Bus_Rider_Mexico_NS306AGirl_in_Doorway_NS307AIronman_Underwater_newAMcNally_283_G_v3 copyA copyRwanda-Pano_NS026.tif
responsiveslider_lol_02 The Language of Light DVD - More
MeetJoe_02 Meet Joe McNally - More
inthebag What’s in the Bag? - More

Archive for the ‘News’ Category

A New Smile In Town

Aug 6

In Memories, News at 6:47am

We’ve all been lifted up lately by the shows of daring, stamina, sportsmanship, and excellence in London. In the midst of all of them, a tiny Olympian with a huge smile and an embracing manner defined the term “grace under pressure” and spun, whirled and smiled her way to the all around gymnastics title. Little Gabby Douglas, aka “the flying squirrel” lifted the whole room (the whole room in this instance being the world) with her performance and heart warming demeanor.

That smile harked me back to my very first assignment for LIFE magazine, in 1984, when they sent me out after the LA Olympiad to capture another pixie who had leaped, double spun and vaulted into our hearts…Mary Lou Retton. As bubbly in person, off stage, as she was in the public arena, we spent just a few hours together after the Games were over. My mission, obviously, was to capture the smile and the personality….and the medals.

Mary Lou won the overall gold and several others of different shades to bring her medal haul to five. At that point, as I recall, she had yet to be photographed with all of them. So, in the brief period we had together, we conjured a hat in honor of her training home in Texas and figured out a way to rig the medals on it. (This was quick, direct magazine photography at that point. No stylists, makeup, smoke machines or art directors out there with us.)

Made the frame, and the one below, on Kodachrome, just flying blind with the light and moving fast. Needed a twofer, and the effervescent Mary Lou had a blast with the stuffed bear. It was the picture above, though, that got the most notice.

One of the reasons the pic with the hat and medals was important was the fact that she had not been shot with all five of them prior to this. We made some frames, and Mary Lou was as easygoing and gracious as could be. But then, the reporter I was with fielded a phone call from her agent, who demanded that I surrender the film and leave it behind. Evidently there was a big deal going down with a sponsor, behind the scenes, and the exclusivity of a pic of Mary Lou with all her medals was a talking point. Needless to say, the few rolls I shot came with me, back to LIFE. (Mary Lou couldn’t have cared a whit, by the way, about all the backstage shenanigans. She was as fun to photograph as the pictures indicate.) But it does get interesting when the agents get involved. (And by the way, I’m totally with the Olympians in terms of sponsorships, support, you name it. They labor, intensely, largely in obscurity, for a sliver of a chance at success that comes along once every four years. If they do well, I say go for it!)

The pictures never ran in LIFE. When I got back to NY, I found that the assignment had taken a different direction, and it was pulled from me, and my pictures were killed. Another shooter was assigned, who went on to photograph Carl Lewis as Hamlet and other more elaborate constructions. I thought, well, that was a brief, but interesting career at LIFE that I just had. One job and done.

But….and here’s the vagaries of the path you walk as a shooter, the very next month. I got a phoner from the mag and assigned to a far bigger job, on the art scene on the lower East Side of NYC. Similar in a way, as I was once again photographing something gold.

Poppo, from Poppo and the Go Go Boys. Painted gold, on a roof at sunrise. As I always say, stuff like this happens down on the Lower East Side all the time:-)

More tk…..

A Society of Photographers

Jun 19

In Links, News at 7:52am

There is now a website, The Photo Society, which has gathered working National Geographic photographers together under one roof on the internet. Now, getting any group of photographers together to do anything, in unison, is difficult. Getting this particular bunch of disparate personalities, egos, interests and formidable skill sets on the same page to act collectively and all show up at the same time requires something roughly akin to an act of congress, or perhaps even a forcibly worded subpoena. This is a collection of passionately individualistic people, who, in the field, spend a lot of time alone, working things out for themselves. They rely on instinct, not press releases, resolutely avoid the pack, and seek out the path less traveled, all in hope of an angle or perspective on a story that has not been seen before. They bridle at uniformity, being utterly, confidently convinced that their vision is the truth of the matter, and that vision is pursued relentlessly, often at great risk. Our rare gatherings are lively indeed,  and vaguely reminiscent of the wild Celtic street celebration seen above, shot by the endlessly talented Jim Richardson.

