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So, We Tied Everything Up at the Workshops…

Jul 6

In Seminars & Workshops at 8:53am


Alright, so I’ve got a bit of an imagination. It usually resides somewhere on the meter between “outright strange” and “he’s lost his marbles.”

I’m also tenacious. Saw this discarded bunch of rope back in January and tried a pic with it that didn’t work very well. Cycled it through my head again for this one. First worked with Nathalia, who was very patient while Veronica, Will and Lynn circled the heavy hemp around her. She did great. I didn’t.


The overhead I used here just doesn’t have enough punch to bring out her smoky eyes, all made up for glam and drama. I used a small softbox, but it ended up not having enough push of light to spark her eyes and face. She’s smokin’. I, you know, pretty much, uh, failed. I’ve gotten a bunch of pix I like over the years just by trying them again. Can’t tell you how many times Bill, my editor at Geographic, has rolled his eyes and checked the budget when I have begged to go back somewhere and try something again.

So Tabia showed up and we talked through this idea. Would she mind being tied up? She was blasé. Not to worry, she indicated. “I’ve been handcuffed to a box spring for a picture.” Okay! This is easy then! It’s great when you have conversations like this on the set.



Faves, and Diagrams…..

Had a couple questions on the wash basin. Okay, here’s what it looked like, available light.


Pretty, right? So first question in my head is how do I not screw this up? But things had to be done. If you’re shooting a still life of the plumbing, you’re good to go. Put a person in there, adjustments have to be made. Witness Andrew.


He’s hatchet lit. Nothing in the eyes. Tried an Ezybox Hotshoe softbox, but no go. Kristen is so close the wall, anything that is not pretty diffuse is gonna cast a shadow. So went with a 3×3 overhead Lastolite panel, moved in close, with two SB900 units through it. Made it just soft enough to have a bit of the existing character. Brightens a bit, but doesn’t slam dunk the scene into being radically different in terms of look and feel. Felt Kristen’s face needed a bit of a spark, so skipped another 900 off the floor, with a reflective silver Lastolite panel laid down. Very weak fill light, but important. Here’s the select, and the diagram.



While on the subject of Kristen…she had amazing symmetry to her face, so we mixed and matched. This is an overhead Elinchrom beauty dish, with a floor skipped SB900 running on manual slave mode, or SU-4. Do this all the time. Big lights, small lights…they work together well.


Aaron by the windows….


Really threw TTL wireless a curve here. Had no idea what would result with 2 SB900s out by the railroad tracks. Worried about triggering them and an interior light. But what was pleasantly surprising about the setup was how much power and clarity was achieved with small flash at a distance of easy 80 feet or so. The shadow pattern on the wall defined itself, even competing with the sun, coming from another angle and hitting the floor. Now, people will say, hey, there’s only one light in nature, the sun, and you can’t have two grid patterns like this. It ain’t natural. Point taken. But I like the two grids. Good graphics, and gives me pause and thought about future experimentation.

Aaron is looking up and into an Exybox Hotshoe softbox. Why the softbox in this iteration? Punches light in a contained way. Doesn’t scatter and spread. Less spread, less interference and softening of the shadows we worked hard to create. See diagram…..


The Light in the Hallway……


Lauren looks quite amazing here. One light, down the hallway. F2 on a 200mm f2 lens. Man, tough to manage sharpness for this. Finally locked it into manual focus and tried to hang in there. Razor thin depth at f2, and of course, they’re moving. In retrospect, a small hot light down the hall would have helped. Small, though. A hot hot light would have changed the exposure pattern, cause wide open I am picking up ambient hallway lighting.

Chancy, but like no depth here. The focus just drops, and the hallway goes from creepy and grungy to just being texture, light and shadow.

This light is a Ranger with a long throw reflector on it, by the way, with a Skyport trigger that navigated all that concrete quite well.

Lauren again—Window, no window?

Lotsa window….


Bit of window….day_5_0344-web

No window….


That’s the great thing about shooting. Reactions are never unanimous, and generally lively. Some folks love the window, some want it gone. Here’s three—big window, little bit of window, no window. You decide…

We’re wrapped…..thanks again to Nikon, Adorama and Bogen. And Joe Ventura, Jeff Snyder, Mark Astmann, Gary Astill, and Kriss Brungrabber. And huge thanks to Aristeo’s Emmanuel Modeling Agency, and Sao, their booking agent, who made everything happen, and sent wonderful talent our way.  Veronica, Nicole and Pia, you guys rock the world of makeup and hair.


Thanks again staff: Lynn, Syl, Drew, Will, Lynda, Andrew, Trevi, Hollie, Mike, Lindsey, Cara, Coby, Geoff, and Tommy.  You were all amazing.  Looking forward to more in the future..

Also, according to Our Assistant Will’s pedometer, during the workshops week, he averaged 4.9 miles/day, the setup day was 11.5 miles, and the total amount of walking for the week was 61.5 miles! wow.

more tk.

Teymur Madjderey (icedsoul photography) says:

on July 6, 2009 at 8:59 am

great stuff as always!

reading your posts and books and thinking about all what we learned at the workshop in venice pumps me up so much and it really changed the way I think about setting everything uü and planning my shots. didn’t get around shooting too much, but I’m on it.

thanks for doing what you do!


