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Mystery Photo….Revealed?

Sep 3

In Best Guesses at 2:14pm


Had some traffic over time about the lighting grid for this photo, which we have used as a blog header. This was shot for Kelby Training, and re-confirms my fondness for seedy motel rooms. It is all small flash, but it is not all flash. It’s a mix of sources.

So I’m throwing it out there. Whoever wants to have a shot at this, and figure out the lighting plan, have at it. Person who nails it gets an autographed copy of Hot Shoe Diaries, and a Lastolite Tri-Grip diffuser.  Hell, I’ll even sign “Numnuts” on the diffuser, if you want. Remember though, everything I sign has a tendency to plummet in value, so choose wisely.

This ain’t a contest, and there’s nothing formal about it.  I’ve even talked in general terms about this pic in workshops, so it’s not like this is gonna be the search for the holy frikkin’ grail. It’s just that enough folks have pinged about this image so we thought it would be fun. We don’t get out much in our studio. More tk…..

216 Responses to “Mystery Photo….Revealed?”

Joshua Debner says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:21 pm

1.) Flash inside the lamp

2.) Flash camera right side shooting at the back of the table with a blue gel

3.) TV is burned in with fuzz ambient

4.) Softbox (red/orange gel) camera left for the front leg light

5.) Blue gelled flash pointed at wall behind the bed

6.) Strobe outside the room probably bounced around a bunch with same gel as softbox

Bill says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Here is my take, and my first try to reproduce you photo.

outside: It was raining fog was luck, SB red gel shooting though a large light panel
Camera left: SB 1/3 power full CTO with plastic defuser thing.
Light under table: Gaffers tape to block out the bottom of shade, dim light.
Camera Right: SB 1/3 power shot though a small panel no gel.
light behind bed: night light.

Gladys says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Hmmm…So a nightlight left of the door. Gelled grid spot strobe above on the woman’s leg and the pills. Um…gelled strobe outside the window with the fog machine. No…camera right…either a gelled strobe or a neon sign through an existing window? My best (and probably wrong) guess.

J.P. says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Here goes. Guess I’ll start with ambient–gotta’ be more than 1/60 of a second because the whole tv screen is there, but not too much longer because you can still see the noise–it’s not all white. Gotta’ let that lamp on the floor burn in, too.

Strobe gelled red, with maybe a diffuser dome, lighting the hallway, window, and giving the killer? detective? his rimlight.

Key for the corpse is direct, zoomed in pretty right with a CTO gel slightly to the right and above the camera.

Another direct strobe gelled blue hitting the right wall from camera right.

Finally, a blue-gelled strobe behind the bed, maybe snooted or just zoomed tight? firing into the wall between the door and the window to give the appearance of a night light. Guess they won’t keep you safe, eh?

David says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:28 pm

I’ve not been to any of your workshops :( , but I will give it a shot! I have a feeling that you controlled any ambient pretty well, so I may be off on this, but oh well!

Gridded and Cto’d flash above camera and to the right a little pointing on the woman’s legs.

Blue Gelled flash way camera right to light the table and its contents.

Another Blue gelled flash behind the bed next to the door to seperate the girls legs and the wall.

Heavily red gelled flash outside, and maybe another on the guy?

Ambient coming from the lamp on the floor and the television int he table.

Andre Albano says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:28 pm

I can think of three light sources. The red one outside, maybe a tungsten light, very hard. A soft light in the wall behind the TV, matching the screen colour, and a snoot bringind attention to the leg.
Don’t know much about equipment, so I will not guess about it.

Great photo, great blog of yours. Learn a lot in here.


Barth says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:29 pm

Headlight from truck or car with red gel, maybe it amplify red neon Hotel sign outside. That is the effect you wanted (probably not neon though). TV on no input and lamp on floor, of course. SB?00 red-orange geled camera right. fluorescent bathroom light efeect from a flagged SB?00 with a blue gel. Should I draw it on a napkin?

brett maxwell says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:30 pm

clearly there is ambient from the table lamp on the floor and the TV. 2 speedlights in the hall gelled red, one snooted/gridded/zoomed lighting the man’s face and one behind lighting the hall and hall window. One speedlight gelled blue behind the bed, aimed at the wall behind the TV. One speedlight high (CTO?) snooted/gridded/zoomed pointing almost straight down on the woman’s right foot.

Nick says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:31 pm

I’m going to guess that there is a mixture of ambient and flash (yea really!)
Ambient light from the TV and the lamp on the floor. Then four flashes –
One behind the tv and one behind the bed gelled blue and hitting the walls.
Two outside the room gelled bright red and directed at the floor/ ceiling
And an umbrella camera left with a CTO on to illuminate the girl and the bed.

Jeff Lynch says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:32 pm

Is that the K-Man in the doorway? Is he moonlighting again?

Carlo Balistrieri says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:33 pm

I’m guessing four or five flash…

1) w/blue gel lighting wall behind the monitor like a backdrop.
2) w/red gel aimed at floor in open door
3) w/red gel aimed at wall outside window (again like backdrop lighting)
4) w/red gel directly over knee like a beauty light
5) something small and clean on the spilled pills to keep them white.

Ambient light from the monitor and the lamp…


brett maxwell says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:33 pm

I changed my mind, I think there’s two speedlights gelled blue. One behind the bed, and one off to camera right lighting the wall. Corrected post:

Clearly there is ambient from the table lamp on the floor and the TV. 2 speedlights in the hall gelled red, one snooted/gridded/zoomed lighting the man’s face and one behind lighting the hall and hall window. Two speedlights gelled blue, one behind the bed and one to camera right aimed at the wall behind the TV. One speedlight high (CTO?) snooted/gridded/zoomed pointing almost straight down on the woman’s right foot.

Ed Z says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:34 pm

Ok, here’s my guess. not too great at deconstructing lighting, but here goes- Gonna go with 3 light sources

one strobe (sb900?) gelled red, in the rear room pointed at the forward wall, and angled slightly to spill on to the guy’s face (see rimlight, and light spilling through the door, also see the red light spilling onto the left side of the bottles on the table)

second light, behind the translucent wall-thingee (is that a curtain or a wall of some sort?)Im guessing this is either a continuous light, or ambient based on the softness/wrap coming around the right side of the table/bottles

third light, stobe, either ungelled or maybe gelled CTO in room, camera right, maybe 45deg or so? (as evidenced by the shadows behind the woman’s foot) angled down (specular on knee, spill on floor)

Chris Inch says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:41 pm

I’ll have a shot at it…

I believe there is obviously light from the television, although it doesn’t seem to be casting too much light. I believe there is a tungsten bulb in the lamp shade as well.

Starting with the obvious small flashes:
Looks like there is one blue flash to the far right. Another blue flash behind the bed aimed at the wall behind the picture.
There is a orange flash outside the window providing most of the light out there. There is also one above and camera right providing light on the woman’s leg.

There are a few that are more subtle that I think exist:
There is one that is snooted or gridded providing a splash of light across the woman’s foot. There is also a similar one aimed across the gent’s face and hitting the door.

I do believe there are two more light sources, as well, although these ones are a bit tougher.
I think there is a flash in the top left corner of the room which is providing the orange/red light on the table legs and pill bottles.

Finally, the last light is behind the man’s legs. I’m gonna take a wild guess and say that this is another tungsten lamp, similar to the one that’s on the floor. They are a similar color, and if you put a lamp there, sans-shade, it might look the way it does. Wild guess.

Chris Florio says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:42 pm

I’ll answer with the gear I own…. and how I would have tried to do this.

Street light outside, gelled with a calcolor 90 red gel.

Vivitar 285 at 5 o’clock with a calcolor 60 lavender gel and a 6″ grid.

Vivitar 285 at 7 o’clock with a silver bounce umbrella at 1/16 power and a calcolor 90 red gel.

Pete says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:43 pm

The lamp is actually on, as is the telle, one snooted, gridded or both on her knee warm gelled high up slightly right of camera, another maybe two red gelled off the back wall in the back room, another gelled purplie blue from behind the bed up and at the wall on camera right behind the tee vee?

Per Pettersson says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:43 pm

GREAT PHOTOGRAPH! You are a big inspiration.

Cheers from Sweden!

Larry Eiss says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:44 pm

CTR (Red) gel on the floor in the hallway splashed against the wall from camera left. Snooted (or fully-zoomed SB-900) CTO (Orange) (or maybe CTR?) just to camera right highlighting the dead girl’s leg and the pills on the floor, but motivated by the tipped-over table lamp on the right. CTB (Blue) gel splashed across the interior wall from extreme camera right, augmented by the flat-screen TV displaying only static, but providing some tone to the ambient. Very low power CTB on the back wall (visible just under her left (camera right) leg) to boost the ambient just a tad. Unfortunately, I can’t figure out the tiny orange glow at the feet of our hero, the private dick who has just come upon the scene.

Saad says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:44 pm

I just bought both your books – and Im poor but Lets try take a shot…

The lamp is obviously providing some light. The girl’s leg seems to be a snooted and gelled flash, or maybe some hot lights. Im guessing the outside and the guy are lit by some sort of tungsten light.

The walls have been gelled bluish and flashed, with one flash on the corner of the bed where you can see the intensity between the leg and the bed.

The TV is also providing a bit of light.

I dont think Im very close, as Im kinda new to this thing…can I have a tri grip pretty please :)

Jonathan Camere says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:45 pm

behind the window and the guy with the gun there is a small flash gelled RED. There is another small source of light behind the bed and the women’s leg. Possibly a small flash with some type of small diffuser. The lamp has a small flash pointed towards the woman. And there is a main light coming from camera right and high with a CTO gel with a big diffuser. The blueish light behind the TV is ambient from a window.

Federico says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:47 pm

This photo is absolutely wonderful! You’re so talented! I’ve always wanted to do something like that… But, of course, I failed miserably.

I have no idea of what the lighting plan is, but I guess there’s a strobe lighting the background (and the mysterious guy) with a red gel, another with a snoot or grid lighting the legs of the girl and the ambient light turned blue/violet by playing with the white balance setting on camera. But I keep wondering if the light of the lamp that is on the floor is continuous or not…

Thanks for sharing this wonderful image, Joe!


Theis says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:47 pm

Had a look at Chases blog have we :)

I think it’s a brilliant idea, but I am no good at deciphering stuff like this :)

But a guess I have to drop :)

Light on model done with available light.
Red in the background done with speedlite
Lamp on the floor and telly of course natural
Blue light on the telly another speedlite

Thx for some nice posts :)

Klam says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Great pic Mr.Mc Nally

The lighting plan:

-Camera WB tungsten. shutter dragged.

-Flash with full CTO gel grided above camera aiming downward at female leg.

– bare flash behind camera right aiming towards the wall behind the tv

-Flash with full and half CTO gel outside door flaged so the light is directed towards man chest and head

-Flash with maybe a full and half CTO gel outside down low flagged to give rim light on mans lower body and leg.

-Ambient light provided by fallen lamp.

My other guess would be the outside light was provided by car headlights and flagged so only parts of the man was lite

Toby says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:48 pm

My best guess:
Behind window panes, gelled strobe bounced off wall to fill that area
Second strobe same location, gridded tight to man’s head (guessing from the bright spot on his shadow)
Gridded, gelled strobe high, almost on camera axis, pointing down on woman’s right leg
CTB strobe to camera right, wide-ish zoom on the wall
A couple of LED torches pointed at the wall to the left of the door, to make the woman’s left leg ‘pop’
Maybe using the wall lights (which I’m guessing are above the bed, off camera left) to light the woman herself (she’s not lit with the strobes, but is clearly visible)
Oh, and the table lamp, possibly with a high-wattage bulb put in it so you didn’t have to drag the shutter for too long

Kidchorus says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Hmmm…I’ll take a stab at it, probably a bad stab…but here goes.

Continuous lightsource outside, like a kino-flo type setup?

One blue gelled flash behind the bed next to the “detective”

Another blue gelled flash top right by the pill bottles/tv set

Warm gel flash unit above with some sort of scrim on it lighting the model on the bed.

And one more flash inside the lamp on the floor….

Another flash (snooted?) behind the detective pointing towards his feet to give a little depth and remove some shadow…

red says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Yay, prizes! :)

Let’s see:

– 2 snooted or zoomed (200mm on SB-900?) CTO’d flashes on he victim’s legs and mysterious man’s face.
– 1 1/64 or 1/128 power 1/2 CTO’d flash replacing lightbulb in the toppled lampshade.
– 1 CTB’d flash at 1/64 behind victim’s left leg to create some contrast and match the rest of the room’s blue.
– 1 CTB’d flash camera right or a blue neon sign coming from somewhere else. :) Or another TV set?
– I can’t figure out the super red fog. Neon sign? Red gelled flash?
– I see a light source behind the man, coming somewhat low. Car headlight height. :)
– And what’s the light source on the man’s ankle? Reflected lightbulb?

f/8, 1/4s at ISO800, 14-24mm @ 14mm on D3

Hobbies says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Wow this pic looks awesome! I couldn’t guess the set up if I wanted to but good job non the less!

Brandon says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:53 pm

I am going to say you gelled car lights in the parking lot red, and then threw a small flash behind the TV and a main diffused light on the lady model (with red gel.)

Wellington says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:54 pm

I am not sure, but I’ll give it a try.
It seems to me there is a bare bulb with red gel in the outside aiming the man at the door, a bare bulb with low power and blue gel beside the bed aiming the wall, a snooted flash with orange gel 45º left of the cam, a snooted low powered flash with yellow gel aiming between the man’s legs and the incandescent bulb on the floor.

Ron Warren says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:56 pm


2 SB units (gelled red) in the hallway. 1 lighting the window and gobo’ed to splash the man’s neck area. 2nd one lighting background behind fella. Hi-power flashlight gelled yellow behind fella’s feet shooting toward camera.

TV light is real. As is the lamp on the floor. Scrim on right backlit w/ blue-gelled SB unit, maybe 1/4 power.

And, finally, a gobo’ed and full CTO SB unit at front left lighting the leg and floor beneath and splashing onto the (TV) table legs (maybe a reflector to aim some of the splash onto the other leg). How’d I do? Thanks, Ron

Leon says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Joe…or whomever…anyway we could see the pic a little larger? Or is that part of the challenge?

Thanks for everything you do, by the way.


Charles says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:58 pm

I would guess you have a flash with CTO gel above and left of camera and a lit bulb in the lamp shade on the floor. There is a flash gelled purple behind the TV lighting the wall and another lighting the wall to the left of the door. The fourth flash is gelled red outside the door illuminating the window and door frame. Just my guess.

