responsiveslider_lol_02 The Language of Light DVD - More
MeetJoe_02 Meet Joe McNally - More
inthebag What’s in the Bag? - More

Archive for March, 2008

Flash in the Canyon

Mar 26

In Lighting, On Location, Seminars & Workshops at 1:13am

group flash

Maybe we set a record last night. Dunno. Probably not. But we had fun, and once again, proved that trying to get photographers to read and then abide by the dictums in the instruction manuals is roughly akin to the New York Knicks going on a substantial winning streak. Just ain’t gonna happen.

There are 33 participants this time around at DLWS Moab, and 12 of ’em are out there in this photo holding Nikon SB800 flash units. We started off with splitting the VALs into the three groups of A, B, and C, and that worked well, but then we decided to stress the system and put all dozen units into A group, which the manual does not recommend. I have no idea what the max is, or what the manual actually says, but even if we had known we would have blown it off anyway in the interests of experimentation and devil may care, laugh in the face of danger shenanigans.

Son of a gun, it worked. I mean, it worked after I got all the guys alerted to the fact that it wasn’t gonna work if they had their big hairy thumbs covering the receptor on the flash unit they were holding. That minor issue resolved, all twelve fired off of my little friend, the SU800, hot shoed to the camera. Overall exposure was about 1/6 second or so and maybe kind of 5.6 with EV minus two dialed in on aperture priority. All flashes have zero compensations dialed in.

The key to the coloration is pushing the white balance into tungsten, and covering the daylight flashes with 2 full cuts of CTO (color temp orange) which brings the units to the temperature of your average bedroom lamp. The minus 2 stop overall exposure gives the moody blue color to the fading daylight, and then the gents all light themselves up.

We’ve been working pretty hard out here.


Josh Bradley and Brad Moore are just about done in. Some of the participants are a bit pooped, too. But, as I always tell the assistants, don’t limp. If they get sick, or tired, they get left by the side of the road. We’re really gonna miss those guys.

Phil In the Middle of the Road

Mar 25

In On Location, Seminars & Workshops at 12:45am


It was rush hour last night in Cisco, Utah, so naturally we took the whole workshop onto the middle of the highway. That’s what you do as a photog. When you finally figure out the best angle it is always in the middle of something. Thankfully the rush last night in Cisco consisted of precisely one car, so we weren’t overly obstructionist.

I’m out in the wilds of Utah with my buds Moose and Sharon Peterson, Laurie Excell, Kevin Dobler, Josh Bradley and Brad Moore, all of us working on another edition of the Digital Landscape Workshop Series. It’s cool out here, and we always get into some great locations, thanks to Moose’s encyclopedic knowledge of National Parks, and amazing landscapes in general. It’s gotten so with Moose he should bring around small placards to put up in the best spots. You know those Kodak signs they have at Disney….”take good picture here?!” Moose could put up something similar, except his would read. “Shoot from here with the 14-24mm Nikkor on aperture priority with EV minus one dialed in. Double process the raw, set your black point in NX, move two exposures into blend mode, stack the images and combine them for foreground detail and background drama. Use Epson Ultra Smooth fine art paper for best results.”

I ain’t completely kidding. I’m along for comic relief and to bring out some SB800 units and mess around with what’s left of the daylight. Drug the ever patient Phil out there on the highway and told him to give me that old cowboy, hang dog, she done left me after swindlin’ my money, sleeping with all the neighbors, swipin’ my bible, stealing my pickup and shootin’ my dog kind of look. (All the other stuff woulda been okay but I’m right pissed about the dog.)

It was a tall order, but Phil actually pulled it off quite well. We lit him up via aperture priority mode (minus one EV) and one SB800 camera right, gelled to a warm tone and running through a Lastolite tri-grip one stop diffuser. Red rim light comes from 2 SB units on floor stands in the road, with red gels stuffed in the dome diffusers. Triggered the whole shebang with an SU800 unit hot shoed to the camera. That puppy is pretty effective. Looks like a small version or R2D2 and is a pretty directional, powerful trip for the remote SB flashes. Lens is Laurie’s 24-70 mil. Shot about 5 or 6 frames that worked out okay.

