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Archive for the ‘On Location’ Category

So This is Like, 347 Speed Lights…..

Jul 9

In On Location, Seminars & Workshops, Travels at 12:12pm


Joe make joke. This is not small flash. This is not a job for small flash. This is the kind of job that makes your speed light start calling those internet 800 numbers that promise, well, enhancement…..

We were in the neighborhood of 30,000 or so watt seconds on this one. This is the LBT, or Large Binocular Telescope, which is the largest ground based telescope in the world. Shooting this observatory was the lynchpin of the telescope story I just shot for Nat Geo’s July issue. It sits atop Mt. Graham in Arizona, at about 12,500 feet of elevation, or just enough elevation to make climbing steel catwalks with a couple large power packs in hand a dizzying experience. Size wise, it is the equivalent of a 22 story building.

Vantage point is from a 175 boom crane, which in the wind at 12,500 feet gives new meaning to shimmy, rattle and roll. The crane operators on the ground were watching the boom pole dance around in the sky and were saying novenas that the wind didn’t pick up and exceed limits. If that happened, they woulda pulled me outta the sky. Bye- bye picture.

What shocked the heck outta me was that we did it in a day. Rob Stephen from San Diego, Dan Bergeron from LA, Drew and myself hauled 40 plus cases of gear up there at dawn, had the crane truck blocked into the side of the hill, staged the lights, tested, clamped the cameras into the basket of the boom, got the position, did a lot of light tweaking over the radio, shot the picture, had dinner, boxed everything up and drove over 100 hairpin turns off the mountain at about 2 am the following morning. Life inside the the yellow border…





Great workshop going here at Anse Chastanet, Jade Mountain in St. Lucia. We are having a ball. The island is so beautiful every turn you make just astounds. Yesterday Claudette posed in spiritual fashion for class in the jungles by Anse Mamin beach. The gang hit the beach and Drew and I got into the pool with the Sylinator. Scott Kelby shows up today to start his Lightroom magic. The class is stoked……

Bedsheet Thief Strikes Yet Again, This Time In Venice….

Jun 15

In On Location, Seminars & Workshops at 8:21am

In yet another case of bedsheets disappearing from hotels, the suspected perpetrator of these thefts struck again, operating in unusually brazen fashion in front of 5 or 6 horrified onlookers in Venice’s historic San Marco Plaza. Going from hard light to soft light, he allegedly pulled the sheet from his equipment bag with a flourish, uttering what has become the bandit’s signature location phrase….”Let me just whip this out.”


Venice is a beautiful city. Amazing. It has a patina and character that is all its own, which might stem from the fact it is under water a great deal of the time. The Cafe Florian is undoubtedly one of the most historically significant places in the ville, and what makes it truly wonderful is that you can plop yourself smack dab in the middle of its beauty and character for the price of a cup of coffee. An expensive cup of coffee, to be sure, but still, one of the red velvet chairs in the joint can be yours’ for a cuppa joe. Anybody who has had the dubious privilege of spending 5 bucks in a Starbucks for a triple vente soy bean no foam iced latte’ knows that it don’t come with a red velvet chair and wall art dating back to 1720.

I’ve been thinking about shooting here ever since I first came to Venice 3 years ago. It’s just an amazing place, dripping with history and ornate detail. Given the way my noodle often operates, I was sitting in there and it crossed my mind that it would be an interesting portrait venue for maybe, I don’t know, lemme guess, a ballerina! Mongo like!


The opportunity here came about via the good graces of Marco Tortato, of Manfrotto, makers of all things to hang lights and cameras from. His wife, Sylvia, handles public relations for the cafe, and I was allowed to shoot there in the early morning, before any caffeine seeking crowds descended. Not only did Marco facilitate the shoot, he worked his magic all week with our VSP class, pulling and hauling gear, and providing us with C-stands, Manfrotto air cushion light stands, Justin Clamps, Tri-flashes, Lastolite tri-grips for diffusion and reflection….(Hmmm…..diffusion and reflection. Sounds like that should be a desk at the state department. “Department of Diffusion and Reflection, may I help you?)….

