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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]

So we be on Corregidor, with about 25 students in my class, six dancers, my D3’s, a 14-24, a 24-70, and a 200 f/2. For lighting, I had four SB-800 strobes, one SU-800 commander, and some grip stuff. So, what to do?

Scout around!

Corregidor Room

Kind of fell in love with the ruins of the officer’s quarters, and the array of shapes and colors. Made this snap. Very handy, the LCD on the D3, by the way. It’s like having a mini HDTV in your hands. Liked this enough to pursue, so I put a dancer in a logical place. Made another snap.


Corregidor Dancer with No Light

She is hatchet lit, basically, with no light really hitting her from camera angle, but highlights creeping in on either side from the windows. That might be fine for Alfried Krupp, the pre-war German industrialist who Arnold Newman turned into the devil incarnate with an appropriate application of the old hatchet style. Not good for a lovely, delicate ballerina. So we drug out some lighting.


Corregidor SetupAs you can see, we’re using a c-stand, and a 3×6 Lastolite panel in vertical mode. Got two SB’s going…one high and one low. Separate groups, upper is A group, lower is B. Why two different groups outta the same source? Independent ratio control. Knew I wanted some low glow on her cause there was a lot of ambient light bouncing around in there off the floor. Gave the place a nice feel. So I thought I might want to pump some power (plus EV) from the low unit. The Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS) gives you the chance to fine tune the mix of light by thirds of stops, right from the hot shoe master.


Corregidor Dancer with Too Much LightPut her back in the same spot. No go. I mean, you got an exposure and decent light, but the light is all over the place, lighting that wall behind her, waaaaayyyyyyy too much. Big source, tough to feather and control and gradate. Hmmm…..what to do?


Corregidor Center HighlightMove her closer! That way she gets lit real well, and there’s now falloff to the wall. But boy, leave it to me to create an highlight right in the middle of the photo! Bullseye!


Corregidor FinalFinally settle down, and pull down some of the available light exposure, saturating the scene, and she steps much closer. (Finals were aperture priority, minus 2 EV, 1/40th @ f8, and played with the light ratio till I liked it.) Worked the light so it embraces her, wraps her, and we begin to have a portrait that works.


Mentioned in this post:
Nikon D3
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G
Nikon 14-24 mm f/2.8G
Nikon 200mm f/2G
Nikon SB-800
Nikon SU-800
Avenger C-Stand
Lastolite Medium Skylite Panel Kit

Elliot says:

on February 11, 2008 at 1:27 pm

Very cool post. I’m not even into complex lighting (yet) but I found this a great read on the creative and technical process of getting a great shot. Thanks!

Terry F says:

on February 11, 2008 at 1:46 pm

Thanks for all this info – it is much appreciated. I too love to shoot dancers – comes from shooting my girls in their classes and shows. By the way, I was at your evening in Los Angeles at the end of last year, and really enjoyed hearing you talk about your photos. And the book just “kills”.
GO Joe!


Robyn says:

on February 11, 2008 at 2:47 pm

I’m still stuck on the sentence that included “my D3’s.” Swoon.

I love that your blog includes all of your set-up shots. Keep up the great work!

Shamik says:

on February 11, 2008 at 2:47 pm

Awesome..looks like you had a great time apart from the workshop itself. Love this post and the insight to your thought process. Thanks for sharing and yes i love your book too.! :)

Frank Little says:

on February 11, 2008 at 2:52 pm

Hi Joe,

I just learned somrthing new about lighting and the possible uses of SB-800’s by reading your blog Your trip to the Philippines sounds like alot of fun.

Thanks for taking us through the lighting steps on the ballerina shoot.


Benjamim says:

on February 11, 2008 at 3:07 pm

I love this concept of “less gear – great results”
nice post thanks!

Tom says:

on February 11, 2008 at 3:36 pm

Hi Joe

Love u’r blog…more and more each time I read it :)

Great shots u got here, great use of light, both ambient and flash.

Thanks for sharing!

Nick says:

on February 11, 2008 at 3:40 pm


That last pic is amazing. I really enjoyed reading about your process. It is amazing what you can do with a few SB800s and a little thinking.


Barak says:

on February 11, 2008 at 4:40 pm

Hi Joe,

Love the blog. Beautiful work. Could you post bigger images of at least the final image? A click through to a larger jpg would save me pulling out my specs. It’s embarrassing.


Chris says:

on February 11, 2008 at 5:04 pm

Another great post on your fantastic new blog Joe – I love it. Keep it up – there are alot of us sponges out here. “The Moment it Clicks” is awesome too and keeps me thinking between your posts.

