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Archive for March, 2012

Travels, and, Calling Dr. Brown

Mar 26

In Friends, Travels at 10:22pm

Russell Brown is one of the geniuses and driving forces behind all the innovation over at Adobe. To say he speaks a different language than I do is really putting it mildly. When I’m amongst people speaking in a foreign tongue, I can usually pick up a few words here and there. But Russell uses terminology quite regularly that is from a dialect of tech speak that I can’t even begin to get a handle on.

But, the wonderful thing about Russell is, no matter how manic and formidable his intellect, he is always up for a prank, a laugh or a photo session. He came by my lighting class at this past weekend’s Washington DC PhotoShop World seminars dressed as “Abe Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.” For any explanation of this costume, you’ll simply have to ask Russell. But it was cool and the class was up for it as we tried to go about making Honest Abe look like he was auditioning for True Blood. Many thanks to all at my classes over the last few days, and of course to the Kelby Clan for pulling off a terrific PSW for the first time in our nation’s capitol city.

Then I spied Philip and Alexandra in the audience, and I could tell from a distance they had something special going between the two of them, so I called them up on stage. Turns out, Philip asked Alexandra to marry him the day previous, and and he had worked out a making a snap of his proposal while they were out making pictures with remote flashes. Awesome! I was able to use the new Elinchrom indirect soft box, which has an unbelievably forgiving quality of light, to make an impromptu engagement snap.

My path since PSW has been interesting. Left after my Sunday class, and jumped to Dulles Airport. Flew to NY. Then flew to Prague. And then to Tallinn, Estonia. Landed in Tallinn at 3:10 in the afternoon, of course without my luggage. Had to abandon even doing the lost bag paperwork and get into a car, and by 3:45 I was lecturing with Bill Frakes at Nikon’s week long D4 tour of Scandinavia. (His blog yesterday was titled, basically, “Waiting for Joe McNally.”)

Did not stay in Tallinn. Went back to the airport. Flew to Helsinki. Had a wonderful dinner last night with Peter Brodin and the whole Nikon group, went back to the hotel and passed out. Woke up this morning in Finland.

It’s always an honor to do stuff with Bill. We’ve known each other for 30 years, roughly, and to say we’re no strangers to the road is, well, accurate. He leaves here after this tour, flies back to the States, and walks off the plane to shoot the Final Four. I go back and pick up shooting this Nat Geo story that has been routinely kicking my ass for the last two months. Lots of miles, lots of pictures, laughs and friendship.

More tk….

Lynn’s Blog

Mar 19

In Friends, history, Jobs at 6:59am

This blog has been a long time coming, as Lynn tends generally prefers to stay in the background of things. All of us at the studio had a hand in prodding her just a touch to write this. Which is a wonderful turn of events. Lynn and I have worked together for nearly 20 years. She is one of the treasures of my life, and the dearest of friends. She has been a confidante, fortune teller, business manager, representative, finance magician (occasionally conjuring something out of nothing), producer (which is her tale below), rights and rates adviser, font of wisdom, voice of reason, and organizer of all things. And, as I mentioned, the most unflappable, unshakable, and understanding of friends. Without Lynn’s guidance, we would have run aground long ago. Like a compass with a heart and a voice, she continues to steer our tiny studio through thick and thin, through rough and calm seas.

She’s also an amazing cook. Every year at her house, we have Abbundanza! Which is Italian, for roughly, too much food. All the friends of the studio gather at her house for a feast. And the two of us stand and toast each other from the deepest part of our hearts. Another year. We made it another year.

Hi all, Lynn DelMastro here, Joe’s long time studio manager / producer. Ah, yes, a voice from behind the scenes of a Joe McNally shoot. What really goes on? How does all that stuff actually get dialed into the scene? Well, I’m here to tell you, in part, about some of the “magic” (even though most of the magic actually doesn’t happen, as we know, until Joe gets behind the camera.)

