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Traveling Light

May 2

In Travels at 9:03pm

Home now. Recently did 10 stops in 14 days for Nikon Europe’s Speed of Light Tour. Been doing this in various shapes and sizes now for 4 years. It’s really Annie’s doing. She’s routinely adored by her colleagues both here in the US and abroad. (Trust me, I understand.)

But she rarely gets to see her mates from Europe and Asia, save at big international events, like what just occurred up Vancouver way. So I think they dreamed this up a few years ago just so they could get to see her over on the continent on a yearly basis. Beyond the likability factor, she also commands enormous respect for her knowledge of all things digital, her ability to communicate and teach well, and her non-stop force of nature work ethic, and, well, you get the idea.

Me? I’m, like, you know, happy baggage.

I bounce into these various locales, halls, conference centers, and theaters sight unseen and try to light ‘em up ad hoc right then and there, and talk through small flash, TTL, hard light, soft light, movie quotes, fast cars, German coffee, Viennese beer, and why the hell isn’t this cord working right now? It’s all off the cuff, and everything I shoot goes right to a screen, which is fun, and has a big gulp factor right there along with it. I also spend all day with a microphone around my neck which makes Annie very nervous.

Been experimenting with getting the most I can out of one light. At the Brabus Motor Works outside Dusseldorf, there was a huge screen essentially made out of strings, so I put up SB900, zoomed to 200mm, with a slight warm gel about 30 or 40 feet away from it. Blogged this last week….


But also managed to move my subject around a little, let the strings drop, and move camera angle to get these two looks. 



Couple of different looks from one light on a stick. The nice thing about trying light like this, and putting it through something, or around the door and down the hall is that it might end up….unpredictable. Umbrella? Cool, looks nice. Soft box? Okay, been there, done that. But through a bunch of strings? Or glass bricks? Or something? Anything? Might be fun. It also might suck. That’s a given. But to light well on any level is to experiment, continuously.

Onto Berlin, and this amazing cave like night club place. I had a notion, always a dangerous thing. Ended up doing this with Christian, a body builder, in front of the bar. Nine flashes. Why do I do this to myself? We tried at first to work it out, and just crashed and burned. It was the kind of setup that needed time and attention, two things I didn’t really have available. The audience was gracious, but they were like, huh? I kinda shrugged.  Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But then, during dinner hour, the crew said, hey, you know, if you want to get this, we’ll stick with you and get it. So we did. 9 lights, one hour. Everybody came back from dinner, and we walked through it, piece by piece. It was a hoot. There were three lights on Christian, three back on the bar, one up top on the upper level, one for Caligula back there, one bounced for fill, and we got ‘em all triggered TTL with an SU800 held up above camera.


In Hamburg, got a chance to work with an amazing couple, Mr. Olympia Oliver Reinhardt and his wife, Iris. Two tri-grips, each to the side. Gave up on this way too soon. Shoulda really stuck with it and worked it out, ’cause they are stunning together. But the mandate of these days is to move fast, and present as many issues and as much information as possible, so kept moving.


At Munich, we worked in a great studio with a cyc wall. You woulda thought I could leave well enough alone, but I went out to the dumpster and pulled in two broken wooden pallets, and put 3 SB900 units on the floor and let ‘em rip, creating a, well, irregular shadow pattern.


Into which we dropped Tobias, a body builder whose arms and chest had a life of their own. Put him here.


And here.


Then moved him out of the hard shadow light, and lit him with a couple flashes. The wider he flexed, the wider his smile got. (If I had arms like this, I would smile a lot, too.)


Then thoroughly bronzed Tobias (no need for cloudy white balance here, folks) posed in front of the NPS loaner delivery car. Yep, in Europe, you need a lens from NPS, it shows up hours later, transported by this Lamborghini:-) Ever try lighting a car with speedlights? In less than a half an hour? Yikes, we moved fast. It was fun even though it was the type of shot you could work on for, oh, about 3 days.


In Switzerland, we had another great studio setting. When we walked in, we found Alexa, hanging from the ceiling and decided to light her, right then and there. Pascal Richard, of NPS Switzerland, sorted out a terrific combo of setting and talent for two days of smaller, group workshops, where everybody milled about and stayed close to the action and the lights.


