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Exploring Location and Available Light

Lesson 5 from: Lighting, Logistics, and Strategies for a Life in Photography

Joe McNally

Exploring Location and Available Light

Lesson 5 from: Lighting, Logistics, and Strategies for a Life in Photography

Joe McNally

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Lesson Info

5. Exploring Location and Available Light


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

Exploring Location and Available Light

On to location, right? What are we gonna do here. Alright. So the first portrait we're gonna try to do is Ryan in the environment of the bar. And as I said earlier, I'm probably not gonna drop the bar out. The bar is a player in this regard. So we want that to be included. So quick question, what, I look at this bar, and, yeah you've got all sorts of stuff and character and all that sort of stuff. What's, lighting wise, I've got like three tons of lighting over there. But what's my most important light in this room? The natural light. Right? The natural light. That's it. The natural light, whether it exists or not, drives your solutions. If you're in a coal mine and there's no light. That drives your solution. The lack of ambient light. So right now, this is my shepard. Here. It's gonna push me and pull me in directions that I may or may not want to go. It's a driver. You go outside. I'm sure you've shot outside with small flash, and hot sun, and the sun kicks your butt, right? So, tha...

t monster of available light is either your friend or your enemy. Depending. Right now, go figure, it's Seattle and it's raining. So it's just kind of there. It's not gonna like, necessarily push me off a cliff. It's also not gonna be particularly inspirational. It's just there. So I'm gonna have to shape it or use it as best as I can see fit. But all of my solutions will be designed around how does that natural light embrace this bar. Cool? Alright. So, now I did a little pre-scouting. And, here's the thing that, that you go through in terms of location assessment. You'll wander around. You'll look at this. How much trouble am I in. What's the weather report for the day here. How bad is this gonna be. Sorry to be kind of, you know, on the downside of things. But I've been a photographer a long time and I'm always looking for the fatal flaw. That tragic happenstance that will send my soaring visual ambition down the tubes. On any given day. (laughing) And how painful it's gonna be. See CreativeLive brings me in here as an inspirational speaker. You know, they just lift the sprits of the room. (laughing) Just like, this is agony. You guys love this. Oh, that's cool. But doing this is agony. Sometimes. But, you're always making compromises, right? Photography is one big set of compromises. I like these windows. Alright. So if I include the windows I can't get the bar. Unless I go super wide. And then everything's distorted. Alright. So I lose one of the significant architectural features of the bar by including the actual bar. Bu I kind of have to include the bar because that could be a church. Maybe. You know. (laughing) An avant garde church. But, I have to think about the editorial mission of the photograph. You want to know where you are. You want to know the relationship Ryan has to this place. So the information I have to include is some measure or indication of that bar. So that automatically dictates to me what I can and cannot put in the photograph. At least in one frame. Now, if we were doing a picture page for the Seattle Times tomorrow maybe we could get four or five pictures going. And that's when you really start to, what I refer to as peel the onion. You start to peel back the layers of a place or a story until you get to the core. So here. I do a wide shot of the bar. Then of Ryan. Maybe a tighter portrait. I come back, you know, when the bar is busy. Maybe I get a shot of his hands, like, on a beer tap or something like that. Suds flowin' over his hands, this and that. Get the ambiance of the bar with lots of people. Maybe he knows people who are regulars and there's that sense of comradery. So you parse your day out as a photographer to tell the story of this place. That's not our mission right now. Our mission right now is to come up with a single portrait that's gonna run four column tomorrow on the metro front. You know, Bastille bar becomes popular local handout. I don't know. You can say anything you want. But, (laughing) let's not go into the negative aspects. Let's just stay positive. Becomes a popular joint. Here we go. So, I'm gonna include the bar. This. Is a bit of an issue. Right? Now I could skirt it. I could go off to the side and eliminate it all together. But I actually sort of thinks it's kind of not a bad thing to have in the photograph. It's an anchor. And it can be, depending on your sense of composition, it could be something that could be kind of fun to play with. It's a little bit formidable. Also, there's no light on this. So it could become, instead of having the lights back there, and the chandelier, it could become a little bit of simple negative space, to put Ryan in front of. So I know at that point there's really nothing totally distracting coming out of his head. It's just kind of this piece of wood. Which is contiguous with the rest of the bar environment. So, and then using rule of thirds, I can place him here. Include a bit of the bar. And then sweep this way to keep up, and include a couple of the windows back there. And the windows will provide me with natural back-light. Make sense? Alright. Make sense? Yeah Joe, yeah, no, it makes perfect sense man. (laughing) Alright. Here we go.

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