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”

Ian Pack says:

on March 16, 2010 at 8:40 am

Doesn’t it make you feel kinda inadequate working around these super-fit types. It does me;-)

Mark says:

on March 16, 2010 at 8:41 am

Personally, I like it. Yes, very Nike-like, but as you say, it works for the subject. I also like to see the sheet she’s standing on for the bounce effect. Like a magician revealing the prestige….

Forrest Nicholas says:

on March 16, 2010 at 8:48 am

Love it.

Mike Yip says:

on March 16, 2010 at 8:52 am

Beautiful stuff. The expression of the two talents and your lights just make everything look so perfect.

Ken says:

on March 16, 2010 at 8:57 am


I love this kind of lighting, and want to learn from your wonderful style.

Thanks for help. Love the dramatic effect

Ken in KY

Sarah Kavanaugh says:

on March 16, 2010 at 9:00 am

I like it fine! That’s my vote.

Jeffrey Littlejohns says:

on March 16, 2010 at 9:01 am

I love the look you’ve got going on here. Nice to be able to follow the way you went about lighting. If you’ve overdone it? Well, personally I think you could have gone even further (not to say I don’t like the look as is). Have a look at Tim Tadder’s work if you’re inclined to take it seriously down the bad ass road.

Lewis Coward says:

on March 16, 2010 at 9:10 am

That image of Clara after the edits in PS – the transformation is stunning.. very “metallic”, powerful image. Quite amazed at the final output and would like to see more of these Joe.

CallMeJac says:

on March 16, 2010 at 9:23 am

I don’t know Joe, you made Clara look beautiful and that may some type of infraction of bowing rules ;-) Her eyes really drew me in, so I have to say that I love the bottom shot of her. But is that the top of a SB 900 at the bottom of pix?

Bruno M says:

on March 16, 2010 at 9:25 am

I actually like the PS version a lot. It has edge, it has light and darkness where it needs. Of course the original image was a great place to start with, but that’s where mortals like us need to thrive! The hard light is simply amazing on these athletes! If I could rant just one thing, I would burn the halo of light on the left of the PS version.
Other than that… I envy Nikon 200mm strobists! :)

Ranger 9 says:

on March 16, 2010 at 9:35 am

I take it y’all have seen the new Wheaties Fuel cereal? Instead of a picture of a bowl of cereal, the box fronts carry strong photos of athletes in a very similar style to this… guess it’s an idea whose time has come!

Bryn says:

on March 16, 2010 at 9:39 am

I don’t think the high pass is overcooked but I do think those side banks are maybe a bit hot and could be a bit softer. Joel Grimes’ (www.joelgrimes.com) shots have the kind of feel I’m thinking of.

But I do look the setup a lot either way.

Carl Bergman says:

on March 16, 2010 at 9:42 am

Loving both shots, as usual!

Aaron’s picture appeals to me more personally, but then again – they’re two totally different looks. He’s got the more graphic pose + a lot more negative space to settle into.

I guess you could’ve lowered the hp filter’s opacity a tad or masked off some of her face – the final result leaves her looking a little masculine, which is not nearly as evident in the second pic.

Anyway, great shots & glad to hear you had a blast!

mannedspace says:

on March 16, 2010 at 9:46 am

Man, change nothing if your posting what you decided at setup time. I totally agree with the dark ‘bad azz’ eyes you have acomplished.

One idea that pops into my head is to have the lady flex her muscles like the male. She appears a little relaxed?

Barbara Thorbjörnsson says:

on March 16, 2010 at 9:53 am

I love the lighting. I think it highlighted her to look both strong and yet she did not get terribly angular or harsh.

Jean Berthelot says:

on March 16, 2010 at 9:59 am

Thank’s again to share your work with us !!!

