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Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

Thinking, Shooting…Always a Dangerous Thing….

Oct 8

In Seminars & Workshops, Thoughts at 11:54am

Was in Vegas last week for PhotoShop World, and gave a quickie 40 minute demo for my buds at Bogen. Used the new Quadra, a 400 watt second little big man of a flash unit. Lotta fun. Just grabbed folks off the floor and made a few pix.


Lastolite makes this thing called a background hi-liter, which is basically an empty mattress pad you can stuff lights into. It gives you this incredible, lock solid, done deal white background. Uh, Joe, this photo is shot on black. Yep, turned around and used the wall of light it creates as a main. Gorgeous light for Rae, a terrific young shooter who is hopefully bound for FIT in NY this fall.

Then there was Rodney. He was in the crowd, mildly bemused by events, so I made him the event. Terrific face for a photo. He had a wonderful sense of merriment to his eyes, and at the same time could look like a professor I just turned my term paper in late to. This is shot with the Deep Octa, which, allows the light to marinate really nicely before screaming outta the box



And then of course, there was V.


V is the spark plug, the security detail and a one man tidal wave of enthusiasm who comes and puts his massive arms around PhotoShop World twice a year. I asked him to pose for me, and he was great. As I described him to the class, he’s like a block of granite with feet.

And then there’s Kathy Siler…….


I’m in so much trouble. At the closing ceremonies I announced a “Draft Kathy Siler” movement to get her in front of a camera. So why am I compounding my difficulties by mentioning this in my blog?  I’m in enough hot water as it is. Could it be, that as photographers it is part of our mission to be a pain in the ass:-)?

Lessee….a colleague showed work at PSW he specifically described as all shot “without flash or reflectors.” The holy water of available light! No evil photons generated by the machines! He used the phrase, “God is my gaffer.” Okay! Who’s your grip? There’s a whole blog’s worth of material in that phrase, just not gonna go there right now.

Speaking of available light, had my midterm review on my current National Geographic story the other day. Virtually every frame was shot with available light. (I can walk! I can walk! Thank God almighty, I can walk!) Biggest compliment the editors can offer a shooter is to expand the page count of the story, and that’s what happened. Now I just gotta figure out how to shoot the next half of the darn thing.

Headed from PSW to PRW, the Paso Robles Workshops, run by my friend with the hair with a mind of its’ own, Syl Arena. Given the dense, rich, textured, complex and multi-layered cultural experience of Vegas, when I hit Paso I decided to stay shallow and photograph Robert for a class demo with a 50mm lens at f1.4. Been experimenting a lot lately with limited depth of field portraiture. Good look at the camera for Robert here. Shot with Ezybox Hot Shoe softbox on a Sylinator paint pole rig for up front, and then just a hard, warm gelled light in the background off the tin siding.


Speaking of turns of phrases, Del, one of my participants here at the Paso workshop had trouble with a scarf someone was wearing in a photo. He said during crit it was “surprisingly luminous.” Love it. I’ve run into stuff like that too, over time. We had a good laugh, and during the deal I uttered a couple of colorful metaphors, which just bubble outta me occasionally, a bit like farting in a pool. The class, thankfully, endorses such frivolity. Frank, a Continental pilot who shoots real well, and, I’m sure, is no stranger to the use of pungent commentary, commented that my language was “surprisingly luminous.”

Buddy of mine who is a terrific shooter and is currently assisting in NY just moved on from his regular gig and is now awash in the turbulent freelance seas of the Big Apple. He had just got to the point where the job was owning his life, and he wrote to me describing that and letting me know he’s out there ready for work. Describing how a job often goes, I wrote back….

“Ahh, yes, grasshopper….a job is just a job, until it becomes it becomes like one of those things in the Alien movie that springs from a pod, smothers your face, deposits an embryo in your guts that gestates with incredible rapidity and chews through all your inside wiring, leaving you bloody, dead, mouth agape at the utter unfairness and speed with which your life force was sucked out of you. With your vision flickering like an old TV, your last image is that of the predator you incubated lurching down the block, looking for it’s next meal. Welcome to the workplace!”

