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Dancing in Dubai

Apr 5

In Seminars & Workshops, Tips & Tricks at 4:03am

Dancers are pretty great, ya know? Hardworking, creative, physically gifted, amazing to watch and even more amazing (and challenging) to photograph. I’ve been really blessed to work with some of the most wonderful dancers in the world. It started as a hobby, a sideline, a byproduct of having a studio apartment in NYC right by Lincoln Center, home of two famous ballet companies. I started seeing all these ballerinas in the neighborhood duck walking through the streets to the rehearsal studios, and I became intrigued.

Fast forward 25 or so years, and I am still shooting dance, and happy to be doing so. Teaching currently in Dubai, at GPP, and having a blast. Great workshop, very warm hearted people, and a terrific staff that smooths the way for all the instructors. We’ve got a crew here from all over the world, encompassing a wide range of photo skills. We’ve even got the mad Englishman, Drew Gardner, who from what I hear has all his students alternately thrilled, involved, and terrified.

My classes are about light, and for subjects, I just say, hey, you know, dancers would be great. Enter the Extremers, a Dubai based hip hop group, who, in my short experience with them, appear to have no “off” switch. Typical question…”Uh, can you jump, spin around, tuck your legs, and hang in the air for about 3 seconds while I shoot several frames?” Answer: “Sure!”

Did a few quieter frames as well….

Tried a couple things here. The room I shot the leapers in had a good quality of bounced, warm light already pouring into it from the the fading sun, even though the sun was directly behind the building. So I winged a Ranger pack from the direction of the sun, heading for the big wall, and thus reflecting onto the dancers. Gave that a little camera point of view fill with another pack just overhead of the lens. The fill pack is way low, and the main is maxed out. Can’t say enough about the Rangers. Dependable, rugged, packs a punch and in a day when every watt second you want to buy is like another point on your mortgage, it is affordable.

The lone dancer is shot with the lone Ranger again, blasted through the glass bricks. Sun was already down, but you couldn’t tell when that puppy hit the glass.

Then I got a little fancy with SB900 units. Put two each on camera right and left, low, and blasted them at this leaping line.

Got crossing shadows, which is most of the time a no no, but it seemed fun with all the dancers in the air and their various shapes making Halloween shadows on the drape. Then, I thought, hey, let’s try a triple exposure with two TTL groups governing the first and the third exposure, and the middle exposure running as available tungsten light! After all, this is an advanced class. A little voice in my head whispered, “You’ve never tried a flash mix triple exposure before, numnuts! Think you might wanna test this before you try it in front of a bunch of people???!!!” Naaahhhh…..I guess I had a bit of a fever after watching Natalia, our subject and a wonderful belly dancer shimmy across the stage a couple of times. I mean her arms are making smooth, graceful shapes, her shoulders are squared off, and her face is a veritable oasis of serenity, and  all the while her hips are oscillating like a high speed paint mixer.

So…set the D3 to triple exposure, got Group A and B going to be the bookends flashes, and tested them a bit for exposure control. Tried a couple tests for the hot light middle exposure, and then shot a few. Let’s call it a work in progress. Got a couple things coming up where doubles and triples will be important to handle in camera, so this was a good beta to figure where problems crop up. More tk….

Brooke Whatnall says:

on April 5, 2009 at 4:13 am

Hi Joe,
Thats an awesome post, love the last shot, still curious, how do you do the triple exposure?

Just ordered the hot shoe diaries on amazon, cant wait for it to arrive over here in Oz, its not in the book shops yet.

Love the site, truckloads of mindbogglingly beautiful technique and photographs

Jay says:

on April 5, 2009 at 4:27 am

Wow love that last triple exposure one – can’t wait to learn more. Can see this working of-so-sweetly with a Ballerina too.

Laith says:

on April 5, 2009 at 4:45 am

It was a pleasure working with you this week Joe. I’m happy to see that you posted your shots, watching you at work added a lot to our experience.

