Lighting, Logistics, and Strategies for a Life in Photography

 

Lighting, Logistics, and Strategies for a Life in Photography

 

Lesson Info

Location Considerations

So, hang onto your ideas. They are your currency as a photographer. That is my bud there, Howard Simmons, used to be Greg Heisler's assistant. Went on to a long career at the New York Daily News as a staff photographer. And I had this nutty notion for Sports Illustrated that Ozzie Smith, who was known as the Wizard of Oz at St. Louis, shortstop, could play shortstop from five different positions at once. So my imagination conjured him reflected into mirrors. So there's Howard, and there's a production set. Now that, just as an aside, that little light there that's up above, that's actually a big light, up above Howard, that was a pain in the butt to rig. There's a lot of sandbags on that. You can see that's a quad, just to let you know, that's a quad unit. There is a lot of power going into that light, okay? Almost 10,000 watts that gets sent to one strobe head, okay, 'cause it was so high, and I had to keep it out of the line of the mirrors and all of that. And I did a very nice pictu...

re, which I'm very happy with, and I won't, but I'll just show you what they published, which they cropped the biggest mirror out of the picture, okay? So you get used to this as a photographer. Now, cycling back, and this is where Lynn actively fears my imagination, I had this mirror idea. Where are we here? This is 1988. So that's pre-Lynn. Yeah, pre-Lynn, okay? There was life before Lynn. (laughing) It wasn't very good, though. No, of course not, yeah. It wasn't rich and fully developed, and there wasn't any fun around the studio at all. So, Ozzie, okay, and this is the way they ran it. So I had this mirror idea tucked in my head for a long time, and we finally got some funding to go out into the desert and build a set out of mirrors and import Las Vegas talent out there onto a dry lakebed and shoot this job. And Lynn orchestrated this whole thing, so... Well, so, yeah, well. So Joe has a habit of dialing up ideas that are just, like, how am I exactly supposed to, what? Okay, so I have to, you know, after I have my initial shock of, like, how am I gonna do this, I start to really wrap my head around it and then figure out, okay, well at least we kinda knew the location was gonna be Vegas. There were a variety of reasons for that, logistics, he wanted to do it in the desert, so, okay, here we go, Vegas. You know, the dry lakebeds out there are great. We're familiar with Vegas production and people we know, but I didn't know anybody who could build a set like this. So we did have some contacts in the industry out there, and I started just making phone calls. That's how you do it. You start to just, like, make one phone call, that leads to another and another, and then you finally get to the people, the group, who can help you. Or you think they can help you, until you get their estimate for actually putting this out there. And then we're like, "Okay, we're gonna have to, like, "reel that in a little." I mean, you know, yes, it's a wonderfully, you know, it's a funded shoot, but there's, you know, a limitation here, so the sky is not the limit, so we'll reel it in. And so we did, and we discussed, very, we got, Joe and I would get on the phone, and Cali, with the set designer and say, "What can we do?" We need it to act in a certain way, that Joe wants to be able to come away with certain end-result images, but we also need it to be safe. And one of their concerns with the set designers was that these large mirrors, that the vertical mirrors on the horizontal platform, it is windy out there, and keeping this set up overnight, because this just wasn't built the morning of, shot, and wrapped. I mean, there was no doing that. And the sun goes down and you're out, it is pitch black. You'd have to bring in the big lights, everything, to just, you know, help the whole entire shoot happen from beginning to end. So it was done over the course of a couple of days, and the building of the set started probably six weeks prior to the shoot, so they were building it, actually, in their studio out in the Vegas area. So that's a lot of how it all came to be, and then again, fast forward 'cause it's a very long story having to do with the production, but it got done. And Joe and Cali were there. I did not go there. The funding for sending me there went into the building of the construction of the platform. So I stayed behind, but a lot of production can be done right from an office. You need a phone, and you need e-mail and Internet, and you could get a lot done. My goal is to take the pieces of the puzzle for any production, put them together, and then say, "Okay, Joe, here you go. "Now you gotta, like, go do that." So, that's where it all-- That's always a magical moment for Lynn because she'll literally live with things for weeks at a time, and then she brings this to me and drops them on my lap and says, "Now it's your problem." So this was kind of an end-result picture from that that we liked. This is a very typical thing about being, you know, tenacious as a producer. Lynn found me that samba outfit. I own that samba outfit now. Because Joe wanted a