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

Archive for November, 2010

The Real Deal

Nov 8

In Friends, history at 7:19am

Taught again this year at the Santa Fe Photo Workshops, as I usually do. I really enjoy my occasional visits to the Southwest. Over the last few years, I’ve regularly brought my classes to the Monroe Gallery, run by Sid and Michelle Monroe. Great people, and close friends. They are the real deal.

I am very determined about this (especially when I teach young shooters who’ve never had a whiff of dektol) as a way of acquainting folks with work that is really the shoulders upon which we all stand. Digital photo fever is at an all time high, which is a great thing. It’s just important to know where we came from.

And, I have to admit, there’s the curmudgeon in me who’s determined to avoid much of the rest of the chic, super heated bubble that constitutes the Santa Fe spa/art scene, which, at least occasionally, makes me chuckle. I mean, there are so many galleries on Canyon Road, and such a cacophony of art that it veers damn close to outright tragic. I’m sure this is my own demented imagination at work, but I can conjure a day for the cognoscenti down there beginning by putting down the lemon scented loofah, removing the cucumber slices from the eyelids, rinsing off the sea salt scrub laced with all natural oatmeal and tinged with the scent of free range apricots, and chugging through gallery after gallery. In those shops are mult-hued Kokopelli statues, intricately fashioned wind chimes, and fantastically bent pieces of metalwork, many of which, to me,  look like the product of a welder having a seizure. It’s all okay. Art is many things to many people.

I prefer the simple white walls and the largely monochrome environment at Monroe. Their gallery is like an oasis of unflinching, heartfelt reality in the midst of the ephemeral, land of enchantment swirl. What hangs on those walls makes a connection. Some of it entertains the eye in a delightfully kinetic way. Other pictures stir memory, nostalgia, and an echo in your head and your heart. (Where was I when this happened?) Other images up there are like a punch in the gut.


What I truly believe about a powerful picture is that after viewing it, you are never the same. You have been changed, forever. You might not realize it at that moment, but you are. There’s been an interior, seismic shift in your emotional substrata. The plates tilted, just a little bit.  These pictures linger, like a persistent thought. Or, like someone shouting to you in a rainstorm, it gets your attention, even if you can’t completely make out what it’s saying. Sometimes, they’re like a wound. Photographic scar tissue.

The Monroe’s concentrate their eye and their gallery on historically important photojournalism. Even a quick pass through one of their shows is like looking at your memory of the last 50 years, right there, in one place. Currently, they have a show of Carl Mydan’s work. Carl, a diminutive, gentlemanly sort, was a giant, and a tiger with a camera in his hands. Under that affable exterior was steel. How else could he have withstood the firestorm of ego and bluster that was General Douglas MacArthur to get the pictures that he did?

Also up this fall was the work of Bill Eppridge. (Very appropriate to look at Bill’s work during campaign season, and remember that once upon a time, images of politicians had some grit, and were the product not of “photo opps,” but of real access and relationships.)

Saw Bill at Photo East, still carrying a camera. Still crusty as ever.  He’s earned the right to be crusty, I can tell you. He’s done it all, and his work remains a benchmark for all of us who have ever picked up a camera with serious intent.

I won’t make a history lesson out of this, but the story of the picture above, which was on the walls of Monroe, might not be so well known. What is well known is that Epp covered RFK’s run at the presidency, and grew close with the Senator. He was there in the hotel kitchen when he was gunned down, and made that awful, famous frame of the busboy cradling the Senator’s head as he lay dying. Given the dicey light, it was a thin negative.

The Time Life photo lab, now no more, was the stuff of legend. They pulled from this neg a master, elegant print and copied it. It was from this copy neg, derived from that one print, that many, many reproductions of that moment came.

When Bill’s tenure with LIFE ended, and the weekly mag folded, he was asked if he wanted the master. In the interests of storage space, they were taking 16×20 prints and cutting them down to 11×14’s, as hard as that may seem to believe. So of course, he said yes. They said, okay, where do we ship it? Bill said nowhere, and got on a plane. He took physical possession of this legendary print, but with a profound sense of ambivalence. The night of the assassination, he did his job, magnificently. But at that terrible moment, his job entailed photographing a man he had grown close to, dying in front of him. So the print did not go on his wall.  He put it out of sight, behind his couch in Laurel Canyon, California home.

