Archive for the ‘Travels’ Category
The blog’s been a touch erratic. (Okay, remember who writes it.) But definitely having ups and downs. Truth is, I’ve been completely knackered of late. It’s been harder than usual for my pinball machine of a brain to make it to the keyboard. Fatigued. Get up in the morning, and feel like going back to bed–right away.
Plus my legs have been killing me. No surprise there. Trust me, after being a photog for 30 odd years, there’s not too much on my body that don’t hurt. My legs have taken the biggest beating. When I started in this game, it was standard operating procedure to use a camera bag (Domke was the way to go) and walk, run, adjust, bend, climb, scurry, jump, sing and dance all day long with a 40 pound anchor on your shoulder. This is the reason the x-rays of lots of photogs spines look like the S curves at LeMans.
My back, being of Irish descent, remains intact, thankfully. But the knees and ankles–yikes. I think about the offensive linemen in the NFL, the big guys. They pretty much shoot their lower extremities to hell and back in the course of a 5-10 year career. A fast cha-cha to Limpville. For photogs, it’s more of a slow bump and grind. You basically throw your knees in a blender and hit stir instead of liquefy. It takes longer, but the end result is the same. After an average Olympics, for example, for about a week I’ll unfold out of bed like an unwieldy, collapsible card table. When I was shooting the Sydney Games, for instance, my first few steps of every day sounded like I was walking on bubble wrap.
But lately, with both the pain and the fatigue meter spiking, my wonderful wife, Annie, blessedly (and sternly) greeted me at the door and turned my sorry ass around and pointed it at the doctor’s office. Pop diagnosis? Lyme disease. I pretty much concur. Had a bout of it before.
First got it in Nashville, on assignment for SI. I was shooting Mike Reid, former pro football player turned singer-songwriter, and lighting his house from the outside, traipsing my lights around his garden.
Then shot in a local theater….
Noticed at the end of the day I had picked up a tick. Hmmm. Not much I could do about it, cause my next stop was Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost tip of the continental United States, and one of the true garden spots of all time. My ultimate destination was Cooper Island, a tiny stretch of ice and sand a bit off the off the North Coast. I was shooting a cover for the New York Times Sunday magazine, and was going there to profile George Divokey, an ornithologist who had been studying a colony of birds on Cooper for over 20 years. His copious notebooks of their behavior had become an empirical, indisputable record of bird biology to be sure, but additionally, very significantly, global warming.
Had to helicopter out there due to the ice conditions, and the weather had us socked in for two days. Welcome to Barrow.
I was staying in a shack of a hotel, feeling worse and worse, and by the time I got choppered out (small bird, had to lash all my gear onto stretcher boards out on the skids) I was running about 103 fever or so. No source of heat on the island, except the cooking stove. Had a pup tent, out there shimmering around in the icy wind. I crawled into my sleeping bag and started dosing myself with antibiotics I had in my old Nat Geo medicine kit.
It’s all a little fuzzy now, but I basically spent two days sleeping and taking doxycycline. Poor George thought the magazine had really sent a deadbeat. Out there they give you a PLB (personal locator beacon) which, if you punch the button, means the Coast Guard rescue choppers are on the way. I remember looking at that thing. The magazine was paying me the princely sum of $350 bucks a day to shoot this, and I thought, ya know, I don’t wanna die out here. Had all sorts of fever induced imaginings. Like my remains would be eaten, along with my Kodachrome, by a polar bear and crapped out on the tundra, and then found many years later by a team from the National Geographic, and somehow the pictures would be published, albeit in a different magazine.
Spent 8 days out there with George, his research assistant Tamara Enz, call sign Tango Echo, and the birds.
George is a great guy, very dedicated scientist. He did enjoy the fact that when I returned to life, I was very hungry, and started cooking up a whole bunch of Dinty Moore stuff with red pepper and anything else spicy I could find in the food locker. Also, the article did him some good, cause he ended up on the Letterman Show of all places, which had to help his fund raising. We’re still in touch, off and on.
But the antibiotics are kicking in! Feel better today than I have in two weeks, and I’m driving everybody in the studio nuts. I think they’re gonna hide my prescription. Got some energy back, thanks to my doc, and my regular breakfast of cheerios, skim milk, a banana, a couple of those little red sudafeds, and 8 cups of Cafe’ Bustelo.
Good thing too, cause there’s a bunch of stuff in the pipe. On a plane tonight to Italy. Then, in couple weeks, a commercial gig I be looking forward to. Great folks, fun to work for. Got a Geographic job cooking now, and a story coming out in the June issue. More on that stuff, as they say, tk….