:-).
(Joe here. And let me be the first one to step forward here and be completely candid about the fact the sometimes the magic happen, and sometimes it don’t. But that’s on me. The beauty of a Lynn production is that when I step up to the camera, all I have to worry about is what I see through the lens, and connecting with it. All the other stuff has been taken care of, done deal, lock solid.)

Sometimes photographers have asked, “does everything Joe shoots require a producer?” No, certainly not. For some less complex shoots, Joe puts together everything himself. It’s all very circumstantial, when a shoot is either extremely complex, or when Joe’s schedule simply won’t allow for him to oversee every step himself, the production falls on my desk. Over the years, I’ve produced everything from the McNally Workshops in Dobbs Ferry, to Joe’s Language of Light DVD, to small magazine shoots, to full blown commercial assignments for him. Some of the more memorable ones have been for Nikon. The most recent production for them was for the launch of the D4.
When we were first awarded the project, our studio team sat down for a pre-production meeting. Joe proceeded to explain what his wishes and desires were for the visuals (aka his imagination on steroids). My mouth dropped, my heart raced, my body overheated, and my head throbbed. So, for about 30 long seconds, I think I actually blacked out, without really losing consciousness. You know what I mean? Like when you hear news that makes your whole being go into a virtual freeze frame mode? Hmm, why did I have this reaction? Well, he used words like… circus, animals, swamp, Delta blues artist, multi-city locations, studios, body painters, models, performers, helicopters, and the list went on and on. Oh sure, just sounds like a long “to do” list, right? Yeah, well you go out and try to find a custom-made circus, a swamp that won’t swallow up the crew, and an authentic Delta blues artist, etc… all the while keeping within the confines of a budget and a looming deadline. He may as well have told me that he wanted to shoot a full- blown production on the moon with Gisele and Bono. No worries.

So, once I stopped hyperventilating, I dipped into my brain’s, “who do I know” file, to kick start the action. Assuming that the circus scenario would be the most challenging to orchestrate, I contacted my good friend, Chiara Adorno, a very talented filmmaker in Hollywood.  Never know who she might know, etc. I explained what I was looking for, “Joe wants to shoot an old- school looking circus, a family type deal”. However, the kicker was that we needed it not for a day or two, but for a week, and it had to be all for ourselves. We needed a closed set, no public allowed (hey, we had to keep the D4 a TOP secret, after all!). I also mentioned that Joe had been visually inspired when he saw the film Water for Elephants, with Reese Witherspoon. Chiara gave me the contact info for a friend of hers, who is in the circus business, explaining that he would be a fantastic starting point. So I contacted VW Scheich, and well the rest of the conversation was simply music to my aching ears. He replied, “my cousin was the animal trainer for Reese in the movie”, “let me put you in touch with her, I’m sure she can help”. Oh.My.God. I then contacted his cousin, Darlene Williams, and so it began. I can’t even explain how incredibly wonderful this woman was. She put me in touch with her mother, Eva Williams.

Eva is a circus agent, and literally became my one-stop-shopping circus guru. Darlene, who could have bowed out at that point, stayed with it, periodically emailing and calling me, just because she cared. Wow, like mother, like daughter, these women were amazing. Okay, so with the circus planning underway, I turned my attention to the swamp production. Holy mackerel, or rather, holy gator… seriously? Again, Joe had a vision in his head (shocking), of how he wanted the swamp to look. So many things to consider… plus we needed a willing hair-M/U artist, wardrobe stylist, and model, all able to deal with the most unappealing environment ever (think major humidity, mosquitoes, gators, poisonous snakes, and other unknown creatures), a location vehicle, a medic, and a park ranger. There were major permissions to deal with, as well as scheduling issues. Okay, so I’ve been doing this long enough to know that, although I pride myself in my ability to multi-task and tackle large productions, sometimes I just have to hand off a piece of the pie. So I called my colleague and friend, Lyn Wik, a very experienced producer, to see if she’d be willing to pitch in and help. Lyn, being the incredible person she is, replied, “for you and Joe? Just say the word and I shall be yours!”. So I put her in touch with a former assistant of ours, photographer Scott Holstein.

