Saturday, July 18, 2009

Photography/Lighting Workshops!

Blog Entry: 3012.05 (or something like that! Sorry a throw back to Star Trek era! The orginal show not what came later!)

Another day late and another dollar short again! I have been wanting to write this ever since I got back from this workshop, but between two weeks of video editing and the day job this is as soon as I could get around to it, so here goes! The point of this Blog is to present mostly my photography, not my day job, not my opinion on Nationalized Heath Care, etc (Although I work in health care and am a little worried. Not that we don't need some solution but I think the current plan might need some work) but not here!

I have been around a little while and have had many opportunities to meet many people over my lifetime to date (work in health care for 28 years you meet one or two! Last count over 20,000). Between my parent’s, grandparents, school and work, the day job, working at the California Ballet Company and now the La Jolla Playhouse I have met a few. I have a very short list of famous people I wish to have or would like to meet. I learned a long time ago not to put people on pedestals because they tend to fall off. Jimmy Stewart, Danny Kaye, Robin Williams (all people I have never met and only one I may happen to meet some day or not). I have nothing in common with any of them but to me they appear to be real people, brilliant at what they did and do! Another person who I have followed as it were, is Joe McNally. The first that I was aware of him and his work was back in the Nikon SB 24/25 days and at the start of the Nikon instructional videos. Since then His work for SI, Life and National Geographic, Video’s and books, I have enjoyed and learned much from images and his teaching. I can say very easily that everything I currently know about flash and studio lighting I have learned mostly from him. I have read, re-read, watched and re-watched paused and rewound to see what he was using and how it was used. C Stands, Tri-grips, Justin Clamps, etc. Do you know in the video, “The Speed of Light” that when he was photographing the contortionist in the plexy box he used gaffer tape on the chrome holding the box together to eliminate the reflection. Only when you pause, forward and rewind do you get those details. The Image captured was great and most would have not notice that very small but big detail. So as you may be already guessing I recently I had the opportunity to meet and attend one of Joe McNally’s One Day Lighting Workshops and meet Joe in person.

Joe McNally

Joe McNally’s Lighting Workshop.
Dobbs Ferry New York June 23, 2009

I had the wonderful opportunity to attend one of Joe McNally’s Lighting Workshops, at Dobbs Ferry on the 23rd of June. With the blessings of my wife Grace, Lynn (Joe’s studio manager and producer) and $350.00. I flew from San Diego to NYC where my wife has been working. She works for Faith Ringgold as her assistant and is a Board Member on the Any One Can Fly Foundation. She told me I could stay with her in the foundation apartment as long as I got out before the volunteers’ arrived on the 24th to prepare for the annual garden party fundraiser. Lynn was very nice to speak with on the phone and even though I was late in asking if there were any openings left, she was able to accommodate my availability to attend. Lynn is a wonderful person and Joe is lucky to have someone of that character and professional face for his business. They are extremely organized and getting to the workshop was relatively easy. I had to go from 145/Saint Nicholas to Grand Central and take a Metro North Train 30 min north to Dobbs Ferry. Lynn’s Daughter Trevi picked me and another attendee up at the Dobbs Ferry Station and got us to the studio on time.

Joe used to have his studio in this building/location as well as live there for a brief period of time. It was a big open space kind of L shaped with windows facing the west (good afternoon sun for our breakout groups). The first half of the day was spent in this space until after lunch and then we went into the basement for assignment shooting.

The workshop started at 9:15 with introductions, a brief slide show of some of Joe’s Photography and it was off to learn about lighting. He started the education with how to use a single flash effectively using multiple setups and how each set up would change how the subject would look in the photo. Then it was on bigger scenarios and through the process of how one might use flash (small and big and the combination of both) to light a subject to create a mood and or feeling. Low Key, High Key, Mid Key, Multiple exposures produced in the camera. One light, two lights, 6 lights and the sun. Speedlights, Elincrom Rangers, New Ranger Quadras. Umbrellas/Brollies, bounce, shoot through, Light panels big and small, filters, Lasolite and Elincrom Soft boxes small to large, Lasolite Tri Grips, (Bed sheets: not with our group but I’m sure that some group during the week to come had the opportunity). He would then give the attendee’s the opportunity to shoot some exposures of the models using his set-ups. He had about 4 different kinds of lighting scenarios and we all had the opportunity to work with them. The models that were available to us were doing it for their portfolios and would be getting discs of all the photos shot. Through all the set-ups and shoot Joe would guide us through the thought and physical process of layering light as well as shaping, manipulating, focusing and hardening and or softening. The take away from this is that there are no right or wrongs, just well or not well execution. (translation: it’s ok or it sucks). As a photographer and I am pretty sure that most others feel the same way, there is a love/hate, like/dislike and what was I thinking? regarding the pictures we take. I do not know of too many that say that their images are perfect and that they would not change a thing, if they had the opportunity to shoot it again. Digital has helped in reducing the “what went wrong” factor that we had when we were shooting film. Occasionally we do get the image that we can live with, that we like, but I know that for me I am already moving on to the next picture I have yet to take and I hope that it will be better than the last one I took. I will always be looking to take the better picture, the one I will “like” more than the rest, but some how I feel that even when I get that image I will ultimately be thinking about how I can do it better. So forgive my sidebar now back to the workshop.

