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It’s Still Raining….

Jun 25

In In The Field at 5:26am

I’m starting to think there actually is something to my weather jones. I’m in Cape Town, South Africa, and there is wind and weather here. It’s gotten to the point a local photog messaged me on Twitter, asking me plaintively to leave. I think he might have been serious. But, the silver lining in all those scudding, dark clouds up there is of course the soft light, which is forgiving and wonderful. These young ladies in the Langa Township passed the wet, cold day in conversation, which I was able to observe in simple fashion. It may sound nonsensical, but I have always felt a wonderful quietude and simplicity to observing light on a somber, rainy day. (We start tomorrow, here in Cape Town, by the way. All day seminar, all small flash, at the Cape Town Convention Center. Here’s the link.)

I’ve had a bunch of rainy day shoots of late. Shooting with one camera and no lights today, I harked back to a recent, soggy shoot in Beijing, which was not simple, and did not start quietly. The Chinese are wonderfully gregarious people, and even though my lack of expertise in Mandarin precludes me from joining the conversation, I do enjoy witnessing the energy of it. For instance, loading the gear into the van in the mist of the morning at the hotel always seemed to spark lengthy and lively debate amongst the assistant, the bellman, my interpreter, and honestly, whoever else seemed to be around. Having seen this movie, I generally watched from afar and did not do any loading, because I have learned that whatever I picked up I invariably put down in the wrong place.

This behavior, I think, supersedes culture and gets to the heart of being male. If it can be packed, stacked, loaded, or barbecued, every guy out there feels he can do it better than the next.

Off to the Summer Palace, driving through the rain and the mist. The folks who have organized this terrific shoot naturally fretted about the results, and wanted Beijing to look good at all moments. Thus the weather, which bothered me not at all, was a disappointment. One of the individuals who accompanied us was terribly upset about the rain, and the traffic, and other things, and she lamented this so fiercely, and incessantly, in a staccato, vocal drumbeat, that being in the van all of a sudden felt like being in an intense hailstorm. I mean, I had twenty or so folks on my hands, bad weather, the prospect of setting up lights on a wet boat on a lake, and I was trying to think my way into the job, and the distressed frequency and pitch of this lady’s voice made it feel like my fillings were going to spontaneously drop out of my molars.

I turned to Li, my incredibly decent and energetic interpreter, fixed him with a stare and told him to tell her to stop talking. His looked at me with a measure of alarm, but he did it.

And that was that. Score one for Joe on the international relations front.

The assistants and I are got along great, however. Ke and Yang helped me out tremendously, though the start of that week was a touch on the rough side, for sure. We couldn’t communicate, and they knew precisely zip about lights and stands. There were some adventures, like putting the top end of a c-stand riser into the turtle base, with predictably unstable results, and the unfortunate intersection of my head with a set weight (my fault, really) but we got through it.

Ke (hanging onto the light, above) became a happening dude, and got on top of clamps, speed lights, and the conduct of the super boom. We had a monosyllabic relationship, but he’s a really decent, hard working guy, and now that our week was done, he will be a boon to any visiting photog. Yang is great at pushing the equipment cart, and then retreats to texting. I’m was thinking of telling him if he wants to make it in this business, he’s gotta get a less insistent girlfriend, but I don’t know him that well, that would have been overly familiar on my part. 

The Summer Palace, where the Empress Dowager Cixi reigned supreme, is a magnificent, sprawling place, and very close to the heart of all that is China. In the am, arrangements were made for about a 50′ boat, thankfully with a roof, that became our shooting platform. It was a good way of getting around the huge estate, and accessing views of the temples and bridges, out there in the mist.

The models were all troopers, in the cold and wet, as were the designers, shepherding their ornately precious gowns across wet decks and lightly pelting rain. The gowns from Bo Tao, Rose Studios, and NE Tiger were routinely amazing. 

I tried a beauty dish for a while, but no go. The quality of the light was too sharp a feel to drop into the ghostly wash of the cool ambient daylight. So, improbably, we went with a 59″ Octa, tightened down on the super boom, and then roped off to the bow of the boat. I told the boat driver to go very easy on the gas, and just glide the craft along the still water, otherwise our soft box might go sleeping with da fishes. 

We also experimented with small flash boomed off the boat by the intrepid Ke. One SB-910, for instance, into a 24″ Lastolite Ezybox.

And later, on land, with a big, soft, shoot thru umbrella, here placed off to camera left and outside the long hall. It simply acts as a really big fill flash, just opening some detail, and barely perceptible, relative to an available light pic.

That rainy day involved a couple of vans, about 20 people, permits, lights, stands, hair, makeup, models and a boat. So far, here in Cape Town, the clouds have prompted a more simple approach. Available door light, and beer with the guys.