This is 4 SB900 units outside the building. The three in the back are gelled blue, and the key light for our silk flyer is gelled warm. All are zoomed to 200mm, with no diffusion or light shapers of any kind. I loved this location. Ground floor, great windows. Used Win as a subject, too. A terrific shooter who just happens to have, like, 5 Harleys, he’s definitely got the kind of face that has been pointing into the wind and peering over a set of handlebars for a long time. (He’s also a card carrying member of the “Too Much Fun Club,” and has partied hard with the likes of Peter Fonda, so this is also a face that lives life, and well. This is two lights, one outside, and one into a small ezybox hot shoe soft box.



In Frankfurt, another great location, and surprisingly there was a body builder and a ballerina already there! :-)   Ground floor, huge windows, and after I rummaged a bit, a 30′ ladder. Justin clamped a single SB900 to the ladder, trundled it outside and across an alleyway, and leaned it against another building. No one seemed to mind. White light, no diffusion. 200mm zoom.


That light, a white wall, and Marco produced this. Also could look like this from the side, with Daria.


All hard, daylight looking light. Until you put a table cloth in the flashed window. Then you get this.


In Slovenia, everybody was incredibly gracious, and man, Nikon’s  Tomas Puh and Rok Gasparic really rallied the troops. Almost 300 people showed up. I faced the typical photog challenge. What to do with four walls?  Did have a pair of lovely gymnasts to work with, who were great kids. Washed three flashes off the projector screen to get this, which was a lot of fun.


Then I told them they could freelance a move, and boy did they.


This was shot from the audience by the terrific Ljubljana based shooter, Borut Peterlin, whose imagination is about as wide as his lens. On his site he’s got a terrific set of quirky, provocative (definitely provocative), fascinating portraits of numerous cultural icons of Slovenia. He snapped this just as the two young ladies went into the stratosphere and totally overwhelmed my 14-24. I just put the camera down and lost it. Leaping ladies!

Last stop, Vienna, and a movie theater. The darkness of the place was daunting, but also gave me a measure of control. Was able to try a couple lighting scenarios with the lovely Miss Austria, Valentina Schlager.Worked out a nice combo of light for her up front, assisted by two SB900 units in the back of the room.


Then got the audience involved.


Lots of pix today on the blog, mostly ’cause I have lots of thank you’s to offer. The NPS gang over in Europe was terrific. Yasuo Baba, the architect of the whole deal, just spins ideas and creates possibilities like crazy. His team of Michael Ramroth, Nicola Best, and the tireless Nils Pajenkamp and Stephanie Doll were there for Annie and I every step of the way, even down to staying ahead of the volcano ash and jumping on trains loaded with German soccer fans.

Here’s the team, with the NPS delivery vehicle, which Annie got to drive. (Since she’s been back, I’ve noticed she’s driving her Honda a lot more aggressively:-)


I show Marco how it’s done. ms3_9253

The helpful crowd puts a tablecloth in the window. ms3_9387

Setting up a commander to fire the lights outside. You can translate TTL through as many as three SC-28 or 29 cords.


Annie working out a light.


Smoke and silk flyers in Switzerland. _par3282_003



Annie on a train. Saved my biggest thank you for last…..more tk

58 Responses to “Traveling Light”

Mark Holloway says:

on May 9, 2010 at 10:46 am

Great post. I love iTTL but Nikon should just build radios into the CLS system, OR, help Pocket Wizard get theirs in flight. I hear it’s close but the wait has been agonizing. The cabling thing kind of a mess.

Ken Wilder says:

on May 9, 2010 at 8:43 pm

Kudos, Joe, that’s all I can say over and over, kudos!

Pierre Bourgault says:

on May 10, 2010 at 11:56 am

Great post, I love reading about your adventures.
Have any plans in the near future to head up to Montreal, Canada?

karl bratby says:

on May 12, 2010 at 8:05 am

Brilliant work, very informative thankyou

John Rayl says:

on May 26, 2010 at 12:29 am

Great work and fun read as always Joe.

However, I must ask why you do not use Radio Poppers.

No more stringing SC-29 cables and trying to get SU-800/SB900 commander to fire the lights.

villeurbanne says:

on July 29, 2011 at 7:09 am

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