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Archive for December, 2011

At Home with Donald…

Dec 14

In Friends, Rambling at 9:12am

Laughter comes easy to Donald and I. We’ve know each other for ten years or so, and to me, it’s just one of the small but rich gifts of this nutty business that he ends up on the cover of this new book. He’s a decent soul who takes his honey out for several spins on the dance floor every Friday night, sips Cuervo like it’s medicine, and always has a bit of a twinkle in his eye. As he said to me once, “The day they put me down, all the music in the world’s gonna stop.” I think he’s right.

Home. Feels good after a tumultuous year. For the rest of the year on the blog, I’ll be focusing on some of the highs and lows of another year of survival as a shooter. I looked around my tiny apartment in NYC in 1979, and realized I was paying all of my meager bills with a camera, and knew right then that I was a professional photog. At that point in time, being called a pro was high praise indeed. It was a mark of distinction that acknowledged the fact that your pictures were not only being consumed by people and influencing them every day, but that your livelihood flowed through a lens. It was a stamp of approval that only a hardy few could merit and sustain. So, as we approach 2012, 33 years with a camera in my hands and counting. Sheesh. I get points for stubbornness, anyway.

But, lots of highs and lows, as always. The new book is one of the highs, and it’s a fun read. Lots of survival lessons in there, right next to the lighting diagrams and production shots. Having my friend Mr. Blake on the cover of Sketching Light is one those wonderfully odd pieces of serendipity that occasionally come a shooter’s way.  Donald looks a bit stern and forbidding on the cover for the gentle soul that he is, but I know he likes the picture.

Shot this during a workshop demo, when the sky and the wind just gave me a feeling I could find my way to a picture.

On the other hand, one of the more notable lows occurred this year aboard Flashbus, when a hard turn ended me up in bed with David Hobby. He reported on this incident thoroughly in his blog of yesterday:

Also, if anyone woulda told me five years ago that one day I would be traveling in a tour bus with Joe McNally, I woulda told them that they were nuts.

And if anyone woulda told me five years ago that one day, I would suddenly and unexpectedly find myself in my underwear, sharing a bed with McNally, I woulda punched ‘em in the mouf.

Suffice to say you never know what turns life has in store for you. Especially an unexpected hard left-hand turn by a bus, resulting in the above. After that, I slept in full clothing.

Lots of laughs, twists and turns out there on the road.

The picture up top was shot by Kent Skibstad who attended a workshop and who wrote to me that the workshop “really kickstarted my photographic career, thank you!” It was a wonderful note to get as a teacher.

More tk…

If You Missed the Bus….

Dec 12

In Tours, Videos at 2:00pm

Here’s the video. The cool thing is that you can grab the actual discs here at this Adorama link, or go straight here, for a download version.

David and I had Washington DC and Philly put on video. It’s a two disc, soup to nuts treatment, same as the Flashbus day. David handles the morning. I go in the afternoon. Every lesson from each session is on the disc. Which in David’s case is a good thing, ’cause the way he teaches is clear headed, and defines logic. My session veers around like a roller coaster, much like being on assignment.

Scenes and lessons from the most acclaimed and talked about tour of 2011! On this two disc set, you get the both sessions–Hobby and McNally–in their entirety.

Disc One- David “The Strobist” Hobby

If you are going to drive, you should know how to drive stick. So the morning is spent lighting in manual mode.

We start small with a 4-light headshot, learning to control the scene by adding one light at a time. Then we take those same principles and export them into other settings — an outdoor portrait at midday, a table-top, a big dark room, a shower stall (with water) and finally, into the woods at dusk.

For all of these situations, simple or complex, we use the same approach. Control the ambient, then add one light at a time.

Disc Two- Joe “Numnuts” McNally
After learning to drive stick, in the afternoon we go automatic, and get out on the high wire of TTL. Using members of the audience, we craft spontaneous lighting solutions, talking our way through each setup, mixing TTL and manual (oh my!) approaches, going from one light on the hot shoe to four and five lights on sticks, fitted with lots of different light modifiers.

It’s location photography–with all its wonderful possibilities and chaos, right there on stage.

And with this being Hobby and McNally, the entire day is completely serious, steeped in utter formality with no fun or irreverence whatsoever. Kidding.

Actually, really, really kidding, ’cause the video takes you on the bus for an inside tour from which there is quite possibly no recovery:-)

But, truth be told, it’s the DVD set is both fun and informative, with scenes and interactions from 14,500 miles, 29 cities, mixed in with non-stop flash lessons, wit and wisdom. Watching it almost makes me want to hop on another bus and do it all over again! Almost…:-)

More tk….

A Book About Possibilities

Dec 5

In Books at 5:42am

It’s actually real. Just got sent a copy, and physically held it in my hands. It’s hefty, at 420 pages. I was feeling good for about thirty seconds, but I am cut no slack in my studio. Drew came up to me and nodded approvingly. “It’ll make a good doorstop,” he said.

