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Archive for the ‘Lighting’ Category

Dropped Dead Ducks

Aug 1

In Fun, Lighting at 6:46am

Just back from Asia for a stint, and I have to say it was a complete honor teaching and working alongside Zack Arias. He explains his minimalist style and approach so clearly and well, and it’s pretty terrific watching him in action. I have to say his theories and practices with “one only” style of lighting influenced me greatly, not only in my photography, but in other areas of my life as well.

For instance the paintball arena. Below is kind of a “one light” approach I used for paintball. Okay, call it “one shot.”

I really kind of felt bad about it afterwards. I mean, I didn’t mean to hit him in the face. I was actually shooting his direction just to distract him, seeing as he was launching paintballs at my daughter Claire. Turns out she really didn’t need my help, as she was smarter, smaller, faster and more agile than the rest of the hulking, testosterone fueled males she was out there in the jungle with, all of us near keening in our desire to just splatter somebody.

Creative Asia was a wonderful gathering, and I was very proud once again to be included alongside friends and colleagues like Louis Pang, Zack and Michael Greenberg. Zack and I traveled on from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur, where we taught big seminar days together, as well as individual classes. We were located at Taylor University in KL, which had this weird, checkerboard type of Astro-turf quad out there in the middle of the campus. It was so odd, I took the class out there into the microwave oven of midday Malaysia in July to experiment with line of sight TTL transmission in bright conditions, and also high speed sync for small flash. We were accompanied by the resolutely beautiful Evon Tan, who it has been my pleasure to work with on several occasions.

It being as harshly lit and hot as the inside of an incandescent bulb, I naturally asked Evon to start jumping.

She did this listless, sort of puppet with cut strings hop into the air, and I, gracious as ever, excoriated her from a distance. (I was shooting a 70-200mm from a balcony.) I shouted something like, “Hey Evon, could you put a little effort into it? Like, you know, that looked somebody dropped a dead duck from a third story window, you know?” Or words to that effect. Evon and I have worked together before, as I’ve noted. She responded righteously and vigorously, answering my call. Effectively, the big dipshit from the States was trying to get an Asian super model to act like a high school cheerleader from Kansas.

Showing the very few frames I shot later, the consensus was that the dropped dead duck frame worked and the rest of my offerings were garbage. Drew actually led the charge on that. Back at the studio, Cali confirmed that the above was the most interesting frame. I looked at them, perhaps being a bit sensitive to the recent passing of a birthday, and asked if this was a generational thing. No, no, I was assured. This was nothing like their collective disapproval of the tan socks I relentlessly wear with half boots, the Jesus sandals I have a penchant for stumbling about in, the fact that I like Joni Mitchell, or my tendency to use gels on my lights in a style that disappeared with pet rocks.

Anyway, the class had some questions about line of sight transmission working in bright light, which we resolved pretty well. (It worked, from about 100′ away.)

Finals on the select were 1/500 @f16, ISO 100, lens zoomed at 140. The three flashes were arrayed on a Lastolite rotating tri-flash, which enabled me to orient the light sensor panels in one collective direction. Given the bright conditions, I sent the flashes a signal to go manual, full power, wanting a lot of DOF to keep the weirdness of the grid sharp. Now, could you do this with a flash pop from a single bigger light? Of course. I’ve done that more times than I can remember. Could you use a medium format system with a leaf shutter to gain access to higher shutter speeds? Of course. But, we were teaching speed lights, and this is the gear I had, and the blazing sun was the hand we were dealt.

At another location, late in the day, down in Chinatown, I borrowed Zack’s Paul Buff light and put it across the street with a gel, and lit a restaurant Evon and I had frequented before. One light, far away.

As I always say, ya gotta love a lady with a cleaver! More tk…

Heading to the Islands…

Jul 27

In In The Field, Lighting, Seminars & Workshops at 3:36pm

Another week or so, going to St. Lucia. First project, very happily, is shooting a book for my friends at the Jade Mountain/Anse Chastenet Hotels. I’ve been going down there for fifteen or more years, and it remains an oasis of calm and beauty for me. For now, a book project in a beautiful place, and an amazing workshop with a couple of slots left. Hit this link, and it brings you to this page for all the info…

Given the coming 911 Tenth Anniversary observances, and the maelstrom that has been my studio of late, a little calm is welcome. More on that next week. Let me just say, trying to mount an exhibit in a major space in NYC as a lone, freelance shooter is not for the faint of heart. Thankfully, I’ve got Nikon helping in a major way with $ and logistics, and wonderfully, we’ve had the original K-Man himself, advocate on our behalf out at his place of employ, J&J. Thankfully, they are pitching in as well. The Faces of Ground Zero show goes up on Aug. 24th at the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle. It will be comprised of the original Giant Polaroids, and updated photos and video interviews, ten years later.