Louis says:

on July 6, 2009 at 9:01 am

Awesome stuff. Can’t wait for your workshop at Santa Fe to kick off. I’m fired up and ready to learn!

Christine Glade says:

on July 6, 2009 at 9:11 am

Thanks for a GREAT workshop and for taking the time to post all this usable info here. The strategies you presented have become morsels for inspiration and exploration. Perfect. I so wish I was there for the rope shots too! Still owe you that Starbucks; I’m good for it.

Mark says:

on July 6, 2009 at 9:17 am

I just LOVE the detail of the fingers sticking out of the rope and the red flower in Kristen’s hair. Thanks for sharing all of these.

fozan malaysia.. says:

on July 6, 2009 at 9:19 am

hai joe, that is awesome joe,
excellent work…im very like a bit of window..
i like it….

daniel petre says:

on July 6, 2009 at 9:31 am

awesome setups, nice gear you have there but most of all a tenacious talent for beautiful.
i wish you would write more on this blog about you and your work..

Mark S Elliott says:

on July 6, 2009 at 9:34 am

Really enjoyed this post. Great shots. Informative and inspirational. Cheers Joe.

Mmmm… Now where the heck do I get 30 metres of rope from?

Ken says:

on July 6, 2009 at 9:40 am

Wonderful shots….Thanks for the inspiration today.

Ken in KY

Paul Aylett says:

on July 6, 2009 at 9:59 am

Aaron by the Windows – it’s genius!!! I’d love to know where does the inspiration comes from and where I can get me some! As always, thanks for sharing.

Bob Guercio says:

on July 6, 2009 at 10:10 am

Hey Joe,

On several occasions I’ve told you how amazed I was regarding your imagination. At this point, after seeing your models so tied up in knots, amazement has been replacement with deep worry!


Kyle Batson says:

on July 6, 2009 at 10:39 am

Looks like a lot of fun. Great tips and Lauren is just stunning.

murat says:

on July 6, 2009 at 12:14 pm

spectacular, as expected. i think the rope idea just worked great, here. and lauren is stunning…
thanks for inspiring, master! 😉

John says:

on July 6, 2009 at 12:40 pm

Awesome stuff! Those portraits of Lauren are amazing! I love the light on her in the first one where she was lit with the Ranger down the hall. Its hard to believe that light looks that soft, but its simply gorgeous and the shallow depth of field makes that shot in my opinion. FWIW, I like the second shot of her from the window series. Showing a little bit of the window kind of eludes to the fact that, that is where the light is coming from.

Awesome stuff!

Antoine says:

on July 6, 2009 at 12:48 pm

Lotsa windows is pure awesomeness!! An assorted hand-made lighting diagram would be much appreciated!

David says:

on July 6, 2009 at 12:54 pm

amazing work, yet again! the lauren shots are classic

Norm Cooper says:

on July 6, 2009 at 2:19 pm

was hoping for a shot of Syl in the tub….

Will King says:

on July 6, 2009 at 2:24 pm

I attended Joe’s workshop on the last day (7/1). The 8 hour drive was well worth it. Joe is not only a genius when it comes to lighting, but he also has a great teaching style. His non-intimidating, humbe approach to teaching was very effective. I cannot say enough how nice and accommodating Joe and his entire staff was.

I wrote a full review of the seminar on my blog.

Leif Eliasson says:

on July 6, 2009 at 2:34 pm

Fantastic pictures with a lot of creativity – you are as usual really inspiring in what you do Joe.
I relly admire how generous you cheer your knowledge with us.
Regards – Leif

Mark Griffith says:

on July 6, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Lauren with the light in the hallway is just fantastic.

Marek Kunec says:

on July 6, 2009 at 3:36 pm

Brilliant work… love your set ups and work with light, and the sketches are really cool. It looks like i have so much to learn, but I’m doing photography because of people like you that inspire me to do better 😉

Doug E. says:

on July 6, 2009 at 5:26 pm

“Magic Joe and the Photon Brigade” or (This workshop changed my life!)

Joe’s Dobbs Ferry, Ny workshop, Wow! To steal and tweak a blurb from my own FB page;

“From Joe McNally’s 1 day photo workshop. Very difficult to describe the experience, but a few adjectives come to mind; Exhilarating, Inspirational, Infections, Fun (understatement), Educational, Overwhelming (in a good way) and on! I still feel jazzed and inspired, eager for more as I hung back to watch, listen and learn as I was the absolute amateur of the group! This shot, ( I took hanging back and kinda’ broke the rules as we were in groups – a model, a shooter, a tri-grip / speedlight holder. I loved this gritty room, big windows and shadows. So at 70mm, 1/250th 5.6 iso 200 took a candid shot in between another shooters flash shots – The shot is absolutely awful and contrary to what was being instructed – but I like it as my reference shot from which to approve upon (although, I kinda’ think the shadows and contrast are cool). I had a blast laying low and taking in as much as I could and learning! I am desperate for more, feel like I’ve had a pot of coffee and need more. Joe is Awesome!”

