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Archive for the ‘Tips & Tricks’ Category

Dancing in Dubai

Apr 5

In Seminars & Workshops, Tips & Tricks at 4:03am

Dancers are pretty great, ya know? Hardworking, creative, physically gifted, amazing to watch and even more amazing (and challenging) to photograph. I’ve been really blessed to work with some of the most wonderful dancers in the world. It started as a hobby, a sideline, a byproduct of having a studio apartment in NYC right by Lincoln Center, home of two famous ballet companies. I started seeing all these ballerinas in the neighborhood duck walking through the streets to the rehearsal studios, and I became intrigued.

Fast forward 25 or so years, and I am still shooting dance, and happy to be doing so. Teaching currently in Dubai, at GPP, and having a blast. Great workshop, very warm hearted people, and a terrific staff that smooths the way for all the instructors. We’ve got a crew here from all over the world, encompassing a wide range of photo skills. We’ve even got the mad Englishman, Drew Gardner, who from what I hear has all his students alternately thrilled, involved, and terrified.

My classes are about light, and for subjects, I just say, hey, you know, dancers would be great. Enter the Extremers, a Dubai based hip hop group, who, in my short experience with them, appear to have no “off” switch. Typical question…”Uh, can you jump, spin around, tuck your legs, and hang in the air for about 3 seconds while I shoot several frames?” Answer: “Sure!”

Did a few quieter frames as well….

Tried a couple things here. The room I shot the leapers in had a good quality of bounced, warm light already pouring into it from the the fading sun, even though the sun was directly behind the building. So I winged a Ranger pack from the direction of the sun, heading for the big wall, and thus reflecting onto the dancers. Gave that a little camera point of view fill with another pack just overhead of the lens. The fill pack is way low, and the main is maxed out. Can’t say enough about the Rangers. Dependable, rugged, packs a punch and in a day when every watt second you want to buy is like another point on your mortgage, it is affordable.

The lone dancer is shot with the lone Ranger again, blasted through the glass bricks. Sun was already down, but you couldn’t tell when that puppy hit the glass.

Then I got a little fancy with SB900 units. Put two each on camera right and left, low, and blasted them at this leaping line.

Got crossing shadows, which is most of the time a no no, but it seemed fun with all the dancers in the air and their various shapes making Halloween shadows on the drape. Then, I thought, hey, let’s try a triple exposure with two TTL groups governing the first and the third exposure, and the middle exposure running as available tungsten light! After all, this is an advanced class. A little voice in my head whispered, “You’ve never tried a flash mix triple exposure before, numnuts! Think you might wanna test this before you try it in front of a bunch of people???!!!” Naaahhhh…..I guess I had a bit of a fever after watching Natalia, our subject and a wonderful belly dancer shimmy across the stage a couple of times. I mean her arms are making smooth, graceful shapes, her shoulders are squared off, and her face is a veritable oasis of serenity, and  all the while her hips are oscillating like a high speed paint mixer.

So…set the D3 to triple exposure, got Group A and B going to be the bookends flashes, and tested them a bit for exposure control. Tried a couple tests for the hot light middle exposure, and then shot a few. Let’s call it a work in progress. Got a couple things coming up where doubles and triples will be important to handle in camera, so this was a good beta to figure where problems crop up. More tk….

The Workshops Week, or Two….

Feb 4

In Seminars & Workshops, Tips & Tricks at 12:42pm

Just getting back on top of things….that’s a lie, I’ll never be on top of things. What a crock of shit. Can’t believe I said that. Anyway, update from this particular bug on the windshield of life, the workshops were a huge bunch of fun, and lots of folks liked ‘em. In the latter part of the couple of weeks, ran a lighting gig for friends from Atlanta and Florida at Shoot Digital in NYC (my favorite NY studio, Hector runs a bad ass coffee bar) and we were blessed with Martina Redux….

Call this cove lighting. Can’t take credit for it. Swiped it from Gilles Bensimon, legendary fashion shooter and long time creative director of Elle magazine. My first cover story for the Geographic was called “The Sense of Sight,” and it was an in depth look at how the human eye works. A coverage item was eye makeup, so I got hooked up with the chief eye makeup artist from Lancome, and off I went to Paris to shoot on the set with him, during a Bensimon fashion take. Man, what a treat. I just sat in the corner most of the day and tried to soak up a tiny speck of what this man knows.

