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Archive for the ‘Jobs’ Category

A Tripod in the Desert!

May 4

In Gear, In The Field, Jobs at 4:41am


I’m a perennial idea recycler. I’ve had picture notions rattling around in my head for years that have never met the click of a shutter. They’re the things in the attic of my head that go bump in the night, the meandering pinballs I try not to lose in the drain and keep frantically flipping up into the bumpers (otherwise known as clients) that might occasionally ring a bell, or sound a siren, and thus get done. Read the rest of this entry »

The Magnificent Lads on the Side of the Tower!

Mar 17

In In The Field, Jobs at 7:20am


It is a task as endless as the desert. The Burj Khalifa tower, tallest structure in the world, soars out of the sands like a sharply constructed, elegant needle, seemingly designed to pop the blue balloon of sky overhead.

Downtown Dubai

It is a magnet for the eye, and hence the camera. Courtesy of the gracious folks @BurjKhalifa, Waseem and his team, and the Emaar Group, I was allowed to climb to the very top a couple years ago, and made a snap of some very battered shoes.


This time, with the training given to me by the Grako Corporation, and the intrepid duo of Mike Flamson and Pieter Van Der Walt, who are top rated industrial climbers and safety experts, I went over the side of the tower with a crew of amazing, wonderful window washers.


These guys….geez. Diminutive to a fault, but crazy strong, they dangle from the side of this structure daily, vaulting into space on their ropes with the casual ease most folks display when getting on a city bus to go to work. It is their efforts that keep the desert, a raging, living beast that never sleeps, at bay. The sands rise up on the wind every day, and cloak the buildings of Dubai with a gritty, transparent shroud. Ignore it, and it will smother you. Fight it, and it becomes a task worthy of Sisyphus. The crews start at the top, shining up the chrome and glass, go to the bottom….and then start over.


Slinging into space at floor 112, as a newbie, can shrivel many things deep inside of you. Your confidence, your….well, never mind. Keep calm. Breathe. Fight gravity with battered legs that have carried too much gear for too many years. Don’t worry about the nothingness below. Your rig is bomb proof. Push off the glass. Walk the wall. Descend. Shoot. Repeat. Work it the way Mike taught you. Wax on, wax off. Establish a rhythm. Look down. Smile. Remember to enjoy this moment.


Go below the crew and look up. Now your cameras are getting pelted with soapy, sandy water. Tough to see. Wipe down your glass. Trust the gear.


My battered but functioning gear, with cameras straps wired, and extra tethers clamped to carabiners. Each camera swinging in space. D810, D4S, 14-24mm f2.8, 16mm fisheye, 70-200 f2.8. They do not fail me.


Nothing here except the air and the light. The click of your shutter mixes with the squeaks of the wipers, sweeping the desert off miles of glass. It is oddly, pleasantly quiet. Like a silent, invisible hand, the wind will take hold of you and move you. Let it be. You really don’t have a say in the matter.


Think! Say the photographer’s prayer. Lord, don’t let me screw this up. You won’t get this back. Work entire to detail. Shoot from above, shoot from below. Work wide, work tight.


Push off the glass. Descend. Concentrate. Do your job, while they do theirs.


It’s the coolest thing. You’re in the world, in the air, looking, seeing, with a camera in hand. Sweat and uncertainty drip off you. But, there is also the powerful knowledge that this is what you were supposed to do—for all the years, and right now, today.


On the other side of the fancy glass, people sit. Computers hum. Meetings take place. Paper gets pushed. Great things are decided. Or deferred. Words in the air. Notes in a ledger. Numbers on a screen.

Click of the shutter. Time trapped. Absolute certainty measured in hundredths of a second. A knot in the string of time, not to ever be undone.

Have I mentioned on the blog lately how much I love being a photographer? More tk…

Firstly, thanks to Mohamed Somji and Hala Salhi, both of Gulf Photo Plus. They created the tradition of GPP which has allowed me to visit Dubai now almost every year for 10 years. 

Again, gracious thanks to Waseem and his marketing group, the folks at the Emaar Group, and @BurjKhalifa, @mydowntowndubai. Thanks to the Grako Corp. and Mike and Pieter, who literally showed me the ropes. Mike’s a pretty good shooter, witness his shot below. (


And Pieter helped me be confident in the ropes, by showing me, during training, that even when you go upside down, you are not going to fall.


