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 ‘Tips & Tricks’ Category

Staying Organized..

Oct 11

In Advice, Equipment, Tips & Tricks at 8:28am

Always a challenge, right? Photogs–we’ve all got our bits and pieces, our favorite gadget, our go to, get out of jail free light or lens that saves our butt in the field. We accumulate all this stuff, and travel with it, and just keeping up with it sometimes seems to be half the battle.

If you know anything about the way we travel, it’s that we generally have a good chunk of gear.  And with that gear comes an utter mess of cords, batteries, flashes, lenses, stands, etc.- if we don’t have a good organizational system intact.  So it seems as though every few months, we’re coming up with new ideas, altering our packouts, and just trying to make traveling with a bunch of stuff as painless as possible.

Which leads to this…


We typically travel with two wallets of gels: color correcting and theatrical, and until recently, we had been using old leather business card wallets- which were great, but not exactly organized.

The issue was that the gels were all kinda mixed together, and to find say- a 1/4 cut CTO on the fly, wasn’t always as quick as we’d like.  We had a couple of really nice Think Tank card wallets sitting around, and while Will Foster was working on a packout, he came up with the idea of ripping the middle seams out to fit gels. Will’s a local shooter who’s not only a good guy, he’s one of those folks who stare at a problem for a couple minutes and come up with a simple solution.


So out came the Exacto blades, and a little while later, we had a much more well-organized gel system.



May seem like a small thing- and it is- but with as much gear, and as little time as we often have to pull off a shoot, this is definitely a time saver in the field.


Dunno what Thinktank is going to think about us, uh, customizing one of their smaller pieces of gear, but they do make great stuff. We have traveled internationally a lot this past year, and have shifted to their wheelie bags for carry on gear. Much easier at the big international airports, where the gates always seem to be about four or five miles from the baggage belt. More on those tk……

Heading West….

Jul 21

In Tips & Tricks at 9:09am

Got a grab bag of stuff I’ve been meaning to catch up to here…..

First, there was the Justin Clamp. Now comes The Sylinator. Sounds better, I think, than a Shure Line paint pole with a metal screw on thingy–Though David Hobby, at his Strobist workshop at Paso Robles did come up with “Metalhead.” Cool.


The pole comes in long and medium reach sizes…..And below, the metalhead…..



So, the naming of the Justin Clamp. I shot the first all digital story for the National Geographic. I didn’t really know diddly about digital process back then (and don’t know much more now, I confess) but it was okay. Not that many people knew a whole bunch about it, anyway. It was the time of the D1X, the first digital camera I thought approached the quality of Kodachrome. No matter to me what was happening inside the camera. It was a camera, and I was shooting a story, same thing I’ve done for quite a while now.


I was hanging SB-80 flashes all over aircraft with these cheesy, flimsy, third party piece of shit hot shoe clamping doobers, and getting frustrated as hell, cause the little ball heads really couldn’t hold more than a thimble full of weight, and they were always slipping and the flashes would spill light in unwanted directions.

I called my bud Justin Stailey, then of the Bogen Corporation, and complained. Photographers. We’re good at complaining. I said there had to be a better way, and Justin being Justin, found one. He brought some off the shelf Manfrotto parts over to my studio and cobbled this little Frankenstein of a clamp together. I said perfect, that’s what I want, give me 10 of them. (Shoulda asked for a percentage. Bogen’s sold a ton of these things.)


I wrote about in American Photo, and called it the Justin Clamp. Got Justin in hot water, though, cause his professors at RIT were pretty upset that a relatively recent graduate all of a sudden had a frikkin’ piece of equipment named after his own self. Justin is now with Leica cameras, and exploring the wonders of German optics.

So let’s see if we can turn the trick with this goober. I’ve really gotten fond of the combo of the Sylinator and an EzyBox Hot Shoe softbox, one of the new ones with an improved bracket (fits the SB900). Gary Astill, the resident genius behind all the springy, twisty, bendy Lastolite things that leap out of blue bags and run around making nice light for you has further improvements in the EzyBox tucked up his sleeve. Stay tuned.


