About Me

Wells, BC, Canada
Richard is a working photographer and writer in B.C. His camera focuses on natural history. archeology, travel, and documentary photography. His photography blog may be found at: http://richardtwright.blogspot.com/

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Joe McNally Vancouver lighting workshop

Joe McNally took my photo!

Joe McNally is one of the top photographers in the world, likely in the top ten. He has been a National Geographic and Life staffer and a contract photographer for Sports Illustrated, basically the top three magazines in North America.
McNally is known for many classic photos, from his shot atop the Empire State building for NG to his life-sized portraits of 9/11 survivors on the world’s largest Polaroid. But if McNally is know for one thing beyond stunning, evocative, remarkable photos, it is his use of small flash or strobes.  He is a master. His courses are much sought after by amateur and professional photographers alike.

Joe McNally teaching in Vancouver. Photo by Amy Newman on P7100.

So, when I heard he was offering a couple of courses at Vancouver Photo Workshops just after the New Year, when I was already at the coast, I jumped at the opportunity, and on Jan 8th Amy and I attended his “Location Lighting for Photographers”, a one-day seminar.
“What will his presentation be like?” was Amy’s first question, and within five minutes we knew – fantastic, inspiring, practical.  He is a great presenter, humorous and engaging while presenting a metric tonne of information. 
“This is Sunday,” Joe observed, “We should all be in church.”
“This IS church,” said a voice from the back. Such is the esteem for McNally's work.
“We will talk about light as language," he said. “I have taken far more bad pictures than good. But this photography is a day-to-day mystery unfolding before us and I am so fortunate to be involved in it. We are going to talk about enhancing light, rather than just recording light,” he said. And so we did.

 He started with the usual one flash, on camera and moved to multiple flashes in a studio setting, always building on the basic one light; adding reflectors, more flashes, another reflector, managing the flash output and the camera aperture and shutter speed.  In the course of the day he also presented two slide shows and many examples of how he works. And along the way he told a few stories of his life as a photographer and his philosophy of shooting.
As he shot, his photos came up on two large screens. His Nikon cameras were tethered to his Mac Pro with Nikon Camera Control Pro 2. For those who are not familiar with tethering it is a means of connecting a camera to a computer via an HDMI cable. With Camera Control 2 you can then see your cameras image on the laptop screen, and operate all the camera controls from your laptop. New models such as the Nikon D4 are moving this tethering into the ethernet and wireless realm. The laptop was then further tethered to two digital projectors

Now it has been said by folks like Ken Rockwell that Nikon Software is buggy. I don't always agree with Rockwell, but certainly when I use Camera Control 2 for my mast or remote photography I often find that the viewer program crashes and is difficult to get back up.  It was somewhat comforting to see that McNally had similar problems. At least three times the Nikon rep had to run up and get the program rebooted. If only we could take him with us.
I had a quick opportunity to talk to Joe, greeting him where men often meet at seminars, in the room of tile and porcelain fixtures. Amy and I were sitting in the front row of the auditorium, determined not to miss a word. So for one of those reasons when Joe was looking for a “model” to illustrate an academic researcher he chose the “man with the goatee.” All I had to do was stare at a computer screen with two others. “Look skeptical. Look evil.” I failed. 
Three "researchers" taking direction from McNally. Amy Newman photo on Nikon P7100.

Shot after shot. I was sure he was going to replace me, and my career as a model would be over. Then he said, “Look surprised!” I gave it everything I had and because I was so much better than bad I got a round of applause from the audience as the resulting photo came up on the big screen.  As Amy noted, “Joe, you chose the theatre producer not the actor.”  I was excused with a smile.

Success at last!. We are lit with a flash bounced off the computer screen,
a snoot on the Apple logo and a couple of side lights with a flash with a green gel against
a white backdrop.  Richard Wright photo of a Joe McNally photo.

During these photo shoots it was clear that McNally is a great director, working seamlessly with his assistants and the models to gradually paint the photo he had in mind, or one he discovers along the way.And that, he said, is the photographers job, to manage the shoot for the client or to manage to get the photo that is in your mind.
In the end he reminded us that a great photographer once said that “a camera is like a toothbrush – it gets the job done.” It is up to the photographer to get the photo.

At the end of the day we were both exhausted from brain overload, but anxious to continue using flash in more creative ways, helped on our journey by Joe McNally.

If you have the opportunity to take one of McNally's seminars, or better yet a weekend long workshop, jump in. You won't be sorry. Check out his website for other inspiring photos.

Joe McNally’s blog is linked on the side bar.
Other photo courses can be found at:

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the post and the shoots I was the other guy in the shot .