Alex Ference says:

on September 3, 2009 at 2:59 pm

1 light maybe in a softbox to focus a CTO gel on the knee, 1 light camera right with on wall diffused w/ Tri-grip, 1 light outside behind man and door with CTO gel, shot with Tungston WB.

Matt says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Here goes:

1 x 900 gelled red in a softbox outside.

1 x 900 gelled red (outside) snooted and aimed at bad guy’s head.

1 x 900 gelled CTO up on a stand aiming at doll face’s knee.

1 x 900 gelled blue, on stand on the floor, splashing up on the wall. Probably gobo’d.

As for me? My name is Friday. I wear a badge.

Mike Pittman says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:00 pm

I’m not usually great at this, but what the hay-hay.

Here’s what I see:

* At least one strobe outside the door, gelled red for that red (duh) look.
* I’m thinking one closer in to the guy in the door frame to make him pop a little, and looks to not be as full-on red as the parking lot strobe.
* Dialed down strobe at the bed corner, gelled blue, pointed up the wall.
* There’s also the light between Guy Noire’s legs… stumped here, but looks like another CTO strobe.
* Strobe behind camera right, aimed behind the tv, gelled blue.
* Gridded or snooted strobe, boomed over the model’s right knee to light her leg and the pills on the floor, gelled CTO to mimic lamp light.
* Constant sources: lamp on the floor, TV, a weeeeeee touch of ambient from outside.
* At least 1/30th second exposure to catch the TV, but not so long as to make the screen go white and lose it’s “noise” look.

Seems like a lot of strobes to me, but that’s my stab…

Trevor says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:01 pm

Love the Picture…alright,I’m gonna say whatever the first comment guy said

“clearly there is ambient from the table lamp on the floor and the TV. 2 speedlights in the hall gelled red, one snooted/gridded/zoomed lighting the man’s face and one behind lighting the hall and hall window. One speedlight gelled blue behind the bed, aimed at the wall behind the TV. One speedlight high (CTO?) snooted/gridded/zoomed pointing almost straight down on the woman’s right foot.”

…including a warm gelled speedlight behind the man,lighting his feet a bit…and a blue gelled speedlight behind the bed…and probably make that 3 or 4 red gelled speedlights in the hall.

Seriously love this picture tho!!!

Tommy Lynch says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:02 pm

Ok….4 SB900’s or SB 800’s at the time…..one outside shot back at wall between door and large window with CTO or red gel, actually behind shooter to give whole area a red glow…giving a seedy look to the person (Scott Kelby) who just commited a crime is a CTO with grid (Honl) shot at suspects face…..another one camera right CTB shot at right wall slightly above TV…..third one is slightly camera right but higer than camera CTO with snoot shot back down at person/woman on bed…..Numnuts at bed height about a yeard from her right toe….A priority, at 1/250th (Guess, b/c you like or 95% of the time shoot in A mode)…A 60 watt bulb in lamp, and TV has been unplugged from cable but not outlet to give a late nite (TV over) atmosphere feeling….signaling it’s after 2am….The pills are Drews prescription for working so hard for Joe!….I think I am close to nailing it….I’ll see…cool idea Joe!

Tommy Lynch

Matt says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:02 pm


One more speedlight under the picture. CTB. Aimed at the wall. Low power.

Rui M Leal says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:03 pm

Hi Joe,

been following your work all along and man I can tell you that you even better than Port Wine. As we use to say around these places… the older the wine the better it is ;)

My guess on this one is a strobe behind the door and window concealed right behind the man with a red gel on it to give atmosphere while keeping the man in the dark, another one with red gel and snoot near the door and behind the wall with the painting pointing at the man’s face so it will not contaminate the body, one strobe inside the lamp, clamped to it, on the floor with a CTO gel on lower power just to give the mood to the lamp, one strobe with snoot to the lady’s legs also with a CTO gel from above her and another strobe snooted with a Blue gel pointing to the table, another strobe with blue gel behind the bed pointing at the all to give volume to the bed and legs.

Well I think that’s it.

Curious to see how you did it and keep up the GOOD work and thanks for the inspirational moments.

Rui M Leal

queequeg says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:03 pm

i guess there are five lighting sources except tv and the lamp on the floor. one in the hall behind the man, (we see reflection on the floor) and one lighting his face. we have one light at camera right, snooted and aimed woman’s leg. we also have one more light at camera right lighting the wall behind the tv, it’s also lighting medicine boxes next to tv. and we have one more strobe just behind the bed aimed at the wall at the guy’s left. :)

Jamie Wallace says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:04 pm

Non-strobe: TV

1) In Lamp – low-powered, CTO-gelled pointed at floor
2) Camera-right (low) – wide, Blue/Purple gelled pointed at wall/TV
3) Camera-right (high) – zoomed, CTO-gelled pointed at leg
4) Background – wide, red-gelled on high power pointed at door

queequeg says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:04 pm

guy’s right, our left. ;)

george says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:05 pm

What the hell, I’m sure I’m way off but might as well take a shot:

1)Camera WB to daylight or flash
2)TV – camera right (visible)
3)speedlight in table lamp, creatively positioned off table (floor) CTO gel, diffusion screen on “top” oipening, flagged off at “bottom”- camera right (visible)
4)Strobe, camera right, CTO gel, about 5′ high, gridded ~10 deg. (main)
5)Strobe over camera, ½ CTO gel, -1 EV, small softbox, flagged
6)Speedlight next to wall on floor stand about 4′ to camera left of door, full CTB
7)headlights outside, gelled red

kettlepot says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:07 pm

tv on a static channel
lamp is just a tungsten bulb, plugged in, continuous
blue gelled flash behind the bed, hitting the wall underneath the picture. that’s whats giving the blue tint to the room, and the purple on the right wall is where the red from outside the room is spilling in; another blue light possible hitting the wall hight and camera right
red gelled flash lighting up the room
warm gelled flash above, slightly camera right of the camera targetting model on the bed
warm gelled snooted flash hitting the guy coming in the door on the right side of his face

Kevin Williams says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:10 pm

My attempt:

Hallway: SB800 with red gel at about +1 EV, with a flag to keep the light off his body and legs
Hallway: behind man, SB600 about knee high with a full CTO to give the reflection at his feet
Camera right: SB900 through tri-grip, -1 EV, 1/2 blue gel
Camera left: SB900 0 EV with 1 red gel and 1 CTO, zoomed to 200mm
Behind Bed: blue gelled nightlight in socket

Fun idea, and a cool image! Gotta try that someday.

Michelle says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Ok I’ll have a bash.
Camera is set to Daylight to help the Red lighting? Semi slow shutter under 1/60th to get the tv. Highish f stop to get the whole of the frame in focus along with setting the lens at hyperfocal.

I’ll start with the background. Outside through the fog, I’m guessing there’s more than one red gelled flash out there, perhaps two, the one for the window and one for the kicker on the man’s face. I’m guessing they’re coming through a lasolite panel or ye ole bedsheet to get the spread.

Next, a lovely wide, low flash gelled blue for the wall, bare by the looks of the door shadow.

The lamp… hmmn, puzzled me for a bit, thought it was just turned on, but there dosen’t seem to be anything blocking the back of the shade and if the bulb was creating the light there would be splash back on the wall so I’m gonna go with a CTO’d gel’d flash in there as well.

The woman looks to be lit by a zoomed flash, gelled 2 cuts CTO?, though partially covered brolly, the shadow is softly sharp (if that makes sense). From the fall off I reckon the brolly was on a c-stand floating somewhere above your head.

Maybe one more, snooted to pick up the pills?

There seems to be a blue gelled flash camera right, bringing up the right hand wall and looks to be bare from the shadows.

Personally I love the red and blue. The transition between the colours which mix to make the purple tones really give it a dirty, bruised feeling.

mike says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Wow! This is a great shot…at least from an amateur’s point of view…and believe me, I’m an amateur.

I would say you have camera right gel(blue), camera left snooted with orange gel. Behind the bed, blue gel, 1/4 power. Gel outside, red. It also appears to be a gelled flash behind the detective yellow gel. (the yellow at his feet).

Great shot!

I love watching and learning from your courses on kelbytraining.com. I have a question, which do you consider is more important to break into shots like these, a flash or the camera?

Thanks again for great shots and sharing your knowledge.

Michelle says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:22 pm

Oooh, can I just add, there is a street light outside creating the orange separator for the bloke’s legs.

Steve says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:24 pm

- Camera WB set to Tungsten to make white light give blue cast
– White flash to camera upper right. Shows as blue
– Flash with CTO filter to camera upper left to give orange light on girl’s leg and light on left foreground floor
– Lamp on floor with normal Tungsten bulb. Shows as white light due to Tungsten WB
– Flash in corridor, heavy red filter, pointing at rear wall between door and window, about head height
– Flash with CTO filter behind man, shining onto floor
– TV contributing own static light

Chris Exum says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:25 pm

OK – I think that the girl’s leg looks to be lit from camera right, with a snoot and a warming gel. It’s very hard light on the leg, and falls off fairly quickly.

The red light looks too bright to be from a sign, but since you indicated some of the light is not flash, I’ll go with this being a hotel sign in the parking lot.

Blue light is the most confusing to me, because the small bit of blue behind the model’s leg is very curious? The source has to be behind/above camera right though, based on the table lighting on right, and then bouncing off the wall to the right and making purples on the far wall where it’s mixing with the red bouncing off the door. I’ll guess the source to be a blue gel’d flash.

Adam says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:28 pm

Flesh in the lamp half cto

outside two strobes full cto

half cto on the leg through bed sheet

blue gel on tv

Hope I nail it ;P

mk says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:28 pm

Stop the non-contest! I have the answer…

What’s the lighting plan! Hire Joe McNally! ;^}

Slavo says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:29 pm

My guess is this:
1x snooted Speed light over the camera right aiming at the leg gelled orange(yellow?); 1x lamp turned on lying on the ground; 1x flash via softbox over camera left on the bed; 1x flash gelled red on the end of the hallway, aiming on wall between window and the door, 1x flash gelled blue on camera top right behind the TV (switched on), 2x snooted flash behind the wall aiming on the guys face and upper half of the body and 1x flash gelled orange on a stand behind the mans leg aiming down.


Mark Rainer says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:33 pm

Fun challenge. I’ve never had the pleasure of attending one of your workshops, though I’d love to one day.

I see six flashes
Three outside
One with diffuser and a red gel pointed at the wall/backdrop
One with a half CTO behind the man about knee height Or it could be an incandescent light possibly bare bulb
One camera left behind the wall about head height zoomed to 200mm or with a grid the man with a grid and half CTO also spilling onto the door
Three inside
One high above the girl zoomed to 200mm or a grid and a half CTO
One to camera right possible shooting through a panel or feathered soft box with a blue gel
One more behind the bed with a blue gel with a diffuser

The lamp on the floor has an incandescent bulb you’re dragging the shutter to let it register on the sensor as with the TV

Pete Duvall says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:34 pm


D3 w/12-24 set pretty wide. WB Daylight. Shutter about 1/15th er so to burn in lamp and TV.

Flash #1 camera right, aimed at models knee. Gridded or snooted, full cut CTO.

Flash #2 – Camera (further) right, aimed behind tv, moderate throw, gelled CTB or just plain blue.

Flash #3 – behind wall, behind shady dude, broad throw, red gel, set higher and aiming down, not quite at the model (thus the shadow across his face and hot spot on the floor).

My assumption is that the flashes are all SB900s, if that matters.

fingers crossed.


Alan says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:38 pm

I think you set your WB to florescent or something to make the room blue, two flashes set outside gelled red one shooting at the mans face and across his shoulders and the other hitting him low and skipping across the floor the rest of the outside light is from a sign or something, a flash camera right gelled blue behind the TV washing the wall and the TV is just on, the lamp is turned on and just laying there, a flash in a grid shooting straight down at the ladies knees an spilling onto the ground gelled red and another flash behind the bed gelled blue…!!!!!????? I DON’T KNOW!!!!! YOU PROBABLY DID IT WITH ONE FLASH!!!!!

Dave Cross says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:41 pm

Nice try Joe….
But I think it’s pretty obvious:

One flash and the rest is Photoshop:
8 adjustment layers with appropriate masks.
Noise filter on TV set
istock photo of guy with gun in doorway.
Added the grid in the window with the Shape tool.
A bit of dodging & burning here and there, and voila!


Tim O says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:42 pm

You all forgot one missing item in the lighting setup. … “numnuts” behind the camera position to models right about 7 feet.

Great shot. GL to those who figure it out:)

Larry Eiss says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:43 pm

OK, so I made my comment on the lighting in an earlier comment, but I forgot to mention one thing that bothers me.

Just to the right of the table leg nearest the camera there appears to be a reflection of the fallen table lamp. So this may perhaps have been shot through a window.

Also, kudos to the commenter who thought the lamp has gaffer tape on the bottom! I failed to notice how directional that light is.

Paul says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Two lights outside: Ranger or 900 with a red gel far back(shadow on door), CTO behind him(shadow on floor)

Two CTB flashes: one behind bed(behind her leg), the other camera right(cable shadows)

Two CTO flashes: one high/slightly camera right(on legs), the other in the lamp

Since the TV screen is slightly blue instead of deep blue, I’d guess your WB is closer to daylight than tungsten. You probably dragged the shutter less than people think in order to get the tv fuzz.


Scott Pierson says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:55 pm

3 speedlights: One gelled red behind the back door/window, one gelled blue camera right snooted/gridded to behind the TV, and one top left, gelled orange, snooted down at her knee.

Eric says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:58 pm

I think you have some gelled flash going on outside but you also have some ambient in there and you’re getting that deep red with white balance. One of those light sources is behind the man and the other off to his side. You have a gridded box top camera left shining on the knee. most likely a flash of some sort for the lamp. Then you have a blue gelled flash shooting hard into the TV to use the cables as a cookie on the wall.

Jonathan says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:59 pm

I think the exposure is a bit less than 1/60th to allow for enough ambient light coming from street lights outside.
Two flashes outside the door, one high to the gun side of the guy snooted to shine toward his face and the other behind the guy, aimed down toward his feet, both gelled yellow.
One flash behind the bed, gelled blue and pointed toward the wall.
One flash above the camera, slightly to the right aimed at the woman’s leg, gridded and gelled yellow.
One flash camera right and about level with the camera, gelled blue with something to keep the light from spilling away from the wall, gelled blue.
One flash inside the lampshade, gelled yellow.
Ambient light coming from the television.

