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Class Introduction

Lesson 1 from: Lighting, Logistics, and Strategies for a Life in Photography

Joe McNally

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Lesson Info

1. Class Introduction

Next Lesson: Location Assessment


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Location Assessment


Gear Overview


Direction and Wardrobe


Exploring Location and Available Light


Bar Owner: Setting the Scene


Shoot: Bar Owner


Shoot: Bar Owner, Evolving the Look


Lesson Info

Class Introduction

So welcome. I can just add my welcome. And thanks to all the folks at Creative Live. This is not an easy thing to put together, as you can imagine. Multiple cameras, remote locations, arranging for bars and this and that. It's always great to use a bar as a location 'cause if it doesn't go well, relief it just a walk away. But we'll have fun today here in this actually pretty nice location. It's kind of a charismatic bar, it's already thrown me a couple of curves. We'll see how all that goes. It's smaller than I imagined, there's a lot of folks in here in a relatively small space. So it's just something I'm gonna have to deal with as a photographer. When I teach like this, I kind of view this as location work. And location will throw you some curves. It will be up and down and sideways on you. As photographers, what we have to do is develop a number of skillsets that'll cope with everything from the lights not working to a difficult client, to a subject who doesn't have the enough time...

for you, to rain, you know? And we operate at the whim of the world a lot of times. So, it's up to us to be kind of very resilient creatures. And bounce back from adversity, and have the skillsets to do that. So I wanna talk to you guys a little bit before we get going here. Really get going, I'm not even gonna spin any slides here right away. I'd love to bounce it along the line here, and just ask you guys. You've inconvenienced your lives to be here. Dropped out of whatever else you could possibly be doing. Some folks came a great distance, so you're committed, your passionate about this. As am I. I have a very firm belief that as photographers, we are all in the same boat together, right? And we're all trying to get to the next level. I've been doing this 35 years, I'm still trying to get to the next level. I'm still wondering where my next good picture is coming from. I have a production test scenario in New York City next week that'll involve multiple helicopters, radio frequency lights. I mean, it's a testing scenario. And I'm already kinda wired up about it because there's so much stuff that could go wrong. And I'm looking to see how that's gonna go. It's like a freelance creator in photography is like standing on the edge of a cliff for your whole life. You're just kind of, oh, okay, I'm hanging in there. I haven't fallen off completely yet. So, I'm gonna ask along the way here, you guys are involved in this, you wanna take the game upwards. And that is exactly where I am. So we are in this together. Look, before I start, let me see if I can do this, okay? Right off the bat. Okay, alright. Danny, Josh, Mike, Ily, I'm gonna stick with Ily okay? Tony, okay, Victoria, or is it Veronica? No, it's Victoria, no I gotcha on that. Tanya, Kiako, okay, Dylan, Suzie, Bob, Nick, Cliff, Shandy. Alright. (audience cheering) (audience applauding) Gotcha. So, alright. So let's start with Shandy. What I'd love to know is, I know the general topic we're here for is lighting, location work, strategies, a life in photography, business. All that sort of stuff. Oftentimes, what happens though is there is maybe a specific thing underlying your reason to be here, your general reason to be here. Something specific in your workflow, or even just give me a rough idea at the end of this three days, Joe, I would like to have done this, or experienced this, or gotten involved in this. Solved a dilemma. That kind of thing. Is there anything going on? 30 seconds or so, we'll just kinda pass along. I really would like to learn more technical stuff. Okay. I'm good with one light, but beyond that I'd really like to learn how to use multiple lights in difficult situations. Okay. And just creative inspiration. Sure. Sure, okay, cool, multiple lights, difficult location, that actually is the name of this class right here in this bar, okay? Cool, alright. Cliff? Well, with all your experience I would like to learn more about location. Because sometimes I get into a specific location and I'm dealing with off color lighting, and how can we really deal with (muffled speaking). Sure. And a little bit more of a plan which is kinda if I'm shooting on the spot. Perfect. I would like to learn how to use lighting and location a little better. I learned shooting (muffled speaking) in Sacramento, and I shoot all natural things. I don't have the regular lights repeat and stuff like that. And it works for me, but I would like to learn a little better how to do that. 