Archive for the ‘Rambling’ Category
There were a bunch of really good questions from yesterday’s post, so I’ll do my best here….
Dick Wood says:
on August 23, 2010 at 5:57 am
Great how to. but I have one small question. Where do you aim the speedlights in the V-flats? the ceiling , into the flats, of bounce them off of the back wall?
Dick WoodPS Love the shorts.
Generally I aim them straight into the “V” portion of the boards, and make sure the flash(es) are tucked in there and don’t have a chance to spill hard light to the sides. The v shape collects the light and pushes towards the wall at the shooter’s back. Then, it rushes towards the subject with the power of a thousand suns!
On the shorts front, I borrowed them from Hobby. As you can see, my legs are plus 2 EV.
on August 23, 2010 at 7:40 am
Thanks for another great insight into your work Joe.
I have a question though, doesn’t the photog (or ‘Numnuts’ in this case) cast a shadow over the subject? I guess the whole back wall becomes the light source and so maybe wraps around the camera operator?
It doesn’t, oddly enough. You would think it would, but in my experience, no. Now, it could happen. Here’s the thing. I trot this technique out every once in a while, and I’m sure there are iterations of it that are better, or levels of experimentation with it that I haven’t taken the time to investigate. So, I guess, I should qualify and say, you know, I haven’t had that specific issue. Now, if you’re a photo enthusiast, and you want to shoot your 5 year old twins this way, and your day job is being the right tackle on the offensive line of the New England Patriots, all bets are off.
on August 23, 2010 at 8:06 am
Very cool, but with SB flashes, what kind of ISO and f/stop are you getting? Bouncing the light twice has to really suck up the light. Looks like you’re doing shallow DOF, but still curious how high you need to ramp the ISO to make this work well.
Again, in my experience, ISO 200 with this rig gives you a pretty decent f-stop. That is part of the reason (here’s Joe “Overkill” McNally at work again) I use the four SB units. Dividing the labor taxes them at a lower stress level than using two. Having said that, have done it with two, and jacked my ISO to 400 or 800 and it works fine. The nice thing about doing a TTL thing here, is that you can flick some buttons on the master, and go from you know, f5.6, to f2. Work this setup at min DOF, and it rocks.
Ranger 9 says:
on August 23, 2010 at 8:11 am
Great idea, and impressive that you can get enough light out of it to shoot at ISO200/f4!
But did you really use just the flats and wall bounce for the top photo (mcnallyshow-143, the flying-haired young lady with the whatsit on her head)? Can’t understand how you’d get the hair backlight and the highlight on her temple with this setup. Did you do this with a reflector, or did it need another light, or what?
Good pickup, Ranger 9. This was done ad hoc, spur of the moment. They young lady in question has hair that calls for a studio fan to put on wheels and just walked around with her all day long. So, I tried an experiment. The v-flat lighting was done, and that indeed is the light that governs her face. But there was abundant ambient light in the studio and it got me to thinking, always a dangerous thing. I didn’t want my shutter/f-stop combo to get too close to the level of ambient, ’cause you lose the impact of the lighting rig, so I moved a daylight balance steady source (more on these sources in a future blog) in off her shoulder and behind her, to camera right. It is a soft source, running through a medium soft box. It gave her hair a easygoing jolt of fairly concentrated non-flashed light. We moved in the studio fan, and I dragged my shutter a bit, I think to around 1/15th. The result is her hair takes off in the breeze, and a highlight comes in around her temple. I was courting disaster here, hovering around Ice Planet 255, but we squeaked it through and managed to just hold on to, as Father Bob would call them, the holy highlights.
This just in….Father Bob has gone astray, evidently, from a recent perusal of his blog. He’s evidently left the Franciscan Order, and is now involved in some sort of new age swami shit. (See below.)
Where am I gonna go to confession next year?
on August 23, 2010 at 9:09 am
I always love to come here to read more about your shots.
I’ve been following your work, since the 80’s when I was hired by you as a second assistant, in Los Angeles, to do a shoot in the desert of some big Parabolic Antennas for a Fortune edition
Thanks a lot
Good to hear from you Ayrton. Surprised you still speak to me after one of the worst jobs ever. Lighting huge parabolics out in the desert in August, with the shape of the dishes collecting the sun. Felt like an ant under a magnifying glass. Then of course, there were the tarantulas.
Brock Lawson says:
on August 23, 2010 at 9:15 am
Where can one purchase that large of a piece of foam core board?