Jack Pope says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:59 pm

White Balance in the camera set to tungsten to make the daylight turn blue in the room and a flash behind the bed to kick that up a notch. A flash zoomed over head onto the model’s knee with two full CTO’s to bring it to tungsten then to very warm. Two flashes in the outside room jelled red on low power, cross bouncing to make an even colored wall. I do not think there is another flash pointed at the mans face but he is lit up a bit from the reflections off the back wall. Flash in the lamp cover as well with two full CTO’s.

Charlie Thiel says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:59 pm

fun shot. Here is my best guess for light sources:

Two flashes in hallway, one, gelled red, to the right of the private eye, one behind private eye’s left knee with cto gel.

One strobe on the girl’s knee, cto gel, snoot, spilling over onto pills.

strobe in lamp, snooted with cto gel


blue gelled strobe lighting wall behind tv, snoot

blue gelled strobe behind bed with snoot

That’s my best guess.

Eric says:

on September 3, 2009 at 3:59 pm

Forgot to add that there is also a blue gelled flash on the wall with the window kinda behind the bed.

TC says:

on September 3, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Wow, happy I’m not going to read all those descriptions…

Here’s mine to add to your misery.. ;) – I’m going for something different, just to avoid guessing the same as everybody else. Hopefully.

All the blue: Lamps already in the room. Looking blue due to being a PP WB somewhere down around 2000K.
All the red: Lots of red gel.

1. Outside A: Something weak pointed at his face, throws shadow on wall.

2. Outside B: Something rather powerful, behind guy, low, pointed left, but with small dome (or really wide) that throws enough light into the room and makes reflections on floor.

3. Inside A: Above and to camera right, gridded an pointed to her knee. Hard shadows under her hand and behind leg = no diffuser.

4. Inside B: Lamp on floor. Weak flash inside, with dome.

5. Inside C: Behind her leg. Lamp from night-table, moved to floor.

I would love to look at a higher res version…

Marc says:

on September 3, 2009 at 4:15 pm

First I just want to say that I absolutely love this image, and the film noir shots you’ve done are some of my favorites Joe.

Next having me guess the light pattern on an image is about as good of an idea as mixing Cheetos and Peanutbutter; my imagination just gets away from me but here we go….

The lamp on the floor is ambient, and the TV is ambient as well. I’m guessing you exposed for these, and added light to make your scene.

1 SB-800 or 900 above the model on the bed with the kit amber gel on it snooted pointed at the knee of crazy bed lady.

1 SB-800 or 900 with a Blue Gel on it to the right of camera, above the TV and table, about 5 feet behind the camera.

1SB-800 or 900 with Full CTO Red outside shot from directly at the back of the Small Flash Police there in the doorway at a slight downward angle.

I’m also going to guess that this isn’t actually a seedy hotel, this is part of Dobbs Ferry (to which I’ve never been because I’m from 5 years behind the rest of the world in Indiana). The light outside is going to be an SB-800 or 900 with the same gel as behind the Flash Police on it set to show stopper full power outside lighting up some fog machine generated fog to keep the exterior of the room nondescript, while casting the red light very diffusely outside.

I’m even going to go on a limb here and guess that this was shot TTL with an SU-800 from off of an SC-29 Cable to camera left about 5 feet up, so that all the flashes could see it through the door and window.

Awesome. I can’t wait to find out how much easier than this it actually was!

James Arendell says:

on September 3, 2009 at 4:16 pm

Camera set to tungsten,60th sec f5.6 canon maybe:) 2 lights,1st is a ranger (sandbagged as its blowin a hooley out there) and wearing a cheeky red gel, second light to camera left axis level gelled 1/2 cto+ 8¨snoot (honl) don´t see any hotel bed sheets though, the bit thats got me stymied is the lamp on the floor,going to now suggest that a third light was stuffed into the shade set at 1/64th (if it had been a chicken instead of the lamp I would have gotten it straight away!

How did I do?

Michelle S. says:

on September 3, 2009 at 4:16 pm

Ok… here’s my shot at trying to figure this out… Part of the lighting plan was unplanned… fog? this was a first-floor room (whether it’s a real “seedy motel” or staged, it looks realistic)… the red light outside is from the red of some car (or truck)’s brakelights. The glow on the man’s face and shoulders are from the porch light outside the door. The glow on the ground is a reflection from the vending machine around the corner (possibly Photoshopped to match the mood of the photo?). There’s a blue night light by the bed that you can see peeking beneath the lady’s knee. A snowy tv. The blue light at the top-right of the photo from a lava lamp or a black-light. The lamp on the ground – not sure if there was light coming out of it – the reflection of the light off the ground doesn’t quite ring true for the direction the light would be coming from out of the lamp. One off-camera flash set to the upper-right and pointed down and to the left to illuminate the lady’s knee. One reflector to bounce some of that off-camera flash back onto the pills on the ground and the wheeled-foot of the bed. There are so many different possibilities of how to make this shot, it’s hard for me to nail down what was really used unless I was actually there and taking notes!

James Arendell says:

on September 3, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Rc´s post about gravatars hasn´t reached your community here by the looks of it Joe?

Will says:

on September 3, 2009 at 4:21 pm

One SB behind the wall between the door and the window gelled red., another off camera right aimed at the wall gelled blue on a stand. a third from roughly the same place gelled warm (1/2 cut of CTO) and aimed at her leg from above, with a grid. A fourth SB gelled blue on the ground behind the bed (and her leg) aimed at the wall for color separation. A fifth SB placed inside the lampshade with a cto cut aimed out the lampshade at the pills on the ground.

Phil says:

on September 3, 2009 at 4:24 pm

Avis, Enterprise… um Hertz?

Tim says:

on September 3, 2009 at 4:25 pm

two flash with cto gels directed on the head and on the foot of the detective behind the wall

a flash with stofen like diffuseer behind the detective (the light reflection) together with the smoke creates the unifying color outside the room

hard light coming from the left side a little below the tv with blue gel

one flash zoomed to about 85mm from above towards the girls knee

and another blue gel flash from behind the bed towards the wall with the picture frame

and a small lampshade lying on the floor

hope i fot it right!

France says:

on September 3, 2009 at 4:25 pm

1. The Girl
At first I thought just one gridded, CTO’d flash on the leg, but looks to me like there two shadows next to the leg, one hard and one softer, so maybe there’s also a snooted, red gelled flash along with a harder gridded, maybe yellow gelled flash. The harder source, looks to be coming almost straight down toward the knee, a little forward and a smidge to the right.The softer source looks to be coming from above, bit from further camera right.
2. Ambient light, I think you dragged the shutter a little and used the actual light from Television screen and maybe to illuminate the shade of the side table lamp. Though I suppose that could be illuminated with a small flash.
3. Blue gelled flashes – One blue gelled flash coming from camera right to illuminate the side of the TV and wall. Might be bounced off the wall camera right. Another blue gelled strobe, snooted or gridded, is angled at the back wall to define the shape of the woman’s back leg.
4. Man in doorway – Looks like he has a red gridded spot coming from behind the back wall highlighting the far side of his hat and face and shoulders and creating the hard shadow on the door. And while the general red fog outside could have been created by bouncing a red gelled flash or flashes,into actual or man made fog, maybe you red gelled some actual car headlights?
5. And finally the red highlight on the table legs might be a reflection from the outdoor lights, but it looks more intense than that so I’m guessing there is one more red gelled, gridded flash, aimed through the back window or possibly coming from behind the bed.
That was fun. Thanks! Can’t wait to hear what you actually did!

Kevin Rabito says:

on September 3, 2009 at 4:28 pm

Ok, what I want to know was it the pills or the dude with the gun that did her in. :-)

Al Graham says:

on September 3, 2009 at 4:31 pm

Gridded CTO, high camera right on “victim.”
incandescent bulb in lamp.
blue gelled softbox, high camera right into wall.
small blue gelled light behind the bed.
TV snow.
red gelled flash into wall outside window.
gridded cto gelled flash on man’s face.
soft fill above camera.
WB warmed up in post.

gu says:

on September 3, 2009 at 4:38 pm

6 flashes in total.

1. Outside the room in the hall way, to light up the space.
2. Flash with grid on the bloke’s face and upper body.
3. Outside the glass wall on the right hand side.
4. Hidden behind the bed leg spitting out a little blue spot on the wall.
5. Hidden inside the lamp.
6. Grid flash aimed down at the female talent’s leg.

That’ll be all.

Les Doerfler says:

on September 3, 2009 at 4:43 pm

Umm…being the pro that you are, you previously scouted out hotel rooms until you found one that would most likely be the scene of a murder.

You then waited until the lighting situation was where you wanted it and made a nice available light grab.

Please sign my trigrip “Numnuts” since the Joe McNally autograph market is flooded right now.

Robert Hyatt says:

on September 3, 2009 at 4:49 pm

It looks like one or two strobes with red gels behind a big lastolite shoot-through panel outside, probably about eight feet off the ground pointing down, silhouetting the man with the gun, splashing a little light on his chest and the right side of his face and making the outside glow. It’s probably a few feet from the wall between the door and window.

There are two lights inside. One is on the far side of the bed with a blue gel and a snoot pointing at the wall behind the TV. This light is cool because it separates the lady’s left leg from the wall behind it that would be dark without that light. The other light is slightly right of and above the camera. I don’t think this one is gelled but may have a tungsten gel.
The TV and lamp on the floor are on so they are providing their own light.
It’s possible that the light outside is light from a red neon sign but I doubt it. I’m sticking with the strobes and lastolite theory.
Even if I’m wrong, it sounds really cool.


Daniel S. says:

on September 3, 2009 at 4:53 pm

I’d say there are 7 flashes light this seedy photo.

1 flash concealed by the wall between the window and doorway, gelled red, and snooted to light the man’s shoulders. Light is close to the man.
1 flash behind the male subject, concealed by his body, that is doing nearly all the red fill.
1 flash also concealed by the wall between the window and doorway in the back, helping with the red fill.

It looks like a fog machine or smoke helping with the diffusion an mistiness of the red outdoors too.

1 flash in the lamp on the floor, gelled CTO.
1 flash aimed at the female subject’s knee, gelled CTO/red, snooted/gridded.
1 flash behind the bed, gelled CTB, aimed at the wall.
1 flash to camera right, aimed behind the tv, gelled CTB

So yea, 7 flashes … 8 if you’re using an SB-800/900 as a commander.

Katrin says:

on September 3, 2009 at 4:54 pm

The TV is white, so I would guess you didn’t set the white balance to anything fancy (if you had set it to Tungsten, it woulda turned green, which it didn’t, so it’s neutral).

Dead Lady:
Her front knee and the pills are lit from top, gelled orangeish (full CTO?) and snooted (since there really only is a puddle of orange light at the floor that doesn’t spill far).

Lamp on the floor: I figure you just turned on the lamp. Orange color because it is a tungsten bulb. Considering how few the lamp lits, it’s pitch dark in that motel room and your other light sources are overpowering the ambient (eg. from the hallway). The red light on the wall is a reflection of the light from the lamp, and you can even see the frame of the lamp being reflected in it.

You probably had one flash on the hallway gelled to red. Through the window, that red flash also lights parts of the table and the stuff on it.
Plus there’s a light right behind the bad guy’s feet. I would guess, also given the tungsten color of the light, that it’s a reflection of a (overhead?) lamp in the hallway right behind him casting that comicbook shadow all the way towards us in the frame.

Wall on the right:
Given the direction of the light, that’s where the window is. Since this is a hotel room, I could imagine that the bluish color stems from a light sign outside the hotel. At the top right corner of the picture you can see a bit of “dirt”, that could be something on the window. Maybe you also enhanced that blue light with a blue-gelled flash, because I think I saw the edge of a gobo in the top right corner that keeps the light from that flash from spilling over to the left.

You then put a flash very close to the wall to the left of the door, gelled to blue also to match the hotel sign’s color, to separate the edge of the mattress and her other leg from the background. Given the hot center of the light, it’s probably also snooted and pointed right at the wall.

Ok, now I’m waiting for the solution being something like “as you can easily see in xyz, I set my white balance to fluorescent…” :-P

Kati says:

on September 3, 2009 at 4:55 pm

White balance tungsten- Makes the ambiant light turn blue-

All sb flashes geled CTO- one camera right and above for the woman that’s sleeping- didn’t quite make it to bed- One in the back room behind the seedy man watching sleeping beauty- Perhaps one of your assistant is behind the wall with a reflector to light seedyman’s upper body- One SB in the lampshade. the backroom’s light is very warm, there might be more cto mix or red into it as well?

I will get the book signed please and tri grip to go thanks! :-)

Dan Davies says:

on September 3, 2009 at 5:02 pm

It’s self evident:

1. Red light outside from 400 firefly’s of the genus “reddus buttus”.

2. Dead woman on bed lit by funeral pyre being burned just off set.

3. Joe’s coke supply being liberally sprinkled inside dummy TV screen by highly trained pet gerbil.

4. Spot on floor apparantly from fallen lamp created by stepping on a satsuma and creating orange eliptical shape

5. Man in door has also stepped on satsuma.

6. Purple ambient lighting created from long exposure mixing red & blue lights on top of police vehicle ready to arrest Joe for murdering the model in order to create realistic picture.

Am I right?


David Cooper says:

on September 3, 2009 at 5:04 pm

Inside Practicals
2)Lamp_just the bulb

Inside Strobes(SB800 or 900)
1)spotted strobe_hard on legs with double CTO
2)full CTB behind bed at wall
3)Full blue on wall to right of camera

Outside strobes
1}Red gel in hallway
2)Another light behind man. It is pointing into the room, flagged by jacket
3)Spotted flash with CTO on side of face

That’s 6 strobes and 2 practicals

Stutter @1/8th sec

Mike Wiacek says:

on September 3, 2009 at 5:11 pm

Hrmm, Joe told me how he lit this when he stopped by back in July. Am I disqualified?

Mark Howells-Mead says:

on September 3, 2009 at 5:13 pm

Gridded spot on shooter’s face with 1/1 CTO. Snoot with 1/1 CTO on woman’s knee from camera right, small softbox above scene for fill (on camera, looking at the shadow behind the woman’s hand?). Tungsten bulb in the lampshade, the falloff is too rapid for a flash. Blue gelled strobe for the wall behind the tv on 1/2 or 1/4. Blue gel behind the bed on 1/16. Some kind of red gelled flash on low power for top left corner, filling for window frame, ceiling and wall.