'Cause I shoot studio with lights, but I'm not very good about location. Yeah, I haven't really gone practicing to learn about that. Cool. I mean, a lot of this class will be bringing the principles of the studio out into the world. That's a lot of what we're gonna be doing. I like Joe, and interested in seeing how you approach problems, and how you problem solve on a shoot because I think that's critical to making a shoot successful. Mm-hmm, yep. I wanna achieve a consistent quality in my lighting, and to be able to show that in a variety of images without it getting to look like the same thing over and over again. Cool, yeah. Consistency is an oft overlooked trademark or necessity for any photographer. And we're at a point now where the technology is so masterful that literally a kid can make a good picture and a camera does so much of the heavy lifting for us. But, can't do it again tomorrow. So consistency is huge. Dylan? First off, a huge thank you to you and Creative Live for doing this. A shout out to my wife and designer, that are holding down the fort back home giving me the opportunity to come here. But most of all, I do a lot of off camera lighting like you do, but I want to learn more about balancing white balance, gels, usage like that, Okay. With the environment that we're in. Perfect. I would like to learn the most about how you overcome the difficulties. Like the other people mentioned before, you do such a great deal of amazing mindset, like mind shift up, okay, this doesn't work so what now? So that kind of mental shifting that I would like to learn from you. Cool, yep. I don't have a studio, so everything is on location for me. So I'm interested to see how your team works together to create the images. And then, as kind of echoing what everybody else was saying, the lighting and maintaining that creativity no matter where you are, no matter what location you're at. Sounds good. Thank you. I am so excited to hear about your story, and hear about your journey as a photographer. And personally, for me, I wanted to learn from somebody who does something very different from what I do. It's been a goal for me this year is to push myself creatively and learn about different, I don't know. Different thing that you're doing, I love it. Cool. It's really inspiring. I was most attracted to the class because, you know, you mention doing work that's bold, facing fear, and just doing something that, just stepping it up. Stepping it up. And that was what I was most intrigued by, and I'm sure we'll get to see some of that. Absolutely, yep. First, thank you for doing this. This is great. I have been in the broadcast industry for almost 20 years, and I'm getting out of it now. So, people have been pushing me to be a photographer for, a full-time photographer, for a long time. But there's certain things that I'm not comfortable with. Mainly the business aspect. So that's kinda what I wanna see what you do, and how to push that to the next level, so. Okay. Mike? So I shoot a lot of architecture and real estate, interior design photography. So I deal with a lot of mixed lighting, and there's a lot of challenges that I need to step up my game with, and I think I'll learn a lot on that. Also, the business aspect of it. The marketing and client management, I think there's a lot for me to learn from you on that end. Cool. Well, a lot of my lighting now is more like a light bomb went off. It lacks finesse, and I need a lot of help with that. And so I haven't really dialed that in very well. And logistically I've gone through phases where I bring way too much stuff I don't need. I've gone through a lot of gear, and I think learning what I need to use, how I need to use it better, would be really helpful. And the business end, I've tried to commercial contracts and stuff, and I've underbid at times. I've done stuff wrong and kinda basically, I need a lot of help in that avenue too, so that's what I'm hoping to learn. Photographers and gear. My garage is filled with gear that I absoLutely thought that I just couldn't do without. Aye. Danny? As others have said, the lightning, your problem solving, how you approach shooting in a location like this with mixed lightning. And dealing with any problems associated with on location shooting, and also importantly to me is the business aspect. Getting clients, keeping clients, keeping those clients happy. And having a life within photography since it is such a hardy business. Alright. Alright, so, yeah. What you'll see today, at least partially, and then also tomorrow. My studio team is here, except for one very crucial