Bus_Rider_Mexico_NS306AGirl_in_Doorway_NS307AIronman_Underwater_newAMcNally_283_G_v3 copyA copyRwanda-Pano_NS026.tif
responsiveslider_lol_02 The Language of Light DVD - More
MeetJoe_02 Meet Joe McNally - More
inthebag What’s in the Bag? - More

Santa Fe, First Day

Mar 16

In Lighting at 8:35am


Got a good class here in Santa Fe. We started rocking and rolling yesterday, just examining light shaping tools, exposure differences, control of light, both with big and small flash. As I said during the day, we shoulda all been arrested, ’cause we were having too much damned fun. Professional boxer Clara de la Torre came in to be our demo model. It was cool. We did some pretty simple, straightforward umbrella stuff, and then decided to head in the direction of bad ass light.


I’ve messed around with this type of light before, which is pretty ideal for athletic bodies. Thing is, I mostly have done it with small flash. For this, we kinda went gaga, and mixed 3 different light sources. The main overhead is an Elinchrom Ranger plugged into a beauty dish. It is, as you see, table topped over Clara, coming right down on her, shading her eyes, making her look like she belongs in the movie poster for Goodfellas. Then in the background, we got identical strip lights going, both running off Quadra packs and heads. Right down at her knees are two SB900 units, banging into a silver Lastolite reflector sheet. Then, in front of her, and low, is another SB900, zoomed to 200mm to tighten the light spill, and further concentrated by a Honl 1/8th inch grid. On top of the grid I layered some gaffer tape, to cut the light down to a super specific spot, i.e., Clara’s eyes. Then of course I drove Dustin and Sarah, the studio assistants, completely nuts by having them edge down the spill of the beauty dish with hand held tri-grip solids. As you can see, they took that puppy down to basically a sliver of light. Sarah’s side is more completely flagged. Dustin kinda screwed his side up:-)

Then, I opened that Pandora’s Box known as Photoshop, which to me is like a large, ornate mansion with about 75 rooms and 15 bathrooms. I’m standing in the lobby, looking for luggage assistance. But, here’s the great thing about the internet. I hit one of my stored Strobist links and voila! I got a path to follow in PS. DH has a detailed high pass layer deal in there that is simple but pretty cool. Naturally, like a kid with a new toy, I went Nike on the file, and got the top result. The file outta the camera is below, after dropping a black point. Of course in the original file, there’s my Honl grid, poking into the bottom edge. Didn’t bother me too much, it being in a dark area. Rather have the light where I want it in this instance, than pull back and lose some of the snap and concentration in the face.


Did I overdo it? Dunno? I’d love to hear if you love it/hate it. The light of course, was what I was after during the demo. Really liked the feel of the strips. Nice and smooth for the rim. Did this on previous occasions with mutliple small flashes serving as the backlight, triggered again by an overhead beauty dish. Got the below, which is nice, but as you can see, the rim light effect is a touch more splashy and uneven, due to the smaller sources.


This is also done without the benefit of the low, frontal, gridded SB unit, hence really nothing in the eyes. This is Aaron, who’s been on the blog before and  is a supremely capable athlete. This iteration of this style light was just about attitude and physicality, and not dedicated to seeing eyes and facial detail.  More tk….

92 Responses to “Santa Fe, First Day”

Phat Photographer says:

on March 16, 2010 at 7:53 pm

Wow – the grid on the face adds a lot. I’m pretty sure I would want to avoid bumping into either of these athletes in a dark alley.

Mark Spomer says:

on March 16, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Two words… Bad Ass. Dustin-wtf? Just kidding. Very powerful. I truly enjoy learning from your work. Thanks :D

Simon Fleming says:

on March 16, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Love your work Joe – always inspiring. In fact you’ve inspired me to try something similar with a bunch of portraits for a local football team I’m about to shoot, all be it with a little less lighting power & experience. Just think it might give them something a bit different to the usual safe/soft portraits they’ve had in previous years.

Thanks, Simon

Ken Toney says:

on March 16, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Joe, why not consider a class on this type of lighting to go with the others on kelbytraining?

Geoff says:

on March 16, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Great post Joe.
I’m curious about the source of the highlights under her nose. Is that from the gridded sb900?
Also I’d love to see a larger version of your setup shot. But lovely processing. I dig it.

Tony says:

on March 16, 2010 at 10:36 pm

Whats with the black arms? I guess she’s wearing something…? hard to see from here.

NoName says:

on March 17, 2010 at 2:48 am

Last one is a bit too artificial – like climbing a mountain.
Prefer the first one.

macg says:

on March 17, 2010 at 4:23 am

If you would shoot a dog shit on a sidewalk, I would hang it on my wall…
The side side of it is – it doesn’t screem Joe McNally…
Maybe highlighs are a bit over the top…
Maybe it’s asking for an HDR background?

Xavier Wallach says:

on March 17, 2010 at 4:58 am

I wish you came to France one day. How about a workshop in Paris?