As youths, in school, we were most likely deemed unruly, headstrong, and destined to engage in a lifetime of problematic, irritating behavior. Or perhaps become photographers. (Is that redundant?)

The price of admission to this website is actually being assigned and doing a National Geographic story for what is routinely called around the shop, “the yellow magazine.” Because of the degree of difficulty associated with doing this type of work, the photojournalists presented here constitute an exclusive club indeed. By my count, 86 all told. This group has done the core visual work for what is routinely referred to as the best picture magazine in the world for the last 30 years. What the Photo Society is doing here is drawing back the curtain a bit. What most folks understandably respond to are the pictures in the magazine– at turns stunning, daring, pictorially mesmerizing, thoughtful, searing, emotionally wrenching and always story driven. What they don’t see is the risk, physical and otherwise, the emotional involvement, the intensity of commitment, the first steps and ball games missed back home, the marriages set adrift, the financial brinksmanship routinely engaged in, the utter solitude of the decision making process in the field and the fevered, interior second guessing that induces in even the most confident of individuals. It is not, in short, for the faint of heart.

The site has been created and maintained by the hard and generous work of a gifted few, such as Randy Olson, George Steinmetz and Stephen Alvarez, who have done a great deal of the heavy lifting. They continue to develop it as an ongoing gallery, a repository of essential work. If one is aspiring to be a storyteller with a camera, it is a necessary resource, and should be a frequent stop on your internet travels.

There are flat out geniuses on the site, photographers whose work has informed and changed the way generations of shooters have looked at the world and approached doing stories. For instance, Bill Allard, whose stubborn, gruff independence as a visual communicator has inspired readers for 40 years.

And David Doubilet, an utterly indispensable underwater photographer, whose risk taking and visual daring defined the craft for generations.

And Lynn Johnson, whose quiet sympathy for people has created an archive of nuanced, subtle observation about the human condition.

There are also photogs who have literally created their own niche, driven by a singular passion for a place or people. George Steinmetz, who routinely straps the equivalent of a lawn mower engine and a ceiling fan to his backside and runs off cliffs to get airborne, has done aerial views of most if not all of the world’s deserts.

And Gerd Ludwig, who has specialized in Russia, the Eastern version of the wild west, and has risked greatly to define the ongoing tragedy of pollution and radiation contamination in the former Soviet Union.

What I love about the site is an area called “vignettes,” where the Nat Geo photographers share pithy, brief descriptions of their time in the field. If you peruse it even casually, you’ll notice it runs vividly counter to the imaginings that perhaps abound out there about the life of a National Geographic photographer. Contrary to myth, lore and legend, it is not a lifetime of abundance, first class air tickets, and luscious sunsets in exotic locations. Take a look below. It doesn’t read like a travel brochure.

Make a visit, if you would. It’s a rare and rich grouping of images, and a look at the ornery, gifted folks who created them. More tk…

New PocketWizard Plus III

Feb 20

In Equipment, In The Field, News at 2:32am

When we were out on the road last year, doing the Flashbus tour, our intrepid driver Phil spun tall tales of the turnpikes for us—wild man drivers, white line nightmares, going fast, and staying ahead of Smokey the Bear. I asked him if he ever participated in the cat and mouse games out there on the highway. He resolutely shook his head. “Nope, I drive by the law,” he said. “You can’t outrun ‘em. Nothin’s faster than the radio.”

Thank goodness, ‘cause just the other week we attached the new Pocket Wizard Plus Three’s to a vehicle that certainly looked like it could give radio waves a run for their money. Driven by the high speed legend Ed Fenn, his current dragster (he’s built over 60 cars) is capable of going about 280 flat out. We took some of these new radio puppies out there, slung them on the car with zip ties, and told Ed to bring the hammer down. #notsmart????