I thought that was helpful, no? More tk….

Nigel and Me, Still…..

Sep 10

In Thoughts at 6:11pm


Up early today. Nigel’s gained some weight lately, and when he nestled himself on the bed last night he proceeded to snore so loudly I coulda sworn somebody was trying to start a large diesel engine right there on the blanket. It’s okay, though. He’s my bud. He’s a bit paunchy (Annie gets defensive and simply says he’s “big boned”) and a little tentative, ’cause I think he’s got some arthritis in his forelegs.  I bought him some steps I’ve put around the house so he can get up on stuff easier. He won’t use ’em, though, being male and proud. He still jumps, even though it’s gottta hurt. That’s the deal with guys. We look at something and think, I can still do that, and then our body tells us different.

Same thing here. In addition to being up early, I’m grumpy ’cause I’m fasting. Annie worked out a week for me while I am home to kinda kick the tires and change the oil, so the whole week is doc’s appointments. Feeling like I’m spending a great deal of time flat on my back on an examining table, looking upwards through a 16mm full frame fisheye at a bunch of googly eyed, well meaning folks who look me over, ask some mildly embarrassing questions, purse their lips and frown a bit, then make notes on a clipboard. (I chuckle inwardly. In this ten minute examination these folks actually think they’re gonna find out what’s wrong with me? Heh, heh, heh.)

(My buddy Bill at Geographic is having a field day with this. He mentioned today that all the questions are designed to create a baseline before they harvest the organs.)

What can I say to these rational, logical, disapproving folks? That I know I shouldn’t have done half the shit I’ve done? That I know it wasn’t great for me to breathe carbon dioxide gas for a week at one of the world’s largest nickel mines in Siberia? I know it’s not a good idea to get kicked and punched, shot at and tear gassed? I’ve had stitches and surgeries, been baked in the desert and frozen in the arctic and arrested at gunpoint. I’ve climbed around towers loaded with microwaves. I’ve smiled my way through meals in faraway places that I knew were gonna ricochet through my system like a pinball in an arcade game. I’ve drunk stuff of indeterminate origin that I knew had microbes that were gonna chew their way through my inside wiring like gremlins on holiday. I’ve worked around disease and radioactivity, picked my way through mass graves, blacked out at 9.2 g’s and hung off of and outside of clanky, rusted flying machines that had no business staying in the air, but somehow, with some spit and glue, did. I’ve parked myself for hours covering concerts in front of walls of woofers with enough decibel horsepower to flatten a city block, never mind a flimsy pair of eardrums. I’ve done the macho, bonding ritual of hoisting flagons of native brew that would make straight sterno look like a fruit smoothie.

And done much of it carrying anywhere from 20 to 60 pounds of gear, sometimes much more. So my knees sound like somebody’s opening the front door of an abandoned house in a horror movie, and my spine is about as straight as the Pacific Coast Highway. And my mind? Let’s not go there.

So what do I say to these well meaning, helpful medical folks? How do I explain that 30 plus years ago I threw myself into the mosh pit of a shooting career because I had no choice? That, just like any photog, I did ridiculous, ill-advised stuff just cause I wanted the picture so badly? And that there are a bunch more of us out here, camera in hand, just as nutty? (Hell, I’ve got colleagues who have done such wacked stuff it it makes me look like a frikkin’ librarian.)

How to tell them that I’m up for more? That my best pictures are still out there ahead of me? They may be right around the corner, in plain sight, or still years away, hidden inside some project or notion that ain’t even in my head yet. I might need to fly or climb to get them, or run after them, or limp, as the case may be.

But, just like Nigel, I won’t use the steps…..more tk.

A Morning With Eisie and Carl….

Jul 27

In Friends, history, Thoughts at 4:56pm


And Gordon, Ernst, Margaret……..

