[Note from Brad: This is the first in a series of guest blogs from National Geographic photographers. Check back over the coming weeks for more stories about shooting for the prestigious publication!]
Crossing the Yellow Border
Kudos to Brad and Scott for devoting blog space to a series of posts by National Geographic shooters.
I’ve been shooting for “the yellow magazine” since 1987, and that land beyond the yellow border is indeed a wonderful, and strange, place. It contains and defines the entire realm of shooting experiences—impossible odds, magnificent occurrences, unprecedented access, nearly unbelievable bad fortune, outright danger, the exhilaration of the hard won chrome or file captured, and the devastation of bad days, or even weeks in the field.
The Palomar Telescope fires a laser 60 miles into the heavens.
That place, “in the field,” can be the urbane and sophisticated streets of Paris, or someplace literally so remote as to have never felt the footprint of man. It can be the ultra-sacrosanct tombs and structures of societies time has all but forgotten, or the blinking, humming computers that power our most modern technologies. The magazine’s official mission statement is “to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge.” “Geography,” for the editors there, generally encompasses both physical and cultural geography. People and their places. People in relationship to the planet. The planet itself, in all of its’ magnificence, and wreckage. The earth, sea and sky, and all the organisms those elements nurture, and occasionally, punish.
Over the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. I found that my fingers didn’t work so well trying to load a 617 Pano camera with 220 film in an open door chopper at 14,000 feet.
In short, everything. Trust me, I know this first hand. I was once given a story to do called “The Universe.” Yikes. (To my editor, I was like, “Okay, how long do I have to shoot this?”)
I was already an established “New York” shooter, with covers of Sports Illustrated, LIFE, Time, Newsweek, New York, etc., by the time I came to the attention of the yellow border gang. Strategizing to get an assignment, I turned down a go everywhere credential to the Seoul Olympiad for Sports Illustrated to honor a commitment to a week long freebie speaking tour called The Flying Short Course, sponsored by the NPPA. Sounds unbelievably stupid, right? A freelancer turning down a month of day rates to keep an obligation to do a series of free lectures.
On the face of it, yes. But the method to my madness involved being on the same touring faculty as Tom Kennedy, then DOP of Geographic. I had the opp right then and there to show my portfolio to Tom, five days in a row. I gulped, said no to SI, didn’t’ go to Seoul, and instead went off to lecture. At the end of that week of touring and talking, Tom looked at me and said, “You should come down and start shooting for us.” That was 1987. Still shooting for them. Finished my last assignment this past summer. Almost 25 years, and lots of yellow boxes, and pixels, later, I’m still out there, trying to increase and diffuse.
For a story on Global Culture, i needed a global storyteller. Who better than George Lucas? I wanted George Lucas to simply be part of the tableaux I created outside this old theater, but it didn’t quite work out that way. George is front and center, surrounded by his creations.
That longevity was not a given, to be sure. It never is in the world of freelancing, and I did my best in my first few efforts for NG to ensure my career with them would be truly short lived. I made big time screw up after big time screw up.
It was a different type of shooting, you know? I was used to the New York method. That kind of played out like this: Get a phone call from an editor at a weekly publication in Manhattan. Say yes. Never, ever be able to reach that editor on the phone again. Make all the arrangements, Go shoot the job. A week was a long time. Six pages was a big story. Get in, get out. Process film. Deliver it in a breathless rush. Not hear anything. Call three weeks later. Finally get the editor on the phone. “Oh, hi. Yeah, Joe! It is Joe, right? That story that you shot? Oh, oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, uh, it was good, we liked it. Thanks. Gotta go to a meeting.”
Have phone ring back, almost immediately. It’s a call from that very same editor you were just talking with. That editor who now all of a sudden remembers you, and realizes you are standing there, somewhere, with enough time to make a phone call and this qualifies you as a warm body with a camera, and potential availability to solve a problem the managing editor just threw on his desk like a big, steaming turd. “Hi, yeah, uh, by the way, are you busy in the next two hours?” (more…)
Hey everyone, Brad Moore here with another quick update from Las Vegas! Here are a few more shots from yesterday and today:
Photoshop Wars (sponsored by iStockphoto) are back at the Photoshop World Expo!
