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Some Flashes and a Cup of Water

Mar 24

In Lighting at 9:49am

So, what do you do when your location proves to be a stretch of pitted tarmac baked into desert? You stand there of course, in the blasted sun, with squinted eyes and a certain compressed, rueful expression on your face, realizing you had said yes to the location and now would have to make it work. The sun above is a freight train, baking your skull and barreling noisily through anything you might try to construe as a thought process. The only sources of open shade are wasted pieces of stubborn shrubbery, and none of them are higher than your kneecap, so to access any measure of open shade you would have to revert to macro photography. You are standing in what is known as the Dubai Velodrome. Let’s say the word velodrome has been loosely interpreted.

But, there are positive things. Power lines crackle overhead, and in the dusty distance, a real life blend of Oz and Gotham, glitters the skyline of Dubai, punctuated by the silvery slice of the Khalifa tower. You have lenses and lights. Best thing to be done, and the best lesson a location like this can teach you, is to be patient and carve out the pieces of this initially bleak vista into something that might work as a picture. Luckily, we had Miguel, an excellent triathlete, not to mention a bunch of speed lights. I was teaching a class called Fast Flash, Bodies in Flight at what has come to be a revered slot on the photo calendar, the estimable gathering of photogs and instructors known as GPP.

First thing, as always, was to find the field of frame, or, your point of view. Strip out the unappealing elements of the location. Keep it simple. We lined up the bike parallel to the skyline. Cali positioned himself at the rear wheel to stabilize Miguel, which meant he was about to get wet. Which wasn’t a big deal, as the giant sponge of the Middle Eastern sun dried him out instantly. He actually had the best job in the bunch of us.

Once Miguel’s position was defined, placed the lights. It being a workshop, we had a bunch of speed lights at our disposal, so I placed three and three at either end of the bike, just slightly behind Miguel’s profile. I call this position, for whatever reason, three quarter back light. That’s not an official, sanctioned term. Just my own convoluted sense of the language of location. The three apiece deal perched atop a pair of Manfrotto stacker stands via a Lastolite ratcheting tri-flash, which is a handy thing in an environment like this, as you can swing the sensors around to maximize their angle of reception for the commander pulse. We were working line of sight TTL, so these units proved handy.

Then, we simply blasted Miguel with light and got to 1/125th @ f22. Enter Jon and Ali, with multiple cups of water in hand. One, two three, splash! The pic above was the first frame of four I shot with water. I then turned the scene over to the class, and they happily proceeded to continue to drench our patient riders. The shutter speed/flash combo gave us a slight bit of motion to the water, and the depth achieved by f22 kept the city, which was far off, reasonably discernible.



Speaking of the tri-flash above, there’s a whole new group of additions to the Joe McNally range of Lastolite light shaping tools just coming on line now. I’ll be blogging about them over the course of the next few weeks, but if you want to take a look at some videos of them in operation, and what they can do, hit this link. It will take you right there and you can check out a couple of new ideas for light management that we conjured with Gary Astill, Lastolite’s resident genius designer, and mad scientist of the workings of light. Huge kudos to Gary and the crew at Manfrotto/Lastolite. They are good folks, and wonderful to work with.


More tk…..

29 Responses to “Some Flashes and a Cup of Water”

Life with Kaishon says:

on March 24, 2014 at 10:03 am

Thanks for sharing.
LOVED the ‘numnuts was here’ note. : )
Happy Monday.

Rene Dietrich says:

on March 24, 2014 at 10:07 am

One of the best napkin sketches ever!!! I can imagine Joe saying “Guess what? I got a fever, and the only prescription is more water!!” hahaha

Theo De Roza says:

on March 24, 2014 at 10:55 am

Great post and blog! Am a fan and love your books, (I’ve a few of them!) you’re my inspiration!

Gonçalo Barriga says:

on March 24, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Really like the “studio look” with the city behind it! Joe’s a true inspiration through images and words!

Babar says:

on March 24, 2014 at 12:04 pm

“Aim for Cali” ….

That line really cracked me :D ….. Many thanks Joe for the blog a true inspiration for all flash photographer out there.


JayM says:

on March 24, 2014 at 12:54 pm

“…so to access any measure of open shade you would have to revert to macro photography.”

Iconic photography be damned! There’s always a great slice of comedy to be found in Joe’s posts.

Joe, at f/22 I have to assume you had those SB-910′s cranked up to full blast. Or were you able to place them pretty close to Miguel?

Joe McNally says:

on March 24, 2014 at 2:15 pm

They were pretty close to full blast, Jay, even though they were darn close to the rider….Joe

Alexandra Neschetna says:

on March 24, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Seems like it was a good lecture/workshop (minus the heat).
Loved the sketch! (Did you draw it on location, after the event, or pre-workshop in the studio?)
The photo made me think as though it was a visualization of what the riders feel like when the workout/compete – sweat rolling off like buckets (or glasses) of water, and for me the dark-ish, gray-blue of the background and sky, adds to this feeling of inescapable heat. (Or I’m rambling?)

I’ll keep watching the blog now! :)

Eric Politzer says:

on March 24, 2014 at 5:17 pm

new promo tag line: “if it is GPP, a model will get drenched!”

Simon Fleming says:

on March 25, 2014 at 2:22 am

It was a memorable day for sure Joe.