samba outfit. Hey, you know? Like, we can't just get a showgirl, you know, like it's so easy in Vegas? I wanted a samba outfit because we're working with this model, Claudia, who is Latino, and she's wonderful, and she personifies the exuberance and the kind of, you know, sexual, sort of sensuous nature of samba. You know, it's wonderful. And so, Lynn, you know, does this search, and this is something that you can do on a large and small scale. You hit the Internet, you start researching, and you found the one outfit in the United States that actually makes legitimate samba outfits because samba has cultural nuance and detail. You can't just go to a party store and call it a samba outfit. Correct. And there were certain size restraints. We knew who we wanted to use as the talent, and she had a certain size that we had to work with, I mean, amazing woman, but she, there were certain size constraints that we had to make sure we stayed within so that the outfit would fit. And she's tall and statuesque and gorgeous, and some of the samba dancers in Rio are just, you know, they're not the same size as Claudia. So we outfitted her, and the shoes I had to get from another resource in Miami, and it just became this whole bigger thing than, of course, we ever set out to do, but that's life with Joe, so. There were a variety of setups, and then we did a sort of a Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire look as well, so we cast for those two talent. We did another dancer who's with Cirque du Soleil, two of them, in fact, whom we've worked with before. That's where you rely on who do you know, who could we count on? We have wonderful relationships with many talent in Vegas, and the thing about talent, and, sure you already know this, whether it's fashion models or... any level of talent skill set that a lot of these folks have is you treat them properly. They're doing a job for you, and they're very proud to be associated with that shoot, and they're being paid for it, and sometimes not, honestly, a whole, whole lot of money. Sometimes it's a more moderate sum, but you still treat them nicely and fairly, and you will work with them again, and they'll be thrilled to work with you again because you were kind to them, and this is an example of some of the folks we've worked with, 'cause Dasha and Manu, very much so. Repeat Dasha and Manu. Now, on a set like this, Cali, as my first assistant, what's your biggest problem, other than just managing me? Well, yeah, managing. Logistically, on a set like this, there's so many factors that weigh into the final product, specifically in this one, mirrors. Everything's reflecting back and forth. You never know, until you get someone in the middle of the set where you're gonna see them next, or what in the background you're gonna see, or where our lights are gonna, you know? I mean, in this specific frame you see me with the beauty dish here. I had to fit that in so perfectly in the middle of that slit between the two mirrors because that was the only spot that that light could actually live. Anywhere else, even just an inch or two to the left or right, you had a full highboy in there with the beauty dish, so that, those kind of logistics are what we really need to focus on beforehand. Going into a shoot like this, generally, Joe and I, or if there's another assistant on set, we'll sit down and talk, you know, the game plan. It's like, "Where do we start?" You know, we have to get a camera in our hands, we have to just take some quick shots, like we did yesterday. You guys saw. Joe, he said, "I'm gonna grab this camera. "I'm gonna throw an aperture priority, "and I'm just gonna get my viewpoint here." So I really sit down and work with Joe on introducing the set to all of us. It's like, "This is where we need to start. "Alright, let's build. "What can work, what can't work?" And then we just kinda go from there. You know, there's a scale to this. We're gonna take, starting out at a fairly heavy production, and we're gonna graduate down into something I did with small flash. But the thing is, as I mentioned earlier, details. Details are constantly with you, no matter if it's a big set or a small set, and Lynn manages those. And we have these pre-production meetings, where, if we're talking about this, you can see this mirrored surface here. Those are two five-foot-by-10-foot mirrors butted together, okay? This is all trussed and kind of, you know, softened and leveled and all that sort of stuff. The blue barrels are filled with water, okay, 'cause you need ballast because those are five-foot-by-10-foot mirrors standing there catching the wind. Lynn had to make arrangements for two RVs, one for talent and food, one for the other crew to stay in the desert overnight as security, 'cause we left it, as security. We left it overnight. We needed security there. Well, the mirrors had to be covered, and then every shot, they had to be cleaned. So all of this stuff goes through Lynn's head in terms of pieces of this puzzle that are slowly coming together. And so the detail orientation of whenever you have an idea, and you want to proceed with a production, you have to really think your way into it, and even then, at that point, I'm like, I'm with Cali in the desert, and