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

Speed of Light….

Nov 11

In Friends, Lighting, Seminars & Workshops at 2:56am

Wish I could move that fast. In Montana currently, still catching up to my life. Did a shot tonight as a class demo of Tyler Miller, Jake Peterson’s bud at MSU and a photo student there. He’s out with us on DLWS helping out in between college classes. Jake is helping out to. Take a look at his work. Like father, like son. Nuff said.

Shot TTL with one SB800 flash into a Lastolite Ezy Box softbox light. Man, have they turned the corner on this light source by putting the interior baffle in it. They are flying off the shelves, rightly so. Small, light, collapsible, it is one of those things now that is always in my bag.

Also shot Kevin Dobler (aka Flyboy) today, by a creek somewhere in Montana. One hard, unbaffled (unlike me) SB900 my assistant Drew was trying to hold while fighting off some crazy bush growing out of the rocky hillside leading to the creek. Frikkin’ thing was like that plant in Little Shop of Horrors, but he hung in with the light.

Like the pic…gotta talk to Kev about wardrobe.

So in the words of the song, how did I get here?

Blew outta PPE on the last day, leaving NY, the Javits Center, my money and my credit cards in the men’s room when I changed, heading for Newark Airport and then Stockholm. The cc cards were recovered and entrusted to Mike Corrado, my blood brother at Nikon. Dunno about Mikey havin’ my Amex. When I come back and get my bill I might have to explain a bunch of questionable movie rentals to Annie.

Hit Stockholm Sunday am, and knocked back some zzzz’s, then hit it hard on Monday with the first day of our Nordic lighting tour. The whole tour was ponsored by Nikon Nordic, and put together with great effort by an assemblage of Nikon personnel in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. Great folks. Had a blast in Sweden, our first stop, even though my pictures were pretty average. We did try a few things and opened a few doors for folks, like using an SB900 from about 70 feet away, as in this shot of Katerina, a Nordic champion body builder.

Saw this elevator in the back of the room and just had to try it. I always wander, ya know, and the people who organize this stuff start getting elevated blood pressure. (“He’s supposed to stay on stage, not in the lobby!”) Oh, well, what’s a WT-4 for anyway? I was working wirelessly with Nikon’s transmission system, which was pretty cool, except when I got to the edge of the transmission area, which made the battery operated unit work really hard and thus overheat. I could always tell cause I had that sucker in my pocket, and I would, you know, get that warm, fuzzy feeling. It was comforting.

Wish I coulda finished this one. There was promise here. On stage, Katerina and I had fun, but I was dealing with a light sponge of a backdrop, and fought that puppy all day long. At the end, I’d call it a draw, but that’s probably over generous to me.

Made a new bud. Lars, the Nikon PMTR for Sweden and points north, is a great guy, incredibly knowledgeable about Nikon stuff, and a real good clock watcher. With typical Scandinavian precision, he tried to keep me on topic and on schedule, which is de facto impossible, so we engaged in  week long banter that stopped just short of a Rowan and Martin schtick. I would ask when I was supposed to be done, and he would deadpan back to me something like “one minute and 45 seconds.” Hah! What a kidder!

Actually, he was serious most of the time. I had to create several lighting scenarios in two one hour blocks, so it was time to rattle the photons and forget about the finishing touches. Did okay, though. Got this, with Nicklaus, an incredible leaper.

Just hadda keep my head in the game and keep working out solutions. Just like being on location. Not a lot of time, and too much to do. A real shoot, in other words…..

Leapin’ Nick was shot with a 3×6 Lastolite Skylite Panel from camera right and slightly above him. We tried spotlighting the background, which was a dangerous move on my part, especially with the spot flash being hand held by an audience member. Oh, well, what could go wrong? Lots, trust me:-)

Onto Finland! Went from the stage in Stockholm to the airport to Helsinki, arriving late at night.

Hit the stage the next day, getting there early, well before the gear, the grip and the lighting. Took a look at the giant schmatta hanging in the middle of this large, beautiful white wall, and said, okay, that’s gotta go. (I of course, had asked for backdrops at each locale, but, photographers, ya know? We change our mind all the time.) Created a pretty large central aisle through the audience so I could get long lens stuff cranking. Worked a lot of wide angle in Sweden and it got real messy, real fast. Amazing how quick you can get off a background with wide glass, as below of Matt our break dancer.

Okay. Clean background, room to work. Where to put the light? In the rain on a balcony outside the gallery hall which we were supposed to stay inside of! Bagged an SB 900 and put it out there, about 80′ from the stage. Waited then, for the folks to show up.

And they did. Wonderful folks. Great, actually. We had a terrific day. I was told the Finnish people were going to be amiable but quiet. And indeed they were. Real quiet. Studious, which was understandable, cause I was speaking my brand of hyper caffeinated English and I don’t even understand myself sometimes when I yak like that. So, introductions were over, and I looked out at them, and they looked, quietly, back at me. Hmmm….

