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Archive for August, 2008

Kelby Video Training— #1 With a Bullet

Aug 31

In Videos at 7:48am

Been out in Santa Fe, shooting a new segment of the Kelby Online Video Training sessions. This one’s devoted to the update in the Nikon CLS flash system, the SB900. Above is my friend Thomas Wingate, who runs Eaves Movie Ranch, which is just a fun place to shoot pictures. I’ve been out there many times, and keep finding different stuff. Thomas, as always, is a natural in front of the camera. One of the all time great American faces. Mt. Rushmore comes to mind.

This was done in an old warehouse in downtown SF. I rummaged through the garage, which I have mentioned is an archive of old props from shoots gone by, and pulled this American flag. It is somewhere around 25′x 15′. I had it made back in ’96 for a project I shot for LIFE, which involved asking the ’96 Olympic team to take their clothes off. Used it a few times since, such as this shot of heavyweight lifter Shane Hamman, of the 2000 US team. This was for a Geographic story on the limits of the human body. He is leaping from a standing position, and he’s over 350 lbs.

For Thomas, we backlit the flag with 4 SB900 units, each banged into a wall behind the flag. There’s a slit in the flag I can stick a camera through, and Thomas just stands in the wash of light. Needed the big flag, cause those sunglasses are like frikkin’ TV monitors. The light hits me, too, so you can see my shadow behind the flag, which I toned down a bit in Photoshop. (Hey Moose, I used Photoshop!)

The videos have been fun to make and I always learn stuff as I go. Work with Jason Scrivner, “The Scriv,” the shooter from the Kelby Crew. Surprised he still puts up with me. This time around, he had to wade waist deep into a lake with his sticks and very expensive video rig. We both went in to photograph beautiful sea creature Deidre Dean, who is one of the most expressive and daring models I have ever worked with. She’s always up for a photographic adventure, and actually takes me seriously when I say, “How about you get made up like a a wild ass mermaid and take a dip in a cold lake? I’ll be in there with you, with a whole bunch of expensive electronic equipment. What could go wrong?”

Shot with one SB900, and a Lastolite all in one umbrella, used as a shoot through, and shaped with a whole bunch of black gaffer tape. We had just about the whole umbrella covered, except for a small opening, maybe 10 by 20 inches. That’s a pretty good way of controlling the light, so you light her, and not the water. No law of nature says that once you put an umbrella up, ya gotta use all of it.

The umbrella’s on a c-stand extension arm, being held by the intrepid Norah Levine, a terrific Santa Fe based shooter. She has teamed up with Karen Lenz to help me out here. (How much help do I need? As Jim said to Sherriff Bart in Blazing Saddles, “Oh, all I can get.”) They’ve been a terrific team, keeping things moving, getting everybody to location on time, and making sure I don’t swear too much on tape.

In Santa Fe for a couple more days, which is a great place, home of the Santa Fe Workshops, and a whole bunch of nice people. I mean, you gotta love a place where the community college offers courses in “Animal Tracking” and “Concealed Carry Training.” Take ‘em both, and it must mean you can sneak right up on an animal and they won’t be alarmed cause they don’t immediately know that you have a gun.

In a couple days, Vegas-Baby-Vegas, for PhotoShop World. I tell ya, it’d be tough to measure the tremendous and positive impact Scott Kelby has on the field of visual communications. Between PSW, his books, lectures, blog, and the online training series, he raises his voice, and it echoes for a long time. I mean, via his blog, he got just about the whole world walking of late to shoot some pictures and share skills and enjoy themselves. If one of those powerful bastions of my photographic youth, say, Time magazine, had announced a walkabout for taking pictures, about oh, 3 or 4 people would have hit the streets. More tk.

The Hot Shoe Diaries

Aug 26

In Lighting, Upcoming Events at 12:42pm

Back in the country, and back on the internet. Couple of reasons for blog lite (or, truth be told, blog zero) over the last two weeks. I’m shooting a Geographic story and they moved the sked up one month on me, which takes away a month for scheduling field time. Kinda compresses things. Another is I’ve been writing like a banshee on my new book, due in December, “The Hot Shoe Diaries, Creative Applications of Small Flash,” which you can find at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I wanted to call it HSD, Big Light from Small Flashes, but the above is okay by me.