I digress. Anyway, our class was kitted out admirably with the gracious assistance of Marco and Manfrotto. We toodled all over various water bound locales, even shooting early am in San Marco……


The above is one SB900, zoomed to 200mm, and placed outside the columns on one of those little floor stands that come with the unit. Full cut of CTO. 70-200mm lens on the camera, and an SU800 linked to the hot shoe via 2 SC29 cords, firing just to the left of the columns. The light is maybe 40-50 feet away from the CLS trigger. Kinda set this up for the class, and everybody got a chance that morning to work with light and wonderful dancers. Thanks to Beatrice, Barbara, and Celeste who arose earlier than any other ballerinas in recorded history to make this shoot happen for all of us.


Shooting inside the cafe, the setup was a bit different. Gelled all the lights warm, and just let them rock at a 200mm zoom from about 20 or so feet from the glass. No diffusion, just hard, warm light.


That combo produced a slashing, shadowy light, and it pushed the color button pretty hard. Eventually I put a 4th SB900 in there, Justin clamped to an existing stand, and just banged that down into the ground, hoping a little bounce light might grace the ceiling, which was equally reflective and gaudy as the walls. Had a traditional Venetian mask on hand, which Beatrice graciously wore for a few frames.


Enter the bedsheet. We clipped it up with a couple of plastic A clamps brought by Frank Keller, who attended the workshop, and is on the very beginnings of an intersting photographic path. That big swatch of diffusion softened the light and filled the whole room with detail embracing, easy going photons.



As they say, a face in a place…..


Up early and off to the airport. Commercial job this week. Drew’s been in Nashville shooting the lollapalooza, or bananarama…something like that. It’s a music festival. As you saw last week, he’s a good music shooter who always manages to talk his way on stage somehow. He’ll pick me up at the airport. Had no choice but to get up early. Nigel’s been getting bigger. I think he’s about 21 pounds now. That boy is hungry all the time. He jumped on the bed about 3:30, and you can’t sleep through that. It’s like somebody just dropped a bowling ball on your pillow. More tk….


Nov 22

In Friends, On Location at 1:34pm

Currently operating inside the mysterious land surrounded by the yellow border. A strange and wild place where the terms “internet access” and “cellular service” are evidently new. This has to be the case, cause the mere mention of them produces wide eyed stares of confused wonder followed by gales of laughter and shrieks of delighted amusement.

I get to work all day in the cold and the wind and the dust, and then stay up most of the night in the even colder wind and dust. My crew is fantastic, and after preparations have been made, we gather around in the inky blackness to discuss roles and assignments. They are clad, much in the manner of the highway outlaws in The Road Warrior, in ski masks, goggles and heavily padded protective clothing. They climb into pickups, outfitted with generators and racks of bristling flashy things and disappear into the void. I stay at camera central, and at the appropriate time, open the photon torpedo tubes. Then, in an homage to the James T. Kirk school of overacting, I raise my eyes to the heavens, extend a clenched fist and in an impassioned, breathless voice, say simply into the radio, “Fire.” Flashes in the dark. Screams in the night. I’ll say no more.

Sometime between 3 and 4 am, I retire to my resplendent rental lean to and rest and dine on a hearty mix of canned soup and Advil. About 7am I head to a local hotspot to send my pictures to the all powerful Oz, otherwise known as my editor. The process is fascinating, which is good because it is so lengthy. Kilobyte by kilobyte, my pictures fly through the air with  dispatch and efficiency. One by one. The carrier pigeons of the internet. I wait, listening to a song that is evidently about a pickup truck, a dog, the earth moving, love lost and a stolen Bible. I did not know they put such stories to music!

Its okay, though, cause this hot spot is also a place called McDonalds. The food here is fantastic! Are there more of these elsewhere?

A pidgeon returns with dispatches! A message from Oz! “Pretty interesting.” Tremendously effusive endorsement of my meager efforts! Translation? You can’t go home yet.


Seek out Jersey style bloggin’.

Mark’s the one who got me goin’ with the noir thing. He’s a good shooter who is real disciplined about assigning himself, putting together a structure and a timeline which makes sure he stays behind the camera.

He’s been over in Europe of late, working away, hitting the road again, which means, Road Pig strikes again!

He’s been takin’ Flo the pig out on the road for years, and she’s getting’ a pretty good tour. Now, of course, her adventures have an attentive audience back at home with Liv, his toddler, waiting for news of both dad and Flo.