But hey, I’m a little bent out of shape about breakfast. You know, Moose blogged about me the other day and showed a pic of his empty breakfast plate. I wasn’t even in Utah at the time. Well, now I know why. He’s basically cleaned out the Jailhouse Cafe of all their ginger pancakes and now that I’m here I gotta resort to a breakfast of pharmaceuticals.


He’s across the table double ordering bacon, and I’m sitting here with my glucosamine and ginseng. Tomorrow I’ll fix him. I’m gonna order like, 5 omelettes.


Mar 20

In Seminars & Workshops, Tips & Tricks at 8:24am


One of the reasons I teach is that I learn constantly. I learn from my class participants, who are routinely terrific. I learn from the whole workshop environment, especially one such as here in Santa Fe. Reid Callanan and Renie Haiduk have created a wonderful oasis of photographic enthusiasm and energy out here, and just bouncing off of it for periods of time puts juice back in my own work.

And I completely enjoy, and learn from a group of folks who are routinely taken for granted–the workshop models. These folks come out, for very little money, and help out the classes by posing for them.

I have known Donald now for about 5 years. He consistently gets assigned to my classes, and we are always the better for it. We talk a bit, and he is a font of wisdom, wry humor, and he has that wise “seen it before” twinkle in his eye. He also at this point knows a hell of a lot about lighting. I once saw him eyeball a light a participant was putting up, and quietly say, “I think you’re going to want that light lower.” He was right, and the photog in question made a nice picture.

Donald got sick a while back, and we were all concerned, but typical of him, he just beat it back, and kept coming to pose for the Workshops. I asked back then how he was doing and he replied, “Joe, the day they lay me down, all the music in the world’s gonna stop.” I believe he’s right.

I have always told Donald I would make a picture of him–just take a couple minutes away from the class and do his portrait. Never got the chance until this week. It was an honor to have in front of my lens.

Some folks have asked for lighting grids and sketches about the last couple of pix I posted. Those are coming…just gotta go to Dunkin Donuts and get the napkins to sketch on:-)

Fun With Lights…..

Mar 19

In Lighting, Seminars & Workshops at 3:34pm

In Santa Fe, and started my location photography and lighting workshop. It’s a good class, and we pretty much take a whole bunch of lights and rock and roll for the week. Huge thanks both to Nikon and Bogen for supporting the workshop in the way that they do. I bring down a whole bunch of SB-800 units, Justin clamps and the like, and then in the studio we have more Ranger units, light shaping tools and grip stuff than your average big city rental shop.

As you can see, we are very, very serious. The three dudes in the picture are great guys. Evan Parker on the left represents Bogen and is a tremendous resource to lots of photogs for lighting and grip solutions. On the right is Nick Rapaz, who runs the studio and is heading to NY this summer to assist Platon, who’s an amazing shooter with an incredibly definitive style of portraiture (also teaches at the workshop, a kick ass class). And Sakas is in the middle, who is also heading for New York, where eventually he’ll become a ward of the state.

Seriously… da guys… da guys are great, hard working, knowledgeable, and real go-to resources for the whole class. They are all destined for great things, if they can just stay out of jail.

So you can see the way I conduct the class is real, real boring. Today I’ll give them a pop quiz on their homework assignment of last night, which was to thoroughly read and review my white paper on file allocation tables. The quiz will be easy, though, and consist of only one question. “What the fuck is a file allocation table?”

I’ll also surprise the participants with my lecture on the historical significance of the wet collodion print process, during which I’ll examine this forgotten process and illuminate the very good reasons it in fact was forgotten. Sort of OT, but hey, I figure it’s just value added.

By the way, “da guys” were shot with a Nikon D3 and a 24-70mm lens, and lit up with the venerable Elinchrom Octa, the big fella, almost directly over the lens and about 3′ or so from their, uh, faces. Key to the deal is the 4×8 piece of white foam core just out of frame about chest height, dishing some fill. Thing is, the fill board was too quiet for these boisterous lads, especially Evan, who is going Mike Tyson on Sakas’ ear, so I whipped out (“Eeeeek! Won’t somebody help that poor man?!”) an SB-800 and slammed it into SU4 mode (manual trigger eye), programmed it to ΒΌ power and popped that off the board. Shot 3 frames just to make sure the lunacy was forever captured, and negotiations begin today to keep the images out of my stock files. I mean, these fellas are eventually going to be president of something, and this is just plain and simple embarrassing. More tk.