My view, lately. A lot.
Checked in for a US Air flight. Very helpful guy at the counter. Checks my gear, charges so much excess baggage my credit card is handed back to me smoking, but does all this pleasantly. He looks over at me and asks, “Do I know you?” I say, you know, I don’t think so. He pauses. “But I know your name…McNally. Are you a photographer?” I reply yes. “For Discovery?” “No,” I say, “But I have shot for the National Geographic for a long time.” He beamed. “I knew I knew you! That’s my favorite channel!”
So it goes for us ink stained wretches involved in that remarkable growth engine known as print media nowadays. We get more and more wretched every day. Suits me actually. When I’m this tired I’m truly unpleasant on board the plane, especially the 50 seat styler I’m about to get on. So I might as well be wretched to boot. Have to feel sorry for the poor bastards around me, all of us stuck together like spam in a can. I’ve been working all day in the heat of Charleston, and I smell like low tide.
Charming, huh? I guess I hear stuff like the above, as innocent and pleasant as the comment was, and I start to feel like the Clint Eastwood character, Walt Kowalski, still desperately clinging onto the Gran Torino of mass communications, the printed page. I start growling at 3 year olds with websites.
Oh, well. Got on board, with my trusty Moose bag. I have never had my cameras gate checked on a regional jet, because of this bag. Oh, not that they don’t try. I’ve had lots of gate side folks tell me the bag is too big and here’s a yellow ticket. I smile and nod and then tear the ticket off while walking down the jet way and get on the plane. Even had couple of people be insistent about it, whereupon I pull out my best, most imperious impersonation of Inspector Clouseau. “Aha, but zis is zee Moose bag, it is expressively design-ed to fit in zee compartment over zee head of zee regional jet!”
Had one airline type actually follow me onto zee plane to check. I slung it up there with a flourish, it fit perfectly, and he had to slink away, because I had heaped upon him zee great shame.
That’s for the cameras, especially on the small jets. Lately have been toting the bigger stuff in Kata Bags, and they are amazing. It’s like wrapping your stuff in Kevlar. Attached wheels, cool spacing and compartments, handles in all the right places. They rock. I’ve got all my flash gear, big and small, in Kata now. Check ‘em out.
This hasn’t been long hauls with big stuff, though. This one has been a trip filled with regional jets. Short hops. Just came outta DLWS Outer Banks chapter, and I always have a great time with my landscape family. Shot some stuff, you know, windswept beaches, dunes, etc. It was cool, though I do think if I saw another damn light house I woulda called in an air strike.
I do learn a lot of stuff from Moose, Laurie and Kevin, though. They are always talking about eliminating the color cast of a digital file by dropping a black point/white point in either Photoshop or Capture NX2. Very cool. Always snaps up the frame. Thus inspired, I tried to eliminate the middle man and went to find a picture that really was just one big ass black point/white point.
In OBX we as a staff welcomed the lovely and talented Stephanie Cross. I’m glad she’s on board, cause she’s a complete hoot. Definitely a woman who runs with the wolves and takes few prisoners and less shit, especially from Drew, my assistant and DLWS staffer. Being a young female, she will help us ease up on the old guy testosterone gas pedal that gets stepped on big time whenever a DLWS meet up is called. She’s a very welcome addition.
I also got a chance to update…WHERE IS LAURIE’S HAIR? Put her next to these signs they have on the beaches down there. Evidently, per this sign, if you have a WWII era Willis jeep, you cannot go on the beach with it. But if you’ve got a Mini Cooper, or perhaps a Prius, you are welcome to try.
Went from OBX to Charleston, and met Annie, and the two of us were very proud to help our friends Stacy Pearsall and Andy Dunaway launch a workshop at the Charleston Center for Photography. It’s a great place run by terrific people. Both Stacy and Andy come out of the military, where they have had long and distinguished shooting careers. (Stacy was MILPHOG of the year twice, and Andy was for a period of time designated as Rumsfeld’s photog. Between the two of them, I believe they have 5 tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. Andy’s still with Combat Camera, and of such stature they recently assigned him to the now infamous NY flyover of Air Force One. Lots of hoo hah, obviously, but through it all Andy just did his job. He’t a total pro. Supported the mission. Shot great stuff.)
Stacy did an amazing job wrangling talent for our class to shoot. Ashley came over and participated in a studio session.
Her sister, Meghan was with us as well….
Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is a good looking family. Total of five speed lights used here. Three effectively became one light via the Bogen Tri-Flash umbrella adapter. One is on the background, and one is skipped off the floor.
Used roughly the same combo, with some white walls and black cards to add and subtract light to come up with a group that included Wayne.
And then really subtracted some light to come up with a harder, more character driven light for a single of Wayne.
Used the tri-flash again with the amazing leaper, Michael Fothergill of the Charleston Ballet Theater.
Also went to the historic military prison in the middle of the city and tried a few things. Been playing with the Lumiquest Mini Soft Box 3.0 a lot lately. Great, punchy, hard/soft light all at once.
Tried using two of them, over and under, in a beauty light combo, and got this of Piper, a gymnast, diver and all around font of energy in front of the lens.
Just one overhead produced this of Courteny. Not a light for everybody, but she has such great structure to her face, as I mentioned to the class, you could hit her with a car head light and she would look great.
And the combo, with the low fill washed off a gold Tri-Grip diffuser, gave this look, with Mike in front of the lens.
And then one overhead Ezybox Hotshoe Softbox gave us this of Steven.
Been trying to ramp up my skill set a bit with the NIK suite of filters in Photoshop. These moves are terrific, and perfectly set up for me, who has kind of this love-hate thing with the computer. I’ve been messing around, and it’ll be a cold day in hell before I get good at any of it, but it has been fun. Tried to include many of the models we worked with in Charleston, cause they all just worked so hard.
All in all, a great three days in a wonderful city. Stacy and Andy are on track to take the Charleston Center and make it a magnet for shooters everywhere. They will be doing more workshops, shows, custom printing, mentoring, you name it. Got a chance to hang with Bill Frakes, who came in to knock out a video promo for Stacy. He just shot yet another great SI cover of Mine That Bird at Churchill Downs. In the 25 years I have known him, despite the circumstances and the pressure, he just never fails. The guy defines what it means to be a pro. More tk….
Was in Paso Robles last week, teaching a workshop launched by my buddy Syl Arena, he of the Pixsylated blog spot and the homemade wood frame box with 12 Canon flashes attached to radio poppers operating at high speed sync, otherwise known as the Hi Speed Square of Death. I think he did some self portraits with it, and that’s how his hair got that way.
Syl’s doing a cool thing, opening the Paso Robles Workshops, which promises to be an interesting, eclectic series of offerings in an interesting, eclectic setting. He knows everybody from the mayor to the police chief to the winery gang, and all have welcomed the workshop as another creative turn for the town. Everyone was gracious and easygoing, but then again, this is the heart of sun drenched, mellow, wine country, where conversations are dominated by words like “nose,” “big fruit,” “hint of licorice and elderberry,” and the like. You’d be mellow, too, if you drank that much wine. At times the entire town seemed to be a large day room at a high end psychiatric facility, with lots of pleasant people making a sort of disconnected wander through their day. It was really quite lovely and easygoing. Syl also fixed us up with a couple of cool locations that were right out of The Shining. (See above–two SB-900 units out the window, one inside, lighting the model’s face, with a 1/8″ Honl grid.)
Speaking of distracted, I left with the apartment keys, which meant that David Hobby, who is teaching there this week, had to jimmy several windows to gain access. Sorry, man. I tried to think of something devious prank to do, like take several of the diet Mountain Dews in David’s refridge and attach them to pocket wizards connected to a heating element, so I could trigger them remotely and they would explode at all hours of the night. But I realized to work out a flash engineering marvel like that I would have to call, uh, David Hobby. Oh, well.
The workshop signaled a return to working with MD Welch, who just launched a blog as bent as MD himself. He’s a good shooter who, given the fact he hails from idyllic Reno, Nevada has a wild portfolio. Any collection of pictures of Roller Derby gals with names like “Priscilla the Killa” bears looking at, I tell ya. And, between the two of us, we have most of the dialogue to virtually every bad movie out there memorized.
Headed to LA, and had a great weekend with Annie, who is also traveling, and then got up at 3am Sunday and hit LAX, bound for NY. Dubious about this Delta/Northwest merger thing. Delta’s a decent airline merging with a bad one, and the resulting economy of size probably spells more passenger pain.
Fast forward to NY, where I am in a hotel just by Madison Square Garden, which is relatively quiet right now, given the fact that it is playoff time so the Knicks aren’t playing. This room has all the charm of a holding cell for recidivist offenders. Well, I guess it’s not so bad. It has the basics–bed, roof, bowl, spoon, latrine. Last night I swear I heard something that distinctly sounded like a police baton being dragged across bars and a harsh, world weary voice shouting “Lockdown!”
