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Archive for January, 2009

The Lighting Workshop, Day Two…or, Jasmine Came Back!

Jan 21

In Seminars & Workshops at 9:52am

Back to the building. Back to the lights. Another day where Mr. Pixel meets Mr. Photon. OOOOhhhhhh nooooooo!!!!!!

Didn’t even know she was coming back today, but she had such a great time, she jumped the train and headed north, with her fellow model mate, Morgan, below. Again, way to go Aristeo. He runs Emmanuel Modeling in NY, and is just non-stop energy and ideas, trying to help build portfolios for all gorgeous folks he represents.

Jasmin in blue is shot i-TTL with an overhead Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe table topped, looking flat and straight down. Jasmine lifts her face to meet the light as only she can. Background goes blue courtesy of two blue gelled SB-800 units, about 30′ behind her, and flared out to the walls. White balance was Tungsten B4 on the D3. (Which as we all know, gives you the RCL–Really Cool Look–but for God’s sake keep that on the QT.) For Morgan, one light only, a Ranger unit overhead into a 27″ Elincrhom silver beauty dish.

We spend a bit of time every day, just sorting through studio basics and finding some sweet combos of umbrellas, reflected or shoot through, tri-grip fill boards, silver, white and gold, overhead soft boxes with fill cards, or, as we see here, with a floor skip off a silver Lastolite panel. It’s a fun game of ratios to play with the different zones of light. We got high key background here courtesy of the Lastolite HiLite backgrounder. Pretty cool thing. You stuff strobe heads in the sides of it, and radiate them against the back wall of the unit, and…PRESTO! Instant high key background. Could double on the road as a mattress if you stuffed it well.

Here’s the scene up at Dobbs….Keep telling the photo gear god, Jeff Snyder of Adorama, he’s gotta come up. He had something else to do, though, minor stuff…the Inaugural and prep for the Super Bowl. Oh well….

Another FOL (friend of Lynn’s) stopped by. Phil was super subject with a face that looks as if it should be hanging on Mt. Rushmore, fer chrissakes. He was one of those can do people who, as a photo subject, would look over and see a light being moved, and he would run over to help out moving it. A great guy, with a great profile.

Shot with D3, 70-200mm f2.8, focus cursor right on the near eye. Light is very simple. One Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe, SB-800 with dome diffuser on. Light is camera right and slightly behind Phil. Shot i-TTL in, oh, about 2 minutes.

Now when we dropped Phil into the blue hallway, ala Jasmine up top, no way I’m lighting them the same way. Phil’s got a great face, character driven, but he ain’t gonna be the cover of Vogue anytime soon, the way Jasmine can anticipate. I pulled the overhead Ezybox down from its high, table topped position and angled it more appropriate to a traditional portrait light. It was only slightly above Phil, at an angle to open his face and eyes, exposure wise. But what I did was program minus two EV into the light, making Phil very dark and moody. Almost gone. Then, we stapped a tight Honl grid to a tightly zoomed SB unit, gelled it warm, and Drew hand held that puppy, aimed right at Phil’s eyes. His face pops, and the rest becomes mood. Phil light!

Kept playing shadow games all day. This is Morgan, as action hero.

And Jasmine, as moving artwork.

Of the two above, one was shot with a Ranger unit, long throw reflector,  full cut of CTO, in the parking lot. The other was shot i-TTL, one SB-900, full cut of CTO, in the parking lot. Which one is which?

Quick note….the Bogen Tri-flash I mentioned….here it is…

The proper part number is L LLA2412 and street price will be at about $75, from what I am told. It’s so brand new, probably not represented yet in the catalogs, but it’s coming….Bogen, in combination with Elinchrom and Lastolite, has got tons of stuff in the wings, ready to cut loose.

As usual, Andrew found everything to be hugely funny, which it was. Had a great time, today, round three, working the light. Cool! More tk…..

Dobbs Workshop, Day One

Jan 20

In Seminars & Workshops at 10:04am

Back to Dobbs Ferry. My studio used to be in this little town on the Hudson, in an old, funky factory building, spitting distance from the might river. It was a great space, and I even actually lived there for a while, given the up and down life of a photographer. Some 4 or 5 years ago, round about Photo East time, I would stage a series of very informal lighting workshops that proved to be popular. We had fun and evidently the folks who came did as well, cause over time I have gotten pinged about, “When you gonna do those Dobbs Ferry workshops again?” We are. This week, For seven straight days. In the old building, which is one of the better photo locations I have ever encountered.