Woojong Kim says:

on March 16, 2010 at 10:06 am

Joe, to me, these High Pass filter shots are like HDRs– when I see the photo for the first time, it’s like “Wow…cool” but after I see it over and over again it starts to look too artificial and I tend to like the original better. That’s why I guess it makes sense on Gatorade or Nike print ads where you want the initial impact, but for my personal archives, I’ll stick to the originals. Thanks for the interesting blog entry…

Stephan says:

on March 16, 2010 at 10:06 am

I Love it! This is very original

Stephen J. Zeller says:

on March 16, 2010 at 10:13 am


I actually like the High Pass filter on this particular photo. Makes it just a bit more edgy, which goes right along with the light, yet not overdone.

All the best,


Barak Yedidia says:

on March 16, 2010 at 10:18 am

Great post. I especially like the comparison between doing this with strips and SBs.

Glyn Dewis says:

on March 16, 2010 at 10:19 am

Hey Joe,

Absolutely love the photographs; the lighting is simply perfect for the model and what she stands for!

I really must get out to the Santa Fe Workshops; geez 2011 could be expensive, I mean a good investment…lol First the GPP followed by Santa Fe; still it’s all in the name of ‘education’.

Thanks for a great post and a great breakdown of the lighting.

All the best to you,

Aaron Babcock says:

on March 16, 2010 at 10:20 am

Joe – I love the photo of Clara. I don’t think it’s overdone at all. In fact, I think you nailed the drama with the lighting. Harsh in the right spots, spot-on in the perfect spots. Great work as always!

Rishi says:

on March 16, 2010 at 10:33 am

I did something kind of similar some days back, albeit without a boxer! :D


M.D. Welch says:

on March 16, 2010 at 10:39 am

Extra Extra, read all about it, “McNally uses Photoshop, no sign of the apocalypse!”

Fantastic image, love the setup shot as well.

Thanks again Joe for the blog and all the great info that you share.

Garrett Garms says:

on March 16, 2010 at 10:47 am

Awesome as always!! I’m in your class for Santa Fe for the first week of August…Can’t wait!!

Kevin Glackmeyer says:

on March 16, 2010 at 10:52 am

So, was the kool-aid good? Honestly though, the use of the HIGH PASS works at it’s best when used with the lighting you used. ie: the striplights on both sides. Your additional touches of the silver floor/sb-900′s and the cutting down the spill from the beauty dish AND the spot on her face/forehead give it that extra (no pun intended here) punch that we have learned to expect from a lighting pro as yourself. One thing does stand out though, the bad clone job on her shorts from where you took out the HONI head.

Not a bad trudge this time either…thanks for that, kg

Justin Van Leeuwen says:

on March 16, 2010 at 10:53 am

I am lovin the high pass look – but I think I appreciate it more on the clothing and shorts more than her face… maybe toned down a bit – not gone and missing – but just a bit less intense since there’s already great detail on her skin. IMHO.

Bil Wadman says:

on March 16, 2010 at 10:55 am

Joe- Quick Tip: You don’t have to use ‘Hard Light’ when doing sharpening like that. Often ‘Soft Light’ or ‘Overlay’ give you a less drastic effect that’s not as obvious.

DaveM says:

on March 16, 2010 at 11:17 am

Joe, love your work. Doesn’t seem like you over did it with the high pass filter. Maybe I can’t tell because I’m not viewing it at 100% but they look great even straight from the camera.

I attempted a similar shoot a couple of weeks ago with small flash. 2 flashes with Honl Speed Grids for side lights and a flash in a 28″ Soft box or 60″ reflective umbrella for the front. I used the same DH HP filter technique. Easy to go overboard, but it can look really good.


Lee says:

on March 16, 2010 at 11:39 am

LOVE it. In my opinion, the SOOC file looks perfectly fine. The HP filter just gives it that extra edge and suits the lighting perfectly, if you ask me. Well done!

Craig Beyers says:

on March 16, 2010 at 11:56 am

Do I like it? Yup, especially the rim lighting on her arms up beyond the tops of her gloves, the shine on her hair, and the shine/highlight that outlines her shape. That says “don’t mess with me, but don’t misunderstand, I’m a woman”. Great pose and great intensity in her eyes, too. Nice! Will we see this on the SI cover? If not, we should.