I must be fond of the Sylinator, cause you can get a deal on it in tandem with The Hot Shoe Diaries on Amazon.


The “Syl” part of course comes from the originator of this gizmo combo, the irrepressible Mr. Arena, of the PixSylated blogspot. He just wrote one of those shock wave blogs, this one consisting of rants and wishes about the Canon wireless hot shoe flash system.


Hoo, boy….at Canon HQ they’ve gone to the mattresses after the world wide ripple of applause and approval about Syl’s very constructive dissection of Canon flashes turned tsunami-like. He’s become an expert at deciphering the wireless series of hoots, clicks and grunts Canon flashes emit in an attempt to display a primitive form of dominance in the exposure scenario. Took him a while to write this, I’m sure. I’ve had these visions of Syl in some isolated mountain outpost, having re-built the Unabomber’s shack, and sitting there with a battered Royal typewriter, a gas lamp, and a bottle of George Dickel, knocking out this manifesto.


My bud Bob Krist is blogging, and it’s a worthwhile read. Worthwhile? He’s got 30 plus years of experience covering the travel waterfront, shoots beautiful stuff, is very generous with his large store of knowledge, and is a helluva nice guy to boot. Even if he does allege he won that knock down drag ’em out fight we had when we were doing the JoeBob Tells Ya About the SB900 video for Nikon. I kicked his ass. I mean, that guy’s old. Uh, wait a minute, we’re the same age. Hmmm…


Anyway, he is the author of many books, font of shooting wisdom and the force behind the LKE, the Lighting Kit for the Elderly. Check it out….


Lessee…long time friend and quintessential photojournalist David Burnett has pointed me in the direction of numerous wonderful photos lately. David has remarkable intelligence and integrity behind the lens, and his work has always been a thought provoking benchmark. He recently had a post on the NYT lens blog about his coverage of the Apollo 11 launch. He also recently did a book on Bob Marley, called Soul Rebel. David’s ability to connect the storytelling dots in the middle of the fracas out there, and bring back something coherent to the readership of mags like Time and Life has always been something to aspire to, and emulate.


Scott Kelby and Mark “The William Holden of Flash Lighting” Astmann have a twofer video up on Scott’s blog. All about the Quadra. We’ve all been looking for something in between big flash and small flash, and the Quadra slides right into that territory. I’ll work with it more this week, and get back with more field stuff.


On the plane. Listening to Jakob Dylan. Something Good This Way Comes…..Good philosophy when you’re out there behind the lens. Patience. A good picture will come, and that one frame will make all the crappy ones we all shoot on a continuous basis just….go away.


Bound for Santa Fe, home of the Monroe Gallery of Photography, run by the wonderful, decent, and incredibly knowledgeable Sid and Michelle Monroe. The gallery is a breathtaking repository of historically important photojournalism that has transcended categorization and is regarded as art. Art that means something. Art that you can chew on. Whenever I am in Santa Fe, that mecca of all manner of art, and I can’t stand to hear another wind chime, or see another painted cow skull, or see another show of poorly shot photographs printed with the collodion print process (which makes them marred, chipped, aged looking and thus somehow “significant”) I go to Monroe and I wander the room.

And I find I’m looking at my memory, right there on the walls. More tk….

Small Flash in Paradise

Apr 22

In Seminars & Workshops, Tips & Tricks at 9:38am

Plus Scott Kelby. I explain below, or go here.

It’s funny how life works out sometimes. Especially funny, at least occasionally, if you’re a photog. Jay Maisel has famously said that being a photographer is “a license to steal experience.” Some good, some bad. Some as quick as a fast shutter speed, others stick with you.

