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


Nov 6

In Lighting, Tips & Tricks at 6:45am

In the next few blogs, I’m going to detail some stuff I’ve done lately in classes and demos. It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, hence you might notice I am writing about, for instance, PPE, which happened two weeks ago. Once again, a day late and a dollar short. Story of my career. I could try to put a cool spin on it and tell you I was just tryin’ to pull an SI, you know, that old trick of selling you a magazine that describes ball games you saw a week ago and you already know who won. Hey, its worked for them for a long time.

So, here goes…..


My big lighting seminar at PPE was fun. Had a bunch of great folks, and we rocked and rolled for 3 straight hours. I changed things up a bit this year, actually. Most of the time, when I do this stuff, I just pull somebody outta the crowd and we kind of simulate a shoot. This year, I asked my friend Vanessa, one of the loveliest ballerinas I have ever worked with, to come in and be a subject.

In a full blown studio, with an imported stage floor, Vanessa is capable of astonishing things.

She also makes for an amazing close-up photo.

On the stages at PPE, which are not set up for a photo shoot, we remained a tad less ambitious. I had to jury rig things a bit, drop a background, commandeer a section of the audience by moving a bunch of chairs, but after some pulling and hauling, we had something resembling what could have been a studio. That sounds like a complaint, but its not, considering I have set up studios in far less auspicious spaces….hmmmm….lessee

*An electrical closet in the basement of Sydney’s Olympic Stadium, to shoot Mo Greene for a cover of TIME that never ran. The lighting here was a lead pipe cinch. The hard part was getting him into the damn room. I was exhausted, and had fought my way from the finish pit into the guts of the stadium, dumped my gear, switched on the lights and crashed back into the interview area which required me shambling over a couple of metal barriers that were just at the absolute appropriate testicle crushing height and got in front of him and his entourage, which included his manager, a very large man who looked a bit like Ving Rhames and sounded a lot like James Earl Jones. He headed an agency called USW, or, Use Speed Wisely. He got in my face. “Can you guarantee Mo Greene the cover of TIME magazine if we go with you?”

I shot back. “No, but I can guarantee you he won’t be on the cover if you don’t come right now.” Sometimes I can’t believe what comes outta my mouth. (Anybody at any of my classes at PPE would agree.) Mo turned out to be quite a nice guy who laughed a lot, as anybody who had just been crowned fastest man in the world might be. He looked at me, shooting and blabbering like a magpie at the lens, and just said, “Man, you’ve had too much coffee…”

Cool. Cover never ran.

*In the men’s washroom of the Will Rogers Coliuseum in Ft. Worth, I shot a bunch of cowboys on a painted drop. Some of these actually saw the light of day in Sports Illustrated. Used a hot light on the background and hand held a Mamiya RZ Pro II camera with a motor and a 150, which was kind of like hand holding a cinder block with a lens on it. Hence the vibration of a little camera movement around the subject.

In the boiler room backstage at the Osaka, Japan Opera, I shot a series of SB lit portraits for the NYC opera company…..Tight quarters, but I thought hey, if I need a smoke effect, maybe I can turn one of these valves….heh, heh…..

Did the double exposure in camera with TTL flash, which will be the subject of an upcoming bloggaroodi.

Anyway, Vanessa was incredibly patient while I babbled my way through some setups. We stayed pretty conservative, and got a couple of good snaps, answered some questions, and worked the SB units really well. It was fun.

We got this if Vanessa doing Spiderwoman by taking 2 SB units and clamping the to the back of a chair in the audience with Justin Clamps and bouncing them down into the gold 6’x6′ reflector that comes with the 6’x6′ Lastolite Skylite Panel. Had to ask a couple of folks in the front row to hold it in front of them, sorta like it was a picnic blanket, and then we kind of wailed away.

This was done with a low and high fill, probably early on in the demo, umbrella up high, and low gradation from an SB on a floor stand in the background. Tough to miss with Vanessa. You could light her with a car headlight, and she’d look terrific.

Then I went upstairs and did a stint for Nikon in the booth, and basically, I exploded on stage. (“Our first drummer exploded on stage…..”)

