Joe McNally, the light magician

Joe McNally, the famous light bending artist came to Montréal to give his One Light Two Lights seminar.

I had read one of his books, The Hotshoe Diairies. I enjoyed it very much and it is on my must read again list. He also is a fun author to read; he writes like he speaks.

Having seen him live, I can now confirm that he also speaks like he writes :).

Man what a show this guys is. And he is 100% real!

For me the, a simple enthusiast photographer, it was great learning. For my friend Jeff, one of my two photography mentors, it was more a refresher, but nevertheless inspiring for both of us.

I learned a number of concepts. I actually knew most of these by name or from a book. But seeing them live is a totally different experience.

Of the things that I saw:

  • Shaping of light by blocking some avenues, escape routes, it could take. Shaping the light with diffusers eggshells, panels or … gaffer tape!
    Bending of light by making it bounce off walls, portable reflectors, v-shaped blinds, and other objects.
  • Texturing light by using diffusers, domes, angling of perches holding speed lights, filtering it through pouched panels.
  • Playing with light by smoothly moving subjects on stage, by dialing up or down the exposure value of the TTL reader, or changing the mood of light by using harsh or soft lights depending on subjects and depending on intent.

McNally (or maybe I should just call him Joe) uses TTL around 90% of the time. Somewhat of a surprise if you think that most pros like to go manual for anything and everything from exposure to flash settings.

His argument is that this way he has less dials to change and that he can also remotely control each flash’s output.

Speaking of controlling flashes, he uses the SB-900’s dials and menu screens to do so, not the camera itself. This is yet one more thing that I have to look into…

The only time he would use manual mode is when he wanted a flash to output its full power and when using non TTL strobes.

Another issue that McNally showed us to control, was ambiant light In the room where we were, a conference center with overhead lightning 20 feet above, the ambiant light was not only almost inexisting, it also was plain crappy.

Joe (I got his name right this time) had this trick to use a baseline exposure setting of 1/250″ at f/5.6. He took a test shot to show us that the net result was pitch black – no ambiant light. This way, all the pics he took were illuminated only by speed lights.

Definitely a trick that I will try in my next shoot. This is scheduled to be the family that welcomed their new baby for whom I was lucky to shoot when she was in her Mom’s belly.

If you have ever been to a magic show, you appreciate the entertainment, but you know that magic is not real and that somewhere hidden lies a trick.

I was impressed at what Joe can do with so little light in so little time. It was like a magic show – only better because everything that we saw was real – no tricks.

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