Outside: I’d usually go for red diffused strobe mixed with tungsten lamps, but as you seem to emphasise that there are mixed sources here, I’ll go for the brake lights of some kind of vehicle.

Michelle Knight says:

on September 3, 2009 at 5:13 pm

Well, I reckon that the models hand on the bed and the white pills suggests that this was shot daylight white balance, so everything else must have been gelled.

Lamp on the floor isn’t lighting much, suggesting a low powered bulb, or else the strobes were ramped up/doubled.

Lighting on the models leg suggests an orange gelled, snooted strobe camera right and high, or else one of those annoying ceiling spot lights.

There is something funky going on between the bed and the wall, suggesting a purple gelled strobe firing at the right and painting the right hand wall purple.

Outside looks like it is sunlight.

That blob of light at the blokes feet, however, I’m not sure about. Something inside me says it is natural.

Probably nought out of ten for that guess.

Dennis Pike says:

on September 3, 2009 at 5:21 pm

ok, so here’s what I think. you have a standard table lamp lighting the girl’s leg. I say that because the color matches the color put off by the lamp on the floor.

I see a flash gel’d blue on the wall to the right and one behind the bed. I believe outside is lit with street lights along with a flash gel’d with a CTO on the guy in the doorway

If by some stroke of luck I am correct, I would like the trigrip autographed “numnuts” I already have the hotshoe diaries. how ’bout “The moment it clicks”?

Bill Bixler says:

on September 3, 2009 at 5:22 pm

For what it’s worth, here is how I would make that photo:

-Flash slightly camera right high on stand full cut CTO with a small diffuser
-Flash slightly camea right low to ground zoomed out with full cut CTB
-Flash behind bed dialed down with full cut CTB
-Flash outside between door and window close in but zoomed wide with full cut CTO (and maybe another half cut of CTO as well)
-Street light (or some non-flash light) backlighting shooter
-Lamp is on with a low wattage bulb

Joel Bischoff says:

on September 3, 2009 at 5:23 pm

I’m definitely in for this challenge!

Starting outside- 3SB’s: One behind the man in the doorway, aimed at the camera, one in the parking lot, aimed towards the wall/window/door area, and one gridded, just outside the door frame, pointed toward the man’s face, all gelled red.
On the far side of the bed- 2 SB’s: one low, gelled blue, aimed at the wall and a little towards the door, one slightly higher (hidden by model’s leg?), gelled red/orange aimed back at the camera, snooted (shows on the table legs camera right)
The TV and the lamp I think are the only real parts of the scene (let them burn in- 1/60th?)
Behind TV, camera right- SB aimed at wall midway up, gelled blue
Key/Main light- SB up high, camera right aimed at model’s leg, snooted or zoomed to 200mm (120mm), gelled warm to match the lamp
Fill light- Just so camera left (almost OA) above the camera, into an EZYbox or Trigrip, gelled warm, down about a stop- stop and a half.

So, lesse… I count 8. And if I calculate the McNally conversion correctly- that’s only “a few”.

Great Fun. Let us know what it actually was soon!

John S says:

on September 3, 2009 at 5:28 pm

My two cents:

2 flashes camera right – one low and snooted to illuminate the pills, another higher up highlighting the girl’s knee. Both are gelled cto.

Out on a limb: the reflection on the floor from the fallen lamp doesn’t quite look directionally correct to me – I’m going to say the reflection is actually a tightly snooted flash. The light in the lamp is incandescant.

There’s a flash inside the door where Bogie’s standing, gelled blue.

Another gelled blue flash is illuminating the table and wall on the right.

The red light outside is a red gelled flash (I’ll go with one, but there may be two.)

The TV is on channel 1.

Thanks for the puzzle!

Chris Warkocki says:

on September 3, 2009 at 5:35 pm

Amazing shot Joe! I’m not too sure exactly how it was done, but this is how’d I’d pull if it by using this photo as a guide.

Looks like 7 lights total.

1. We have a CTO gelled light on slight camera right and up high lighting the leg and edge of bed of the model.

2. We have a flash on camera right flagged to keep the light hitting the edge of the desk with the TV and the right wall.

3. CTO gelled flash in the lamp which is bare bulbed and spills onto the on the ground, which seems to not spill out the bottom of the shade. I’m going to have to guess it’s snooted in some way or the flash head is zoomed out tight.

4. A blue gelled flash behind the bed hitting the wall to break up the warm gelled left leg. It appears to be snooted to keep the beam tight.

5. A CTO gelled light directly behind the guy with the gun which causes the shadows coming forward into the room and stop at the dead womans feet.

6. A red gelled flash, bare bulbed out the door between the window and the door which causes the the highlight on the side of the face of the man and that cool shadow against the door.

My only issue is trying to explain the red highlight on the legs of the table. I’m using the stray light from the 6th flash to say it’s there, but I might also place a 7th flash with a red gel in the background outside the big window coming into the room as well, but those highlights are so bright. There may also be a 7th flash with a red gel hitting the table at a harsh angle off the left side of the scene with a snoot to control that light.

A stab in the dark, but worth the mental challenge.

John A. says:

on September 3, 2009 at 5:50 pm

This is one of my favorites!

Three SB’s out back, two with a red gel and one with a full CTO behind the dude on the ground pointed back towards the camera, and I think there’s a fog machine back there as well.

One CTB gelled SB behind the bed pointed at the back wall.

Incandescent bulb in the lamp on the floor strategically positioned, used a slow shutter to burn that and the snowy TV screen in.

One gridded SB camera left with a full CTO pointing down at the dame and the pills.

Lastly, another SB camera right out of view with a CTB gel lighting the wall to the right side of the table the TV is sitting on.

Hope you do more these “find the holy grails”! =)

Cindy Farr-Weinfeld says:

on September 3, 2009 at 5:50 pm

I pretty much only shoot in natural light unless I absolutely have to use a flash, but I LOVE this shot and your film noir shots in general, Joe, so just had to say so here. But I DO want a copy of Hotshoe Diaries so badly, after reading The Moment it Clicks! Wah! Wish I knew anything about lighting so I could comment as smartly as so many others have–oh well! I’ll just have to suck it up and buy a copy like everyone else someday! lol! Nice shot anyhow, Cindy

Zeljko Naic says:

on September 3, 2009 at 6:06 pm

Who’s gonna read all this?

One bare flash with CTO above right shoulder pointing left and down. Second, camera right, with CTB, pointed at wall behind the TV. There is a lamp on the floor obviously, TV set, and some LCD or similar panel behind the bed. Your main light was red gelled flash behind the window (at least one stop above other flashes), and there is some sort of lamp behind the man with the gun. Seven light sources. And for the TV screen, your shutter was about 1/60.

chris smart says:

on September 3, 2009 at 6:09 pm

Hi Joe,

x4 lights

monobloc in hall gelled red

camera left gridded monobloc with CTO, you can see the reflection on the floor and scattered under the mans feet.

sb unit in the lamp, should have had a cto on jo!!!! LOL

Finally a Blue gelled sb unit gridded camera right.

I have no idea what camera setting you used,just trying to understand mixing tungsten with other colours, so tungsten would be my best guess.



Daniel says:

on September 3, 2009 at 6:21 pm


I would guess there is a flash camera right pointed at the girls legs with a CTO to get the warm colour, pretty much zoomed all the way to get the hot spot on the knee and the falloff around the leg. Then there is another one camera right aiming at the nearestwall with a real low Powersetting and a blue gel to get a seperatione between the TV and the wall.

One Flash behind the bed gelled blue on low setting. One in the lamp with a CTO to get the reflection on the floor and the screen iluminated… if it is natural light then there has be a block to prevent the light from hitting the wall behind the TV.

Outside there is a flash aimed at the mans face with a CTO and another one behind his legs for seperation and the long shadow falling into the room. Then another one or two with red gels and diffusors to get the glow behind the window and the “Reperbahn”-Mood.

I hope I guessed right…


John Flanagan says:

on September 3, 2009 at 6:28 pm

Hrm…I am going to venture out on a limb here….

I am seeing 4 or 5 flashes here….and possibly rear curtain sync.

Start with background: 1 or 2 flashes cto or gelled red. Most likely one far back for full cover and highlights on the man, and one snooted at mans torso for fill.

On the back wall it looks like another flash ctb, aimed towards the right wall, and crossed by another ctb flash camera right aimed towards same wall.

Finally, the girl….I think was lit with the same kinda lamp that is laying on the floor. Maybe with rear curtain sync allowing for some painting in. Looking at the intensity and angle of the beam spread it looks pretty harsh and a little blown so whatever it was, was in close. Could also just be a CTO flash on light stand held over that area.

Can’t wait to see the answer!

Bob DeChiara says:

on September 3, 2009 at 6:32 pm

I think Dave Cross nailed it!

Justin Harris says:

on September 3, 2009 at 6:49 pm

I’m definitely not a lighting expert, but my guess is 3 flashes and one incandescent.

the incandescent in the lamp on the floor (i’m torn on this, as a flash would be an easier light to control probably… but I’m guessing incandescent bulb (this may have just cost me… :))

then a diffused red-gelled flash in the back behind the man; indirectly enough to light up the back, but catching some direct to give the brightness near his feet. A blue-gelled one behind the camera along the wall to the right. A tightly-zoomed, amber-gelled at the knee on the bed from camera left from above.

I further guess that there are several jokes, a crew of grips having fun, and Joe eating it all up… Based on the workshop I went to. :)

Did I win? Did I win???



Bruce says:

on September 3, 2009 at 7:09 pm


3 SB-900’s outside: 2 gelled with red to look like the glow from that Neon Vacancy sign that I just know is there, (but burnt out on this low budget set). One firing left to light up the outside behind the window grids, one firing right to light up the far right side and edge light the sinister chap in the door. Another SB-900 down low and directly behind Mr. Sinister, Gelled to look like a street light. Someone has been taking far too many smoking breaks out side or it’s “Misty” playing in the background.

1 SB-900 behind the bed, probably with a little clip on diffuser on it, giving that little blue glow on the wall that you can see under that oh so tragic knee and washing the wall and ceiling with a little blue tint.

1 SB-900 or SB-800 in the lamp shade on the floor, full CTO. With a little diffuser and low power.

1 SB-900 out of frame to the right and to the right of the of the table and TV, aimed pretty much parallel to the wall. Blue Gelled.

1 SB-900 out of frame and above, aiming down at the poor girls knee and feet… Gelled full CTO or even more, and snooted or gridded, maybe with barn doors to make a narrower swath of light wide enough to light her sumptuously elegant “I hope you’re not dead leg” and also reveal the overturned bottle of Flintstone vitamins on the floor. She shouldn’t take more than 2 a day of those!

The TV is tuned to channel 47 UHF (They have the best static ;-)

Shutter is left open long enough to pick up the TV snow 1/30 sec or so. White balance probably Daylight

Camera position is about 18″ above the floor with a wide angle lens. Probably on a tri-pod

One last thing… And this really cuts to the core of the true mystery in this photo. More important than the absolute correctness of any lighting drama played out above, I find that this photo was masterfully arranged to appear, at least to the un-trained eye, that you “just happened” to be at the right place at the right time to capture this crime scene in progress!

But what is all to obvious to me, a seasoned trombone player, is that you used your SU-800 Commander to command and orchestrate all these little “clues” and then deceptively fired them all with the aid a swiped Nikon ML-L3 IR Remote trigger. This allowed you to conceal the fact that the perp in the doorway is not some highly paid model or future Matt Daemon, but none other than the notorious “NumNuts McNalley” who is actually holding the smoking gun in his right (which is where all that ambiance fog comes from outside) and pulling the “trigger” that took the photo of his own crime in his cleverly “un-lit” left hand!

Hah! Mystery Solved. Case Closed. I’ll take my Lastolite Tri-Grip now please, baby!

RBD says:

on September 3, 2009 at 7:12 pm

I have no friggin’ idea. And if you send the autographed tri-grip, I’ll make sure no one else does either.

What? I got one of those Tommy Lee Jones / MIB flash thingies. What were you people thinking, hmm?

Ken says:

on September 3, 2009 at 7:17 pm

Well Joe,

That room looks a lot like my bedroom in KY.

I just don’t know how you got a picture of my room. I am going to check on “peeper” laws in KY.


I know the OxyContin is real, a real staple in eastern KY. 12″ vinyl floors (nice touch), lamp on floor from student from passing out. I think table lamp is regular bulb, but the the reflection is off angle, so my guess is a photoshop thing.

Girl in bed. Your last student who could not endure another class. Light on leg is SB-900 (one) from high up, 2nd SB900 on floor shooting over OxyCotin, dumbed down 2 stops. Real TV.

Guy with gun, your assistant tired of all the sports shooters who complained on Kelby’s blog, looking for sporting game to silence.

Another SSB800,dumbed down (blue filter)in room located in somewhere behind bed shooting up by dead students leg.

Hallway – one those what you call Swedish things (strobe 48 inch) (elichkom) or something fired at back hall toward room, One soft box with that colored thing (orange thing) same location at strobe.

Pills on metal dinette, classic 1950’s motif, got to be Valium to level the playing field. I am thinking the D3 with the, f8 or f9 ISO of 800, the new 14mm Nikor lens, that has that oval type head glass.

Ok, from Kentucky that’s about it.

If I win, we don’t have UPS or FEDX and the USPS runs about 6 months on delivery. Our state is trying to improve, but somebody has to be last

Ken in KY

Doug E. says:

on September 3, 2009 at 7:24 pm

What? That’s not normally occurring ambient light?

I really have no idea whatsoever!

(Sorry Joe, need another day at Dobbs)

Hmmm, the lamp, the tv, and 1 gelled strobe in the hall (her knee was naturally shiny).


Take Care!


Regis says:

on September 3, 2009 at 7:25 pm

My guess is:
– a SB-900 on the right of the camera (blue gel) (bouncing on the wall, and creating the
shadow of the wire on the wall)
– a SB-900 (also blue gel) at the foot at the bed (to create the blue halo behind her leg).
– The TV being on
– An incandescent light on the floor (I’m actually debating if a flash inside would fit)
– A SB-900 (red gel) on the left of the camera (highlighting her leg) (I would even use a Lastlite EZBox for that).
– For the outside, you might have a street light (flood light type) to create the red halo
– Add the last SB-900 (red gel) being the shooter (leg level)
– Lastly another SB-900 (red gel) on the left of the shooter to highlight his face (and cast a nice crisp shadow on the door)

Larry sandt says:

on September 3, 2009 at 7:46 pm

I only wish I were talented enough to give an intelligent comment. I’ve been a fan of your work for a long time. I would cherish an autographed copy of your book.

