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North Country

Jun 12

In Seminars & Workshops at 10:41pm

In Maine. Love it here. Come every year to teach at the Maine Media Workshops. I’ve brought my kids a couple of times, and I always prepare Caitlin and Claire by regaling them with stories and images of the McNally Clan loading the giant oxcart and trekking into the great North Country, far beyond the mountains and the reach of other fierce, warlike clans. I paint them a picture of their role, foraging along side the cart in the near forest for roots, nuts and berries, dressed in simple homespun garments. They just roll their eyes.

They are used to dad’s overactive imagination. Whenever I have landed a major National Geographic story, I would tell them to gather round the campfire and listen. Father has slain the great woolly mammoth! There will be meat, tea, flour and sugar for the winter! They’re like, “Yeah Dad, that’s great. Can we have some money to go to the mall?”

Oh, well. Here in Rockport, home of the Workshops, one coffee shop, and Chalky. He’s a good guy, really, even though his mandate in life is to chalk your tires and then ticket you if he comes back and discovers your vehicle has overstayed the two hour limit for that parking space. He has the gait of an old dog, the gruff demeanor of somebody who has fended off too many whiny ass parking violators in his day, and a memory like a bear trap. I’ve gotten to know him a little bit, mostly by asking him if he’ll let me do his picture. He refuses. Always. This has gone on for, like, 10 years. It might be me. The idea I have is to close off the main drag of Rockport, put him in the middle of the road and make a chalk outline of his body in the road, like a crime scene, with him standing over it, wielding his all powerful chalk wand like Thor wields the mighty Mjolinir.

The longest conversation we ever had was about the various body parts and organs he’s had go missing. I was very sympathetic, and it was certainly interesting, but didn’t gain me any personal traction in the old parking situation. Son of a bitch ticketed me twice yesterday morning

Last night the class went to Firefly, where I made the above picture. (Tech notes below.) It’s run by Andy Swift, who is an artist, a mechanic, and a genuine Maine character. He restores historic fire engines for a living, and runs his business out of an old chicken barn that used to house 33,000 of the feathered darlings. It is quite simply one of the best places I have ever been, chock full of stuff–fire trucks, wheels, engines, parts, tools, and toys. Andy used to have Osama bin Laden targets in his backyard which he would regularly chew threw with a 30 cal.

Andy also did the restoration on a historic hose wagon that became the ceremonial hearse for FDNY after 911, an emotional, powerful project. I gave him my 911 book back then, and made his picture. Yesterday, I gave him my new book, The Moment It Clicks. Our mood was much lighter. He was laughing and joking with the class. I signed the book for him….”Dear Andy, happiness is a belt fed weapon.”

Techy stuff……

The lady in the two location pics is Brianna Borkowski, who works often with the workshops, and has always been patient and hard working with my classes. In the top photo, knocked it out with 6 SB800 units. Two are above camera, running through a Lastolite 3×6 Skylite panel. One is below camera as a beauty fill, firing through a Tri-grip diffuser panel, hand held. There is a unit camera left making the warm ceiling highlight, and one in the way back, giving a little squib of light to the far, far wall. And one is bang on in back of the American flag, flying around and creating backlit type effects and shadows.

Then there’s Brianna in the boiler room, all glammed up. We take her to the nicest places! This one is done with Elinchrom Rangers. Two are camera right, out of the room in the parking lot, with 1/2 cuts of CTO (color temp orange filters, the filter that makes a strobe balanced for neutral daylight look like 1-800-DIAL-A-SUNSET. Boom! Got the room taken care of. Lit like fading daylight, when in reality, the place was so dark the AF on the D3 was workin’ hard. For up front, took an Elinchrom beauty dish through a 3×6 Lastolite Skylite Panel, and then filled just a touch with a hand held gold side Tri-grip reflector. Add a dash of Brianna type photo model attitude, and we be done. More tk….

David Hobby says:

on June 12, 2008 at 11:52 pm


I’m just wondering. That last one, with the three Elichrom Rangers — couldn’t you just have done that with 53 SB-800s? I mean, what’s the point of dragging out the big guns when you can easily do it with the entire east coast inventory of speedlights.

David in Maryland

Mike Wiacek says:

on June 12, 2008 at 11:53 pm

While reading this blog post, I found myself staring at the first picture. The light, the flag, the set…. just wow. Stunning! Absolutely stunning. :-)

Joe McNally says:

on June 13, 2008 at 5:33 am

Yo David…yeah, ran short, found I had already used every available regionally based double A battery from Camden to Freeport. Tried hooking several up to a Sears Diehard but they blew out. Nice post on the military week. I’m sure the guys loved it…..hang in man, see you soon…Joe

Michael Junge says:

on June 13, 2008 at 6:15 am

Joe…my ship will be in Rockland for the Lobster Festival and Camden for Windjammer Days. If you are going to be in the area and are interested in shooting onboard a big gray hunk of American fighting steel, email me and I’ll see what I can set up.

Emile says:

on June 13, 2008 at 6:20 am

Dear Joe,

I noticed that your photos are always wonderfully organic in terms of their color and use of light. Especially the shot of Andy shows a very organic/film-like quality that i’ve been desperately trying to achieve. Just using a appropriate light setup seems to be only one part of the equation.

Can you elaborate a bit on your digital post work (if any?). I hope these shots don’t come straight out of the camera like this ….

best regards,


Marcio Eugenio says:

on June 13, 2008 at 7:16 am

Greats photos, greats light!