He looked at me and said, “You have ze best job, no? For ze National Geographique, eh?” Seeing as he was making many, many thousands of dollars a day shooting pictures of the world’s most beautiful women, I might have debated him, but I just smiled and shut up. (Good tactic when you are in way, way, over your head.) Thing was, word had circulated on the Paris fashion grapevine that Gilles was shooting at this studio, and during the day these unconsciously beautiful women were showing up, unannounced, to show him their portfolio. He was quite nonchalant about all this, dismissive, even, barely saying a word to these young ladies as did a high speed flip through their books. He would hand it back, and walk away. Crushed, these stiletto shod aspirants would slip back out the door. I remember looking at them (alright, ogling, gawking, jaw on the floor glass eyed dumbstruck staring; choose one) and timidly thinking about raising my hand to get their attention. “I’ll photograph you! I’d be happy to! Really! Your portfolio’s great! I like it! Does that matter?” Uh, no.

Martina is a joy to work with, and totally sweet, but man can she kill ya with a look.

He was shooting in a cove. When you take the time and trouble to rent a cove (think of the shooting set in the shape of half an egg) you might think you would do the expected and shoot into it. No. Bensimon arranged V-flats in the cove, banged his lights into them, which then washed back into the curved white surface and sloshed forward onto the model, who was sitting there on seamless paper. By doing this, he instantly created a huge light source. He settled in, crouching, back comfortably resting on the curve of the low part of the cyc, and proceeded to make pictures. “Voila,” flash. “Voila,” flash. “Voila,” flash. I’m thinking of trying that line of patter next time I do a portrait for SI. You know, in the locker room, going, “Voila!” I think it will be well received.

Trying to show it here. Nigel helped me.

And Vanessa came the next day. Quite honestly, one of my favorite subjects, and an enormously talented ballerina.

Always wanted to blow her hair around, seeing as she’s basically never cut it. Did this with the new-ish Elinchrom deep throat soft box. (That’s the name they’ve marketed it under. Gotta love those wild and crazy Europeans!) Actually, I think they’ve changed the name up but it’s this very deep, mid-sized Octa shaped soft box that produces an amazing, columnated quality of light. It’s soft, but it doesn’t spill or spread. Wonderful. Tried an over/under combo with Eric and Hope, who were terrific, enthusiastic newlywed subjects.

Those things will be a go to soft box for some time to come….

We had Day 8 of The Lighting Workshops, and I didn’t blog, so I really didn’t win my bet with Moose Peterson. He told me I wouldn’t blog every day, but I did for 7 straight days. Sheesh. I don’t know Moose and Scott Kelby do it, cause I got plain knackered. Anway, we were once again blessed with Jasmine’s presence, who is so effortless in front of the camera as to just about defy gravity.

Used a few different approaches to this, mostly starting with the Ezy Box Hot Shot soft box, and then upping the ante to run through a 3×6 Lastolite diffuser panel, if my memory serves. Had low bounce, or floor skip going as well. The bigger 3×6 really smoothed out the light.

Jasmine works so well, we succumbed to plain old natural daylight for a bit. What a great studio…

And then messed with a Honl gridded, SB-900 through a Tri-grip diffuser. Made it soft, but didn’t allow the light to spread and wash out the shadow pattern on the wall.

And Cara came by, FOL (friend of Lynn). She had a great soulful presence so we lit her really simply, with one SB unit through a Tri-grip, camera left.

Phil came back as well and this light is an Elinchrom Ranger with a long throw reflector, about 79-80′ from him, one story down, in the parking lot. Great light. Love dirty windows.

We’re thinking about doing it again this summer. Stay tuned….More tk….


Nov 6

In Lighting, Tips & Tricks at 6:45am

In the next few blogs, I’m going to detail some stuff I’ve done lately in classes and demos. It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, hence you might notice I am writing about, for instance, PPE, which happened two weeks ago. Once again, a day late and a dollar short. Story of my career. I could try to put a cool spin on it and tell you I was just tryin’ to pull an SI, you know, that old trick of selling you a magazine that describes ball games you saw a week ago and you already know who won. Hey, its worked for them for a long time.

So, here goes…..


My big lighting seminar at PPE was fun. Had a bunch of great folks, and we rocked and rolled for 3 straight hours. I changed things up a bit this year, actually. Most of the time, when I do this stuff, I just pull somebody outta the crowd and we kind of simulate a shoot. This year, I asked my friend Vanessa, one of the loveliest ballerinas I have ever worked with, to come in and be a subject.

In a full blown studio, with an imported stage floor, Vanessa is capable of astonishing things.

She also makes for an amazing close-up photo.