They’re not too tough to get. We order sometimes from Pearl Paint down in NY. Any decent size graphic arts supplier, or set shop, or even grip house should carry them. (These are also a rentable item.)We do 4×8′s black on one side, white on the other. They last a long time, and literally, a smart, cheap investment if you have a home studio.
Alex H says:
on August 23, 2010 at 10:18 am
Joe, long time reader, first time commenter.I just have a couple questions you might help me answer. What power were you shooting the SB-900’s at,or was it all TTL? Do you get a different effect based on the height of the ceiling? Also, are you going to post more on the Flexes you’ve been playing with? Thanks for all of the insight you’ve provided over the years. It’s been invaluable to me!
The ceiling comes into play, for sure, just ’cause there’s such a wash of light you are creating. It’s gonna fly off that puppy, depending on the height. I tend to think of it as a good thing, just a piece of a “poor man’s cove” that continues the bounce effect that Mr. Bensimon used so well. And yeah, absolutely, will be letting fly with some info on the Minis and Flexes, as soon as I can get something I’m happy with.
Matt Hunt says:
on August 23, 2010 at 11:42 am
Thanks for that, dumb question but I am guessing the heads are fairly well zoomed out for this e.g. you’re not at 35mm zoom on the flash heads? From the pictures above it has to go..25-30 feet to actually reach the subject? Or, are they firing at nigh on full power?
It’s actually a really good question, and the answer might be a bit surprising. I leave the dome diffusers on, and consequently, the heads zoomed wide, so the effect in there is a bit bare tube-ish. In fact, when I use bigger flash heads in this fashion, I generally don’t put reflector pans on them. I want radiance, not direction. Now–again, I emphasize, this is just me talking. I’m sure there are folks out there using this technique who have gotten it fine tuned to a degree that they zoom their lights into the v-flats for extra punch, and it works real well. This is just me talking, and at this point in my career, after all the flash exposures I’ve made, I’ve got about six working synapses left.
on August 23, 2010 at 12:34 pm
What are the pro’s/cons of using V-flats versus just bouncing off the rear wall? Seems you would lose less light by bouncing once rather than twice.
Done the straight up wall bounce thing occasionally, to be sure, and it works well. It has a bit more punch and clarity, perhaps. The “ping pong” you play with the light in this technique is softer, but you def. lose light, and hence f-stop.
Hope this is helpful, gang….more tk….
Just flew Frontier Airlines for the first time. They did a good job. Counter agent was very nice and didn’t even give me the evil eye when I approached laden with 8 pieces to check and just me traveling. Everything was pretty smooth, though, as is typical of every airline, a little tight in coach. I was working on my laptop, and the guy in front of me decided to recline suddenly. I think I might have broken a rib. It’s really, really hard to type when you have to lift your stomach off your keyboard to get to the keys.
So Frontier’s cool, though it is, as their jaunty slogan suggests, a different kind of animal. Rustic is perhaps a good way to put it. I half expected the flight attendants to be wearing red plaid shirts and suspenders. Their free snacks were decidedly on the natural foods, chex-mex side of things. When I passed the flight deck I thought I heard the pilot and co-pilot humming bars from “I’m a Lumberjack and I’m Okay.”
The real trouble with flying a crunchy airline out of a crunchy city is that you might end up sitting near someone who just visited the Pacific Northwest and had a life altering, body scrubbing, soul searching, colon cleansing experience. Such was my fate to sit close-by to someone who had done just that.
Fresh from the salubrious, pine tinged air of the great outdoors, this particularly exuberant, thoroughly pleasant wacko had just been ensconsed at some ashram type of retreat where no conversation was allowed. Yep. Couldn’t speak a word for over, like 48 hours. Silent. Non-verbal. Not a peep.
And my wasn’t she the little pent up bundle of conversation! Holy shit. I was listening (it wasn’t a choice) from a couple rows of seats away in the waiting area, straining my eyes to see if I could see the aisle and seat number on her ticket. I kept thinking about Airplane! and those folks who offed themselves rather than listen to another word about George Zip.
Oh my. Evidently, the place was really beautiful, and the experience of utter silence so profoundly soothing that, like a magpie on speed, she just chattered on about it to anyone in earshot, leaving any sense of the irony of it all bobbing in the wake of the twin Evinrudes of her lips.
Evidently the deep, nearly spiritual connection with silence didn’t take. She was a one person cocktail party, basically supplying both ends of the conversation as people desperately tried to appear otherwise engaged. It’s tough, though, attempting to appear compelled by reading the type on the air sickness bag.
It’s okay. Another day in the skies. A baby started screaming, and the steam went out of any talking in our section. Lord what a wonderful noise.
