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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

Lady With The Light In The Lake
I remember thinking to myself after shooting this, “Why +2 into the Speedlight at ƒ/2.8?” The flash wasn’t that far away. Turns out I goofed, no big surprise there. I had -2 EV programmed into the camera body. Didn’t bother changing it, though, ’cause I was shooting in manual, which overrides the EV adjustment—for the camera, not the flash. But the flash still sees a -2 and behaves accordingly, which I didn’t know at the time. Hence, I had to push more power into the light.

Increase the punch and depth of the shadows by zooming the light. This is a perfect scenario for i-TTL. The flash was spitting distance from the camera, but it was outside and above the basement level where I was shooting. To have shot with the flash in manual mode, in order to make adjustments—as you always have to do—I would have had to walk down a long hall, up a flight of stairs and around the wing of the building to get to the light. Probably a 200-yard walk to program a half-stop adjustment. Then go back downstairs and find I should probably have gone for maybe one full stop instead of the half. Life’s too short; i-TTL can save you time. So can an external battery pack. When you put up a light somewhere that’s tough to get back to, it’s advisable to plug in an external battery pack. You’re throwing the light quite a distance and that’s gonna stress the AAs in the unit. Last thing you wanna be doing is running back to change ’em out.

The Lady With The Light In The Lake
If, all of a sudden, Deirdre produced a sword from the watery depths of Abiquiu Lake and crowned me king, it wouldn’t have surprised me. She has such unabashed magic and presence in front of the camera, and we have worked together so often, that I pretty much start shooting pix and she goes to work. Though on this one, if she did have a sword, she probably would have lopped my block off, ’cause that lake was cold.

I highly advocate using a body of water behind your subject at the extremes of the day. The naturally reflective nature of the water really saves your neck by giving you lots of extended time for golden hour, which, truth be told, is most often like the golden 10 minutes or so. It’s a big bounce board not just for the light, but also the color. Try shooting this against some trees or grass. Bye-bye environment, context, depth of the frame and a whole lot of visual interest. Deirdre becomes a head floating in blackness, not water.

It is also crucial to get your camera right at the level of the water. The most effective angle for a water portrait is, well, almost in the water. The light here is crazy simple. Shoot through umbrella, camera right. Crucial thing is to flag off a lot of the surface area of the old brollie, so you still retain an umbrella quality of light without the umbrella quality of spill. This would have been the perfect opportunity for the Lastolite EzyBox, you say? The new one with the double diffuser, that nice quality of directional, non-spillage softbox light, and which also comes with a handle that’s tailor-made for situations like this?

Yep. Except that it was in my equipment case that wasn’t with me at the lake. Gaffer tape to the rescue! Some really big swatches of black gaf gave me the surface area of a small softbox. This is where i-TTL really shines. Deirdre is constantly changing her distance to the lens as she moves, looms and then settles back into the water to become a piece of the picture environment. The lens tracks her and gives distance info back to the camera, which is matrix metering for the whole scene, as the monitor pre-flash is registering contrast and color. It works really well. I wanted saturated background color, so I dialed in -1 EV on aperture priority.

To see more of Joe McNally’s photography, visit www.joemcnally.com.

In The Studio

When he’s traveling light, Joe McNally relies on compact flashes from Nikon to work his lighting magic. Not every job calls for an on-the-go pack, however.

Studio-based strobe systems from Elinchrom are McNally’s choice for work when he has a full studio for his job. The Elinchrom strobes give him a host of accessories to modify the light, and models like the Digital RX are precise in their output; plus, these powerful units take a full host of Elinchrom light modifiers. Contact: Bogen Imaging, (201) 818-9500, www.bogenimaging.us.


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