The newest Photoshop Guy, Pete Collins, squared off against Jeremy Cowart and got his butt kicked all over the place! (Okay, it was actually a tie, but Pete deserves all the ribbing we can give him) ;)
The B&H crew take orders and answer questions from attendees
Attendees photograph models at the Westcott booth as Westcott Top Pro Michael Green (far right) gives shooting tips
Jeremy Cowart presents during his Making A Difference With Your Camera class
Joel Grimes presents the latest techniques in The Art of Compositing
Moose Peterson gives tips on aerial photography in Taking Your Photography To The Skies
That’s it for now. I’m off to the Expo Floor to check out some cool new gear and free classes. It’s free and open to the public today, so drop by!
As always, it’s an honor to contribute to Scott’s blog.
Photogs. We’re storytellers, right? So, if you will, permit me a story. (It’s occasionally been a saga, and maybe, every once in a while, an opera.)
Like many New York based shooters, I had a bit of a love fest with the World Trade Centers. What was not to like? These twin exclamation points at the southern tip of Manhattan provided a sense of place, majesty, and graphic balance to your snaps, all at once.
In a moment of youthful exuberance, I climbed the antenna on the north tower, and became instantly and forever intoxicated with the notion of obtaining unique, not to be repeated vantage points on one of the most photographed places on earth, New York City.
Get your camera in a different place. I think some photog wrote that once, but he could well be a lunatic.
I’ve climbed to the top of the antenna on the Empire State Building, driven by the notion that I could impart a different spin on the mundane task of changing a light bulb. But do you know via this pic that you are absolutely on the Empire State Building? Is there anything utterly, definably New York in the cityscape? Not really. Not till you get to—you guessed it—the Twin Towers, way far away, but still absolutely recognizable.
And then, they were gone.
The aftermath of 911 was rough for everyone. Like most, I paced, thought, raged, anguished and prayed. I was at home, with the kids, and the irrational photog part of me was screaming inside my head: Get your gear and go.
Truth was, there were already hundreds of shooters down there, documenting events with astonishing courage, tenacity and integrity. I could contribute nothing significant, or different, beyond what they were doing.
Instead, I pondered. I had, at that time, one shooting experience with the world’s only Giant Polaroid camera. I had become intrigued with this balky, cumbersome, historically important camera that lived at that time on the lower east side of NY. I gave myself the assignment to shoot with the camera, and I asked Jenny Ringer, one of the truly amazing principal dancers with the New York City ballet to pose. She remains, I believe, most likely the only ballerina to ever be photographed in this format.
The camera at its’ core is a Polaroid. Make an exposure, 90 seconds later, you have a positive image. But it’s a Polaroid the size of a one car garage. While you direct the picture outside the camera, there are two people physically inside of it, working the guts of it. To make an image, you have to shuffle your subject delicately into a plane of focus that is only half an inch deep, and ask them to stay there, very still, while the camera is spooled up and ready to make a shot.
Not easy to do. But very worth the degree of difficulty. What results after the 90 second chemical processing is a life size, virtually grain-less image of your subject that, when framed, is 4’x9’. When you confront the picture, it’s very akin to actually meeting that person. And the cumbersome, formal nature of the process imparts to the subject a certain stature, dignity, and presence. They literally have to stand for their portrait, much as they did in the old days of flash powder and glass plates.
I shot 246 Giant Polaroids, all done within 5 weeks of 911. I lived at the studio, sleeping in a loft bed over the camera, rarely venturing very far from it, as we took crews from the pit at 2am, 9am, 10pm—in short, whenever they showed up. The result was a traveling show, and a book. These efforts combined with others made by Time Warner, the principal sponsor of the project, and helped raise about $2 million dollars for the relief effort. Then, these behemoth images went into storage, and have been barely viewed for ten years.
