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Archive for January, 2010

Heading North

Jan 25

In history, On Location, Seminars & Workshops at 6:32am

Or, as Einar Erlendssen, the originator and caretaker of the Focus on Nature Workshops says, heading up to join the stark raving mad Vikings. I always wanted to go to Iceland. It seems a land of true intensity, color, and personality. It’ll be a small workshop, and thus very hands on. Our merry band of speed lighters will evidently careen around the countryside (the place ain’t that big) looking, lighting, and shooting. At night we will gather over various Nordic intoxicants and commune with the pixel spirits, and discuss the successes and failures of the day. This will be a slightly different workshop for me, in that I will be pushing myself both as a teacher and a shooter. As I said, I have never been there before, and de facto that is fuel for the fire. As a group, together, we will go all week for portfolio images. Here’s the link. My pack will be a bit different, too. Cameras, lenses, SB units, Quadra flash, stands, soft boxes, horned helmet, broadsword.

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I have been sent North before. Below is my bud, George Divokey, an ornithologist who lives on Cooper Island part of each summer, studying a bird colony and watching it respond to the effects of warming. Coop, as it is referred to, is a small stretch of earth and ice just a touch north of the northernmost tip of the continental United States, Barrow, Alaska. They have this sign just outside town that you can visit and thus know you have done the truly northern thing. Why you need a sign to tell you that you are standing on icebound nothingness and your travel agent deserves a serious ass kicking, I’m not sure. But it’s there, for those truly compulsive, check the box type folks.


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Geographic has sent me to Siberia (in more ways than one) on a couple of occasions. For a story called The Power of Light, I of course had to photographically experience the total lack thereof, which is certainly a contradiction of purpose and terms, if not outright stupid. (Journalists are always sent to the extremes of things, so sometimes what looks like a dumb move is exactly what you should be doing for a story.)  Below is noontime on Lake Lavozero on the Murmansk Penninsula, in February. I have never been quite as cold as that day on that frozen stretch of near total whiteout.

The snow and darkness engulf this individual in Lovozero, Russia

The cold didn’t seem to bother these Russian fellas, but then ingesting an entire bottle of rotgut vodka will certainly calm the spirit and deaden the nerve endings. I have to think these guys stay on the ice as long as possible just to avoid the old lady. The women up there were tough, I tell ya. I stayed at this collection of cinder blocks billed as a hotel, and while in my room, I heard this tremendous, repetitive smashing noise just down the hall. I went to look, and there was an enormous Russian female chef with a pry bar, knocking loose chicken parts locked in blocks of ice out of  a large freezer bin. She would then hoist the frozen chunks over her head with both hands, and smash them down onto the ancient linoleum. Legs and breasts would skitter everywhere.  At least I knew ahead of time what was being served that night.

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An Arctic ice fisherman in Russia waits a bite.

You know, I accept the fact at this point in my career that the phone call sending me to do a voluptuous spread on the beaches of Tahiti ain’t comin’ in. Hell, at this point, I’d settle for the Jersey shore, but that’s probably not in my future, either. No, historically I’ve been sent to icy backwaters in search of even the faintest glimmer of light. I got so used to this for a bit that I after I got fired from LIFE I gave myself a shooting job in Norilsk, which historically was a gulag old Josef used to send anyone who disagreed with him. When I visited, it was largely an economic gulag, and home to one of the largest nickel mining operations in the world.
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Average life expentancy for a male working in this factory is 50, mostly because they breathe carbon dioxide gas all day. Needless to say, they haven’t heard of OSHA up there.

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So–I’m looking forward to Iceland, needless to say. There will be light, color and life. Very excited…….more tk….

Jakester as Superhero….

Jan 19

In In The Field at 8:37am

So I was with the DLWS gang in the Marin Headlands, looking at the Golden Gate Bridge, which, I can reliably report, does not move. See below.

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No stranger to photog paranoia and insecurity, which rages in the hearts and minds of shooters everywhere, I continued to prove that salient fact over and over again, as if my right index finger had developed a kind of idiot savant twitch, in that it knew how to do one thing well, that is, push the damn shutter button over and over again. I’ve always been good at simple, repetitive tasks, so I went to town and produced a grid of remarkably similar looking photographs. My early career wire service editors, those members of the “One or Two Frames, Shoot It Clean” tribe are spinning in their graves.