person, Annie Kayhall, who manages all of our social media marketing. She's back at the studio holding down the fort. But Lyn is with me, you'll meet her. She's unbelievably lovely, wonderful human being. She's been with me for 26 years as our studio manager and producer. She builds all our contracts, she does all our estimates, bids, she handles all the phone stuff, which is a good thing because people call the studio and say, oh, I was wondering if Joe could maybe do this for $3. (audience laughing) Or something along, something crazy. And my reaction of course on the phone, if I was picking up the phone, would be like, you (splutters). Which is not a good way to start the day or maintain you business. Lyn is very patient and wonderful. She's like well, budget sounds like it's an issue. Okay, why don't you start by sending me an email and a paper trail, we'll then get started. And we'll go from there. Our philosophy generally speaking business-wise is we're like a rubber band. We'll stretch, but we won't break. Okay, there's a certain point that we get to that we just say no. We have our first assistant, he's been with us for seven years, Michael Callie. He goes by Callie, you know? So, he's not on the set right now, but he'll be back in. And off camera and all that sort of stuff, please, you can talk to Lyn, talk to Callie, talk to me. Callie is a font of knowledge. He's been, as I said, been doing this for seven years. He's also our chief videographer. Very knowledgeable about computer stuff, and all that jazz, you know, so. We are a team. We are presenting here together as a team, as I think it was Tanya mentioned. The team aspect of this. And you'll see, there's an imagine not, it won't come up today, but we're on a big production shoot in the woods, and you'll see an image on the show here over the course of the couple days. I'm not even at the camera at that point. I've done the shooting, pretty happy with it. And I back off the camera, and then Callie, and Lyn, and John, you know, from our studio, are all gathered around the camera because I need that help. I'm the first one to say on the set like, okay, talk to me, talk to me. It is very much a team effort. You go forward as a group. And so people are checking what I do, they're backstopping me. My name's on the door. I take the credit. I also take the blame. I take the bumps and the lumps and all that sort of stuff. But behind the door there, it's all teamwork. So we have a staff of four. Annie is social media and marketing, Lyn is manager and studio production, Callie is first assistant and chief videographer. And then there's me, I'm the drag on the operation. I'm the anchor that slows everybody down. They're all working hard, and I'm staring out the window. I'm a drifter, okay? I'm like a balloon. Lyn just keeps reeling me back in. But that's my function because I'm the person who is generating ideas, proposals, et cetera. Again, we'll get into this, you have to be very proactive as a photographer about your creating your future. When I grew up photographically, the phone rang like crazy. Wasn't much money changing hands, my magazine day rate when I started in this industry was $250 a day. Very simple, right? Magazine would call you up, can you go shoot this guy? Yep. Go out, shoot some film. Process that, edit it, send them a bill, send them a page of slides. Thank you very much. They use it, give the slides back, give it to your agent, see if you can resell it. Pretty simply stuff. And we'll get into the changes that I've gone on. Now, you know, did ya, I mean, I never thought, I'm sure you guys, 'cause a lot of you are younger than I am. But I never thought when I picked up a camera in my hands that I would have to become a brand. You know? Never thought about that. I'm a photographer, you know? I just take some pictures, I'm gonna become a newspaper photographer. That's what I really wanted to be. And then the newspaper fired me. Three years in. So I had to make some decisions. Ultimately I segued into magazines, I've been most a freelance photographer my whole life. And it was only the last 10 or 15 years that I started to think like, people started saying, well you have to think about what you wanna to project as a brand. I'm like, what am I? FedEx? Or, you know? But you are. This is the world we drop our pictures into. This is the cyclone out there, and that we're all trying to make a living involved in that whirlwind. And it's a very hard thing to do. I'm sympathetic across the board for all the reasons that we are here. Because it's a visually tired world. It's oversaturated with imagery. How do you grab somebody's eyeballs for even a nano second? What do people do now? Excuse me, Cliff. Yep. Those of you who went through an airport, did ya stop at the magazine stand? Hundreds of