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Archive for the ‘In The Field’ Category

Up to Our Old Tricks….

Oct 9

In In The Field, Jobs at 9:02am

 My dear friend and former editor at National Geographic, Bill Douthitt had a cover to be shot that involved a bare chested guy with a mouse. He called me. No idea why.

It’s quite a serious science story, actually. Roughly put, the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) just broke a story about how researchers are engineering mice to act as “avatars” for a particular patient, so they could examine cancer biology from a more personalized perspective. 

The cover notion called for a shirtless male, with a shaved head (to intimate, potentially, someone involved in a chemotherapy protocol) holding a mouse, proffering it towards the camera. The intense light is on his hands, and thus on the mouse, who is the star of the show. Easy enough to do, but the control of light was obviously my paramount concern.

 Naturally, the mouse had a rep, and a handler. (Thank God, not a masseuse and a publicity agent.) She was a bit of a diva, ignoring my requests and crapping all over our patient model’s hands. But she did look at the camera once or twice, and those looks provided just enough personality for the cover shot.

Due to a tight budget, it was seat of the pants stuff. I set up a studio in my driveway. There was only one law governing the entire day. My unbelievably patient wife, Annie, has been historically gracious about obstructions in the driveway, a garage filled with photo junk, and even, quite recently, two mostly naked, body painted models running around our kitchen, preparing for a forest shoot in the backyard. But there was no give on this one. No mouse in the house. 

Bill and I stayed in touch via the miracle of the internet throughout the shoot, as I was sending him samples of the lighting, the cropping, etc. I have great confidence in him as a picture editor and have spoken of him before on this blog. He was a picture editor at the National Geographic for 34 years, until he was exited, as they say. This happens a great deal nowadays in the print journalism game. We worked together quite frequently, until, of course, we didn’t.

Happens. When I was a staff photog at LIFE, I was shown the door. At Time Warner, they call it a “reduction in force.” So, in the hallway vernacular, I got riffed. Same thing happened to Bill, though they probably call it something different at the Geographic. Given their particular bent for reporting on the natural world, maybe it’s referred to as “the circle of life.” I digress.

Anyway, what started as a stark silhouette became a semi-silhouette, with a shimmer of detail in the face and body. The background was lit with two Profoto B4 flashes, punching the white. When the call came in to open the silhouette a bit, I introduced two Profoto 1×6 strip lights on either side, both sporting egg crates to control the flow of light.

Up front, a 1×3 RFI strip light, fitted to a B1 unit, also outfitted with an egg crate, washed some detail up into the bottom of his hands and forearms. Overhead, a B1 governed by a ten degree spot grid became a snappy, intense main light. Then it was all up to Eric, our wonderfully serene human model, and our rodent friend, upon whom we bestowed the name, Trixie. She of course needed some guidance now and then. 

The lighting broke down like this: Two B4′s with heads wrapped in black wrap to pop the background; two B4 big strips for edge light on the model; one B1 overhead in a 10 degree spot for the main; and one B1 underneath in a small strip for under lighting the hands. Every light has a specific job. The camera is a D810, and lens is 70-200mm f2.8 Nikkor. Exposure specs: 1/200th @ f22, ISO 160, lens set to 170mm. The set sorta, kinda looked like the sketch below. The solid black overhead nixed any potential for ambient light to influence the equation. We brought space heaters on the set so our talent was comfy. Whole shoot, including the lunch break, took 2 hours. Setup was the key. That took a while, getting all the pieces in place. 

Studio in a driveway? Sure made it easy to put the gear away. More tk….. 

 

 

Congrats to Joe T!

Aug 25

In history, In The Field, Stories at 6:40am

This past weekend, Joe Torre’s #6 was officially retired at Yankee Stadium. He rightly took his place among the pinstriped legends. I worked with Joe a number of times over the years, and he always proved to be an affable subject. I wrote about the above snap in The Moment It Clicks.

I shot it in the aftermath of Frank Torre’s heart transplant surgery, performed by the famous Dr. Mehmet Oz. Frank and Joe were not only brothers, but also one of those rare tandems of siblings who both made it to the big leagues. I was assigned to shoot the trio, at Yankee stadium, for a story on alternative medicine. At about noon, on a sunny day. As I think I asked in the book, “What do you do with three relatively lumpy guys who are waiting for you to tell them to do something interesting.?” In five minutes or less. In bad light.