Had a terrific week in Santa Fe. Great class. Nice bunch of folks who produced some pictures that were much more than nice. We rocked and rolled all week with big and small flash, in the usual collection of fascinating places, working with the unusual, interesting and beautiful faces of the Santa Fe Workshops model community, many of whom are my dear friends, and populate numerous pages of The Hot Shoe Diaries. I’ve got a great relationship with a bunch of the folks who pose for the workshops. Like Deidre. She called me last week and said, “Hey, I shaved my head! Wanna shoot me?” Answer below.


More on D in a future blog….

That’s always the fun stuff. Every week long workshop, I host what I call the business breakfast to talk about the un-fun stuff. It’s generally a long meal, peppered with nettlesome questions about how to survive as a photog, how to make it, construct portfolios, find clients, price jobs…..the grist of turning our passion into pictures that make money. I do this during the daylight hours. If we met for dinner, it would most likely become something of a religious drunk, with many tequila laced epithets, confessions, admonitions and apocalyptic descriptions about just how wrong the business of photography has gone. The entire conversation would simply degenerate into a bunch of extended vowel sounds, kinda like a set of James Brown lyrics.

I attempt to be coherent, and thoughtful, though it’s hard. When you hear about a recent cover of Time magazine being bought off Istock for $30, it’s easy to just think about reaching for the sawed off and giving them sumbitches what for. But this whole numbing process has been going on for so long it would be difficult to sort out the most deserving sumbitches, and truth be told, some of them be us.

So you know what saved the day? What elevated us all? A visit to Sid and Michelle. The Monroe Gallery of Photography currently has a show called “A Thousand Words.”  Walking into those four walls adorned with those pictures is to leave all the other crap behind, and be lifted up by the most beautiful breeze you can imagine. The images cut to the chase and the heart. You get goose bumps. Your eyes sting. You remember why you picked up a camera in the first place.

Sid and Michelle are so knowledgeable, and for them, the pictures on the walls are family, just like the people who made them, though a fair number of those shooters are gone, which makes preserving their legacy all the more necessary. They told my class stories and a bit about their wonderful philosophy, which is, simply put, that pictures are important, and have value.

Bill Eppridge’s pictures from RFK’s campaign are on the wall, and Sid showed the class Bill’s book. In A Time It Was, Bill’s visual record of Bobby’s campaign, is the charred master print of the busboy cradling the senator’s head. It was damaged in the Laurel Canyon fires that swept through Bill’s home, but the core of the image is still there, and the charred edges make that moment all the more searing and painful to look at.


The lead photo of the show is Eisie’s famous drum major shot. I used to bump into Eisie all the time as he padded the hallways of the 28th floor of Time Inc. “Hello McNally,” accompanied by a fairly dismissive wave of the hand was generally as far as the conversation got. As the story goes, Eisie was waiting at the elevator on 28 with a bunch of other photogs. The doors opened and they all crowded in, the diminutive Eisie found himself in close quarters, surrounded by younger, taller photographers.

He looked around. “I used to be just as tall as all of you,” he said in his German accent. He made a couple dramatic shrugs of his shoulders, the kind of motion you would make if you were carrying something heavy. “The equipment, the equipment,” was all he said.

Driving through the desert. Damn hot. Blogging from the van. 10 hours to San Francisco, where Drew and I do two workshop days at Google, and then a stop for Kelby Tours. After that, we disappear into the land of the yellow border.

More tk…..

Zack Light!

Apr 13

In Friends, Thoughts at 10:14am

Check it out……Zack Arias posted a group shot done in a dark theater with like 30 subjects with one Speed light.

So the pressure was on, as he relates. Nothing like shooting a group shot of a bunch of other shooters, fer chrissakes. Especially, you know, you’ve got Chase Jarvis, Cliff Mautner, David Nightingale, and assorted photo luminaries in the shoot. I mean, people who know what they’re doing. And of course, you’ve got David Hobby and Chris Hurtt floating around, telling Zack, you know, hey man, “It’s reaaallllly dark in here. Like f-nothin’, man! Whaddaya you gonna do? You’re screwed!”