One really, really good one stuck when Travel Holiday magazine sent me in 1994 to St. Lucia, to the Anse Chastanet resort hotel, one of the truly beautiful destination hotels in the world, to shoot a cover story. I remember Bill Black, the photo editor there, calling me. I was stunned. Usually, I get sent to Siberia in February (twice so far) or Alabama in August (blessedly, just once to date). But St. Lucia? This hotel? Spend ten days? Shoot pretty pix? In panorama? Me? There’s a magazine out there that wants to assign this type of idyllic adventure to me?

Of course, this magazine is out of business. But, may it rest in peace, cause the reverb for me has been long lasting. This assignment introduced me to great people who work in a wonderful place.

Anse Chastanet is one of the most amazing marriages of sea, sky and greenery to be found on earth. It is nestled literally into a tropical forest. The rooms have no windows, no phones and no TVs. No need. The view is the entertainment, and the music is the birds, many of whom wish to sit with you at breakfast.

I became friends with the owners, Nick and Karolin Troubetzkoy, who have stepped aside from the general run of tourist frenzy and made a place as beautiful and tranquil as the water. Risk takers, just in the last few years, they crowned the jungle retreat of Anse Chastanet with another, even more audacious piece of exotic architecture called Jade Mountain, which is nothing short of unbelievable.

The shimmer and colors in the picture above rise up from the infinity pools in each room, or haven, as they are called.

I also met Michael and Karyn Allard,  a remarkable couple who have lived and worked in St. Lucia for many years. The redoubtable and indestructible Michael is affiliated with Cannondale bicycles, and has resolutely carved out dozens of trails in the jungle hillsides, working with 1996 biking Olympian, Tinker Juarez, master of the 24 hour endurance race. At the top of one of the most difficult trails, there is a bell, and, if you can make it, you get to ring Tinker’s bell. (I have never made it. I guess cause I never tried. Probably too busy at the beach bar, ringing my own bell:-) Karyn is an organizational force of nature who, along with the Troubetzkoys, marshalled the efforts to artistically graft the Jade Mountain edifice into a steep jungle hillside. We met when they were running the dive shop at AC, and Michael was the person I trusted to scuba certify my oldest daughter. A stone’s throw from the beach, the diving is great, especially night diving.

I have been blessed to do a bit of the hotel’s photography over the years, and the ever gracious Karolin has always welcomed me to this piece of paradise. She is remarkable host, juggling the myriad details of resort running every day. As you can imagine, in a place where everybody has a tendency to slow down, her average day is a mad sprint. We talked last year about a lighting workshop. I could imagine no better place.

Hit the link here, or above, and read more about this unbelievable oasis. We are going in July, and the workshop days run the 6th through the 10th, intro party and greet on the evening of the 5th.

Classes will run from Monday July 6 thru Friday July 10
Arrive July 5 and depart July 11 or 12
The week will be an informative, intensive look at the possibilities of small flash, and the nature of what is beautiful light and how to use it to make your pictures more eloquent, expressive and beautiful. Each day will involve shooting all around the lush grounds of the resort, working with models, heading into jungle locations for action flash photography of mountain biking. During the “bad light” of the day, classroom sessions will take place discussing the theory and the practical use of flash photography. Each day of shooting will be followed the next day with a critique of the efforts in the field. The critique sessions will spur further investigation of the practical, fluid use of flash photography and how to improve your skills.
……..For five days, workshop participants will work with Joe and his assistants to ramp up their skills using flash, and deal with: Available light, and how to recognize good light; mixing flash with available light in a seamless and beautiful way; use of reflectors and diffusers; how to control and fire remote flashes for sophisticated, professional results; use of color and gels; the essentials of exposure; and how to craft a wonderful quality of portrait light which is essential to make storytelling photos of our subject.


Hotel reservation inquiries can be sent to:

and to see more info. on the resorts, check out the following links:

Lynn at our studios has more details… I’m busy working on figuring out how to use one of those little umbrellas that come in the drinks as a fill light…..more tk….