On the stages at PPE, which are not set up for a photo shoot, we remained a tad less ambitious. I had to jury rig things a bit, drop a background, commandeer a section of the audience by moving a bunch of chairs, but after some pulling and hauling, we had something resembling what could have been a studio. That sounds like a complaint, but its not, considering I have set up studios in far less auspicious spaces….hmmmm….lessee

*An electrical closet in the basement of Sydney’s Olympic Stadium, to shoot Mo Greene for a cover of TIME that never ran. The lighting here was a lead pipe cinch. The hard part was getting him into the damn room. I was exhausted, and had fought my way from the finish pit into the guts of the stadium, dumped my gear, switched on the lights and crashed back into the interview area which required me shambling over a couple of metal barriers that were just at the absolute appropriate testicle crushing height and got in front of him and his entourage, which included his manager, a very large man who looked a bit like Ving Rhames and sounded a lot like James Earl Jones. He headed an agency called USW, or, Use Speed Wisely. He got in my face. “Can you guarantee Mo Greene the cover of TIME magazine if we go with you?”

I shot back. “No, but I can guarantee you he won’t be on the cover if you don’t come right now.” Sometimes I can’t believe what comes outta my mouth. (Anybody at any of my classes at PPE would agree.) Mo turned out to be quite a nice guy who laughed a lot, as anybody who had just been crowned fastest man in the world might be. He looked at me, shooting and blabbering like a magpie at the lens, and just said, “Man, you’ve had too much coffee…”

Cool. Cover never ran.

*In the men’s washroom of the Will Rogers Coliuseum in Ft. Worth, I shot a bunch of cowboys on a painted drop. Some of these actually saw the light of day in Sports Illustrated. Used a hot light on the background and hand held a Mamiya RZ Pro II camera with a motor and a 150, which was kind of like hand holding a cinder block with a lens on it. Hence the vibration of a little camera movement around the subject.

In the boiler room backstage at the Osaka, Japan Opera, I shot a series of SB lit portraits for the NYC opera company…..Tight quarters, but I thought hey, if I need a smoke effect, maybe I can turn one of these valves….heh, heh…..

Did the double exposure in camera with TTL flash, which will be the subject of an upcoming bloggaroodi.

Anyway, Vanessa was incredibly patient while I babbled my way through some setups. We stayed pretty conservative, and got a couple of good snaps, answered some questions, and worked the SB units really well. It was fun.

We got this if Vanessa doing Spiderwoman by taking 2 SB units and clamping the to the back of a chair in the audience with Justin Clamps and bouncing them down into the gold 6′x6′ reflector that comes with the 6′x6′ Lastolite Skylite Panel. Had to ask a couple of folks in the front row to hold it in front of them, sorta like it was a picnic blanket, and then we kind of wailed away.

This was done with a low and high fill, probably early on in the demo, umbrella up high, and low gradation from an SB on a floor stand in the background. Tough to miss with Vanessa. You could light her with a car headlight, and she’d look terrific.

Then I went upstairs and did a stint for Nikon in the booth, and basically, I exploded on stage. (“Our first drummer exploded on stage…..”)

Or rather, the flashes did. Sheesh. I was running fast, and came up from 3 straight hours of being tethered into my computer and jumped into it with a couple of drained flashes and a drained camera, which was now jacked into an HDMI cable the size of a water main. Lumbered onstage like I had the QE2 on a tow line.

Felt like Igor up there, throwing the wrong switch, and making the monster get angry. When batteries get low and weird, the system gets wonky. It’s kind of like the camera starts talking Serbo-Croation and the flashes are replying in Chinese. The only bright spots was seeing some buds in the audience. Jeff Snyder (jsnyder@adorama.com) of Adorama,  the magic man, he who can produce gear no one else can find, was there, and David Hobby. At one point I appealed to David to come up on stage and work me out a manual flash solution. Wisely, he waived off.

I actually wondered for a second if I was working with SB900 units that had once been loaned to David. With a chuckle, he told me they were coming to me next, and he had gone into the electronics and randomized the circuitry. David knows this stuff so well, he’s capable of doing that. I can barely spell randumize.

Okay. Meltdown! Whaddaya do? Go to the happy place. As on assignment, when things implode, as they invariably do, I go there, breathe deeply, actually think on Annie for a few seconds, look back, smile outwardly, laugh in the face of danger, and figure the sumbitch out. Got a new camera, a couple new flashes, and went right back at it with a brand new bag. As I always say, when shooting, the likelihood of the bread falling buttered side down is in direct relationship to how expensive the carpeting is. The crowd was great, though, and laughed with me, at me, whatever.