And DH had a pocket wizard in his pocket, dialed into Zack’s channel, you know, just to really mess with him. (He didn’t, ultimately. He showed mercy to Zack, who was on stage with his camera and tripod doing a pretty good imitation of Albert Brooks in Broadcast News.)

The shot’s amazing. It definitely falls into the “Holy Shit” category for me, cause I saw it done and I was like, dude, you know, this is kinda out there….But man, he nailed to the wall. Plus, everybody looks good! There’s the deal. Tough shot, tough spot, knocks it back. Nice job, Zack….

Actually took the weekend off. Saw family, hung with Annie. Behind with the blog a bit. On another plane now, heading for Tampa to see my buds in the Kelby Clan. Scott, RC and the gang are really rubbing off on me. In the last two weeks I actually bought an Iphone, and opened up a Facebook account! I might even start tweetering, or whatever that is called. As I pointed out in my first post there, that’s something I could do in between tooting. So, that might end up being a fairly frequent activity for me. Who knows. Mongo meets technology. Dropped an f-bomb on my first post too, just to get it out of the way. I’m from NY, you know, so saying fuck is kind of like clearing your throat. My language will probably get worse this year too, cause I’m taking Jay Maisel’s NY workshop down at the bank. Looking forward to being eviscerated in the unique and wonderful way Jay can do that. He’s so smart, and funny, and keen eyed, and steeped in the world of pictures…I can’t wait.

Anyway, got a couple posts coming that should be fun. Gonna concentrate on camera work for a bit, cause there’s still so much to learn. When I was at GPP, I went back to the desert. I had gone out there last year, and it basically kicked my ass. I was experimenting, fooling around really, which is really the core of what I do, and, while I learned some stuff, when I came back, I really felt most of my pics were about as dry as the sand I was standing on. Also, in one instance, I felt I had failed a dancer, which I hate to do, cause they work so hard.

The dancer in question was the lovely Alessia. Did okay pix of her last year, mostly due to her expressiveness, but I’m nothing if not tenacious, so I went back this year and shot this with her.

It’s overwhelming out there in the sea of sand. You cruise through it, and look, that’s wild, but how about over there? That’s cool, too. Maybe keep going and see what’s over this ridge? More desert. This year, I stood for a minute and did a 360 and was like, that’s nice, okay, that looks awesome over there, and yowza that’s great, but hey, didn’t I just see that dune? Like an endless bolt of rumpled fabric, the dunes fold into each other with no starting or stopping point. I started to realize just how dismaying it would be if instead of having a couple of Land Cruisers waiting for me, I was out there by myself and I looked down at my hands and instead of seeing them holding a D3, they were holding an empty canteen. It’s wild, endless, and relentless.  Put something down, and a few minutes later, it’s gone. The desert rolls on and on, and if you stayed still for a bit, it would roll right over you.

That’s what it did last year. When that happens, man, it makes for a long plane flight home. When it comes to missed pix, I’m not exactly a water under the bridge, yesterday’s news, turn the page kinda guy. I dwell, ya know? Brood, even. Ruminate. And then try it again. I have a history of doing this type of thing. On a LIFE assignment, I lost a whole camera rig–motor driven Mamiya Pro II, 50mm lens, the whole deal, in the Great Salt Lake. If you were gonna choose a lake to drop a camera in, that’s not the one. It was February to boot. Freezing. Ice everywhere. Tripod leg slides off a rock, and the whole thing pitches into the drink. I remember turning to my assistant, the reporter, and my subject with a tight, unamused grin and said, “This could hardly be construed as positive.”

We folded our tents, and got out of the cold, and kind of just in time. But went back the next day, to the same spot, and got a cool portrait of the naturalist writer, Terry Tempest Williams.

