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Archive for the ‘Travels’ Category

Traveling Light

May 2

In Travels at 9:03pm

Home now. Recently did 10 stops in 14 days for Nikon Europe’s Speed of Light Tour. Been doing this in various shapes and sizes now for 4 years. It’s really Annie’s doing. She’s routinely adored by her colleagues both here in the US and abroad. (Trust me, I understand.)

But she rarely gets to see her mates from Europe and Asia, save at big international events, like what just occurred up Vancouver way. So I think they dreamed this up a few years ago just so they could get to see her over on the continent on a yearly basis. Beyond the likability factor, she also commands enormous respect for her knowledge of all things digital, her ability to communicate and teach well, and her non-stop force of nature work ethic, and, well, you get the idea.

Me? I’m, like, you know, happy baggage.

I bounce into these various locales, halls, conference centers, and theaters sight unseen and try to light ’em up ad hoc right then and there, and talk through small flash, TTL, hard light, soft light, movie quotes, fast cars, German coffee, Viennese beer, and why the hell isn’t this cord working right now? It’s all off the cuff, and everything I shoot goes right to a screen, which is fun, and has a big gulp factor right there along with it. I also spend all day with a microphone around my neck which makes Annie very nervous.

Been experimenting with getting the most I can out of one light. At the Brabus Motor Works outside Dusseldorf, there was a huge screen essentially made out of strings, so I put up SB900, zoomed to 200mm, with a slight warm gel about 30 or 40 feet away from it. Blogged this last week….


But also managed to move my subject around a little, let the strings drop, and move camera angle to get these two looks. 



Couple of different looks from one light on a stick. The nice thing about trying light like this, and putting it through something, or around the door and down the hall is that it might end up….unpredictable. Umbrella? Cool, looks nice. Soft box? Okay, been there, done that. But through a bunch of strings? Or glass bricks? Or something? Anything? Might be fun. It also might suck. That’s a given. But to light well on any level is to experiment, continuously.

Onto Berlin, and this amazing cave like night club place. I had a notion, always a dangerous thing. Ended up doing this with Christian, a body builder, in front of the bar. Nine flashes. Why do I do this to myself? We tried at first to work it out, and just crashed and burned. It was the kind of setup that needed time and attention, two things I didn’t really have available. The audience was gracious, but they were like, huh? I kinda shrugged.  Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But then, during dinner hour, the crew said, hey, you know, if you want to get this, we’ll stick with you and get it. So we did. 9 lights, one hour. Everybody came back from dinner, and we walked through it, piece by piece. It was a hoot. There were three lights on Christian, three back on the bar, one up top on the upper level, one for Caligula back there, one bounced for fill, and we got ’em all triggered TTL with an SU800 held up above camera.


In Hamburg, got a chance to work with an amazing couple, Mr. Olympia Oliver Reinhardt and his wife, Iris. Two tri-grips, each to the side. Gave up on this way too soon. Shoulda really stuck with it and worked it out, ’cause they are stunning together. But the mandate of these days is to move fast, and present as many issues and as much information as possible, so kept moving.


At Munich, we worked in a great studio with a cyc wall. You woulda thought I could leave well enough alone, but I went out to the dumpster and pulled in two broken wooden pallets, and put 3 SB900 units on the floor and let ’em rip, creating a, well, irregular shadow pattern.


Into which we dropped Tobias, a body builder whose arms and chest had a life of their own. Put him here.


And here.


Then moved him out of the hard shadow light, and lit him with a couple flashes. The wider he flexed, the wider his smile got. (If I had arms like this, I would smile a lot, too.)


Then thoroughly bronzed Tobias (no need for cloudy white balance here, folks) posed in front of the NPS loaner delivery car. Yep, in Europe, you need a lens from NPS, it shows up hours later, transported by this Lamborghini:-) Ever try lighting a car with speedlights? In less than a half an hour? Yikes, we moved fast. It was fun even though it was the type of shot you could work on for, oh, about 3 days.


In Switzerland, we had another great studio setting. When we walked in, we found Alexa, hanging from the ceiling and decided to light her, right then and there. Pascal Richard, of NPS Switzerland, sorted out a terrific combo of setting and talent for two days of smaller, group workshops, where everybody milled about and stayed close to the action and the lights.


This is 4 SB900 units outside the building. The three in the back are gelled blue, and the key light for our silk flyer is gelled warm. All are zoomed to 200mm, with no diffusion or light shapers of any kind. I loved this location. Ground floor, great windows. Used Win as a subject, too. A terrific shooter who just happens to have, like, 5 Harleys, he’s definitely got the kind of face that has been pointing into the wind and peering over a set of handlebars for a long time. (He’s also a card carrying member of the “Too Much Fun Club,” and has partied hard with the likes of Peter Fonda, so this is also a face that lives life, and well. This is two lights, one outside, and one into a small ezybox hot shoe soft box.