Mentioned in this post:
Nikon SB-800
Justin Clamp
Nikon D3
Nikkor 24-70mm
Elinchrom 74-Inch Octa Bank
Foam Board

Sometimes You Get the Shaft

Mar 17

In Lighting, On Location, Tips & Tricks at 7:15am

Nothing like a shaft of light for drama. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in places and wished I had a 12K movie light, a scissor lift and a big ass smoke machine. Shaft city! Just like in the movies!

But sometimes, it happens for you. Saw this light coming through the busted ceiling of the officer’s quarters on Corregidor, and I thought, you know, cool! Of course the ballerina available at the time was wearing dead white, so it meant I was going into close orbit around Ice Planet 255, but, I’m always up for an adventure. So she gets in there and does something appropriate, elegant and graceful. She is as soft and lovely as the light is harsh and slashing.


But where is she? One of the things you realize over time is that a successful photograph and a successful restaurant often have something in common. Location, location, location. Now I could have left well enough alone here, but hey, it’s me, remember? Never met a subject I couldn’t overlight, so we drug out a couple of SB800 strobes and simply laid them down on the ground, camera left and camera right, about 5′ in front of the lens. Didn’t put ’em on sticks, cause the main source of light in the pic is the way overhead and it doesn’t really bounce off anything until it hits the ground. It’s not even spilling very much onto the wall, hence the wall color, which is pretty terrific, is gone. So if there is any bounce in the frame, anything that might logically reflect light, it’s the rubble strewn floor. So the units go on the floor.

In terms of color and detail, our eyes can see it. And can see her, and even the folds of the dress. That’s cause the eye is an amazing instrument, making nanosecond adjustments we’re not even aware of. The camera, as sophisticated as it is, is a 5 stop instrument. It makes the very smart decision to expose for the highlights, and kisses the shadows goodbye. Bye bye wall. Bye bye color. Bye bye context.

But you can make inputs to the frame and dial in some light from the SB units right from camera. Messed with them a bit, and came up with this. In other words, with these small flashes, you can bend even strong light in your favor, just a little.


Had a class running, so only shot about 4 or 5 frames of this, and each one I was dialing in some different EV values. I believe these two units were running somewhere around plus 1 EV. The effect on the wall is pretty soft, and could have made it softer yet by, say, running the units through umbrellas and laying them down on the floor. But umbrellas weren’t immediately available, so we moved fast and hoped the uneven junk on the floor would break the light up a little. Still pretty hard, though. Look at the shadow of her trailing leg. That definitive shadow gets softer as you go higher in the frame towards her arm, and the strobe mixes with a greater and greater percentage of available light. It’s fun to mess with this stuff, I tell ya. You throw everything into the hopper; your gut, your sense of time and place, your histograms, the light, the color, the subject, and voila! You have ze magnificent and tasty stew! Or, sometimes, you get something you wouldn’t feed your cat. What was I saying earlier about pictures and restaurants?

I like dance, what can I say? I’ve said many times that dancers and photographers have a lot in common in that we are hard working, creative, and underpaid. Recently, on a trip to Milan, the venerable La Scala School of Ballet graciously allowed me to shoot their workouts and practices. What a wonderful place!

ballet school

Not only did I witness great dancers in training, the opportunity gave me a chance to practice more with the AF modes on my D3. More on that tk.

And finally…..HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Good old St. Pat’s. First time I ever came home truly hammered. I was 17, and my high school senior class always marched in the parade. (We were taught by the Irish Christian Brothers, go figure.)

After the parade dispersed, all of us disappeared into bars that weren’t checking for ID, and proceeded to get stupid. I was lucky I found Grand Central Station and the train home. Only took like, 2 beers. Complete lightweight.

Now, the day is spent more quietly. I start my class today here in Santa Fe. (Don’t think they have a parade here, but that’s just a wild guess on my part.) It’ll be a great week, as they always are here at the workshops.

My friend Mark Krajnak, the K-Man, the man in the fedora, he of the Flickr site and the New Jersey Noir style of shooting, sent me a pictorial note of how he might spend St. Pat’s. Seems he got comfortable with an Irish writer and a bottle of Jameson’s:-)