We got started by being asked to update the LIFE’s One Nation book of ten years ago. That book contained a section of portraits from FGZ. So, we went back to a number of the folks who made the trek to the Giant Polaroid on 2nd St. in the Bowery during that intense, emotional month immediately after the attacks. An example is Jason Cascone, who at the time of 911 was a probationary firefighter and is now one of the youngest lieutenants in the history of FDNY. This original is not small flash, by the way.

However, this is. Just one small flash, through a 30″ Ezybox soft box, camera right. 70-200mm lens, D3X, Bronx, NY.

Bring you more up to speed on that next week.

More tk….

Lastolite Light Shapers!

Jul 25

In Lighting at 8:03am

It’s always amazing to me, after doing this as long as I have, when a photographic manufacturer actually listens to a shooter. I mean, there’s good reasons to not listen to us for sure. We’re often crazier than a rogue pixel.

On the other hand, when you’ve gone out and hammered it for a good long while, and hung in there over time, continuing to produce work, there are a few things you do end up knowing.

I’ve used Lastolite stuff for a long time, well before ever having a conversation with them. I use the stuff because it works. Tri-grips, Ezyboxes, umbrellas–they make all manner of light shaping tools for all sorts of lights, and they are well and thoughtfully made. I’ve been drawn for a long time to their light, hand holdable stuff. Stuff that helps turn small flash into big flash.

I experiment all the time, and given some of the lengths I’ve taken small flash, I’ve found out a few things, and offered them feedback. The result has become a small array of light shapers known as (drum roll) the Joe McNally Range.

White Interior Ezybox!

Two or three years back, I asked Lastolite for a 24″ Ezybox with a white interior, as opposed to the standard silver. I’m a fairly persistent bloke (i.e.,pest) and eventually they made me one. Which made me the only person on the planet for a period of time with a white 24″ Ezybox. Just dropping this fact here and there would get me great tables at restaurants, and all manner of perks and amenities everywhere. Joe make joke.

But it’s a cool light. A little softer, and a touch richer and creamier than the standard silver, which is already a terrific light. Their brilliant designer Gary Astill came to one of my workshops in Dobbs Ferry. I showed him the results, with the two different lights from the same place with the same model. He nodded, and the white Ezybox was born. Given the softer quality of the interior, it behaves and looks like a slightly bigger soft box.

I know it’s a good light cause I got this note from my bud Earnie Grafton, who’s a former military shooter, and terrific staffer at the San Diego Trib.

“So after buying “your” softbox (which I love by the way) I realized that your name was blazed on each side of it.  So after the umpteenth time of some dude asking me if I was Joe McNally, the following conversation ensued:

Q. Are you Joe McNally?
A. Of course.  Why the hell would I put somebody else’s name on my softbox?

or my favorite so far…

Q.  Are you Joe McNally?
A.  Do I have 57 cases of camera shit around me?
Q. Uh, no…
A. Then I ain’t Joe McNally….

(I DO love the damn thing though…..)”

Earnie’s a good friend and a helluva shooter. On this location, though, I left a bunch of the cases home. Here’s a production picture. As you can see, I’m out there with a huge crew, and highly sophisticated smoke making machinery, the type of thing you see really big Hollywood features use. This version is the Michael Karsh haze machine, which having gotten to know Michael a bit, is, well, appropriate.

TriFlash and Uplite!

My subjects here are Rick Iannucci, and Nancy De Santis, two extraordinary people who devote their own time to a project called Horses for Heroes. In this program, Rick, Nancy and Thomas Wingate work with vets who have come home with physical injuries or combat trauma. I’ve done some pictures over the years out west, working with cowboys, and had the good fortune to get to know Buster Welch, a legendary rancher and cutting horse trainer. His wife, Sheila, paraphrasing Winston Churchill, always told me, “The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a human being.” That’s exactly what Rick, Nancy and Thomas are proving with these vets. Endorsed by the Purple Heart Association, their work in helping these heroes is remarkable.