I’ve always been a bit interested in noir, and crime novels, and my buddy Mark is the perfect subject. He’s a good guy and a good photog, so don’t jump to the wrong conclusions about him from all these mean streets pix of him. K-man, shot with small flash, just may be a recurring character in the book. Above, K-man on the streets of Gotham. Who knows where he’ll turn up next?

You can blame David Hobby, at least a little bit. When I told David the title, he was like, cool, you should shoot some noir stuff, and make stories. Fits, I guess. Remember Rear Window? Jimmy Stewart catches the bad guy with…flashbulbs.

The book will not be an instruction manual. Basically, it will be an irreverent brain dump of my whole history using small flash, back from when I first got my hands on flash powder to the SB-900. There will be sections on buttons and dials, batteries, flash attachments, light shaping tools from gaffer tape to umbrellas, and sketches. Along the way, of course, there will be lots and lots of pictures, some good, some not so. (Some will even outright suck!) I’ll show the ups and downs and sideways of using flash in the field. Mistakes, which I’m very open about, come with the package. There’ll be other notable sections, too, like one devoted to the instruction manual titled:

TTL! BL! FP! WTF!

An homage, if you will, to the lucidity and riveting nature of instruction manuals everywhere.

Another event in the history of small flash will be noted….

THE BIRTH OF SPEEDLIGHTS!

And of course, the current transition from SB-800 to SB-900 will be discussed.


In Tucson right now for the Geographic. Continuing true to my history with them of going to places at the worst time of year. Arizona in August. Siberia in February. See below.

Above is noon time, Lake Lavozero. The Russians were impressed that I suffered on the ice all day with them, and that of course led to a vodka soaked dinner at the polar observatory where we were housed. It was an upgrade, actually, from the hotel I was staying at. In my room the day previous, I heard a repeated smashing sound from down the hall. Again. Again. Smash! I walked down to check it out, and this enormous woman, chef for the hotel restaurant, was lifting chunks of ice out of an ancient freezer. Inside those chunks of ice were chickens. She would then raise it over her head, and violently throw it down on the floor, freeing the chicken parts. Dinner that night? Chicken soup!

Anyway, one of the guys at dinner turned out to be the police chief of Murmansk. The next morning he opened the trunk of his car, which was filled to the brim with automatic weapons and handed me a Kalashnikov. He gestured at a row of milk bottles in the distance and took the safety off. “Shoot, yes?”

In the macho outback of the Motherland, one does not turn away from such a command. Honestly, it ain’t hard to chew through a buncha milk bottles with a machine gun, so it went very well. This lead to a conversation that became an opportunity to engage in one of the most depressing nights in my life. I spent the whole night in the drunk tank in the city of Murmansk.

I was doing a story on light for Nat Geo, and they sent me up there to where the cold and the dark lead to a lot of alcoholism and suicide. The drunks leave the bars in the wee hours and stagger into a snow bank and are dead by morning. The police send out patrols to look for these guys, and drag ‘em into the cozy confines of the drunk tank to dry ‘em out. Brutal.

Come to think of it, Arizona’s really nice in August… More tk.

More Joe Than You Can Handle!!

Aug 21

In Uncategorized at 3:16pm

Hello again guys and gals… Brad here.

Just wanted to let all of you know that the Upcoming Events section on the sidebar has been updated through the end of the year. So if your McNally cravings just can’t seem to be satisfied, check and see if he’s going to be in your area, or anywhere you’d like to visit!

He’ll be in Las Vegas, Massachusetts, and Santa Fe in September; New York City (twice), Vermont, and Maine in October; Montana in November; and California in December. For events scheduled into next year, check out the Workshops calendar on joemcnally.com. Venice anyone? How about Hawaii or the Outer Banks with the whole DLWS crew?

Don’t wait too long… They sell out quickly!

Blog Lite

Aug 8

In Uncategorized at 10:46am

Many thanks to all who replied to the last post. It means a lot, and I know Tom was overwhelmed by the reaction and that has re-upped his determination.

That’s one of the many things I have always treasured about being a shooter. You can get up in the morning with an idea in your head, take a camera, and go make it real. Pretty direct. Pretty cool.