I never met a landscape I couldn’t put a person in front of and thus make interesting,  so I importuned Moose’s redoubtable son Jake to be between me and the bridge, and thus save me from myself. Pretty nice portrait actually, as Jake got his mother’s looks and not Moose’s:-) (He did get his dad’s knack behind the camera, though. He’s a damn good shooter.)

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And then, of course, I stopped, no doubt worn out from the all the clicking. I was sitting there, enjoying the breeze, looking at the sky, and just generally refreshed by not being inside a building. (I do honestly believe that sometimes, forget the photography, just look and enjoy.) I was sitting, watching the sun go down, and and the sky deepen, and the car headlights come on, and just letting lethargy and laziness take over. I mean, I was sitting on a Moose pack that contained a good chunk of the Adorama equipment catalog, and I wasn’t doing shit with it. Other folks were racing with the light, being photogs, looking and shooting, and I sat there, keeping my fingers warm by placing them under my ass.

Sun’s goin’ down in a big ball. Nice. Good clean throw to the western sky, lotta leeway to the east to get below it and look back. Nice. Got a D3X on a tripod, and a 200-400mm in my bag. Coupla flashes. Nice. I sat there with all this stuff, and my brain disconnected. Remember in T2 when the Arnold cyborg, just about crushed and dead, switches to a backup battery and his noodle flickers back to life? That’s pretty much what happened. I looked around and in one of those coulda hadda V-8 moments put the setting sun, the wall I was sitting on, the long glass and Jake together in my head.

Some mindlessly frenetic scrambling and shouting produced the camera and lens combo, Drew with a flash on a paint pole, and Jakester in position. See below, shot by fellow photog Rob Aramayo.

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Got this, with Jake looking like one of the Watchmen.

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Of course the sun’s just about gone. Every frame I got prior to this was either a test or a flat out bad shot with people wandering about the background. If I had started even 10 minutes earlier, woulda had several good frames and a ball of sun. But I didn’t. I didn’t see it ’cause I wasn’t looking. I’m pretty hard working, generally speaking, but I tell ya, sometimes I get so damn lazy out there it makes me wanna upchuck. Anybody else out there ever pass up a good frame ’cause you were too much of a lollygagger to pull out the camera? Or worse, there’s a camera in your hands and you just can’t muster the energy to change to the right lens? Guilty as charged, your honor. I’ve passed up good pictures just ’cause I didn’t want to put down my coffee.

Shot at f18 at 1/50th of a second, 200mm on the zoom. Plus one on the flash. Minus 2/3 on the camera EV. Wish I had more of ‘em. Maybe I will next time, when I remind myself to shoot and move, instead of sit and watch. More tk….

Monday, Monday

Jan 18

In News at 10:01am

On the West Coast, finishing my last few days on this story for the great chiefs of the Land of the Yellow Border. Few things going on….

ADORAMA IPHONE CONTEST!

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This is pretty cool.  Great prizes, easy to follow up and enter. Hit this link to check it out. I think this is wonderful, fun acknowledgment that we are all just a bunch of distracted slackers out there who really don’t do any work anymore but just wander through the streets and our workplaces making snaps and videos and playing with apps. We’ve come a long way since the time when we would slide into the video arcade and spend our whole lunch hour playing Pacman.

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The best part for me is to be on the judging panel with a bunch of my favorite folks…..Scott Kelby, leader of that notorious Tampa based NAPP gang; Moose Peterson, fresh from the woods, having spent the holidays with his furry cousins; Syl Arena, who given his hair, could be one of those furry cousins; Eric Meola, who is older than I am and got his start at the same place–The Syracuse University Daily Orange; and Boomer and Carton, those maniacs over at WFAN. First time in my life I’ve been included in a “celebrity panel.” Geez. Does this mean I have to start behaving badly and stumble drunkenly out of limos while not wearing underwear? Pull a pistol on one of the other judges if I don’t agree with their choice? Grab the mike from the hands of the host while announcing the winner and declare that I really thought the prize should have gone to that fellow who shot all those HDR Iphone self portrait nudes? Such a range of behavior is possible when you throw the word “celebrity” into the mix:-)

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Had a blast the other day with those crazy Ozzies, Bruce Williams and Shelton Muller over at Shutters Inc. Podcast. They are an absolute hoot, and we had a great time talking pictures and saying “mate.” They are a great source of photo info and (as they freely admit) inconsequential, wonderful blather. Good blokes, as they say. (Here at the studio, we are pulling together the bits and pieces for a series of workshops down under for next year, so stay tuned. If we go, Bruce and Shelton are definitely on for several beers. Thanks guys!)