Mark and I did some road touring a few years back, knocking out an annual report. In a couple of years, back to back, we did several states as well as Sweden, Poland, England, and Italy. We were scouting in the old city section of Warsaw and Mark had to run back to hotel. (He’s the responsible one, the one who’s gotta keep things together, on schedule, and ya know, he’s got a screwloose shooter out there with him who has a tendency to go rogue at any moment and here we’re tryin’ to project a good image for the company. So it fell to him to be filing reports and talk to home base, as well as make sure I stick to my meds.)

So he goes back to the hotel, and I’m standing there in old town and who walks by (with an entourage of course) but Roman Polanski, scouting for The Pianist. Walked right by. Of course I had my mouth open and my lens cap on, which doesn’t bode well for me if I ever wanted to go the paparazzi route. Mark got back and refused to believe me. To this day, he refuses. Oh well…

Funny how life goes. Years ago, Magnum shooter Alex Webb and I got to be friends on an NPPA Flying Short Course and my daughter Caitlin and his son would get together and play. We’d hang out a bit at Alex’ apartment over in Brooklyn, and a couple of times, the wonderful Hungarian born photog, Sylvia Plachy, would drop by, with her elegant viewpoint and daring adventurism with a Widelux in her hands. Coupla times, her teenage son would drop by. He would play with the kids a bit, and say virtually nothing to the alleged grownups. He seemed to be always working on a old car, or projects like that. Years later, Sylvia’s son, the quiet teen, Adrian Brody, turns in an Academy Award performance in The Pianist.


Great light, nice shot, kinda Daniel Craig-esque, doncha think?…Looks like an ad for a Bond flick, fer chrissakes, though I would be the first to admit “Klowskowski” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite the same as, “Bond, James Bond.”

Matt may have a future in the movies as a Photoshop action espionage hero type. His first feature….”Pixels Only Die Twice.”


Check out Pyxsylated.

Another coherent, fully fleshed out, informative blog from the irrepressible Mr. Arena. Great explanation and field demo of Radio Poppers.

Here’s the problem, and the reason we got trouble, right here in River City.

He’s out there with MD Welch.

What happens when two loose but very talented cannons hit the road, mixing in flash, roller derby girls, and radio poppers? Good blog, good pictures, but Lordy, Katy bar the door, go to the mattresses, do whatever it is you do, but Syl and MD are in town…..Got to know the both of them in a lighting workshop in Santa Fe. We had a great class, great time, and the class has stuck together. Talk about a buncha characters. We had everybody in there from Syl and MD to Krista “Machine Gun” Lee.

Lots of frames. Lots of fun…more tk….

This One Goes to Eleven!

Jul 23

In Lighting, On Location at 10:31am

This Is Spinal Tap

Actually, this one goes to 200. And we’re not talking decibels here, we’re talking millimeters. Zoom throw. The SB900 goes to 200 millimeters. You know, on the back of the SB800, you push the selector button for the little trees to the big trees, and you zoom to 105? Well, the big trees just got bigger.

Now to some folks this may matter as much as a single, silly, fictitious, click on the old amp. (You know, all those other blokes are at 10, and where can you go from there? We can go to eleven!) In other words, it might not matter at all. But for the rest of us who mess around with small strobe units, it matters a lot. The ability to control and shape the output of a small hot shoe flash unit is a big deal. It means you get a longer throw, more concentration of light, and perhaps a bit more of a defined edge between highlights and shadows. I told the folks at Nikon that now that you can zoom a 900 all the way to 200, they should do something jazzy to announce it, like program the unit to go off like a Vegas slot machine every time you hit 200. I don’t think they’re gonna do it.

I’ve also been experimenting a bit with the feature that controls the spread of light right at the source. You can input standard, center weighted and even. I’ve opted for even in the early going, hoping that edge to edge spread of even illumination might be handy for a portrait. To play with this feature, I hired a well known, demanding NY super model…….

Brad! Cut it out!

Actually, my friend Vanessa who is one of the more beautiful ballerinas I have ever worked with, came and helped us out. She is not only a lovely dancer, but she has a face that is right out of 1940’s Hollywood glamour. She is posing here at the Red Hat bistro in Irvington, NY, which is a truly wonderful eatery right on the Hudson River and serves food to match the setting.

