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Archive for September, 2009

a phone. a camera. a book. an app.

Sep 29

In Books, Friends at 1:12pm

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The best camera is the one you have with you. True words indeed. Variations on a theme. Jay Maisel always says it’s tough to take a picture if you don’t carry a camera with you. Now Jay sports a D3, but Chase Jarvis has just elevated the Iphone camera to legitimacy with this new book. The camera’s quiet and cool, and doesn’t intrude. It is barely noticeable in the act of photography, but it is a formidable recording device, as he shows.

This book is sleek, small and well designed, not unlike the machine that made the pictures. Combine those qualities with Chase’s eye, and well, there you go. The other thing that ramps up here for me is kind of a quiet, heretofore inside thought I have thunk on occasion, which is, when I have a camera on my shoulder, I feel, you know, dangerous. I’ve got a camera, I can see, I know how to work it, and well, let’s just have a look at things. The act of making pictures can be considered inherently subversive, obviously. Why do you think there are lots of people who have jobs specifically designed to control us? Control where we stand, what we shoot, and how what we shoot gets used, where it goes, and how it is displayed. I mean there are cadres of folks out there just waiting to say, “No.” The people who are just so willing to put a velvet rope around the sense of possibility and imagination. Plus they’re generally kinda cranky. Maybe their shorts are too tight.

Okay, so I was raised Irish Catholic and I’ve got authority issues. Photography can be wonderful, friendly, healing, easy going, and enjoyable. It can be a window or a mirror, to borrow some words from my old managing editor at LIFE, Dan Okrent. But what a camera sees can also be really truthful and incisive. Clear headed. A camera can actually show us stuff. Imagine that! But hey, wait a minute, we can’t just have a bunch of people with cameras running around here!

Well, hate to clue you in Mr. You-Can’t-Stand-Here, but we do. It’s interesting to me. I have walked down corridors and paths in out of the way corners of the world with a 35mm camera or DSLR slung and it can feel like you’re walking around with the UCLA marching band on your hip. I mean, it’s an announcement, you know? “Hear ye, hear ye! Pictures are about to me made!” Sheesh. Part of the art of this is to segue, you know, slip and slide, see moments and instead of trampling them, kind of sidle up to them, quietly.

I guess it’s a variation on that old joke about the old bull and the young bull up on the ridge, looking at a whole valley full of cows. The youngster can barely contain himself. “Let’s run down there and nail one of ‘em!” he says to his elder. Who just smiles and says, “How ’bout we just walk down there?” Knowing wink. “We’ll nail ‘em all.”

Not that announcements are a bad thing always. David Turnley, an incredibly fine shooter who spent numerous years documenting apartheid in South Africa, was on assignment in Harlem, USA, for the Day in the Life of America book project in the very early 80′s. He walked into a pretty tough looking bar, and of course, he was an outsider. A white outsider to boot. He walked up to the bar tender and respectfully introduced himself and the book project and said he’d like to spend some time in the bar shooting pictures. The bar tender evidently nodded, and in a large voice announced to everyone, “This here fella’s gonna shoot some pictures. Anybody don’t like it can get the fuck out!”

It’d be nice to have someone around like that all the time.

I digress. I think what I’m getting at is that Chase has taken this camera, with its’ still nascent technology, combined it with a cool app (kind of home turf for the Iphone and many folks who use it) and also extended its’ reach to ink on paper. Everybody’s talking about convergence nowadays, and here’s a very cool, accessible example. It also gave me, along the lines of David Hobby’s recently voiced sentiments, one of those “coulda had a V-8″ moments. Christ. I mean I’m having giggles with my Iphone downloading things like Atomic Fart, and here Chase goes and builds his own app.

It pleases me no end to think of Chase roaming airports and such, and interpreting stuff people walk on, over and around into graphically striking photos. Iphone in hand, he sidles up to the heretofore unseen. Often the scene or moment is quiet, and via the Iphone, it is quietly observed. It is also pleasing to think of the combo punch of this accessible, almost invisible piece of hardware with a lens plunked into it and the potential it has for recording, interpreting, and taking in the world around us. Then launching and sharing those visual missives instantly. An updated wrinkle for the visual community. Another possibility. For me, it is doubly pleasing to think there might be some folks annoyed by this.