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Lectured last week at the Twoffice! Very cool….many thanks to Dustin Diaz over at Twitter for working it out. Dustin is a good shooter who has pushed himself to do a portrait a day for 365 days. It is an extraordinary document–check it out here.

I did get a little chatty and ran over 140 characters, but that was just ’cause the questions were so good. Great place, nice folks (who were really attuned to photography), and…great food! Had lunch there, and it was probably the healthiest I have eaten in this millennium. More tk….

Dang….

Jan 13

In history, Rambling at 9:56am

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Have to admit I got caught up in it. Home run race, Big Mac, the whole nine yards, to mix sporting metaphors. I never said a word to him, because at the height of the whole shebang, he wouldn’t say zip to the media. Shut it down. No interviews or photo sessions. I was following him down the visiting dugout tunnel when he passed Walter Iooss, who is about the most connected sports shooter I know. Walter called out, camera in hand, “Mark, two minutes.” McGwire moved past without a word, like an ocean going freighter in a small canal,  people, cameras, pens and notebooks spilling off to the sides, left bobbing in his wake.

If Walter wasn’t gonna get time, damn straight I wasn’t. So I shot the whole cover without ever saying a word to my subject.

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I kept watching him make every move, and noticed, as with many ballplayers, he had an on deck ritual. Like clockwork, the bat went across his back during his stretches, right across his name and number, and the motion tensed up his massive arms. Went off the field and into the stands to shoot it, ’cause I couldn’t get an angle from the photog pit.

I suggested to the magazine that I shoot most of it in B&W, just to keep a continuum of sorts with the historical pix that had been shot of previous home run kings. They liked that notion, and turned me loose to intersect with, as he is billed for the story, the perfect home run hitting machine. Back then, giddy with baseball, and summer, nobody wanted to really know what was fueling the machine.

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I concentrated on his power, a pretty obvious thing to do. Made this with a six as he waited on the ball. It was pretty cool, watching him wait on a pitch. Big cat, ready to pounce. Made me nervous, on assignment, ’cause any pitch he was thrown he could make disappear into the night sky. A picture like the above is risky. If he goes yard on this swing, I miss it, basically. Makes for a tough conversation if your editor asks, “Did you get him hitting that home run?” “Uh, well, I got a piece of him, ya see.”

But you gotta take risks during a coverage like this. For a mag like the Times, you are not there just covering. The wires do that, and do it well. You’re supposed to come up with something nobody else is looking at, which is hard to do when every swing is being seen by several million people.

Shot some color, too. Hard not to when the sun is strong and the uniforms are red.

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Again, long lens, through the batting cage mesh. Takes the edge off the sharpness, and pushes the picture away from a simple snap of a swing towards something, anything, that might be more about mythology than batting practice.

It was cool, even though pretty much everybody knew that even out there in the bright sun, there were shadows. More tk….

DLWS, 2010

Jan 12

In Seminars & Workshops at 2:26pm

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First stop of the year for Moose and the gang…..San Francisco, Golden Gate Bridge. One SB900, camera left, Tri-Grip one stop diffuser, minus 2 EV programmed into the camera, plus one EV into the flash. Lots of folks shot some nice stuff of the bridge itself, but, being a people shooter, I just look at the bridge as a nice backdrop to put somebody against. Josh obliged, and we did a quick flash lesson out on the rocks for the group.

Knocked around the bridge before, of course, as has just about anybody who’s come this way with a camera in their hands. Tony Bennett and I went up into the headlands on the Marin side a few years back, just to place him where he left his heart.

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More tk….