparate skills) and shifting business fortunes, it keeps putting out good stories, using ink on paper, and creating a real thing–a good book you can take home and put on the shelf. LIFE prevails. LIFE goes on.

I started shooting for LIFE in 1984, and became its last staff shooter in the mid 90’s. Photographically, it’s always been home for me. As a young shooter, meeting some of the truly preeminent, venerable members of its legendary staff–Carl Mydans, Gordon Parks, Alfred Eisentaedt, John Loengard, Gjon Mili–was formative and heart stopping, all at once. Sitting and listening to them–what they saw, what they shot–was like listening to the richest, most vibrant history book one could ever encounter. I learned so much. Not enough, but it was a start.

Over the last few years, the LIFE banner has been flown by Bob Sullivan, a truly wonderful editor and friend. He is about the closest thing to a Renaissance man I know. He has written books about sports, jazz, World War II, the Beatles, and the Popes. So, when he called and asked if I could go on the road for the new LIFE book, The Vietnam Wars, and catch up with folks whose lives were powerfully intersected by that turbulent time, I was onboard immediately. I shot the final chapter of the book, looking at representatives of those two Vietnams–the vets who fought, and the protesters who challenged the government.

I was able to work for a day with members of 1st Platoon, who fought and survived a deadly battle, called the Battle of Finger Lake. There is a powerful bond amongst these men still, and all of them, to this day, give enormous credit to Lt. Wilson, their platoon leader, for his steady leadership. As platoon member James Keene said, “He cared about his people. There’s no doubt his actions gave us a fighting chance to get out of there alive.”

It was a pleasure to go on the road with writer Daniel Levy, who wrote sympathetic, moving, and historically riveting accounts of both the vets and the protesters. It was LIFE, back in the day,  that really pioneered the use of the powerful tandem of a writer and a photographer, working together, as the essential field team of the journalistic process. Put a good writer and a good photographer in the field, observing and reporting back, and you get a good story.

The above spreads were shot in LA, and then I bounced to Washington DC to shoot groups of vets at the Vietnam Memorial. Because of the horizontal nature of the wall, I experimented with B&W film, panorama style. The rest of the take was shot on a Nikon D800E, or a D4.

One of the best outcomes of doing the story was contacting Julian Bond, a very significant figure at that time, and a leader who has always raised his voice on behalf of non-violence, voting rights, and fairness in governing. I admired him greatly, for many years, and, via this story, I was able to photograph him. I was genuinely in awe of the man. 

The section closed with a photo of a group of vets, all standing at attention, saluting. This is the tipping point for a photog on a job. I had done individual portraits of the various gentleman who had come down to the wall. See below.

But, I had one group shot left, and the guys were milling about, chatting, and pretty much needing to go. This is where you need an ally, who can assist you in pulling together an idea that, if you suggested it, as the outsider/photographer, might be reluctantly embraced. But, if you identify a go to guy amongst your subjects, they can help you.

Well, who better than a former Green Beret? I approached him and asked, “If I arranged all the guys, do you think you could get them to attention and salute?” His reply was emphatically affirmative:-)

This was all shot in four days in the field. My favorite pic remains the shadow on the wall. It was already bad light when I met Mr. Jordan. He mentioned his tradition was to come down to the wall at least once a year, and salute the name of his best friend, Gerald E. Niewenhous Jr. I saw the shadow and the name, and I shot it.

 Very proud to have done this story, and in a small way, still be part of LIFE. 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….. 



The Producer

Aug 4

In Jobs at 6:25am

The blog went missing last week. It was as if an industrial cleaning team had come through the studio, and somebody waved the business end of a high powered wet dry vac too near the calendar and it just sucked the week off the wall. There was that brief hissing noise as that particular collection of days put up a feeble resistance, and then, bloop! they were gone. Through the pipe and out into some sort of interior land fill in the barely conscious back of my brain known as what the hell just happened? Read the rest of this entry »

Profoto at the Opera!

Jun 26

In Jobs, Lighting at 2:35pm

It is always advisable to travel light going into China. It is a country of many rules and regulations, and that age old photog ethic of “Damn the rules I’m here to make pictures!” can be blunted a bit if displayed to the wrong, say, customs official. Hence, I was exceedingly grateful that Profoto USA, Sweden and China all pulled together and offered the assistance of a strobe package for my latest visit.

The city of Beijing is a fascinating place, filled with practitioners of ancient and time honored art forms, such as Chinese opera. I was very lucky to work with these actors and actresses for a few hours.

I was using mostly B1 units, for the first time. First experience in the field, for me, with these guys, was all positive. They’re not just good, they’re terrific. Solid state, built like a little armored vehicle of light, and just locked on in terms of the getting the signal from the air remote. (I always approach the transceivers, signalers, radio remotes, or smoke signal system associated with specific lighting brands with a bit of trepidation. In some instances, it feels like an afterthought, and performs like one. No worries on these. Even at distance, reception was reliable.)

For the basic light setup, I had a 4×6 RFi soft box overhead of camera, and a 2×2 under for beauty fill. As I backed off, to incorporate the actors in their staid, traditional poses and stage personae I noticed the ornate ceiling of the theater was going black. I put one B1 back there and just banged it into the ceiling, and it had more than enough juice to bring out the detail.

All the above were shot at one second on a D800E, which is a super resolved, sharp camera. Hence I really relied on the power of the flashes to chisel out the details. In the tight beauty portrait above, for instance, the right side of the frame does have the vapor of motion about it, which I ended liking in that instance. But most of the time I’m keeping my tripod steady, and encouraging the actors to make their moves, and then hold, hold, hold.

I love working over in Beijing. The folks I work for are pretty exacting in what they want, but you also get to have fun as well, such as with a legendary chef and his helpers in a famed duck restaurant. Below, I’m just blasting some B1 light through a shoot thru umbrella, working fast, and hoping to get out of this busy kitchen’s way before the chef decided to take a cleaver to the annoying photographer.

I learned a lot on the trip, and had a blast with, what was for me, some new lighting gear. I’ll be continuing to experiment, which at the end of the day, is what a career as a shooter is all about.

Quick note: Tomorrow, Friday, I’m in Seattle teaching The Power of One Flash Tour for KelbyOne. I’ll be using B1 units on stage for the first time, which again, is a new wrinkle for me, and it should be fun.

More tk…

Old School Meets New School

Jun 4

In Jobs at 3:48pm

Had a pretty intense assignment week last week, in Beijing. I was photographing “living masters,” a group of individuals whose unparalleled excellence at their art or craft had deemed them to be one of the treasures of China. It was a push of a job, shooting two, and occasionally three of these in a day, spread over six days of shooting. 380 gigs, total, jpeg/raw combo files.

When I got there, I felt I had the usual bases covered, lens-wise, but then realized, I was foolishly unprepared to get super close. Wukesong to the rescue! I visited that big box known as Wukesong, which contains many photo stores in downtown Beijing, and found a relatively untouched 55 micro-Nikkor f3.5, built, most likely, mid 1970’s. The tried and true F-mount, coupled to a D800E, presented no problem. It lacked certain of the technology advantages of lenses today, to be sure, but the years had not dimmed its sharpness. My eyes, by contrast, have definitely dimmed in sharpness, so focusing this puppy was a workout. But it got me in close, and sharp, giving me a window on the heart and soul of being a true master. These folks were amazing.

Above, Nikon D800E, 55mm Micro-Nikkor 3.5, shot at ISO 800, 1/60th at about, I’m guessing f5.6, on a Lexar card. Backstage prep for Kunqu Opera.

More tk….