Photographers. Despite efforts to corral us and tell us what to do, we refuse to listen. We’re like a nerf ball. Squeeze us one way, we splurge out another. Be it the Iphone, the D3, the Red Camera, the point and shoot…..the urge is upon us all to visually record our life and times. Visual passion. Knowing. Seeing. Point, shoot, breathe.

Or maybe look hip. Below my daughter Claire shot dad on recent shopping trip. It was the only way she could think of me not looking tragically flawed. (How do people work in those A&F stores? I spent 15 minutes in there and had acoustic whiplash for the rest of the day.)

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This guy Chase, man, he’s good. We’re friends, and respect each other a great deal. When I spoofed him a bit in a video not too long ago, he laughed a lot and in an email called me a “mad bastard.” Well, back to ya, man. Typically, he not only shot these for himself, but with the book and technology, he opens a door for all of us to take a ride. Good onya.

Check out his new book here.

Damn this guy, though. Here I’ve been happy shooting 2-4 Iphone pictures a day. Shit. I’m gonna have to go to 5-10:-) More tk…

Mystery Revealed!

Sep 28

In Lighting at 6:06am

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First off, many, many thanks to all who pitched ideas and suggestions and diagrams our way. Response was off the charts, and we have had a blast going through stuff here at the studio. As always, it being a photographic dilemma, there were just about as many solutions as there are photogs. Cool thing was that some of the lighting notions are maybe exactly WHAT I COULDA DONE AND THE WAY I SHOULDA LIT IT!

Seriously, there’s lotsa ways of going about this stuff. Many paths to roughly the same end. Reminds me of teaching in a workshop scenario, and coming up on a shooter who is engaged in what I am quite sure is a hopelessly wacked out idea that will result in a train wreck of a picture. Then that person shows up the next day with a picture that not only works but represents something I didn’t see and could never have seen. It’s cool, diverse and a little nutty. Fun, in a word.

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Speaking of fun, I really hadda break this stuff into two categories…those who came real close for real, and a whole gaggle of suggestions, commentary and really funny shit submitted by the mildly bent readership of this blog. Just a hoot….my look of astonishment here recorded by Lynda Peckham.

Some samples…..

From Andrew: “It was Professor Plum, in the library, with the candlestick.”

From Dave Cross, The Photoshop Guy: “Nice try Joe….But I think it’s pretty obvious: One flash and the rest is Photoshop:
8 adjustment layers with appropriate masks. Noise filter on TV set istock photo of guy with gun in doorway. Added the grid in the window with the Shape tool. A bit of dodging & burning here and there, and voila!
“       (I’ll get him for that one…..)

Then this from Noodlez: “It`s so obvious- you borrowed a big Profoto-Lighting-pack from your friend Chase Jarvis. Two large Chimera softboxes in the backroom in combination with a fat fogmachine (borrowed from Drew Gardner). One Front-light gridded on the knee, handheld by Zack Arias. A snooted Light towards the pills on the floor with a DIY GRid-Snoot-Umbrella by David Hobby. Here and there you lost some flashlights…In the end you gave the pic to your Retoucher Scott Kelby, who put some red and blue colors allover. Too Easy Man…”

Dan Davies chipped in with: “It’s self evident:

1. Red light outside from 400 firefly’s of the genus “reddus buttus”.
2. Dead woman on bed lit by funeral pyre being burned just off set.
3. Joe’s coke supply being liberally sprinkled inside dummy TV screen by highly trained pet gerbil.
4. Spot on floor apparantly from fallen lamp created by stepping on a satsuma and creating orange eliptical shape
5. Man in door has also stepped on satsuma.
6. Purple ambient lighting created from long exposure mixing red & blue lights on top of police vehicle ready to arrest Joe for murdering the model in order to create realistic picture.

Am I right?“        (Uh, no, Dan, but it was a fun read.)

There was an amazing diagram from Dean Doll:

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It doesn’t nail the lighting pattern, but it’s cool.

