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Archive for the ‘Tips & Tricks’ Category

Sometimes You Get the Shaft

Mar 17

In Lighting, On Location, Tips & Tricks at 7:15am

Nothing like a shaft of light for drama. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in places and wished I had a 12K movie light, a scissor lift and a big ass smoke machine. Shaft city! Just like in the movies!

But sometimes, it happens for you. Saw this light coming through the busted ceiling of the officer’s quarters on Corregidor, and I thought, you know, cool! Of course the ballerina available at the time was wearing dead white, so it meant I was going into close orbit around Ice Planet 255, but, I’m always up for an adventure. So she gets in there and does something appropriate, elegant and graceful. She is as soft and lovely as the light is harsh and slashing.


But where is she? One of the things you realize over time is that a successful photograph and a successful restaurant often have something in common. Location, location, location. Now I could have left well enough alone here, but hey, it’s me, remember? Never met a subject I couldn’t overlight, so we drug out a couple of SB800 strobes and simply laid them down on the ground, camera left and camera right, about 5′ in front of the lens. Didn’t put ‘em on sticks, cause the main source of light in the pic is the way overhead and it doesn’t really bounce off anything until it hits the ground. It’s not even spilling very much onto the wall, hence the wall color, which is pretty terrific, is gone. So if there is any bounce in the frame, anything that might logically reflect light, it’s the rubble strewn floor. So the units go on the floor.

In terms of color and detail, our eyes can see it. And can see her, and even the folds of the dress. That’s cause the eye is an amazing instrument, making nanosecond adjustments we’re not even aware of. The camera, as sophisticated as it is, is a 5 stop instrument. It makes the very smart decision to expose for the highlights, and kisses the shadows goodbye. Bye bye wall. Bye bye color. Bye bye context.

But you can make inputs to the frame and dial in some light from the SB units right from camera. Messed with them a bit, and came up with this. In other words, with these small flashes, you can bend even strong light in your favor, just a little.


Had a class running, so only shot about 4 or 5 frames of this, and each one I was dialing in some different EV values. I believe these two units were running somewhere around plus 1 EV. The effect on the wall is pretty soft, and could have made it softer yet by, say, running the units through umbrellas and laying them down on the floor. But umbrellas weren’t immediately available, so we moved fast and hoped the uneven junk on the floor would break the light up a little. Still pretty hard, though. Look at the shadow of her trailing leg. That definitive shadow gets softer as you go higher in the frame towards her arm, and the strobe mixes with a greater and greater percentage of available light. It’s fun to mess with this stuff, I tell ya. You throw everything into the hopper; your gut, your sense of time and place, your histograms, the light, the color, the subject, and voila! You have ze magnificent and tasty stew! Or, sometimes, you get something you wouldn’t feed your cat. What was I saying earlier about pictures and restaurants?

I like dance, what can I say? I’ve said many times that dancers and photographers have a lot in common in that we are hard working, creative, and underpaid. Recently, on a trip to Milan, the venerable La Scala School of Ballet graciously allowed me to shoot their workouts and practices. What a wonderful place!

ballet school

Not only did I witness great dancers in training, the opportunity gave me a chance to practice more with the AF modes on my D3. More on that tk.

And finally…..HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Good old St. Pat’s. First time I ever came home truly hammered. I was 17, and my high school senior class always marched in the parade. (We were taught by the Irish Christian Brothers, go figure.)

After the parade dispersed, all of us disappeared into bars that weren’t checking for ID, and proceeded to get stupid. I was lucky I found Grand Central Station and the train home. Only took like, 2 beers. Complete lightweight.

Now, the day is spent more quietly. I start my class today here in Santa Fe. (Don’t think they have a parade here, but that’s just a wild guess on my part.) It’ll be a great week, as they always are here at the workshops.

My friend Mark Krajnak, the K-Man, the man in the fedora, he of the Flickr site and the New Jersey Noir style of shooting, sent me a pictorial note of how he might spend St. Pat’s. Seems he got comfortable with an Irish writer and a bottle of Jameson’s:-)


“Clicks” Cover Shot Explained & Vertical Grip

Mar 11

In Lighting, On Location, Tips & Tricks, Videos at 1:56pm

A reader wrote in and said they enjoyed the book, but was disappointed I didn’t discuss how I did the cover. So here goes.