Billy Mitchell says:

on February 11, 2008 at 5:16 pm

Joe, When you use the dome diffusers on the SB800 shooting through the fabric, are you getting light bouncing out the side, top and bottom? Is that affecting the countrol of your light or are you using that stray light going out?

briandaly says:

on February 11, 2008 at 6:21 pm

Thanks for sharing the thought process and the setup shots.
Encouraging to see that even the seasoned pros don’t nail it on the first attempt.
Have “The Moment it Clicks” on order – can’t wait.

Tom says:

on February 11, 2008 at 9:40 pm

Just got your book! I love it! And I search for updates to your blog everyday (no pressure!). I was wondering if in one of your future entries you could explain why you use a SU-800 even though the D3 can be used in Commander Mode to control the SB-800s? Thanks! – Tom

Jean-Yves Hudon says:

on February 11, 2008 at 9:43 pm

Very instructive as I am just learning about flash. I shall drop by very often! Thanks for sharing.

John Leonard says:

on February 11, 2008 at 9:52 pm


I just wanted to make sure I understand one point. Since you said “…chance to fine tune the mix of light by thirds of stops, right from the hot shoe master…”

So then you are using your remote SB’s in TTL mode and adjusting the FV comp values for each group? I ask because there has been some discussion in the Strobist and Nikon CLS Flickr groups about inconsistencies with TTL by some members.

Sp 2 questions:
1-Have you noticed a large difference in TTL exposure metering between bodies ( D80, D200, D300, D2x, D3)?
2-Any quick pointers on getting consistent TTL exposures from shot to shot when using CLS/AWLS?


Peachy C says:

on February 11, 2008 at 10:16 pm

Hi Joe,
I had a great time at the workshop. I learned so much from you and laughed a lot too! I loved reading about it on the blog above. Hope you come back to the Philippines again for another one!

Paul Michael Kane says:

on February 11, 2008 at 10:35 pm

Joe . . . I can’t tell you how much I enjoy this blog and how fantastic your book is. I picked it up on Friday and read it all weekend and plan on multiple re-reads! I know what you mean about the patina of decay . . . I had a chance to shoot Eastern State Penitentiary and am obsessed with the place . . . check out if you have a moment to see some of the shots I took while touring the place. Very proud of these shots . . .


Paul Michael Kane

Syl Arena says:

on February 11, 2008 at 10:43 pm

Joe… Enough about the light and the girls… what was the food in the Philippines like? Adios. S

Mark Krajnak aka "Mark K_NJ" says:

on February 12, 2008 at 12:08 am

“patina of decay…”


Great with the camera, good with the written word as well.

Thanks, for this, Joe. I’m learning something everytime I read. I’ll be shooting an actress in Grand Central this weekend, channeling my inner Joe McNally the whole time.

By the way….Roman says hello.

Mike Lao says:

on February 12, 2008 at 2:06 am

Hey Joe – I feel really bad that I missed your seminar here in the Philippines. I hope you get to visit the Philippines again and I’ll make sure to attend it.

I ordered your new book and I can’t wait to read it next week!

Thanks for always teaching and sharing your knowledge to us all.

Syl – if you want to ask about the food in the Philippines, you can ask me coz I grew up in the Philippines. :)

Diego Jose says:

on February 12, 2008 at 4:04 am

Woohoo that’s my home, my country! Hope you enjoyed your stay! Despite the traffice and all but I hope you enjoyed our food :)

Great post! That last photo in the post is awesome!


Brent Co says:

on February 12, 2008 at 5:13 am

Hi Joe

It was really great having you over here in Manila. I actually attended the Photoworld this year just for your seminar. Unfortunately I missed out on the Corregidor hands-on training.

I just made an order for your book.

Hope to see you again in Manila.

Nick says:

on February 12, 2008 at 6:25 am

Great to see the process behind getting these shots, but are you not bothered about the block of light (from the doorway I assume) under her chin?

Robert says:

on February 12, 2008 at 9:58 am

Joe –

It is interesting to see all the set up shots. I don’t know about the others who read your blog, but I know I would have said ‘got it’ at the 2nd shot with her hands on her hips! Just goes to show understanding and working with light turns a snap shot into a piece of art. Way cool. I am already through the 2nd reading of your book – powerful stuff man.

Joe McNally says:

on February 12, 2008 at 10:11 am

Oh yeah…only shot 3 frames and then turned this over to the class. When I’m leading a group like that and doing demo, my limited attention span is even more fractured than normal, so I just kind of get things going and step aside. Rarely able to actually “finish” a photo in a classroom setting…Best, Joe

James Garland says:

on February 12, 2008 at 11:41 am


Your blog is getting better and better with each new post! Keep up the great work. I really enjoy seeing you break down the shot and giving us the “play-by-play”. Ever since seeing what can truly be accomplished with the SB-800’s, I have switched over to using them exclusively. It still blows my mind what can be accomplished with just a few “little” lights. I haven’t touched a “studio” strobe in quite some time…


Sharon says:

on February 12, 2008 at 1:32 pm

I am thoroughly enjoying your blog!