Tried a bit an experiment this year, with another class, based on The Moment It Clicks. Encouraged by Lauren Wendle, who is the publisher of PDN, I did a two hour conversation, really, with a bunch of shooters in one of the classes. It was called “Tips for The Working Photographer,” or words to that effect. We discussed strategies in the field, relationships with clients, tough times, ups, downs, why’s and wherefore’s, editors who help you or sabotage you, in short, we took the deal anyplace we wanted to go, and just did some real, honest confrontations with the reality of being a shooter. I was very direct, and didn’t sugar coat anything. It could have easily evolved into kind of a religious drunk, if we had moved the venue to one of the watering holes on 34th St. A young shooter who had won a spot to the Eddie Adams Workshop, and here for a month from China, came up after and told me it was the most honest photographic discussion he had been party to and thus the most worthwhile 2 hours he had spent in this country.

Okay…cool with that. No sense blowin’ sunshine up anybody’s skirt at this point. This is damn hard to do, which is why its so much fun…more tk.

Just When We Figured out the 800….

Jul 1

In Lighting, Tips & Tricks at 10:30am

Along comes the 900. I’ve had two for a few weeks now, and the unit is, well, smooth. What can I say? Ed Fasano, a General Manager at Nikon, asked me what I thought after handling it, and I told him, “Well, if the SB800 is a real nice Chevy, this baby’s a Cadillac.”

It’s bigger, stronger, sturdier. It has crucial additional features that will go a long ways to making CLS a more complete system. It has a guide number that is the equivalent to the power of a thousand suns! It will retail for $33.95 after mail in rebate! I’m lying!

Smooth light. The unit has three light distribution patterns, standard, center weighted and even. So, for the first time we can really address the quality of the light we are getting at the source, in addition to the zoom control. Have I done the old flash against the wall test to check for the distribution pattern? No. That would be waaayyyyyy too thorough for me. I kind of took it and thought I would see how it interacts with the human face in the way I often approach portraiture.

I prevailed upon my daughter Claire to take a break from the non-stop pool lounging she is currently engaged in since school let out and come out for some pictures with her best friend, Amanda. I suggested they do something to illustrate the closeness they feel as friends. Overhead is two SB900 units, bounced into umbrellas (Lastolite All in Ones) and then running through a Lastolite 3×6 Skylite Panel. The panel is diffusing light and blocking sun, as we shot this in my driveway, with some black paper hanging from the overhead door.

But I like the light. It wraps, and it is, again, smooth. It’s tough to articulate about light in a reasonable way. I use terms like smooth, rounded, harsh, angry, voluptuous, poppy, dreamy, soft, rich, evil…sounds at the end like I’ve described your average afternoon on All My Children.

But then I decided to not give the unit a break with lots of softness and went to a simple, reflected umbrella, which is not generally my light of choice. Just keep it basic and see what it can do. Amanda here is holding up the wall.

Same deal here. Umbrella camera left, up high, middling distance from Claire.

Simple is the way I might describe this. Easy, even. Running aperture priority at minus 2EV to keep the wall a bit dense and below middle gray. Claire is lit with the 900 in group A, the only light in the mix. Put a little extra power in the strobe to compensate for the muted nature of the frame.


You know the selector button in the back of the SB800. They key to the kingdom? The button that allows all? The one that was reluctant to respond when punching it in a frenzy? The one when crunch time is happening on the job and your lights are completely set but you gotta make a change and you are pushing and pushing on the button so hard you feel like you’re that kid in Gary Larsen’s cartoon about Midvale School for the Gifted? Cause nothing’s happening? Or, you happen to have a thumb the size of a ham hock, and you can mash that baby all day long and it’s giving you flat line, no response? That one?

Ugh! Mongo make flash work now.

Well, say goodbye to that puppy. See the wheel above, in the middle. Key in virtually any function with a tap on the appropriate button and spin that wheel. Plus/minus EV, groups, channels, the whole deal. Once you get yourself set, see the lock symbol? Yep, you can lock it so you don’t thunder thumb it to group 9 or something I am often prone to do. See the temp scale? Cool! Burst away! The unit will tell you when it’s heating up. It gets to the top of that thermometer, a klaxon horn sounds and a pre-recorded voice screams “Emergency Blow!” Kidding of course.

See the on/off/remote/master switch? Thank you, strobe wizards! Do you realize if you multiply how many times you use this unit over the course of your life by the number of seconds it would have taken you to punch through the SB800 4 box grid and get to the options menu and drop the 800 into either master, remote or SU-4 (let’s say, 15 seconds) that you will be given back probably enough time to watch all of the Rambo movies and seriously ponder the nuances of characterization and subtleties of the human condition that define those movies? And how much richer your life will be because of that? All due to the simple on/off/remote/master switch. No more punching through the menu. Go click, you’re there.