Dancing in Dubai

Apr 5

In Seminars & Workshops, Tips & Tricks at 4:03am

Dancers are pretty great, ya know? Hardworking, creative, physically gifted, amazing to watch and even more amazing (and challenging) to photograph. I’ve been really blessed to work with some of the most wonderful dancers in the world. It started as a hobby, a sideline, a byproduct of having a studio apartment in NYC right by Lincoln Center, home of two famous ballet companies. I started seeing all these ballerinas in the neighborhood duck walking through the streets to the rehearsal studios, and I became intrigued.

Fast forward 25 or so years, and I am still shooting dance, and happy to be doing so. Teaching currently in Dubai, at GPP, and having a blast. Great workshop, very warm hearted people, and a terrific staff that smooths the way for all the instructors. We’ve got a crew here from all over the world, encompassing a wide range of photo skills. We’ve even got the mad Englishman, Drew Gardner, who from what I hear has all his students alternately thrilled, involved, and terrified.

My classes are about light, and for subjects, I just say, hey, you know, dancers would be great. Enter the Extremers, a Dubai based hip hop group, who, in my short experience with them, appear to have no “off” switch. Typical question…”Uh, can you jump, spin around, tuck your legs, and hang in the air for about 3 seconds while I shoot several frames?” Answer: “Sure!”

Did a few quieter frames as well….

Tried a couple things here. The room I shot the leapers in had a good quality of bounced, warm light already pouring into it from the the fading sun, even though the sun was directly behind the building. So I winged a Ranger pack from the direction of the sun, heading for the big wall, and thus reflecting onto the dancers. Gave that a little camera point of view fill with another pack just overhead of the lens. The fill pack is way low, and the main is maxed out. Can’t say enough about the Rangers. Dependable, rugged, packs a punch and in a day when every watt second you want to buy is like another point on your mortgage, it is affordable.

The lone dancer is shot with the lone Ranger again, blasted through the glass bricks. Sun was already down, but you couldn’t tell when that puppy hit the glass.

Then I got a little fancy with SB900 units. Put two each on camera right and left, low, and blasted them at this leaping line.

Got crossing shadows, which is most of the time a no no, but it seemed fun with all the dancers in the air and their various shapes making Halloween shadows on the drape. Then, I thought, hey, let’s try a triple exposure with two TTL groups governing the first and the third exposure, and the middle exposure running as available tungsten light! After all, this is an advanced class. A little voice in my head whispered, “You’ve never tried a flash mix triple exposure before, numnuts! Think you might wanna test this before you try it in front of a bunch of people???!!!” Naaahhhh…..I guess I had a bit of a fever after watching Natalia, our subject and a wonderful belly dancer shimmy across the stage a couple of times. I mean her arms are making smooth, graceful shapes, her shoulders are squared off, and her face is a veritable oasis of serenity, and  all the while her hips are oscillating like a high speed paint mixer.

So…set the D3 to triple exposure, got Group A and B going to be the bookends flashes, and tested them a bit for exposure control. Tried a couple tests for the hot light middle exposure, and then shot a few. Let’s call it a work in progress. Got a couple things coming up where doubles and triples will be important to handle in camera, so this was a good beta to figure where problems crop up. More tk….

The Workshops Week, or Two….

Feb 4

In Seminars & Workshops, Tips & Tricks at 12:42pm

Just getting back on top of things….that’s a lie, I’ll never be on top of things. What a crock of shit. Can’t believe I said that. Anyway, update from this particular bug on the windshield of life, the workshops were a huge bunch of fun, and lots of folks liked ’em. In the latter part of the couple of weeks, ran a lighting gig for friends from Atlanta and Florida at Shoot Digital in NYC (my favorite NY studio, Hector runs a bad ass coffee bar) and we were blessed with Martina Redux….

