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Bedsheet Thief Strikes Yet Again, This Time In Venice….

Jun 15

In On Location, Seminars & Workshops at 8:21am

In yet another case of bedsheets disappearing from hotels, the suspected perpetrator of these thefts struck again, operating in unusually brazen fashion in front of 5 or 6 horrified onlookers in Venice’s historic San Marco Plaza. Going from hard light to soft light, he allegedly pulled the sheet from his equipment bag with a flourish, uttering what has become the bandit’s signature location phrase….”Let me just whip this out.”


Venice is a beautiful city. Amazing. It has a patina and character that is all its own, which might stem from the fact it is under water a great deal of the time. The Cafe Florian is undoubtedly one of the most historically significant places in the ville, and what makes it truly wonderful is that you can plop yourself smack dab in the middle of its beauty and character for the price of a cup of coffee. An expensive cup of coffee, to be sure, but still, one of the red velvet chairs in the joint can be yours’ for a cuppa joe. Anybody who has had the dubious privilege of spending 5 bucks in a Starbucks for a triple vente soy bean no foam iced latte’ knows that it don’t come with a red velvet chair and wall art dating back to 1720.

I’ve been thinking about shooting here ever since I first came to Venice 3 years ago. It’s just an amazing place, dripping with history and ornate detail. Given the way my noodle often operates, I was sitting in there and it crossed my mind that it would be an interesting portrait venue for maybe, I don’t know, lemme guess, a ballerina! Mongo like!


The opportunity here came about via the good graces of Marco Tortato, of Manfrotto, makers of all things to hang lights and cameras from. His wife, Sylvia, handles public relations for the cafe, and I was allowed to shoot there in the early morning, before any caffeine seeking crowds descended. Not only did Marco facilitate the shoot, he worked his magic all week with our VSP class, pulling and hauling gear, and providing us with C-stands, Manfrotto air cushion light stands, Justin Clamps, Tri-flashes, Lastolite tri-grips for diffusion and reflection….(Hmmm…..diffusion and reflection. Sounds like that should be a desk at the state department. “Department of Diffusion and Reflection, may I help you?)….

I digress. Anyway, our class was kitted out admirably with the gracious assistance of Marco and Manfrotto. We toodled all over various water bound locales, even shooting early am in San Marco……


The above is one SB900, zoomed to 200mm, and placed outside the columns on one of those little floor stands that come with the unit. Full cut of CTO. 70-200mm lens on the camera, and an SU800 linked to the hot shoe via 2 SC29 cords, firing just to the left of the columns. The light is maybe 40-50 feet away from the CLS trigger. Kinda set this up for the class, and everybody got a chance that morning to work with light and wonderful dancers. Thanks to Beatrice, Barbara, and Celeste who arose earlier than any other ballerinas in recorded history to make this shoot happen for all of us.


Shooting inside the cafe, the setup was a bit different. Gelled all the lights warm, and just let them rock at a 200mm zoom from about 20 or so feet from the glass. No diffusion, just hard, warm light.


That combo produced a slashing, shadowy light, and it pushed the color button pretty hard. Eventually I put a 4th SB900 in there, Justin clamped to an existing stand, and just banged that down into the ground, hoping a little bounce light might grace the ceiling, which was equally reflective and gaudy as the walls. Had a traditional Venetian mask on hand, which Beatrice graciously wore for a few frames.


Enter the bedsheet. We clipped it up with a couple of plastic A clamps brought by Frank Keller, who attended the workshop, and is on the very beginnings of an intersting photographic path. That big swatch of diffusion softened the light and filled the whole room with detail embracing, easy going photons.



As they say, a face in a place…..


Up early and off to the airport. Commercial job this week. Drew’s been in Nashville shooting the lollapalooza, or bananarama…something like that. It’s a music festival. As you saw last week, he’s a good music shooter who always manages to talk his way on stage somehow. He’ll pick me up at the airport. Had no choice but to get up early. Nigel’s been getting bigger. I think he’s about 21 pounds now. That boy is hungry all the time. He jumped on the bed about 3:30, and you can’t sleep through that. It’s like somebody just dropped a bowling ball on your pillow. More tk….

77 Responses to “Bedsheet Thief Strikes Yet Again, This Time In Venice….”

Ray Mabry says:

on June 16, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Joe, your posts are extremely helpful to me. Thank you for putting so many details into you posts. Oh, and your images molto bella.

Leif Eliasson says:

on June 16, 2009 at 2:47 pm

Rely nice work as usual – reminds me of last year VSP in Venice.

Carl Cox says:

on June 16, 2009 at 9:34 pm


You could totally print a book of nothing more than your napkin diagrams!

Wonderful images made in Cafe Florian! Your lighting is nothing less than magical.


matt h says:

on June 17, 2009 at 12:09 pm

We have a passionate love affair with Italy – going back on our 4th visit this year just south of Rome, seriously thinking of making it a permanent move. These are gorgeous images – I’m not jealous at all… Much!! I love the richness of the colours and the lighting. As you say, Italy is just dripping with history, character, charm and just cries out to be photographed. Just wish I was any good at it!