Last week, we put them on the floor of the Time Warner Center, with the help of 25 off duty NYC firefighters, all of whom volunteered to come in and help out. The building is amazing. 75,000 people go through it every day, and the show is drawing in additional folks, so once again, during its’ nearly 20 day run, 1.5 million plus people will pass by these images. Related, the company that owns the building, stepped up big time and offered to host the show, which was amazingly generous.
The thing about this edition is that 24 of the original Polaroid portraits have been updated with new portraits, shot in the last 3 months, on D3X cameras, and video interviews shot on D7000. This show is very much about the photo community at work. Nikon is the major sponsor, pitching in with funding and gear. Adorama donated the prints. Johnson & Johnson came on board as a corporate sponsor as well. J&J was very much an unsung hero back in 2001, working behind the scenes, donating equipment, medical supplies, corporate support and funds. They have stepped forward again, a decade later, on behalf of this group of pictures.
(But you know, I kind of regard J&J support as photo related, really. It was my bud, fellow photog, Mark Krajnak, the original K-Man, from Jersey, who appealed to his management to assist us. He got it done.)
We have other assistance, such as JP Morgan Chase, our friends Marea and Marlan Downey, and others, all of whom chipped in with an assemblage of small gifts. But our major corporate sponsors walked. Go figure, but more on that definitely tk.
We found ourselves out in the breeze, so there was nothing to do but keep plunging in. Really, really proud of my small studio.
Ellen Price, the non-stop curator of the collection, who has worked on it largely pro-bono for nine years, marshaled every resource she could find.
Lynn DelMastro, our studio manager, kept things spinning, handling the phone, the invitations, and the myriad of details launching a show of this size in NYC incurs.
Drew, Cali and Grippi built websites and videos.
And Lynda Peckham poured her formidable attention to detail, and her video virtuosity into the preparations. It turned out to be a family operation, as her brother Russell edited the video. Lots of late nights.
And, just when we would get to a point where we thought it was over, and we were out of oxygen, and just had to abandon this, someone would step up with another gift, another reason to keep going. Which we did. The show is on the floor. In a video interview the other day, Chief Jay Jonas of FDNY, called me “a pit bull.” I believe he meant that in the best possible way.
Here’s the reason we kept pushing. At the end of the day, this is simply a collection of pictures of some very good people. Many of them I count as friends. The folks in these pictures saved many people on that day, and in a very real way, they also saved all of us. In a very dark hour, they reminded us all of the decency of the human spirit.
Mike Wernick. He survived, despite being blown out of the building and out onto West St. Mike also worked and survived the ’93 bombing attempt at WTC. His look at the camera reflected what he had been through that day.
I’ve stayed in touch with Mike, and his wife, Nuri. They are amazing people. The pictures I’ve made of them as a couple are among the favorite pictures I’ve ever shot, because they’re pictures of two people who strongly, deeply, love each other.
John Baldassarre. Referred to around the firehouse as “Baldy,” John was the first person to step in front of the Giant Polaroid. In 2001, he was a firefighter with Ladder Nine, Engine 33 on Great Jones St., a house that lost ten men on 911. I walked into the house to ask them to come over to the camera, and I had nothing to show them except a huge picture of a ballerina in a tutu, which I rolled out onto the floor, to, well, predictable commentary. Still, they came to the studio, and the project was started.
Ten years later, John is a lieutenant with FDNY.
Recently, I asked Jenny to come to the house and pose with the guys. She never really knew her picture, rolled out on that firehouse floor, got all this started a decade ago.
Louie. I photographed him in the immediate aftermath of 911. As he stood there in the lights, you could see WTC dust floating off his bunker gear with every move he made, however slight.
Ten years later, he could and should run for mayor of NYC, as I have said many times. We’d all be better for it. His gregarious nature and embracing personality are testaments to the resilience of the human spirit.
Here’s the thing about being a photog, which we sometimes forget when we get too involved counting pixels. When someone agrees to have you make their picture, even a quick snap, there’s an exchange, or the beginnings of a relationship, however cursory or fleeting. The subject is out there, in front of a lens, which is a very vulnerable place to be. Effectively, they give you, at the camera, a gift. It’s up to us as photographers to take care of it.