Joe McNally knows a few things about photography and lighting (Not! He knows a lot about photography and lighting). He is a great photographer and great teacher and a very real person. Throughout my 53 years I have had the wonderful pleasure of meeting many professionals in many different fields, education, medicine, performing arts, entertainment and the like. Some of these people have been famous, near famous and not so famous as well as infamous. These have been real people as well but most tend to carry their egos visibly with them. They know that you know who and what they are, although it is a pleasure to meet you, you also have the feeling that if you were to be re-introduced in the next 10 min. it would be a pleasure to meet you all over again. My introduction to Joe was simple and sincere. I had arrived and grabbed some juice and a bagel from the breakfast spread they provided and started to sit down not knowing anyone as yet except by reputation. The first to introduce himself (After Trevi and Lynn) was Joe. Not in front of the group but kind of off to the side with a handshake and a smile. He thanked me for my interest, my attendance and that he was looking forward to a very interactive day that all of the attendees, models and crew/staff would provide. After the group introductions and slide show he made it a point to try to remember everyone’s name without looking on the nametags he asked us to cover. He got them all! Amazing! I am lucky to remember the names of all my co-workers at the hospital plus my patients! He has spent time perfecting this technique and my hat’s off to him. A true talent!

The whole day was planed out because Joe has done this thing at least one of two times before! (I’m sure if he hasn’t reached a thousand plus days of teaching he has to be getting pretty close). But his style and personality is to share what he knows “There are no secrets!” He is willing to give it all up to help you to become more proficient at what we all share in, the love of photography and the pursuit of the image. You get the sense that he is always thinking and always prepared to make change or alteration when something presents it self as a problem or opportunity. Like all good, chefs Joe knows his kitchen. He knows his pot’s pans, knifes, oven, grill, his raw and prepared ingredients and his seasonings. But at the same time you get the feeling that with each dish prepared it starts with a solid base but when you start to expand on it, you have to adjust, based on the quality of the vegetables, meat, fish, herbs and the like. Anyone looking for a cookbook for lighting is forever going to be looking in my opinion. There are many books on the subject of lighting some better than others but they cannot do more than get you started. Even if you buy the best equipment there is no guarantee that what was used is going to work for you out of the box. Even with Nikon CLS You have to set it up and use it and be prepared to adjust everything based on the situation and circumstance and the desired outcome. You have to know your equipment, set it up and use it! It’s the only way! I admire Joe’s approach to lighting. Start with the basics and build on it. The rules are that there are no rules except for the reality of physics and what photons and electrons tend to do when they are released into the world. Composition, Structure, Hard or Soft Light, Shadows or no shadows, High Key or Low key are all an opinion. What you like, what the client likes and what the rest of likes is just that, an opinion.

Just a note here; Joe shoots Nikon. For studio he uses mostly Nikon and Elincrom but he can use it all and has done so over his years in the biz. But this workshop has something for everyone! We had Canon shooters as well, Everything presented and or taught will expand your knowledge in shooting and how to use light. It does not totally matter what you shoot, Nikon, Canon, Sony, Hasselblad, etc. all of the information presented is applicable. I’m sure if you would like confirmation contact Syl Arena at a close friend of Joe’s and great shooter, who happens to shoot with Canon.

Joe gave us the basics of what typical lighting scenarios most photographers will likely use 80% of the time, but at the same time he challenged us to think and not necessarily to just follow. He knows what has worked for him, yet even with setting up the same scenario that he has done thousands of times before, he is not afraid to change as situations demand. Different ratio, closer or farther, this is what he thought initially or that he this is what he wanted to do but is see something much better and goes with it. One of his most favorite quotes “Moving fast” is an understatement with regards to how his mind apparently works. He is always processing solutions, for the problems that each picture can tend to produce when we are discussing building light to create the image. He has the ability to use Light in so many ways. One image taken you would be hard pressed to figure out if he used any supplemental light at all, then his next image would not even exist if it was for his imagination and his control over all the light, natural, ambient, reflected, strobe, jelled.