We did this really simply. There is a 900 on a boomed, shoot through umbrella (Lastolite all-in-one) camera right, just out of frame. And the background is lit with one 900, gelled with a full CTO, again camera right, flying into the area behind Vanessa and giving it some warm glow. That light is zoomed to 200, and has no diffusion. Another thing I am liking is the filter holder that comes with the unit. It is designed to hold the filters that are embedded with chips that communicate color temp information to the camera. (Example: With the camera in auto white balance, you can take the CTO gel and slip it into this filter holder and slap it on the 900. It will communicate to the camera that the light has been shifted to a tungsten balance and the camera will shift accordingly. Camera must be in auto, and it appears to me the light must be on the hot shoe for this to occur. More on this in the future.)

But the fancy filter holder also functions straight up and simple as, well, a filter holder. Cool! Means my flash units don’t have to all gummed up at that end with scotch tape residue and bits of gaffer anymore.

Here’s our basic set.

(Note: The gold reflector material on the bar is from a 3×3 Lastolite kit has a SB200 close up strobe, again with a full CTO, sitting on it. I experimented briefly with putting a little bar glow off to the side of Vanessa but then decided the room had a daylight feel to it and killed it. It was also creating shadows I ran out of time to wrangle. In the grand tradition of all photographers who are outta quarters and whose location meter is about to expire, I just shut it down. (Uh! Light cause problem. Mongo kill light.)

To make sure the far light saw my SU800 signal I ran the SC29 cord off to the right and we clamped it to a stand.

Then, quickly, to take advantage of Vanessa’s amazing red hair (she basically has never had it cut) framing her face, we moved in a hand held SB800, low and camera right, coming through a Lastolite tri-grip diffuser. Instant beauty light combo.

Funny, even with nice light like this, I don’t think Brad would look as good. WAG on my part.

Shot these with my 200 at f2. The background 900 fills the restaurant with glow, which translates to her hair. Limited depth of field emphasizes that. (I mean, Vanessa would look great even if I was using flash powder.) Both up front lights are dialed down a touch, running around minus one EV, and the background 900, again at 200 mm and throwing light a good distance, is dialed up just a tic. Minimal set up, which was great cause the restaurant was starting to jump and we hadda get going quickly.

After that, we hit my favorite desolate corner in Manhattan with a D700 and an SB900.

We ran against type here, shooting wide but zooming the flash to 200. It hits Vanessa’s face with a street quality of light, and then sharply gradates down her body.

Then I just let the camera drive the train on this, auto white balance under street lamps and the result was really clean. Jeez, I just remember being out there with some sort of funky Ektachrome and a stack up of wratten filters of so many different increments and colors I felt like Dumbledore.

And then of course….the ongoing mystery man. Kman. What is he doing out there? Nefarious things about to occur. No doubt….

This is two SB900 units…on the floor stands that come in the kit. No gels. On the street, camera right, aimed up. White light, tungsten balance in the camera. Find two busted up wood pallets and stand them in front of the lights and let fly……more tk…

Note and news: The 700 and the 900 are hot items right now….got this from Jeff Snyder (jsnyder@adorama.com) the other day…

Good morning-
If you are an NPS Member and have not placed your order for the new
D700 and/or SB900 Speedlight, now is the time. Deliveries will begin
within the next 10 days, and being a member of NPS gets you a priority

If you have already placed your order, and have not notified NPS (NPS@nikon.net
), then you should email them, and let them know that you have an
order in with ADORAMA/JEFF SNYDER so that your priority can be entered
into their system.

If you have NOT placed your order yet, there is still time….contact
me as soon as you can.

Rollin’ with The Pride of Midtown

Jul 2

In Equipment, Lighting, On Location at 9:27am

That’s what the 54 house calls themselves. They are unquestionably the most popular and photographed firehouse in NYC. Literally millions of tourists are spread around the world, at home, with pictures of this house and “the guys.” In terms of runs, they are the busiest fire company in all of NY.

The guys are incredibly patient and easygoing about the constant stream of pedestrian traffic that flows in front of their doors, and the resultant, endless requests for photos and a smile. They are a great bunch. I got to know a few of them right after 911. One of my friends is Rich Kane, the driver of 4 truck. Rich is a veteran firefighter, good guy, terrific photog, and resident firehouse sex symbol. Mike Corrado of Nikon is also his good friend (they shoot a lot of sports together). So a few weeks ago, Mike, Rich, Brad and I got 4 truck together with a D700.