Thank you so much for sharing the process with us. It is so helpful to see it step by step like this.

The final image is wonderful and as others have mentioned I would love to see it bigger. Would it be possible to include a larger image by clicking on the one in the post? It would be greatly appreciated.

Looking forward to getting your book today!

Jeffrey Colon says:

on February 12, 2008 at 3:58 pm

“Joe be Happy Monkey”… nice way to keep things in perspective.

couple questions, if I may …
I am wondering what flavor electricity comes out of the wall in the Philippines.
Did we leave our legacy of 110 60hz ? What kind of Batteries do you use in all those flash heads ?

I work with in TV and a calibrated monitor has essentially replaced any kind of hand held metering. My retro grouch side initially thought live preview in still cameras was “cheating” … I’m beginning to come around.

Really nice layers of levels, color and geometry in the “money shot.”


Charles says:

on February 13, 2008 at 10:22 am

Joe (or Brad): How do you decide what to bring on a trip like this? For example, the 200 f/2 is a big hunk of glass vs. bringing a 70-200 that’s only a stop slower and covers a wider range. What were you envisioning that you chose one over the other?

G-nie says:

on February 13, 2008 at 8:27 pm

I would like to say thank you very much for coming to our place (Philippines) I am one of the attendee of the seminar in AIM but did’nt have the chance of joining the workshop in Corregidor. I have learn a lot from your talk and I am impress of your works..It’s a.WOW!

Daniel says:

on February 14, 2008 at 2:15 am

Joe, another great entry.

It does sound a bit like an advertisement for Nikon though 😉

Kajo says:

on February 15, 2008 at 12:00 am

Joe, well done once again.
I just finished watching your lighting tutorial on Kelby Training and I really love the ballerina shots at the end. Simply stunning work!

I really like how you always try to put yourself into the position of someone who is still – and always wants to – learn. You admit when you make mistakes, even though I think it happens on a very high level.
It is your humbleness that makes you so human to me, I really admire your work and think you are an exceptional photographer.

Your blog is bookmarked and your book is on it’s way to me :)

All the best

CaloyZamora says:

on February 15, 2008 at 2:52 am

Joe, I was one of your student at the workshop, I am the one who looks like a war photographer! hhehe.. I am very very satisfied with your workshop, It was a blast! Actually after the workshop I bought another SB-800 and a battery pack just like the one you’ve been using. I am fan of you Joe! and I want to have the book “The Moment it clicks!” I will order here cause shipping cost is very high if I order in the internet.

Once again it was great experience being with the legend!

Oh can you please visit this site:


Carlo Zamora

Harry Simpson says:

on February 20, 2008 at 1:20 pm


Just got your book last night though Karan took it and read it after I opened the box….Dancers making you happy as a photographer is exactly how I felt when this Earth Maiden appeared before me at Opryland Hotel in Nashville.
Course I just shot available light – i’m still in strobist school….really looking forward to more of your great advice.

mungkey says:

on February 27, 2008 at 9:35 am

Wow great! I am from the philippines but in the southern part. Im now a bit far from my place due to work, but but hope to comeback soon. Im now almost on my third month in trying out photography, and I guess im beginning to like it. Thanks so much joe for the inspiration you give us. It makes us wanna push thru and learn some more, enjoy more and have fun.

S. Crypt says:

on March 12, 2008 at 8:28 pm

Great write-up. Nice technical details.

and absolutely superb place to be in.

Jacob says:

on June 13, 2008 at 10:41 pm

Wish I could have been at this one. You have some great tutorials that I follow often. Thanks for sharing all of your knowledge Joe.

Jacob Maentz says:

on October 11, 2008 at 2:16 pm

Wish I could have been at this one. You have some great tutorials that I follow often. Thanks for sharing all of your knowledge Joe. Hope to meet you sometime.

sandrar says:

on September 10, 2009 at 4:32 pm

Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

Anna Ylagan says:

on November 10, 2009 at 3:31 pm

My heart bleeds from missing this workshop. I hope you come to the Philippines again in the 2010 Photoworld and do another session. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I’m a TV commercial director and have only gotten serious in photography recently. Now, it’s an obsession. Hope to sit in one of your workshops soon! Best – Anna

Robert Kruh says:

on December 9, 2009 at 8:48 am

Excellent shot and great post!

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