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Archive for the ‘Lighting’ Category

A Gift at the End of the Year…

Jan 5

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


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.


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.


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.




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.


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….


Partial re-touch….


Full blown re-touch, fins aglow!


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.










Five Lights, Done Fast

Nov 10

In Lighting at 8:41am

I say this. Everybody says this, when it comes to lighting a photograph. “Get your main light done first!” Make sure you get that lead light, the flash that makes the statement, done first and done right. That light, big or small, announces, characterizes, beautifies, polishes up, and declares your subject as the rock star of the photo. One hopes for this, anyway. It is generally up front and at the center of the action, in the foreground. And, quite naturally, that’s the light you work on first, as it anchors the photo.  Read the rest of this entry »

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!)

Finding Faces

Oct 16

In Lighting at 4:54am

Always on the lookout for faces, right? Even when there’s a lovely face provided for you.

I was on assignment for the Lastolite Group in the UK, and I did some shooting in an amazing place, with a wonderful subject, seen above. The grounds belonged to Richard Jobson, a film director, and in an earlier life, lead singer and guitarist of the formative Scottish punk rock band, The Skids. As soon as I saw Richard, I knew I wanted to make a portrait of that legendary face.

The fashion-y pic at the top of the blog is lit softly, as one might when approaching a soft, beautiful, youthful face. It is a combination of fair degree of the available light, mixed with an Ezy-Box Hot Shoe soft box, and a Tri-grip fill board. It’s all designed to be sort of a soft puff of light, just a touch. When you dance with available light like this, the parallels between lighting and cooking really ring true. A healthy dollop of available, and a dash of flash. Final combo, 1/800th @f1.4, ISO 100. Shot all the portraits featured here with the D800E, which has now given way to the D810.

Richard’s face is an entirely different story. There’s hard won lines in his face, and a wonderfully craggy, piercing look. It’s an amazing face, with a formidable quality. You don’t confront a face like this with a wuss of a light source. I still used the 2×2 Ezy-box, but I installed an egg crate over the face of it, to give it less spill, and more direction. And I placed it in a not so friendly angle, steeply overhead, to accompany and partner the already inherent drama of his visage. As I always mention when I teach lighting, there’s styles and approaches to light that will be dictated by your assignment. This lighting approach could be cool for an editorial portrait of a edgy film director, or rock star, or an author. Light the CEO of the Let’s Project a Friendly Image to Our Customers Corporation for the company brochure, and the resident art director will beat you to a pulp with a baseball bat. Friendly, it ain’t. It’s a flash with an attitude.

I started with Richard with an even more radical source. the Lastolite Uplite. It’s a convenient contraption that lays down on the floor and lets you project a light, with more or less softness, up into your subject’s face. Use it as the main, again, you’ve got some attitude. Use it as a fill, and it can calm down, or lighten up raging shadows. Below is the uplite as the only source.

Okay, not applicable to all situations, true enough. But Richard is one of those folks who can pull it off. This is 1/200th @f2.8, ISO 100. We were operating here in heavy open shade, so the flash had no trouble overcoming the available light, and making it recede to the background. His face is almost totally flash. Hence a bit of drama.

Now, put them together. The overhead soft box and the underneath uplite. Play with the ratios. Which is stronger? That’s to your taste. In the below frame, the uplite is filling only, not dominating the conversation.

Now, there’s a strong catchlight in his eyes from the lower light, and only the hint of the upper one in his right eye, perhaps leading you to think the under light is doing most of the work. Not the case. He has deep set eyes, and the steep position of the overhead combine with them to produce just a slight glimmer of its presence in the photo. But, it is doing the heavy lifting here.

There’s a whole video Lastolite created about this, which goes into more depth than I can here. Check it out at this link. In fact, there’s a whole page of various video selections you’ll find when you get there.

They were fun to do, especially seeing as I was directed by the mad genius himself, Drew Gardner, who has added video direction to his already considerable catalogue of visual skills. In the below pic, I have obviously screwed up again and Drew is correcting me.

Lastolite is continually coming out with interesting stuff for all manner of flash, particularly small flash. I’ve been happy to chip in with some ideas, and they’re located at this link 

Another bonus of the day? In addition to this wonderful location, group of subjects, and crew, I found, on a typically English, misty morning byway, one of my favorite pictures of my wife Annie…..