Mo says:

on April 5, 2009 at 5:47 am

Hi Joe..great that you had fun over there in Dubai. the pics are wonderful. I always wondered how you managed to take the photo of the ballet dancer with the motion blur between the two poses (the one on page 32 in the nikon school guide to creative lighting book). Is that the same technique used in the photo with Natalia the belly dancer? Thank you


Jamal Albadia says:

on April 5, 2009 at 6:31 am

I’m glad that I had the chance to take one of your classes in Dubia. thanks for all the information and experience. Really invaluable information.

John Leonard says:

on April 5, 2009 at 8:14 am

The triple is very cool indeed. I’m sure once you tweak it out a bit you’ll be going from environmental story telling into fine art and then back again. That’s just way cool!

Ranger 9 says:

on April 5, 2009 at 11:15 am

Joe, I wonder if sometime you’d share with us your thoughts on how you evaluate your own work when you’re looking through a set of shots: Do you just go with your gut instinct, or do you have some specific thought process you follow to divide them into “That’s it!”, “Not quite”, or “No way”?

The reason I ask — sorry — is that the dancer photos in this post don’t strike me as being up to your usual standard of polish; they seem a bit derivative (Gjon Mili did some great work back in the ’40s, didn’t he?) and sloppy (e.g. it doesn’t bother you that in photo 2 the vertical axis isn’t vertical?)

… Hold on, I’m NOT actually trying to be a smart*** — I’m sure the dancers liked them, and obviously the other commenters do too, so I’m prepared to accept that these ARE good shots and I just don’t “get it.”

I’m hoping that I would get it if I understood a bit more about how you make your picks.

Cat Norman says:

on April 5, 2009 at 11:23 am

I love that last shot. I can’t seem to get enough of movement in photography lately – keep it up!

Ilan says:

on April 5, 2009 at 11:38 am

The second image and the last frame are really breath catching. Super work in every account – the light, the exposure.
Real joy to watch these frames.

Wade says:

on April 5, 2009 at 12:30 pm

Great stuff Joe. Thanks for posting!


PS – Call me immature but I crack up every time you refer to yourself as numnuts.

Frank says:

on April 5, 2009 at 3:37 pm


the triple exposure it just fantastic.

I will join your workshop in venice later this year, can we do there something similar?

Francesco Bonomo says:

on April 5, 2009 at 3:51 pm

Beautiful pictures, as usual, but “Lone Dancer” is absolutely amazing, Joe!

Tim De Weerdt says:

on April 5, 2009 at 4:59 pm

That last one really is amazing! Nice work and interesting blog.

Mark says:

on April 5, 2009 at 11:11 pm

That B&W image is killer.

Baseball season is here. Planning anything with the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies?

Just saying…World Champions and all…

Michael S. says:

on April 5, 2009 at 11:16 pm

Triple exposure is awesome :) Dubai, very cool!

Sathish says:

on April 5, 2009 at 11:25 pm

Hi Joe,

I just love the last one. Didnt see anything of that sort. Your imagination is incredible. You are really nuts. haha.

Great posts as always. Your are pulling me more into photography with ur posts. I am having sleepless nights thinking about what i can do with my camera and how nice it would be shooting all day!!


Hatem says:

on April 6, 2009 at 3:49 am

Thank you for giving a workshop that was informative, inspiring, and entertaining. It was like a breath of fresh air. I learned so much more than I thought was possible in a three day period. Your assistant Drew was also really great. Well done!

David Brown says:

on April 6, 2009 at 5:55 am

Great post, as always, but really, that last shot is just incredible.

Lita_Rulez says:

on April 6, 2009 at 7:24 am

Hey Joe,

Just a quick note to thank you once again for the wonderfull session at GPP on open Friday.

I unfortunately could not work around my schedule to book a workshop, but the day itself was a great reminder of why I love photography in the first place.

I do apologies for missquoting you, thinking about it afterwards, you did say that the boat is leaking, and not sinking. :o)

Jamie Willmott says:

on April 6, 2009 at 7:47 am

Love the shot with the shadows and the funky triple exposure.

John says:

on April 6, 2009 at 8:51 am

Awesome post! I love the shadows you created by cross lighting the dancers! Also, I hope maybe down the road, you could cover more on how you did that last shot of the belly dancer ….to cool for school!