Strategy wise, it’s good to do this with a ladder truck and not an engine, cause as you will see, the up top ladder gives you a base of operations and a sturdy, extended platform to hang your rig off of. The gear needed to do this:

4 Bogen Magic Arms, each with 2 Bogen Super Clamps; 1 heavy duty Gitzo monopod; 1 SC-29 cord; 1 D700, 1 14-24mm f2.8; SU-800 trigger; 3 SB800 flashes; Justin Clamps; gaffer tape; gels; ball head; metal cable lanyards; zip ties; Pocket Wizards. (Couple notes later about ball head and PWs.)

Okay. Get what you figure will be the main light positioned first. That pretty much is standard placement, something on the dashboard, affixed with a Justin Clamp, and a warming gel. The flash from here, muted and adjusted properly, simulates instrument panel glow, at least in theory, though these shots have been done so often, everybody knows a strobe is down there. Okay, first result.

Would you let this man drive a fire truck? Hmmm….

Okay, one light is not enough. The cab of the that truck is large, and black. More punch is called for, or the driver will look like Dracula on a high speed run to the blood bank.

Had the notion I could maybe hide a light behind and somewhat obstructing the rear view (which is okay, given the way Richie drives:-). This light got a heavy red gel, and then some gaffer tape treatment, and a series of zip ties to make sure it didn’t go missing during a run.

All the while, you have to finesse camera placement and angle. I’m racked out to 14 mil on the zoom and the camera is upside down for convenience sake. (Hey, it don’t know.)

First few tests showed we had to bury a third light in the cab, filling the passenger side just a touch. Again, trying to avoid the big black hole in the photo type of deal. But, the system is running CLS/TTL so the 3 receivers have to see the impulse from the SU800. We hot shoed it–no go. This is where the SC29 is invaluable. Pop the SU trigger onto the 29 cable and hook it to the camera, then run that puppy out along the monopod, lock it into place with another Bogen Super Clamp, and boom, the strobes see the signal and you still have full wireless TTL. I could have locked the strobes into SU-4 mode and popped ‘em with PWs, but then I’ve got 3 units to ratio manually, and I’m crawling all over the truck, sometimes in the street off a run. Rather play with the values from one source, the SU800, and program strobe punch from there. It’s talking to the camera, and vice versa, so there will be a natural variation to the feel of the light as the truck zooms from light to dark areas of the street.

The camera’s out there, right? I’m pretty nervous, cause NYC streets ain’t exactly the autobahn. More like a donkey cart trail. Lots of bumps. But then I relax. It’s Corrado’s camera! I use the Manfrotto Hydrostatic Ball heads pretty religiously, but opted here for the Really Right Stuff system, cause I was unsure of whether I would go horizontal or vertical, and the RRS L bracket seemed to make sense. Mistake. (It’s the little things you don’t think of , ya know?) The L bracket I had for my D3 didn’t configure to the bottom of the D700. Man I had to give that set screw a pretty good, well, screwing, to get it to lock and then it was still kinda fragile looking and cattywampus. That’s where more zip ties and cable lanyards came in. I didn’t want the camera disappearing under the wheels of the rig, or, worse, flying through Richie’s windshield. (In the interests of safety and given the fact this was a live fire vehicle, Mike, Richie and I rehearsed getting the clamps and the monopod off the ladders. We got it down to about 30 seconds, within limits in case of a call.)

I tell ya something that saved me. The big LCD in the back of the D700. I had to check angle and exposure periodically, out in the street, and looking at a small, dark monitor whilst standing on the bumper and arching backwards hanging onto the wiper blade of the truck would have made for a long night. Also, perfect type of shot for full frame. Nuff said.

If you notice the background to some of these production pix, you’ll see it is a memorial. Engine 54/Ladder 4/Battalion 9 lost 15 men on 911. It was a rough time. Firehouses are resilient places, though. They bounce back. Lots of banter. They hang together and love each other like brothers, and just like brothers, cut no slack and take no prisoners when it comes to dishing out grief. If you are short, or bald, or have a big nose, and maybe are packing a few extra pounds, it’s well, noted. The operative phrase here is, “Don’t limp.”