My view when I woke up….complete with an individual promoting his series of books that evidently coach people to riches by becoming real estate predators. Nice.
Oh well, I calmed myself by gazing serenely out at the bucolic view from my window. I love the smell of rotting garbage and diesel fumes. Combine that with the racket of a broken air conditioner, the wail of police sirens and insistent blaring of taxi horns mixed with bellowed Russian curses from the drivers of those taxis, and well, my joy is complete. There’s a set of office windows not 20 feet from mine. If those folks come in soon, I swear I’m gonna moon ‘em.
The ironical fact of being a shooter. You’re told to charge, gotta be there, we need ya man, you’re essential, a star, a go to guy! We’re such insecure sons of bitches that we still listen to all that crap like a googly eyed schoolgirl, and even believe it, right up to the moment we check into hotel reality.
Photographers. We’re often like brightly colored wind up toys placed in front of a brick wall.
Life on the road…..more tk.
Just being in Hawaii with DLWS brought up in my head the kind of cool places the Moose man tows us along to.
Vermont in the fall….
Yellowstone in January….
Really big rocks…..
And now, the islands….
Definitely cool. I’ve been shooting a lot of stuff that don’t talk to me. That’s rough, cause I’m kinda chatty, and it’s hard for me to get into that serene, “become the forest,” kinda mood. Moose is trying to teach me, though, and teaching is one of the many things he’s good at.
So goodbye Hawaii….heading for the mainland. Actually happy about that. Nice to get back to someplace where they number their streets. I mean it’s tough asking where Kalihalimannawanna St. is. “Oh, I see, I take a left on Makalakaleka Avenue, bear right on Nakepunawallamaka Blvd. and then at the T intersection…”
Man, if you’re a non-islander, it’s a challenge.
Anyway, it was a great trip. DLWS rocked. Moose and I shot together in a pool. Yep, me and the Mooster in our bathing suits in the pool, whole class watching us. I tell ya, put us both in there and it was definitely high tide. Water sloshing over the sides, and me and Moose out there like a coupla channel buoys. Shit. I think he brought a D3X out there with him. Pretty ballsy, but then again, I think it’s Mike Corrado’s camera. Don’t tell Mikey!
High speed sync, one SB 900, 8000th at about f2.0, 200mmf2 lens. I tell ya, that lens is the sharpest telephoto lens I’ve ever used. It’s opened new doors for me with my dance photography.
Got a chance to update Where Is Laurie’s Hair?
In the pool!
She used Drew’s hair gel cause she said her hair wasn’t behaving. Hadn’t been to the salon in a while, which really surprised me, cause usually the top of her head is as meticulously tended to as a Japanese garden. She’s just been traveling alot, doing her own workshops, and hadn’t gotten in to the hair guy to do the blond tips she usually sports. The staff was really disappointed, cause we’re all in agreement that Laurie’s got really great tips. Hmmm. Did that come out right?
Moving along, here’s the crazy kids who make all this happen, my dear friends Moose and Sharon…..
Nice light, nice folks…..
Speaking of folks, I saw something on Kauai that really stuck with me. We were at the blowhole (no, not the U. S. Senate) but the Spouting Horn, right on the shoreline, where onrushing wave action sluices through rock formations and spouts 20 or 30 feet in the air. They have a fenced off observation point and i was up there, just doing my usual lazy ass thing. Spouting water! Cool. There it goes again. Where do we eat?
An elderly couple shuffled up the path, and I mean shuffled. These folks were ancient. Had probably been together 60 or so years. He had a cane, she used a walker. They were both stooped and bent–a pair of walking S curves. They got up to to the fence and looked out, enjoying the day and the late light.
Next thing I know, the gentleman moved away from the fence and held up a cell phone camera, beckoning his wife to look his way. She turned, positively beaming. She had one of those sun hats on, the kind you tie around your neck with a big, old fashioned ribbon. She was beautiful. He shot a couple of those “my honey at the shore” shots. They came together for a brief hug. Then they shuffled off.
I didn’t shoot. It was their moment, not mine. Two things ran through my head as I smiled both inwardly and outwardly. First was how much I missed Annie.
