responsiveslider_lol_02 The Language of Light DVD - More
MeetJoe_02 Meet Joe McNally - More
inthebag What’s in the Bag? - More

Archive for the ‘Stories’ Category

Ever Wonder How It Really Happens?

Dec 6

In Stories at 5:24am


Ever wonder how a reindeer achieves aerodynamic lift? Or how many elves Santa actually employs? Who designed the sleigh? How many world leaders are actually informed about Santa’s flight path? (Closely guarded secret, mind you.) Why the North Pole, anyway? Do reindeer retire?

If these and other questions about Santa’s mythology circle through your head at this time of year, you might want to check out the 15th Anniversary Edition of the Flight of the Reindeer Did I say mythology? Hmmm…..might be time to reconsider that label.

As famed Polar explorer Will Steger relates in this tome, “Above us, gliding, were a hundred reindeer? Two hundred, five hundred! They coated the sky.” Please note, he said reindeer, not stars. Even staid Sir Edmund Hillary finally admits in Flight that he actually observed his companion Tenzing Norgay “placing some cookies and some chocolates…in the snow.” Figures, really. Highest point on the planet would be a good cookie break stop for the big guy in the red suit.

Seems that the author of this journalistic account of the actual how-to, behind the scenes look at Santa’s big night, Bob Sullivan, through exhaustive research via reliable sources found an entirely new species of reindeer, called Rangifer Tarandus Pearyi. It is from their ranks that the select few who fly the sled are chosen.

santastudyAt the last printing of the book, Bill Clinton was President, and in fact, as also reported by The Boston Globe on December 25, 1996:  “President Clinton signed an official proclamation this week ordering American airliners to be on ‘heightened alert’ last night as Santa Claus made his appointed Christmas Eve rounds. The President’s proclamation called on Transportation Secretary Federico Pena to ‘restrict all flight paths on all United States registered aircraft and all aircraft in or around the area of the North Pole on December 24th and 25th.’ The presidential action came in response to [information] that former President George Bush was quoted in a new book as saying that signing the Santa Clause executive order was among his finest moments in the White House  . . . In Clinton’s proclamation, the President instructed all pilots flying near the North Pole ‘to be on heightened alert for red sleighs traveling at an expected speed of 650 miles per second at a cruising altitude of approximately 30,000 feet.’


The book has beautiful illustrations, maps and photos. Which of course got me to thinking. They need photos? I called Sully, the author, and Glenn Wolff, the illustrator ( I figured they must have connections, like, an email, or a cell number)  and said, hey, please let them know up North I’m ready. I’ve worked a lot in Siberia, I’ve been backseat in tons of tactical aircraft, I’ve climbed stuff so I don’t fear heights, and I can work a camera pretty well. So, you know, after 35 years, I’m, you know, ready. They sent my request for media coverage to the North Pole, and I anxiously await. This is more nerve wracking than waiting for an Olympics credential to come through!

I sent my D3S cameras to Melville for clean, check and winterizing. Thankfully, shooting digital, ’cause when I used to try to load Kodachrome in the Arctic, the film leaders would just crack like crazy in my gloved fingers. Now–I got 32 gig Lexars. Figure a few of them will get me through. Put through a couple requests to position remotes as well. Whaddaya think lens-wise? Figuring two bodies, 24mm f1.4 for low light stuff. 14-24 for in close on the sleigh. 70-200’s gotta come. Fast 85? Probably smart. I know the big guy’s concerned about additional weight. (Kinda the pot callin’ the kettle, right? I’m just sayin’….) SB900 with an SD 9 bat pack. One flash. Lumiquest softbox. Couple warming gels, in case I get to do a blend with tree lights. Not going for remote flash stuff up there. Hot shoe stuff all the way. Throw in an SC-29 to get the light off the camera, but then what I am gonna hang on with, my toes? Might have to go straight flash, ride and shoot, ride and shoot. Gotta have at least one flash, though, ’cause all those chimneys are gonna be a bitch. Figure I’ll sling the whole mess in a Thinktank belt harness. Wave tool? Always handy, and Santa don’t do TSA.

This new printing is an anniversary edition, as I mentioned. Glad they brought it back, as it was a favorite for my kids back in their day. TIME for kids noted about the original:  “Little kids love stories about Santa’s flying reindeer, but maybe you’re ready for something more scientific. Now you can read the not quite down-to-earth facts in Flight of the Reindeer by Robert Sullivan, illustrated by Glenn Wolff. Sullivan interviewed reindeer experts, historians, flight specialists and other ‘Santa’s helpers’ around the world. Their eyewitness accounts of reindeer streaking across starlit northern skies are, well, unbelievable. Wolff’s beautiful, detailed drawings show how the aerodynamics of reindeer flight are like airplane flight. . . .Secret details of reindeer flight are revealed. Did you know that all U.S. Presidents sign a ‘Santa Claus clause’ directing planes to clear North Pole airspace on Christmas Eve? That Dasher was hyperactive as a fawn? That the team has been together for 2,000 years? (Except for rookie Rudolph-just 1,500 years.) There’s incredible, detailed history here. Sullivan seems to be full of it!”