Wildfires came to the canyon, and destroyed almost everything in their path. Bill’s home burned to the ground, along with just about everything in it. Except the master print, charred, as you see it above.

Some pictures just stick with you. More tk….

Pictures Done Fast

Nov 5

In Seminars & Workshops at 9:35am

I really gotta hand it to the gang from Tampa, Scott Kelby’s NAPP organization. They really knock it back when it comes to educational stuff, offering information and putting out useful content on a regular basis. It’s pretty cool. When they came knocking a while back and asked me to do a lighting seminar, I was like, “Sure!” Then I was like–Gulp!

Okay, remember, if something scares you, go shoot it. So I said yes, and I’m super glad I did, ’cause I’ve met a ton of great folks, and just had a ball doing these big lighting classes. And now I’ve got a whole category of pix I kinda call, “Pictures Done Fast.” (Drew has another name for it. He calls it, “Wish you had worked that harder!”) It’s cool. When I’m up teaching, my job is not to push across portfolio material, it’s really to tackle as many things as I can, as quickly as I can.

In Atlanta, we had great models, one of whom, Tyrell, was just an amazing presence. He could be a recording star, an athlete, an executive, or a detective on a cop show on TV, he had so many looks. Last part of the day, we got this look in just a few frames.


The above is an Elinchrom Deep Octa, camera left, with a Quadra flash popping through it. Added a kicker light off an SB900 firing on SU-4 mode into a silvery Tri-grip reflector. Interesting the color shift in the flash temperatures, huh? The big diffuser for the Quadra imparts a certain warmth, whereas the 900 into the neutral silver comes off as decidedly on the cool side.

Here’s the very first shot of this setup, with just a Deep Octa to camera left:


…and a black and white rendition of the same…Which do you guys like more?


We stayed on and had a fun evening at Zack Arias‘ studio. Zack and his crew just threw their doors open, and once again, as I always feel, we became part of the photo community, which is a powerful and supportive group.



We drank, and talked, and drank some more. Had a great time. Then the assistant crew, Dan Depew, Erik Dixon, and Drew, gang of three that they are, went out and drank some more, evidently….at a legendary local establishment:-)

Many thanks to NAPP, Zack, and the Atlanta photo gang….more tk…..

Going East Again….

Nov 3

In Tours at 1:20pm


Asia here we come. In January, we head once again to the Far East, one of my favorite places to go, to shoot, to learn, and to meet once again some incredibly talented and gracious folks. In January, will visit Hong Kong, Jakarta, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. If last year’s stint in KL was any barometer, we should have a blast.

The whole thing is the brain child of Louis Pang, truly one of the premier wedding shooters in all of Asia and beyond. His reach and reputation are the soul of all our efforts. Also his sense of humor. He, along with his mates, concocted the promo you see below, and, well, I kind of went with the flow:-)

Anyone who knows me knows I ain’t no action star, but do enjoy a good laugh at myself. I may have to get a black belt now. At least I’ve got the yell down.

Louis has also put together a Kuala Lumpur photo conference that promises to become a staple of the photo scene over there. Called Creative Asia, it is five days of non-stop, hands-on teaching, seminars, Q&A, lectures and demos.

Great thing about the conference is that my wife Annie is teaching, so we’ll be together–Annie is a terrific teacher. I’ve seen her take folks who don’t know how to make a folder on their desktop to shooting, downloading and moving good pix inside of a week.  Also teaching are some terrifically talented shooters like Michael Greenberg, Manny Librodo, Dane Sanders, Jason Magbanue, and of course, Louis Pang.

Always had good luck shooting in Asia. Done some Geographic work there, and Sports Illustrated stuff, and some stuff for the Beijing Commission prior to the Olympic Games.


Downtown Beijing…


Downtown KL….