magazines screaming for your attention. If you go over to the newsstand, what do you do? (paper rustling) That's all you do. So what is my job as a photographer? Grab your eyeballs for longer than a nanosecond. Some fillip of difference, some excellence that's imparted to the picture. And a lot of that comes from the language we speak with light. And light is a language. One of the things I do when I'm talking about light is I ascribe to light very human characteristic. It's voluptuous, it's broke, it's ornate. It's slashing, it's angry. It's soft and cuddly. All those things, I actually personify light in my head. And it enables me to think up what it should look like walking in. I'm not gonna light Nick that same way I'm gonna light Tanya. You know, different faces, okay? Tanya's got glasses, okay? Nick's got kinda the outdoor guy thing, beard thing going on there. And that's gonna call what you do as a photographer, and a portrait photographer, a scene like this. I'm like a landscape photographer, which I am distinctly not. I suck at landscapes. I get so bored. I'm from New York, I need something to talk back to me. I go out there with the rocks and the trees and I get hungry almost immediately. I used to go out on a digital landscape workshops here it's with Moose Peterson. And Moose just brought me along for comic relief. And we'd be out there in some magnificent place. I mean, I love to look at it, I just can't do it. And we'd be out there at 5 AM freezing our ass off. And I'd eventually go to Moose, and I'd say, I'm hearing the call of the wild pancake. (audience laughing) Joe wants breakfast. I mean, so. But my landscape is here, today, and the difference is that I can influence it. I can create an accentuation or a diminution of the elements in this photograph. What are you doing when you're lighting something? You're speaking a language to somebody you're never gonna meet, right? You're talking to someone who's gonna view your picture and you're never gonna know them, right? Ever. So you have to initiate that conversation. Think of it this way, by lighting something or not, you give somebody a psychological road map to your photograph. Look here. Not so much here. This is context. This is important. All that sort of stuff. Very, very valuable way to think about lightning because, look, let's face it any idiot can put up and umbrella. I mean, you're looking at one right here. I mean, when it's des-predation hour, and the job has gone completely south, I know that I've only got 10 minutes left. I can put up an umbrella 10 feet over here, put it up, and everybody here's gonna look nice. And I can go, oh my God. I had visual ambition for the job, but that disappeared a long time ago because the subject was late, I don't know, there was a hurricane or whatever it might be. Or the permit I had for outside, I didn't check it out thoroughly and now there's a parade out there. So I have to find someplace else. Whatever could go wrong will go wrong. It's a house of cards there out on location. So, you know, you throw up an umbrella, you get outta Dodge, and everything's fine. But, differentiation of light when you really can craft light. Lighting this but not that. That's the key to where it maybe can get to the next level. So that's what we'll experience today. I don't completely know what I'm gonna do in here. I have a rough idea. But I say that very unabashed. I mean, I'm not sure exactly what we're gonna do. I'm gonna start over in this neighborhood and we have two talent today. One is kind of he's kind of a big guy, he could be a bartender, he could be the bar owner, right? So he's a character driven sorta guy. So I'm gonna light him very differently from our female model. Our female model is kind of a little bit, I don't know, Seattle rockstar kinda thing going on. And so I'm gonna light her more of a beauty way. I'm gonna play with depth of field, I'm gonna play with color. I'm gonna see what works, and we'll build from there. Cool? Alright. So, so much of this depends on your enthusiasm. (audience laughing) Alright? So, I use this picture. I did this on my own. For whatever reason, I've always wanted to do a picture of a crazy guy in a garage with two oxy acetylene torches. I saw too many Johnny Torch comic books when I was a kid, that's basically the bottom line. So, I funded this on my own. Nobody assigned me. Do you think anybody's gonna assign me to do this? No, that doesn't happen. I liked it though. And I shot it. I have a good relationship with clients that I can make proposals to. And this became a series called Garage Guys. And I eventually got funding for it based on this picture, and the kinda fun nature it was. But none of this just happened, this obviously I had to make arrangements for the garage. Had to make arrangements for the model. That