I’m a perennial idea recycler. I’ve had picture notions rattling around in my head for years that have never met the click of a shutter. They’re the things in the attic of my head that go bump in the night, the meandering pinballs I try not to lose in the drain and keep frantically flipping up into the bumpers (otherwise known as clients) that might occasionally ring a bell, or sound a siren, and thus get done.
I’ve always wanted to illustrate the stability of a tripod by letting a gifted athlete literally play with it. Now, this may be a harking back to the early days of my career, when we all grew up seeing ads picturing Lester Bogen of Bogen tripods famously (and uncomfortably, I would think) sitting on his tripods. “Before Lester Bogen put his name on this tripod, he put Lester Bogen on it.” Below, one of those ads, from years and years ago.
I’ve used Gitzo tripods for years and battered them literally senseless. I lost one in the Hudson River, a huge, monster tripod, which was recovered for me by Port Authority divers—for $300. Worth it, as the tripod cost over a grand. I gamely sent it in for repair, simply citing “water damage.” I overlooked the other reasons, such as, “incomprehensible stupidity,” and “turning your back on a 12’ silk frame in the wind on the end of a dock.” Which of course tore loose from its sandbagged moorings and literally flew across the dock and knocked my tripod into the river. The tripod came back to me in fine shape.
Technology has progressed with tripods, as it has with all photo things, and now there are super adjustable, lightweight, carbon fiber, jet propelled (I make joke) types and styles of tripod, and Gitzo remains in the lead in this regard.
They also said yes to using one of their big tripods as a jungle gym.
To assist in this regard, I asked for the help of two amazing ladies, athletic and graceful to a fault. Daria Shemiakina and Anna Melnikova got the tripod early and started to work their magic with it, getting used to it and seeing what aspects of their gymnastic, artistic wizardry would be possible atop such a contraption. The tripod is simply an over the counter tripod, additionally adorned only with a small rubber pad, gaffer taped to the base plate, to make it more comfortable to grab for Daria to rest her head. Yikes.
Settings for picture above, from my Mylio dashboard:
Most of the intense sun images were shot around the above settings. No choice, really. You have to try to match the intensity of the sun out there, in the desert, with barely a cloud in the sky.
Our setup was as sparse as the desert. One tripod. Two Profoto B4 packs and heads, each fitted with a narrow beam reflector, winged out to the sides of the set, to rim light the ladies in hard fashion, matching the raw quality of the blazing desert sun. Late in the day, we switched to one B4 through a 5’ RFi Octa, which produced a more rounded light, as we approached sunset. We also set up a B1 head for frontal fill, but didn’t really use it much.
The notable MD Welch, a Reno based shooter and Photoshop instructor, came aboard as our videographer for this adventure and you can see his efforts below, now published on our YouTube channel. He’s a good shooter and has added value as an on set diversion, as I’m fairly certain he can recite all the dialogue from Predator, verbatim, on command. Which could lead one to marvel at such an act of memory virtuosity, or shake your head and chuckle nervously about someone with that much time on their hands.
Be that as it may, my thanks go out to the gang at Manfrotto, and Gitzo, who didn’t roll their eyes overmuch when I brought this idea up to them…again. And especially to Daria and Anna, who brought their marvelous skills out to the desert for us. And to Adam Silversmith and Timber Brown who were our expert spotters for the balancing ladies. And of course to our guys in the studio, Michael Cali and Jon Cospito, who worked the set with me and shot BTS stills.
Settings for above, again from Mylio:
As I say in the video, this is not an invitation or suggestion to start putting the kids, or spouses, or the family pet up on a tripod. We used marvelously trained athletes, and had two spotters hovering at the edge of the frame. This was also one shoot where I could not demonstrate to my talent exactly what I wanted from them atop the tripod. Gitzo tripods are strong, but there are limits.
Nikon D810, with a 24-70 f2.8 lens.
Profoto B4 and B1 strobes, with narrow beam reflectors, and an RFI 5′ Octa softbox.
Felipe Curvello says
Is David Hobby at the background from 0:28 to 0:30?
Amazingly beautiful shots. Go follow your dreams!
Charles Lloyd says
Thanks you for graciously sharing your many talents. You are an inspiration to all of us to achieve more in our photography journey.
Two words….. only you.
Absolutely stunning, sir.
JOe Masucci says
Great post. Wonderful images as always. It never occurred to me that my Gitzo could serve dual purposes, I like it.
Awesome shots ~ which Gitzo model were you using? Was about to buy my 1st tripod, was looking at the Manfrotto carbon fiber (MT055CXPRO4) but now thinking Gitzo?
I think it’s really hard to think that the setting is good also for the first picture , where the sun is high , perfectly backlit … and the shadow is only that of the sun … I think that photo was made with HSS or me wrong ?? 😉
Joe McNally says
Hi back…no high speed sync….Just the power of the B4 flashes getting about to f20 or so at 1/200th….best, Joe
Tom Brooks says
Who says you can’t shoot at noon in bright sun 🙂
Thanks Joe, thumbs up as usual.
the tripod looks like a 5542LS, can some one confirm this. I own it and it is the only one I will ever need! Expensive, but an absolute rock solid tripod! I had the Manfrotto and found it a bit weak for larger glass?
Raphael Bruckner says
Very nice work
Marc Eliot says
I enjoy reading the description how an idea makes its way from the first thought to the final print. Thank you for sharing this. Do you shoot in Jpeg or RAW?
Jerred Golden says
Great shots! Did you really shot them as 2mg JPEGS and if so why not raw? Looking forward to you seminar in Philly in a few weeks.
Joe McNally says
Hi guys–absolutely shoot raw. I generally shoot a raw/jpeg fine combo file. What you are seeing is sized for the web….best, joe
Bill Bogle, Jr. says
No one mentioned the nice legs.
The Gitzo big sticks I mean, right?
Great shoot and video.
All the best.
Bill Bogle, Jr.
Hello Mike, it looks like a Gitzo 5 series (giant systematic series). They can hold up to 90lbs and 800mm lenses. I used to work for both Manfrotto and Gitzo as a repair technician, they’re both amazing but I love Gitzo. I used to handle those “special repair jobs” for Pro’s like Joe.
Craig Beyers says
As always, Joe, stunning, both in concept and execution. Thanks for the photos and congrats to the two ladies for their incredible poses.
Keith B says
Hi Joe. I was wondering why not use a neutral density filter to allow a wider aperture? f/20 seems pretty small.
Dave Barnes says
Saw this shot at your workshop on Monday in “Chicago”. Nice to find it here, too. I’ve gotta tell you just what a wonderful day of knowledge, passion and fun you provided. Thanks so much for inspiring me/us to feed our eyes more and more!
Eric Paré says
lol what a great idea :::))
Joe McNally says
Hi Keith…actually wanted the large DOF, and the shape of the sun. So I pushed all the way in terms of f-stop. best, Joe
Doug Evans says
Hi Joe –
These are extraordinary, graceful, unique and beautiful. Mr. Bogen (indeed, that did not look comfortable -ahem-), would be pleased to have inspired! Oh, thanks for putting the disclaimer in the video as I started thinking, Hmm, Self timer and… nah!
Kudos to the entire team! Beautiful images!
Hope you’re well!
Keith B says
Very neat, thank you for the insight.
Now I need to go experiment and blind myself 🙂
Brandon Perez says
Joe I am truly inspired by your creativity! I’ve seen many shoots from the dry lake beds and your images really stand out from the pack. I love how you mix ambient light with strobes.