Above shot D3, 24-70 f2,8 lens, with this cool new thing coming on market, called the Bogen Tri-flash. It’s a 3 hot shoe deal and you can use both SB800 and 900 on that puppy. Running these three through a Lastolite 3×3 panel, boomed overhead on a c-stand. Just out of frame below Jasmine’s face is a Lastolite tri-grip, with one SB-800 hand held. In the background, on the floor, is a green gelled SB-900, coming through a bunch of industrial plastic draping. Whole thing ran TTL with no EV comp dialed in at all, which you know, still sets me back on my heels a bit.

We ramble all over the building, but our main location is an 8000 square foot space overlooking the river. What a studio space this would make. Beautiful light, 16 foot ceilings….yikes….

All production pix courtesy of workshop participants…thanks gang! The whole place is awash in lighting gear, Lastolite panels, dishes, Octas, SB units, tri-grips, you name it. As always, my equipment page is hotlinked, and anything I mention is connected there.

Did some lighting from the parking lot. Two Elinchrom Rangers, each with a long throw reflector, each being adjusted and triggered with the Elinchrom Skyport system. Pretty cool. You can fire the lights and adjust their power right from camera with a triggering unit about the size of matchbook.

That produced this. Andrew Tomasino, Pa. shooter and friend of our studio, is helping us out. He makes a pretty good lost boy in the stairwell.

But the same light, does, well different things for Jasmine.

Poor Will, a Connecticut based photog, was stuck in the snow out in the parking lot for this, so we put him in front of camera for a bit. One light solution, Elinchrom mid-sized Octa soft box. Here he is, making his bid for a role in The Departed. (Uh, Will, they shot that movie already.)

We also went to the basement, one of my favorite places in the building.We put the elegant Katarina near some boiler valves. One small boomed soft box, overhead of Katarina. Key to the pic is the two Ranger units outside the building, firing into the underground basement window. Nothin’ like a dirty window to give you good light and nice diffusion.

And of course Andrew just got a new tat, so we had to figure out a way to show that. He was a bit reluctant, so we restrained him while doing the picture. One overhead Elinchrom beauty dish, with a green gelled Ranger in the background.

We had a great day. Got a lot of people to thank….first off…Adorama, Bogen and Lexar. Adorama supports the Faces of Ground Zero Giant Polaroid collection, and photographic education in general, and they helped us out, and gave $25 store coupons to all participants. Bogen, with Kriss Brungrabber and Mark “The William Holden of Lighting” Astman pitched in with support and Mark came  on location with us. He’s a huge hit with participants, knows the gear backwards and forwards, and can double as a model when called on. All the above were shot on Lexar digital media. Every digital picture I have ever shot with any serious intent has been on a Lexar card. In the shifting world of shooting ones and zeroes, Lexar cards are that one beautiful thing–reliable. As are Jeff Cable and Michelle Pitts, who run their Lexar Elite program and support photogs across the board.

And, huge thanks to the lovely Jasmine and Katarina, who braved the cold and the train to come up from NY. They are affilitated with Emmanuel Model Agency which is run by my good friend Aristeo. He is a force of nature in the fashion industry, and has connections and respect throughout that world. He always pitches in to help us pull this off.

And, finally to Dawn, FOL (friend of Lynn), former model, current physical trainer, mother of three, and drop dead gorgeous in front of camera. She came over to help us out as well……more tk…..

Where Is Laurie’s Hair?

Jan 16

In Friends, Seminars & Workshops at 1:44pm

This past week, it was in Yellowstone Canyon, with DLWS. I’ve been working on this series, ‘cause Laurie’s hairstyle is just damn intriguing. First noticed it in Bryce Canyon. It seemed to me that Laurie was sporting her own personal set of hoodoos, right there on top of her head.

It’s always one of the surprises of DLWS, when Laurie shows up, cause her hairstyle terrain tends to vary, you know, depending on her last haircut, and I guess the ambient humidity and whatnot. Shooting her hair  keeps me occupied whenever I’m out there stumbling around the outback and can’t find a stump or a rock to photograph effectively. I eventually may publish a book of these…or not.