Now for a word about “The Team”. There is no I in team, Joe surrounds himself with the best! And gives them credit for making it all work. He has a great team. Lynn has already been mentioned but Drew G a wizard at the computer and the mastermind behind Joe’s updated Web site and his right hand studio assistant. Syl Arena was running around trying to get our day on video. Joe had many assistants/staff helping with this workshop Lynn, Drew, Will, Lynda, Andrew, Mike, Holly, Syl, Trevi, and Lindsey. The assistants, interns, makeup, Stylist, models, tech help, People from Adorama, Bogen, Nikon, Lasolite, were all there to participate and contribute. All of them working hard however at the same time learning right along with the rest of us. Joe plays extremely well with others. His team is ready and willing and very able to make things happen. Joe’s apparent style is to just ask in order to receive. He doesn’t have to tell, demand, tirade, or go off. He’s Irish after all. I know that he knows how too! It’s just not his style. Throughout the day many requests were made and fulfilled without drama, trauma or so much has a sideway glance unless it was immediately followed with a grin, smile or laughter.

Joe's Dobbs Ferry Team
I lifted this, Oh! I mean I borrowed this from Joe's Blog. hope he doesn't mind.

After the morning session and a really excellent lunch we went to the basement. Large and Small open and closed spaces. Natural light and SB light. The Breakout Session was where we the shooters were grouped in three’s or four’s with 2 SB-900’s one as a trigger and one as a light source and a lasolite tri grip diffuser. Oh and a beautiful model. Our assignment was to use the tools provided and use the knowledge shared to go out and shoot. Joe made his rounds and offered suggestions as requested and or obviously needed. With my group we had one slam-dunk and one that need more time and help than we had left in the time remaining. The first was an awesome niche that had wonderful patina, a great window and a very Nappy couch. I still feel guilty for asking Vanessa to be on it! It was real “Nappy”! But the photos that some of us were able to capture were awesome. Mostly because of Vanessa and the location. We know that other used the same location later in the workshop also equally successful! The second location had great pipes, valves, gages and grime, sorry again Vanessa! But for that location we need a little bit more time than we had left for the assignment to make it work.

The last set-up for the day was using Elincrom Range Packs, Fluorescents, Light boxes, reflectors, jells, fans, plastic sheeting, assistants, Models and Joe. He seams to expand on what he has done before but in a very positive direction. He has used hall ways and jells to create a mood, but each time he revisits he thinks what if I add another light, or fan or different jell or something blowing that is very random and cannot always be counted on Q. This was the scenario that was the last images of the day. This is where you see the master at work and you see how well all those that Joe surrounds himself work together. Everyone was in the hallway at that time. Maybe not everyone was there the day I was but I know that everyone ends up together for the last shots of the day, and even “Annie” Joe’s wife came by. The team starts the set-up as Joe has conceptualized. Put something in, take it out, put it back but just in a slightly different place. Too much, too little, where did it go?, is that light working?, what do you think, needs a little something? But eventually it all comes together (or doesn’t). The whole time Joe is problem solving, discussing stepping back rethinking and moving forward. Not easy when you have been going all day and for weeks and months at a time. The Energizer Bunny has nothing on Joe. Some things take longer and or more time to develop (pun from those of us who learned in the days of film and printing in our bathrooms) but he keeps going. After a long day actually an hour longer than scheduled the day was almost done. We all went back up stairs to have our cards down loaded and say our good bys. We also had to thank, Bogen, Adorama, Nikon and Lasolite for helping to make this workshop go.

It was a fantastic day. We all came with what we thought we knew about our equipment, our lighting experience and our desires to know more. We all accomplished what we were there for. We learned from a Master. He gives credit to David Hobby the “Strobist” as the master of small flash or flash in general. But least we not forget Harold Edgerton the father of flash or strobe photography. So if Harold is God creator of the Universe and David is like Zeus that would make Joe like Apollo! Well maybe not. I’ve seen photos of him working in shorts and with those legs! Sorry Joe! Much thanks for your wit, wisdom, patience, your sense of humor and for being that Real Person, that those that have experienced learning from you know and respect.