Singh says:

on September 3, 2009 at 8:05 pm

Red Gelled Light outside the room, camera left, feathering the door and just lighting the gunman and the table through the window.

Red gelled light indoors high camera right on the lady.

Tungsten bulb in the table lamp.

CTB gelled light camera right on the wall with the frosted pane.

Looks like there’s a blue light behind the bed too on to the wall…to create a magenta glow? or maybe thats spilled light from the aforementioned CTB.

Did I win =o

Singh says:

on September 3, 2009 at 8:07 pm

that’s a tv not a frosted pane!

/slaps head

Singh says:

on September 3, 2009 at 8:08 pm

So the CTB is from behind the bed on to the wall and not form high camera right…cr*p

Shawn Garcia says:

on September 3, 2009 at 8:12 pm

Reverse lighting is never my thang, I’ll take a stab at it.

Flash Red Gel outside, lighting back wall.
Flash gelled behind gun man to create leg highlight
Flash gelled and gridded to light gunman’s face
Flash gelled between the wall and bed
Flash gelled in lamp
Flash gelled above camera to light legs
Flash gelled camera right to light right wall

Ok, if I’m wrong I’m blaming you, I read the Hot Shoe Diaries.. Kidding, it was the best read I’ve had in a LONG time.

Andrew L says:

on September 3, 2009 at 8:51 pm

Never done one of these before.
I guess I can give it a try.

I would’ve red gelled the headlights from a car outside.
Flash gelled blue along the right wall.
Flash gelled blue behind the bed.
Flash gridded and amber gelled above camera on model’s leg.
Flash gelled amber aimed at floor behind the shooter.
Incandescent lamp on floor.

Well, that’s my guess. Crossing my fingers.

Nic Raven says:

on September 3, 2009 at 9:11 pm

one sb900 snooted for the knee, one in the lamp two sb900, red gelled outside to side light the gunman and create the illusion of dusk or dawn, one behind the gunman to create the silhouette, one blue gelled to highlight the back wall and the side wall. wb set to tungsten

Theodore Paradise says:

on September 3, 2009 at 9:30 pm

You’ve got the white and black ants fighting on the TV. Nicely done – nothing says foul play like interrupted television viewing… this is why people panic so when the Cable company has an issue: it’s ominous. I digress.

You’ve got a little light coming out of that lamp, but I think that it’s too directional to be a bulb. Nothing’s flowing out the bottom, so I think that you’ve got a gelled flash in that shade.

Going to the back of the frame, you’ve got some reddish gelled flash pointing at the back wall. It’s bouncing off that wall and giving some side light to the man in the door, but also a partial silhouette.

You’ve got another flash directed at the floor in front of the man in the door creating that highlight at his feet.

On the back wall of the main room, you’ve got a blue-gelled flash giving the wall a general contrasting hue, but also creating a cool and contrasting hot spot near the floor. There’s a red gelled snooted/restricted flash giving a narrow high light across the front of the man.

Up front, you’ve got a red gelled flash that looks like it’s positioned high and narrowly focused / restricted highlight the knee as a focal point with very little spill-over to the surrounding area.

There’s a red-gelled flash in the back of the front room firing forward to highlight the table legs.

Finally, there’s blue gelled flash off to the right of the frame lighting the front of the table / pill bottles and the wall.

Chris Plante says:

on September 3, 2009 at 9:43 pm

Lots of gelled SB-800’s, it’s just what Joe does. WB is set to Tungsten.

-One in the hallway.
-One behind bed bounced off wall.
-Fallen lamp is gelled snooted?… or just plain incandescant?
-Overhead lighting highlighting lady’s leg is snooted or honey combed.
-TV is a light source too… sorta.

How’s that?

Chris Plante says:

on September 3, 2009 at 9:45 pm

Oops. Forgot the pills on the table are lighted too. I would guess light was double bounced to get there, possibly from the flash behind the bend bounced to wall then reflected back to the table?

Al Kirby says:

on September 3, 2009 at 9:45 pm

I am thinkin that you set the white balance askew to get the red exterior and red reflections on the chrome table legs etc. So a couple SB 800s plain Janes outside, an SB 800 plain Jane just above the camera zoomed to about 35mm and a SB 800 blue gel camera right onto the wall behind the TV and another SB 800 with blue gel located just left of the door (behind the bed) pointing toward the wall behind the TV. White balance further adjusted in Lightroom.

Michael Patrick O'Leary says:

on September 3, 2009 at 9:48 pm

Daylight balanced. 2 small flashes outside, both gelled red, one hits man with gun, one splashes the foggy background, one edges the man and spills in on the table. One small flash camera right gelled blue to rake the wall behind the t.v. One small flash gelled blue behind the bed to put the bluesplash on the back wall. Tungsten unit (650 fresnel, or there abouts) camera right to light our lady’s leg. practical lamp on the floor does what we see.

Dirk Naves says:

on September 3, 2009 at 10:39 pm

2 speedlights outside; both gelled red, 1 left of man, snooted or focused on his head (and diffused through fog thus lighting up window; the other directly behind him and low, creating reflection on ground.
1 speedlight in lamp on floor, gelled CTO, low power.
1 speedlight high right, gelled red, focused on leg and floor with pills
1 speedlight high right, gelled blue, aimed at wall.

Nathan Smith says:

on September 3, 2009 at 10:47 pm

-Camera Right – 1 light washing wall and TV – Gelled lite red or lite purple.

-Camera Center/left – 1 Light snooted and gelled CTO (double CTO?) – High angle

-1 light behind bed gelled blue

-1 light feathered behind gumshoe gelled red. Looks to be smoke (fog machine?) out side causing the glowey red happening outside the window. Also seems to be some sort of flag creating the shadow over the gumshoe and letting the light only creep across his upper chest.

Camera WB is set to Tungsten.

Joe Reeves says:

on September 3, 2009 at 11:00 pm

Alright, I got this.

Starting at the back and working my way forward:
1) Red gelled flash in the hallway placed between the window and doorway
2) CTO gelled flash behind the guy in the doorway. The shadow from his leg’s a dead giveaway.
3) blue gelled flash behind the bed, near the wall. It’s nice how the blue and red mix into a purple.
4) CTO gelled flash in the lampshade. power set pretty low, it’s just for the lamp effect.
5) The TV is on, adding a bit of ambient.
6) blue gelled flash, camera right, aimed at the wall behind the TV. It’s gotta be close to the wall judging by how the light rakes across it. The pill bottles were the giveaway here.
7) CTO gelled flash also camera right, but pointed straight at the young lady’s knee. It’s a really tight throw, so probably snooted or gridded.
8) red gelled flash camera left, pointed at her foot.

Love this photo btw, the noir stuff gets me every time.

Mark says:

on September 3, 2009 at 11:07 pm

my try

1 or 2 sbs gelled red outside room, pointed at the wall midway the door and the window
1 sb CTO outside with the man acting as gobo
1 sb with CTO on the lamp (if this was a light bulb, the leg of the table should be lighted as well)
1 sb CTO key, camera right pointed at the knee of the lady, zoomed all way in
1 sb gelled blue camera right high, to light up the wall behind the TV, ensuring no light to spill to the guy with the gun (think the door helped)
1 sb gelled blue on the floor behind the bed dialed way down, zoomed in pointing on the wall between the door and the window

KKL says:

on September 3, 2009 at 11:31 pm

Here’s my guess….

1) Flash with FULL Orange gel (CTO or the nikon color pack) in octabox camera left, aiming at her leg (and feather down to the floor and on the pill), my guess is 1/2 power.

2) flash with difusser, 1/32 power, CTO gelled, hide inside the lamp (reason why it is not a real light bulb, because only top half of the lamp shade is lit, regular lightbulb will light up the whole shade.

3) Flash with red gel behind the wall (between the door and the window, difuser, far behind and pointing at the man, to give rim light, light up the back, and project a rather hard shadow on the door in the other room. my guess is 1/2 power again.

4) Flash with CTO gel, behind the man with gun, aiming from top down at him from about mid height of the guy, hence the reflected light on the floor and the long shadow. my guess is 1/8 power

5)Flash with Blue gel (CTB?) behind the bed, give the outline of the dark end of the bed. probably 1/32 power

6) another Flash with Blue gel, camera right, up high, (higher than the TV), with softbox, 1/8 power i guess, aiming at the pill and the back of TV.

7) there might be another flash hiding out of the frame beside the window with a grid or snoot aiming at the TV table, to give the rim light on the table leg/corner and the pill bottle, my guess is 1/8 as well.

8) on camera flash (from CLS?) gave a little highlight on her knee and the silk?

9) old ANALOG TV, cable unplug.

my guess the shutter speed should be 1/15s or slower(30frame per second for NTSC frame rate, but since it is an interlaced image for old CRT TV, it need double the time to capture the even and odd field, so at least we need 1/15.)

white balance is probably on floursent since the TV static has a pink tint…

Since we all know Joe is a CLS user, then flash 1 and 3 should be in group A, flash 2 and 5 in group B, and flash 4 , 5 and 7 in group C, so that the power can be control by CLS.

Not sure if this make any sense…

KKL says:

on September 3, 2009 at 11:32 pm

#7 above is gelled Orange, and turns out 8 ) will turn into happy face

KKL says:

on September 3, 2009 at 11:40 pm

oh duh! correction… there are flashed behind the wall! so CLS won’t do the trick. those one must be trigger optically or else all need to be on pocket wizard or some RF triggers

Mark says:

on September 3, 2009 at 11:51 pm

You lit this? It’s not all ambient????

Great image.

John Milleker says:

on September 4, 2009 at 12:00 am

This is one SB900.. Sure, you and I couldn’t pull this off with one strobe, but that’s how awesome Joe really is.

He’s like the Chuck Norris of light.

Timothy Herzog says:

on September 4, 2009 at 12:12 am


I havent looked at the other guesses – so this may be redundant, but:

1 strobe in the hall – shoulder height – gel’d red – either bounced off the hallway wall, or a big white bounce surface (bed sheet – lastolite panel, etc)
1 strobe behind the man in the hall, aimed down, gel’d tungsten – grid’d or zoomed
1 strobe, behind the bed, gelled blue – aimed at the back wall
1 strobe, high camera right, gel’d blue, aimed across the right wall
1 strobe in the lamp on the ground, gel’d tungsten – zoomed.

-this is where it gets tricky-

1 strobe up camera left, aimed down, look at the hard shadow from her hand – must be almost straight above that – this give the red glow to her legs, her hands – lights the pills on the floor


1 strobe up camera right, snooted tight, gel’d orange – on her knee.

Can’t wait to hear yer side of it. Thanks Joe..

Justin Freed says:

on September 4, 2009 at 12:56 am

Well…I know Joe’s been promoting and converting to the 900’s, but I’m sure he still has some 800’s…so it’s hard to say whether all of the small flashes are 900’s, 800’s, or a mix of both, so I’ll just say it’s ‘speedlight’ here…’speedlight’ there…

The static on the tv looks to be pretty uniform, indicating you used a fairly quick shutter, possibly?..

Hmm….so maybe the lamp on the floor is simply…the lamp on the floor…plugged in and set on it’s side? A quicker shutter would possibly douse out all the ambient from the bulb, but still register the light emanating from the bulbs immediate surrounding…not enough punch to light through the back of it…and because the lamp shade is dark and it gradually opens up toward the bottom of it, the light isn’t strong enough to illuminate through that portion of it like it does to where the bulb is placed…maybe??…

….blue gelled speedlight to camera right pointed towards the wall behind the tv…possibly gobo’d to keep from falling too much towards the girl…

….blue gelled speedlight set low on the ground, banging right into the wall next to the man (the highlight you see through the girls legs)…I think there might be another one down there somewhere, too…snooted or gridded and gelled red and rimming out the tv stand and the pill bottles sitting on the stand…

….I got a feeling that the light coming from outside is some sort of constant source, gelled red, but then there is a speedlight just next to the door, snooted or gridded to just skirt across the mans chest, which is where the splash of light on the door is coming from…the highlight just below the man is throwing me, though…

….the girl is kind of tricky, too. I’m going to say it’s a speedlight, CTO’d…..possibly some sort of strip light…maybe through an umbrella covered all but a strip (he did this in “How to light an elf” and it worked pretty well, so why not try it again?)…it looks like it falls across the womans knee, to the left of it a little, and to the right onto the pills, and not hitting much else…

Can’t wait to see how much of this I got wrong :)

Lars says:

on September 4, 2009 at 1:11 am

The girl and her leg lighted with a snooted and CTO-gelled flash near ceiling, camera left. Telly gives general illumination. CTB-gelled lamp on top corner near ceiling, camera right. Back room lighted with a construction yard floodlight gelled red… aaand the telly table legs lighted with CTM-gelled flash, camera left direct. Also, behind the bed, CTB-gelled flash? Heavily diffused flash in lamp on floor.


Thomas Quinn says:

on September 4, 2009 at 1:41 am

Well lets stab at this one….

1) Red light outside the door are gelled car headlights
2) There is a small strobe kicker to fill in the flash just outside the door. Hidden behind the wall just left of the person standing in the door, or the wall between the window and the door frame. Warm Gelled.
3) The Lamp Lying on the floor has a strobe gelled in it.
4) Blue Gelled Strobe behind the TV pointing at the wall
5) Blue Gelled Strobe behind bed under window to seperate the corner of the bed from the wall.
6) EZ Box jsut outside the frame of the camera (Camera Rightish) skimming the right leg of the female.

Just a guess!
Tom Quinn

Halim says:

on September 4, 2009 at 2:03 am

see my awful drawing here

1. Flash 1/16 + Red Gel bounced to the wall
at the corridor (outside the room)

2. Flash 1/64 + Red Gel + Snoot clamped on the light stand that hold the first flash, pointed to the man’s head (outside the room)

3. Flash 1/128 + Blue gel fired to the wall inside the room, below picture to separate woman’s left leg

4. Flash 1/64 + Blue gel fired slightly to the TV + right wall

5. Flash 1/32 + Full CTO + Snoot/Zoom on a boom/held by VALS, fired to the woman’s knee

6. Camera
Wide angle lens (17mm-24mm)
Shutter speed 1/30 and High ISO (3200) to capture the ambient + grains on TV
Aperture around f/4 to make everything in details
WB = Daylight (5500 K)

All hard light

owen-b says:

on September 4, 2009 at 3:01 am


Got all excited when I saw this in my RSS reader because I’ve never reeeaaally done the “work out the lighting plan” thing, I tend to just skip to the answer, but I thought I had a real shot at this. And then I saw all the other answers that got there first.