One of those good days in the field. More tk.












A Quick and Simple TTL Build

Sep 30

In Lighting at 7:04am

Firefighters. They share, along with cowboys, an innate ability to simply step in front of a camera and become a photograph. Henry, of the Soufriere Fire Department in St. Lucia, has a look, a presence, if you will, that speaks to the camera.

To do this portrait, I made some camera moves before I even put it to my eye. When doing what one might call a “formal” portrait, I’ve always enjoyed a more blocky type of aspect ratio. Don’t know exactly why. It might hark back to film days when I shot a lot of 6×7 and square medium format stuff. In the D4S there is a menu checkoff where you can alter your frame from the standard DSLR view to 5×4, which is what I did here. I also shifted into Monochrome. I still have color in the raw file, but when I shoot B&W, I like to see in B&W. It makes a difference. I rarely shoot in color and then convert it to monochrome later. I try my best to think and see in the palette I am shooting, at the moment of exposure.

One subject? One light, at least to start. (Best to keep it simple and move fast when working with firefighters, as they’re likely to disappear at any moment.) 

Here’s where light placement, hence a C-stand, comes in, well, not just handy, but pretty damn essential. Depending on your taste, of course. You can light from the side, or elsewhere. You can light from anyplace you want to try. But, my instincts said, light from overhead, symmetrically, and for this, you gotta extend, or boom the light source.

Which is, in this particular equation, a 24″ white interior Lastolite hotshoe soft box. Handy, simple, all purpose light source. It’s pretty soft and forgiving, but also directional, hence the shadows. It gives Henry a look, for sure. It’s moody, and has attitude. But, pitched from up above, that’s all it gives. You don’t see the eyes.

Want the eyes? That calls for another light, given the attitude of the first light, which I didn’t want to change. I washed a Group B TTL light off the silver reflective sleeve of a Lastolite trip-grip diffuser, placed on the floor, about 8′ in front of the subject. Voila! Eyes.

But, this is a wash of light, it flows upwards towards Henry, and lights not just his eyes, but it puts details into his overall frame and what he is sitting on, which happens to be some sort of air filter we found in the firehouse. It’s nice enough, but not really specific. If you want a light just dedicated to his eyes, best to use something like a gridded or snooted source, something that produces a small, concentrated splash of light that really locates the eyes and not much else.

For the above, there are a couple things you could use. Lastolite makes a gridded, magnetized snoot that is collapsible and cool. It travels well, and the whole kit, with the grids, frame and snoot give you lots of options. The big blow of light behind Henry is the same contraption I had just used to fill the front of him. It’s a speed light bounced into a silver tri-grip. Give a little, get a little, is the rule of location. Other rules abound. Solve one problem, create two more. Murphy’s law. The frequency of the bread falling butter side down is in direct relationship to how expensive the carpeting is. Etc. Location is problem solving, often times. Eliminating the frontal, general fill and going with a very specific source meant I lost a touch of detail in the background. So, I pulled the floor fill rig around to the back of Henry, to light up the rack of bunker gear hanging back there. True to the general pattern of TTL, the camera’s brain rightly perceived that area to be dark and pumped out too much light, as you can see above.

Plugged in minus 2 EV (also tried minus 3) and dialed up the background to a decent, moody level.

We ended up here, with three lights. Group A, overhead, boomed Lastolite 24″ hot shoe soft box. Group B, fill snoot for his face and eyes, running low power, about minus 3 ev. And the background, Group C, a bounce off of a silver reflective surface (the speed light is just laying on it) running in similar toned down fashion, minus 2 or 3.

Here’s the final camera specs. D4S, 1/20th, f5.6, 79-200mm f2.8 zoom, set at 170mm. I have minus three programmed into the camera, but the D4S ignores that command because it is set in manual mode. I did my scout in aperture priority, getting the rough exposure for the scene dialed in, and then flipped the camera into manual to proceed through the making of the shot. I could say I did this because I was showing the class the various modes of the camera and how they interrelate. Or I could just say I made a mistake and forgot to drain out that exposure command. You choose. :-)

More tk….