So, true to form, I went back again this year, to a vastly different climate. Did some pictures I’m happy with, and I’ll blog some tk. But it felt good, you know, cause I just wanted to see if I could figure out what misfired out there in my head. It’s an ongoing question, right? You’re a photographer, so the first thing you do every morning is walk into the bathroom and stare at the mirror and put a big L on your forehead. Why didn’t it work yesterday? Will it happen again tomorrow? Probably. Maybe. It’s like quicksilver this thing we do. Can’t ever quite grab it and put it in your pocket, patting that pocket comfortably, knowing on this day we got, it’s right there, next to my car keys. My old high school basketball coach used to refer to a really quick, hard to defend player as being “tougher to catch than a fart in a bag.”

Good pictures are like that. Tough to catch. Hard to hold. Probably just as well. If we ever got our mitts on the real reason this whole thing occasionally works, we’d probably play with it, shake it, turn it upside down, and ultimately break it. Best to let it go, and keep chasing it. More fun that way….more tk…..

Random Thoughts…things I find odd or interesting…

Feb 11

In Rants, Thoughts at 2:07pm

Gary Fong  recently sent out an ad blast special for Valentine’s Day.

Now lemme get this straight. The Fongster evidently thinks a GPS attachment to your camera is somehow a romantic gift, the kind you would associate with Valentine’s Day? Does it come in a heart shaped box?

It might be useful. If in fact you have this, then you can exactly mark the spot where she fucking dumps you. You can take notes and re-visit it by your sorry ass self every Valentine’s Day. And if it comes to pass they build an Arby’s over it or something, you can go in and have a Super Roast Beef sandwich all by your lonesome. My advice guys? Lay low on the GPS and go the jewelry route.

Down in Vegas. Drew and Lynn sat next to each other in the emergency aisle. We’re casting today, and Drew has the wonderful duty of photographing about 150-200 beautiful women. He better be careful not to crack wise or say anything male or disgusting about it though, cause Lynn’ll reach over and slap that boy silly. Lynn is such an amazing producer. I know, come Friday when we shoot, I can walk to the camera and put my eye into it and not worry about anything else, cause I know everything’s been handled. And Drew’s been great. He came into the studio back in October and started traveling and running things without skipping a beat.

Lessee…more odd, ironical stuff. Walter Isasscson just wrote an interesting piece for TIME about the future of newspapers. Tough thing, though, is he writes about saving newspapers in an issue of TIME that’s about 4 pages thick. The supernova egos of the scribes and pundits at TIME must be really gasping for oxygen at this point, as the relevance of the magazine drifts. They still are doing a great job with a fraction of the resources they used to have, but man….TIME was always the photographic flagship as well, even though it was run by word merchants. The very good picture editors up there, like Mark Rykoff and Hillary Raskin, always got good shooters in the right places, even if they didn’t use the pictures all that well. As a magazine, it lives in the world of words. As one of their more peacock writers once proclaimed at a location dinner (I was actually invited), “Joe’s pictures are the whores that sell the chalice of my words.” Hmmm…

Good stuff…kudos to Syl Arena for outing the sumbitch who was just cloning people’s blogs and running it as his or her own proprietary site. Syl led the charge, and the site came down.

Great series of posts from David Hobby. As usual, helpful, informative, and funny. The Harrington link to cute kittens killed me.

I’m ranting of course, and that’s mostly cause I haven’t been able to have my daily morning rant with my buddy Bill of late about the state of things and I’m really missing it. He’s had this crazy bronchial pneumonia, bronchitis, throat thing for the last month or so. He’s been going in to work, but unable to talk at great lengths. I told him it was very clever to vector himself into the work force as a one man viral terror attack. Job security being what it is, if he can knock off a few co-workers, it might be just the thing.