On a plane….where else to write? Got to my seat, did the usual. Cameras in the overhead quickly, to lay claim to that real estate. Overhead space has become so valuable to get to first that, come boarding time, the gate agent might as well have a starter’s gun instead of a PA system.
Other bag….pull out laptop, and Bose headphones to weather summertime’s screaming children passengers. (I like kids, but on deadline, after a job, on planes, well, the bad Joe takes a bit of an inside word ramble. “You have a lovely child. Looks a little under the weather. Oh my! I’ve got some Benadryl right here!)
Ipod and Iphone go in the seat pockets. Power cord for the whole electronic shebang, should I be blessedly upgraded. Cards and reader come out, to download pix. Eyeglasses geared for the computer screen.
My “normal” walk around glasses have a progressive lens pattern that is so outright weird after 35 years of straining my left eye through cameras, while my right eye often stays open, that my prescription reads like an unsolvable math problem. My right eye will roam when I shoot, on patrol for approaching permit police, pedestrians about to cross the lens, misfiring flashes, editors with unhappy expressions on their face, and hair and makeup people poised on the fringe of the frame, desperately searching for the stray hair.
(The fashion folks are great, but their on set antics always conjures up a wartime buddy movie in my admittedly oddball noggin. Tensed and ready, they operate in teams, desperately searching for the offending garment wrinkle or slightly uneven bend of the guava passion pink lip liner. When they see it, they might as well be dressed as commandos. “I’m goin’ in!” shouts hair. “On your six!” makeup calls back. And boom, like style medics they are on your subject. I can just about feel the downwash of the approaching rescue helicopter on my neck.)
Anyway, my left eye bulges, ogre-like, into the eyepiece and my right eye tends to pinwheel. This has left me with a combo that according to my eye doc should have me walking, punchdrunk, in a small circle all day long.
That hasn’t happened yet, but it could. I put almost nothing beyond the potential consequences of doing this thing that we do. The ramifications ripple through the rest of your life. I’ve been blessed by most of those ripples, generally. At least none has outright laid me low. But you know that it could. The camera is a machine that produces change. Every time you shoot with meaning, like a tree, you grow another ring. You throw a rock in the pond. Sometimes a big one.
Just grew another ring. My 15th coverage for the National Geographic got published this month. (Fifteen coverages spread over 24 years doesn’t sound like a lot, but I took a break from the freelance wars in the 90′s to become a staff shooter at LIFE magazine, and thus exclusive to them.) Interesting topic, as yellow mag subject matter tends to be. The evolution of the electric grid in the U.S. It’s a desperately important issue, which of course, drove the magazine to tackle it.
Nothing exotic. No Tahitian sunsets, no blasé French couples coupling on bridges overlooking the Seine. No strange tribal rituals where boys become men, should they survive. (“If you wish to photograph these secret rites of passage, you, too, must pass the test where you pull the sacred ring of the maiden from deep in the throat of the massive river crocodile who happens to be in mating season!” )
“Uh, thank you, no. I’m busy shooting the electric grid.”
The grid had it’s moments, though, I tell ya. For a week, I went to work with lineman building the Tehachapi Project, in the Angeles Forest, north of LA. Tough piece of terrain, very fire-prone, very protected. Hence, there were no roads to much of the area where the towers got built. Helicopters were the vehicle of choice. The linemen would stand on heli skids, yoked to the outside of the bird, and get flown into the very top of the towers, little metal peaks they call “goat tips.” The foreman looked at me and said, “Don’t worry, it’s cake.”
Yeah, but cake tastes different when you’re 57 than when you’re 25, and have rubber legs. Barreling into these towers, holding on left handed, and firing a D3S fixed up with a 16mm fish with my right, I was pushing more than a camera button. You can hear the wind in your own wires, whispering, “Can you still do it, numnuts, or are they gonna take your sorry ass outta here in a basket?”
For the above pic, I went up to the tower early, and the chopper dropped me right where you see this crew getting dropped. I shouted to the pilot to make sure he put the crews right there, i.e., in good light. He screamed back, “I’ll pop ‘em any goddam place you want ‘em!” After I got dropped, I scampered (make that painstakingly put one foot in front of the other) to the other goat tip, where I climbed up and shot this crew going to work, which, thankfully, the magazine ran as a double truck. Great, clear morning. Got lucky with the light.
Every morning, I would stretch out, have a quick conversation with St. Jude, and jump on the skid. “Da guys” were great. More than once they would sling my Moose Pack along with their tools and lunch bucket, leaving “the old guy” just toting a camera. The chopper pilots were amazing. Precise as surgeons in the air, they’d pull wire with a couple inches of clearance, and pick and drop guys off three inch angle iron 300 feet up as easy as taxi picks up a midtown rider.