Or rather, the flashes did. Sheesh. I was running fast, and came up from 3 straight hours of being tethered into my computer and jumped into it with a couple of drained flashes and a drained camera, which was now jacked into an HDMI cable the size of a water main. Lumbered onstage like I had the QE2 on a tow line.

Felt like Igor up there, throwing the wrong switch, and making the monster get angry. When batteries get low and weird, the system gets wonky. It’s kind of like the camera starts talking Serbo-Croation and the flashes are replying in Chinese. The only bright spots was seeing some buds in the audience. Jeff Snyder ([email protected]) of Adorama,  the magic man, he who can produce gear no one else can find, was there, and David Hobby. At one point I appealed to David to come up on stage and work me out a manual flash solution. Wisely, he waived off.

I actually wondered for a second if I was working with SB900 units that had once been loaned to David. With a chuckle, he told me they were coming to me next, and he had gone into the electronics and randomized the circuitry. David knows this stuff so well, he’s capable of doing that. I can barely spell randumize.

Okay. Meltdown! Whaddaya do? Go to the happy place. As on assignment, when things implode, as they invariably do, I go there, breathe deeply, actually think on Annie for a few seconds, look back, smile outwardly, laugh in the face of danger, and figure the sumbitch out. Got a new camera, a couple new flashes, and went right back at it with a brand new bag. As I always say, when shooting, the likelihood of the bread falling buttered side down is in direct relationship to how expensive the carpeting is. The crowd was great, though, and laughed with me, at me, whatever.

Tried a bit an experiment this year, with another class, based on The Moment It Clicks. Encouraged by Lauren Wendle, who is the publisher of PDN, I did a two hour conversation, really, with a bunch of shooters in one of the classes. It was called “Tips for The Working Photographer,” or words to that effect. We discussed strategies in the field, relationships with clients, tough times, ups, downs, why’s and wherefore’s, editors who help you or sabotage you, in short, we took the deal anyplace we wanted to go, and just did some real, honest confrontations with the reality of being a shooter. I was very direct, and didn’t sugar coat anything. It could have easily evolved into kind of a religious drunk, if we had moved the venue to one of the watering holes on 34th St. A young shooter who had won a spot to the Eddie Adams Workshop, and here for a month from China, came up after and told me it was the most honest photographic discussion he had been party to and thus the most worthwhile 2 hours he had spent in this country.

Okay…cool with that. No sense blowin’ sunshine up anybody’s skirt at this point. This is damn hard to do, which is why its so much fun…more tk.

Torgeir Frøystein says:

on November 6, 2008 at 7:17 am

My typical luck. The excact day you’re in my hometown Oslo, I’m in the middle of an important exam and can’t attend.
I even stupiditly checked and found there where still room at the seminar at the moment I got the news of it.
Hope to see you back in Oslo soon then, for a second chanse

Robert Pljuscec says:

on November 6, 2008 at 8:12 am

– It’s kind of like the camera starts talking Serbo-Croation and the flashes are replying in Chinese –

Hey I’m from Croatia watch what you are saying hahaha :)))
Great post again!

Scott Slattery says:

on November 6, 2008 at 8:51 am

Joe, I was there in the Nikon booth at PPE when all this happened to you and thought you did an admirable job handling it! I loved you using three people from the front row to be your flash stands! But was what up with the guy that had no idea that you wanted to shoot the flash through the diffuser?!? I thought you did a great job of gently slamming him without most of the crowd being any the wiser!

You put on a great show and someday Reid will let me take one of your classes at SFW!

Nir Dremer says:

on November 6, 2008 at 9:02 am

Great post!

Mark K says:

on November 6, 2008 at 11:48 am

Wished I could have caught you at PPE. Sounds like you once again spun gold out of a sow’s ear.

Jeff says:

on November 6, 2008 at 1:26 pm

Tell me…do you like movies about gladiators?

Ian Lozada says:

on November 6, 2008 at 1:48 pm

I was at the Nikon booth when the flashes went on you, and got a great lesson in how to keep control of your set when real life is happening to you. Your poise and humor kept things moving along while the Nikon people ran around trying to get you some fresh equipment.

Didn’t get to stay for the whole thing– I was going to Michael Grecco’s seminar since I got shut out of yours– and had to catch it all the next day, when everything was working a little smoother.