The unsettling thing was that they were all wearing horned helmets and carrying broadswords. Shit, I thought, I better be good. Kidding!

Nicklaus was up first, and we worked through some single flash, hot shoe basics using my buddy, Mr. White Wall. Got a couple decent frames, real quick, real simple, but you know, the kind of stuff a trained seal could knock off. Okay hot shot flashy pants from America, now whaddaya gonna do?

I asked Nicklaus to jump and I hit him hard with the 900 on the balcony, which was coming through windows and rain and the crowd and nailing him as he hit the top of his jump. (I mean, most of the time at the top of his jump. Bill Frakes I ain’t.) Triggered it with an SU800 running off two daisy chained SC29 cords, mounted to a stand and aimed out the windows toward the 900 sensor.

Bango! Shadow games. This shot came up, and ya know, full blown, on two projectors, and its, well, its kinda unexpected, just one flash, from the balcony etc. Most of the audience didn’t really pick up on where the flash was right away. When you nail this, live, in front of an audience, on the fly, you kind of expect maybe reaction? A, you know, “hmmmmm, good idea,” kind of murmur. A burble of restrained approval, perhaps? A song to Oden?

Zero. Nothing. Coulda heard a pin drop. Geez, I thought, this is gonna be a long day. But then! A question from the nice lady in the front row! I woulda answered it in detail even if she was asking the color of my boxers. But, fantastically, she asked if that could be done with an SB800. I started to spew textbook bullpucky about the power ratings and the zoom and then, whoah, I coulda had a V8! Try it! Good information, win, lose or draw. All I hadda do was replace the light.

We got this. Damn interesting. See the fuzzed edge of the shadow? Dramatic, I think, argument for the upgrade to the 900. That 200mm zoom throw is cleaner, harder, and obviously has more edge clarity. Cool. Either an interesting shadow experiment, or somebody’s flash went off and my exposure partially clipped it.

Another point of information occurred here. Working a 70-200mm from the back of the room, and the photos were translating through the WT-4, real slowwwwllllyyyy. The ever vigilant Lars called out to me, “Joe, where is the WT-4?” I was sitting in a chair, and it was in my back pocket, so I was quite literally sitting on it. I raised it up higher, and it worked splendidly. So, if you’re gonna use it, don’t put it in your butt crack.

Onto Matt, the break dancer. Put two SB units in the hands of two folks in the front row, camera right and left, no umbrellas or nothin’. Hard, crossing light. Copy light, basically. Got Matt upside down, with, predictably, two shadows on the background, coming from two crossing lights of equal power. Okay, finesse the light? Possible, of course. But—moving fast, and wanna adios the shadows? Blow the background away.

Quick put up 4 SB units on two stands, either side, high and low on the stands, using Justin Clamps, dialed up the power. (“Targeting the main generator now, my lord. You may commence your attack at any time.”) Bye bye shadows. Still have the hint, but I, heh, heh, still had 2 more stops left in the background units. Poor little shadow. Wanna see God?

Pushed past this and got Katerina on stage. Very lovely person, with great physique and equally great hair,
which we started to play around with immediately. Almost right away, got another question from the audience! Yes, sir!!?? (Refer to the pictures up above, with the leaping, shirtless, Nicklaus.)

“In the interest of equality, could you ask her to take her shirt off?”

I don’t know how to say “WTF?” in Finnish, but I did my level best. I turned to Katerina, who was gracious and bemused, in that calm, self assured way that having 18″ biceps can afford you. I told the questioner he could take it up with her directly, but he should be aware that there are windows in the back of the room and we were on the sixth floor, and Katerina might not have gotten her workout in that day.

More tk…..

Per-Christian Nilssen says:

on November 11, 2008 at 3:42 am

Joe, PLEASE come back to Oslo, Norway soon!

I was unable to attend the Scandinavian Tour, as I had a PTA meeting when you visited Oslo, and my wife would certainly kill me if I did what I most wanted and attended your course instead….. -Yes I know – I’m chicken! 😉

Pekka Kiirala says:

on November 11, 2008 at 4:36 am

WTF is “mitä vittua” in Finnish. I would like to say it too! You were visiting in Finland? I´ve followed your career since Trump cover in 80´s and always admired your human approach. So it would have had been pleasure to see your demonstration.
How come Nikon does inform only certain photographers about opportunity to meet you?
Or is it same case as it was when I ordered D3. They had cameras in stock, but didn´t deliver them, because they waited their big and good clients orders. I mean, everything is done for publishing houses and big studios, but we loyal, but small, Nikon users are just pain in the ass.
Despite my complaints about Nikon, I hope YOU had good time here! Best wishes and more brilliant images to come.

Sven says:

on November 11, 2008 at 7:58 am

Great session in Stockholm – Thank You!

If the models are Swedish to 99% their names spell Niklas & Katarina (or Chatarina)…

Yanik's Photo School says:

on November 11, 2008 at 9:08 am

Great post Joe. I love traveling the globe with you. Brings me back to my globe trotting days! This time, I had flash backs for cute blonds and fjords.. :)

LOVE the jumping shadow shots! I’ll have to try that soon!