Cover Image new cover sketch

The model is holding the jagged mirror in her left hand, and the camera is basically perched on her right shoulder. Shot with a D2Xs, with a 17-55, my favorite DX format lens. The camera sees the sky, and her reflection (tweaked the mirror just about where I wanted it). Then, off to camera right, is an SB-R200, the baby close-up brother to the SB800. It is about 2′ from the model’s face, just off the field of view, and controlled wirelessly from the SU 800 on the camera. As I recall, the sky is pulled down about a stop via minus one EV, and the flash is pumped up just a touch to compensate.

Da Grip….update….Couple of folks wrote about vertical grip on the camera. Here’s the thing. The grip I’m talking about really is mostly applicable to left eyed shooters of motor driven cameras. But that doesn’t mean elements of it–the boxer’s stance, the elbows tucked, center of gravity positioned properly, exhaling, etc. can’t be stripped out of this and applied on a selective basis. Some folks asked about shooting verticals. Without a vertical release, holding and firing the camera in the vertical position is plain and simple just tougher than holding it horizontally. (I have asked art directors for more money to shoot a vertical picture as opposed to a horizontal one, just on the basis that it is harder to turn the camera vertically. Haven’t gotten it yet. I’m only kidding, but if someone offered me the dough I would take it!)

Also, for those interested, here’s the video version of Da Grip and an outtake featuring Nigel, my wife Annie’s cat, who joined us on the set for a bit.



Da Grip

Mar 10

In Rants, Tips & Tricks at 4:13pm

Some folks have written to me about hand holding cameras. I talk about it a bit at workshops and the like. (There’s a page in Clicks about it.) Seems pretty straightforward, I know, but as has been noted before, I have a tremendous capacity to state, explain and generally belabor the obvious, so at the risk of talking about yesterday’s news and telling people that which they already know, here goes.

[By the way, I’m flying right now, back from Spain, and eating on top of my laptop. When I’m working I just close the computer and put the food tray on top of it. Is that weird? I don’t know. Might be risky, I guess, but I do it often. I think I’ll be alright. The tortellini I’m scarfing is encrusted in it’s plastic dish like a bunch of barnacles below the water line of a Greek fishing vessel, and I’m having a hard time prying them outta there with my little plastic fork, so definitely no danger of spillage with these.

Could be trouble with the coffee and the water, I guess, but I’m pretty careful. I don’t think I’ll have an accident, but, just like driving in the snow, ya gotta watch out for the other guy. My neighbor seems nice enough, and not prone to sudden movements, unlike the guy who is sitting in the seat connected to my tray table who’s been trying to get comfortable for about a half an hour now, and the seat’s yakking back and forth like he’s boffing his girlfriend...]

Okay, back to the grip… First, what not to do:

Grip - Bad Posture

Bad posture, Mr. McNally, as the Sisters of the Precious Blood used to tell me (my blood, not their’s). This type of deal is a one way ticket to the spine doc, and field fatigue. Field fatigue is something we don’t talk about much, but man, it’s there. The more tired you get, the worse your pictures are. The more compact your movements, the more comfortable you are, and the more you support the camera with your body and not just your arms, the more spry you’ll feel, even at the end of the day.

[...But my seat mate’s cool. She’s a slender female, which is great cause I’m hoggin’ the armrest like crazy. Last flight I was next to some guy who literally spilled into my seat and smelled like low tide. Couldn’t even find the frikkin’ arm rest, let alone compete for it.

Armrest comp is great. You get a couple of guys tight together for a few hours, and let the games begin! (This really occurs between guys. Most women tend not get involved in this kind of petty, machismo hoo hah.) I can always tell the ones who’ll be tough. They’re suits, mostly, and they work on PC’s and they immediately pop up a screen with, like, third quarter results, just a spreadsheet stuffed with numbers and bar graphs, and they study it real intently, like they’re a windtalker and trying to crack some kind of code...]

(Warning, warning! This camera grip is much more convenient and doable if you are left eyed and use a motor driven camera, which is obviously deeper, say, than a D70. So we’re talking a D300 with a grip, or a D3, that type of body. Also, the left eye thing. I just have always used my left eye. Dunno why.)

[...Speaking of wind, I shouldn’t complain about anybody sitting next to me, cause I'm tooting like crazy during this flight. Must be the pressure change or something. Or that double beef bean burrito I ate in Madrid before embarking.

In Flight Update
Oh well, I digress. Brad’s gonna read this blog and make sure he gets his seat on the other side of the aircraft from now on...]

Focusing left eyed brings your motor driven camera closer to your left shoulder. (Really Joe, no shit?!) That’s a good deal. If you swing your body around into something resembling a boxing stance, your left shoulder becomes a base, or a platform for the camera body. It also brings your center of gravity back under the camera. Also a good move.