I got used to moving around up there, though I was painfully slow, compared to the real line guys. I found the “dead end boards” daunting. Hung from the actual cables, these extend out from the towers at precipitous angles, bouncing in the wind. Lineman walk them like they’re on a Sunday stroll. I was stiff legged, and held the safety wire with a death grip.
But that’s what you do. As a photog, you’re always the new kid. You get a brief, and you go. Pictures to be made, stories to be told. It’s that old Irish thing, you know, in for a penny, in for a pound. Rather die than fail. Actually, considering the earful I would get if I handed a bad take to my editor back at HQ, it’s not a bad philosophy. (I think that’s my father talking there. He used to call the obit section of the paper the “Irish sports pages.”) More tk from the land of the yellow border tomorrow.
Drew with his Iphone. Me, on the appropriately described baggage rack. Denver stop, Kelby Lighting Seminar. More tk….
Photographers. We’re strange, right? We can’t stop. We run when others walk. We work when others relax. We have no sense of weekends, holidays, time off, time on, or time in general, except as it relates to sunrise or set. When there’s a football game on TV, we aren’t looking always at the action on the field. We’re looking at the sidelines to see if any our buds are covering the game and how much of the long glass out there is black or white. We walk around like addled sumbitches, staring at strange stuff, hovering at the edge of human activity, aching to be accepted, dying for a moment, breathless in anticipation for that which mostly never happens. Curious behavior, at best. That’s putting it nicely. Most folks would just chalk it up to damn strange and tell their youngsters to stay away from us.
Maybe the word is hinky. We shake our heads, punch buttons on expensive cameras, eyeball perfect strangers, ask odd questions, and wait for light. What an odd thing to wait for. We also have restive, restless, roaming eyes. Eyes that don’t shut down. Eyes that often feel hemmed in or framed by a 35mm lens border, eyes that correspond to a 24-70, or a 200-400, depending on what they encounter. Eyes that curse the dumb conglomeration of plastic, brass and glass we place in front of them, asking that mix of pixels and wiring to be surrogate vision, supple as the real thing. Hah! We might as well ask a fucking toaster oven.
I walked out of a Starbucks the other day, in not a particularly good mood, but anticipating that the mix of 3 espressos with milk would marginally improve it. There were two men conversing at an outside table. One of them, just sitting there, was majestic, regal, even. His hands cupped a cigarette, joined loosely at his lap. I passed them. It took all of a half second.
But, when I got to the truck, I started feverishly ripping open my camera bags. Like a man in burning building fumbling for an oxygen mask, I tore open zippers, velcro, caps and covers, desperate to find a lens that might give me half a prayer of representing what I just saw. The hands. Those hands did something important. I knew it in a heartbeat. It was a pair of hands that I needed to photograph, and if I shut off the adrenaline pump, got lazy and slid into the comfort of the rental car and closed my eyes and surrendered to the latte, I would curse myself over and over again for being a feckless, useless photographer. (If you had encountered any of my early career wire service editors, you would be inclined to think it redundant to describe a photographer as useless. It was a descriptor often thrown my way, in between exasperated sighs and abundant profanity.)
So I grabbed a camera with a 70-200, and resolutely walked back to the men. They knew before I got within 10 feet of them I was going to ask. There was no tension, no fear, no clammy feeling in the gut that precedes so many photographic encounters. (Will they say no? Will they ridicule me? Beat me up? Demand money, my social security number and a financial statement?)
No. They accepted me before I opened my mouth. Those powerful hands caught footballs for a living. Still fit, the gentleman towered over me when he stood. He had a stint with the Cowboys, hence the pinkie ring. He knew Bob Hayes, the man who changed football forever. I photographed Hayes for Sports Illustrated, when they were doing a wrap up of legendary sprinters. He is the only man in history to win an Olympic gold medal, and a Super Bowl ring.
This remains one of my favorite portraits. Hayes had a tough go after football, and had legal and health problems. He died not too long after I shot this down at his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla. At the Starbucks that day, the gentleman and I chatted about Bullet Bob. We laughed a bit. The connection was immediate, and sincere. We shook hands. My hand literally disappeared into his.
How wonderful is that? What a gift this camera I curse is! A flying carpet into people’s lives. A certitude that this time, I will be richer for putting my camera to my eye. There’s no money on the line here. Just human encounter. Here, now, the camera becomes an instant learning machine.
The camera’s not a camera, really. It’s an open door we need to walk through. It’s up to us to keep moving our feet. More tk…