Ok, I did everything wrong! But wow – I learned so much! If I could go back to 7/1/09 again, certainly I would have tried more, Joe and his fantastic crew are so talented, kind and accommodating, it’s like learning from an ole’ buddy (and his band) who just happens to be a master of his craft (although he’d be the last to admit that). Watching Joe’s beautiful shots come together with lens changes, positioning and of course working with the light was really a treat. No post, just lens to screen! What a talent!

@Will King – your blog review is spot on!

Thank you Mr. McNally! I hope to attend another workshop someday!


ps. An important Thank You to Lynn for doing so much to help. Linda for your attention and kindness. Syl for occasional equipment help and chat. The entire crew – Bravo!

Bob M. Montgomery says:

on July 6, 2009 at 6:17 pm

I remember shooting with Kristen in January, and she’s a fantastic person to work with, and it looks like she knocked it out of the park again… she saves yer bacon, McNally 😉 In all seriousness, the shots from throughout were knockdown-dragout stunning. Wish I could have attended, but another time. Thanks for the reports and the diagrams, as always. It’s getting my creative juices flowing for a senior portrait session coming up to really play with off camera light and see what kind of madness we can conjure up.

Thanks Joe and awesome crew!

Eddie Licitra says:

on July 6, 2009 at 11:51 pm

Wanted to add another thanks for the great workshop and great day comment.

I was there on 6/30, and couldn’t begin to describe how helpful everything was, and how genuinely friendly both the staff and other students were. Much appreciated, a wonderful time.

Not only that, but I made some decent photos.

Rafa says:

on July 7, 2009 at 12:16 am

Great pictures, great light, congrats!

Scott says:

on July 7, 2009 at 11:19 am

slam-dunk, as usual outstanding! When are you going to bring the show to los angeles?


Francesco Bonomo says:

on July 7, 2009 at 4:19 pm

“windows are like underwear…” awww, well, maybe it doesn’t go like that…. :-)
Great pictures, as usual, Joe…would love to see the diagram for the big window shot…awesome!

Levi Sim says:

on July 8, 2009 at 12:37 am

Can’t write…searching couch cushions for change…must obtain more lights…

I absolutely love each of these photos. I’m leaning towards lotsa window on Lauren, though. Hmmm, I’d better head to McDonald’s and walk the drive through…maybe I can find enough for the San Francisco workshop this month…

Any chance Utah is on the way somewhere? We’re really good hosts!


Lauren Holland says:

on July 8, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Haha. Oh Levi, I don’t know who you are but you certainly made me laugh. I’m right in that boat with you!

Pat Carly says:

on July 8, 2009 at 3:51 pm

Long time follower, first time comment.

Joe, your photo work and lighting is incredibly beautiful. The photos you’ve showcased here and throughout the workshop you held seems to be even further beyond your usual beauty. The shot of “Lauren” in the hallway I find breathtaking. The shot of “Tabia” in the rope, the clarity contrast and colors are truly magnificent, if I hadn’t read in one of the previous comments that there was no post done, I would have bet my D3 they were shopped up some. The cutie in the tub – beautiful and spirited has a modern shot meets Life magazine circa 1950’s – were you at Life early than we know. 😉

Beautiful work!

@Doug E, I very much liked your shot with shadows.

@Eddie Licitra, also a great shot.

Joe, your workshop photos really have that extra something. Someday I will attend!

Paula Gilbert says:

on July 9, 2009 at 5:00 pm

Hmmm, your lighting, as always, is flawless. Just, um, well, not sure S&M is for you. The rope shots, I think, reminiscent of Wiley Coyote, tied and fearfully eying an ACME Bomb nearby. I mean no offense. You are one of my heroes. But the erotica is missing. Maybe the rope around a mermaid…it has sort of a nautical appeal…maybe. Lol.

Christopher Romano says:

on July 11, 2009 at 10:54 am

I prefer lotsa window. I think it brings the most detail to the scene, but that’s personal preference.

And the diagram for the tub lighting had me laughing quite bit :)

momo says:

on July 12, 2009 at 12:05 am

Awesome stuff

David Zentz says:

on July 12, 2009 at 7:07 pm

Great blog Joe. I need to remember to check in more often.

Balliolman says:

on July 13, 2009 at 12:03 pm

Joe, your ability is breathtaking.

Balliolman :)

Induk Han says:

on July 16, 2009 at 9:21 am

amazing light!
Joe, where did you get the new notebook?. Please let me know where I can get it.
I’m a big fan of yours from Korea. You’re better than Sco** Kel**.

Dwayne D.C. Tucker II says:

on July 16, 2009 at 10:14 am

I really want to comment but I have not a thing to say! But it isn’t right not to leave a comment because you won’t know how much I appreciate you and your talent Mr. McNally. Breathtaking work, my mouth is wide open and my eyes were filled with inspiration.

Dwayne D.C. Tucker II
Nassau, Bahamas

Zul says:

on September 16, 2009 at 2:05 am

Kristen.. she’s so beautiful.. love ur work.. :)

Mary Griffin says:

on July 2, 2010 at 11:03 pm

What are the best brands of pedometer on the market?*~,

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