They’ve got a Facebook page going for the book, and I think they’ll be posting fitness reports on this year’s reindeer crew.  I’ll let you know on the credential. More tk…..


Aug 6

In history, Stories at 7:26am

In the midst of all this stuff about flash, digital, and color, harking back to available light…

Got a call not too long ago from Carly Simon’s folks. We worked together once, long time ago. I was still a pup, basically, shooting for People Magazine, and just starting my journeys for LIFE. The idea of working for Geographic was still just a glimmer, unobtainable, in the distance, a photographic mirage.

So when the call came, I was like, she remembers me??? Huh? Turns out, of course, I was not the memorable one, but one of my pictures, even after all this time, is among her favorites of her and her kids.


Sarah (Sally Maria) and Ben, her kids with James Taylor. Geez, talk about the deep end of the genetic pool. Good looking family, yes?

I was nervous as hell meeting her. Trying to be all things, funny, charming, light her well, figure it out, fill 6 pages, shoot a color cover and a B&W inside feature in about a day. Deep breath.

She made it simple by being so gracious and lovely. My personal favorite is below. By the window, with a book.


Easy going available light, Tri-x at 400. You could get a lot done, shooting this way.


And have some fun doing it.



We had a great time up on Martha’s Vineyard. Still remember it fondly, all these years later. Carly’s been promoting some new work lately, checkout her website. Or, join her team.


Lovely lady with a big smile and an even bigger voice…..more tk….

We Just Can’t Help It…..

Feb 15

In Rambling, Stories at 5:00am


Photographers. We’re strange, right? We can’t stop. We run when others walk. We work when others relax. We have no sense of weekends, holidays, time off, time on, or time in general, except as it relates to sunrise or set. When there’s a football game on TV, we aren’t looking always at the action on the field. We’re looking at the sidelines to see if any our buds are covering the game and how much of the long glass out there is black or white. We walk around like addled sumbitches, staring at strange stuff, hovering at the edge of human activity, aching to be accepted, dying for a moment, breathless in anticipation for that which mostly never happens. Curious behavior, at best. That’s putting it nicely. Most folks would just chalk it up to damn strange and tell their youngsters to stay away from us.

Maybe the word is hinky. We shake our heads, punch buttons on expensive cameras, eyeball perfect strangers, ask odd questions, and wait for light. What an odd thing to wait for. We also have restive, restless, roaming eyes. Eyes that don’t shut down. Eyes that often feel hemmed in or framed by a 35mm lens border, eyes that correspond to a 24-70, or a 200-400, depending on what they encounter. Eyes that curse the dumb conglomeration of plastic, brass and glass we place in front of them, asking that mix of pixels and wiring to be surrogate vision, supple as the real thing. Hah! We might as well ask a fucking toaster oven.

I walked out of a Starbucks the other day, in not a particularly good mood, but anticipating that the mix of 3 espressos with milk would marginally improve it. There were two men conversing at an outside table. One of them, just sitting there, was majestic, regal, even. His hands cupped a cigarette, joined loosely at his lap. I passed them. It took all of a half second.

But, when I got to the truck, I started feverishly ripping open my camera bags. Like a man in burning building fumbling for an oxygen mask, I tore open zippers, velcro, caps and covers, desperate to find a lens that might give me half a prayer of representing what I just saw. The hands. Those hands did something important. I knew it in a heartbeat. It was a pair of hands that I needed to photograph, and if I shut off the adrenaline pump, got lazy and slid into the comfort of the rental car and closed my eyes and surrendered to the latte, I would curse myself over and over again for being a feckless, useless photographer. (If you had encountered any of my early career wire service editors, you would be inclined to think it redundant to describe a photographer as useless. It was a descriptor often thrown my way, in between exasperated sighs and abundant profanity.)

So I grabbed a camera with a 70-200, and resolutely walked back to the men. They knew before I got within 10 feet of them I was going to ask. There was no tension, no fear, no clammy feeling in the gut that precedes so many photographic encounters. (Will they say no? Will they ridicule me? Beat me up? Demand money, my social security number and a financial statement?)

No. They accepted me before I opened my mouth. Those powerful hands caught footballs for a living.  Still fit, the gentleman towered over me when he stood. He had a stint with the Cowboys, hence the pinkie ring. He knew Bob Hayes, the man who changed football forever. I photographed Hayes for Sports Illustrated, when they were doing a wrap up of legendary sprinters. He is the only man in history to win an Olympic gold medal, and a Super Bowl ring.