Scott is a swamp LOVER, who lives in Florida. Scott was so psyched about the notion of working with Joe in a swamp that he offered to assist and help out in any way he could. At that point, with Lyn and Scott being on board, I KNEW that I had nothing to worry about. Naturally Lyn and I still talked and emailed 24/7, for about 3 weeks.


Okay, so amidst the tons of emails and phone calls with Lyn on the swamp, I was simultaneously dealing with the other shoots. Communication with Eva, for the circus shoot, was constant. We had to review options for tents, locations, talent, elephants, permits, dogs, horses, contracts, and the list went on and on. Then there was the selection of the model, which took days, just to find the right girl. I also had to find a wardrobe stylist, and due to budget, needed to find someone in the vicinity close to the shoot. I totally scored with the stylist, Deana Anais, represented by a wonderful agent, Sarah Hamilton-Bailey. Deana had an incredible sense of style and was totally intuitive about the look and feel of what we wanted. I also contacted Deborah Engelsman, an extremely talented hair-M/U artist, whom I’ve worked with many times over the years. Together, this team caused a fashion sensation at the shoot…

There still remained the [not so small] matter of finding a Delta blues artist. Once again, I tapped into my personal resources… a wonderful and special friend, Jody Wenig, of Wenig-LaMonica, a source for amazing talent. I knew that Jody could point me in the right direction, and man did he ever! Two emails later, and I was in direct contact with Wacko Wade, the manager of Delta blues artist, Little Freddie King.  Wacko and I created an instant bond (with a name like that, how could we not?), and he helped me to iron out all the details of how and when to work with LFK. Joe requested a run down, patina ladened, character driven house that evoked the flavor and style of old New Orleans.

Location scout, Michael Dittmar to the rescue! Michael did an amazing job and sent us lightboxes of properties to consider, all over the city. Joe settled on the one that suited his purposes the best, which turned out to be absolutely beyond perfect for the shoot and the video that we shot of LFK. Our local assistant, photographer Donald Page, brought us to the dual bridge location, where Joe shot an incredibly cool image of LFK.


For a separate photo situation in New Orleans, Joe had his heart set on shooting at Preservation Hall, a musical landmark institution there. As with any landmark, it’s subject to policies, procedures, and long wait lists. My motto, “be pleasantly persistent”, was what had to be put in place. Five emails and three voice messages later, I finally heard back from them. I just needed that voice contact to make a new friend of the business manager there and we were in. Good to go. Right down to the wire.

But wait, there’s more. Let’s not forget about, “Snake Beauty”. Although not as many moving parts as the circus, the swamp, or even the New Orleans shoots, the snake shoot presented its own set of complexities. After an extensive search, I found the brilliantly talented, NYC based body-painting and make-up artist, Anastasia Durasova. Understanding that not every model is willing to sit perfectly still for eight hours to be painted, but also not every model is willing to wear an 8 ft python, as an accessory. Anastasia highly recommended Marina, the model, and she was an absolute dream to work with. Sexy, beautiful, pleasant, and had zero qualms about “wearing” the snake. Along with the supremely talented hair stylist, Sasha Nesterchuk, “Snake Beauty” came to fruition and was shot at NEO Studios on an extremely memorable day.


Also, as with any production, I had to work out all the travel arrangements – hotels, flights, ground transfers, truck rentals, catering options, etc. In the end, it was 10 jam- packed weeks of pre-production, for 18 days of travel, scout, pre-light and shoot. Phew. Of course, the key to any successful production is to surround yourself with an awesome crew. In each location, I was blessed to have the best, most experienced helping hands. Back at our Ridgefield studio, supremely organized Lynda Peckham, thankfully held the fort down in my absence. My primary boys (Drew, Grippi, and Cali), provided unstoppable comic relief (with the help of Nikon’s own inimitable Mike Corrado), and the joy of working with two of the nicest, most talented, and incredibly wonderful clients, made it all so rewarding.