Grip - Left Eye

An overhand grip might be cool if you throw a baseball for a living, but not if you shoot pictures to conjure bread on the table. That overhand grip! See it all the time. Bad news. The overhand pulls your elbow out, away from your body, like a bat wing, and meanwhile you have that ham hock of a hand laying atop the lens like a couple of pounds of ground chuck. Useless weight on the drag strip.

Grip - Overhand Bad

[Flight update….currently there is a baby screaming and a dog barking (no joke), each within five seats of mine. I noticed this lady who got onboard with a little barking rat inside of one of those mesh bags, and sure enough, he’s a yipper...]

Put the left mitt under the lens, or, if truly skinny on shutter speed whilst using a short lens, clap that puppy over your right hand gripping the camera.

Grip - Left Hand Under

Grip - Left Grip 1

Grip - Left Grip 2

[Flight update….they’re coming by with the duty free cart. All the vices, tax free. Liquor, cigarettes…surprised they’re not running a special on methamphetamine. I was thinking to myself, “Who buys this stuff?” and I got my answer. Guy four rows up just bought what looked to be an incredibly expensive woman’s watch. I know desperation when I see it. Must’ve forgotten to get something for the gf while land based and this is his last chance for something appropriately chic and European. Whew! Dodged a bullet there. If he showed up empty handed he probably wouldn’t get lucky till late fall.]

Location Lighting… in the Philippines!

Feb 11

In Lighting, On Location, Tips & Tricks at 12:57pm

Corregidor Final

I just finished a teaching stint at PhotoWorld Manila, in the Philippines, and I can say I have never been more warmly welcomed or graciously treated by any host, at any time. The Filipino people are amazingly easygoing and friendly, and, rabidly interested in all things about digital photography. The conference was a non-stop love fest, and a non-stop laugh fest among the speakers; Eddie Tapp, Judy Host, Amy Cantrell, Ken Sklute and Hadi Doucette.

The key to the deal for me to come here was the offer to teach a lighting workshop on the island of Corregidor. Ever since I was a kid, poaching my dad’s World War II books, I have wanted to see one of these islands where so much pivotal history occurred. I was busy teaching most of the day, but I did manage one quiet walk. The huge guns and the gutted buildings are still there now, of course. But it was not hard to hear the echoes of those desperate days. So many gave their lives here. There are ghosts.

Photographically, the upside of so much untouched carnage is the patina of decay, the rust of the place. The old walls of the buildings… You would pay a backdrop painter thousands to come up with a mottled drop of such gorgeous, muted color. Unreal.

B&W Ballerina

And our subjects were dancers! Put a dancer in front of my lens, and Joe be happy monkey. I feel a real affinity for dancers, actually, because, just like photographers, they are hard working, creative and underpaid. I started photographing dance years ago, by accident. I moved into a tiny studio apartment in right by Lincoln Center, the nexus of the dance world. I started seeing all these ballerinas heading for the studio to work out. “Hmmm,” I thought. “This could be a great way to meet girls…”

Over time I fell in love with the art form of ballet, its excruciating demands and exquisitely expressed forms. It is a powerful expression of living, breathing art. I also made a habit of taking ballerinas into unexpected venues, like the NYC subway.

[More from the Philippines after the jump]

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Many Thanks…

Feb 5

In Links, Thoughts, Tips & Tricks at 11:28pm

To all for such a gracious welcome to the blog world. I promise to try to keep it going, and stay lively, win, lose or draw. Just doing this is a big deal for me, and I gotta admit some stuff here. First, I ain’t the most organized or responsible person on the face of the planet. Also, I’m a big time day dreamer. (Some picture ideas come out of those day dreams, to be sure. I guess I’ve always wondered if I could get paid for day dreaming, you know, charge a client a half day research fee if you thought about their job in the shower, for instance. Hmmm.)

And, I suck at the computer. I’m getting better, but the idea of being real, real good at this machinery is probably one of those things that ain’t gonna happen to me, like playing center for the Knicks.

I’m learning, though, from a guy named… Brad. Brad is our first assistant both in the studio and in the field, our IT person, go to guy, all around organizer, and the one who calms me down when I start hitting the computer with a hammer and screaming, “Make the little pictures come out!!!!”

Super Brad

You might occasionally get a response from Brad to a post. He’s a good guy. He actually lives with us, us being me and my wife Annie. He has his own apartment downstairs, comes and goes as he pleases, and we never hear him when he’s down there cleaning D3 sensors and watching Office Space.

[Many more thanks after the jump]…

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