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Archive for the ‘In The Field’ Category

Gone to the Dogs

Feb 13

In In The Field, Stories at 11:37am

I have a great deal of empathy for pet photogs, those fonts of perpetual patience. I’ve only had one experience doing it, and it came to me via LIFE magazine, who had a notion of doing a four page double gatefold of all 148 (at that time) breeds of dog present at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in Madison Square Garden in NY. This year’s show just concluded, with an affable Affenpinscher named, oddly enough, Banana Joe, as the winner.

The things you do as a photog. I set up a 617 Fujica Panorama camera, on a super heavy tripod, and gaffered it to the floor. We then massed  sandbags around the legs, so many that the thing looked like a machine gun placement out of a World War II movie. The camera could not move for three straight days. It was looking at a stage we built, with draping and brightly painted blocks for the smaller pooches to climb up on. Behind the drape, concealed, stood the owners. (Trust me, show dog owners are a highly specialized breed, themselves.) I then would try my best to get the little darlings attention, via all manner of undignified noises and gestures at the camera. It got so embarrassing, so quickly, that my assistants taped a scrawled message to the back of the camera: “You Said Yes,” referring to the assignment.

I did say yes, and when you open your mouth as a photog, and that word comes out of it, the editor then shifts the responsibility for whatever happens to your long suffering shoulders. I had great support from the LIFE staff on this job, gathering pooches, keeping the breeds straight, making sure that no animosities surfaced on the set amongst our star subjects. (I don’t want to be next to the Ibizan Hound!) The whole thing was the brainchild of Melissa Stanton, one of the senior editors, and a dog lover.

I also had to listen to the owners, one of whom, whose charge was a Labrador Retriever, warned me, “Whatever you do, don’t use a squeaky toy to get his attention. He will come get it, and I probably can’t hold him.” My bad. I didn’t convey that to the crew, one of whom was behind me with a squeaky toy, and gave it a good honk. That lab bounded off the stage, dragging his owner through the draping and plowed  through my lights and stands to, well, retrieve. Mayhem ensued. Throughout it all the pooch’s expression of the sheer joy of the chase never changed.

The gatefold itself was put together back at the magazine in Rubik’s Cube fashion by the art directors. You can see the original 617 transparencies above, still in their sleeve, with grease pencil marks, adhesive tape codes and numbers, which I dodged out (badly) to simply show the physical nature of chromes and how they would be transported into print. It was a very popular spread in the book at the time. Lots of dog lovers out there.

More tk….

Slides, Like Socks….

Dec 18

In In The Field, Memories at 10:55am

Here’s a handy thing about blogging. I wrote about Bo Jackson last week, and mentioned a bunch of our original material from that long ago take seemed to have vanished. I likened chromes to being like socks that sometimes just don’t make it back into the drawer. I talked about getting into a batting cage with him and feeling like a decoy duck at a carnival shooting gallery, but we had no slide from that encounter.

Lo and behold, our intrepid studio manager Lynn, contacted SI, just to check, and somehow a bunch of these images had gotten stuck in one of their drawers, inadvertently. Years had passed. Never thought about it. Got ‘em back. Happy about that. More tk…

Tale of the Tape

Nov 28

In Fun, In The Field at 9:18am

I have never trusted lens shades. That doesn’t mean I don’t use them. I use them religiously. I just don’t trust ‘em. They are generally somewhat flimsy, plastic things, that, once in place, are an assist to your lens, to be sure, but the marriage to your lens is about as solid and lasting as a set of drunken wedding vows uttered at 3am on the Vegas strip. Read the rest of this entry »

In Copenhagen…

Oct 27

In In The Field, Rambling at 2:24am

Which remains one of my favorite places. Folks here have always been remarkably gracious and welcoming, and the city is beautiful. Tivoli is a toy-like dreamscape, a looking glass you can disappear into in the midst of the concrete trappings of the city, much in the way Central Park is at once a greensward and a safety valve in New York. When I lived in the city, during the lunatic, tumbling free fall that often constitutes a day of work there, I would find, suddenly, that I just had to go to the park. I often had the sense not so much of walking there. Rather, it was more like pulling a rip cord and getting abruptly snapped out of the tumble and thus into more of leisurely, wafting drift, so pleasant in and of itself you didn’t much care where you would alight.

Tivoli has the same feel for me. Plus, throw in the coffee, the pastry and the beer, and well, these folks got it going on.

One of the last times I was here was shooting for FedEx, and we scouted and shot in this kind of twofer arrangement that has come to be as Copenhagen, Denmark, and Malmo, Sweden have forged closer ties. Separated only by a very cool looking bridge, there is a lot of back and forth between these two cities,  in terms of people, commutation and culture.

I had, blessedly, a truly wonderful art director  I was working for during these campaigns, and she literally pushed and prodded me to see differently. I’m a pretty lumpy traditionalist with a camera in hand, meaning I often observe certain rules of the road, like composing in thirds, focusing the camera, balancing and saturating the exposure for good color and the like. Kind of what you do when you grow up photographically as I did, shooting for mom and dad’s magazines, like LIFE, Nat Geo, and SI. I don’t get too many calls from Hip Hop Weekly. In fact, I don’t remember a single one.

But she encouraged me to break out a little bit, literally shoot from the hip, and handle the camera and the frame more casually than I had generally done. They wanted the look and feel of the pix to be more of a snap, a quick look at the brand, which was often not really overt in the picture.