And then there’s Joe. He’s in a genre all by himself. Aside from being one of the most decent human beings on the planet, his beautiful mind (although a tad twisted) is captivating and his sense of humor is infectious. As long as I have a brown paper bag nearby, I’ll hyperventilate for him anytime .

All pix of Lynn shot by Lynda Peckham.

More tk….

The A Team

Mar 15

In Friends, Rambling at 2:04am

Ever really get to know those guys and gals behind the counter at photo stores? I think every photographer out there has either been saved by, exasperated by, befuddled by, informed by, counseled by….those folks behind the counter. Part priest (or minister, or rabbi), part bartender, part technician, those fellas (mostly) wait for us behind glass bins that contain vast troves of pornographically delightful gadgets, all gleaming brighter than the right side of the histogram.  We swoon as we approach the altar of gear.

Efraim Nussbaum

We are impulse buyers, often times, near keening in our desire to possess the latest newfangled widget which will catapult our photography to the next level. Just one more light modifier, the one that bends photons into the darkest, truest corners of our subject’s souls,  or one more ultra-smooth, chromium coated, bi-pixelated, extra dispersionary piece of glass that is faster than light itself–that’s all that’s needed. Once in possession of these treasures, the road will be smooth, and the assignments will be plentiful. The next phone call indeed will not be from someone we owe money to, but rather it will be from the National Geographic Society, sending us packing to places of unspeakable wonder. We of course are snapped out of this delightfully implausible reverie by the voice behind the counter reminding us that there’s a special on if we buy the camera with the lens.

Given our tendency towards rapture when we enter a camera store, we could easily be led astray.  That’s why, when you find good people behind those gleaming counters (or on the other end of the phone), you stick with ‘em.

Daniel Norton

My first major camera purchase was in 1974 at Willoughby’s on 5th Avenue, and it was enabled by enduring physical harm and mayhem. (Hmmm. Has anything changed?) During my first job in journalism, as a newspaper boy, I was bitten by a dog. Badly. Put me in a wheelchair for 5 weeks, and it took two operations to put my left calf back together. Turns out the family was beating the dog with the newspaper, so I’m sure to the pooch, this was a very logical move. It resulted in a payout of ten grand, available to me at the wise age of 21. Did I invest it? No, of course not. I turned it into a car and a couple cameras. Made the deposit, and went to Willoughby’s. Back then, the store would actually make a phone call to the bank to check your account. (How quaint!) The check hadn’t cleared. The camera salesman turned to me with a knowing look, and said, “You’re a little short in the bank, kid.” (How was I to know he was also a prophet, and this would remain a perpetual state of affairs?)

If you told me back then I would have a relationship with one of these shops, I would have looked at you like you were off your nut. But, turns out, after purchasing many photographic talismans from many, many places, I’ve come to be part of the family at Adorama. The folks who run the place decided to partner with me to support the Faces of Ground Zero giant Polaroid collection a number of years ago. (I had gone it alone preserving and storing 24,000 pounds of photography in museum quality storage for a number years, and it damn near broke me. Then, Harry Drummer, he who makes all things happen at Adorama, shook my hand and said, “We’ll help you.”) I’ve done all my business with the store ever since.

Isaiah Wong

And hence have gotten to know the guys in the Adorama Pro shop pretty well. They are equal parts characters, soothsayers, geniuses and camera-wise counselors. After a few years in the business, it’s pretty easy to get dismissive about the “camera salesman,” right? “I know what I want, here’s my money, and how long is this going to take?” can be the dialogue in your head when you’re at the counter purchasing, and that’s understandable. But, over time, I’ve come to regard these guys not only as friends, but as resources. Because, in short, they know more than me.

