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Archive for July, 2011


Jul 29

In Friends at 5:40am

Earnie Grafton, who as I mentioned the other day is a long time bud, former military shooter, and currently a staffer at the San Diego Trib, made an, uh, adjustment on my soft box the other day. Earnie! It’s spelled “numnuts!”

One of the reasons to hang in this business as long as I have is to be blessed with talented, wacked friends…..enjoy the weekend everybody!

More tk….

Heading to the Islands…

Jul 27

In In The Field, Lighting, Seminars & Workshops at 3:36pm

Another week or so, going to St. Lucia. First project, very happily, is shooting a book for my friends at the Jade Mountain/Anse Chastenet Hotels. I’ve been going down there for fifteen or more years, and it remains an oasis of calm and beauty for me. For now, a book project in a beautiful place, and an amazing workshop with a couple of slots left. Hit this link, and it brings you to this page for all the info…

Given the coming 911 Tenth Anniversary observances, and the maelstrom that has been my studio of late, a little calm is welcome. More on that next week. Let me just say, trying to mount an exhibit in a major space in NYC as a lone, freelance shooter is not for the faint of heart. Thankfully, I’ve got Nikon helping in a major way with $ and logistics, and wonderfully, we’ve had the original K-Man himself, advocate on our behalf out at his place of employ, J&J. Thankfully, they are pitching in as well. The Faces of Ground Zero show goes up on Aug. 24th at the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle. It will be comprised of the original Giant Polaroids, and updated photos and video interviews, ten years later.

We got started by being asked to update the LIFE’s One Nation book of ten years ago. That book contained a section of portraits from FGZ. So, we went back to a number of the folks who made the trek to the Giant Polaroid on 2nd St. in the Bowery during that intense, emotional month immediately after the attacks. An example is Jason Cascone, who at the time of 911 was a probationary firefighter and is now one of the youngest lieutenants in the history of FDNY. This original is not small flash, by the way.

However, this is. Just one small flash, through a 30″ Ezybox soft box, camera right. 70-200mm lens, D3X, Bronx, NY.

Bring you more up to speed on that next week.

More tk….

Lastolite Light Shapers!

Jul 25

In Lighting at 8:03am

It’s always amazing to me, after doing this as long as I have, when a photographic manufacturer actually listens to a shooter. I mean, there’s good reasons to not listen to us for sure. We’re often crazier than a rogue pixel.

On the other hand, when you’ve gone out and hammered it for a good long while, and hung in there over time, continuing to produce work, there are a few things you do end up knowing.

I’ve used Lastolite stuff for a long time, well before ever having a conversation with them. I use the stuff because it works. Tri-grips, Ezyboxes, umbrellas–they make all manner of light shaping tools for all sorts of lights, and they are well and thoughtfully made. I’ve been drawn for a long time to their light, hand holdable stuff. Stuff that helps turn small flash into big flash.

I experiment all the time, and given some of the lengths I’ve taken small flash, I’ve found out a few things, and offered them feedback. The result has become a small array of light shapers known as (drum roll) the Joe McNally Range.

White Interior Ezybox!

Two or three years back, I asked Lastolite for a 24″ Ezybox with a white interior, as opposed to the standard silver. I’m a fairly persistent bloke (i.e.,pest) and eventually they made me one. Which made me the only person on the planet for a period of time with a white 24″ Ezybox. Just dropping this fact here and there would get me great tables at restaurants, and all manner of perks and amenities everywhere. Joe make joke.

But it’s a cool light. A little softer, and a touch richer and creamier than the standard silver, which is already a terrific light. Their brilliant designer Gary Astill came to one of my workshops in Dobbs Ferry. I showed him the results, with the two different lights from the same place with the same model. He nodded, and the white Ezybox was born. Given the softer quality of the interior, it behaves and looks like a slightly bigger soft box.

I know it’s a good light cause I got this note from my bud Earnie Grafton, who’s a former military shooter, and terrific staffer at the San Diego Trib.

“So after buying “your” softbox (which I love by the way) I realized that your name was blazed on each side of it.  So after the umpteenth time of some dude asking me if I was Joe McNally, the following conversation ensued:

Q. Are you Joe McNally?
A. Of course.  Why the hell would I put somebody else’s name on my softbox?

or my favorite so far…

Q.  Are you Joe McNally?
A.  Do I have 57 cases of camera shit around me?
Q. Uh, no…
A. Then I ain’t Joe McNally….

(I DO love the damn thing though…..)”

Earnie’s a good friend and a helluva shooter. On this location, though, I left a bunch of the cases home. Here’s a production picture. As you can see, I’m out there with a huge crew, and highly sophisticated smoke making machinery, the type of thing you see really big Hollywood features use. This version is the Michael Karsh haze machine, which having gotten to know Michael a bit, is, well, appropriate.

TriFlash and Uplite!

My subjects here are Rick Iannucci, and Nancy De Santis, two extraordinary people who devote their own time to a project called Horses for Heroes. In this program, Rick, Nancy and Thomas Wingate work with vets who have come home with physical injuries or combat trauma. I’ve done some pictures over the years out west, working with cowboys, and had the good fortune to get to know Buster Welch, a legendary rancher and cutting horse trainer. His wife, Sheila, paraphrasing Winston Churchill, always told me, “The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a human being.” That’s exactly what Rick, Nancy and Thomas are proving with these vets. Endorsed by the Purple Heart Association, their work in helping these heroes is remarkable.