There was also a suggestion this was just a screen grab from CSI. But the guy who took the cake in this category was definitely Lyndon Smith. His submission was amazingly thoughtful, erudite, well elucidated (forgive me) and great to read, even though it was wrong. He compiled a treatise involving caffeine on the set, the role Tylenol played that night, and the potential use of a turkey carcass as a light stand. He was correct in the color and direction of the lights, but the bedsheet/window covering did him in. For his efforts, he will receive a Lastolite diffuser and a book. Lyndon, send us a note with your address. (contact@joemcnally.com)

Now….drum roll please…..Ended up with four lighting plans that came real close to what the deal was that sultry night in Florida.

From Klam: The lighting plan:
-Camera WB tungsten. shutter dragged.
-Flash with full CTO gel grided above camera aiming downward at female leg.
- bare flash behind camera right aiming towards the wall behind the tv
-Flash with full and half CTO gel outside door flaged so the light is directed towards man chest and head
-Flash with maybe a full and half CTO gel outside down low flagged to give rim light on mans lower body and leg.
-Ambient light provided by fallen lamp.
My other guess would be the outside light was provided by car headlights and flagged so only parts of the man was lite…”

Brett Maxwell posited this: “Clearly there is ambient from the table lamp on the floor and the TV. 2 speedlights in the hall gelled red, one snooted/gridded/zoomed lighting the man’s face and one behind lighting the hall and hall window. Two speedlights gelled blue, one behind the bed and one to camera right aimed at the wall behind the TV. One speedlight high (CTO?) snooted/gridded/zoomed pointing almost straight down on the woman’s right foot.”

David contributed this thought: “Gridded and Cto’d flash above camera and to the right a little pointing on the woman’s legs. Blue Gelled flash way camera right to light the table and its contents. Another Blue gelled flash behind the bed next to the door to seperate the girls legs and the wall. Heavily red gelled flash outside, and maybe another on the guy? Ambient coming from the lamp on the floor and the television in the table.

And, finally, Andrew had this line of attack: “I would’ve red gelled the headlights from a car outside. Flash gelled blue along the right wall.
Flash gelled blue behind the bed. Flash gridded and amber gelled above camera on model’s leg. Flash gelled amber aimed at floor behind the shooter. Incandescent lamp on floor.”

All of the above had most if not all the elements and just missed a detail or two, which is far fewer details than I usually miss when I am in the field and have my eye in the lens. So–good job gang….all four, send us address stuff to our contact slot on the website. Also gang, if there are specifics as to how you want things signed, let us know. Let’s go through the whole deal….

Camera settings are in the file….however, it is shot in cloudy white balance, which is a bit weird, I know. Wanted an intense red, and I knew I could control the blue interior just with heavy gels. And there were no signs to deal with in the distance. It was dark out there in the Florida night. I would only see what I lit. Exterior is lit up with mostly car headlights. Two cars, to be more precise, with heavy red theatrical gels placed over the four headlights. Tried my best to seal the gels in with tape, so there was not a whole lotta white light bleed. There’s an SB900 on the window sill, literally laying against the window, firing up and away in the general direction of the palm tree just by the outside walkway. Another SB unit with a tight grid and a full CTO of warming gel on it is punched towards our perp? detective? in the doorway. That is producing the slight warm highlight on the brim of his hat, a bit on his face and upper shoulders. The intensely warm highlight on the floor is the red gelled headlights, going orange-ish from blown exposure. That one headlight is hitting the linoleum at a bang on angle of incidence angle of reflection to the lens, and thus becomes a real high highlight. Add smoke, and the outside is done.

Inside was pretty apparent to lots of folks. C-stand boomed SB900 overhead the model’s legs, warmed with CTO and gridded with a Honl light shaper. It is firing straight down at her legs and the floor. Camera right has a blue gelled SB unit, washing off the wall behind the TV. It is Justin clamped to the fridge door. Another blue gelled SB unit is hidden by the bed, and is blue gelled, separating the bed and wall. Red highlights on table legs are all from outside. TV is just the static glow. The incandescent bulb is just that, available bulb light. Handy trick here is to plug that lamp into a dimmer which then plugs into the wall. That way, you can just dial in the exposure to the degree you need it.

Triggered the whole shootin’ match with an SU800 unit linked to the camera with two SC-29 cords and screwed on top of a light stand. Placed like that, we had no troubles firing everything TTL wireless. The wireless commander is on a stick to the right of camera and it is bouncing off the blue wall to camera right and thus picking up the SB unit tucked away outside the left hand side of doorway. (Working up a diagram of my own, just haven’t found a big enough napkin yet:-)

The account of the lighting is true. Names of those involved are under sealed indictment and cannot be released at this time. More tk….