At the Maine shore…..

Looking to the sea on Cape Cod…..

Deep in the primeval Redwood forest…

This is fun to do, but nowhere near as much fun as being around Laurie, though, who is one of the most decent souls around. She can always be counted on for a laugh, a head tilting, eyebrow knitting malapropism, or a hysterically misremembered movie moment. Seeking to be one of the guys, she’ll occasionally join in  the male dominated field of movie dialogue recall. (Most women aren’t great at this diversion. They don’t seem to find purpose in seeing a movie like Predator a dozen times—go figure.) Laurie will attempt to recite tried and true lines that most guys know better than the Lord’s Prayer and they invariably tumble out with her own spin. These are Laurie-isms.

Somehow, “Joey, have you ever seen a grown man naked?” in her noodle became, “Joey, have you ever been with a woman?”

It’s no laughing matter when Laurie is behind the camera, though. She is a photographer at the top of her game, confidently controlled from the moment of exposure to the moment she cranks a lustrously beautiful print out of the Epson 7800. Her particular passion is photographing bears, often with lenses half her size, which she handles as well as most folks handle a kit lens. She’s also a heckuva teacher. Check out her blog.

When you do, her secret identity reveals. Laurie is—Equipment Lady.com! Who knew? She’s like the Statue of Liberty of used equipment. Give me your tired, slow glass, your wretched, rusted refuse of jobs gone by, those dusty cameras that were once the apple of your eye but no longer have enough pixels to please! She cuts through the Ebay bullshit, spins sales like a Vegas blackjack dealer, and sends you a check. She has, over time, taken a bunch of  my garage bound gear and turned it into a couple of mortgage payments.

Left the cold of Yellowstone Park, and scenes like this. Nikon D3, AF-S NIKKOR 24–70mm f/2.8G ED, 8 GB Lexar Professional UDMA 300x CF Cards. And a whole lotta autofocus, cause in the wind blown steam I couldn’t see shit.

It was great fun, and, as always, filled with interesting folks. Had some wonderful moments and some well, interesting conversations. Had one particularly compelling discussion with Jake Peterson, Moose’s son, and already as a young’un just a couple pixels shy of being truly great shooter. Jake walked over whilst we were making our way around a pooped Old Faithful that seemed in need of a shot of Viagra that day and asked if I had ever heard of a phenomenon known as “HAFE.” I allowed as I had not.

High altitude flatulence expulsion was what Jake was referring to. It’s real, you can google it, which I did, and Lord, it was right there on the internet so it must be true. Makes sense, really, when you think about it. Higher altitude, less pressure on the outside, more pressure on the inside, and that’s gotta go somewhere.

Have to say I couldn’t’ shoot a picture after that, cause, well, I’m a little bent even on the best of days, and I started looking around at everybody out there a bit differently. I started to wonder if this effect was kicking in (most of Yellowstone is above 7500 feet) and that might be the reason all their snow suits looked so, you know, puffy. I mean, modern winter wear is high tech stuff—triple stitched, multi-layered, double zipped, fleece lined and gor-tex filled. Sealed up in this garb, you can not only withstand the cold but could easy go space walkin’ and fix the frikkin’ shuttle, fer chrissakes.

So I just started giggling like the distracted numnuts I am, no longer thinking of folks out there as tourists or photogs but as a bunch of little ambulatory dutch ovens, tooting away inside all those layers. Nobody notices cause the geysers smell so bad in the first place.

Just a thought.

Oh well, home again. Next stop for DLWS is Hawaii. Moose Peterson in a grass skirt. Stay tuned, more tk…

A Monster of a Camera…

Jan 10

In Equipment at 10:43am

Remember in Jurassic Park, when there would be the distant thud of the stalking T-Rex, and the water glass in the jeep would tremor? Or in Saving Private Ryan, when they felt the earth shake well before they saw the tank?

That’s kind of the way I feel about the D3X. It’s out there. You can hear the distant rumble. A monster of a camera.

I can’t really comment on the camera intelligently (regular readers of this blog are saying to themselves, “Uh, Joe, tell us something we don’t already know.”) cause I’ve had it in my hands for precisely one shoot. I can say a couple of things….