It was fun, simply moving and shooting through the day, looking for light and trying to construct what would appear to be a chance encounter with those very familiar letters and colors on the packaging.

Of course, shooting in a city and culture that is very at ease with itself, and doesn’t ruffle or fuss about much, is wonderful, but does have its moments. We scouted a brand new subway hub in the city, looking for potential locations, and found some good angles we determined we’d come back to and shoot over the ensuing couple of days. The recently constructed metro stop we liked was perfect, with all sorts of silvery textures, a gleaming new emporium of commutation. Thing was, when we returned, one of the major areas we had in mind to shoot, was newly adorned with the below.

I remember looking up at this very sizable ad and doing a head tilt. I mean, this isn’t the kind of billboard you might see on good old Interstate 80 heading past Moline, fer chrissakes. As I’ve alluded to before on the blog, Europe is generally, wonderfully, much more blase’ and frank in their sensibilities about things of this nature than, say, a good deal of America. This particular ad roughly alludes to the fact that it was, at that moment, World Cup time, and the menfolk would be so ardently, utterly consumed by football that their female counterparts would be, at least temporarily, quite lonely, and thus left to, uh, their own devices.

Such are the vagaries of location work. We found another angle. More tk….

And now, the weather report…

Oct 23

In history, In The Field at 8:44am

The weather is always with us as shooters, right? Unless we’re still life folks, and click away unhurriedly in a studio, to the strains of Bach or Brahms, safe from the howling elements. (I personally would rather try to shoot frames in the teeth of a hurricane than do still life, by the way. I suck at it so badly that I have great admiration for those who do it well. I’ve tried on occasion, with abysmal results. How can a thing give you more trouble than a person?)

My history with weather is a fractious one, indeed. Just ask my buds Alan Hess and Earnie Grafton in San Diego. I go there as often as I can, and whenever I do, I think Alan just starts nailing plywood boards over his windows. Earnie, a durable, talented, former military shooter who’s now with the San Diego Trib, has shot his way through a ton of shit conditions over the years just looks at me and shakes his head. I think he thinks that way back in Ireland. long ago, the local hag (Cailleach, in Gaelic) cursed my family tree with the rain. Earnie is sort of mystical about this himself, and every time I show up in SD, he tries to break the curse by the mutual imbibing of the holiest of waters–beer.

The curse was in full throat roar recently in Tampa, though, so the suds aren’t working. I was down there to shoot a video for Kelby Training on….well, I can’t even remember what we were going to do originally. I could say I was going to teach a class stemming from my latest book on PhotoShop, entitled, “The Layers of Hell,” but you would know that I am lying. Anyway, whatever we were going to do went rapidly away, and our hopes for a sunny Florida shoot went swilling down the sewers along with a whole bunch of Tampa topsoil. So, as you do on location, we rolled. Shot through the wind and the weather, sat in cars, tried to keep the cameras and the models dry, went inside, shot into the wee hours, sought cover, and cursed the rain. The result actually, was one of the more fun shoots I’ve ever had in Tampa, to be honest. Standing out there on a dock, getting pummeled by the backhanded breezes of an offshore hurricane does inspire some lunacy, and some ad hoc decision making in terms of what to shoot and how to shoot it. The Kelby folks, a generally solid group of relatively normal people, actually got a little dizzy themselves in the midst of the mayhem and went running off the deck into the deep end with the video below.

The elements are always with us as photogs, right? We gather our gear in the morning, squinting at the sky like some sort of Crocodile Dundee armed with cameras and glass, wondering what the clouds will conjure in the afternoon. Moose Peterson is actually quite amazing at this. He’ll gather a bunch of folks around him and say something like, “Well, the wind will pick up later and ricochet off that far canyon wall and drive the afternoon cumulus towards that cleft in the rock. The sunlight filtering through that cleft will give the clouds a nice shimmer. This will happen around 4:10 pm, so set your cameras on aperture priority at minus 1.3EV and go to continuous high as this phenomenon will only occur for about two minutes.” He says this type of thing with such authority that people just nod in response and start adjusting their machinery without ever cocking their head to the side and wondering aloud whether if that was the biggest bunch of bullshit they’d heard since the last presidential debate.

Of course, though, he is so damn good at this, he’s often right. I was standing next to him, and he told me the light would hit the waterfall just so, and everything would be alright. It did, and I got the only decent landscape picture I’ve ever shot.

My history with weather and the National Geographic is a sorry, almost punitive one. They sent me (just once) to the magnificent beaches of Cancun to observe Spring Break, that sun drenched celebration of tequila fueled hormones. I came back with this.

This was perhaps deemed, well, cheeky. So it was back to business as usual, and they sent me to Siberia, in February.

And I spent a dismal but necessary night in the local drunk tank, where the depression caused by the ongoing darkness gathers in sad, rough fashion. The drunks stumble out of the bars, and flop onto the icy walkways. Police patrols haul them in, restrain them, and let them sleep it off, lest they be stiff as a cord of wood in the morning, and just as dead.

On a more uplifting note, I did find my way into the ladies’ locker room in a mine, where the darkness problem is obviously exacerbated by the endeavor at hand, and watched as these shift workers bathed themselves in the salubrious wash of UV light, before heading home through the bleakness outside.

These Russian kids do the same thing at school, where the only evidence of the sun is painted on the walls, and they can perhaps dream of its warming rays and the resplendent promises of the rainbow.

Funny, I do the same kind of dreaming myself…..more tk….