When someone comes to your studio during a time such as 911, everything ratchets upwards. Their vulnerability. The amount of trust they place in you. Your responsibility to them.
The flash of the light speaks a language beyond simple exposure. You trip the shutter (or, as with the Giant Polaroid, you pull the cap off the lens) and you have made a pact with that person out there on the seamless. You are effectively saying, I will do my best to make this a good photo. I will do my best to try to make sure you don’t regret coming here. And, just as importantly, you are promising to be the good shepherd of your image.
Ten years ago, when someone came to the camera, I made a picture and a promise. This show, ten years on, is part of that promise.
The show is at the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle in NYC, and is free and open to the public from 10am to 9pm daily, through Sept. 12th. There is more info at FacesOfGroundZero.com
Should anyone care to contribute to the ongoing maintenance and costs of the Giant Polaroids, you can do so by logging onto Artspire.org
The collection is under the auspices of the New York Foundation for the Arts. The Artspire link above is their donation mechanism. All donations are tax deductible, and will go to cover and reimburse the costs of the show and the collection, the transfer of the Giant Polaroids to the 911 Museum, as well as framing, maintenance, staging and transit.
Wow, what an honor to be guest blogging for Scott Kelby! When Brad called me up to see if I would like to fill this Wednesday’s guest spot, it was a no brainer – Of course I would! Later as I reread the posts of previous contributors it started to sink in, this talent pool ran deep, one could easily drown in there. As anyone who has read a guest post on Scott’s blog before will attest, it is not the usual cut and dry photo or lighting shtick. People really bare it all here. On top of that I’m following Dave Black whom I’d only just met earlier this year, but who had me on the verge of tears while telling his life’s story of toil and triumph at the Photoshop World closing ceremonies. (Does anyone have that on video somewhere?!)
This is really just a round about way to describe a feeling most photographers encounter a lot. Or maybe it’s just me, but I’ve heard the sentiment whispered in the halls before. It can be downright awe inspiring, intimidating and depressing at times to look around at the raw talent in this big & small photo community of ours.
Just browse a few websites or a couple magazines and you’re bombarded with some awesome imagery. It’s daunting to think that that’s the level your competition is at. It could be enough to make you think about throwing in the towel some times. Once we overcome that though, our peers quickly become our greatest assets in this life behind the lens. Every one of these guys has a history of bad images behind them and are still making more everyday; everyone has to put in their 10,000 hours of sweat equity.
I guess what I want to write about is community, and how it is especially necessary for a creative. As romantic the notion is of the isolated artist toiling away in obscurity, I don’t think I could live like that for longer than a short weekend. It’s awesome to be able to look to our massive online community of photographers from around the globe and to be inspired by how much great work is being created everyday.
I’m entirely self taught as a photographer. By that I just mean I didn’t have a scholastic community to help rear me, but rather a tight knit community of friends and family. They posed for me endlessly, helped me lug light stands and weren’t afraid to share with me what did and didn’t work for them as subjects. Then there was my small ragtag group of photographer friends, without which my photography might not have developed from avid curiosity into the obsessive pursuit of learning and taming light that it did. I’m a people shooter after all, and I can only talk to and about a still-life for so long before losing interest.
There have been two moves in my life where the need for a community really hit home, and it snuck up unexpectedly the first time. I had just moved back to the beaches after a number of years away and was experiencing my first bout of creative isolation. I didn’t know any other shooters in town that I could call up on a random afternoon to try out a new piece of gear with, or talk shop, or borrow a light stand from – it sucked! So when I heard about the Help Portrait event happening at a location down the road I figured it would be a great way to spend the weekend, giving back and possibly meeting some like minded photographers. (Help Portrait is an event where for one day a year photographers find someone in need and give a portrait rather than take one. By the way it’s coming up soon so check it out).