Bob Peak says:

on April 6, 2009 at 10:53 am

Hi Joe,

The bellydancer is nice, but if you want to see some great bellydancing photos check out my site


Alicia says:

on April 6, 2009 at 12:53 pm

wow. your posts are always as inspiring as they are fun to read. i hope to make it to one of your workshops someday. i just finished your new book also, amazing to say the least :)

soedjianto says:

on April 6, 2009 at 4:29 pm

i like da sense of moving , triple exposure…cant wait to try with my new sb900

Joe McNally says:

on April 7, 2009 at 12:28 am

Ranger 9—hmmm, my thought process. A dark place, to be sure….Anyway, with these, it was, quite simply, which is the best looking picture I shot of the 5 or so frames I made of each situation? Simplistic as it sounds, that’s it. Remember, these are workshop pictures, not assignment stuff. When I go into the field with a class, our field time is limited, and I’m acutely aware it is their field time, not mine. What I often do is start the conversation, and get the ball rolling on a setup that provokes some thought, or gives people a starting point. Occasionally, during a workshop, I can finish a picture if folks are into it, but most often, I let things go knowing the frames can be rough around the edges. I’m happy to engage in it though, cause pictures like these I find to be small parts of a puzzle I’ll be putting together for my whole life. If these were something I turned in at school, I’d give myself a B at best.

Now…..onto your strange point about the work being derivative of Gjon Mili. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mr. Mili is one of my heroes. I cite him (and others) in the up front part of my new book. I dedicate the new book to the hall of learning he and his colleagues created via their efforts. I knew Mr. Mili a bit. His office was on the 28th floor of the Time building when I started shooting for those magazine years ago. As I say in Hot Shoe Diaries, Eisie was always Eisie, Carl Mydans was Carl, Ralph Morse was Ralph, but Mr. Mili was always Mr. Mili. Elegant, brilliant, and a bit formal and reserved he was an amazing craftsman with light. Sadly, the time I knew him coincided with a decline in his health.

So, to suggest these snaps have any relationship or reach or kinship with the work of Mr. Mili is to suggest far too much in their favor. They are works in progress at best. Joe

Craig Ferguson says:

on April 7, 2009 at 1:00 am

Love that lone dancer in front of the window.

Sarah Kavanaugh says:

on April 7, 2009 at 2:09 pm

What kind if stands do you use for your SBs?! My husband got Speed of Light from work (DINFOS) for me to watch, and I’d like to start getting set up, but I can’t find those anywhere. I’m not the google-it queen, apparently!

FAB-ulous pics! Here’s hoping I can be half that good someday! (I may have good start; I favor pics that require one or two lights….which is a good thing; I have a D100, and SB-80dx and an SB-24 with a really poor slave! Eek. But I’ll be working on it.)

-Sarah K

cameron griffin says:

on April 7, 2009 at 5:35 pm

i agree with the rest of the people about the triple exposure, it is cool. i also like the black and white photo, its awsome

Tatiana Boyle says:

on April 7, 2009 at 11:30 pm

Joe, the gift of teaching intuition and a special way to communicate your knowledge is distinctively yours. During class, you knowingly give space for creative process and then come back just in time when we hit creative or technical block. Thank you.

Ranger is an awesome system. However, last week I had to return defective A-head to Bogen. Kevin said that it doesn’t happen often. I agreed and offered to be an equipment tester. Kevin said he’ll think about it (!!!). Now I’m going through separation anxiety [from the A-Head] and expecting healing to start when the new head is shipped from there (East) to here (West).

heyahero says:

on April 8, 2009 at 5:39 am

A little OT – finally in Poland!!:,651457.html

Greetings from Poland 😉

will pattison says:

on April 8, 2009 at 7:48 am

great stuff joe, and the video from the last post was hilarious. i seriously doubt you’ll have to resort to such guerilla marketing tactics to sell a truckload, though!

it was very cool to spend some time with you and drew last week in dubai, and i can’t wait to start on hot shoe diaries.