In Frankfurt, another great location, and surprisingly there was a body builder and a ballerina already there! :-)  Ground floor, huge windows, and after I rummaged a bit, a 30′ ladder. Justin clamped a single SB900 to the ladder, trundled it outside and across an alleyway, and leaned it against another building. No one seemed to mind. White light, no diffusion. 200mm zoom.


That light, a white wall, and Marco produced this. Also could look like this from the side, with Daria.


All hard, daylight looking light. Until you put a table cloth in the flashed window. Then you get this.


In Slovenia, everybody was incredibly gracious, and man, Nikon’s  Tomas Puh and Rok Gasparic really rallied the troops. Almost 300 people showed up. I faced the typical photog challenge. What to do with four walls?  Did have a pair of lovely gymnasts to work with, who were great kids. Washed three flashes off the projector screen to get this, which was a lot of fun.


Then I told them they could freelance a move, and boy did they.


This was shot from the audience by the terrific Ljubljana based shooter, Borut Peterlin, whose imagination is about as wide as his lens. On his site he’s got a terrific set of quirky, provocative (definitely provocative), fascinating portraits of numerous cultural icons of Slovenia. He snapped this just as the two young ladies went into the stratosphere and totally overwhelmed my 14-24. I just put the camera down and lost it. Leaping ladies!

Last stop, Vienna, and a movie theater. The darkness of the place was daunting, but also gave me a measure of control. Was able to try a couple lighting scenarios with the lovely Miss Austria, Valentina Schlager.Worked out a nice combo of light for her up front, assisted by two SB900 units in the back of the room.


Then got the audience involved.


Lots of pix today on the blog, mostly ’cause I have lots of thank you’s to offer. The NPS gang over in Europe was terrific. Yasuo Baba, the architect of the whole deal, just spins ideas and creates possibilities like crazy. His team of Michael Ramroth, Nicola Best, and the tireless Nils Pajenkamp and Stephanie Doll were there for Annie and I every step of the way, even down to staying ahead of the volcano ash and jumping on trains loaded with German soccer fans.

Here’s the team, with the NPS delivery vehicle, which Annie got to drive. (Since she’s been back, I’ve noticed she’s driving her Honda a lot more aggressively:-)


I show Marco how it’s done. ms3_9253

The helpful crowd puts a tablecloth in the window. ms3_9387

Setting up a commander to fire the lights outside. You can translate TTL through as many as three SC-28 or 29 cords.


Annie working out a light.


Smoke and silk flyers in Switzerland. _par3282_003



Annie on a train. Saved my biggest thank you for last…..more tk

View From My Window….

Mar 31

In Seminars & Workshops, Travels at 7:22am


In Abu Dhabi, as the guest of the AbuDhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage and their wonderful emissary, Bader Alnomani.  Teaching here to coincide with the Emirates Photo Competition under the auspices of the ADACH and the FIAP (International Federation of Art Photography). Having a terrific time, seeing portfolios, teaching about light, and in general enjoying Abu Dhabi, which is a city where, previous to now, I had only visited the airport. I see the above scene from my hotel window every morning. It is an immediate reminder that I am not home.

Lessee, my work flow on this one might be instructive.

Wander jet lagged through hotel room in pre-dawn dark. Look out window. The Sheik Zayed Mosque. Also known as the Great Mosque. Nice. Pretty.

Let eyes wander upward to…full moon. Stand there slack jawed, toothbrush hanging from lower lip. Put two and two together. (Not easy for me even on 8 hours sleep.)

Race around hotel room, grab Gitzo, D3X, 200-400 zoom. Look again at moon. Disappearing behind clouds. Curse.

Open patio door. Setup tripod, camera and lens. Hope no one notices I’m still in my u-trou.

Make rushed, bad exposure of moon. Calm down.

Dial in minus 2.7 EV. Make another exposure. Better. Swing camera to Mosque. Adjust EV to minus 2. Make shot. Looks okay. Clouds closing in.

Program camera to DX format to get bigger moon. Program 2 shot multiple exposure. Make shot of moon, swing camera to Mosque. Make second exposure. Doesn’t work. Why? I thunder thumbed and programmed the multiple exposure wrong. Curse.

Do multiple thingy button on D3X properly this time. Zoom. Get big moon. Place in upper left. Swing camera to Mosque. Zoom out. Make another shot. This time both exposures pop up in LCD. Say thank you to St. Jude.

Repeat. One more frame. Moon gone.

Sit. Launch card into Aperture. Cool. Push some sliders. Saturate, contrast, sharpen. Got a preset for blog. Go click. Pic on desktop. Put into blog.

Go to breakfast. Try to remember to put on my pants.

More tk….

From the Low Desert to the High Desert

Mar 15

In Travels at 9:11am


Rick, Santa Fe, New Mexico.


Dockworker, Dubai.

That was the week that was, surely. No blog post last week. Anything I might have written would have been just as incoherent as my schedule. I never plan it this way. Only an idiot would actually plan it this way. Hmmmm…….