Let’s start with Daniel Norton who describes himself as “a Springsteen tune sung by Tom Waits. And he knows stuff about light bulbs.” A fine photog in his own right, he knows more about lighting than, well, just about anybody I’ve encountered. His expertise crosses a vast array of systems, and he can tell you what works with what and why more easily than a kindergarten teacher reciting Dr. Seuss. Which, given his clientele, he might often feel like. He’s able to quickly suss out the essence of what a photog really needs to get a job done, and it comes from the depth of his experience shooting on location in places like NY and Miami. He’s also always got a perpetual, slightly bemused, knowing twinkle in his eyes as yet another photog recites a fevered litany of what they will try to accomplish with this newly purchased magic box. Think of a cop at the driver’s window while someone nervously babbles what they perceive to be a perfectly defensible rationale for doing 75 in a school zone. Daniel knows his stuff, and I have personally witnessed him saving a photographer from himself. Which is actually very cool, considering there are some guys behind the counter out there that are the camera store equivalents of Hannibal Lecter…”Closer, Clarice, closer…..”

Then there’s Efraim Nussbaum. I don’t know too many geniuses, but he is well and truly one of a kind. He speaks a half dozen languages, and knows, by heart, virtually every SKU in the Adorama system, which, as you might guess, has more than just a few products. He has, literally, a photographic memory. He scans a page of figures, and then, simply, knows them. He is a wonder to watch, ball capped, scanning his computer, drawing on more than 20 years of camera store experience, spewing SKUs and manufacturer’s descriptions like he’s reciting poetry. Seriously. He can make a recitation of the tech specs on a lens sound like Yeats. I think this occurs because he does truly love his job, and this world of information bubbles out of a very decent, helpful place in his soul. I asked him once about an obscure connecting cord. He not only knew the cord, and the SKU, but he knew it was impossible to get and suggested another historical predecessor to that cord that works just as well if you hooked it to XYZ coupler, and there are two of those in the system! He did this without the aid of his computer.

And then (drum roll, please) there’s retail store manager Isaiah Wong. He went to Cardinal Spellman HS in the Bronx, and I went to Iona, and they used to regularly kick our ass on the basketball court, but I don’t hold this against him. A self starter nonpareil, he’s the young father of three and brings the obvious patience of parenthood to maintaining order and equanimity on the floor of a hectic NY camera shop, which at least occasionally rivals the tumult of Times Square on New Year’s Eve. To me, he is part of the vibrant soul of New York. Chinese and Puerto Rican, he put himself through Baruch College, and then climbed the managerial ranks through the clothing, wireless communications, consumer electronics and now photographic industries. Looking at his bio, it makes sense that he once worked at Prada and The Gap, as he still manages to pull off stylish, despite wearing the standard issue Adorama duds.

And then, of course, there’s the big guy, Jeff Snyder. I shot this picture of him down in North Carolina, and it’s pretty good, so he uses it as his Twitter pic. I haven’t had the heart to tell him that I only shot it because I was bored with the lighthouse I was looking at that morning. Now he knows:-)

Seriously, Jeff and I have been buds a long time, and my business followed him from Penn Camera to Adorama. Remember I said when you find good guys, you stick with them? He’s a fine shooter who’s out there in the trenches with us, so his camera advice is sound and grounded in reality. And his jokes aren’t bad, either.

Good jokes, good guys, and good camera advice. What’s not to like?  More tk….

TTL in Dubai

Mar 8

In In The Field at 10:09pm

Enjoying Dubai, as always. Mohamed Somji and Hala Salhi always put on a class act of a photo program in this wild city. Today was the last day of a four day lighting bootcamp I taught here at Gulf Plus Photo, 2012. The group of instructors here is just a marvel of photographic diversity and experience. I could sit and listen to the wit and wisdom of the likes of Greg Heisler, David Burnett, Zack Arias and the whole group of shooters here literally all day. This has always been a “pass it on” industry, and one of the wonderful givebacks for me has been watching our young guys at the studio, Drew Gurian and Mike Cali, soak all this up. Drew has been a regular here now for three or so years, and this trip, a first for Cali, was his Christmas gift from the studio. I can see them just soaking all of this stuff in.