car just wasn't magically on the lift. These lights coming in here, this shaft of light. I didn't get lucky with the sun. Those are 2,400 watt second units out there, okay? The ceiling was dark. So that's another light. Every light has a job. All of this in here has key lights on it. All of this stuff. The floor was dark. So it's a question of building this and being enthusiastic enough to go after it in a really hardcore fashion. So this was just the first step, and I really like the picture. And eventually, I wrote a proposal that got us some funding to continue and I did three more of these things that crazy people in garages. So, what's on the table, okay? I didn't event realize this when it was written, but it's like the five Cs. (audience laughing) Controlling light, confidence with your equipment, communication skills, conquering challenges, and critiques. I didn't realize it would alliterate like that, but it did. So, today is gonna be a lot about controlling light. Yes, Dylan? Can I ask you a question? You're talking about funding and writing proposal. Funding from whom? That client, I shot that with a DA10. Nikon became enamored of it, and they ended up funding another couple of series to show the strength of a high res camera. Okay. Yep. I feel like I should put on a jacket and tie and get a pointer. (audience laughing) And over here, this is fairly straightforward. We're gonna shoot live on location. Production hurdles. Oh, I see what it's doing. It's going the little yellow thing is going that way. (audience laughing) Kinda, this could take all day. Post production. Yeah, Callie will show you our post production, for what it's worth, okay? We're not the kind of studio, as I'll say tomorrow, we're not the kind of studio that wants to make something look like it ain't real, or, you know. It's minimum darkroom work, that's what we do. We excel at camera, that's what we strive for. Big flash, the business, critiques. Your favorite aspect of everything, right? We're gonna put your stuff up. Live shoot, group portraits, and then we're kinda outta Dodge. But anyway, the most important piece of equipment in your bag is your attitude, okay? Over the course of time, this is our team come out of the National Ignition Facility. We had just finished three, four days where I got dropped into a highly radioactive chamber for the National Geographic. And the guy who took me in there up this sleeve, with all this protective stuff on, looked at me, goes, it's pretty cool Joe. Not too many people get a chance to do this. And I'm like, yeah, so this is a privilege going into someplace that is highly radioactive, that if I touch anything I'm gonna, I don't know, become a mutant. Or, you know, audition for the X Men. But yeah, I mean, this is just my history. I'm happy behind the camera. I don't care if I'm hanging out of a helicopter, I don't care if I'm sitting on my butt in the street. I'm happy behind the camera. Win, lose, or draw I'm a photographer at the end of the day. And that's something very important to remember all the time because you have to be in love with the sound of the shutter. You have to absolutely be in love with that moment of exposure. And again, win, lose, or draw. Good day or bad day in the field, you have to enjoy that time in the field. And this is something I would caution all of you and any young photographers in particular who might be watching, if you predicate your sense of self worth, or self esteem as a photographer on what somebody does to or with your pictures downstream after the fact, you're in for a lifetime of misery. Because nobody's gonna use your pictures the way you would. Nobody's gonna display 'em, or care for them the way you do. So you have to be happy at that moment whether you get paid or not. Whether they use it well or not. Whether you get yelled at our not. Whatever might occur in the aftermath of shooting you have to be excited about that moment in the field. And I am. I'm resolutely just kinda thrilled to be out there with a camera in hand. And it goes along, this comes from the very name photography. Photography, photographos, it's from a Greek root that means to write with light. So, understanding and embracing light, and the power of light, and what it means in the course of telling stories as a photographer. This is on the edge of the Rift Valley in Kenya. I was doing a piece for National Geographic on human performance, and I was working with Kenyan marathoners. And they're an amazing and beautiful, oh, just astonishing to watch the syncopation as these professional runners just move along. It's absolutely stunning and beautiful. Think of your camera not as a camera. Think of it as a visa. It enables you to cross borders. It enables you to get into people's lives. I've actually been allowed into people's