It feels and acts exactly like a D3, except slower, due to the size of the files it is pushing. My D3’s are buffer upgraded, and even shooting NEFs on consecutive high, they rock and roll. The D3X is, well, more suited to a waltz.

The files are eye popping. I was looking at them on my bedraggled Macbook Pro, and I felt like an extra in a horror movie. You know the ones, where the mirror in the bathroom starts morphing and making eerie, groaning sounds? Mr. Movie Extra gets ridiculously quizzical, and like a curious cat, cocks his head to the side and stares at the wacked out mirror, which is obviously not supposed to be moving or muttering guttural, satanic curses. Instead of running, he stays rooted in front of his reflection, eyes getting wide, his jaw going slack, and then little slurpy things with yellow eyes and seventeen rows of razor sharp teeth explode outta the mirror and bore through both his eyeball sockets like evil little wood chippers and feast noisily on his brain matter. Of course, they don’t find much to chew on ‘cause anybody stupid enough to stare at the mirror instead of running hasn’t got much of a meal up there in the first place.

That didn’t happen to me. Though I have to admit, when a D3X NEF finally boiled to the surface of the screen, I cocked my head, my eyes got wide and my jaw slack, just like in the movies. My standard for detail has always been Kodachrome 25, and the D3 zoomed past that pretty handily, and now this thing gives you a file that is like frikkin’ Stargate. Who knows what’s on the other side of this?

Hadda give the camera back. Probably a good thing, cause lawdy, lawdy, the files positively gave me the vapors, and I don’t wanna like my pictures that much. I never wanna be seduced by all those pixels to the point that I confuse a detailed picture with a good picture. All this technology (which is fantastic, and I love it) is like the Sirens on the rocky shore–come closer, wayfaring photographer, we will drown you with more pixels.

We got pixels aplenty. What we need at the camera is a beating heart and an ability to see. In terms of being a shooter, I’ve always figured I’m like the frikkin’ plumber—when the valves are popping and the waters are rising, sometimes I get the call cause I’m a halfway decent problem solver. But you know, how fancy a wrench do I need? As Magnum shooter Donald McCullin once said, “I only use a camera like I use a toothbrush. It does the job.”

Here’s where I see this camera playing huge. Most of the covers of LIFE, Sports Illustrated, Time, or Newsweek— what I would call the newsstand magazines— I’ve shot over the years were shot 6×7 medium format. As opposed to the Geographic, which has historically let a cover evolve naturally out of a coverage, those magazines often specifically assign a cover, either the subject or the theme. For those kind of jobs, portraits, illustrations, what have you, it was time to drag out my Mamiya RZ Pro II system. (Which I sold a year or so ago, before it turned into rust. Thank you Equipment Lady!)

The detail of the D3X for me, obviates the need for a medium format approach to just about anything I would tackle. (Note I said, “I would tackle.” I’m not out there shooting DeBeers campaigns, much to my chagrin. The studio, still life, beauty, car shooting crowd are most likely very intrigued by this camera. It opens new DSLR doors. Shoot huge files, and couple this monster machine to Nikkor glass. Schweeeet!) And, here’s where the technology gives us a gift we didn’t even know we wanted—the D3X, just like its cousin, the D3, has a 4×5 aspect ratio you can click in. That’s not too far off from my old 6×7 cover comfort zone. For the cover job, the job needing excruciating detail, the set of pictures that needs to leap off the page, this camera will be an astounding tool. Maybe, just maybe, if I ever get another crack at one of those pictures inside a yellow border, I just might use this camera.

Can I say a word or two about my aforementioned “bedraggled” Macbook Pro? This poor computer has been through it. It’s been in deserts, the woods of Northern Spain, knocked around in production vehicles from Istanbul to Berlin to Rome to God knows where. When I have tethered to it, at least twice I have yanked it off its platform and seen it fall to the floor. It has dents galore, and the CD drive slot has been pried back open with a Wave tool, and it keeps working. At this point, when I turn it on, it screams, “Yo, Adrian!!!!”

But it still turns on and works. An amazing machine.

