Archive for July, 2010
Finished for the year with workshops at my favorite aging hulk of a building down by the Hudson. Had a studio there for about six or seven years, and for a while, during a very turbulent time in my life, I actually lived there. With the trains, there was no need for an alarm clock. There are long time tenants there, characters all, to be sure. One of the most wonderful is Charlie Kron, a master bagpipe maker and player. You can hear Charlie tuning up and playing the pipes, with the distinctive drone and melody drifting up through the hallways, inducing march or melancholy, depending on Charlie’s mood.
Charlie’s shop is a chock-a-block wonder. I brought the class in there, and he was his usual, accommodating self, always ready to talk about the arcane intricacies of bagpipe playing. He’s in the process of moving to a smaller space, so for me, this picture immediately loomed as much more important than a lighting snap or demo. (This is done with two SB900s, one camera left with a Ezybox Hotshoe softbox, and one camera right with a Flashpoint snoot aimed down at the spare pipes. Auto white balance, letting the place just be what it is. As I said to the class, it’s not pretty light. It’s light that might already be there.)
Reason for it’s importance, I thought, was that this shop, which I speculate is just a mirror image of the interior of Charlie’s head, will now be gone, and will no longer reverberate with stirring wind blown notes, and be cluttered with tools and machines that really only Charlie knows how to run. Bagpipe repair. Talk about a niche industry.
I was glad we caught up with him before he closes the doors on this messy little piece of heaven. I asked him to play while I shot. I damn near cried….
Maggie came back, and her presence on the set pushed us to craft light that was really just for her. This is a combo of real big flash, and real small flash. The Elinchrom Octa is right at my back at camera, and the Deep Octa is overhead, just to key her face. And there are two SB900s below her, bouncing off the floor, with a silver Skylite Panel reflector. Very even, very frontal, very much a pale wash of light, just enough, just for her.
Then of course, we once again couldn’t resist blowing her amazing mane of hair around.
Turned on the wind machine (aka the eyeball dryer) and blended ambient, steady light. (Light that doesn’t flash, who knew?) The main light is small flash V flat lighting, where I just put up two V-flats, and pound 4 SB units into them. The V-flats then backwash them onto a wall or big white surface, which then just pours light over your subject. (Think of it as playing ping pong with the light.) I’ll have a sketch of this light up in couple days.
Same light here, for a decidedly different mood. I really had to speak to Kristina about her energy level in front of the camera:-)
We constructed a bit of a quieter, more classical beauty combination for Katherine.
And finally, we went to the roof, and, as I said to the class, we tried the high speed sync technique, in a big way. Six flashes, all firing the same direction.
Our subject is the nearly legendary Maria Arce, who is a martial artist, specializing in knife and sword play. Yikes!
All different subjects, all beautiful in different ways. Kinda cool. I’ll try to post some tech stuff on these soon. We had quite a year at Dobbs. Flying right now….more tk….
Did a Kelby Tour stop in London on Friday, and honestly, it was a blast. Had good talent to work with on stage, and the audience couldn’t have been a nicer group of folks. They even stuck with me for one situation as I once again tilted at the TTL windmill with virtually no chance of success. But, I figure, hey, it ain’t my job when I’m up there to just do the “safe” thing. Failure is a form of progress, and photographically, a tremendous source of knowledge. Push the envelope. See what might happen.
Did I mention we had fun?
Anna Passey, trained as an actress, had many moods and faces. She was wonderful to work with.
This was her response to my request to project an illustrative mood for a story in a woman’s magazine about “Men Who Leave.” One shoot-through Lastolite all in one umbrella, off to camera left. One SB 900, no compensation, TTL.
Then I asked a very different face in the crowd to come up, and Jim graciously agreed. I told him he looked “professorial” to me, and he just rolled with it. We positioned the new 30″ Ezybox Hotshoe Soft box above him, and shot this.
If you notice though, his eyes are not really sparked. It’s nice light, true enough, but Jim has glasses and pretty deep set eyes, and I had to get something going to spark them just a touch, and snap up the feel of the light. I tried a snooted grid, made by Flashpoint, which, by the way, makes some terrific stuff for small flash. This one is cone shaped, and comes to a very small circle with a honey comb grid at the end to control the spill of light. Fits the face really well. Ran this second SB900 at minus three EV, with Drew hand holding it, camera left.
The difference is subtle, but it’s definitely effective. Drew has gotten to be a master at taking these small, spot light flashes and locating them. What he does is use the test button to repeatedly flash the person’s face, and get the sweet spot of the light just right. The above pic took about 4-5 minutes to shoot, and Jim was a great subject.
Then we went to town with Anna, using Quadras, one in a deep Octa overhead, and another in a smaller Octa just below her.
I told her she could do anything she wanted, and she, uh, embraced that opportunity.
