Wednesday, May 28, 2008


A magazine client, seeking to illustrate a story on banning the media from certain types of hearings, asked me recently to come up with a photo of a classic stakeout, preferably one outdoors. "No problem," I said. "We get them all the time. I'll send you something next week."

Well, it's been a slow week in Washington, what with Memorial Day and everything, and I was running out of time. But yesterday I was assigned to photograph a speech by Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus, and there were at least a few cameras there, even if this was in the dim ballroom of the National Press Club rather than outside some hearing room. (I actually remember talking to Klaus in 1989 during the Velvet Revolution, when he was a dissident economist working as a bank teller. You never know...)
So I decided to do what I could. I placed a single strobe in the balcony, illuminating not the speaker, but the media. And once I shot and saw how this videographer's face was illuminated, I knew I had something worthwhile. (I was reminded of the classic, high-contrast black and white of a photographer holding a rangefinder.)
Someone could print this and some similar photos and hand them out to new members of congress, world bank presidents, and others in authority here in DC, and say: "Remember, if you don't behave yourself, this is what you'll find outside your front door one morning."

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Visual borrowing

Recently I had the chance to talk with photographer Bert Stephani, based in Belgium. Bert has become something of a YouTube star, posting videos of his working methods on the video-sharing service. His father criticized him for this, complaining his son was giving away his secrets! (You can search for Bert by name on YouTube, or see his site at

In any case, before talking with him I needed to check out a couple of the videos. And like any working photographer, I'm always looking for ideas to "borrow" - whether from other photographers, painters, designers, or just about any other type of artist that may give me a different approach to use on the next assignment.

Bert photographs people outdoors, with a simple strobe on a stand, the background often a dark tunnel or passage that puts a splash of color or light behind his subject. That was the perfect approach today when I needed to photograph environmentalist Dan Becker in the yard of his Chevy Chase home. For an environmentalist I wanted green. The shady passage by the side of Dan's house made the ideal background. And traveling by bike (appropriate when photographing an environmentalist!), I was using a single, small strobe.
Thanks for the help on this, Bert!!

By the way, Bert's work is typical of what you could call the "light(weight) light movement" - photographers who are doing sophisticated location lighting using simple lightweight strobes. Perhaps the dean of this movement is known as The Strobist, It's an appealing approach for me, a photographer who often gets around by bicycle - and who recently had a bunch of equipment (including a big monolight) stolen!

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Thanks, insurance folks!

As some friends and colleagues know, I had a camera bag and lighting gear stolen from my Jeep at the start of an assignment in Philadelphia last month. Because I was away for the three-day gig, the bag was packed, and the impact was huge.
But now I'd like to put in a plug for my insurance company, Travelers. They covered most of the losses - everything I'd remembered to insure - and sent me a check within a month, just in time to cover the enormous charge bills I began to get as I replaced the gear. What a huge relief - it's hard to explain what it's like when you're a photographer and your cameras are stolen at the start of a three-day job. So thanks to Travelers, Mike (our claims adjuster), and The Hoffberger Insurance Group, which sold us the insurance.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Max's Baptism

When Kodak introduced Tri-X film back in 1954, photographers - especially journalists and documentarians - were thrilled. "If you can see it, you can photograph it!" they said of the new high-speed film's sensitivity to light. Well, not quite. But this past fall photography took a similar leap with the introduction of a digital camera that works great in bad light - dim, funny colored, ugly light.
The Nikon D3 has been a great boost for those of us who must often work indoors in places where flash is undesirable, or prohibited. It was also darn useful for taking available-light photos of the baptism of our newest nephew, Maxwell, in a dark chapel in a Baltimore.
Actually, flash did play an indirect role in this picture. As Max leaned over his Dad's shoulder his Aunt Farah was taking flash photos of his adorable face. Following each flash he would have this amazed expression at the bright light. That's the expression that was captured here, just after Farah's flash went off.


Monday, May 5, 2008

Austin plays the trombone

Driving on a back road of the Eastern Shore this weekend I was passing some homes when I noticed a boy playing the trombone in the middle of a front yard. "That's great," I thought. "His family has kicked him outside because of the noise!" (Having played trumpet in elementary school, I have some knowledge of these things.)

I turned around and went back and introduced myself to the boy, and to his Mom. He said, and she confirmed, that he was playing outside because he liked it out there. So much for my theory. In any case, he played the solo he was practicing while I took a few photos.

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Supreme Court cyclist

I'd heard that Walter Dellinger, a constitutional law professor and leading Supreme Court advocate, often biked to the court when he would argue cases. So when the DC gun-control case went before the court, a case Delllinger would argue, I emailed him the day before oral arguments to ask whether he might be biking the next day, and whether I could take some photos.

Dellinger called me just minutes after I sent the email. I was suprised - lawyers preparing for a Supreme Court case often go into a special intense preparation zone in the days or weeks before arguments, somewhat like a presidential candidate before a debate. Maybe Dellinger, always gracious, was glad for the diversion. But he said he'd be glad to work with me, and we agreed to meet outside his office early the next morning.

The photography was a blast. I'd photograph him pedaling, then hop on my own bike and speed ahead to get positioned for the next shot. I've never raced someone up Capitol Hill before for a photo. (I was doing maybe 2.5 mph up the Hill, just ahead of Dellinger's 2.25.)

The photos have run in publications from DC to San Francisco, and several blogs too. Now Dellinger and his unusual Supreme Court pre-game warmup have made, along with an excellent interview/story by David L'Heureux. It's worth checking out just for the tale of how Janet Reno once found a forceful way to make sure Dellinger used a bike helmet. See the story at:,6610,s-3-583-17104-1,00.html.

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