Lighting, Roberto, the Pain Chisel…..okay. (As fearsome as he looks, he’s real easygoing.) The background is chrome diamond plate flooring, two 4×8 sheets butted together. Had a bear of a time lighting it, cause my first idea of lighting the wall behind it and having that light wrap around and grace the chrome with blue highlights didn’t work out at all. I mean at all. Nada. Zilch. Bad idea. Brain glitch. All the little photons collectively said, “You zink we will do zeese for yuuu? Hah! We fart in your general direction!”

Plan B. I just lit the diamond plate like I would light a regular background, and instead of getting specular highlights, which I feared, I got a reasonable spread of color, pretty even across the board. Live and learn.

Did 4 SB800 units for the background, and then winged two more units, left and right, behind and to the sides of him, continuing the edge of blue around his body. The diamond plate flashes were Group A, and the wing lights were Group B. Right about at Group B position is two Lowell Omni lites, barn doored so that just a sliver of directional, hot light gets to the chains. That gave us some rattle and motion. The camera was set at 1/6th at f/11. All pix made on Lexar 8 gigger UDMA cards.


Up front, I lit Roberto overhead with the Lastolite Ezybox, with an SB900. This thing has become a favorite solution. It just rocks as a hot shoe flash delivery system. Bango, directional, contained, soft light. What a nice gift of a piece of equipment to make location life easier. “Candygram for Mongo!”

The low fill is an SB800 with a warm gel, and a Honl 1/4″ grid spot on it. Kim Weber did the makeup and the uh, hair. She was great chatting with Roberto (turns out they had mutual friends) and getting him camera ready.

Some oil for sheen, chains for good measure. Tattoos like crazy. Tough guy. Big. Powerful. A subject to match the camera.

Random Thoughts in the Cold

Jan 3

In Seminars & Workshops, Thoughts at 4:12pm

Thankfully, this year will start pretty much the way last year did–-with the Digital Landscape Workshop Series in the cold of Yellowstone Park. It is magnificent. Hell, even I got a couple of decent landscapes, but that was mostly cause I went over and stood by Moose.These jaunts are terrific for me, cause I get to brush up on my wildlife biology. Did you know bison use their overlarge head as a snowplow in winter months to push aside the surface snow and get to the vegetation underneath?

Actually, me in the wild is ridiculous. I can spot a creep or a weirdo three cars away on the NYC subway, but out there I’m frikkin’ clueless. I looked up last year and the whole staff was waving at me, desperately gesturing. A bison had walked up behind me and was close enough to pick my pocket. This horned beast bigger than a mini-van just strolled up beside me while I was like, checking my white balance or blowing my nose or doing some other nerdy, East Coast, big city, pansy ass flatlander bullshit . Thankfully, he was uninterested, probably cause I had been wearing my snow pants constantly for about three days and smelled bad. After he walked past, I looked out at Moose, standing on the road. He just closed his eyes and shook his head.

I’m looking forward to it. Maybe we’ll have the same driver! I tell ya, wheeling around in a six ton snowcat with somebody as psychologically brittle as the ice in the trees adds zest to the day. We had a couple brothers out with us last year who were both docs, and they sat directly behind me. After one particularly harrowing slide around the back roads, complete with narration, I must have looked very worried cause one of ‘em reached around and patted me on the shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, Joe, we’ve got the hypodermic ready.” I hope they signed up again.

Hey, how about that Kelby guy? Has he got connections or what??!! A custom made Nikkor 14-24 f2.8 lens with VR! Talk about having your cake and being able to hold it steady while you eat it!

Scott was joking around of course, and the lens don’t exist, but some folks kinda took the news and ran with it. It re-convinced me of a couple of things….A) the power and reach of Scott’s voice in this industry, and…B) the passion folks have out there for digital photography. Pretty cool. Got me to thinking.

If I could custom design a camera, what would I put in there?

First, it would be called the D3Z Transformer model, or something like that. It would have the voice of Optimus Prime and at the start of each shoot, his rich, reasonable, impassioned baritone would beseech the subject: “Give this worthy photographer time and access to do his good work upon which the fate of many hangs.”

I mean, who wouldn’t listen? If they didn’t you could switch to “Vader Mode” and the camera would start to emit aqualung type noises. A far more sinister voice would then intone: “I find your lack of enthusiasm disturbing.” The camera would then send out some sort of sonic infrared radio signal that would constrict the subject’s air passages. I mean, they figured out how to send flash exposure information wrapped around light frequencies, surely they could figure this out. Talk about useful technology.