Michael S. says:

on April 8, 2009 at 9:07 am

So, after I finish my morning activities in the hotel room while reading another chapter of the “Hot Shoe Diaries”, I wander down to the hotel breakfast to grab a cup o’ joe. As I open up the USA Today, I see Joe McNally again! All Joe all the time :)

Great article and congratulations!

Check it out folks…..

Michael S.

Thomas says:

on April 9, 2009 at 12:45 am

Astonishing series of images. it is difficult to compare them given the fact that each one is unique.

John Larkin Photography says:

on April 10, 2009 at 12:36 pm

Always love your dance work. The movement in that last shot is awesome.

Just ordered the new book. Can’t wait!

Eileen says:

on April 10, 2009 at 2:46 pm

Great post Joe. Full of ideas and very inspiring, as always. Thanks. : -)

Tim Knight says:

on April 11, 2009 at 5:54 pm

But Joe; you could make a panda bear dancing on its nose look good.

radiant guy says:

on April 13, 2009 at 6:55 am

that photo with the different shaped shadows is impressive.

Kurt STENBERG says:

on April 13, 2009 at 1:47 pm

Hey Joe

I love you Blog and will link to it on my Blog for my friends to see as well. Great stuff and I love Hot shoe diaries :)


Marc Payne says:

on April 13, 2009 at 7:15 pm

Not sure if my other comment didn’t go through or what…the gist of it:

Sorry I missed the PSW Boston a few weeks ago. My friend Will King said he got to meet you and enjoyed the seminar. Hopefully I can make the next one. Anyways, your work is amazing. I really love your aviation shots, for I’m a pilot myself. What inspires you to shoot a lot of aviation and dance in particular? I recently started a photography blog and have linked to this blog. I’m always learning so any criticism on my blog would be greatly appreciated. Keep up the amazing work. It seems never ending and that’s a good thing.


Marc Payne

Noah Hayes says:

on April 14, 2009 at 7:30 pm

Hey Joe, just finished reading Hot Shoe Diaries and it was incredible, thanks for writing it. I just happened to be scrolling down from you shots here, and I was like, “nice, oh yeah that one’s great, oh very nice….HOLY S****!!!” That triple exposure photo is AMAZING! I can’t wait to see you pull of some more of those. What did you use to brighten up the middle with all the motion blur? Was that all through the ambient or did you use something else?

Jack Fussell says:

on April 17, 2009 at 7:40 am

Great set of shots. I especially love your diagram of the photos. I’m relatively new to photography…been at it seriously for about a year. I’m going to start diagramming some as well….and order your book, of course!

Ed Stone says:

on April 17, 2009 at 9:18 am

Hey this is awesome!!!… I tired some multiple flashs in a long exposure of a guy doing parcor a few weeks ago check it out:

I’d love some feedback? I’m thinking of doing it again with a blue and yellow gell on two flash’s. Now I have my technique I’m thinking of taking it on location only thing is it has to be pretty dark but hey..

Marc Payne says:

on April 17, 2009 at 9:52 pm

Just ordered “The Hot Shoe Diaries.” Should be in hand by next friday :)

william Skrainski says:

on April 20, 2009 at 10:19 pm

Mr.Mcnally………Picked up Hot Shoooo Diaries this weekend, and I didn’t get through the intro before picking up the camera and fiddling with the settings!
Thanks for knocking me on my ass and re-evaluating everything I’m doing……….I’m not comfortable with the whole rear thing ( shutter, shutter, rear shutter sync….gawd!) I know it’s going to be better though, I’m going to cut back on the caffine and steady the hand and……….well we will see! Thank you Joe, this stuff still excites me!

Brian says:

on April 28, 2009 at 5:22 pm

Wow, that tipple exposure is an amazing photograph Joe. I am definitely going to have to try that technique, thank you for sharing.

Jamal Albadia says:

on May 20, 2009 at 6:48 am

Dear Joe

I forgot to ask you this in Dubai

If you have 1 sb800 and 1 sb900
which one would you p set as a master ?


VN Web Solutions says:

on March 27, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Hello, I think your blog might be having browser compatibility issues. When I look at your blog in Safari, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, terrific blog!

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