we're saying, "I gotta look to the west." Okay, that means where do we put the cars, because the mirrors are gonna reflect the east, you know? All the cars have to be scattered and out of the sight lines of the mirrors, especially when you're dealing with, you know, something like that, okay? I sold this job on the idea of endless reflections. That was my concept, endlessly reflected imageries. So there's a mirror that's there, and there's a mirror that I'm tucked into right behind me, right over here. And Manu, he's one of the leads in the Las Vegas, you know, environment down there. He's a magnificent athlete. It leaps into that and then just is endlessly reflected away into, I don't know, forever. Susie? How do you come up with a budget? How long is your timeline for when you come up with that budget to present what you're gonna do, and have you already decided this is what you want to do, where you want to do it, before you come up with all that to present it? Or is it all kinda come together with something that is a job that you think is coming up? Does that make sense? Good, good question. In this particular instance, I was blessed last year because Nikon came out with a whole series of new gear and new cameras, and they were anxious to get imagery to support that. So I presented this idea, okay, to a long-time client, and effectively, I have that relationship, so I could go to them and say, "I have this idea." That's when Lynn kicks in and starts crafting a rough budget, a rough idea of what this will cost because, you know, with any client, every, you know, kind of expenditure is looked at. And we cut here. I originally wanted the mirrors to be bigger. (laughing) Good thing I didn't. Sometimes you are saved from yourself. I originally wanted 10-foot standing mirrors. These are five-foot-by-10-foot, okay? I wanted 10-foot squares. Too much money, too dangerous, too much wind resistance. The beautiful thing about working with people who are professional at doing something like this is that they do the math. They calculate wind resistance, vis-a-vis mass and weight and surface area, and they do all that stuff that is not my strength at all. And we had, I think, a wind tolerance of maybe, like, 22 miles an hour, or something like that? It was pretty dicey the first day. Yeah. It was an engineering feat, really. So it was very important to have that in place. And then we also did this. I call these my Ozzie Smith mirrors. I've left mirrors behind, by the way, in lots of places. (laughing) These mirrors here There's no more mirrors. are now in a... a dance studio in Vegas. One of the guys on the crew said, you know, "What are you gonna do with these mirrors?" I'm like, "I'm not shipping them home," you know? So, I said, "Do you think we could donate them "or give them away to a dance studio that could use them?" I said, "By all means, if you truck them out of here, "they're yours." So you kinda leave that behind, you know, and then, I'm in the middle of them. Now, the retouching on this, Jon Cospito did the retouching on this. He's no longer with us. The biggest deal for us was this is pretty much out of camera, okay? But the big deal was to retouch out the seam in the mirrors because the five-foot-by-10-foots were the biggest we could get, so there's a seam in the floor, which seems like, oh, just get rid of the seam. But the seam reflects all sorts of different values, so it was kind of a chore to retouch that out in a natural way. But the result, well, they were very, very pleased with the result, okay? This was a big job. I was very nervous because, obviously, when you build a set like this, you've already spent a bunch of money before you even take the cameras out of the bag. And so pressure is on, as it is with anything, a wedding, you know? How many here shoot weddings? Okay. Still get nerves about it? Yeah. You want to do well before, and you want to plan it out. Scouting, research, meeting, that's a level of production, to try to make sure the contracts and the expectations are managed, and all of the things that you're about to do are things that are necessary and expected. Absolutely. Alright, into the woods we go. So, you know, you encounter certain things, and again, this is where I rely on Lynn. This was the other shot we did for the Halloween series, okay, so this is a two-fer. This is the second picture that got draped in the Javits Center. And my imagination on this is that two little trick-or-treaters wandered into the woods and met an evil tree, and like, again, I've seen too much of The Lord of the Rings. I know! It just, it just, you know. And in an enchanted forest, and they never came home again. (laughing) We won't go into the twisted nature of that, you know. Yeah, no. But I've had a lot of experience with smoke, and I realized I needed a particular type of smoke. I needed a low-lying fog, not just a smog machine or a Rosco Halloween party fogger or something like that. I needed low-lying, fog-like smoke, and there are people who will do that for you, and that's when I turn to Lynn. At a cost. Every shoot, whether it's large or small, there's always something about it that just makes me a little crazy. And in this case, this one, it was, you know, it was woods that