So, to save time I’ll just say that I agree with everyone else that got it right :)

You can sign my book, that would be cool! :)


cooksfriend says:

on September 4, 2009 at 3:15 am

I think Brad lit it before he left for an easy job with Scott and even tho he told Scott(who will use it in his next book) Scott will not tell anyone even you Joe.

Oh and yes Joe please sign my Tri Grip.


iloomin says:

on September 4, 2009 at 4:15 am

1 flash – red gelled – low in hallway aimed up
1 flash – CTO gelled – in hallway up high aimed at man’s face for rim
1 flash – CTO gelled – in hallway down low aimed at man’s legs
1 flash – blue gelled – behind bed aimed low at wall
1 flash – blue gelled – camera right aimed at table and wall
1 flash – CTO gelled in lampshade (puzzled at angle of it’s reflection on the floor though)
1 flash – CTO gelled – high above camera and model aimed down at model
1 flash – cto gelled and snooted – high above camera and model but slightly to the right of the other flash – aimed down at model’s knee

Stuart Mackenzie says:

on September 4, 2009 at 4:24 am

The red outside looks more likea red/orange gelled theatrical/arri light. The way it seems to tail off in a pyramid kinda suggests it’s way up high at quite a steep angle or the red would spill into the room a bit much

looks like the chap has a snooted flash pointed at his face, probably on a tripod behind the wall with the picture on it. another tightly controlled flash coming all yellow from behind his knees.

inside we appear to have an incandescent lamp on the floor, but you could just as likely popped a CTO’d flash in there. my bet is with working with the incandescent though.

the lady ( if that’s what you call a dame all suicided out on pills ( or is it a frame job…)) is lit with CTO’d flash. I reckon one is snooted to cover the pills on the floor and another to cover the legs

under her left leg and behind the bed we have another flash in blue, just to define the edge of the bed

finally ( who am i kidding) a pink gelled flash camera left crossing to camera right and a blue gelled flash camera right shooting down the right hand wall

Damen Stephens says:

on September 4, 2009 at 5:08 am

Don’t know enough about lighting techniques to hazard a guess, but I will say it is wonderfully evocative – great photo !!

Michael Hansen says:

on September 4, 2009 at 5:13 am

1 flash in the hallway with gelled red with dome on.
1 flash more in the hallway. snooded and red gel on the gunmans face.
1 flash camera right up high. Grib and, full cut of CTO aiming at knee.
1 flash with snoot and half a cut of CTB camera right in the behind the TV.
1 flash zoomed o 200mm CTO inside the lamb.
Cloudy WB.

Hanleyman says:

on September 4, 2009 at 5:42 am

2 flashes in the hall; one grided to create the spill on his feet, the second to ‘red’ the room, both gelled, red and CTO.

i flash blue gelled behind tv to camera right at high level pointing down

i flash blue gelled behind bed giving separation on dead girls leg

1 flash high camera right CTO gridded on models knee with amabient coming through window behind and camera right (possiblyt really sunny day with mega ambient lux coming through window and bed sheet on it…

looking forward to the solution… thanks Joe

Magnus Bogucki says:

on September 4, 2009 at 5:45 am

just the lamp which is on the floor ;)

Rasmus Jürs says:

on September 4, 2009 at 5:59 am

My diagram over the setup. Ive made it as McNally’ish as i could.


Justin Freed says:

on September 4, 2009 at 7:34 am

If figured out the highlight that’s underneath the man…I think. There is one light directly behind him, outside, gelled with CTO. I said before that it might be a constant source, I think it is a speedlight, now. if you look at the bottom of the door there is highlight from some light source…that’s the spill from the one directly behind him. I still think there is a snooted or gridded light up near his face that is skirting across the top of his chest giving the shadow on the door, but there looks to be another one with it, lower, to rim out the lower portion of his trenchcoat…it’s just not angled towards the door, which is why there isn’t much of a shadow coming from there.

The light on the girl isn’t a strip light…it’s either snooted or gridded above camera and pointed down towards her knee.

…I think that’s all I got now :P

Vikas says:

on September 4, 2009 at 7:49 am

here are my guesses:
1. 1 SB900 – with blue gel on lady from top
2. 1 SB900 in outer Ha1l with red gel bounced off the wall.
3. 1 SB900 with red gel behind man again bounced off wall or through the diffuser.
4. Blueish Pink shade is due to Incandescent lamp…

TFS man!

Jan Winther says:

on September 4, 2009 at 8:08 am

We all know that Joe loves HDR, so im sure this is his take on a High Def. image.. ;)

Paul Alers says:

on September 4, 2009 at 9:02 am

Only the shadow knows and the shadow is behind the camera :-) Lets just say they are methodically placed to accent certain elements in the whole scene, I’ll leave it at that.

Kevin Ballon says:

on September 4, 2009 at 9:06 am

I’m probably way off but I’ll give it a shot.

CTOed SB zoome to 200 camera right and high for the light on the lady’s legs.
RED SB behind wall in the all aimed at the wall, nice’n’wide.
RED SB behind wall to the left of the scary guy turning the door into a cookie creating a creepy defined light shaped by the door.
CTOed SB in the lamp.
BLUE SB camera right and high to provide blue light on the wall.
Dragged the shutter for the static on the tv.

Looking forward to seeing how it was done!


on September 4, 2009 at 9:19 am

It`s so obvious-

you borrowed a big Profoto-Lighting-pack from your friend Chase Jarvis. Two large Chimera softboxes in the backroom in combination with a fat fogmachine (borrowed from Drew Gardner). One Front-light gridded on the knee, handheld by Zack Arias. A snooted Light towards the pills on the floor with a DIY GRid-Snoot-Umbrella by David Hobby. Here and there you lost some flashlights…In the end you gave the pic to your Retoucher Scott Kelby, who put some red and blue colors allover.

Too Easy Man

Bill Bogle, Jr. says:

on September 4, 2009 at 9:30 am

Sheet film from a Speed Graphic at f8, 1/60 of a sec. synched to the leaf shutter in the Wollansack lens in the Copal shutter. Exploding flash bulb on the attached grip with reflector, knocked her out and on to the bed. Lovely lighting courtesy of the Motel sign and streelights. The dude at the door was checking on the sould of the flash exploding.

Weegee would have loved it. Isn’t it in black and white?

Bill Bogle, Jr.

Lilianna Story says:

on September 4, 2009 at 9:37 am

Let’s see….
SBs in the room, gelled for the different effects. Outside, however, could that be break lights from a car? Hmmm.

Evan Robinson says:

on September 4, 2009 at 9:52 am

Alright, I’ll have a go at it too.

Flash, outside in that second room beyond the windows, with a whole lot of red gel thrown on there, bounced off the walls to glow up the room.
Second flash outside in the second room with a CTO, gridded to throw a tiny bit of extra light on the the shooters face (not too much though…wouldn’t wanna reveal anything, right?).
Third flash in the second outside room with a red gel, snooted/zoomed/gridded/whatever to aim down at the shooter’s gun.

Inside the death room–
TV left on and shutter dragged a bit to include it.
Knocked over lamp on the floor also benefits from the shutter drag, let’s that orange glow of the tungsten bulb in the frame.
Flash with CTB on the far side of the bed.
Flash with CTB just to camera right, slicing around on that wall behind the tv.
Flash with CTO up high and gridded, going down at the models knees.

All shot with a fairly wide lens, seeing a little WA distortion on the pills and tv at the edges of the frame.

Probably 100% wrong, but a fun thing to give a shot at 6:50 in the morning as I wake up :)

Rangefinder General says:

on September 4, 2009 at 10:22 am

I reckon you ran out of strobes and stands lighting the room and had to set light to the ‘grip truck’ for the outside ambient.

Green says:

on September 4, 2009 at 10:43 am

Backroom- SB-900 (orange gel) lightng back wall and man in doorway. Same room, SB-900 (orange gel) hidden by male figure, light skipped through legs.

Inner Room (VICTIM) – SB-900(blu gel) plash against wall in back of bed which victim is on. Soft Boxed SB-900 main light far left of victim. SB-900 (orange gel) snooted on victms legs, SB-800 inside lampshade (difuser on flash) (tippeed lamp on floor), natural light from snowy flat panel TV and SB-900 (blue gel) splashed on wall behind flat panel display.

Great shot !! I wish that in my years of crime scene photography, that I would have the opportunity to set up a lighting scheme such as this.

Lewis W says:

on September 4, 2009 at 11:01 am

Nice try, everybody. It was lit with the human brain. Amazing instrument when used with the right gear.

FrankKlimek says:

on September 4, 2009 at 11:04 am

The lighting plan…
Sb900 outside the door with 2 cuts red gel gunmans right, and one more at gunmans left up high with half cut orange. Lamp has a 15 watt incadescent bulb. Tv on. Two sb800 inside, one on the victim, half cut orange high to camera right to highlight the legs and the peanusts (which are an eyecatcher)… the other low with full cut blue gel down low shooting under the TV.

Am i close?

Andrew says:

on September 4, 2009 at 11:33 am

It was Professor Plum, in the library, with the candlestick.

Kenneth Robert says:

on September 4, 2009 at 11:38 am

I’m guessing smoke and mirrors, Joe… smoke and mirrors.

Tommy Compton says:

on September 4, 2009 at 11:42 am

Okay, I will take a stab at it. Here we go:

Light Source #1, appears to be either an sb800 or sb900 gelled with stacked CTO gells
Light Source #2, appears to be something on the shooters right ankle, with out seeing it big, hard to tell but my guess would be another SB unit Gelled CTO
Light Source #3, a fallen lamp giving tungsten light towards the victim
Light Source #4, Wall mount TV tuned to no station giving off white light
Light Source #5 coming from behind camera right. Looks to be kitchen light casting the shadows behind the tv
Light Source #6, SB unit gelled CTO with 1/8 Grid Defuser aimed victim’s knee.

Thanks Tommy

Louis says:

on September 4, 2009 at 12:33 pm

You start by exposing for the TV, because that’s the one thing you can’t really control. You gotta shoot slow, to get a full scan of the TV screen, so 1/30 or 1/15 something like that. You also seem to have lots of depth, so aperture is f7.1 or (and this is probably nuts, f11). Also guessing you set the WB a little cool to get tone down the color of the TV screen.

Outside the window SB900 on the floor gelled red, pointing down the hall. Behind the Man is another SB900, also gelled red pointing toward the camera (I’m guessing this from the reflection at his feet).

Inside, a 900 gelled blue (just behind her left leg), pointing at the wall behind the TV (probably set to 28mm because it’s hitting the wall with the door as well. The lamp is just a lamp, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you gelled it orange to more match the red of the background.

Finally one last SB in a med. Softbox held high and camera left, pointing down at her knee (this would give you the red highlights on the table and the medicine bottles.

Ahh, I want to call this C.S.I. :McNally.

Jef PEnczak says:

on September 4, 2009 at 12:43 pm

Main room lite with SB900 @ 3/4 on light stand with red gel.
Lamp on floor is just a lamp.
Blue wall on right side of room done with SB900 and blue gel on light stand to camera right.
Backroom with SB900 red gel facing up on back wall.
Light on floor at feet of man SB600 with snoot and orange gel

Dave says:

on September 4, 2009 at 1:03 pm

I can’t believe she wore those shoes with that gown. No wonder he shot her.

Brendan Ahern says:

on September 4, 2009 at 1:38 pm

This is a morning after a workshop shot. I think Joe peeled his face off the floor. Yawned. Grabbed a D3 beside him and took the shot. Talk about being at the right place at the right time.

Lyndon Smith says:

on September 4, 2009 at 2:05 pm

OK here’s the crime scene as I see it, without referring to anyone else’s posts because that would just take away all the fun:
Camera – Nikon D3
ISO – 200
White Balance – Auto
Lens – Wide, fast glass about 17-24 mm
Aperture – 5.6 – 8 Some decent DOF was needed to get both the corpse and the gunman in focus.
Shutter – Slow enough to burn in the tungsten but fast enough to ensure the television screen didn’t turn into a white blowout. 1/15-1/30 second or so.
Mode – Aperture priority i-TTL. The background is dialed down 1.5-2 stops to saturate it, and so the flashes are cranked up a bit to compensate.

Joe is on his stomach and the camera is resting on a jacket or something just off the floor to help stabilize the slow shutter speeds.

Drugs – Tylenol is on the floor not because the model overdosed (she was obviously shot), but rather because they spilled out of the perpetrator/photographer’s pocket. The other drug on the scene is caffeine since several photographers are present…

Crew – Since this is a Kelby Training thing 2 video cameras were present – one on a steady cam and one shoulder/tripod mount. Joe was mic’ed with a wireless lav. Some kind of HD format – probably XD cam or Red because Kelby’s sold lots of books. To me anyways…. ; )

Joe is ably helped by 2 assistants – one of whom he won or lost in a card game with Scott – I have a hard time keeping this part straight. Speaking of which, Scott is off in the background hanging out & telling jokes because you can sometimes see glimpses of him on the set of Joe’s videos on KelbyTraining.com.

On to the lighting. Based on an analysis of color, shadows, highlights and reflections – and having read every Joe McNally thing I can get my hands on – here’s the gig:

Let’s start with the key light. This is an SB800 or 900 zoomed in tight with lots of CTO – at least a full cut. It’s mounted on a C-stand to the photog’s right probably 4 or 5 feet off the ground. It’s pointed to the left a bit and directed towards the leg. There’s a dome diffuser on it – because hey – this is McNally… Kidding! There might be a little more softening on it _Tri-Grip I bet) but not much as the leg shadows on the bed are moderately hard. The focus point is the model’s rather nice right leg, heel, and stockings. The stylist/makeup artist did a great job here.
Joe paid careful attention to the specular highlight on her knee to make sure he didn’t see the dreaded LCD “blinkies”. But he’s shooting tethered to Lightroom 2 on a Mac book pro resting on a Gitzo stand just to be sure….

The 2nd speedlight is also camera right with a dome diffuser on it, but this one is very close to the wall, pointed so it illuminates the wall behind the television. It’s gelled with a full-cut of CTB, and it’s dialled down a stop from the key.