The background is lit up with one SB900, running on SU-4 mode, and popping off the main set of Quadras. These two pix were shot at F8. But, given her exotic eyes, done by the wondrous makeup artist Katie Cousins, I decided to take a look at what a limited depth of field portrait might do.
Time for the 200mm f2! Without a doubt the sharpest telephoto lens I have ever used. The above was done TTL with a 3×6 Lastolite panel overhead of Anna, with 2 SB900 units firing through it, both in the same group. She is just about standing on the silver reflector material that comes with the skylite panel, and there are two SB900′s popping into that, both on manual, 1/128th power. This, by the way, was the identical setup for the first pic of this blog, the group of wonderful maniacs up top. The system followed me all the way, from f5.6 for the group, to f2 for Anna.
Then we switched up to the Quadras, trying min DOF with them. Great thing about these little puppies is that on “B” port, at min power, you can dump them through a sophisticated light shaper like the deep Octa at like, 8 watt seconds. The result is below.
This is just the overhead Octa. The combo of the two lights gave me too much power for f2, so we replaced the low light with a big silver Tri-grip, and we were done. Anna is giving me the eye here, but I still managed to crack her up every once in a while, just with my generally idiotic behavior.
Like I say, ya gotta have fun doing this, otherwise there’s no point to it, ’cause if you don’t have an absolute love affair with photography, it’s just too hard and frustrating to keep doing. I try to accept success and failure in equal and unequal measure, because if you stick with it, you know what the reward is?
You get to do it again. More tk…..
Being in the Communication Arts yearly has always been kinda cool, and we’re selected again this year, after a pretty long hiatus. Didn’t bother submitting much in the last few years, as the kind of magazine assignments that generated that kind of play for us as a studio don’t exactly drop from trees anymore. But this year, we had a pretty visual story, on telescopes, for National Geographic, so we zapped in our entry. The CA yearly anthology is a grouping of some of the best visuals of the year, and lots of industry folks view it as a good guide to who’s doing what.
Contests, awards–they’re funny things. As I’ve always told young photogs, winning a contest doesn’t mean anything on a day to day basis, really. No magazine I’ve ever placed for has come back to me and said, here’s more dough for your next job ’cause you done so good. Given the vagaries of the magazine industry, the opposite is more likely to be true. But what they can occasionally do is make getting the next job easier. Or make the process of wringing money from an institution to fund a project slightly less arduous. That’s about it.
Not that it’s not cool to place, or sake’s alive, even win. It’s a kick in the pants in a good way, and it can take you out of the doldrums of the assignment grind. I’ve always been fond of a couple yearly photo gatherings, most notably the World Press Competition, held in Amsterdam every spring. It’s a bit heady to enter, ’cause you know you’ve just jumped into the pool with the world’s best photojournalists, and your work will be measured by an unforgiving and unyielding yardstick. I’ve taken a few spots there over time, once winning a first place for portrait, for the shot below, of sprinter Gail Devers, then the fastest woman in the world.
Was it the best portrait taken in the world that year? Dunno, and, quite frankly, I doubt it. Here’s how it came about. Mr. Genius went to LA to photograph her legs. Pretty logical, as that was the engine of her fame. Shot this, which I was happy with.
But, you know, I always advocate asking the question. That uncomfortable, exasperating photog question that just about spins your subject over the top. As we were leaving, literally packed up, I gulped and asked Gail if there was anything else she could show me that I was missing. (Reason for the gulping was that Gail, like many sprinters, was a very forceful personality. Sprinters are often very confident, brash, in your face kinds of folks. I’ve often thought their personality reflects their endeavor, which is of course a complete, explosive, all out burst of energy in a very short time.)
“So, anything else instrumental in your success?” I inquired. She shrugged and said, “Well, I’m pretty strong.” And then popped a bicep that would make Ahhnold jealous. Throw in the fingernails, and we had the makings of a picture. The finger curl pic was shot in less than ten minutes, available light, with a big foam core white board being the only assist I offered the cloudy LA daylight. No photographic virtuosity, just some quick snapping. And a willingness to venture the potentially annoying question at the end of the day.
The other big dog on the contest block is the Pictures of the Year competition, held every year at the University of Missouri. The above pic won a first place, for magazine illustration, which was cool. This of course was a construct, done with light and mirrors, to honor the perennial all star shortstop, Ozzie Smith. As they said, he was baseball’s Wizard of Oz who looked like he was playing shortstop from 5 different spots at once, such was his range. My solution to show this was mirrors, which spawned a whole generation of mirror pics in Sports Illustrated. Tough shot to do. Mirrors, unsurprisingly, are heavy, fragile and (who’da thunk it!) highly reflective. Just a bear to work with.
But it worked. The trick of the pic, if you will, is that Ozzie himself is standing right next to me at camera while I’m shooting this. Just had to locate the mirrors specifically to his angle and light it well. Sports Illustrated liked the photo, running a different version, one with Ozzie actually in the frame with his reflections, on the contents page.