Roger Botting says:

on November 11, 2008 at 9:34 am

The audience should be glad that you were not asked to take off your shirt!

Mark K says:

on November 11, 2008 at 9:55 am

Man, great stories. Felt like we ran through Europe with you. Good stuff. She ain’t no Louie Ferigno, or bodybuilders with babies in NYC, but really great stuff.

Can’t wait to hear more about DLWS on the range in Montana.

Kyle McBride says:

on November 11, 2008 at 11:37 am

A quick question… Was the 900 out on the balcony just a bare flash (except for the raincoat of course) without any sort of modifer (snoot, etc..)?

BTW.. I am a huge fan of your work, book, blog, etc. Your writing style lends a vivid image of what you must be like in person. Additionally, your humility and humor makes all of your accomplishments that much more admirable.

My only gripe… Your blog posts are too infrequent! I mean come on… Scott Kelby posts every damn day!! Only kidding of course :)

Keep up the great work!

P.S. If the guy you got to replace Brad doesn’t work out, I’d gladly put everything on hold to run around with you for a while! Just throwing that out there… 😉

Scot Baston says:

on November 11, 2008 at 11:52 am

Yet again Joe, you have provided a superbly entertaining read with some great ideas to try with hotshoe flashes.

Do you know the release date (for uk) of your new book, as I eagerly await this.

Without getting into the Canon Vs Nikon debate… how does the 580EX compare to the SB900? can I do the same things with it or should I be looking at something like the QFlash?

Thanks again Joe… your blog is a definite favourite of mine, as much for the wit as the stories



Johnny Yuma says:

on November 11, 2008 at 11:54 am

Wow, and you did all that in how many days?
I think you have been hanging around Scott Kelby too much.
Now if we can just get you to blog as often as he does.

Tim Knight says:

on November 11, 2008 at 12:56 pm


Great “seat of your pants” work!

I have a technical question however that either you or your assistant can help with.

I have not yet figured out how to mount an SB-800 in a Lastolite Ezy Box. How the heck do you do that? I have considered picking up a couple of Ezy Boxes for their portability but blew over them because I use SB flashes almost exclusively (run-n-gun is my life) and didn’t see where I could use the two together.

Shooting…I can do. Mechanical stuff…I just CAN’T figure out sometimes.


Tim Knight says:

on November 11, 2008 at 1:11 pm

Never mind Joe. Just got off the phone with my retailer who very nicely advised me I was looking at the wrong model. They actually make one for shoe mount flashes? Who’d thought?


Mattias says:

on November 11, 2008 at 1:23 pm

I was at the seminar in Stockholm and i must say, even if you blew the schedule, it was totally worth it, i had a great time!! I Whish you coud do this more often, were a bit starwed about these things over here… Hope to se you real soon!

Mattias says:

on November 11, 2008 at 1:27 pm

Btw: check this photo out, snapped it with my phone. You don´t look so tired! 😉

Mattias says:

on November 11, 2008 at 1:27 pm

Robin says:

on November 11, 2008 at 2:36 pm

Too bad I missed it in Stockholm! I would really have known at least one day before rather than two days after… =(

Mikko says:

on November 11, 2008 at 3:28 pm

You know, Joe, the only way one can get any life to a typical (any) Finnish audience is to get them all drunk. The more drunken they (we) get, the noisier they (we) become. Which would then make your job pretty much impossible. But on behalf of a very attentive (read: painfully quiet) audience, thank you for making the trip!

Kevin Zdyb says:

on November 11, 2008 at 10:18 pm


I have been thinking about purchasing an Ezybox. What size do you recommend. 15″ or 24″?

David Apeji says:

on November 12, 2008 at 2:54 am

Please answer the Ezy-box questions. I need to go over to Adorama!

Theis says:

on November 12, 2008 at 5:12 am

Nice to see you live again here in Denmark. I put up a little post about you on my blog. Including you almost vanishing in smoke and a video of you acting your “normal” way to a D90 :)

Lars says:

on November 12, 2008 at 5:28 am

Had a great time goin around the nordic area with you and Anne. Hope to be able to do it again!


J-A says:

on November 12, 2008 at 6:02 am

If I had only known that you were in Finland. I’m not a Nikon shooter but still a big fan of yours and the way you use light.

Give me a ring next time around :)

Susan "The Rhino" says:

on November 13, 2008 at 11:08 am

This is bit difficult to swallow. That you were here in Finland and I didn’t have a clue!!!!! What a pity :'(((

I LOVE the settle light on the boat & girl picture. Is she lit 1/2-1 stop above ambient or equal?

Still trying to make friends with my first and only SB800 and D700…
Hopefully at GPP 2009!

Safe trips, where ever you are :)

Connie says:

on November 14, 2008 at 8:00 pm

Leave a Reply