The units, and my cameras, survived. We experimented in particular with the Repeater Mode, or RP, which is capable of extending the signal with additional units used as relays. You transmit from your position, and the signal then gets picked up by another unit downstream and so forth. Handy when you want to get a good run of frames and your subject goes past you like a dust spewing gun shot.

I’ll be direct here. I’ve got a mixed history, along with everybody else, with radio transmission. All sorts of stuff can get in the way–concrete walls, rebar, water, orientation of the antenna. A bazillion years ago, I used a Hawk radio, a boxy thing that was just a step above a garage door opener. (It might have been a garage door opener, actually.) The uncertainty of that system led me to have an emergency sync cord–a hard wire connect–to my flashes hanging on the nearest light stand if (or should I say when) the moment came when the radio failed. PocketWizard came to the fore, and I’ve used them for easily over twenty years. There have been times they’ve saved my ass so thoroughly I basically put them on small altar, lit up some incense and started chanting. And there’s been times, when, like all radios, they didn’t work.

So when something happens in the world of radios that makes them better and more reliable in a very practical, usable way, I pay attention.The big thing I noticed about these units is the enclosed antenna. The rubbery, stand up antennas of the presently available units are often a first casualty because I travel so much, and everything gets jostled on the planes. Now, they’re enclosed in plastic— much safer, and according to specs, more omni-directional. Thank you, thank you. Life on the road is just as hard on gear as it is on the shooter.

The PW IIIs I had performed like a champ, even though they are not production line units, and they all were short of final firmware, which might have affected their working distance. We paced things off, and I was about 350-400 feet up the track from the first repeat. The second one was another 350-400 plus feet down from that one. So, when I started the signal, I could see flashes in the cab starting a couple hundred feet up from me, and then the car would scream past me, and get picked up by the next repeater, and so forth. We generally got 20 plus frames per run, which was good, ‘cause sunlight moves fast in the desert, and we only got a few runs done before dusk hit hard and fast. I was limited, too, by recycle on the flashes. Because they were pointed backwards into the dark recesses of the driver’s cockpit, a lot of light got lost back there, and just bits and pieces of it radiated around the Ed’s helmet to be seen by the lens. They were generally at half power or so, with red gelling on them for the late afternoon attempts.

(I was also shooting D3X cameras, not the fastest of cameras. I had both of my X’s hanging on this car. What was I thinking?)

Other stuff: The PW3’s are light, small and side facing. You know how the current Multi-Max’s and Plus II’s have the controls on the back, or broadside of  unit? All the controls here are now on the side when the unit is hot shoed. In other works, you’re holding the camera grip in your right hand, and instead of pulling it straightaway from your face, you just turn the camera and the buttons and dials are there, and they are backlit.

Here’s the thing. They seem very durable, user friendly, and simple, as opposed to the Multi Max, which nearly requires a Ph.D to operate at its most complex modes. I mean, it’s wonderful technology, and if you’re Bill Frakes, running 40 cameras at the finish of the Kentucky Derby, then it’s Multi Max all the way. But, seriously, how often do the rest of us need all that? The III’s will get you covered, I would think, for most of the work I can imagine. And, from what I hear, they’ll be about $30 cheaper than the II’s. When was the last time you heard about new, updated gear with more features, durability and potential getting cheaper?

David Hobby’s got the real rundown on these guys, by the way. He has really looked under the hood and figured them out. So check out Strobist today.

For me, I was thankful to get the assignment. It’s not often you get called up and get paid to use some new gear and do literally anything you want. They sent me the units and told me to mess around with them and see what I could come up with, and then, of course, send the units back, and do some reporting. The field report is excellent. They’re solid, tough to break (I tried), and at the price point, they’re a no brainer compared to the PWIIs.

FYI….. Drew did a terrific job on the video as a one man band, and Cali shot the production pix. Definitely a team effort out there.

More tk….

We’ve Made PS Disasters Again!!