But, to fit it onto the contents page, the biggest, most important reflection (created by the mirror closest to camera) of Ozzie had to be cropped out. Which pretty much punctures the picture. Sigh. These things happen. It ain’t my magazine.
This one won another first at Pictures of the Year, which came from a boomed F4 with an SB 24, 25 or 26 on it, fired by radio. The camera was clamped to the end of a c-stand, which I had resting on my shoulder, and hash marked right where I needed to run it out to. Which I had to do repeatedly, in the days of shooting film. Pull it in. Reload. Run it back out. Yikes. The real prize here is that we landed safely.
Contests. They’re a nice pat on the head. But be careful about all the backslapping and hand wringing that goes along with them. I won the first Alfred Eisenstadt Award for Journalistic Impact for a story called The Panorama of War. A couple of pictures from the story are below, shot in Rwanda, post genocide. There was an awards dinner, which is typical of these things, and prizes, a check, and all sorts of stuff. It was a worthwhile evening, during which numerous photogs received honors, and many speeches were made. Only thing was for me, as I stood at the podium to accept my award on behalf of LIFE, I was pretty much the only person in the room who knew I had been fired by LIFE just the previous week. I was their only staff shooter at the time, and in what has become a yearly rite of passing in print journalism, I was let go, along with numerous of my colleagues. At Time Warner, it wasn’t called being fired. The process was referred to as “reduction in force,” or “RIF.” So I didn’t get fired, I got riffed.
So be it. Happens, right? I remember being up on stage, smiling through the irony. Thing about being a freelancer, as podunk as it is, you keep moving. You have a camera, and an eye, and there will be someone else to shoot for. You stay in business. You keep shooting. What the hell else you gonna do? Lord knows I’m not going to fire myself. And, I don’t regret a minute of my time at LIFE, and I’m still involved with the name in a big way. (Some photo historian eventually might note that I am the last staff photographer at LIFE, thereby making me responsible for the death of photojournalism.)
It’s all cool. Things change. Institutions come and go. Film gives way to pixels. Awards sit on shelves, and gather dust. We can’t. More tk….
We took the ever lovely Melissa down to the basement just yesterday, and she was her elegant self in decidedly inelegant surroundings. Really only one flash in the picture. It is a vertically arrayed small strip light, plugged into a Quadra head, with a Light Tools egg crate covering the surface of the strip. It is boomed over head of Mel. Now, truth be told, there is a full blast Ranger head with a long throw reflector outside the building, firing through an incredibly dirty window off to camera left. But, I was dragging shutter so thoroughly to bleed the daylight pouring through the back doors of the boiler room, that it really had very little effect. In fact, I overshot it, by firing too fast for it to recycle, so there are frames where you see the hint of it, and many where you do not. That is actually not a bad ad hoc strategy to use occasionally. If you fire before a pack can catch up with you, your take will have an erratically occurring bracket of exposure that occurs. Considering how imprecise most of my calculations are on location, most of the time, you wouldn’t notice.
The key to the pic is not flash. It is shutter speed. Daylight outside was intensely bright, but I needed it to slide around the boiler and fill this dingy room with light, so my shutter for this is around a half second or so. The tank blocks the backlight, and forces it to creep around the walls and light them up. If I can get a combo of shutter speed and the sun to light something I’d ordinarily have to put up a flash for, all the better.
Had met Melissa back at the dawn of D3. I had 5 of the first prototypes of the Nikon D3 in North America delivered to my studio a few years back, with a mandate to shoot the bulk of the catalog to accompany this new, super secret camera. (The secrecy thing was no joke. We had to even get the caterers at the studio to sign non disclosure agreements.) Wanted to push it to see details and patterns, so the shot below is what we worked out with Melissa.
Surprised she came back, after the first time meeting me and having me wrap a snake around her neck. She handled that and more with aplomb and style, as always.
The workshop staff is also quite stylish, I think. They are a great bunch, very talented. And for a workshop series with 15 total participants, having a manic group of 7 staff members makes sure details get attended to, and as many questions as possible get answered.
And, as I mention above, we are taking it on the road. Drew and I leave the gang behind and head for Portland shortly to run an intensive, all day, two day workshop in that fair city. Here’s the link.
On Saturday, after the workshop, we’re going to hit the streets and cover something called Plunderathon, a Portland tradition involving pirate themes and lots of alcohol. Dunno what I’m getting myself into. I think it may be another name for ritual sacrifice of East Coast based photographers who use flash. Unsure of this. It’ll be a cool couple of days, and I’m really going to push myself and the class to respond to the terrific locations that are lined up. Also, David Hobby is in town that weekend, giving a seminar. Which is sold out, but would worth checking out a wait list on. (Maybe David and I can get together at Plunderathon, dressed like pirates?)
Tomorrow night, Drew and I head for London, to do our first international stop for Kelby Tours. Should be cool. I love London, and have lived there for brief stints, both as a student, and then on assignment for the National Geographic. Can’t wait to get back.