There may be another speedlight just to the left of Joe – or held over his head. This one’s ungelled and dialled way down to give just a “Kiss of Light” to the aforementioned Tylenol. This one’s a maybe – as it might just be lit by the key. But this detail is important because it helps tell the story. After all Joe’s assignment mantra is “what’s the story”? So I think the pills probably have their own light.

Moving on – the television is a light source. Looks like channel 1357 – one of my favourites, after the Kelby Training videos of course.

The desk lamp is of course a light source. Could be the tungsten or a speedlight CTO dialled down in there. Not sure which, probably the original bulb because the shutter speed is slow.

The final speedlight in the room is behind the bed near the door. It’s gelled with at least a full cut of blue, zoomed in, possible has a Honl grid on it to control it. The purpose of this light is to add interest to the frame, separate the model’s left leg from the wall, and subtly draw attention to the gun in that area of the frame. Darn this guy’s good, or maybe he’s just been incredibly lucky for thousands of shoots over the last 30-some years. The flash is sitting on a floor stand, or possibly an uncooked large chicken or small turkey carcass, as Joe McNally seems to find the darndest things to mount his Nikon SB’s on.

Speaking of which, this whole thing is triggered by an SB800 or 900 sitting on the D3’s hot shoe, but set not to fire. It could also be an SU-800 commander unit. There might be an off-camera shoe cord to help direct the flash trigger.

That’s the crime scene. Let’s move outside. There are 2 light sources: one is the sun &/or a flash to enhance &/or simulate the setting sun. The 2nd light is a car with its headlights on behind the gunman. This could be a flash gelled orange, but the car headlights are the theme here. It’s probably a Beamer, Mercedes, Lexus, etc. because – like I said – these guys sell lots of books.

The window is covered with a stolen bed sheet (or a paid-for Lastolite panel) to soften the fading daylight. Coming through this is a bit of the setting sun and 2 lights outside between the door and window, both gelled orange and up high on C-stands. One is snooted, zoomed, and pointed towards the gunman’s face from about eye level. The other is a bit higher and pointed towards the window.

So Obi-wan, how did your Padawan Jedi learner do?

bill says:

on September 4, 2009 at 2:24 pm

Hey, Kelby stays at the Hyatt Place while traveling – Joe, is that the Bambi Inn?

i think it’s all lit with cigarette smokers littered about…

Iden Ford says:

on September 4, 2009 at 3:42 pm

A Gelled CTO speedlight outside the door and window aimed at the man angled so that some of the light spills through the doorway and mixes with the purple light on the wall behind the tv and well as catching the edge and legs of the table that the tv sits on , he hangs his head and shoulders out to get a bit of the beam and his body in front of the wall which acts as a gobo to block the rest of him. His hat brim gobos part of his face to keep it in shadow. You got a purple gelled light on the floor behind the far corner of the bed and aimed at the back wall behind the tv which peeks through the girls leg, a hint of it creeps up the wall. You have a diffused and fully cto’ed light aimed straight down toward the girls leg right where the hot spot is on her knee, . You have a gelled cto’ed speed light in the lamp on the floor which also gets the pills across the floor and creates that lighting effect on the floor to get her foot and pills, kind of like a snooted floor lamp idea.
You have the tv on static no station. And that is my theory. Four lights.

Frank says:

on September 4, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Wow Joe,

there is lot’s to read and evaluate.

Maybe easier you give each one a book… :)

David says:

on September 4, 2009 at 4:47 pm

My best guess after reading The Hot Shoe Diaries. I’m going with all small flashes. 6 either SB800 or SB900’s

TV on static.
Lamp on floor.
1 Blue gelled SB behind bed firing into wall at a low power.
2 Blue gelled SB raking the wall behind the TV from an angle higher than the TV (camera right)
3 CTO gelled and either snooted or gridded SB firing from high camera left.

4 CTO gelled SB behind man at about knee height to replicate an old-time car headlight.
5 Red gelled SB to provide the red in the window, gobo’d or barn-doored to keep it from flooding the man.
6 Red gelled SB with a snoot or barn door at head height maybe a little higher to throw some light across the mans face and shoulders and throw some red light into the room.

cameron griffin says:

on September 4, 2009 at 5:45 pm

here goes my best guess.you have got a sb unit somwhere above the vivtim(orange gell).then you have the lamp giving off some light, also to light the victim.after that you have light off the tv lighting the room a wee bit.behind the tv you have another sb unit(gelled blue) possibly on a justin clamp.then you have a sb unit(gelled red)to light the hallway.and here goes a wild guess,i think you may have one more light off to the left of the killer, maybe above him.that was my best guess.

Thomas Dattermark says:

on September 4, 2009 at 7:24 pm

Available light, no doubt about it!

ron hiner says:

on September 4, 2009 at 7:41 pm

“Hey Brad… set this scene up for me will ya? You da man! Scott and are going out for a few pops. oops, sorry, I mean we’re going to scout some locations for tomorrow. Isnt she an amazing model.. look at those cheek bones. Give me a hi-key beauty light setup. And those legs! Whoa. Vogue will put us on the cover. After we do a couple cover shots, we’ll do some ‘artistic’ shots for the private collection… nudge nudge you know what I mean. You do great work Brad… man sometimes I really miss working with you! I’ll see you later. Text me when you are all set up.”

just kidding… another awesome shot! (hey, are those your multivitamins on the floor?)

Mark11Photography says:

on September 4, 2009 at 8:22 pm

After reading THIC & HSD, I’m taking a ‘wild’ guess here and saying that the strobes used are going to be some combination of SB800’s & SB900’s. I’m seeing one-two SB’s gelled CTB camera right fairly high (shadow on the side of TV) & diffused through a 3×6 Lastolite panel. It’s not spilling on the top of the tv or behind, some you might have even snuck something like a Honl flag gaffer taped to the side of the SB. Second source, the TV. Not much light coming from this one – but part of the mix. Third, the tungsten table lamp laying on the floor. Third light, another tungsten source – guessing vehicle headlight coming from in behind the gunman around his knee level but reflecting off the polished lino. Fourth source, another CTB gelled SB about two feet off the floor aimed at the wall to provide depth away from the models legs. Fifth source, the ominous red cloud outside – guessing the tail lights of a truck diffused through it’s own exhaust (or fog machine). Sixth source, a CTO gelled SB snooted tight on the face of the gunman (hidden in behind the wall with the crooked picture). Seventh and final (?) source, another CTO gelled SB directly (& high) above the camera and about 2-3 feet to the right. Finally – guessing this was shot through a Nikkor 17-35mm lens, unless the pic was within the last couple years in which I’d say probably the 14-24mm.

Then again, knowing what you’ve accomplished in the past, and your reputation for eating Speedlights for dinner, there could just be another fifty or so I haven’t yet found!

Jon West says:

on September 4, 2009 at 10:12 pm

Let’s start outside… flash in a shoot thru umbrella outside between door and window with 1-1/2 cuts CTO aimed in the fog with a flag to create shadow on man’s body but reveals the face. Inside there is a small gridded softbox above model to highlight her leg. Camera right has blue gelled flash aimed towards the TV with the crumby reception. How’d you get that snow? Must have tried to tune in an analog channel cuz it ain’t happnin on digital signal. The lamp on the floor definitely has a diffused CTO’d flash in it cuz I’ve never seen a half lit lampshade before. I can’t for the life of me see the detail at the gunman’s feet, but the glare seems to indicate there must be a light back there. If I could tell where the floor starts and his feet stop it would help. Need more detail for a stab at it. And let’s not forget about the little flash behind the bed with the blue gell aimed at the wall.

Go ahead and sign the book. Thanks.
J West.

Joe says:

on September 4, 2009 at 10:56 pm

Red-gelled flash high camera-right, lamp on the floor for her feet, TV static for a bit of blue light off her leg, and a couple of red-gelled speedlights outside the door; one for the window, and one for the man.

Oh, and a numnuts with extra batteries. ;)

Mark Holloway says:

on September 4, 2009 at 11:10 pm

I’ll take a stab/shot at it.
1. SB 900 snooted lighting girls knee, camera right high, full cut cto.
2. sb900 camera right w snoot, blue gel pointed along wall.
3. sb800 inside lamp (bulb would have lit the entire shade)and wall
4. sb behind bed pointed to wall, zoomed to 200mm, (1/128?)
5. sb900 outside pointed at man in door with red gel
6. sb900 behind man, low and pointed down.
7. ambient light from TV.
BTW — He didn’t kill her. He showed up after she was dead. He’s either a cop or a PI. ;~}

Adam Sanders says:

on September 5, 2009 at 1:47 am

From back to front

The red outside is a hot source. My guess is one or two lights that sponsor your blog that I cannot afford – Red-gelled Kenoflows? A two-headed Westcott TD5?

They are flagged to light the profile but not the whole detective.

One warm-gelled tungsten lamp or TD3 at his feet toward camera.

Small gridded flash with blue gel behind the bed and close against the wall.

The lamp has a warm gel on it.

Small flash softboxed and gelled blue above the table from camera right.

One VAL with a warm-gelled tungsten room lamp or spot light from above camera and slightly right of it.

It’s early in the investigation, so he’s trading in his scotch for some mouthwash and gettin’ his sea legs. He’s got the heart of a lion but the leg speed of a granny with a walker. She’s the mystery witness he’s been wantin’ to talk to. Finally, he got a lead he could count on, but it was too late. The bad boys in blue got to her first. They suffocated her and then force-fed her prescription strength jujubees. The red lights are from his rental car, now an unnecessary expenditure.

Tony says:

on September 5, 2009 at 6:21 am

FYI, saving the pic and reading the EXIF gives you quite a lot of details:

FSTOP: f/8
Exposure Time: 1/4sec
ISO: 800
Focal Length: 14mm
White balance: Manual
Metering Mode: Pattern

and regarding the lighting, im quite sure its all explained above:)

Pretty good work Joe.

lukasz kruk says:

on September 5, 2009 at 6:26 am

let’s see…

outside – gelled for red
1 flash on the far left, firing right, lighting the back wall and therefore the ‘window’ and the wall behind the stylish bloke
2 flash directly behind him, firing towards camera and down
3 flash behind the bit of wall in the middle, gridded/snooted on his face, casting shadow on the door

4 flash on camera right, high, with grid, at a hard angle on the girls knee. gelled red.
5 flash back camera left, almost on-axis, lighting the bed, gelled red.
6 flash giving a highlight under girls left knee and lighting up the back wall a touch. blue.
7. flash on the wall on the right from back canera right, through a cokie (cables?). gelled. for a moment i though that could be ambient through the window, but the fall-off seems to quick.
8. lamp on the floor and tv

7 strobes? seems a lot. let’s see if i was right.

Martin says:

on September 5, 2009 at 9:06 am

It’s a screen grab from an episode of CSI?

Timothy Herzog says:

on September 5, 2009 at 9:29 am

Have to Revise my answer…

The more I look at it the more obvious this became…

It is shot in Tungsten WB – That makes the ambient BLUE.

This also explains how the blue fades to purple, its the tungsten balance mixing with the red gels…

Everything else is as I guessed, with the exception of the right wall – there is no strobe, it’s ambient from the window, gone blue from the WB…

here is the rundown of the rest…

1 strobe in the hall – shoulder height – gel’d red – either bounced off the hallway wall, or a big white bounce surface (bed sheet – lastolite panel, etc)
1 strobe behind the man in the hall, aimed down, gel’d tungsten – grid’d or zoomed
1 strobe, behind the bed, no need for a blue gel – white light goes blue in Tungsten Balance – aimed at the back wall
1 strobe in the lamp on the ground, gel’d tungsten – zoomed.

-this is where it gets tricky-

1 strobe up camera left, aimed down, look at the hard shadow from her hand – must be almost straight above that – this give the red glow to her legs, her hands – lights the pills on the floor


1 strobe up camera right, snooted tight, gel’d orange – on her knee.

Can’t wait to hear yer side of it. Thanks Joe..

Michelle Knight says:

on September 5, 2009 at 9:54 am

OK – I’ve taken a longer look. I’ve already had a wrong guess, so this won’t put me in line for any prizes, but here goes.

The shadow on the womans hand identifies a flash on camera, or slightly above and to the left of the camera, ungelled.

The ladies leg shows it is not lit by the on-camera strobe but rather an off camera and high snooted, gelled flash, slightly camera right.

The purple light behind the bed belies a gelled flash there.

The odd shape of the light coming out of the lamp on the floor indicates a strobe in there, pointing towards the ceiling.

There is another purple gelled strobe off to camera right which is responsible for lighting the wall and the medicine bottles on the table.

The TV is .. the TV.

The outside is a mystery because it looks like it is out of doors rather than a hall, and it appears that the light is coming through clouds. THis makes it either natural light, or gelled strobes through a smoke machine or a piece of fabric on the outside of the window. Whatever it is, it is powerful enough to reach the medicine bottles on the table as well as the table legs.

The light on the floor at the mans feet is a mystery. The floor is showing a reflection of the man, indicating that he is outside and standing a little lower than floor level. However, the shadow of his right leg isn’t reflecting correctly off the floor. The reflection in the floor tells of a gelled strobe behind him, presumably deliberately to cast the shadow of his body forward on to the floor. Either way, the missing part of his leg looks suspicious.

John Gettis says:

on September 5, 2009 at 10:28 am

Oh hell I can’t figure it out. I will just have to buy the book.

FanX says:

on September 5, 2009 at 1:28 pm

Nice !

diala chinedu photography says:

on September 5, 2009 at 2:23 pm

5 hot shoe flashes

1. SB-900 stacked with red gels bare and faced to wall on the front right hand of model with a gun

2. SB-900 with blue gel on the right of camera firing at the wall behind the tv
3. SB-900 with CTO gel and a spot grid behind camera from overhead aimed at model’s right leg
4. SB-900 with blue gel on the other side of the bed facing the wall on low power
5. SB-900 at low power with red gel gridded/snooted and aimed at the man’s face

Chris Roberts says:

on September 5, 2009 at 6:10 pm

I think Lyndon Smith should win, for such a wonderful post. I laughed out loud.

Its nice sometimes to just look at photographs, and not care how they’re made. Thanks Joe.

larry wells says:

on September 5, 2009 at 9:59 pm

Exposed for T.V., lamp and sodium vapor street light outside.

Flash with blue Gel behind T.V., CTO snooted flash camera left.

Dean Doll says:

on September 5, 2009 at 10:32 pm

I’ve drawn out what I think would be the setup for this shot, and pasted it in the following web link. Thanks for the fish!