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RED TREE FOUND IN MAINE

Sep 24

In In The Field at 11:16am


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Fall color hasn’t hit the North Country yet, so everything is pretty foggy and green, generally speaking. Leave it to the Mooster to find the one swatch of foliage with an RGB heartbeat. I swear to God he’s like a water witcher, wandering the otherwise drab forest, holding his D3X out in front of him, eyes closed, feeling the pixels tug him this way and that. We all followed him, chanting. Found this little stoplight of a tree and shot the hell out of it.

Even I got in on the act. Used the Nikkor 70-300mm, which, is small, handy dandy and damn sharp for a lens I coulda sworn was made outta ashtray glass. Slammed my D3 into rainbow (otherwise known as vivid), which is not a mode I generally use,  and blasted away. This uh, really red rendition popped up in my browser and I damn near wet myself. I didn’t have to have a conversation and the thing didn’t have an appointment or moods. Cool. I gotta do more of this landscape stuff.

Heading south. Home for one night, then into Pennsylvania for the Geographic. Yep, shooting for the yellow border gang in the exotic wilds of Pa., which is mostly, you know, pretty rural. My daughter Caity, who lives near Scranton, describes it as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between. She says a routine grocery store run for her neighbors is, you know, milk, bread, eggs, dip and ammo.

But yeah, this is often the kind of locale I often get sent to for Nat Geo. Nick Nichols figures out how to walk across Africa. Steve McCurry wanders the colorful markets of Mumbai. Dave Harvey gets sent to wherever there’s attractive women. I go to Allentown.

It’s cool, though, cause the story’s really worthwhile, and it’s great to keep shooting editorially in an era where the picture departments at many magazines consider themselves a Goodwill drop off bin. I got a bunch more to do on this right though the fall. Happy about that.

DLWS was pretty much the routine giggle fest it usually is. Lots of fun, instruction and good pix. Demo’d hi speed sync with a leaping, one light rendition of lovely Stephanie Cross.

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Turned around shooting this and found Toby Miller watching the events. Toby’s a great guy and a good shooter but I think all the pre-dawn communing with the trees had taken it’s toll, cause he looked for all the world like Eor with a tripod. I swear the only reason he was upright was that he had his chin bolted somehow to the ball head. He graciously remained right where he was for this portrait.

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Then he gamely tried matching Steph for a leap.

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Steph is effortlessly levitating, and Toby’s stressin’ a bit, trying for some hang time.

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It was fun out there, wherever we were. Coming from a place where they number the streets, I get disoriented pretty easy with the leaves and trees and all. More tk….

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Monday Morning Motor Driven Meditations….

Sep 21

In Advice at 11:40am

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Ahh, Cadillac Mountain in Maine. In the fall and winter, sunlight makes its’ first landfall on the continental United States every morning up on Cadillac. Given its’ special geography, it is the Grand Central Station of sunrise opportunities. It really is quite pleasant up there, and you can shoot some decent frames, provided you can make your way through the throngs of saffron clad, finger cymbaled, whale loving, granola munching, well meaning, thoroughly pleasant wack jobs that collect up there most mornings. You can almost hear those stirringly eloquent lyrics from Good Morning Starshine….

“Gliddy glub gloopy
Nibby nabby noopy
La la la lo lo
Sabba sibby sabba
Nooby abba nabba
Le le lo lo
Tooby ooby walla
Nooby abba naba
Early morning singing song!

Because I’m mildly subversive and, without coffee, thoroughly irritable at that hour, I offered up a shooting strategy to our DLWS group. I advised them to rack a super wide lens back to minimum focus distance, thus pulling you close to your chanting, entranced subject. Go to “consecutive high” on the motor drive. Then, right in the middle of a good healthy, “ahhhhhhhh-oooooooooommmmm,” just buffer out the camera. Heh, heh, heh……

I mean, you’re up that early, might as well have a little fun.

Next Monday….mystery photo, revealed….later this week, work flow. More tk….

I Coulda Been a Contendah…..