were nearby, so we were able to access them easily. I already knew who the crew would be 'cause, you know, we have our core group of people we work with, so that was another thing that was great. It involved body painting, as you will see, so, just like with the bedroom Halloween shoot, knew that it was gonna be the same talent, or same artists who would do the body painting. Did need to do some casting of a couple of kids, so that was a little more involved. But that fog machine, that just, like, where am I gonna find this specialized, but in Brooklyn? You know, just like, you make the phone calls. You search out what you're looking for, and you find what you need. But that was a very big deal to bring in. It was, it was 300-- And insurance, proper insurance for it, because it was... It was a 300-pound cylinder we had to drag into the woods, you know? This is a lot of work. Talk to me about casting kids. Casting kids is fun but also really kinda difficult because you want to try to get actual talent, not just your friend's child, because your friend's child, although may be cute or whatever, might have the right look that you need, but not someone who, you know, maybe is in front of the camera that often and needs to understand cues and the way it all works. Now, babies are different. They don't understand cues. But there's babies through agencies as well, so that's, like, a whole other thing. But casting children for this, they were, I think, six and eight or seven and 10. I forget exactly, but in that age group. We knew we needed them to have a certain look and have a certain ability to follow direction. We did not, however, have the budget, although we had a good budget, we didn't have the budget to do an actual live audition. That's where you get to meet your talent in person, get a feel for their personality, and know that they're either gonna work or not gonna work. We didn't have that opportunity. So I spoke with the agents. I start out by doing, like with any casting, a wide field because I get hundreds, sometimes thousands, of submissions, and narrow it down, narrow it down, until I get maybe a final core group. Then I speak to the agents, ask them about the children's, in this case, personality, and would they be able to follow direction? That we're gonna need them to act scared in the woods, and this is the role they're playing. It's not just for still photography for a catalog, where they just have to look cute and strike a pose. This is actually acting. So the agents for both of them said, "No, these kids would be perfect for this." I did take their word for it and hope for the best, and they actually were fantastic. And their parents were on the set. They have to be, it's a-- They have to be on the set. And also, we had to disclose to the parents up front these ladies, outside of the body paint, are naked. Okay? Mm-hmm. So they're not naked, obviously, because their bits and pieces are covered with the trees, and their bodies are completely painted, but we had to make sure the parents were comfortable with their children on the set with the presence of a painted lady, you know? And the kids thought it was the coolest thing ever. Oh, the kids, the kids really liked it. So, it was just, it all went really, It was crazy. just incredibly well. And then what I mentioned about the team. That is Lynn, obviously. That's her daughter, Trevi, who is also very involved in the photographic industry. Cali has the lead. There's Jon. I'm not in this picture, alright, if you notice. I abandon the camera at that point. I've done my shooting. I think I have it, but I don't walk off the set until I get a consensus from the team that, "Yes, Joe, I think you did well." Also, it gives Cali, as you can see, he's flexing his tricep here while he's looking at my pictures. Thanks, Joe. (laughing) You know? Yeah. But what I said yesterday about it being very much a team effort, my eyes are not as young as they used to be, okay, so I get backup at the LCD. I get people looking at it, discovering flaws, taking a look at things, making sure that all of our, all of Lynn's precision at production is expressed in what I've come up with at the camera. And we're all looking for different things, too. You know, I'm more paying attention to wardrobe and that sort of thing. Joe, real quick question about the parents having to be there, obviously, to take care of the children. Is there a fee that they should be asking for, or should you be paying them, the parents, not the kids? No. No, the parents are not paid. The children are paid through their agency. Okay. Now, how those funds are dispersed once they are allocated to the children, that's not our deal, you know? That's on their end. You like to think that children in the industry, that the parents are acting in a very responsible way and taking the money, putting it in a separate account for them, but I mean, that, you know, again, that's like out of our, we have them sign the release, they're paid through the agency, and, yeah, I probably wouldn't hire children except through an agency. That would be my preference because then it's done all very much on the up and up, you know, again, unless it's like a little shoot that you want to just, like, put some kids in, and