Andrew Berglund says:

on March 16, 2010 at 11:59 am


The high pass works here, and I suddenly have this thirst for Gatorade. I think it’s a really cool effect, even when the filter is so pronounced. It isn’t until every shot in someone’s catalog has it that I get annoyed.

Andrew says:

on March 16, 2010 at 12:23 pm

“… and then decided to head in the direction of BAD ASS light.” (I thought that was the only direction ?) The set up is serious and the lighting is, as always, looking rad. Dare I say that you’ve got some real … BADASSITY ?!

Robert Alamond says:

on March 16, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Great shots, I think the post works if your going for the grunge commercial layout. Thanks for the insight to the light.


Fred Troilo says:

on March 16, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Beautiful shot as always Joe!

Ryan says:

on March 16, 2010 at 12:49 pm

I like the shot Joe! I wouldn’t say you over did it with the high pass technique. For a simple portrait like in David’s article it may be a bit much, but it adds a great edge to a sports shot like this, and makes her look more “rough cut” and intimidating (I wouldn’t want to mess with her, that’s for sure).

Dan Milham says:

on March 16, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Love it. Works great for the boxer. It’s a matter of taste and situation. Some brides might like it as well!?!

Eric.S says:

on March 16, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Marvelous! I am glad you didn’t went Adidas with the file.

bobby nash says:

on March 16, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Love it! usually too much salt for my taste but it realy works well for the subject.

Myga says:

on March 16, 2010 at 1:45 pm

I can’t believe that there is not a single comment yet. Joe you nailed it as always. The first shot is just outstanding, and something that I have never seen here before. I’m glad you decided to give it a try in PS. One small step at a time huh? :)
It’s also done very accurate. Looking at the first photo only I wouldn’t be able to tell that it was improved in PS, even though I watched a very similar tutorial on Scott Kelby’s blog (sharpening by invert blur).
Than again looking at it makes me regret that I’m not one of your assistance. Hope that some of it will appear on Kelby Training videos soon :)

Best Regards

Matt says:

on March 16, 2010 at 2:10 pm

I think the high pass effect works very well with the subject matter.

That being said I would have toned it down on her face just a little bit.

Great shots Joe, thanks for sharing.

TJantunen says:

on March 16, 2010 at 2:14 pm

It always nice to see before and after post processing photos. I would like to see more of these.

Matt Timmons says:

on March 16, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Oh my God, Joe using Photoshop- we’re at the threshold of a whole new era. ;-)

Alan says:

on March 16, 2010 at 2:43 pm

I like the effect but I like the original better. I have always admired the way you get it right in the camera first! Great stuff!

Brian says:

on March 16, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Cool setup. The high pass looks great on her clothes/equipment. I probably would have masked out her skin/face and left it a little softer. Mainly on her face though. High pass looks OK to me on her upper body.
Does the height of the EL Strip give much advantage here vs the less expensive 20×51″ or 14×35″ strips? I know the ELs are thinner… maybe easier to control the spill when used as rim lights.

Alex Zyuzikov says:

on March 16, 2010 at 4:01 pm

I like the original one a bit better to be honest… Looks more real. Both are stunning images though. And thanks for the setup shot/info. Love your work!

Wedding Photographer French Riviera says:

on March 16, 2010 at 5:09 pm


Fantastic shot! Thanks for sharing so precisely the light set up – quite a complicated contraption by my standards!

The post-processing really did lift up the photo – it really pops to my eyes now!

Well done,


Autumn says:

on March 16, 2010 at 5:23 pm

I really like the first one. . .The second one. . .it almost looks like you sharpened the picture a little too much. idk what I think about it. Amazing stuff like always

Charles Martin says:

on March 16, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Joe, really liked the high pass version. And, I am further encouraged to mixing light sources. Many thanks and, welcome back to the blog. Hope to see you again soon. Charles…

Bob Klein says:

on March 16, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Although your napkin doodles of setups are nice, the pullback shot really explains it all. Give us more of that!

Leave a Reply