Especially true for probie firefighters, who join the house and have to jump to for everything during the course of their probation. One of the things I did that night for the house was shoot new head shots for a bunch of the guys. We had a recent addition to the house in front of my lens, and see the shadowy figure in the background, high on the truck, bucket in hand? It is called, no mystery here, “bucketing.”

He smelled the prank and stayed dry. But a firehouse is not for the faint of heart, or the easily damaged. Guys will be guys. A veteran of the department I know pretty well used to go fishing to pass the time. To do this he would affix a dollar bill to a well worn wallet and attach the wallet to fishing line, crack the firehouse door, slip it out on the sidewalk and see what he could reel in. Most folks got a laugh and appreciated the joke, though he did say there were some interesting reactions when he did this at a house right next door to a methadone clinic.

Probie’s get lots of attention. Witness the power sit up. At some houses I’ve heard about, the competitive and eager to please new guy is told it is a strict house workout routine to push out sit ups while being restrained via a towel over the forehead, held by another guy. Invariably, the towels slips momentarily over the fnugys eyes, while he continues to try to power through the situp. While blinded by the towel, another firefighter, usually the biggest guy in the house (one house had a guy so big they called him “double date”) strategically locates himself in a squatting position over the hapless probie. He of course is buck naked. The towel intentionally slips and the new guy does an accelerated face plant into a butt crack. This is called fun.

Back to the streets. Had lots of misses, but a couple of real good hits. The other reason to work with 54 house photographically is that their zone includes Times Square. Talk about Friday night lights! The streets are almost daylight bright, except it’s neon.

I’m in the cab behind Richie, driving the camera with a Pocket Wizard. Lots of frames, cause you never know. You’re making what is hopefully a series of educated guesses. And depending on lots of variables to hopefully tip your way.

I can’t comment all that intelligently on the D700 (Pipe down right now, Mike. Corrado will read this and shrug and say, what else is new?) because I had it in my hands for only a few minutes until I put it at the end of a pole and hoped for the best. But, strategically, it was a great solution because you have the bright LCD, 12.1 megapixel FX (full frame) CMOS sensor, terrific metering system…in short, a package that gets most of the way to D3 in a smaller, lighter body. That played huge in my head as I watched the camera dropped into space on the end of a boom pole that was waving around like a swizzle stick.

We’ve made big prints of these shots for the house, though, as one of the guys riding in the truck commented, “Oh, yeah, that ‘s my wife has been asking me for, big prints of Richie Kane driving the truck. She’ll be so pleased.”

They’re a good bunch, and I certainly represented myself better that Friday night than I had in our most recent encounter. I had gotten one of those contracts, you know the ones, that tell you they are not going to pay you any money, but they are taking from you all rights to your intellectual property, in perpetuity, in the known and yet to be discovered universe (I tell ya, the reprints rights on the moons of Jupiter are going to be a gold mine, hang onto those.), for all time, yet again, and furthermore, and by the way, we own your house, too. Instead of fire bombing that particular publication, I went to Times Square and stripped down to my u-trou with a couple of pithy things written on sandwich boards.

Just when I’m at my most undignified (a not infrequent condition) 4 Truck rolls through Times Square. “Hey Joe–what the f^%%$#(*&^%%k are you doin’?” Oh well….

Hey there’s links like crazy to the D700 and SB900 out there. Those links will give you more technical skinny than I can. I just feel lucky we have tools like this. I mean, I started with a Nikkormat, and then my first motor driven camera was an F. As Marty Forscher used to say, “you can hammer a nail with that camera.” True enough, but that wasn’t what it was for, was it?

Availability is always an issue in the early days of stuff. Got a call yesterday from Jeff Snyder, who I mentioned in my blog yesterday. Jeff is one of us. He is in the trenches, shooting and experiencing all the ups and downs of shooting that we do, so he is, IMHO, the real deal. He is just about single handedly responsible for taking his (relatively) new posting at Adorama and using it to catapult that operation more into the forefront of our industry. Witness the Sportsshooter site. More on Jeff and Adorama in a day or so. But he advises contacting him direct via his email—jsnyder@adorama.com. He’s like the man behind the curtain, pulling levers, making connections and working his butt off to get gear to people.

More tk……