Another great shot. The picture of your setting is very helpful, but I like your lighting drawings even more. I miss the “Mumnuts” on the pic…

Howard Haby says:

on March 17, 2010 at 6:16 am

Great job Joe, didn’t over do it at all in my opinion. The models do look bad-ass.

Kevin Sheehan says:

on March 17, 2010 at 7:50 am

Definately like it, great picture, I am doing some sports pictures soon and inspired me to have a go a getting something similar.

Carlos R. Dueñas says:

on March 17, 2010 at 8:27 am

Its great to have your newsletter, its very inspiring to open my mail and find this wonderfull masterclasses. Thanks.
By the way, great shots.. Excelente!

John says:

on March 17, 2010 at 8:45 am

You definitely didn’t overdue it. The photo is awesome!

John says:

on March 17, 2010 at 9:25 am

Personally, I’m a bit disappointed. Technical virtuosity — sure enough. But what are the images saying to us? Do I think that they would make great posters on some young teenager’s wall — sure enough. As Duchemin said, it’s about the vision not the gear. Is our gear now just SB900 speedlights and Rangers, and this is what we are glorifying? What is Joe trying to say? What is revealed about the subjects? Or are these just pretty posters on some teenagers wall?

c.d.embrey says:

on March 17, 2010 at 10:08 am

Not badass lighting, just bad lighting. Fifty years from now people will look back and ask “what were they thinking?”

George Paganini says:

on March 17, 2010 at 11:32 am

I like both the shots but what I think is the most important thing is what she thought and which one she felt was a true expression of her

Richard says:

on March 17, 2010 at 12:00 pm

I am learning everyday from you sir it is a pleasure to once again view one of your photo’s it not over done.. I love your books as well. I also wish you could take some time and make a few more video’s that way I can watch them over and over as i have done with the last one you did. I think I have watched it now about 60 times.Thanks.. Really enjoy your work…

Eric Politzer says:

on March 17, 2010 at 12:10 pm

awesome shots. so jealous of the folks in the workshop! still mulling over stuff learned at last year’s workshop. btw, is that one of the Avett Brothers assisting with the reflector?

@davidmonnerat says:

on March 17, 2010 at 1:58 pm

the lighting is great, but i think the lighting and the subject both lend themselves to the sharpened version for me. gives it a bit more edge.

bizior photography says:

on March 17, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Absolutely love it! I remember Aaron from Dobbs Ferry workshops – it was very cold and we got only 1 shot per person ‘coz Aaron was freezing – at least that what Lynn thought :)
Fantastic picture straight off the camera – you’re the master of light!
ooh btw: strobist site is down today – did you do it Joe? :D

Bryn says:

on March 17, 2010 at 9:15 pm

The more I look at the two shots (and I prefer the second one) the more that two things become very apparent.

Firsly is the skin tone around the elbows on the female shot. It looks like a bit more front fill is needed in these areas as the skin tones feel discontinous around here.

And secondly, in both shots I think you can lose 50% of the black space above the head in each. Feels a little strange compositionally in both shots. Gives the appearance that the subject is falling through the bottom of the frame or being oppressed by the heavy top weight of black space. In both cases it makes the subject more diminutive and detracts from the facial expression as a focal point as you mentioned you were trying to emphasise.

AlexJB says:

on March 18, 2010 at 12:36 am

Super powerful images! I’m curious to know about your camera settings as well – did you intentionally go for a deeper depth of field, or shallow?

I agree that there is a bit of a color tone issue on her arms (that doesn’t necessarily appear on his); not sure what that’s about.

Also, how many images did you shoot overall through the day?

Yazeed says:

on March 18, 2010 at 1:27 am

Wicked , Just Wicked :)

viscara says:

on March 18, 2010 at 3:16 am

Joe good job but man your getting a bit sloppy there or in a rush that left side shoulder is a bit blown out… Maybe you were in a rush or something… Subject had 5 min for you to do your job or something.. Love the blog and I am just giving you a bit of hard time… “The old days of Chrome” you would have lost that whole shoulder..

David duChemin says:

on March 18, 2010 at 9:11 am

@John (March 17, 9:25am) – I’m a little late to this conversation, just walked in the door from Seattle. Was amused to see my name here, so thought I’d reply. I agree with your sentiments, but you also have to keep in mind a couple things: the first is that Joe probably does too. Joe wrote the forward to my first book and while he can geek out with the best of them, Joe is first a storyteller and if you put him in the middle of something with only a camera and a lens, or you give him a truck full of SB-900s, he will look first for the moment and the heart of the story in the way he always has.

The second is more relevant. This was shot in a workshop setting. He lights, because that’s what he’s teaching, he shoots a couple frames, he lets others do the same and moves on. So in this context, Joe isn’t discovering and expressing vision in the same way. He’s teaching. And what he’s teaching is one piece of the visual language his students will later move on to combine with others.