The unit zooms to 200. Which means it can throw light from a good distance.

The light here is TTL, zoomed to 200mm, blasting at Claire from maybe 40′ or so. Not artful, especially for Claire, but good indication of things to come, and things that might now be possible. I’m speculating I can maybe make a 900 a master, and zoom it and get more reach for the signal to my remotes. Just a hunch, and as I get cranking better with these guys, I’ll report back. Check out the shoes. I always joke with Claire that her first word was, “Chanel.” She is a fashion plate, along with her friends

Tried another simple umbrella approach on this, and thank goodness for TTL, cause I’m shooting one handed and holding the stand on a rocky incline with my shoulder and other hand. Managed to get it pretty close, and it is wavering around up there, but the exposure stuck with me, and I came up with teenage girls and their sneakers. I always remember a Time cover story on Diane Keaton, shot by Douglas Kirkland I believe, many years ago, where Diane is on the rocks of Central Park with goofy shoes and a wide lens. Nice frame, as I recall. I’m always harking back to work, footnotes in the random stock files of my brain.

And….TA DA! The unit swivels 180 each way for a total of 360! Yep! It is the Linda Blair of strobe units. Swing that light head. It comes to a click stop of course, and then you go back the other direction. But it is a full 360 which means we just got away from the angling the unit to maximize sensor reception but at the same time potentially compromising the approach of the light to the subject. This feature alone is worth the price of admission, to me. I was showed this out at Nikon and I almost kissed Lindsay Silverman on the lips.

And…drum roll…final note of the morning. It’s got a computerized gel system. Huh? Yeah, that’s kind of what I said. But here’s the deal. You put the camera in Auto WB (gotta be there) and then slip one of the gels that comes with the units into a holder. The gel has computer chips embedded in it, and the holder makes contact with the unit and translates a color temp back to the camera. In other words, put a full CTO on the strobe, and the camera internally adjusts to an incandescent white balance.

The below is a little light flash on camera through a Lumiquest Big Bounce. Bit of CTO on the strobe, daylight balance for the scene. Color pattern about what you would expect.

But, put the full cto on that comes with the flash, and it signals the white balance shift. And you get this.

Bears exploration, to be sure. Pretty nifty technology. Feel very blessed to have experimented with this stuff. Mike Corrado at Nikon told me I was the first shooter to have my hands on it. Dunno on that, but if true, it means I am the first shooter to have broken one of them. Mike, sorry! One of them pitched off a stand and came up scott free, not a mark on it, except the dome diffuser cracked a bit. My bad. Not looking.

Tomorrow, pictures you get when you mix a ladder truck of FDNY, a D700, Times Square, Mike Corrado, and 3 onboard SB800 units. More tk.

And..just in. Jeff Snyder, the magician of Adorama–his email is jsnyder@adorama.com and he is taking orders per a note I got from him this am. I don’t know if you know Jeff, but he is a wiz at navigating the system in the early release of a product. Food for thought….also Nikon has a link on their press room site, obviously…


Mar 20

In Seminars & Workshops, Tips & Tricks at 8:24am


One of the reasons I teach is that I learn constantly. I learn from my class participants, who are routinely terrific. I learn from the whole workshop environment, especially one such as here in Santa Fe. Reid Callanan and Renie Haiduk have created a wonderful oasis of photographic enthusiasm and energy out here, and just bouncing off of it for periods of time puts juice back in my own work.

And I completely enjoy, and learn from a group of folks who are routinely taken for granted–the workshop models. These folks come out, for very little money, and help out the classes by posing for them.

I have known Donald now for about 5 years. He consistently gets assigned to my classes, and we are always the better for it. We talk a bit, and he is a font of wisdom, wry humor, and he has that wise “seen it before” twinkle in his eye. He also at this point knows a hell of a lot about lighting. I once saw him eyeball a light a participant was putting up, and quietly say, “I think you’re going to want that light lower.” He was right, and the photog in question made a nice picture.

Donald got sick a while back, and we were all concerned, but typical of him, he just beat it back, and kept coming to pose for the Workshops. I asked back then how he was doing and he replied, “Joe, the day they lay me down, all the music in the world’s gonna stop.” I believe he’s right.

I have always told Donald I would make a picture of him–just take a couple minutes away from the class and do his portrait. Never got the chance until this week. It was an honor to have in front of my lens.

Some folks have asked for lighting grids and sketches about the last couple of pix I posted. Those are coming…just gotta go to Dunkin Donuts and get the napkins to sketch on:-)