The answer, as it often can be, was a big, single blow of light, in this case a 74″ Octa. One light, full power, open up the faces, and beat back the sun. The operative thing that goes through my mind during a session like this is always “KISS!” Keep it simple, stupid. No time for anything fancy.

But, if you leave these guys alone and don’t direct them, all you got is three different head shots, only all in the same picture. So, you gotta have an idea, and venture it, at the risk of hearing no, or even worse, being ridiculed for suggesting something outlandish or stupid. With Joe and Frank, though, I knew I had a couple good guys who had spent enough time in locker rooms to respond to “How about giving Dr. Oz a big, Brooklyn smooch?” Which set the doc to beaming. Three minutes or so, and I left with a picture for LIFE.

Shot Joe and his equally famous golf buddy Rudy Giuliani for the cover of Golf Digest, also at the old Yankee Stadium.

We shot this in the left field warmup area, hence the rumpled seamless. The biggest problem I had was that as soon as the team got wind that the skipper and the mayor were doing a photo shoot, they started pulling home run balls over the left field wall during batting practice, hoping for mischief, or perhaps to see one of my lights explode. One ball was a screamer that might have done some damage, but we were saved by Mo Rivera, who Joe described as the best pure athlete on the team. Rivera made a helluva grab, and the set stayed safe.

Congrats to Joe, who always made my job easy. More tk….

 

 

 

Old School Meets New School, Part II

Jun 23

In Gear, In The Field at 1:51pm

On vacation, I will often take an exotic lens with me. Read the rest of this entry »

A Postcard for FDNY

May 29

In In The Field, Lighting, On Location at 7:51am

Ten House is located on Liberty St., spitting distance from the World Trade Center site. They just got two new rigs, and it fell to 10 Truck chauffeur, Aaron Burns, who doubles as the house photog, to shoot a postcard of these brand spanking new machines. A postcard, and maybe a shot to put on the wall, if things worked out. Read the rest of this entry »

Room With a View

Mar 17

In In The Field, Links at 3:49am

I’ve always enjoyed getting my camera in a different place. It’s rewarding, and occasionally daunting. Recently, an effort made by TIME magazine, and spearheaded by shooter and Senior Editor Jonathan Woods, got a whole lotta camera in a different place, which resulted in a truly unusual, not to mention massive photo.

The crew at TIME were kind enough cite my efforts at getting to the top of the Empire State building as inspiration for their drive to the top of #1WTC, now the tallest piece of real estate in the US. Here’s a link to their “making of” video.

I’m very thankful to them for citing my pix from high places, though I daresay they’ve offered too much credit. I’ve simply hauled my sorry ass up a bunch of towers. These fellas took it to a whole new level (sorry!:-) by cranking up a gigapan effort, and booming out a camera off the structure, and knitting together perhaps the most highly resolved image of Manhattan ever made.

I climbed the Empire State numerous times, and got to the light atop the mast four times. Some of those efforts resulted in no pictures, but, on my last climb, I finally did get an image that has hung around for a while. It was in concert, as always, with my good friend Tom Silliman, who has guided me to many high places.

There’s a certain synchronicity here. The pic above ran in the Oct. 2001 National Geographic. Which meant it hit the newsstands about two weeks after the Trade Center towers had disappeared from the New York City skyline. Geographic got a few letters about it, not irate ones, but missives that mentioned the somber, bluish mood of the picture as having some sort of emotional resonance with the events that had just occurred.

Now, all these years later, that tragic wound in lower Manhattan is healing, and out of it has risen up yet another amazing, silvery exclamation point of a building, one that will anchor the landscape of downtown for all the years to come.

Also, back then, before it was called a selfie, I actually shot one, up there at the light, with a Coolpix and a fisheye attachment. That’s typical of me, of course, to be ahead of cultural trends. (Joe make joke.)

Many thanks to Jonathan and the crew at TIME for the mention. They have, in turn, inspired me to continue to get my camera into unusual places. More tk….