(Typical exchange: I was telling Greg about Drew shooting an impromptu head shot of the legendary and formidable John Loengard of LIFE magazine. John just needed an updated photo, and Drew, making conversation with John, inquired as to who shot John’s last head shot. “Eisenstadt,” Loengard airily replied. Drew of course at camera tried to suppress the onset of the shakes. Greg laughed and said to Drew, “Whoa, Eisenstadt, huh? Those are little shoes to fill!”)

Ah, the diminutive Eisie. Small in stature, huge in talent.

I had a great group of folks in my class, and we had a lot of fun pushing lights around in the sand and the intense sun of the Middle East. High speed sync, anyone?

Our last location today was a marble and tile manufacturing plant, and, much like New York City, you could definitely see the air you were breathing. By the time I left, I felt like Pig Pen. But it had, as they say, character, which made weathering the dust storm very worth it. Most reasonable people look at a place like this and go, “Yuck!” We as photogs charge in with a mad gleam in our eyes shouting, “This place is fantastic!”

Whenever I teach, I try to find even a brief time to shoot. Win, lose or draw, I just feel better getting my eye into a camera, even for the briefest of encounters. (And honestly, if you’ve survived in this business for any degree of time, you are no stranger to fast photo sessions.) But, shooting and continuing to breathe are closely aligned activities for me, so I always try to conjure something. At the end of the class today, when the bus was being packed, I asked the lovely Samar to step into an ancient bay that is often filled with tiles, but today, was completely empty.

This is a pretty typical situation for me to rely on TTL. I used a rotating tri-flash attachment with three SB900 units firing into a Lastolite 8 in 1 umbrella, which is a super simple light shaper I’ve come to really like. You can pull a center window out of the middle of the umbrella in shoot through mode, which produces a controlled light flow that is damn close to a soft box. Last thing I wanted was light to leak sideways onto these wall, and light them up with flash. It was important they stay looking like they’re being hit with only daylight. Hence the corralled but soft quality of light from the 8 in 1 was perfect for this situation.

Scoped around on aperture priority, and decided minus one EV worked. Had Cali suspend the umbrella just out of frame, and directly over her face, with a paint pole. Three units, all with dome diffusers, all in group A, all running at minus 2.3 EV. Cloudy balance, tweaked to A4. No gels. Hand held D3X, ISO200, manual focus. 14-24mm lens at f4.5 at 1/4 second. 16mm lens throw. Was lucky with the color and flow of the dress. First frame, at 5:10:45. Last, 5:14:05.

Even a couple minutes behind the camera can make you feel better. More tk….

Going to Saint Lucia in the Fall

Mar 4

In Seminars & Workshops, Upcoming Events at 10:39pm

Heading to St. Lucia again, and the Anse Chastenet/Jade Mountain Resort to teach advanced lighting techniques. We start on Sunday, Sept. 30th, with an introductory dinner and then, beginning Monday morning, run for five straight days of working with light in one of the most beautiful places on earth. We build in time to relax and explore as well.  Here’s a link for the special events section on the hotel website. Just hit it, and scroll down. It has the day to day schedule, and all the hotel info.

We work with all manner of small flash techniques, from high speed flash to multiple speed light interiors. Balancing indoor/outdoor scenarios with flash, working with gels, line of sight TTL and manual radio syncing all gets covered, as does–available light! The week is dedicated to recognizing good light when you see it, using it well, and then augmenting it with small speed lights as appropriate. Hard light, soft light, and all manner of light shapers are discussed.

It’s one of my favorite places on earth, so much so, the ever gracious owners of the resort, which consistently ranks among the top resorts in the world, commissioned my studio last year to shoot a book about the place. Nick and Karolin Troubetzkoy carved out a piece of heaven in the splendor of the Caribbean, and the pictorial inspiration there is infinite. No matter how many times I go, I find something new to shoot.

Stay tuned to the blog for updates. This year, all participants get a free Language of Light DVD and a free copy of Sketching Light for attending the workshop. Already looking forward….more tk….