Dec 19

In News at 6:30am

This just makes me proud. All of us, actually, in our studio last week, observed a moment of silence, an interlude of quiet pride if you will, when the news arrived that we were once again featured in Photoshop Disasters.com,  that storied pantheon of post production goofs. Cali got a little choked up, truth be told.

Seems the gang over at PS disasters have well, issues with the more sensitive areas of the female anatomy. I’m still trying to figure out what they are. Sara, our absolutely lovely, graceful, athletic Icelandic model is perched on a rock in one of that northern island’s famed thermal lagoons. We helped her out there, and then, because I wanted to keep her out of the fading sunset light, and control the foreground area with flash, I asked her to see if she could comfortably, artfully crouch (We do ask ridiculous things, don’t we?) on this slippery, two foot square boulder poking out of the steaming, mineral laden waters of the lagoon. She popped down there as easily as a songbird arriving on a tree branch. If I had tried to assume this position, they would’ve had to medevac me out of there.

Okay, here’s the red circle image. Now, I’m still trying to figure this out. Do the guys over at disasters think her, as they put it, crotch, is missing? Or badly re-touched and manipulated somehow? Trust me, if the lovely, youthful Sara had arranged herself into a personal predicament, I would have pointed that out, and encouraged her to adjust. And, if she had been wearing, say, colorful, zebra striped underwears, and thus needed some re-touching, I do believe that’s a task the guys back here at the shop would have embraced in diligent fashion. But, we are shaking our heads a bit, because, well, see below.

Here’s a screen cap of our RAW D3x file in Adobe Camera Raw, and below is the untouched JPEG, right out of camera. Outside of a touch of color correction (very subtle) and a hint of saturation, we did….nothing to the picture.

Maybe that’s their issue. We did nothing, and we were supposed to? I’m unsure. One thing remains certain, though. I do suck at Photoshop. Me and the computer have never had a particularly comfortable relationship. So, I resolved this weekend, once again, to go to work on my post production skills, given the ignominy of once again being featured as a disaster, which of course is just a fulfillment of what virtually every nun who taught me said I would ultimately become. Some type of disaster. What do you think of the below? Do you think they’ll put a red circle someplace on this one?

This is the second time we’ve actually graced PS Disasters. The first summons they issued me was about a shot of Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson astride a tipsy balance beam in an Iowa cornfield, shot for Sports Illustrated. Her dad’s hand is seen, positioned under the beam to catch her if she fell.

It was a great opportunity for me to riff on the helter skelter nature of weekly magazine journalism. It appeared then, and I’m sure still now, that there are folks out there who think that the business of closing a news magazine on deadline is a considered, deliberate process, rife with nuanced debate, and delicately handled decisions. A parallel experience could perhaps be a classical music concert, held out of doors on a summer’s evening, where lovely notes mix with balmy breezes and fading sunset.

It’s nothing like that at all. It’s more like a screaming death metal concert at a beer sloshed mosh pit. It’s a business populated with intelligent, talented people who are stretched so thin, and so over-worked into a state of near delirium by the budgetary demands currently reigning in the world of publications that they might be hard pressed to find their ass with both hands on a good day. It’s a bruising endeavor fraught with frailty, ego, error, miscalculation, nastiness and outright bungling co-mingled freely with intrepidity of effort, dedication to excellence and moments of sheer, informational, story-telling magnificence. Much like, I don’t know, organized religion, for instance. My commentary on the above shot and the process of seeing it grace the pages of Sports Illustrated can be viewed here. It’s a lively read that actually has some interesting info.

Thanks to the gang at PS Disasters for one of what I would regard as our high moments of the year. More tk….:-)

A New Flash….

Nov 30

In News at 5:07am

As the bhagwan said, “The only thing certain is change,” and that’s definitely the case with digital camera stuff. Nikon announced a new flash today, the SB-910. It’s actually not really a brand new flash, but rather a collection of tweaks to the existing 900 model.

Absolutely the most important adjust is in the area of heat management, which has definitely been an issue with the 900, of which I have fried at least two in the course of time. From what I know of the electronics of the 900, they’re designed for fast recycle, and thus build up a heat component. The engineers, being the sane and safe souls that they are, installed a thermal cutoff in the 900, which is designed to shut the unit down prior to meltdown. I have always argued with the folks at Nikon that the cutoff feature should be coupled to a klaxon horn on an interval timer, blaring every five seconds or so, with an ominous voice intoning in between warning honks that imminent evacuation is highly advisable. Think Sigourney Weaver rescuing Newt at the end of Aliens.

They didn’t go for it.

But, in this unit, they did take the whole heat thing seriously, and it appears to be much, much better in that regard. Borrowing from the SB-700, there is improved thermal cutoff technology. Much more consistent, continued performance when pushing the unit hard.

This is opinion only, not hard scientific fact. I got a last minute call from Melville, asking me if I could shoot (quickly) a package of pictures to accompany the release. It took me about .5 seconds to say yes. I did what I usually do–take ‘em into the field and try and knock the bejeesus out of them. I had ran them pretty hard for three days, trying to use them in different ways. For instance, the above pic is shot with three units together on a Tri-flash, spreading out the light, running at 1/4 power each. My light shaping tool? Uh, see below….

Thank goodness for battered, white trucks parked in fortuitous places. I didn’t have a big soft box, so this worked out as a light source as Jonathan went all sorts of Superman off the brick wall.  Which he is amazing at doing. The below was shot with one flash, roughly on axis with the sun, powered up full. It produces a double shadow of Jonathan, generally to be avoided, but here, I liked it. It actually extends the shadow of his legs in a fun way.

The good news on the timing was that I was able to drive those long suffering folks at Peachpit just a little more crazy than usual, and we held my book for a few days to insert a small chapter on this updated light maker.

Sketching Light is on the press right now, and will ship in about 10 days. I have many apologies to offer for delays in writing this puppy. It took a while. The good news there is that it delayed just long enough to be the first book to have a look at this new stuff. More on Sketching Light in  day or so, but, thankfully, it’s real, and done, and about to ship. It’s also, BTW, 420 pages. Yikes. As the sub-title suggests, it’s all about the possibilities of light. Lots of pictures, most of them driven by one source. Sketches, metadata, production pix. The whole skinny on each picture. Now that it’s done, I can honestly say it was fun to write.

Back to the flash. It’s got a couple new features, like click-on, hard plastic color conversion gels for tungsten and fluorescent, a dedicated menu button, and a locking feature on the battery compartment. And, the buttons are backlit, handy for night shoots, for sure.



I took them into a bar. (Where else at 10am?) And knocked out a multi-flash portrait of Jake, which was fun to do. Six flashes, all told, all TTL. Shot with fast glass, 35mm f1.4, at f1.4. Production snap below.

More on these TK, and in the book.

Summing up: Physically, a little bit sleeker and smoother. There’s a design continuance with the SB-700, so if you use that flash, this one will be a no brainer in terms of buttons and dials. Some other small stuff, mentioned above, that’s helpful. But the biggie is the heat management. They seem to wrestled with that particular SB-900 demon pretty successfully. In the three days in the field I had with them, they only complained a couple times, but kept performing, and kept exposures consistent. I used them in the studio and in the street.

Here, with Jasmine in the studio, I really pushed the overhead main. It is firing into a Flashpoint beauty dish, with a honeycomb grid over it, and running at full power. The background streams of light are from 1k Arri’s, constant, daylight balanced sources. The fill is another 910, skipping off the floor.

The main light kept up pretty well, and I was shooting fast, trying myself to keep up with the ever fluid Jasmine. I purposely shot it before it recycled, just to see, frankly, if I could fry it. There was some exposure variance, but it hung in there, and kept working. During a shoot like this with the 900, the 900 most likely would have given up, and I would have had to replace it with a fresh flash, or certainly fresh, cool batteries. So, there’s definitely improvement on a speed light that’s already pretty smart.

More tk, on the flash, and the book…..