Monday, August 9, 2010

Hanging out with Joe at Dobbs Ferry...

Joe McNally at Dobbs Ferry

There are very few workshops that I ever get excited about, but when it comes to Joe McNally my ears will perk up. His working career is just amazing to me and a feat that will never be done again as the print industry is gone as we knew it. The previous year Joe had these one day workshops where you hang out and learn while Joe goes through lighting setups, solves problems, and then lets the attendees shoot his lighting solution. A great bargain for the money considering his 15 to 1 ratio, and the fact you get to listen to his colorful stories about hanging out his helicopter or freezing this body part off. I hesitated that year and regretted it.

So this year when the chance came up, I really wanted to make it out there. Then to make it even more appealing Joe created an advanced workshop pushing things further, and quite frankly something more up my alley. The advanced workshop covered high speed sync, multiple exposure, some advanced lighting techniques as well as mixing big and small light. I really wanted to sign up, and when my friend Piotr was able to go it was a done deal!

So what did $500 get us? A great deal in my opinion. We spent well over 8 hours with Joe, chatting with him and admiring his lighting and camera gear and well run team of friendly assistants. We had a great lunch and ample water to keep cool during the day. We also received a nice bag of swag from his sponsor friends! Just the 10 hours listening and watching Joe do his thing was well worth it, everything else just made it priceless.

So we arrived at his old former studio, a great space with tons of character and Lynn greeted us. I'm not usually an autograph nut but I always thought it would be fun to get Joe's not in the typical book format, but on a lastolite trigrip, one of his favorite lighting modifiers. So both myself and Piotr pulled the trigrips out and he graciously signed them for us.

He did mumble a funny comment after signing friend Piotr's, "Just wasted a perfectly good modifier". He asked for him to sign it big and use the whole space. I'm kind of glad Joe said that, it totally fits his character, plus I thought my friend was crazy too!

So we unloaded our gear and Joe did his introduction as well as having us introduce and tell what we were interested in exploring for the day. After that Joe gave a short presentation of some of his work, filled with his colorful back stories to every image.

After that we jumped into the studio and started working light, small light and big light.

Katherine Jumping

Joe in Action

He showed us a few of his favorite techniques, created some problems then solved them.

After lunch we went into a blacked out area for some long exposure action! Joe set up for a multiple exposure 2 frame shot with the beautiful Maria Arce, a model/stunt woman/martial artist/actress etc etc..

Maria Prepping for a double exposure

Maria in Motion

I captured these BTS shots handheld doing very long exposures, 2 to 4 seconds, stealing Joe's main flashes to expose my shot. By doing this I could get somewhat sharp images while having a Camera held up against my body for 4 seconds long.

I tried a similar series using a friend in an Indian Sari during the winter and had many technical issues with it, so when Joe ran into similar problems it was great seeing how he troubleshot things. Eventually he punted on the multiple exposure and went for a single exposure with rear curtain pose.

After we wrapped that up we moved into the last 2 hours, which Joe said was our time. He grouped us into 4 people and sent us out with a model and any lighting we wanted to use. We had two 1 hour sessions, 1 model per hour, and four photographers to taking turns. I was happily suprised that Joe ran things the exact same way I do when I give workshops. He has the same belief that to be a better photographer you need to understand how to properly assist and understand the lighting. Group shooting was a big no-no as well as he said only the photographer should be shooting, and that he'd fire an assistant on the spot if they were shooting between him during a shoot.

We started with Phil, a great former cop with a very character driven face. Super nice guy and very easy to work with. I chose to go the CTO route during my turn and change the mood of the glass roofed room.

Meet Phil

During the next hour we switched to Christina, a great young model with a firecracker spirit. One light in high speed sync for the first shot, then went to a 3 light setup on the lower one. She was great and posing and hard to keep up with how fast she could change her expressions.

Christina W - Emmanuel NY Models

Christina W - Emmanuel NY Models

At the end of our day Joe mentioned there would be a surprise on the rooftop, He told us that anyone that wanted to stay late could join him on the roof while he shot Maria doing jumps in the sunlight while Joe tried to fight back with 6 sb900's and high speed sync. Who wouldn't jump at the chance! So after an interesting tour of the building, Joe took us on the scenic route to get to the roof, we arrived up top where it was broiling hot.

Here are a few shots of what Joe was up too..

Butt kicking jump shots!

Maria in Flight

All in all an incredible day with the master of flashes big and small. The rest of the weekend continued to be exciting as we scheduled a model shoot in the city. But I'll save that for another time...

Thanks so much to Joe and his incredible staff, best workshop ever!!


  1. I attended the advanced workshop as well. joe is a master!, great post

  2. this is a great post. very detailed. nice job!