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Archive for the ‘On Location’ Category

Island Light…

Jul 13

In Friends, history, On Location, Seminars & Workshops at 5:48am


Had a blast in St. Lucia this week, hanging and shooting at one of the most amazing places I have ever been, the Anse Chastanet, Jade Mountain Resorts. I fell in love with the place from the very first time I went there, some 15 years ago. And just this week, during our first annual hot shoe flash lighting workshop, came the news that lots of other folks really love it, too. Travel and Leisure named Jade Mountain the number one resort in the Caribbean, and number three in the world. Anse Chastanet pulled in at number four in the Caribbean.

And here the place was letting us run around with a bunch of cameras and speed lights. Considering it’s the occasional home of celebs, famous football players, and even more famous “girls next door,” all of whom were in attendance last week, we could have been built in, go to paparazzi corps. No need, though. We had great subjects, witness the pic above.

Victor is the best dive buddy you could ever have. He had, by last count, a bit over 27,000 dives. He’s on a first name basis with most of the fish who abound on the Anse Chastanet reefs. He is one of those hardy souls who defies time, and gravity. This portrait was done with a new unit I am pretty batty about, the  Elinchrom Quadra. At 400 watt seconds, it is small and incredibly light (the heads weigh .5 pounds each)  and it can fit onto a big light shaping tool, like the deep Octa. Check out Scott Kelby’s blog for a cool production shot of this pic. Another episode in my ongoing adventure with expensive electronic equipment and large bodies of water.

What was even more special about the week was my wife Annie surprised me by just showing up, unannounced and unexpected. And my dear friends Scott and Kalebra Kelby came down as well. Scott took over the reins for the last afternoon of the class, doing real time Lightroom magic that had everybody jazzed. Scott’s artistry with that program defies belief.

We had thirteen participants, and we cruised through lots of flash stuff…..blending exposure, light shaping tools, hi speed sync, rear curtain, flash and blur, portraiture, you name it. Then we wrapped the week with real time shooting in Soufrieres, the little fishing village a short boat ride from the hotel.


Way cool. Even in this tiny little Carib town, there is the power of the internet, and the reach of Scott Kelby’s voice. We wandered into the local fire department and met a wonderful guy with the improbable but terrific name of Garvey Charlemagne, firefighter, photog, PhotoShop enthusiast, and…reader of Scott’s blog.


Scott walked into Garvey’s firehouse and I thought we were going to have to turn the hoses on him to calm him down. It was just great. They rolled out the red carpet for us, and a bunch of the class had a blast shooting around the house.


Then, on Friday afternoon, it was time for Junior and the flambos. Lighting up the beach at Anse Chastanet is a long held tradition, just a bit longer than the tradition I have of photographing Junior doing it. He is remarkably patient with me, seeing as the first time I shot him firing up flambos was in 1994.


Once again, Junior lit up the beach and the sky for our class. I first did this with him 15 years ago, shooting with a Fujica 617 Panorama camera. Times have changed, and this was done on a D3 with 7 SB900 units, running on manual and triggering off of a Pocket Wizard. No going TTL here. It would have been possible, I think, with a little sleight of hand at camera, but we hadn’t tried PW triggering of manual flash during the week, so we played with that.


Following light in one of the most beautiful places on earth. You know, sometimes, when you don’t have a client or a deadline to worry about, and you haven’t got a wire service editor calling you names, and the gear is working as well as your eyeballs, and the world just plays out in front of your lens in a wonderful way…..being a photog….doesn’t suck…..more tk…..

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 ([email protected]) 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 ([email protected]
), 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.