More tk…




Kevin Russo says:

on June 25, 2013 at 6:01 am

“Shooting with one camera and no lights today” I think I am going to faint. Joe McNally and no lights?

As always wonderful beautiful work.

You are truly inspiring. Thanks.

Michael Anthony Murphy says:

on June 25, 2013 at 8:50 am

I believe I will start a website called …
Damn it Joe, you make it difficult to avoid being envious.

Bravo sir. As usual.


Jurgen says:

on June 25, 2013 at 9:40 am

Hi Joe,

Welcome to Cape Town. Yes, it is raining here. It is what we call winter, and the Europeans summer. As a matter of fact, it is warmer here today than where I come from in Germany.

It is supposed to get better this week, though.
All the best for the workshop. It is great to have you here. Remember, to pack in Mr. Hobby the next time as well.


Andy says:

on June 25, 2013 at 10:26 am

Hi Joe. The local photog wasn’t serious :) Awesome to have you here.

Joe McNally says:

on June 25, 2013 at 10:56 am

Great to be here, thanks for the note….joe

David Smith says:

on June 25, 2013 at 12:41 pm


Thank you so much for making the journey to our far shores, and sharing your time with us in Cape Town. The sharing of your passion and knowledge are worth more than words can describe, and I really learnt much from today.

Looking forward to another rainy day that I can spend watching the DVD and putting into practise some if the gems I picked up.

Everything of the best & hoping you get in some R&R too!

Best wishes, and thanks, David

Tim Hague says:

on June 25, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Joe, thanks for the workshop – all I can say is “awesome” – I’ve been to so many before, but it is so refreshing to see someone that really knows his tools at work. With humour (GF lightdome anyone?).

As to the weather – this is the Cape – it’s what it does this time of year, but since you’re off to Jo’burg tomorrow, Thursday will be sunny, warm and calm. Seriously.

Best Regards and thanks for a great day.


Vic Peek says:

on June 25, 2013 at 4:43 pm

I lived in Korea/Japan for 18 months back in the late 1960′ – sure wish I could go back and photograp the people and landscapes. Wrong time of the year to be in that neck of the world Joe – its usually wet and gloomy.

John A. says:

on June 26, 2013 at 8:30 am

Hope you get to see a few sites while you’re there Joe! SA has some beautiful scenery and people! Love the shots you took in China!

ARCpoint Labs of Kalamazoo says:

on June 26, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Perfect lighting and fabulous pictures. Thanks for sharing.

Marcus Jooste says:

on June 27, 2013 at 12:48 am

Hi Joe..
Thank you for the fantastic workshop in Cape Town! a wonderful day of learning creativity and humour!!
Off to NY today (was hoping to escape the wet here – but rain forecasted there too!!)
Thanks for your generosity – signing stuff – giving away books and most of all knowledge.

Wessel Wessels says:

on June 28, 2013 at 12:42 am

Hello Joe, thanks again for the wonderful day that we could spend with you. You make it looks so easy!

I was wondering, would it be possible to link a video camera ( or small camera on live view? ) to you projector? For folks new to TTL and lots of small lights, it can became very intimidating. That’s half the reason why they came,for clarification. If you can show them on the big screen, how straightforward the settings are, how quickly it can be done, it would help them to jump in and do it.

Do come back in February and March, the best weather ever!



dbennett2 says:

on June 28, 2013 at 2:09 am

Yes! Finally something about juegos locos.

Arne Purves says:

on June 29, 2013 at 4:54 am

Hi Joe,

Huge thanks for a great workshop and the many anecdotes that you shared so freely. Really inspiring stuff. Enjoying the book and have started my own little project to shoot family portraits based on some of the lessons learnt in your workshop.
Small little $$ outlay for a master flash (canon 580exii 2nd hand) and some no name brand lightboxes, umbrellas, reflectors and light shapers and light stands. So am good to go.

Hope u enjoyed South Africa, especially Cape Town.


Alan hess says:

on June 30, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Capetown is an amazing place.
I spent the first 12 years of my life there……

Photos are amazing as usual.

Weather curse.. What weather curse… ( please let me know before you head to Southern California so I can stock up on sand bags) just in case…

Earnie Grafton says:

on June 30, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Rain? You? I’m not saying a word….

ChasVS says:

on July 2, 2013 at 11:06 am

Could have sworn you were here in Tampa, fl. It’s been raining all week!

You’re the one guy who can come here and have freezing temps! But we do love it when you come for a visit and teach!

Joe Aragon says:

on July 4, 2013 at 12:24 am

Joe, come to Phoenix, please. We could use the rain. Some stunning imagery of our desert oasis would be a huge benefit too. Your China images are magnificent, to say the least. I would love to see something similar, with a Suguaro and the rainy mist, in the vista behind. You truly know how to rock in any setting. Thanks for sharing.

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