Blog’s gonna be a bit intermittent for a while. Out of the country now, with sporadic access to the internet. After I come home, got a couple days, and then journey into the mysterious land surrounded by the yellow border. It’ll be pretty wacky.

Again, thanks to all. Blogging has reaffirmed my thinking, which is something I talk about in my classes. All of us, in this community, we are all photographers, sharing a common passion, and thus all in the same boat together, in a roiling sea. Lots of pressures on us. Time, budget, access, budget, speed of technology, restrictions, rights, budget, rates, cost of gear…did I mention budget? Man, it can be rough, navigating these waters, to continue the analogy. But, if we all continue to bail in collegial fashion, and help each other out, we’ll stay afloat. More tk…..

Blogging, From Both Sides, Part One

Aug 4

In Friends, Lighting, Thoughts at 6:55am

Tom. July 11th, in his backyard in New Jersey. Father, fighter, lover of photography.

In his words:

In March of 2005, after a long battle with nine herniations in my spine, surgery to remove two of them had to be done. The surgery was a complete success and as soon as I awoke from the 10 hour operation, I began to look forward to my life with my son, Jared. Finally, I would not be stuck to a bed, couch or wheelchair. E ven when I could not walk or play with my son or make him breakfast, I never let a negative thought in my mind. I had nothing but a positive attitude and knew what I was up against. Thankfully, the odds seemed pretty darn good in my favor.

It was perhaps just two weeks later, after the intense yet very successful surgery, that some very strange things started to happen. Severe cramps, shocks throughout my body, stuttering and, well, a buffet of conditions that are simply too long to write about. We were concerned not only with blood clots forming, but it seemed that something had gone wrong during the surgery. These conditions went one for months. I endured dozens of painful tests and numerous cocktails of different medications to see what would curtail these symptoms, all to no avail. Finally an MRI of both brain and spinal cord revealed to all of us that the trauma of the surgery had awoken a dormant condition in my body that carried the label “MS”.

Now, after three years of being a warrior fighting MS, I was losing. This was impossible for me to accept, as I have a 12 year old son to raise and teach all the things that he needs to know about being a good man. I want to show him how to treat people fairly , how to have passion for what he chooses (no matter what it is) and most of all, how to have kindness in his heart. But the MS was getting the better of me and I was giving up hope. Quite frankly, I was becoming tired of fighting it. It was both embarrassing and painful to have to tell my son ” no” all the time. I began to think of ways to fight harder and could not come up with anything. Being somewhat of a serious hobby photographer, I tried to turn my vision of fighting into a picture and failed continually. My pictures kept reminding me that I had MS, not that I was fighting for a cause to be able to raise Jared. Then I had a thought of making a picture, my son and I in the foreground with all my dozens of MRI’s behind us . To me, somehow this would say “no matter what, I will win and raise this boy”. The problem was, I had no idea how to take this picture.

Every morning I would wake up with this photo in my mind. I never felt more strongly about anything that would help me continue to fight and give me renewed strength and cause to go on.

Like so many photographers, I had recently purchased Joe McNally’s book, “The Moment It Clicks”. The idea came to mind to just write to him, share my vision and see if he could guide me into making this picture. I explained all of this in an email to Joe. At that point, I figured I had nothing to lose by asking. Several days later, I received an email back from Joe that very simply stated , “let’s do this”. One week later, Joe and his first assistant, Brad Moore , arrived at my humble town-home and began to set up an actual studio in my backyard. I couldn’t stay outside in the heat too much to watch. However, when I walked out of my home, it was as if I walked into an indoor professional studio that was part of the house. It seemed that, after some discussion with Joe and his studio manager, Lynn, he realized my vision exactly and they worked together to come up with ideas to make this picture. In order to execute this picture, Joe and his entire staff asked me the right questions and listened to my thoughts . They helped me turn my vision into a picture.

What Joe and his staff did not know is, that while I have the willingness to fight, I was losing hope. Living in pain every moment takes it’s toll. I was beginning to live in a very dark place.

I knew that this picture might give me a chance to turn my hope around.  It’s already begun.