And to Waseem Khan, without whose can-do energy I would never have made these climbs! Many, many thanks. I think the two of us could converse all day just using Monty Python quotes. He likes to confuse the cat, and I like not to be seen:-)))

More tk…


Ozzie and the Mirrors

Feb 26

In Jobs at 8:28am


I shot this years ago, and have written about it, a bit. It was part of a huge Sports Illustrated project about defensive magicians on the baseball diamond. And of course, at that time, if you talked defense, you talked about Ozzie. The Wizard of Oz! The shortstop who looked like he played the position from at least five different starting places at once.

My answer was to use mirrors, and simply reflect him around the infield. Coming up with this notion was certainly easier than shooting it.

So much so, that the estimable Syl Arena, a speed light magician himself, showed the picture to his class (I believe it’s a high school class) and none of them believed it did not involve Photoshop. He reassured them it was a straight up film shot, but alas, he sent me an email saying “they remained skeptics.”


The man in the middle above is Howard Simmons, who after his assisting stint went on to a wonderfully successful career as a staffer at the NY Daily News. Perched atop the Gitzo tripod is a Mamiya RZ Pro II medium format film camera, a great system I let go of a long time ago. The key to the whole deal was that high flying Speedotron head dangling off of a movie style boom arrangement. I had to get that light above the sight line of my frame, hence the thirty or so feet of speed rail angled up into the heavens. It’s a quad head, if you notice the multiple power packs plugged into it. It produced a slow moving wallop of photons. But, it was cool. Flash duration wasn’t the issue here. Ozzie, atypically, was just standing there.

I shot it several ways, with Ozzie physically in the picture, and with just his reflection. I was looking to the east, dealing with darkness in the background, as the sun dropped like a stone behind me. That flying backlight, which defined the whole set and rimmed out Ozzie’s form for his reflection to stand out clearly in the blackness, became crucial. (Remember, the mirrors are angled in such a way as they are facing into complete darkness, so my subject, the gentlemanly Wizard of the Infield, had to literally pop with contrast.)

For the same reason, the Norman 200B units, gelled warm, sitting behind each mirror, needed to pop pretty hard, to separate those glassy slivers of silver from the encroaching darkness.


All of the above produced, well, a limited return at the magazine.


The picture’s gotta go somewhere, even it means cropping out the largest of the meticulously crafted Ozzie reflections. It’s cool. Hey, it ain’t my magazine, and my favorite shot was the one up top, that had nothing but reflections, and that’s never been published.

It was a lot of effort. We crisscrossed Florida in a crew van, with an eighteen wheeler of a movie grip truck tailing along. Lit up whole ballparks for simulated action pix. What a privilege to work this way! We had a 650 amp genny onboard the truck, so I didn’t even have to snag electricity from the spring training stadiums.

Eric_Davis_TearsheetAll of this had to be set up. There’s a guy off to camera right, throwing a baseball up near the wall, and Eric Davis gamely leaps for it. When you punch the shutter on this type of pic, and you know you have it, done, etched in film forever, an isolated split second, electrified and petrified by the power of 30-40,000 watts seconds of light, well, dang, you’re at the ballpark, so give yourself an attaboy and have a coke and a dog.

Likewise when I got Keith Hernandez of the Mets to dig one out for me at first base.

Keith_Hernandez_2And Mike LaValliere, nicknamed Spanky, who wore the tools of ignorance, quite ably, for the Pirates.


The pix all ran as a feature, and chewed up quite a few pages in the baseball issue. Not something SI will ever do again, as this was quite a high ticket budget item, marshaling all these resources.

But it was a thrill to shoot it. Click of the shutter. Done deal. photo

And there it is, on a light table, a bunch of moments from quite a while ago. More tk….

It Started with a Shimmer…..