Used the Triflash and Uplite in combo to produce some western portraits. Very happy with the results. The Triflash has been made for a while, but in the original version, the points of attachment (cold shoes) were fixed. I suggested ratchets instead. That way, you can swivel your flashguns (Doncha love the way the English call them flashguns? Awesome.) so that the light receptor panels can orient in either exactly the same direction, or close to it. With the fixed cold shoes, all the receptors were at right angles to each other, and TTL line of sight pickup could get rough. Love this thing. I just crank the flashes around till I maximize reception, and it has increased my line of sight working distance for this multi-flash rig by yards and yards. As you can see here, the Triflash is on a stick, and my commander is looped outside the building from the camera via SC-29 cords. Those three lights, firing through a Lastolite 6×6 diffuser, make for the main light. But remember, I got cowboy and cowgirl subjects, and I need to get light under the brim of their hats, and into their eyes.

Enter the Uplite. It’s very diffuse. You can fire your lights through it straight up, or clamp them via a Justin Clamp to the metal riser in the unit and bounce them down to relfect back up. You can vary the intensity of the bounce by zooming your flash heads, or using dome diffusers such as I do here. This provides the soft lift I need to light the eyes. Two small flash light shapers, in combo, and it looks like window light.

Notice I got some sandbags on the Uplite. The winds on location were up, and, like any light shaper, out there in the world, you can very easily stage your own version of America’s Cup, if you’re not careful.

Back to the Triflash, all on its’ own. When I go light and fast, but think I need some power and recycle, lately I just take the Triflash firing through an all-in-one umbrella. Pop it on a paint pole, and you have a mobile, powerful, TTL light with directional sensors. Leave the dome diffusers on, the light gets very wrapped and soft. It’s especially handy if you, say, take a walk in the woods, and you want to travel light. Copper Perry, a terrific makeup artist (she’s one of the HMU folks for Breaking Bad) had this notion of going into the burnt out woods of New Mexico and doing something emotional and primal with D. As usual, D took it to another level, and I basically tagged along with a camera. The light and fast paint pole/Triflash thing is especially handy if your assistant happens to be the ever wonderful Nerissa Escanlar, who is 4′ 10″.

I shot other stuff in the last week as well, and I’ll share that in a Light Shapers Part II and III coming up. Lemme know if you like any of these and the setups…..more tk…..

Have a Great Weekend!

Jul 22

In Lighting at 8:40am

Heading home from Santa Fe. Again, thanks to all for this very hectic week on the blog, with the new site posting, and all the comments. It’s been terrific. Thanks to Drew,  Mike Cali, and Lynda Peckham at the studio. I’ve been doing this a long time, and those poor folks went through lots of pictures.

Next week, I’ll be posting some new results from a line of light shaping tools I worked to develop with Lastolite. They’re pretty cool, and I worked this past couple weeks pretty intensively with them. An example below….

I used the rubber stamp tool to clone out a tiny nick in the wall of the background.  (I know, I know, I’m getting fancy with the post production stuff….) But other than that, nothing. This is the quality of light right out of the camera, which I’m pretty happy with. TTL, small flash solution. More tk…..

Another Santa Fe Week…

Jul 15

In Lighting at 6:14am

Finishing up a week long lighting class. I’m only teaching one more week of lighting for the rest of this year, in St. Lucia. One of the biggest reasons I return to Santa Fe is re-connecting with the model community down here, many of whom have become my dear friends over the years. Deidre, who I once described as a “one woman Cirque du Soleil,” and I have worked together for about nine years. I’m writing a story in my new book called “Working with D.” It’s really about building trust, and the collaboration of imagination. So, when I ask her if she has any crazy fashion duds with her (she always does) and would she mind climbing up on an industrial strength boiler in an abandoned electrical plant, she simply says “Yes!”

Lighting here is simple stuff. Almost all the gear was out in the field with the lighting teams, so I built a soft box out of a big umbrella and a Lastolite 6×6 diffuser. Fill is two SB-900 units banged off a silver reflector on the ground. She did the hard part.

Earlier in the week I showed the class a bit about putting lights far away, and up close. An Elinchrom Ranger is out in the parking lot, and that in turn is driving two units up front, a deep Octa, and an SB-900 in a ring flash. The light outside is gelled warm, and we just played with the power on the inside lights. I keep changing the ratio virtually every frame, just to show the class how small, incremental power shifts, along with juggling shutter speed and f-stops can have powerful effects on the feel of the photo. Almost never shoot more than one frame of any combo, so the dozen frames I shoot end up being a bit of a mess, but Yvette saved the day here with a beautiful expression.

More tk…