Just when we thought we had been dealt a bum hand, all manner of photographic opportunities manifested themselves… So many lessons were learnt that day (all 3 days of the workshop actually), and not just about the technicals but also about how you handle yourself as a photographer & a person when things aren’t necessarily going your way – invaluable stuff.

Thanks for your time and being so generous with the sharing of your experience once again Joe.

Joe McNally says:

on March 25, 2014 at 7:29 am

You know better than most, Eric, that getting wet is part of the McNally Workshop experience….:-))))

Joe McNally says:

on March 25, 2014 at 7:30 am

Simon, it was great to see you, mate. You remain a stalwart friend and a fine photog in your own right. Happy this process of picture making has led to us spending some time together. All best, Joe

Arthur Fuhrer says:

on March 25, 2014 at 9:09 am

Hi Joe,

As someone who lives in Israel, it’s interesting for me to see how you’re dealing with harsh sunlight.

In this case, I assume that instead of closing down the aperture to f/22 you could have switched to high speed sync and increased the shutter speed, let’s say to 1/8000.

My question – I know the high speed (FP) mode reduces the output of the flash (forcing it to fire a sequence of rapid bursts), but effectively, so does closing the aperture. So I’m basically wondering how these two methods compare, in terms of light loss. Is it more efficient leaving the camera at its natural sync speed and closing the aperture, or leaving the aperture and increasing the shutter speed in FP mode?

I tried to test it myself but it appears that high speed sync does not work on manual mode on the SB910.


Nigel says:

on March 25, 2014 at 9:27 am

Hey Joe,

Good to see that you are still a regular at GPP. I’ve signed up for GPP Popup in Singapore as I’ve been in Australia and Asia for the last 5 years so couldn’t make the trek out to the desert.

Singapore should be fun mind you – not sure if you could get away with merrily chucking water around without being arrested by Singapore’s finest!

Look forward to catching up and learning a few more McNally tricks.


Leslie says:

on March 25, 2014 at 11:14 am

Perfect shot! Movement, dynamics, superb graphic background, composition. Outstanding as always…. Just love the angle of those flashes, the body and face highlights are fantastic. All in an extremely challenging environment. Ahhh Joe, we bow down :-)

Peter Steiner says:

on March 25, 2014 at 11:42 am

Reading these lines brought me back to my shoot this noon. A beautifully overcast sky that made me looking forward to an easy job turned into a clear blue sky with blazing sun an hour before we started.

I count myself lucky though, since spring in central Europe probably feels like a studio setting in comparison to Dubai… :-)

Joe McNally says:

on March 26, 2014 at 6:47 am

Hi Arthur…It was a more a question of DOF. F22 kept the city relatively sharp. Could have gone hi speed, and would have had plenty of light, given the proximity of the flashes to the subject. You do snuff the efficiency of the speed lights in hi speed mode, for sure. Figure about a 50% loss of light power per shutter speed as you go beyond the normal limit of 250th. And the SB910 does work fine in manual mode, for hi speed…best Joe

Arthur says:

on March 26, 2014 at 10:39 am

Thanks Joe!

Maciej says:

on March 26, 2014 at 2:47 pm

Thank you Joe for this valuable lesson. It was an honor to be in your class not only on a day, but at the whole workshop and GPP.
Your way of teaching, along with stories and sense of humor is legendary. I truly thank you for this great inspiration.
I would also like to thank Cali and Jon, as they do a fantastic job! I watched them entire workshop and i’m truly impressed. Thanks guys, you rock!
It also rained! Exclusive feature of McNally class in the middle of the desert – rain!
And last but not least, being blessed by the Father of Nikons is the experience one of a kind :P
Hope to be able to see you guys soon!

Fadi Kelada says:

on March 27, 2014 at 12:51 am

Thank you Joe & Annie for the great time you gave us at GPP. The more I listened, the more I learn :) and I promise I’ll never ever in my life use redeye reduction again, even if by mistake :D

Stay Well..

Event Photography says:

on March 27, 2014 at 2:25 am

The napkin sketches are really fun and they illustrate your tips on lighting really well! I did learn a lot thanks!

Rex Larsen says:

on March 27, 2014 at 4:19 pm

I’m surprised by the quality of the light. It sure doesn’t look like it was lit by bare speedlights and no modifier.
Maybe because they were positioned so close.

Jorge R Gonzalez says:

on March 28, 2014 at 5:34 pm

Joe you are one amazing story teller both visually and in the written word. Thank you for been so open in sharing your problem solving abilities. Could I ask if there are plans for a workshop in the future for south Florida?

ron says:

on March 28, 2014 at 9:55 pm

Joe, amazing photo. I like the way you breakdown your images. Your work is so inspiring.


Alan Hutchison says:

on April 23, 2014 at 8:46 am

Always love the sketches Joe – disappointed I didn’t see the word “Flamethrowers” as well through – that would have heated things up a bit LOL

Alan Hess says:

on April 23, 2014 at 11:34 am

Love the “aim for cali” note…

Mark Umbrella says:

on April 23, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Congratulations guys! I wish i could join you next time…

art meripol says:

on April 24, 2014 at 6:42 am

“numnuts was here”…and everywhere else…spreading the gospel. Great as always.
Somewhat hidden in the blog is one of the basic concepts of great photos…finding the background first and then working the subject into the space.

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