This remains one of my favorite portraits. Hayes had a tough go after football, and had legal and health problems. He died not too long after I shot this down at his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla. At the Starbucks that day, the gentleman and I chatted  about Bullet Bob. We laughed a bit. The connection was immediate, and sincere. We shook hands. My hand literally disappeared into his.

How wonderful is that? What a gift this camera I curse is! A flying carpet into people’s lives. A certitude that this time, I will be richer for putting my camera to my eye. There’s no money on the line here. Just human encounter. Here, now, the camera becomes an instant learning machine.

The camera’s not a camera, really. It’s an open door we need to walk through.  It’s up to us to keep moving our feet. More tk…

Bless Me Father Bob…..

Jan 4

In Stories at 7:53am

You know, it’s a new year, and it’s time to download the card, freshen up the pixels, clean the lens elements and confess all those photographic sins, which for me, really, are too numerous to count or catalog. As 2009 faded in the rear view mirror, I figured it was time to see Father Bob.

Here’s what I propose. Write in about your most egregious photographic sin of the last year, decade, whatever. We’ll cruise the comments and pick out the 5 best whoppers and put them up on the blog with, uh, some commentary within a couple of weeks. The 5 most colorful or unusual screw ups, missed exposures, bad calls, blown jobs, or lollapalooza mistakes….be they as simple as leaving the lens cap on, or as serious as shooting Canon:-)…we’ll send an autographed copy of Hot Shoe Diaries. Determining the 5 “winners” is solely at the discretion of the management.

Now, these are sins committed with a camera in your hands, or at least nearby. If you had one of those production jobs in Vegas, and the model didn’t show up, and the permits weren’t valid, and the rental car battery went dead, and the client was a screamer, and you were so distracted you shot the whole day for this big movie poster on jpeg basic….and that night you decided to ease your suffering by shooting and starring in your own personal version of Hangover, well, the details of those evening endeavors, as they say, should remain in Vegas.

(Shot entirely on Nikon’s D3s by Drew Gurian and Will Foster).

More tk…

This Just In…..

Nov 4

In Books, Stories, Thoughts at 10:44am

Hot Shoe Diaries was the number one reader’s pick for the arts and photography category on Amazon for 2009.


Pretty cool. I’ve gotten some wonderful feedback from folks who really enjoyed the book and I thank everyone for the kind words that have been sent my way. Very appreciative of the support, and thanks for letting Amazon know about it!

It’s been an interesting week.  There was the good news about the book, and then Lynn, my studio manager for 18 years, was going back and forth with a major multi-national who had a check for us, but had the wrong address listed. It batted around the GPO in NYC for a bit, and was returned, so thankfully, they called and got it all adjusted properly and re-sent it.  (As far as Lynn’s longevity with me is concerned, rest assured I am extremely appreciative. I just called Rome, and tried to put her name on the list for beatification as a saint. They asked, well, has she performed any miracles? I said, “Are you kidding me? We’re still in business!” The line went dead. Maybe I shoulda emailed?)

We anxiously awaited the check. This could be it! What a great week! First the Amazon rating, and now, a check! The one that puts us over the top! No more worries! Livin’ large. Next trip to LA, book me the Walter Iooss memorial suite at  Shutters on the Beach!

It showed up, and frankly, it was disappointing.


Eighty two cents? Jeez. Undaunted, I went into a convenience store  and walked up to the very nice lady at the counter and asked if there was anything in the store I could buy for .82 cents.

She looked at me hard, and didn’t even have to say, “Are ya stupid, or just plain crazy?”

I assured her I was not, and that I knew it was a little weird, but my budget limit was eighty two cents.

She tried to be helpful, but was having a hard time thinking of stuff. I suggested a box of Tic Tacs but no way. Tic Tacs are like, around $1.55 most places, except Kennedy Airport, where they are $17.26. The little boxes generally have 36 individual tic tacs, which makes them about 4.3 cents per, so I could have converted my check into 19 of those minty little guys, but they don’t sell them individually.

Newspaper? Not even close. Refrigerator magnet?  I got the look again. I got outta the store, lest I discovered hassling the clerk early in the morning might lead me to discover eighty two cents could possibly purchase a big noise and a used shotgun shell.

But hey, things are okay. I just got notification from Delta that I’m in the million miler club. Million miles, just on Delta. Sheesh. Evidence, perhaps, of a life gone wrong? Dunno. But it worked out this morning. On a non-refundable coach class ticket, I got an upgrade to first! Way cool. I was thinking on it, you know, anticipating the delights of the first class cabin. Eggs Benedict? A Mimosa? Pigs in a blanket? A foot rub? An exclusive first ever in the air viewing of “This Is It”?

Not quite.


Breakfast. Oh, well. More tk….