Igor says:

on June 17, 2009 at 4:33 pm

I am really curious if the pink dress was intended or accidental? White, red, green, silver would be better IMO but pink? Unless I wanted to break from golden/red/greeen palette and introduce something beautiful but completely out of line, alien to the interior. Was that the idea or is it my taste out of line?

joseph rowland says:

on June 17, 2009 at 7:49 pm

Joe- new Nat Geo just arrived, loved the photographs in Cosmic Vision

Mike says:

on June 18, 2009 at 1:16 am


I’m just stumbling on your blog here as I’m sourcing inspiration for a joint head shot/editorial shoot tomorrow. I have H.S.D and M.I.C. and I your numnuts self description always cracks me up. Great blog and great pics! Thanks Joe!

Steve Gray says:

on June 18, 2009 at 2:40 pm

Great stuff, joe. I have a dumbass (I’m not even qualified as a numnuts yet!) color balancing question. With your shots using the full-cut CTO, are you setting the camera on flash WB?

Amber says:

on June 18, 2009 at 3:42 pm

Just discovered your blog from a friend and I think I’ll definitely be visiting often. What a great post and gorgeous images. I’m inspired :)

florian says:

on June 18, 2009 at 7:32 pm

Hey! Thats my cafe!
Very cool and inpisrational. I iwll have to steal some sheets now.

T. C. Knight says:

on June 19, 2009 at 10:45 am

What with the hotels I end up in sometimes, the “borrowed” sheet may be the color of a full cut CTO. I quit stealing sheets a few years ago. Just bit the bullet and bought one and keep it in my bag.

In the photos above, IMHO, the bedsheet made the shot.

Paul Keating says:

on June 19, 2009 at 12:56 pm

@Steve Gray:
Pending Joe’s response, I would guess he shoots in RAW, meaning the camera’s white balance setting is ignored, though *may* be applied by the capture software at PP time. However, the final WB likely ended up set near flash temp in order to maintain the orange cast of the CTO gel.

Saul says:

on June 19, 2009 at 5:19 pm

I’ve almost finish to see your tutorial “Working with Nikon SB-900 Flashes” another great tutorial,so I understand the bedsheets thief joke.. so funny. But what I do not understand at all is why companies like Nikon and Canon are still using infrared system with all the limitations of range, point of view of the units, etc. when there are a lot of radio systems out there that are so reliable and way better ? As one of the masters of TTL portable flashes can you explain this ?

Eric says:

on June 21, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Is that napkin spiral bound?

Rich Bianchini says:

on June 21, 2009 at 10:50 pm


Just wondering if you were shooting through the bed sheet or bouncing the strobes off of it? I
Sorry if this was already answered in the comments. I scanned them and didn’t notice anybody asking a similar question.


Jack Fussell says:

on June 22, 2009 at 5:30 am

I think you’ve inspired us all to steal bed sheets and take some amazing shots….love your work.

Tom says:

on June 22, 2009 at 11:13 am

Joe, please share some more pictures from this workshop with us. I would have loved to be able to attend but my schedule didn’t permit this year. If it runs next year then I hope to be able to join you.

Marshal says:

on June 23, 2009 at 12:23 am


Wonderful shots from Venice! Beautiful photos from a classic city. And speaking of classic or classy, your pics of the lovely Michelle Pfeiffer(my spelling right?)in your Classics gallery are great also.

But I have 2 questions regarding the Classics gallery in your online Portfolio.

Who is the exquisite looking woman in #4/29 and the beautiful Asian model near the Hollywood sign? That one I believe was #23/29 in the same gallery. What was the assignment or story for each of those two?

Fayyaz Ahmed says:

on June 23, 2009 at 10:20 am

Great blog Joe! and much love to Nigel! wud love to see some new photos of Nigel..

Marc says:

on June 23, 2009 at 4:44 pm

Nice entry, Joe.

Early morning must have been REALLY early morning. Even at around 8:00 a.m., there are already people walking around the Piazza San Marco and the Cafe Florian, so achieving a shot where hardly anyone (except the model) is on the picture can be quite frustrating.

Cafe Florian in HDR, no flash used:



Mike Venice says:

on June 24, 2009 at 3:44 am

Good article your:
Bedsheet Thief Strikes Yet Again, This Time In Venice….

Very nice!
Thank you very much.

Deb Ryan says:

on June 30, 2009 at 7:17 pm

Hey Joe,

That last shot of lauren is beautiful. I’ll have to get a copy for her father. And thanks for the compliments, they mean a lot….but your still only getting 10% off…LOL


Lauren Stewart says:

on September 30, 2010 at 1:11 pm

bowling balls are dangerous on the foot if you mishandle it.::*

stanza says:

on February 12, 2011 at 12:39 pm

oh man you could totally print a book of nothing more than your napkin picture! nicely captured images made in Cafe Florian! Your lighting is nothing less than magical.

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