Barak Yedidia says:

on September 6, 2009 at 2:14 am

D3 with 14mm/2.8 @ f/8 1/4″ about 8 inches off the floor and 18 inches from the shin of the corpse. That exposure will expose the TV tube.
SU-800 on camera.
Flashlight held by some guy above and to the right of the camera to light paint the leg, hand, and Good-n-Plenty on the floor.
Bulb on in lamp on floor.
SB-x00 with CTB behind bed.
SB-x00 with CTB camera right with a Honl flag on the left side.
Dude outside door with gun.
SB-x00 with CTO behind dude’s knees pointed back towards camera.
Some weird mural behind dude.
SB-x00 with CTO to dude’s right about head high snooted to light his head and chest
another SB-x00 with CTO to dude’s right about gun high snooted to light the bottom of his coat.
Bedsheet that is no longer on the bed over the window lit with another SB-x00 with CTO to dude’s right.

That makes 6 SB’s, a TV, a Floor lamp, and a flashlight.

TC says:

on September 6, 2009 at 2:32 am

Lyndon Smith FTW. Even if he isn’t right, he should be!

chrisdavid42 says:

on September 6, 2009 at 6:37 pm

Ok, so i tried to do this without reading the other comments, as I figured that wouldn’t be sporting. so here goes: from back to front. 1. a large light source outside the window (3 SB lights: one CTO gelled and bounced from the ceiling, one snooted amber gelled and pointing at the perp’s face from camera left, one 1/2 CTO gelled and pointing in the door from camera right). Next there is the tungsten floor lamp, the television, a gelled (1/2 cto) SB pointing 45 degree down on-axis (snooted)from above the knee, a flashlight lighting the pills, and from behind the camera a blue gelled sb diffused via softbox splashed along the right wall of the room.

You may begin autographing now. (just kidding, I hope I was close though.)

chrisdavid42 says:

on September 6, 2009 at 6:53 pm

OK, here are my revisions to the above answer. If it is a motel, then there is no hallway and we are seeing the outside, outside of the door. in this case, I believe that the red outside is gelled headlights (and i agree with the smoke machine theory), the light on the perps face is from a porch-light (tungsten) and there is a speed light splashed in-between the perp’s legs. the blue gelled flashis on the far side of the bed, and the light behind the TV is ambient from the next room (bathroom, kitchen, ???, breakfast nook.) other than that my previous answer stands. (two autographed books, for two answers? hint, hint.)

Ken Wilcox says:

on September 6, 2009 at 8:52 pm

I’m going to guess that the “lady” on the bed was your um “escort” for the evening and after some tele and recreational drugs the lady’s husband found you guys in your favorite shady hotel and popped her. You used what tool you knew, your Nikon D3, and firing at 9 frames a second the guy thought you had a tommy gun so he took off running.

No lighting here – just ambient.

The lamp fell over from mattress action.

Chad says:

on September 7, 2009 at 2:03 am

I am thinking that it was dusk, with WB to give the orange cast, a kicker behind the man, one above to highlight his head, The lamp, A light above down upon the girl directly at her leg, and a geled flash of to the side of the table. Oh and a speedlight behind the bed with a snoot to imitate a tv.

Mitch Sevier says:

on September 7, 2009 at 8:56 am

Seems to me the guesses are getting too complicated.

The knee and pills look like they are lit by one boomed or voice activated light stand with a small modifier to keep it fairly confined

Blue light behind the knee… just an alarm clock glow

The red light in the back room might could be a true neon sign or a red gelled strobe

T.V. screen… just the way it is

The blue light outside behind the window I would almost guess as natural, but I know how much you like to put strobes outside. I will say it is a strobe with slight blue gel on it.


T Lofstrom says:

on September 7, 2009 at 9:38 pm

Without looking at the other comments, because I love trying this decoding, and who cares is I get it, all right:
camera is shot with exposure compensation of -2.
ladies leg is lit camera left: SB900 (cause I read you love them) at +2, gelled 2 CTO with a loose grid;
lightshade is what it is: a light on;
TV is what it is: on to static;
right wall is lit with an SB 900 +1 above the table level on a stand pointed at the wall;
back wall is lit with an SB 900 -2 tight gridded from the floor behind the bed aimed at the wall, justs to give it some definition;

Window: lit with 1 (or 2) SB 900 +2, from 15 feet behind between the window and the man on the far side angled up from near the ground directly at the wall to feather across the lower left side of the window and spill to the right and light up the doorway as well;
The orange at the man’s feet, another SB900 gelled CTO -3 aimed at the guy’s foot used to trigger the outside lights.

Throw in a D3 on a tripod set low on Aperture Priority with a cooler WB, Matrix metered,a 14-24 set near 16mm;
and don’t forget a lady in shoes and dress “dead” on the bed, a guy in hat shirt and tie and coat with gun in hand at the door, and a bunch of pill bottles, and one spilling tylenol sinus on the good old hardwood floor.

All makes sense, except the orange light at the guy’s feet.
(now to post and read others’ better guesse… okay knowledge.

T Lofstrom says:

on September 7, 2009 at 9:51 pm

The only thing I’d add after reading the others is to mention how the D3 fired the flash. It had an SU-800 on it, or more convenient, corded to the right from the camera.

Love the good stabs at how the shot was done that have nothing to do with lighting … or do they all describe where Joe’s inspiration for lighting comes from?! I guess that’s it.

I’ll never have all that inspirat— fun getting inspired.

Gavin Keats says:

on September 8, 2009 at 5:42 am

Nikon D3, 14-24 set to 14 mm, ISO 800, 1/4 exposure, Manual.

Light sources;

1. Blue gel speedlight behind bed facing wall
2. Blue Gel off camera right
3. Red gel speedlight outside window
4. Tungsten globe in fallen lamp
5. Red gel above models leg
6. low amber? gel speedlight behind gunman
7. TV set white noise light

Gavin Keats

MikeScott says:

on September 8, 2009 at 8:31 am

The dude just went all kinds of JoeMcNally on this shot. Big flash, small flash, radio triggers, colored gels, slow sync for the tv… he should write a book.

Rodney_Durrett says:

on September 8, 2009 at 11:37 am

What a great idea to get reader involvement!

Here’s my take:
Three lighting groups.

First group outside: A couple of SB800 or SB900 with diffusers and red gels behind a diffuser aimed at window. Another SB also with a red gel aimed behind the man with the gun to light up behind him and produce the silhouettte. Let the the splash from the SBs make the rim light on the face. Also used a light block to keep the light off the rest of the gunmans body. Small incandescent source (flashlight or something snooted) behind the gunman to get the light between the legs.

Second group: An SB900 gelled blue on camera right(zoomed to give crisp shadows) a little above tabletop level pointing behind the TV with wires hanging for the effects on the walls, the TV, and the right side of the medicine bottles. Also a small flash behind the bed diffused with blue gel to light the wall with the window which helps define the far leg of the girl.

Third group: An SB with a warm gel on a c-stand high to the right concentrated on the close leg and providing the light on the edge of the bed and the pills on the floor.

Here’s where it gets tricky.
You can see the snow on the TV. Must have set up the camera to catch this before adding the lights.

The lamp in the floor puts out light at the top of the shade, a little coming through the shade, and none at the bottom of the shade. A lot of black tape was used to block the incandescent low watt bulb from lighting the wall.

A large reflector was used at camera left to bounce the light from the window to make the red outline on the table and the red on the left side of the medicine bottles.

I would say the shot was triggered with a SU800 off camera on SC cables high and to the left. This would have a straight shot to the inside flashes and through the window to the outside flashes.

Joe, you must have some crazy dreams to come up with these shots!


Andy Glogower says:

on September 8, 2009 at 8:56 pm

I loved Lyndon’s description. The only thing missed was refering to the photographer as “Numnuts”.

Mi says:

on September 10, 2009 at 9:45 pm

I believe there’s a flash unit behind the photographer’s left, it drops light over the girl’s right leg, pills & ground; another in the corridor, in front of the male model. The blue background behind the TV was lit also by a flash unit standing right to the photographer, facing TV & wall. A little light source behind the dead girl’s leg, plus the lamp & TV. 3 flashes with strong shadows so I don’t think any light modifiers were used, and the other 3 scene-related light sources (2 lamps & TV).

Chris Biele says:

on September 11, 2009 at 12:04 pm

Someone may have already gotten this, but I’m not gonna read through all 202 posts to find out, haha.

I’d say WB on camera set to tungsten.
Snowy TV turns blueish from camera WB.
1 SB gelled CTB shot hard at wall behind bed.
1 SB gelled CTB shot hard, bounced off rear/right room corner, camera back/right.
1 SB gelled red or double CTO in soft box above camera over victim.
Tungsten bulb in lamp at very low wattage to get more saturation.
1 SB gelled red or double CTO behind man on floor shooting up towards camera left into tri-grip bouncing onto man and filling the window.
Numnuts really low on one knee trying to see up victim’s skirt.

Shadi says:

on September 11, 2009 at 10:41 pm

here’s my take on it…

here’s a link for larger version of the sketch;


Shadi says:

on September 11, 2009 at 10:42 pm

ooops the embedded image didn’t appear in my previous comment…

Andrei says:

on September 13, 2009 at 1:59 am

wide angle shot
Camera right:
– CTR (color temperature RED:) strobe with tight grid pointing at the knee
– much higher (in the corner of the photo) another strobe with blue gel pointing at the right hand side wall and casting a shadow of the stand that’s holding the CTO strobe with grid because McNally didn’t pay attention to it and then “kinda liked it”.
Behind the bed pointing at the wall is a CTB flash.
Low behind the detective/assassin (looks like he did it, – it’s the last look before he goes; otherwise wouldn’t be starring at the girl with all the assistants and the photographer in the room; he would get down to business looking for clues) there is a zoomed to 105mm red flash shooting at his back.
And outside there is some sort of BIG RED LIGHT that McNally brought as well :) and a tight zoomed red flash pointing to the chest of the assassin.
There is the fallen lamp and the TV with the antenna cable pulled out. The TV was set to channel 23 before pulling out the antenna.
18% chance there might be some small fill camera left .

Michael De Lazzer says:

on September 13, 2009 at 5:09 pm

White balance to the TV– Closer to daylight.

1) Small softbox CTO above the knee, almost straight down, slightly forward of the knee, pinned to the ceiling. The shadow behind her calf is sharp, indicating a small light source, with a rapid fall off.

2-3) 2 Large bare full-power strobes with CTO gel pointed at the wall outside the room– lighting the window and wall.

4) CTO strobe aimed at gunman’s chin from the left outside the room. that’s lighting the mystery man, and putting orange highlights on the table and bottle

5) Small, low power CTB strobe behind the bed pointed at the wall.

6) With no projection– I’m thinking there’s a tungsten bulb in the lamp, no strobe there.

7) CTB strobe on the right corner of the table. Lights the bottles and wall.

8) Snooted CTO SB aimed at mysteryman’s feet from behind. But this is the one I’m most unsure about. It would be from behind and up..

T Lofstrom says:

on September 14, 2009 at 9:57 am

Okay, I’m jumping in again after readin only a few, with the intention of pegging the light at the guys feet:
It’s gotta be a CTO set behind his ankle, low calf (in other words that far out into the street/parking lot. Rational: look at the shadow in front of his feet.
Before I said WB was set a bit blue, and it may have been a touch, but the TV is near natural, so the other blue in the photo must be CTB gelled.
I can learn.

So it’s
wide angle 14-24 on D3 SU-800 via cable to the right of camera triggered the flashes.
1)CTR outside pointing at window and in the door: multiple SB900’s or a larger strobe with SU-4 trigger capability. That light(s) is/are between the window and door without modifier
2)CTB behind the bed pointing straight toward the wall 1/5 ft off the floor, low power, with a flag or something restricting the light from hitting the floor.
3)tungsten bulb in the lamp.
4)TV on snow.
5) CTB from camera right low pointing at the right wall behind the TV from High to low, catching the pills, TV (to shadow the wall low by the door) and the wall directly.
6)(and here’s where I learned the most – call me num-greymatter) wide gridded, or flagged to avoid light toward camera right, CTO a bit closer to the camera right side than straight above the ladies bright knee pointing straight down.

And I gotta fly … so I’m sure that’s not purefict yet.

John Dutt says:

on September 16, 2009 at 1:01 pm

Here goes nuttin…

I struggled most with how did you get the outside sky so red. At first I thought a lens filter but there is no evidence of it in the interior of the room.

My guess is that you hung a bed sheet (or a silk)outside of the room window and shot an SB thru it (or into it) with a red gel. There would be a 2nd SB (placed low)with red gel outside the room shot toward the doorway. I also suspect there is some light hitting the “dick” in the face from a third snooted (or grided) SB with CTO since the light hits him in the face but stops at his upper chest.

Inside the room, there is an SB camera right with a Blue gel aimed slightly toward the wall behind the TV. There is another SB with blue gel pointed at the wall, low, between the window and the door.

There is an SB gelled w/ CTO camera upper right aimed down at the knee of the “dame.” This SB would be gobo’d to the right of the SB in order to keep the CTO from spilling into the room and onto her left knee.

The TV and lamp are natural light.

T Lofstrom says:

on September 17, 2009 at 11:08 pm

last or latest addition: the trigger is probably the CTB’d flash fired at the wall to the right, not an SU-800.
Just guessing.

Jon West says:

on September 17, 2009 at 11:19 pm

When do we get to find out the answer?

Shamik says:

on September 18, 2009 at 11:48 am

Yes..so when do we get the actual setup from Him?

michael says:

on September 20, 2009 at 2:31 pm

I agree with something similar to an earlier post, Michael Delazzer, except for the light coming in from the door and window.
A strange guess, but I am saying that light is coming from car headlights, gelled. My reason being that it is mystery light, so I’m thinking creatively.

Rich Scorer says:

on September 24, 2009 at 5:16 pm

Michael – great call
but i would say car brake lights thus would not need to be gelled just have a brick on the brake pedle.

michael says:

on September 26, 2009 at 2:17 pm

ok, makes sense, but would the taillights put out enough power to light that much? crank up the high beams on the headlights, then gel and he could be shooting at nice sharp f/22, for example. not sure the brake lights would crank out that power.
but at least you don’t think i’m crazy with the car idea!!!!! ha ha ha!!!

Anton says:

on December 18, 2009 at 2:03 pm

I agree with michael http://muz-time.ru/
Musical albums and collections in the good form

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