Second came to me as I watched them make their way, very slowly, in the sunset light. They were so frail the sun could have been shining right through them. And they were gone. And soon, they really will be gone, most likely. But they were here. Duly noted with a cell phone camera, an instrument much younger than they are. That snap might have been circulated already to dozens of grand kids and great grand kids, and might be saved, you know, forever. That last trip grandma and grandpa took to the islands. Remember that picture when she looked so pretty? By the shore?
Our pictures are our footprints. It’s the best way to tell people we were here.
Like Indiana Jones said, “It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.”
I went to Vegas on Feb. 10, fresh as a daisy. Then I placed the Vegas Casino Forced Indoor Air Mask over my nose and mouth for a week and got soggy, you know, like a 24 hour old bag of MacDonalds fries. Our first order of business was a Vegas casting. That got the trip off with a bang.
Word musta got out beyond the agencies somehow, cause a couple of these young ladies came by with their, uh, agent, and, uh, well, I looked over at Lynn and asked if she had placed a call to the local Roller Derby. She shook her head “no” vigorously. One of them got out on the seamless and asked if she should pose “like this” with a voice from the deep end of a barbershop quartet. First time I ever saw Drew nervous behind the camera.
Truth be told, there were some lovely young ladies who did show up, some truly talented people, and we were very lucky in our choices. I was blessed to work with a stunning model out at the Pioneer Saloon, in Jean, Nevada. Great place. Stop by for a beer, or a shot. Actually, that’s all you can stop by for cause they don’t serve food. Got this.
D3X, 14-24mm f2.8 lens, one SB900 out in the parking lot, gelled with a full CTO, and triggered TTL with an SU800 running off of 2 SC29 cords. To sorta borrow a phrase from my bud Martin Prihoda, who runs a terrific workshop called “Big Lights Far Away,” this is “One Small Light, Far Away.”
Smoke is courtesy of a hazer, which I highly recommend over a smoke machine. Smoke machines burp out a big dollop of smoke which you then have to spread out by running through with Tri-grips or flat boards or your winter jacket and flap around like you’re doing an interpretive dance. Hazers just put out a steady, ongoing smog. Think of it as having Dr. Phil on the set with you all day.
Then I drove to Santa Fe. 10 hours, 650 miles. It went quick though, cause about midway some dude in an Escalade with kids in the back just about sucked out my headlights blowing past me and I noticed he had “The Phantom Menace” playing on the ceiling monitors. So just tailgated the shit out of him so I could see the action. I got the dialogue pretty well memorized, so all I needed was the moving pictures. Really made the trip go fast.
Great week in Santa Fe, even with the kebab factor. We tulle’d up Mawgie in what has become my favorite garage in Santa Fe.
Mawgie is the mother of the irrepressible Maddie, who you may remember from an earlier blog.
Then it was onto Vancouver, and thence to Tampa, all the while having DLWS in Hawaii in my sights. (Kept telling myself, “You’ll make it, you’ll make it.”)
Hit the plane, ate a bite and fell asleep over Nebraska (why not?) and woke up about to land in Honolulu. Wheels up again to Kauai and I was in the exit row, so I got the speech, which was slightly more elaborate than I’m used to. I was cautioned…”in the event of a water landing.” Like there’s another kind in the South Pacific?
Then I was told, “Please remove the emergency door and first look outside to assess whether the situation is dangerous.” Hmmm. So. What am I supposed to do if the resounding belly flop the plane just made that was the equivalent of a dinner bell for the local sharks and there’s a bunch of those finned fellas queued up by the exit door like a bunch of old folks waiting for the Saturday morning Ihop buffet special? Stay inside the sinking plane? Try to distract them by throwing out a bunch of those Bischof cookies?
I think not.
Then she cautioned about the door weighing 41 pounds. “Please throw it away, and don’t hang onto it it. It is not a flotation device.”
No shit. And here I was gonna try surfing with that puppy.
But I made it, and well worth the travail.
CAUSE I FOUND A MOOSE IN A TUNNEL!
I tell ya, you look around, and you never know what you might find. The ever gracious Peterson’s worked out a trip for the DLWS staff to float aimlessly (we’re good at that) through the irrigation canals and tunnels that used to serve Kauai’s massive sugar cane fields. Very cool. So there we were, Moose and I, with our butts screwed into inflatable cheerios, drifting uncontrollably through these hand carved tunnels and waterways. Dueling Coolpix!
Check out catching the flash….couldn’t do that on purpose if my life depended on it. I mean the Coolpix are way cool, but usually you can press the shutter, go out for coffee, walk the dog and wash the car, and come back and the little pocket darling is still making up its mind. DLWS, Hawaii style starts on Sunday. More tk….