Oct 29

In Jobs, Lighting at 7:09am

Actually, a shimmer and an idea. I don’t know why the folks at Nikon and the Photo Plus Expo administration listened to me when I came to them with Halloween ideas. For someone such as myself, raised up on comic books and the dark fantasies of Mordor, the notion of distressed trick or treaters, of small children poised on the verge of fantastical disaster and mayhem was completely normal. I was somewhat nonplussed then, when most people I tried to explain my ideas to would listen politely, tilt their head, look at me and say, “Sounds cool. You’re a sick bastard.” PPE, which is itself a fantastical land of mystery staged every year in the glassy cage on 11th Avenue known as the Javits Center, falls on Halloween weekend. Why not create some spooky, fun pics to advertise it? Doing these snaps immediately combined a lot of things I love. Being on location. Struggling my way through complex lighting scenarios. Being with a crew of talented people. Body painting people into other worldly wonders. And mostly, letting my imagination out for a healthy romp. In this scenario, I conjured a little girl, reading a scary story by flashlight, long after she should have gone to sleep. Her wall is a wonderfully innocent mural of leafy woodlands, filled with faeries and other mild mannered creatures of the forest. Except for one, who seems to be coming alive, literally out of the woodwork, a malevolent creature, one with mischief and more on her mind. She is freaking out the other faeries, who would warn the little girl….if only they could. The key to a job like this is preparation, and the assemblage of a bunch of amazing skill sets. The empty room had to first be illustrated with a vibrant, richly done mural. Dana Heffern, a terrific painter, worked in this room for eight days prior to the shot, creating the dreamy woods. Anastasia Durasova, a truly brilliant body painter, combined with hair stylist Jerome Cultrera to transform the lovely Tanya Sinkevica into the creature living in the wall.  And of course, all these people would never know to all show up at once to do this were it not for the herculean efforts of the ever talented Lynn DelMastro, friend, colleague and extreme producer. I’m not sure of this, but Lynn at this point in her career might actively fear my imagination, as it is that fevered sense of what might be possible in a photo that has translated into many long nights of work for her. I halfway expect her at some point to just look at me and say, “Can’t you just shoot a goddam head shot?” But noooooo…….Joe’s gotta get an evil faery, and moonlight in the woods, and trees that eat little children! Of course, when her work is done, she is more than happy to hand off this hot potato of a location effort to me, and then, I have to figure it out. When I scouted this empty room, I noticed there was a shimmer on the wall, coming from high sunlight banking off the backyard pool, creating an upward cast, gleam through the window onto the wall. Hmmmm….how could I recreate that? I gave it a stab by firing three Profoto Acutes into a 6×6 Lastolite silver reflector, angled up from the backyard into the window. The prop stylist, Katherine Hammond, draped a sheer over the glass. I took my #D810 into incandescent white balance. Boom. We had moonlight, glinting of the waters. The D810 has incredible resolution, and is the perfect camera for this. But, all those millions of pixels combine to make a stern taskmaster of a sensor, one that shows every flaw, and every undone, incomplete part of your picture in stunning detail. Hence, the light had to be right. It ended up being a combination of five SB 910 speed lights, mixed in as accents with three 2400ws Acutes, one B4, and two B1’s. Each light had a job to do, in a specific area of the photo. Then they all had to mesh into something plausible. The process of doing this is slow and steady. Put up a light you think you need. See what it does. Modify or ratio it, up or down. Where are the dead spots? Fill those in, but with a governed, controlled light that doesn’t blow away the look and feel of the light you have already painstakingly created. I sometimes think about the physician’s creed when putting up a light into an already existing grid. “First, do no harm.” Then I think of the photographer’s prayer. “Please don’t let me f%#@* this up.” This is like building blocks. They are independent pieces, but they all rely on and react to each other. For the forest idea, the light was just as carefully controlled, except, it wasn’t a bedroom, it was a forest. The below is about 12,000ws of light, sprayed across a spooky forest, where two trick or treaters have unwittingly stumbled into. Mommy told you not to go into the woods! They say the trees in there come alive at night! More on the construction of the below on another blog. I talk about the creation of these pics, and do some live, small flash demo in the Nikon booth at PPE. My sked to be there is 11:45 on Thursday and Friday, and then 1:15 on Saturday. Many thanks to Mike Corrado and Mark Suban at the Nikon Ambassador program, and the folks at PPE, for listening to my wacked ideas! Happy Halloween! More tk… (Many thanks to Lynda Peckham in our studios for shooting lots of the BTS stills!)

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….