Sep 17

In Rants at 11:34am

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Gotta love The Onion. First rate reporting.

It’d be great to be a Blue Angels pilot, I think. But having flown in formation with them a couple of times and having my head scrambled to the point of not being able to find my ass with both hands while these guys are flying wingtip to wingtip at several hundred knots, I know that’s not happening. Ever. Just ain’t got the skills.

Everybody has occasionally wished to be something else, or perhaps something they cannot be. I wanted to play center for the New York Knicks many years ago. My meager athletic skills and tendency to remain steadfastly governed by the laws of gravity made that unrealistic.

I’m sure all of us who endeavor photographically have met folks who want to be photographers, which is totally cool. I’ve always been of the opinion that we’re all in this mix together. It can be a tough gig, but also a wonderful one and thus very alluring, so questions and aspirations abound. And, once the photographic cat is out of the bag, a gear discussion often ensues. Also cool. I’m a gearhead, so hey, let’s talk f-stops. But then there are those folks who don’t discuss wanting to be, or the fact that they love shooting and are thinking of dipping a toe in the market waters, or they are working on a project and learning and seeking advice and pushing and getting better. There are those folks who coulda been.

Met a pretty confident, aggressive guy recently, while shooting this Geographic job that is currently turning me into an angst ridden pretzel. He went the equipment route immediately. No wonder. He had lots of turbocharged stuff, like, I don’t know, the Canon 3D Mark4S with the Eddie Bauer camo coating and the fast glass with the low rider flame decals. I was, you know, respectful, saying intelligent, pithy things, like “Whoah.” And, “Cool.” Maybe the occasional, “Yeah!”

It was an extensive recitation, to be sure. He flat out said he really had the gear down, knew how to work all of that stuff and that he could be a photog. Lock solid. Done deal. Shoots lots of pictures.  Then, he got thoughtful and said, “My big problem is content.”

You know how you’re smiling at someone and there’s that moment where your face just kinda gets fixed and slightly immobile, cause it doesn’t know what to do next? You keep smiling, but it feels like somebody just slapped on a quick facial mask, one of those gooey, crusty, pomagranate, blue green algae seaweed paste numbers? A glazing, if you will.

What do you say? In my head I’m screaming, like, “That’s a pretty big problem, dude!” But I think I mumbled something about just hanging in and working it.

Happens, right? I had someone once, swear to God, say to me that they could be a photographer, but they just didn’t have the time. I kind of spluttered a reply, something like, yeah, wow, it can be time consuming. You’d have to take fewer shifts on the lube rack.

I love photographic dreams and aspirations. Got a ton of ‘em, even still. I love looking at pictures and sorting out ideas. Especially at a workshop, where there is one essential element in the room all of us share–the desire to find the next level. It’s great looking at work, especially a project, ’cause that set of pictures is really a road map to how that person thinks and feels. That’s why picture editors I came up working for wanted to see your contact sheets, not just your greatest hits. Your contact sheets show very clearly where you hit it right, or where you went off the rails.

I especially love the fact that I still feel overwhelmed in the field. There are time I am so completely bereft of inspiration and ideas I say to myself, “I wonder what a really good photographer would do right now?” I’m not kidding, or being self effacing. There are some jobs I just feel like I’m standing there, the last human in a horror movie, and the zombies are closing in.

So you have to be confident, to be sure. (Or project confidence even while inside your head the insecurity meter has gone to DefCon Five.) But a healthy dose of anxiety and self doubt (“I’m using a 200–maybe I should go wide?”) are also important tools in your bag. Causes you to double check yourself and remember how fragile photographic success is, and while your last frame was Fat City the next one might be a ticket to Pismo Beach. The fact that you rarely have THE answer is a good one to remember. No need to focus on it to the point of paralysis. Just remember it.  You are only as good as your last job. The next one may just eat your lunch and your soul.

So I don’t have too much patience for the odd person or two or three or dozen who gives you that kind wink and cocksure nod about how they could do this bang on full time and you should see the fantastic stuff they just shot. I used to just smile and nod. Now, thirty years on in the struggle to be good at this seemingly easy thing to do, I think I just nod.

Oh well, just part of the human condition I guess. I mean, I coulda been a brain surgeon. I just always had a little trouble with math and science. More tk….