So it goes. I do have apologies to offer, because this book was supposed to have been done long ago, and there are some folks (bless them) I’ve heard from who have left their pre-orders ride for over a year. Really, truly, apologize. The last couple years have been assignment work run amok, and I’ve had to improvise and re-invent our studio schedule constantly to just keep going out on location. (Which is where I am today, in an open field with a bunch of folks looking at me and expecting that I should know what to do next. Heh, heh–are they in for a surprise!) The delays weren’t entirely self-inflicted–I did wait to experiment with some light shapers, radio TTL and the like as they came on board. And, thankfully, we have been very assignment driven for the last year and a half. Lots of shooting. No down time.

This book was a long and winding road indeed. I looked at tried and true methods, new technology, big flash, and small flash. I experimented with lots of light shapers, both store bought and found, in the studio and on location. I pushed light through umbrellas and windows, off walls and cardboard, and into soft boxes and panels. I disclosed everything I did, via text, sketch and/or production photos. As I mentioned in the intro sections: “There’s a ton of basic information in this book. there are pictures, sketches, production photos, notes, and metadata. In most instances, I’ve divulged virtually everything you could want to know about any particular shoot, short of the color of my boxers. They’re generally blue, by the way, though I do have a couple of pinstriped numbers, and on really big shoots I wear my lucky thong. Joe make joke.”

A great deal of the book coalesces around the use of one light, be it a speed light, a Quadra, or something bigger. I also gaggle two or three speed lights into single sources (so they behave as one light) which is currently popular with new tools and light shapers coming on board.

Advanced techniques are discussed, but the book starts with one flash, hot shoed to the camera.

I take a look at radio TTL, and the new Pocketwizard technology, and examine all manner of triggering, from PW’s to Skyports to line of sight TTL to good old fashion manual slave operation.

There are lots of  production pix, such as the above, courtesy of Jay Mann, and sketches all over the place, courtesy of Numnuts.

The main deal with the book, and why I wrote it, actually, was to cover the gear, the nuts and bolts, the machinery if you will, very, very thoroughly. And then, having done that, get to the much more important questions about why we shoot. As I say, the “how” serves the “why.” There are several chapters called TITIK by my irrepressible editor, Ted Waitt, short for, “Things I Think I Know.” These are simply life lessons derived from 35 years of photography, all over the world, for all sorts of clients. Things to be aware of. Things to avoid. How to behave when things go wrong, knowing that they often do. Advice, if you will, on how to survive and navigate these perpetually uncharted waters.

Why big flash instead of small flash? Why does a certain face need a certain light? Why f11 as opposed to f2? Why would you choose one face over another? How to move fast, in a swirl of uncontrollable events, and keep your cool, light well, and come away with pictures. Building trust on the set, with models and crew. Self assigning, the key to everything. Mixing big flash and small flash. (The lede to that section: “THE BIG LIGHTS FORM YOUR SENTENCES. The little lights are the punctuation marks.”)

How to tell stories with light. How to use light as language. The underpinnings are technical, to be sure, and information about technique abounds in these pages. But the soul of the book resides in the realm of reasons we are compelled to use that technology to  shoot. And why, despite repeated failure, we never, ever lose that boundless enthusiasm the eye exudes when it is comfortably nestled into a lens. For those moments at the camera when everything works, I express thanks.

“…. I remain thankful to be a photographer. In the midst of the torrent of technology we swim in daily, the unchanging mission for all shooters is to make pictures that arrest the eye of the viewer and describe our chosen subjects eloquently. We are part of an honored tradition, that of storytelling, which goes back to the dawn of time. Those prehistoric people, painting on their cave walls—were they doing anything different than we are now, with all our pixels and technical wizardry? I think not. They were leaving their footprints, and telling the story of their times, and their lives. With those ancient pigments on those rough walls, they were saying one simple thing: Remember us.”

Remembrance is important, and the discussion of how we achieve significant remembrance, for us and our subjects, is ongoing and important. As I say, again, in the intro section….

“The discussion is important, because talking about this stuff makes us all better shooters. It’s just that when the talk starts and stops at the numbers, and the whole world revolves around the precious, soulless hardware in the bag, we miss the point. The point is the picture. The conversation starts there.


So we do need to know the numbers, and that’s a beautiful thing because they are, indeed, knowable. There are good, clear, reproduc- ible, precise approaches, distances, f-stops, and shutter speeds here in this book, and elsewhere. Sure-footed knowledge of technique feeds your pictures, and grows your confidence. and that confidence enables you to pursue ever more aggressively the answers to the far more interesting questions that are really the heart of the matter.


So read on, if you will. Study the numbers. Learn the techniques. Ask the questions. Create your own beautiful pictures. Risk failure. Court disaster. Entertain possibilities.”

This is a book about what might be possible when you pick up a camera.

More tk….