I’m still pretty new to blogging, and truth be told, I enjoy it. I went to school thinking I’d be a sports writer, covering some basketball beat for a metro daily, trying to infuse the big biz of modern sports with a bit of old timey Frazier-to-DeBusschere-to-Bradley-to-Reed-SLAMDUNK-YES! feeling. You know, that kind of high school, chest thumping love of team that had your ear glued to a AM/FM transistor radio at night instead of your eyes glued to your physics workbook. (Thank goodness Clyde didn’t go away altogether. He’s in the broadcast booth, still boundin’ and astoundin’….)

I switched it up in school and ended up a photog. (Mom was not pleased.) I’ve had my eye in a lens quite happily for, oh, 25 plus years now. But life is funny. I wrote a book, and now I’ve got a blog. And I find myself writing about what I shoot, as well as tossing in a few sidebar rants and raves.

I met Tom because of this blog. When he floated the notion of doing the picture, I said yes, for lots of reasons. It might be a photo that would do somebody some good, for one. Of course, another is, plain and simple, I like time behind the camera. I love shooting pictures. Even in the middle of a hot one in Jersey in July.

The other deal always in the back of my head is the challenge of it. Could we build this thing at high noon, shoot CLS with small strobes ( a mix of SB800 and 900), make it work, make the lights trigger and get it done in a way that might come close to Tom’s imagination? I thought we had a chance.

I took it in steps:

Fix the sun so Tom could stand in shade, and my lights would have a prayer. Tabletop a 12×12 solid on 4 stands. SOP. Check.

Backlight the MRIs. Best way to backlight stuff like this is to first wash your background lights off a reflective surface (white no-seam is good). Use a cross light technique. Right side lights aim to the left side of the drop, and left side lights aim for the right. They cross over the middle that way, and hopefully produce a surface that is even within a third of a stop. (If you pump the background lights into their respective near sides, the sides get heated up and the center goes dead. Not good.) Likewise it is tough to just aim your lights at the plexi without first bouncing it off something big and flat. If you use 4 lights, you’ll most likely get 4 hot spots. It’ll drive you nuts. Re-direction is key here. Bounce ‘em and you’ll save money on all that Advil for location driven headaches.

Okay, seamless is up, and lit. Just like in the doc’s office, MRIs read best off of white plexi. Lynn hunted for a 6′ square, but tough to get and pricey, so we made do with two odd sized pieces butted together horizontally and seamed with clear packing tape. Bogen super clamps did the rest of the job, along with A clamps. Those two pieces stand behind the subject, about 2′ in front of the (hopefully) glowing seamless paper drop.

Arranged the MRIs, lit them with 4 bounced SB800 units, went to the camera, made an exposure, and hoped for the best. We got backlight. And, in intense sun, from about 30 feet, we got sensor pickup. Okay, hurdle cleared.

Next deal, light Tom. Boomed a reflected umbrella, with the skin still on it to control spill. Okay light, but got a splashy high light on the reflective MRIs.

Moved in a Lastolite panel, up high and between the umbrella and the plexi, and draped it in black material. That cut out a lot of light flying towards the background.

Now Tom. Quality of light works, but just works. Gotta snap him with a bit more edge. I’m constrained cause the whole bloody back of the picture is reflective. Okay, small source. Do this a lot actually. Snoot an SB unit (used to use blackwrap, now I use Honl snoots). Move it into the subject’s face as close as the frame will allow. Power way down to just a flick of light. (There’s a setting called “flick” isn’t there?) Little pop of light, and your subject’s face snaps to. You can just about see this unit, an SB900 zoomed out to 200mm, on the right side of my frame, just below the umbrella.

That technique is killer, by the way. You don’t really alter the quality of overall light in your subject’s face, but you do ramp up the contrast, and sharpen the edge where highlight rotates into shadow. Think of it as moving the contrast slider in Photoshop, only much more fun!

Closing with this one. Suburban scene. Tom, Jared, a wagon, a gate, grass, bushes, trees, and then, jarringly, the MRIs. Medical dispatches from the interior, telling Tom things he never wanted to hear. They stand there, silent, yet at the same time screaming like a siren in the midst of the backyard bird chatter. Through sheer effort of will and a determination to see Jared through to stuff like his first car, his first college class, his first good job, and maybe, a couple of grandkids, Tom’s gonna fight this thing. Hopefully, we made a picture that day that will hang on his wall and remind him that he’s still in the game.