Used the Triflash and Uplite in combo to produce some western portraits. Very happy with the results. The Triflash has been made for a while, but in the original version, the points of attachment (cold shoes) were fixed. I suggested ratchets instead. That way, you can swivel your flashguns (Doncha love the way the English call them flashguns? Awesome.) so that the light receptor panels can orient in either exactly the same direction, or close to it. With the fixed cold shoes, all the receptors were at right angles to each other, and TTL line of sight pickup could get rough. Love this thing. I just crank the flashes around till I maximize reception, and it has increased my line of sight working distance for this multi-flash rig by yards and yards. As you can see here, the Triflash is on a stick, and my commander is looped outside the building from the camera via SC-29 cords. Those three lights, firing through a Lastolite 6×6 diffuser, make for the main light. But remember, I got cowboy and cowgirl subjects, and I need to get light under the brim of their hats, and into their eyes.

Enter the Uplite. It’s very diffuse. You can fire your lights through it straight up, or clamp them via a Justin Clamp to the metal riser in the unit and bounce them down to relfect back up. You can vary the intensity of the bounce by zooming your flash heads, or using dome diffusers such as I do here. This provides the soft lift I need to light the eyes. Two small flash light shapers, in combo, and it looks like window light.

Notice I got some sandbags on the Uplite. The winds on location were up, and, like any light shaper, out there in the world, you can very easily stage your own version of America’s Cup, if you’re not careful.

Back to the Triflash, all on its’ own. When I go light and fast, but think I need some power and recycle, lately I just take the Triflash firing through an all-in-one umbrella. Pop it on a paint pole, and you have a mobile, powerful, TTL light with directional sensors. Leave the dome diffusers on, the light gets very wrapped and soft. It’s especially handy if you, say, take a walk in the woods, and you want to travel light. Copper Perry, a terrific makeup artist (she’s one of the HMU folks for Breaking Bad) had this notion of going into the burnt out woods of New Mexico and doing something emotional and primal with D. As usual, D took it to another level, and I basically tagged along with a camera. The light and fast paint pole/Triflash thing is especially handy if your assistant happens to be the ever wonderful Nerissa Escanlar, who is 4′ 10″.

I shot other stuff in the last week as well, and I’ll share that in a Light Shapers Part II and III coming up. Lemme know if you like any of these and the setups…..more tk…..

Have a Great Weekend!

Jul 22

In Lighting at 8:40am

Heading home from Santa Fe. Again, thanks to all for this very hectic week on the blog, with the new site posting, and all the comments. It’s been terrific. Thanks to Drew,  Mike Cali, and Lynda Peckham at the studio. I’ve been doing this a long time, and those poor folks went through lots of pictures.

Next week, I’ll be posting some new results from a line of light shaping tools I worked to develop with Lastolite. They’re pretty cool, and I worked this past couple weeks pretty intensively with them. An example below….

I used the rubber stamp tool to clone out a tiny nick in the wall of the background.  (I know, I know, I’m getting fancy with the post production stuff….) But other than that, nothing. This is the quality of light right out of the camera, which I’m pretty happy with. TTL, small flash solution. More tk…..

Website Feedback..

Jul 21

In Uncategorized at 10:09am

Hey guys- Drew here.  Just wanted to send a huge thank you for all the feedback, positive or otherwise on our brand spankin’ new website.  After several of us here in the studio spent literally months digging through the archive, scanning, re-scanning, editing, and designing the site, we’re VERY happy to finally have it up.

Just like our last website, we worked with Livebooks, and are certain that this is a huge improvement over the last iteration.  Looking back, it seems as though the previous site just barely scratched the surface, so we made a point to include a ton more from the archive and a bunch of cool stories this time around.  We plan to post a bunch more content in the “Special Projects” and “Selected Campaigns” sections, but needed to cut bait and actually get the site live, or it wouldn’t have ever happened…Speaking of which, if there’s anything in particular on the site that you want to see more of, or are still having any technical issues, please drop us a line at:, with the subject “Website Feedback”- and give as detailed of a description as you can.  We want to hear your thoughts, and read through every one that comes our way.

Very interesting to see all the comments revolving around our website’s use of Flash.  We work with Livebooks simply because without their amazing back-end edit suite, we’d almost never have the time to update our site.  The fact that they provide us with a super user-friendly, clean means of uploading, organizing and displaying imagery is priceless.  Sure, Flash gets knocked around quite a bit, and understandably to some extent, but we’ve come up with that we think is a very clean and simple website that we’re pleased to have representing the studio.

As for responsiveness of the site, some of you mentioned that the photos are a bit slow to load, and that comes down to our workflow here in the studio.  Being that the site is scalable, the images are inherently large.  Some load up very quickly, while others didn’t look suitable after being compressed, and therefore, ended up being a bit larger than we would have liked…not a whole lot we can do in that realm.

One major downside is the fact that it currently doesn’t have the same user experience on mobile devices- a lot of you have commented about this, and we’re very aware that it needs some work.  It’s definitely a tough issue to figure out, and is currently being resolved as we speak.  Livebooks is also in the midst of redesigning the mobile experience that they provide, and should be updated very soon.

Again, thanks for taking a look at the new site, hope you continue to enjoy the updates, and looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts.