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

Dropped Dead Ducks

Aug 1

In Fun, Lighting at 6:46am

Just back from Asia for a stint, and I have to say it was a complete honor teaching and working alongside Zack Arias. He explains his minimalist style and approach so clearly and well, and it’s pretty terrific watching him in action. I have to say his theories and practices with “one only” style of lighting influenced me greatly, not only in my photography, but in other areas of my life as well.

For instance the paintball arena. Below is kind of a “one light” approach I used for paintball. Okay, call it “one shot.”

I really kind of felt bad about it afterwards. I mean, I didn’t mean to hit him in the face. I was actually shooting his direction just to distract him, seeing as he was launching paintballs at my daughter Claire. Turns out she really didn’t need my help, as she was smarter, smaller, faster and more agile than the rest of the hulking, testosterone fueled males she was out there in the jungle with, all of us near keening in our desire to just splatter somebody.

Creative Asia was a wonderful gathering, and I was very proud once again to be included alongside friends and colleagues like Louis Pang, Zack and Michael Greenberg. Zack and I traveled on from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur, where we taught big seminar days together, as well as individual classes. We were located at Taylor University in KL, which had this weird, checkerboard type of Astro-turf quad out there in the middle of the campus. It was so odd, I took the class out there into the microwave oven of midday Malaysia in July to experiment with line of sight TTL transmission in bright conditions, and also high speed sync for small flash. We were accompanied by the resolutely beautiful Evon Tan, who it has been my pleasure to work with on several occasions.

It being as harshly lit and hot as the inside of an incandescent bulb, I naturally asked Evon to start jumping.

She did this listless, sort of puppet with cut strings hop into the air, and I, gracious as ever, excoriated her from a distance. (I was shooting a 70-200mm from a balcony.) I shouted something like, “Hey Evon, could you put a little effort into it? Like, you know, that looked somebody dropped a dead duck from a third story window, you know?” Or words to that effect. Evon and I have worked together before, as I’ve noted. She responded righteously and vigorously, answering my call. Effectively, the big dipshit from the States was trying to get an Asian super model to act like a high school cheerleader from Kansas.

Showing the very few frames I shot later, the consensus was that the dropped dead duck frame worked and the rest of my offerings were garbage. Drew actually led the charge on that. Back at the studio, Cali confirmed that the above was the most interesting frame. I looked at them, perhaps being a bit sensitive to the recent passing of a birthday, and asked if this was a generational thing. No, no, I was assured. This was nothing like their collective disapproval of the tan socks I relentlessly wear with half boots, the Jesus sandals I have a penchant for stumbling about in, the fact that I like Joni Mitchell, or my tendency to use gels on my lights in a style that disappeared with pet rocks.

Anyway, the class had some questions about line of sight transmission working in bright light, which we resolved pretty well. (It worked, from about 100′ away.)

Finals on the select were 1/500 @f16, ISO 100, lens zoomed at 140. The three flashes were arrayed on a Lastolite rotating tri-flash, which enabled me to orient the light sensor panels in one collective direction. Given the bright conditions, I sent the flashes a signal to go manual, full power, wanting a lot of DOF to keep the weirdness of the grid sharp. Now, could you do this with a flash pop from a single bigger light? Of course. I’ve done that more times than I can remember. Could you use a medium format system with a leaf shutter to gain access to higher shutter speeds? Of course. But, we were teaching speed lights, and this is the gear I had, and the blazing sun was the hand we were dealt.

At another location, late in the day, down in Chinatown, I borrowed Zack’s Paul Buff light and put it across the street with a gel, and lit a restaurant Evon and I had frequented before. One light, far away.

As I always say, ya gotta love a lady with a cleaver! More tk…

jk says:

on August 1, 2012 at 6:56 am

Very nice post as always Joe! Love the idea of punch a light across the street, very cool.
Cheers jkb.

Is this a Lasto’-McNally Triflash bracket in Photo nr. 3? Just wondering…

Alan MacRae says:

on August 1, 2012 at 7:17 am

Great post Joe! Your blog never disappoints and always fuels my desire to go out and work to improve my images. Great to see you in Montreal last month. Thank you!

Andor says:

on August 1, 2012 at 7:20 am

Cool shots (in all meaning :-D) again, Joe – thanks for sharing!

Karen B says:

on August 1, 2012 at 7:29 am

Such an enjoyable post! I recently watched a challenge for Zack Arias that involved a Dig. Rev camera triggering an external flash in Hong Kong. Zack produced some great shots with his tenacity and “people” skills. You folks are clearly enjoying your work ~ and your followers clearly appreciate that you’re sharing it!

Jim says:

on August 1, 2012 at 7:33 am

I like the idea of “one light far away,” as you also showed in your “Hotshoe Diaries” book. I’ll have to try it out sooner than later and see how it works for me (and my Sony equipment). Thanks for the humorous and informative post!

Martin says:

on August 1, 2012 at 8:04 am

Zack rocks, and so do you. When I’m feeling artistically challenged, I reach for your books.

Hugo Carlone says:

on August 1, 2012 at 8:36 am

Zack’s headshot is cool :-)
Nice post by the way! It’s amazing how simple and ordinary locations can deliver such a great results in composition and scenery.
Thanks for sharing!

JerseyStyle Photography says:

on August 1, 2012 at 9:01 am

Joe, the correct term is “Jesus Cruisers” rather that Jesus sandals. And they do give you interesting tan lines. At least you’re not rockin’ flip flops, the Uggs of Summer.

Welcome home! ~ Mark

Vicki says:

on August 1, 2012 at 9:21 am

You indicate one of your settings being 1/500. How can you do this with flash? Thought the highest was 1/250 with flash. Please explain. Thanks!!

Joe McNally says:

on August 1, 2012 at 10:10 am

Its a technique called high speed sync, Vicki. Little much to explain here, but the flash and camera can work together up to 1/8000th of a second…Joe

Pete Tsai says:

on August 1, 2012 at 10:16 am

I hope they fed you well out there in Asia for your birthday! I have to agree with Drew on this one, she has a more funky fashion leap that just works.

Hugo Fonseca says:

on August 1, 2012 at 11:39 am

Always look forward to your posts. I’m heading out to check Arias’ work right now…

Russ Gelardi says:

on August 1, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Just caught the Manfrotto talk… loved it, saw lots of stuff I haven’t seen before, plus great tips. Remember, say bye, turn switch off.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, and thanks for all you do.

don says:

on August 1, 2012 at 3:28 pm

That’s an impressive vertical leap by Evon! But the cleaver in her hand gets my attention even more!

“Light me right, or else…”

Vicki says:

on August 1, 2012 at 5:35 pm

LOL… It sounded simple enough about the high speed sync. My next move was to give my buddy, Sharlie, a call. She found the instructions on page 300. :-) Just when you think you know it all. LOLOLOL!! Just kidding.

Analia says:

on August 1, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Hi Joe,

Enjoyed your post and the chinnanigans of your recent adventures :)

Quick question, the one light far away with the Paul Buff, is this for light spread? Mimick afternoon sun? Noticed the tri grip in there for the final softening touch.


Analia from Oz

Joe McNally says:

on August 1, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Yep Analia…you nailed it…

George Aubrey says:

on August 1, 2012 at 7:53 pm

My first reaction was that you were a little close to the cleaver but then realized you were shooting wide. You gotta be careful. Great post.


Matt Smith says:

on August 2, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Good stuff as always. I really hope you and Z team up again, I’d love to attend a seminar.

Donfer says:

on August 5, 2012 at 6:21 pm

i think i much try to take photo for a lady with a cleaver :)

Jerome Yeats says:

on August 5, 2012 at 9:21 pm

This is a private post and I do not expect it to go live on the comments but the shots with the Chinese girl don’t work. You are a good photographer but the shots with the girl and the cleaver don’t read at all and your editors at “Life” would have rejected them. She is a sexy model but
(a) the shots are not well lit at all (b) she does not look either sexy or menacing, and (c) the cleaver looks like a rectangle of black cardboard. Would we have known it was a cleaver unless you told us. Where is the light flashing off the metal? The shot should have been wide angle with the cleaver very threatening. And you need to light the background. You have a good reputation and can take good images (mostly) but if you are honest with yourself you know you should never have posted these. The fanboys will applaud anything with the Mcnally brand but these shots are bad misses. Sorry Regards Jerome Yeats

Leave a Reply