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Monday, August 10, 2009

Have Light Will Travel

Joe McNally is one of the greatest at location lighting. Known for traveling with a minimal kit, he pulls off shots that are masterpieces of technique and artistry.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Northern Light
In his new book, The Hot Shoe Diaries: Big Light from Small Flashes (New Riders Press, 2009), Joe McNally gives a series of examples and then describes how he got the shot. McNally’s accounts of each shoot are as entertaining as they are full of cogent details about the event. Often working with a single case of camera flashes, small strobes and light modifiers, he breaks down the problem and then builds the solution. We’ve excerpted a few examples from the book in this article. To see more, go to McNally’s website, www.joemcnally.com.

Northern Light
Maine is home to a bunch of, well, characters would be a kind way to put it. Independent sorts. Salt of the earth. Homespun. In other words, outright, full-blown wackos.

No, no, kidding. State o’ Mainers have their own way of expressing themselves, and it is invariably interesting. Which makes it a great locale to have a photo workshop, especially one about lighting. Like Andy Swift—artist, mechanic and a truly wonderful, charismatic Maine character. He restores historic fire engines for a living, and runs his business, Firefly, out of an old chicken barn that used to house 33,000 of the feathered darlings. It is quite simply one of the best places I have ever been, chock full of stuff—fire trucks, wheels, engines, parts, tools and toys. Andy used to have Osama bin Laden targets in his backyard, which he would regularly chew threw with a 30 cal. rifle.

The Firefly garage is a great location, but it doesn’t give it up easily. Stuff everywhere, lots of dark spaces, reflective fire engines, and hot light pouring in each end of the otherwise dark barn. Tough to balance, in a word. I poked around, trying to figure out an angle.

Before you start to light, figure out the picture. I mention this time and again. Know what’s gonna be in your frame. You are not running and gunning here, fill-flashing the perpetrator as he makes the mad dash from the precinct to the paddy wagon. Take your time. If you have a tripod, use it!

I immediately knew I wanted to look into the dark barn and not work against the huge, open bay door. The light outside that door was, like, ƒ/32,000, and the light inside was a weak ƒ/1.4 at best. I’m not gonna fight city hall here. Where I am looking is dark, but dark I can light. Dark I can control. I like the dark. Yessss, my precious....

Okay, I’m back. Get your angle and determine where your subject is gonna stand. The lady here is Brianna Borkowski, who poses often for the workshops and has always been patient and hardworking with my classes. She is also used to requests like, “Can you tear up that T-shirt a bit and grease it down like you’ve been working under the hood all day?”


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