Call this cove lighting. Can’t take credit for it. Swiped it from Gilles Bensimon, legendary fashion shooter and long time creative director of Elle magazine. My first cover story for the Geographic was called “The Sense of Sight,” and it was an in depth look at how the human eye works. A coverage item was eye makeup, so I got hooked up with the chief eye makeup artist from Lancome, and off I went to Paris to shoot on the set with him, during a Bensimon fashion take. Man, what a treat. I just sat in the corner most of the day and tried to soak up a tiny speck of what this man knows.

He looked at me and said, “You have ze best job, no? For ze National Geographique, eh?” Seeing as he was making many, many thousands of dollars a day shooting pictures of the world’s most beautiful women, I might have debated him, but I just smiled and shut up. (Good tactic when you are in way, way, over your head.) Thing was, word had circulated on the Paris fashion grapevine that Gilles was shooting at this studio, and during the day these unconsciously beautiful women were showing up, unannounced, to show him their portfolio. He was quite nonchalant about all this, dismissive, even, barely saying a word to these young ladies as did a high speed flip through their books. He would hand it back, and walk away. Crushed, these stiletto shod aspirants would slip back out the door. I remember looking at them (alright, ogling, gawking, jaw on the floor glass eyed dumbstruck staring; choose one) and timidly thinking about raising my hand to get their attention. “I’ll photograph you! I’d be happy to! Really! Your portfolio’s great! I like it! Does that matter?” Uh, no.

Martina is a joy to work with, and totally sweet, but man can she kill ya with a look.

He was shooting in a cove. When you take the time and trouble to rent a cove (think of the shooting set in the shape of half an egg) you might think you would do the expected and shoot into it. No. Bensimon arranged V-flats in the cove, banged his lights into them, which then washed back into the curved white surface and sloshed forward onto the model, who was sitting there on seamless paper. By doing this, he instantly created a huge light source. He settled in, crouching, back comfortably resting on the curve of the low part of the cyc, and proceeded to make pictures. “Voila,” flash. “Voila,” flash. “Voila,” flash. I’m thinking of trying that line of patter next time I do a portrait for SI. You know, in the locker room, going, “Voila!” I think it will be well received.

Trying to show it here. Nigel helped me.

And Vanessa came the next day. Quite honestly, one of my favorite subjects, and an enormously talented ballerina.

Always wanted to blow her hair around, seeing as she’s basically never cut it. Did this with the new-ish Elinchrom deep throat soft box. (That’s the name they’ve marketed it under. Gotta love those wild and crazy Europeans!) Actually, I think they’ve changed the name up but it’s this very deep, mid-sized Octa shaped soft box that produces an amazing, columnated quality of light. It’s soft, but it doesn’t spill or spread. Wonderful. Tried an over/under combo with Eric and Hope, who were terrific, enthusiastic newlywed subjects.

Those things will be a go to soft box for some time to come….

We had Day 8 of The Lighting Workshops, and I didn’t blog, so I really didn’t win my bet with Moose Peterson. He told me I wouldn’t blog every day, but I did for 7 straight days. Sheesh. I don’t know Moose and Scott Kelby do it, cause I got plain knackered. Anway, we were once again blessed with Jasmine’s presence, who is so effortless in front of the camera as to just about defy gravity.

Used a few different approaches to this, mostly starting with the Ezy Box Hot Shot soft box, and then upping the ante to run through a 3×6 Lastolite diffuser panel, if my memory serves. Had low bounce, or floor skip going as well. The bigger 3×6 really smoothed out the light.

Jasmine works so well, we succumbed to plain old natural daylight for a bit. What a great studio…

And then messed with a Honl gridded, SB-900 through a Tri-grip diffuser. Made it soft, but didn’t allow the light to spread and wash out the shadow pattern on the wall.

And Cara came by, FOL (friend of Lynn). She had a great soulful presence so we lit her really simply, with one SB unit through a Tri-grip, camera left.

Phil came back as well and this light is an Elinchrom Ranger with a long throw reflector, about 79-80′ from him, one story down, in the parking lot. Great light. Love dirty windows.

We’re thinking about doing it again this summer. Stay tuned….More tk….