It would have—Custom Menu Function M3—This is the  “NOT THAT LENS, ASSHOLE!”  custom function that activates automatically whenever you are about to make an irretrievably stupid lens choice. I would hear this often.

It would definitely have “The Moose Peterson Move.” This would cause the camera to stop and make a beautiful picture out of something you just walked past and didn’t see.

I would attach the blinking highlight warning to an air raid siren.

The grip on the camera would be wired to read my pulse and blood pressure, and it would also have audio sensitivity so that my muttered utterances which currently simply bounce quietly off the lcd and disappear unrecorded into the air are actually duly noted and metered for stress in my voice patterns. If my pulse or BP spikes, or I complain too much about the situation, the light, the time, the fee, or my own ineptitude, a voice from deep within the camera quietly but firmly says, “Remember Joe, you said yes.” Thus admonished, I continue to shoot.

It would have a very selective function button called the “Celebrity Tool.” You could only apply it to certain subjects who have, you know, potential. This would lighten and coif the hair, maybe trim a few pounds, smooth out the skin, automatically turn the photo vertical and slap some appropriate tabloid magazine logo on it, like, you know, “Starrzz with Buzzz!” In a sub-menu of this move would be a variety of add-on or design options:

Insertion of an incredibly cute puppy.

Selection of splashy, eye grabbing pull quotes, such as…”____Speaks! I’m Still Pissed!” Or, “Available Now! Space in My Womb!” Or perhaps an inflamed admission: “_____to _____ : It’s The Bodyguard’s Baby!” Thus packaged, it would then be dispatched wirelessly to your agent who could possibly pass this person off as “the next big thing.”

Right next to the RGB selector in the new color menu would be an autofocus mode called GWB…means the camera will focus on nothing.

I would also request a sports version of this highly advanced picture making machine that would include:

Custom Function “Brett Favre” –An auto function. Whenever you make a good frame, the camera runs around and slaps you on the butt, shouting “Way to Go!” Being whacked on the ass is vastly preferable to what is generally happening back there to most photographers in the current business climate.

The “Plaxico Burress Default Mechanism”–This is a locking device that initiates whenever you have it slung over your shoulder, dangling at your hip. It prevents the camera from accidentally shooting your leg. (Good thing Burress didn’t shoot himself in the ass, he’d have brain damage on top of everything else.)

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Lessee….hey, if you want to start your New Year off right, have a laugh, be photographically enlightened, and look at pictures that leap right out of a very spring loaded imagination, go to Drew Gardner’s website and blog.

As they say in England, positively “mad” not to mention “brilliant.” Drew is based in London, and shoots and teaches everywhere, including good old Maine Photo Workshops and over at GPP in Dubai. He has categories on his site, like “Epic Fashion,” which perfectly describes his approach and invariably involves beautiful women, dangerous men, funky teenagers, all manner of woodland creatures and an entire array of barnyard animals. He also has the audacity to have a category called “eccentrics.” I pinged that and expected a self portrait.

He’s unstinting in dispensing his considerable knowledge, a genius at controlling huge shoots (fashion models and wild animals, what could go wrong?) and a hoot to boot. He’s also a good guy. I know this cause he tolerates my antics when we teach together. Last year in Dubai I tried to light a room by bouncing an SB800 off his bald pate. He was very patient, even though he got a little sunburned when I went to manual 1/1.

Check out the K-Man who almost took the plunge with a bunch of Jersey Polar Bears who ran into the Atlantic Ocean for charity. Cool post, and nice shooting. Photographers. We’re crazy, right? The manual says don’t get the camera wet, and we just don’t listen.

I’m always shooting my own stuff, but might try for some sort of personal project stuff this year, along the lines of Mark Seliger’s pictures in his elevator shaft thing. I’m thinking about, “Pictures from Under my Porch.” There’s a lot goin’ on down there, I tell ya.

I jest of course, though a buddy of mine, Aaron Ansarov, started a project called “In My Backyard” which has taken on a life, literally, of its own and the last news I had, a piece of it might run in the National Geographic. As I always say, the best pix are right there in front of you.

Hope some real good ones will be in front of all of us in 09….