Joe McNally says:

on June 13, 2008 at 7:18 am

Emile–that is a film shot. Done on my Mamiya–6×7 chrome—Scanned it, and then Brad busted a move on it in Photoshop. Drains a bit of color and saturation out of the orig. Seems to be a thing that is in vogue a bit now, so we have been experimenting. Brad knows the deal with Photoshop real well, and I stare at the program like I’m auditioning for a part in Quest for Fire. Joe

Richard Cave says:

on June 13, 2008 at 7:21 am

Love your work, Is that the same Brianna that works with Wiwow? Or is it a coincidence?

I am going to Canada soon so hope to get cool backgrounds for my shots.

Do you want me to bring a container of double aa’ s with me as I heard you have wiped out the supply for the whole of the eastern seaboard?


Mark says:

on June 13, 2008 at 8:21 am

Hi Joe,

Love the photographs. I’m signed up for your workshop in October up Rockport. It’s a chance for me to go home. I grew up on Sebec Lake which is about 2 hours north of Rockport. If you get the chance go visit my college town of Castine. Maine Maritime is an interesting place and if you go down to the waterfront there are some salty old sea dogs to shoot. It’s a nice little summer coastal town and almost the most expensive real estate in Maine with lots of old sea captain’s homes. Dyce Head light is great to shoot this time of year if you time it right with the wildflowers blooming. I could call the alumni office for the October workshop if interested in checking it out.

Ken says:

on June 13, 2008 at 8:21 pm

Gosh Joe,

Just fabulous. Love to make one of your seminars, just a budget thing

Affectionately Nikon

Ken from KY
PS I plugged your website on my last feeble blog. Thanks for all the tips on the SB800. By the way I ran into a Nikon Rep who know you. Gosh Joe I did not know it was that bad…..

Gordon Lane says:

on June 14, 2008 at 1:13 am

Oi. Since you’re in *town,* you should come with me to the Buxton Town Meeting tomorrow in the a.m. It’ll be fun, I swear. That way I only have to worry about content and not art… You’re famous already, so you might as well give back to the little guys, eh? ;o) Wicked. You teach me, I buy you a beer.

How ’bout a challenge? Are you a bettin’ man? If you get the better photo, I’ll buy you TWO beers. If you get the better photo, I’ll buy you a bet at the tracks later in the afternoon.

How could you pass this up? You can’t. It’s like Nutella. Everyone likes Nutella.

Plus, you won’t get a chance to shoot a Maine-style Town Meeting as good as this one again, considering all them meetings will be dead before you retire…

OK, so no to Buxton. Fine. I hate you. But you want something to do?: go to the Rockland Breakwater and go swimming. I skipped out on work today to drive the 2 hours from Portland and do that today. It was very cold. But damn, damn good.

Mark K_NJ says:

on June 14, 2008 at 8:06 am

Wow, beautiful images. Just love the juxtaposition of the setting, hardware, the tattoos and the beauty. And the desat portrait is wonderful.

Happy Father’s Day, buddy. Don’t forget, the grill awaits….

Harry says:

on June 15, 2008 at 11:33 am

Hey Joe..

Always learn a lot from the blogs. Can you include a WIDE SHOT of the lighting set up for the images please? I always learn a HUGE amount from the placement of the half dozen SB 800s in the shot, when I see where you put them and then compare the wide shot to the actual shot. Keep up the great work.

Joe (a different one) says:

on June 18, 2008 at 4:03 pm


One of these days I’ll have to attend your workshop there. It’ll be awhile before I get the basics down pat enough to really make it worth it though.

We’re full of characters here — enough so that Steven King doesn’t seem out of place. If you want to meet more of them when you swing by in October, try to budget a 30 minute drive to visit Moody’s Diner, if you haven’t been there already. Just head Southwest on 90 and then RT 1, you can’t miss it. The homemade pie is worth the drive and once the summer people leave the wait is manageable.

Mike says:

on June 20, 2008 at 5:08 am

Thanks for the blog: you certainly can use light. I have your new book: it made me laugh aloud!
With regard to your Holy Sand Dune post and video clip; I noticed that you were using the Nikon 14-24 zoom – which can’t use a filter – in some pretty windy / sandy conditions. Do you usually use filters on your lenses? I ask as I’ve also got the 14-24 zoom and am considering not using filters on my other lenses. It’s another air-glass surface that can cause flare problems (I’m thinking of the lovely rainbow I captured with a Leica 35mm summicron and UV filter – only there was in reality no rainbow to capture!)


Eric says:

on July 7, 2008 at 12:53 am

Man, that first shot, will be reading the explanation paragraph over and over. Really great stuff.

Fin says:

on July 20, 2008 at 6:13 am

I’m in awe of your talent, skill and results, but for me (outrageous comment coming!) I have to say that the composition sucks in the photo of Andy Swift. Every time I look at the photo I read the words on the wrench first. And what is it saying, a man holding his massive tool in front of him? OMG. Too much. Straight-on is a bit sterile too although it does relay a combative feel which sounds like the guy’s character from what you wrote. Nice gritty feel thanks to the desaturation though.


Kittie Balsis says:

on March 25, 2010 at 4:47 pm

So many tattoos to choose from. I search the net looking for the best pictures! Great site!

Casey Osher says:

on March 27, 2010 at 5:02 pm

Thanks for the great info, I will definitely be back!

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