Can’t wait for the small flashes book to come out!

Chris Davis Cina says:

on November 6, 2008 at 5:38 pm

You definitely have a way with words. My buttered bread seems to always fall on expensive carpet and the more I understand photography, the more it becomes Croatian, Japanese, Russian…whatever. But you let us know that you deal with it, too and still have fun. And can write brilliantly about the experience. So, I continue to try to do what you do and love reading your escapades in the meantime. Thanks!

Michael S. says:

on November 6, 2008 at 8:26 pm

Wish I was there. As always, a brilliant post Joe. Keep em coming :)

Karen says:

on November 6, 2008 at 8:40 pm

Hey, ThunderThumbs! Per usual, it was awesome working with you at PPE. Didn’t know if you noticed, but I also stood in for a bit of your talk at the Nikon booth, if for no other reason than to catch a glimpse of the lovely Risa.

Also, you know I love it when you make AIRPLANE! references… my favorite movie… this is why we get along so well…


Bob DeChiara says:

on November 6, 2008 at 10:35 pm

Great stuff as always Joe. Love the new videos on Kelby. Keep up the great work!


Bill Bogle Jr. says:

on November 6, 2008 at 11:11 pm

Having been one of the voice activated light stands in the past, I wish that Joe had made good on the promise to give out SB-900s as a wonderful parting gift or at least the millions of SB 800s he seems to be able to produce at will.


If it was as good as it was at Adorama, it was great. Wish I could have made the last conference, but wrong day. Maybe next year,

Jhay says:

on November 7, 2008 at 12:30 am

Wow! Love the lightning on the first photo.

Great set sir!


Etta Smith says:

on November 7, 2008 at 1:23 pm

So great to hear you talk about your seminars at PPE. The lighting session was great, as always. Watching you work is always so enlightenting.
It’s also nice to hear what you were thinking when everything was going wrong at the Nikon booth. Some fellow Coasties and I were there watching and whispering, “This looks like a normal shoot for us.” (still got a thing or two to learn about controlling our light.)
Anyway…you were graceful and clever under pressure as usual–guess you really do know what you’re doing!
Look forward to seeing you again…if you ever need help in New England, give us a shout!

Your adoring Coast Guard followers…… (oh…that sounds like a cult or somethin’)

Chris Brandstrom says:

on November 7, 2008 at 5:25 pm

I was at the Friday CLS demo, and also the ‘tips for a working photog’ seminar. I’m not even a working photographer, I’m just a kid with a camera (ok so I’m 31, but who’s counting?). But even so…I greatly enjoyed just listening to your thoughts, humor, joys, rants, experiences, fetishes….whatever. So thanks!

Dan says:

on November 8, 2008 at 4:26 pm

Just finished reading your blog post. I saw your presentation at the Nikon booth at PPE. Equipment problems aside, assuming the problem wasn’t between the floor and the camera ;-), I thought you did a great job! About a month ago the company I was working for shut its doors. Since I have the extra time on my hands I’ve begun to work with my photography more. Your unbridled enthusiasm and passion really comes across in your presentations. I must say seeing you really got me energized! Thanks for the push!
BTW, I’m sure you have a million people offering but if you need a volunteer voice activated light stand in the tri-state area please email me.

Javier Freytes says:

on November 9, 2008 at 1:52 pm

I was at the PPE when you did that presentation at the Nikon booth. I think the best thing you show us that day was the way you handle the situations. One of the things I admire from you is your ability to interact with your audience, subjects or clients. And that is one of the most important things for a photographer to develop.

Drew says:

on November 10, 2008 at 11:53 pm

My wife absolutely loves the ballerina photo of Vanessa in the first frame of your blog with the red outfit on. How could i get a hi res jpeg of that to hang in my 2 year old daughters room? She will be a ballerina one day too.

Aris says:

on March 19, 2009 at 11:47 pm

I found you through another person that I appreciate the most, Shelley Paulson. Oh boy, the spiderwoman thingy rocks!!! superb & imaginative!!! Hail to ballerinas!!!

Lake Tahoe wedding photographer says:

on August 31, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Amazing Light! Love your dance pictures!

Leave a Reply