Just as I had finished setting up my lights one of the other guys grabs me and asks if I can lend a hand in bringing up some more gear that had just arrived. I said sure thing and headed down to grab what I thought would be couple more umbrellas and some background paper. In the door walks Scott, Matt, Corey, Brad and the whole Kelby crew. Plus they had brought an entire office & studio worth of gear with them. A weekend charity shoot turned into a high production event and our awesome subjects that day got the royal treatment, after all THEY were the reason we were there. Once the last lady’s portrait had been made, we all went down the road to grab a burrito and that guy who had asked my for a hand earlier turned out to be RC, who I count today among my best of friends. Plus it was pretty cool realizing that the the Kelby HQ was in my backyard all along and getting to watch those guys retouch in realtime is pretty darn impressive.
The following week RC invites me out to Tampa to meetup with his friend Kathy and their massive Strobist group. It was a blast flooding the streets with photographers and over the course of that week I went from flying solo to having a large creative community to call friends. Those friends have helped to challenge, inspire, push and prod me into becoming a better photographer and person. That’s what friends do, so thank you guys.
The second more recent move occurred when I relocated from sunny Florida to Detroit, MI‚ during the “Snowpocalypse” earlier this year. I did prepare myself for two things before the move and have been working through them daily. First, rather than wait around for serendipity to strike again, I immediately struck out to get engaged in the photo community here.
With sites like Twitter, Meetup.com, and the awesome NAPP community it’s not hard to get out there… like actually out there. I really dig the online conversations and tweet too much sometimes, but my goal was to get together in person, shake a hand, share a drink, and go shoot something. I took this same approach in establishing my business locally as well. Let’s just say the coffee shops and restaurants are loving me!
The second being a glaringly obvious issue once I walked out the door of my new home. Detroit is different. Different from what I’ve known as a shooter thus far. Gone are the sunny scenes ready-made to drop a model into. It’s been like an extended case of that traveler’s high you get when on the road; your brain is busy trying to process a new place and the possibilities are endless. Of course old habits die hard and I still love the light and colorful imagery that came naturally when working in Florida. It’ll continue to be interesting as my style evolves and I adapt.
I am a creature of habit though and have enjoyed lighting a scene to create whats there in my mind. I’ll be writing every month for the new Light It Magazine that just launched, and a lot of the techniques and tips I’ll be covering come from experiences and obstacles I’ve overcome while shooting up here this year. It’s amazing how with a couple lights and a gel you can turn a gloomy snowy day into a warm inviting afternoon, at least in camera anyway. The snow can’t keep this Florida boy down and all of the new friends and photographers up here go the extra mile to help each other get that next shot and succeed. It’s all about being there for one another with a helping hand, recommendation or referral. It takes a village.
That’s what I really love about Scott and the rest of his gang. They don’t just produce educational material.They develop and nurture a community of creatives around learning. I wish college had been more like that, I may have gone on and gotten a real job! Then again probably not :)
Thanks Scott and Brad for having me on the blog! I hope to keep shooting and sharing with you all for many years to come.
Hey gang, Brad here with a special this-weekend-only deal!
Many of you may not have heard of this company. They are based in Canada, and although they’ve been licensing their clever automatic correction technology to companies worldwide for 10 years, they’ve only recently launched Plug-ins for your use. It’s cool stuff, and we worked out a great deal to save you money!
Traditional auto corrections are not robust enough to be trusted with your precious memories. And who has time to manually correct every photo? There are better ways to spend your time. But your photos are special and you want them to look their best. Which is tough since there are limitations in digital cameras which cause distortions in your photos – too dark, lacking in color vibrancy and depth, poor skin tones, unsharp, tint, red-eye, noisy, etc.
Your Solution – Perfectly Clear from Athentech is your 1 Click Correction to Perfection! The world’s only automatic photo correction with instant Real Color perfection.
Just use the coupon code FD8F49C9 at checkout to save 25% on both Photoshop Plug-in and Lightroom Plug-in, AND also for the Bundle of both plug-ins which is one heck of a deal as the bundle is already greatly discounted. The PS and LR plug-ins are normally $199 – so now $149.25 – savings of $50, and the bundle is $249 normally, now $186.75, a savings of $62.26 (or total savings of $211 vs buying individually!).