lives just because I have a camera in my hand. Otherwise you would be foreclosed. But you are passionate enough about this that you want to do this so badly that that person allows you in because they feel that passion. They feel like that connection that you have that you wanna honestly tell their story. At the end of the day, what are we? Storytellers. We're storytellers. And that is, you know, the camera manufacturers. I bless 'em, I love 'em, and at the same time I'm like, man, you know, they're a little bit like drug dealers don't you think? Here's more pixels. The siren call of more pixels. And now your pictures will be so beautiful. The automation aspects of the cameras, astonishing right? And we've been seduced, I think, by that in terms of thinking that this is quote unquote, easy. Or easier than we might've imagined. Because you put a camera on aperture priority, go click, auto focus. Not bad, right? Not bad. Used to be a lot of work. Now, whew, the camera's are turbocharged, right? But that still doesn't alter the basic mission, telling stories, telling effective stories is hard work. It's hard to do. So that's incumbent on us, and the camera is this machine, it's this interface. Anybody ever had the experience where you go out and just shoot pictures like mad? 'Cause you're just really excited about what you're seeing? Then you bring it back and launch it into your computer and it's like, what was I thinking? What was I thinking? This sucks. Well maybe it doesn't completely suck, but it's you know. Yeah. The interface, that camera, as magnificent as the cameras are, it's still a mechanical interface between what you're seeing and what someone else is gonna convey, you're gonna convey to someone else. Remember the person you're gonna talk to via your picture is not there with you, so you have to convey this powerful, emotional, visceral experience that you're having out here effectively right through the camera lens, mechanics, pixels, computer, Photoshop, all that stuff, and deliver it on somebody's doorstep and make them go, oh. If you can do this. Have you ever been at a slideshow and the slides are going up, going up, going up, and it's all quiet in the room? And then a really good image comes up, and the room, you hear it, the room goes, oh. That's what you want. You want an, uh. It's an audible, I call 'em audibles. If you really move somebody, they're like, oh. Or they tilt their head like a cat looking at dinner. Oh. (audience laughing) Oh. If you can do that, that sounds stupid, but it's true. If you can do that, then you've intrigued someone. Then you've enlightened someone. Then you've got your hooks in them. And my job as a photographer is to get you involved in that story. Lead you through those pages, or bring you along on my adventure. So that is really, really hard to do despite how amazing the technology is. I've been to nearly 70 countries, and all 50 states with cameras in my hand. And the physical reality of crossing a border, as difficult as it can be sometimes, it is nothing compared to the emotional borders you have to cross as a photographer to get involved in real storytelling pictures about somebody's life.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Joe McNally Gear List
McNally Lighting Diagrams

Ratings and Reviews


What is there to say, this is a master at work. I feel like I owe Joe a hundred lunches for the information I’ve learned from him and used in jobs through the years. Personally I relate to his slightly self-deprecating style quite well. Joe’s a confident, supremely knowledgeable and incredibly experienced photographer who doesn’t need to wear that on his sleeve to get the point across. He is also clearly a great leader who has built a terrific team. I snap up everything of Joe’s I can find and use it as a library, where every time you watch you take away something new. Thanks Joe, you’re a legend and good on Creative Live for offering this wonderful and beautifully curated course.

ileana gonzales photography

When I saw the chance to learn from the great Joe McNally I jumped through the screen at the chance to be in the audience. It's one thing to see how a fantastic photographer works, thinks, composes and styles, but to get a behind the curtain view at the way his entire shop operates was truly amazing. By allowing us to see Lynn's processes and Cali's workflow it encouraged me to diversify before taking the plunge into the business side of photography. Truly an amazing team and an unforgettable learning experience.


Joe is fantastic! The wealth of information, experience and extraordinary talent he shares is invaluable! He's also a very engaging, humorous instructor who keeps an audience a part of the "discussion." Don't miss a Joe McNally class, seminar or workshop opportunity!

Student Work