then you could use your friend's kids. It's not a big deal, and you could pay them, and you're not, you know, it's a different, but this was for a client. This was an actual, big production, so... Cali, when you're looking at the LCD here, and you're on set, what is your, what are your fears? What are your concerns? When I'm looking at the finalized picture, or if we're getting really close to the, you know, the end image, there's a couple things that are pretty crucial to see for me, at least, and obviously, critical sharpness being the first one. Always zoom in. I go through a bunch of pictures really quick, just to make sure that the camera and the lens are operating correctly and all that stuff. A couple of things that I'm really looking for are, are the lights firing in every shot, you know? We have, in this scenario, we probably had four or five, like, you know, 2400-watt second units in the backgrounds firing from super high on highboys down into the woods, picking up that smoke from the back, hitting the trees, you'll see in the middle and the sides. So there's a lot of lights in play here, so I'm looking and I'm saying, "Is this spot up here "in the top right, is that dead?" Maybe we lost, you know, one of our 2400-watt second units without us knowing, which is on the set, you should always have eyes on every light. And you'll see that with the crew here, too. You'll see a lot of them are sometimes are, like, have their one eye closed and their hand over their eye 'cause they're just really trying to focus on a specific light source firing. And another thing for me that I really look at, for me it's just bothersome to see any sort of, like, cropping into, like, elbows and, you know, shoulders and knees and the head and stuff like that, so I think you guys saw yesterday too, I was like, "Joe, just fire a couple "and give a little more room on the bottom of the frame." So if I have to do anything to the picture, cropping, anything like that, I have the room to work. We can always, you know, go in, but we can't build out as easily, so those are usually my three big things. This picture is as it was shot coming out of the camera. The retouching that was done here, there was more retouching done on this than there was on the bedroom. What Cali did, as I recall, was grab some smoke from another frame and drop it into the background of this. We liked the expression in this frame. We didn't like the expression of the smoke. So we filled in a little bit of smoke. So I'm very honest about that stuff. I'm very direct about it. There are photographers in the industry, I'm sure we all know, who claim that they never touch their things, and it's absolutely pristine and perfect coming out of the camera. That's rarely the case. All digital, honestly, needs some measure of, you know, post-production work. Just does, even the most basic of darkroom work. This went beyond basic darkroom work. Dylan? This is for Cali. Being an assistant to a photographer, I like the idea you were talking about, that you have a meeting prior to it, so you have an idea of what's happening, which I think is great. Would you say there's anything else that helps you be successful in your job that your team does leading to a shoot? Yeah, that's a good question. One thing that we do, kind of in the meeting realm of things, is, I don't know if a lot of first assistants are kind of involved in the pre-pro as much as maybe I am with us because there is a lot of back and forth, which I respect, from both Lynn and Joe, the fact that they care what I have to say. It also gives me the opportunity to bring up any potential issues that we might have in a job, you know, whether that's technical-based or, I even speak in behalf of, you know, models or locations and stuff like that, so I am heavily involved in that pre-production process, but I'd say, like, probably my main thing is, like, is this possible? What can we do? If this isn't possible, how can we make this work? But yeah, I think it is very important to include me in some of those meetings because, you know, you don't want to go into the day of a job, and then Joe looks at me and says, "Let's do this," and I'm just, like, "Um..." Duh... "Uh, I don't think we can do that." Well, invariably-- Did you bring the 600? "Uh, uh, I uh..." Yeah, yeah. You know, I try not to do that, you know? One of the things I do with Cali is I write a pack list. He's responsible for the gear. My first assistant is responsible for the gear. So I write a pack list before we go on location, but at the end of each pack list, given the fact that he's been very involved in pre-production, I put, always at the bottom of that, "Think your way into this. "Ask me questions." Yep. Always. So, he'll come to me and say, "Are you sure you're not gonna need, like, "a six-foot silk on this 'cause blah, blah, blah?" Or, "Do we need a secondary tripod? "Are we gonna set up a stop-action camera off the set "to do BTS?" Or whatever it might be. And he is involved enough in the proceedings to know how to translate that into our gear pack. Yep. Yeah. And invariably, we will all think of something that the other one didn't think of, and it's like, "Oh, did you think of," "Oh, thank you." Yeah, absolutely. You know, it's like