To keep up with the news on both of these events, be sure to go here:

Joe Mcnally Asia Tour

Creative Asia

Twitter: @joemcnallyasia


Nov 2

In Uncategorized at 7:46am

My buds over at asked me to come up with a list of common mistakes folks make when starting out with a camera in their hands. Okay. No shortage of material here, right? And they came to the right source, ’cause I’ve made every mistake, basic and advanced, that one could possibly think of. Hell, I’ve even invented some mistakes. But they did a nice job, matching historical photos from the voluminous LIFE library with my ramblings. They also edited, well, some of my more irreverent language, which, this being my blog, I include below:-)


Don’t take just one picture, or two….shoot lots….if it was exciting enough to you to put your camera to your eye to shoot a couple of photos, then it should remain exciting enough to shoot 20, or, even, 200. Remember, pixels are free. This isn’t film. You’re not running up a bill anymore at the local CVS.


When photographing a person, relate to that person. Don’t hide behind the camera. Get out from that cubbyhole behind the lens where it’s warm and dark and you feel hidden and get out there in that vulnerable zone in front of the lens, and share and participate in the adventure with them. Let them know they are in good hands, and this is important to you, and because you are going to work really hard to produce a good picture, it will therefore become important to them. Remember, if you’re not confident, and you are visibly uncomfortable, they will be too. And, no, this doesn’t mean I was naked when I shot this.


Remember, the camera is a machine. It does not have feelings, and it didn’t go to art school.


Try not to shoot outdoors in harsh, bright, high noon sun. (At least most of the time.) The sun is a big dog, and you don’t want to fight with the big dog.


Don’t shoot everything from eye level! Get high! Get low! Climb something. Lay down. Get a different perspective.


Carry a camera. As famed photog Jay Maisel says, it’s hard to take pictures without one. (Pictured above is Carl Mydans, my personal hero, and mentor. Carl said, very accurately, “The camera is the greatest force for social change in history.” He was right. Carl was a historian, an orator, a gentleman, a scholar, a teacher, and a photographer. He was a photographer perhaps least of these things, and he was a great photographer. When he put his camera to his eye, the pictures that resulted had the beating heart of decency and sympathy for the human condition.)


Get it right in the camera, don’t say I’ll fix that later. Photoshop is not an emergency room for grievously wounded pictures. Work hard in the field to master the camera, the lens and the techniques of shooting. Unless you like being a mushroom, sitting in your dark basement in front of a glowing screen for hours on end, trying to take the exposure from frame 101, the composition from frame 209, the expression from frame 333, and also eliminate the tree branch growing out of the bride’s elaborate hairdo that she spent a lot of money on. If it looks like a problem, it is. In other words, if you see something in your lcd that is bothersome, it won’t go away, it will just become more bothersome when you look at it on your home computer.


Move yer ass!  (Another Jay-ism.) Zoom with your feet! Don’t stand there with all the energy and dynamism of a house plant. Move! The world moves, constantly. You must move with it. Zoom lenses are nice, but they don’t replace your legs.


Don’t forget to zero out your camera every day when you go out with it. Don’t use yesterday’s settings! You know, the ones that you programmed into the camera such as ISO 32,000 ’cause you were shooting in a coal mine. Reprogram the camera to a normal baseline and go from there.


Don’t think all the good pictures in the world live in Bali, or Antarctica. There are good pictures right under your nose. Shoot what and who you love. And shoot that which is easily accessible to you. If you constantly think you have to climb mountains or jump out of airplanes to get good pictures, it will become an impossible chore to pick up your camera.

And a few others….

If you’re unhappy, don’t keep shooting. A bad picture is a bad picture, no matter how many of them you shoot, or if you recompose vertically. Just stop, re-think, and go a different direction.

As my friend and fellow shooter Jim Richardson says, if you want your pictures to be better, stand in front of more interesting stuff.

Use your lens shade. Why is it on your lens, backwards? It’s there for a reason. Use it.

Have fun! This is not brain surgery, an admissions exam, or the stations of the cross.

Oh, and by the way, take the lens cap off:-)

More tk….