Its jarring now when you get his phone message. I’ve gotten used to the new voice, which is somewhere between Tom Waitts and Darth Vader, but the old Bill is there on his recording, clear as a bell. Told him I thought he should change it up to some sort of Joe Cocker-esqe greeting, something where one protracted, guttural vowel sound would pass as a greeting. This would be punctuated by a resonant splat as he pulls the phone away, makes a long sucking sound like folks do in a Japanese noodle shop, thus accumulating the contents of his nasal passages in the back of his throat, which of late has been something of his own personal Baikonur Cosmodrome. The splat occurs when he then hocks an enormous loogie right up against the plate glass window he has by his phone. Give him a call. I can give you his number.  It’s an altogether bracing way to start the day.

Back on a plane yesterday. Cell phone envy. I guess I’ve got it. I have one of those really cheap, simple phones. It feels like it tumbled out of a Cracker Jack box. But everybody else on that plane had some Blackberry, Noodleberry, or IPhone with like 300 apps. It’s like a cult or club or something. Moose Peterson actually blogged about being over at Scott Kelby’s one Friday night, watching football, and everybody started comparing Iphone apps. I was teasing Moose, ya know, like whoo…baby, what a wild night! Were the police called?

I mean the guy next to me sat down and just started typing into this thing he pulled out of holster on his belt. Swear to God. It was like sitting next to the Dirty Harry of Blackberry users. This thing was enormous, and had like flashing lights and shit. He could type almost as fast as my youngest daughter, who types faster than those guys talk when they come on at the end of a commercial and need to qualify what was just advertised. “Rates vary in some states. What we just said was bullshit in every state. We really didn’t mean it, what you just saw was a come on cleverly disguised as an offer so we could entice old people to call our 800 number so we can get our mitts on their retirement accounts.” It doesn’t really register cause they talk so fast.

So then we take off and he switches up to his computer which is some sort of monster Dell that makes kind of a Tarzan yell when he opens it, and man he starts peckin’ away on that like he’s getting’ paid by the keystroke. This went on for a while, and I just about had enough so I start pseudo-Photoshopping some pictures I thought might knock him off his stride a bit.  I’ve got the new Macbook Pro, the 15 incher with the glossy screen so there’s no way he couldn’t notice. That thing is so bright and contrasty they could use ’em in the searchlight towers of a maximum security penitentiary.

It worked.I could tell he was sneaking glances, cause he started to make typos…heh-heh.

Today when we left JFK we had to make a tight turn to the runway and right behind us was an Air France jet, and I could just about see into the cockpit. In the interest of international relations, I pressed my face to the window and started mouthing “Frog Pussy!” I think they saw me, cause I swear the co-pilot was mouthing back, “Mick Bastard!” Runway fun.

You know I never really mean offense by any of that stuff. I’ve been on the road for over 30 years, and I’m pretty addled at this point, plus enormously sleep deprived, and that probably contributes to the oddball train of thoughts that trundle through my brain at all hours of the day, especially the early hours. I mean, ya gotta laugh doing this, or you’ll just start weeping uncontrollably. Remember in the Perfect Storm? The boat capsized and it’s over, and the tough guy on the crew, played by William Fichtner (who always does a great job) is standing in an upside down cabin of the boat, his macho exterior cracked and splintered, crying as it fills with water? As photogs, we could all just stop right where we are and do that. But I refuse. Hard as this is, just still love it. Love it, love it, love it. That essential thing, coupled with a mildly bent sense of humor, keeps me going. Bleary eyed, but still going. I’ve come to embrace the shot below as something of a self portrait. That camera made the entire 1000 miles of the Baja race, clamped to one of the dune buggies, and this is how it came back. Battered, beat up, but still shooting pictures. (It was a loaner camera, by the way, Nikon was not pleased.)

I’m sure they’ll box me up and cart me away someday. I have dreams about this sanitarium type place I end up, sorta like the one Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday ended up in towards the end of Tombstone, one of my favorite really bad movies. He’s in a bed, white sheets, white pillows, white walls. Everything white, then he can’t feel his toes, and then…nothing. His reported last words were, “Damn…this is funny.”  It would serve me right to make the passage in monochrome after shootin’ all that damn Kodachrome….more tk.