In the end this is just a portrait with some cool lights. That’s all it was meant to be. Give Joe time to create something that he’s passionate about, and in a context where his job is to be a photographer creating his own work and not a teacher focused on his students, and his work would be different. Joe is a gifted photographer and a gifted teacher and the gifted teacher knows it’s not his job while teaching to express his vision but instead to help his handful of students learn the tools to find and express theirs.

A blog is a funny beast, you have to be transparent and so you put stuff up to say here’s what’s going on, not to showcase your best work. That’s part of what makes Joe’s voice unique in the photography community, he doesn’t shy from showing stuff he might not show otherwise, in hopes that we can all learn and stay connected.

Anyways, wow, I just wanted to chime in and it turned into a sermon. Sorry about that. Short version, Joe gets it, he knows it’s not about the gear, but teaching contexts like this, and especially the blog, can make it seem otherwise.

Side note, Joe: I noticed you replaced the image. :-) The first one I saw had a light in the frame at crotch level. Glad you decided to clone that baby out :-) Fancy lighting or none, I’m pretty sure your intention (vision) for the image was not to document the growing problem of boxers with a case of crotch-light.

joe mcnally says:

on March 18, 2010 at 9:22 am

Hey David! many thanks for your comments…. .eloquent as always.

Oh, and I light crotches with the best of ‘em!


Matt Hunt says:

on March 18, 2010 at 3:13 pm

I like the lighting approach (and thanks, as ever, for sharing), IMVHO there is a bit too much space over the boxer’s head, and the sweat beads on her face are too sharpened (is that a phrase??)for my taste. Actually, staring some more at these pictures I think I prefer the lower of the two – the slightly darker face encourages me to look longer and engage with the subject, look around her more. Tx, Matt.

rososusilo says:

on March 18, 2010 at 6:12 pm

nice, I really appreciate your work

Matt Timmons says:

on March 19, 2010 at 1:00 am

Oh man I’m laughing, what is this now- “Teach Poor Joe How to Shoot” blog or something?

Joe, if your cats could comment here, what would they say?

David Pace says:

on March 19, 2010 at 10:03 am

Joe, enjoyed as usual. Great shots, I prefer the first one also. Keep up the great work.

Tyler Colson says:

on March 19, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Love the work. Thanks for so much detail.

Erin Wilson says:

on March 19, 2010 at 8:25 pm

Just wanted to thank you for the way you photograph women. Dancers, boxers… you always show off their strength. Thank you for doing that.

Ricardo Carreon says:

on March 21, 2010 at 9:22 am


I love using side lighting for highlighting the body features of athletes. This also works great for shooting fine art nudes. I am curious about the reflectors on the top of the boxer, is this to ansure an even rim light?

Thanks in advance and greetings from Sao Paulo.

Werner says:

on March 21, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Hey Joe (sorry, I couldn’t resist). You must be goin 180 mph all the time. Love your work. Allow me one question, thought: Wouldn’t it be easier to achieve that effect with a standard reflector and barnddors instead of the beauty dish?


Kevin Glackmeyer says:

on March 21, 2010 at 7:11 pm

and on the final version there’s quite alot of light flare on the left side (her right)….but wait….this sin’t a “real” shoot for a client right? it was just a quick shoot n go for a clinic right? and the photoshop done on it isn’t anything near as you would turn over to a client as a final image…right?

SunWai Tham says:

on March 22, 2010 at 3:34 am

Hey Joe

Love the 1st shot of Clara … what drama !

Missed your Hot Shoe Diaries Workshop back in K.Lumpur due to a hopelessly long wait-list. Made it for your Let There Be Light Seminar after a 4hrs drive. Went on to read The Hot Shoe Diaries, The Moment It Clicks & subscribed to Kelby Training.
With all that, here’s what I’ve got.
My way of working with flash has been completely overhauled.
Thank you & regards from Malaysia.

Mei Lewis says:

on March 22, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Love the photo! Got both your books too and they’re great.

But… sfter you mentioned editing out the flash from the bottom left the clone becomes really obvious, the two pieces of material with exactly ythe same creases. And I agree with another poster above that the color of the lower arms justr looks wrong. Maybe the reflector was coloring it, or the flashes have different temps?

Nathan Ciurzynski says:

on March 22, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Wow…love the lighting.

Clara de la Torre says:

on March 23, 2010 at 1:41 pm

The picture that I think is a true reflection of me (in answer to George Paganini’s comment)is: both. The original = a true reflection in a portrait sort of way. The PS version = a true reflection in the Pro Boxing “fight poster” (or movie poster) sort of way.

Thanks Joe, and everyone else, for a fun class! I think I enjoyed watching everyone learn about lighting as much as I enjoyed being the model.

walter fantauzzi says:

on June 15, 2010 at 9:31 am

Wow I love this kind of lighting!

wifi direct says:

on December 9, 2012 at 7:17 pm

Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your
point. You obviously know what youre talking about, why waste your intelligence
on just posting videos to your site when you could be giving us something enlightening to read?

Leave a Reply