But I had a bunch of stuff just box car up last week and bump into each other, mostly in the air, in the middle of some time zone my body and my noodle was completely unaware of. But have been shooting a lot in between my travels, and pretty happy with a few things. Up top, the formidable Rick is shot with an overhead Ezybox Hotshoe Softbox, and a Ray Flash ring light fill. The fellow on the docks was very simple, straightforward–Lastolite Tri-grip diffuser and an SB900. 50mm lens at 1.4.




Had a blast at GPP in Dubai, and was once again able to get together with the extraordinarily talented faculty that gathers there every year.  At the end of the week, one highlight was a shoot out with David Hobby, Zack Arias, and JoeyL. I was appointed moderator, kibitzer, and all around pest. It was all in good fun, but, as I pointed out to the audience, if they read between the lines, what they saw in with David and Zack were two extraordinary photogs working out a problem and coming up with a good picture in a matter of minutes. Hopefully folks noticed how DH built his picture and his exposure scenario piece by piece, and how Zack meticulously directed his subjects. Very cool. Drew and I hadda boogie to the airport, so we missed JoeyL, and his Polaroid performance.

Then zapped straight through to Santa Fe to hook up with the Mooster, and DLWS. And of course, up top, the famous Rick, keeper of the keys at the former New Mexico state pen. This week, I’ve got my regular lighting class at the Santa Fe Workshops. As I mentioned, have done some fun shooting lately, will be blogging about it during the week.

And, trust me, I haven’t forgotten all the sins! There were just a whole bunch, so here I am, committing the sin of lateness. They’ll be up soon. 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……

Rub A Dub Dub in Dobbs….

Jun 29

In Seminars & Workshops, Travels at 11:09am


We really gave small flashes a run for their money at the one day workshops over the weekend. Kristen showed up and it seemed like a good idea to put her in this wash basin. It was a difficult setup , and at the end, we were totally drained. (I’m goin’ straight to hell for that one.)

Actually it was easy. The existing light pattern was already pleasing. All we had to do was supplement light, gently, which is where TTL really shines. There are two SB900 units overhead, through a 3×3 Lastolite panel, and another, very low power, bounced off a silver reflector on the floor. Add Kristin, with her bubbly (I deserve a beating now) presence in front of the lens, and we were done. Clean light. Ouch.



Onto more water sports. Nathalia in the same location, this time with a Elinchrom Ranger ring flash. Ring flashes are cool, in small doses. Considering it is used mostly by orthodontists, it is a light with specific intent, and should be used sparingly, and carefully. Keep it beam onto your subject, and make those hard shadows it produces disappear exactly behind them.


Then Aaron, who is just an amazing physical presence, stepped in front the lens. We are on the second floor of this building, not a particularly conducive height to lighting from the outside, but I had a notion we could push two SB900 units to the max, so we put a hi roller out there by the railroad tracks, about 50 or 60 feet from the windows. Hi rollers, or hi-boys, or hi-hi’s, go to 24 or so feet. Seemed mildy demented to put two of these tiny flashes on the end of a stick that can support a big ass movie light, but in the interest of ongoing experimentation, it was potentially worth the effort.


Of course, some issues presented. Aaron’s main light is an EzyBox Hot Shoe soft box, camera left, boomed up and away from him. We had to trigger that interior light along with the exterior set of 900’s. Hmmmm….. Took two SC-29 cables and hooked them together, and ran it to another 900 on a stand, camera right, out of frame. That way, the TTL signal raked across the soft box light and continued outside to the pair on the hi-boy. TTL control of lights inside and out. Cool. Not as cool as Aaron, but cool enough for the geek behind the camera. (Uh, that would be me.)

Other things had to get solved, too. See the shadow, camera right, on the floor. That’s a Lastolite 3×3, with an opaque reflector on it. Had to block the sunlight that was hitting Aaron. A Tri-grip did the job, but left a curved shadow on the floor. Forensic lightologists would immediately see this as the footprint of the photographer. “Lookee here, Sam, a curved shadow in the shape of a Tri-grip! Yep, and that shadow’s not two hours old. We’ll catch ‘im. Carrying all that gear, that sumbitch can’t get far on foot.” Spit tobacco juice on the floor.

So we went with the imperfect solution of the 3×3 cause it is rectilinear, and fits to a degree the grid pattern coming from the real sun that is hitting the floor. There’s also the touch of it on the far right wall. But it wasn’t gonna stop me from shooting this picture, one of my favorites of late. And, lighting this with 3 SB900 units, at these distances and scale….well, surprising just ain’t the word.

I also knew we were going here….


Moved the soft box down and to the left, and had Aaron basically look at it. But, you know one of the great things about working with Aaron? He shows up with Valarie, his girlfriend.


Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is a plus 2 EV smile. Valarie just walks in and lights up a room. She and Aaron are among the sweetest, most easy going and physically gifted people I have ever met. We were just jazzed by their presence on the set. Got me jumping, trying to show Nathalia how to get some hang time, which was perfectly ridiculous. Will is there on the set, aiming a cannon of a wind machine at us…..


Having fun in Dobbs.  More tk.