we'll all do that. So that's where the team effort really is important. But you, it really allows you to kind of build the shot before you're even on location, which is so crucial. You don't want to walk into a location and not know what you're expecting, so you know, you have location scouts. If it's local, I'll go out and scout, you know, a spot and say, "Hey, this is what we're looking at." Luckily, on our last location scout, I was able to FaceTime Joe, which actually makes things easier for us, too. And Joe can actually see everything I'm looking at from, you know, wherever he is in the world working. But kind of finalizing the vision for that final shot before you get there gives you some sort of direction to follow. Otherwise, you're walking into an empty box, and on the shoot day, when you're spending that much money, the last thing you want to do is walk away with a, you know, an unfinished idea, so... Tony? How big is the gap from your vision to the final product? How exact is your vision in the beginning, and is it just really open-ended? Just say, "Okay, I want to land here. "We'll see what happens." How big is the gap? In the pictures that I'm showing you, I'll show you a few, you know, as we go forward through productions. We're kind of going on the scale from large to small here as we go forward. In this particular instance, it's very close to what my imagination was, very, very close, this actually. And that is always, to me, an indication of a good day in the field 'cause if I have a good imagination of what I think is going to be a good picture, and at the end of a day we come close to that, then it's probably been a pretty good day. Certain things you get surprised, you know, but this kind of a job, I gotta have it in my head, and when I get out into that woods, it's gotta, I mean, the angle, I was unsure of the angle. Actually, this is where Cali and I disagreed at one point. He liked, there was a kind of a road going up this left-hand area, and he liked that as a graphic element. This I disagreed with, though, and I turned this way. We had 2400-watt seconds units up the hill here, and a combination of Profoto B4s and Acutes, and they were sprayed around the hill, and when I turned the lens this way, I got this backlit. And, here's the bonus, if you will. If you go back here and see that strip light? That strip light is lighting them. See the way the kids, see this is the kind of stuff I look for. See the way the kids are looking? I can't light them, you know? I can't reach a light in there. I can't have a stand back in there lighting them, so the position of that light way up the hill ended up lighting them. See the way they are lit? It was perfect. If I told you I planned that, I'd be lying to you, but the first positioning I made of the kids, I realize economy of scale here, economy of effort. That light up the hill is actually lighting the children, backlighting the tree and lighting the children simultaneously. So if I can make an efficient bridge at that point and not have to add a light, that's good to go, because time is of the essence, you know, out here. And this is, we shot this in the middle of the afternoon in broad daylight. I mean, there's the ambient light. I had to turn the forest into nighttime, and that takes some light. Ellie? This one's for Lynn. So, is there, being kind of like, I would like to think about this as the lubricant for the machine, the person in the background. Is there something that you start out with at the beginning of a project? I know they're all different, but is some sort of, like, a checklist, some sort of a template, because I mean, coming from the creative services world myself, I realize that that's, it can get crazy. Is there something you start out with? Yeah, well, I mean, that's a very good question. It probably has a thousand answers, but the easiest one I can think of is, generally speaking, go into the Rolodex in my head of once Joe conveys what he's looking for and the scope of work that the client has given us to follow, is who do I know, and how can I get this done? How can I make this process a little more streamlined, and... over the course of time, I've developed a very big Rolodex, and that's where I lean to first. Beyond that, it's very rarely, and I think Joe had mentioned this yesterday sometime too, I can make one phone call, and it's like, "You have what I need? "That's so fantastic! "Done!" You know, but no, okay, that never happens, so it's more, you know someone who could know someone who may know someone who has what I need, and then that's the course that I take. But yeah, it's a difficult, good question, but difficult to actually answer succinctly.

Class Description

“The best picture is your next picture. If you start to believe that you've already shot your best picture or you start patting yourself on the back at any level, you might as well hang it up.”
Joe McNally

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Tania

Don’t settle for good enough.
Grow your confidence by gaining the knowledge and skills to create or style photos that resonate. With the technical know-how and professionalism, you CAN shoot in any scenario for any client, and make the leap to becoming a full time photographer.