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Bar Owner: Setting the Scene

Lesson 6 from: Lighting, Logistics, and Strategies for a Life in Photography

Joe McNally

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Lesson Info

6. Bar Owner: Setting the Scene

Next Lesson: Shoot: Bar Owner


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

Bar Owner: Setting the Scene

Camera of choice right now is the D5, its got a 24-70 mm lens on it. The lens is a f 2.8 lens. This is my work horse lens. It's nothing fancy, it's nothing exotic it's just dead bang sharp, and very rugged. It goes with me everywhere, I probably shoot more pictures with this lens than maybe even the rest of all my lenses in the bag. So there's an initial effort. I feel good about that. I feel really good about that. A promising start. Lets refer to that as a promising start. Now this is just a quick test to see we are tethered. Again we are using tethertools stuff to get into my computer over here. Camera control Pro is sucking in the pictures and then they are liaisoning whatever Creative Live does for liaisonning to get it on to this TV screen. We're going to be using the SB-5000 flashes. They're a radio controlled flash. I'll go into the mechanics of that as we go. But for now lets just start with kind of a rough kind of approximation. First thing I do, my scouting mode is aperture ...

priority. Would you guys share that. I think pretty much there? Ya. I'm in manual. That is a manual picture okay, so. So I go into my mode and I go into aperture priority where I'm going to govern the f stop. The f stop right now is at 5.6. He's going to be in the mid range so 5.6 is probably okay. Has enough depth of field 2/3 back into the photograph to retain the sense of the bar. I'll drop my cursor for now on the post. And just do this. (Camera clicks) Okay. I would describe that as charmless. Do you know why? Because of these video flood lights. They're kind of blowing away the nature and character of the bar. So lets do this if I may, to drive the video folks completely nuts, lets kill those two lights up there. As still photographers we live to be a pain in the but to video guys right? I mean we just like live for that. Isn't that nicer? It's not nice for them, their probably at ISO 74 million right now. I feel like a brass band just stopped playing in my head you know. And I just want to savor this moment. One of the first strategies I actually do in any environment is shut off the lights. One of the first things I do, walk into a room, if there's windows, obviously if you're in a basement you got to leave the lights on. But if you walk into your average room where there are windows, the very first thing I do is I shut the lights off. 'Cause then that, not neon, fluorescents and all that kind of sickly kind of CFL sort of lights, they all go away for a minute and I get to savor literally savor the light that exists in the room. And that gives me my drive and direction. This to me feels so much better than it felt with those flood lights on, it just does. I mean I understand efficacy of those lights, you need em because we're shooting video. But this is where I would start. So I was 1/5th of a second at f 5. on that last one, I just lost some light obviously. I'm at 1/3rd of a second now. And that just feels a little bit better to me. It also gives- it's starting to head in a direction where I know that I can control it. Lets do this, (camera clicks) Come down a little bit. How can you under expose something in aperture priority, I'm just playing a little bit here. Now I'm at 1/20th of a second. That's starting to feel good. So a little bit, I mean I was actually surprised at how bright that was still, even without the flood lights. Man you're lights aren't doing much. Should maybe talk to the lighting director about that? That feels more like a bar to me. Would you imagine? So what just happened? The camera has a mind of it's own. It is apart from my mind. The camera did not go to art school. The camera has no idea of the aesthetics that you want to create for this photograph. The hot zones, the dead zones all of that. I just introduced- I corrected the camera's way of thinking. This is why when I said earlier about the way the technology is advanced so much that I just- I set that camera off. Digital sees stuff that I- I'm probably going to get lambasted on the internet maybe but, I firmly believe that the digital cameras can see stuff that our eyes can't see. They're programmed to pull detail out. Like Tanya's wearing a dark jacket right here. If I just did an aperture priority snap over here it's probably going to heat up her face a little too much. Because it's going to respond to dark pants and dark blue. And the camera is a machine, it's designed to carve detail out of anything. So it's trying to find. The cameras love middle gray. Camera engineers will tell you, and they're very right, the camera meters now are super super sofisticated and they're very sensitive. But there's still that native tendency for the camera to get back to the middle of the histogram. The camera is not a risk taker. It doesn't push willingly to the edges of the histogram. It likes middle gray, okay. It would love Bob right now. It would absolutely love Bob. Not only with the character and the dimension of his face, but this right here, perfect camera loves that. So is there a middle gray in this room. Not really, I mean you could construe your eye could say that's gray but it's really to the camera, it's nuclear okay. It's a blow out. That first set of exposures I made, the camera, the machinery is trying to carve out an exposure for me and it thinks it's doing what I want. But also too, you also have to be sensitive, I just picked up on this. If anybody can look at Cliff's face right here. Just don't move for a second, see the fall of light on Cliff's face? It's really kind of nice. Just natural light falling across. It's got great dimension, falls into shadow, nice soft rotation into shadow. He's got a strong face, you know, and that is like, you should be on Mt Rushmore with that lighting right now, it's like a very powerful face. So you have to kind of be sensitive to that. Obviously you're not going to work here, all these folks are in shadow. Side light for Ellie over here. If you're working really fast, the very first thing I would do, would maybe bring Ryan over here, have him look out that window, and maybe make an exposure this way. If I was like, had no lights at all. So I'd look for soft available light, and I'd pull my subject over there and then do my best to carve out an angle that establishes the rest of the bar. But if I don't have lights, then I'm a victim of a circumstance, not the master of it. I'm subject to the whims of this location. So if I go over here to this window light and it's very strong, there's nothing I can do about the fact that I'm about to loose the rest of the background. You with me? 'cause I can't augment it. This becomes too strong, that goes away. I've short changed my readers from the information of this bar. I realize I'm going on here, but this is kind of important to- this is strategy. This stuff's been through my head immediately okay. I do a brain dump just like the ice machine over there. I try to parse out what do I need to do in this particular situation. So, alright. Now, I'm going to keep my subject off the set. I'm going to introduce Ken and Brad. They're gonna also help me out. So strategies, Ryan relax, you got to do a few phone calls, do some email, care for a latte? Maybe an ottoman, reading lamp, a nice book? You know, take care of your subject. Keep him off the set for a while. It's kind of a contrived situation here. But if he's the bar owner, he's busy, I'm just going to say, "Nah, Nah just do you're thing. Just do your bills and budgets and order some more beer and stuff like that, and I'll see you in a little while". Keep him occupied, off the set. So let's see, Brad, come on over. And you're going to be a surrogate for Ryan. Hat or no hat? Doesn't matter, this isn't going to go too far. Just kind of put your back into that, turn towards the camera, okay. Alright cool. Alright so I've got Brad here, he's actually, you know got a good face for a picture, and there. So the inflection of the natural light is coming from camera right. So that's going to inform me as to perhaps, what do I want to do? What would you do at that point when you say, "Oh, I'm going to bring my light from camera right." Maybe not, it's a fill up right now, its just a little grace note. And I look at Ryan my subject, he's got kind of sandy darkish hair. If I turn him backwards into this light, then my room light is done for me. I try to be very efficient about this stuff, like ooh that could look nice coming off of his shoulder. He's got a dark shirt on, and that could just be my separation light without having to put up a strip, and a grid, and I can't do that right? Because it would compositionally constrain me right? This is where you get to. This is the fun part, it's also the really frustrating part, because all of this stuff is going through your head, and you're like, " Yeah I could do that, no I can't do that. Oh but maybe, no I can't do that either". Because most of my frame really is gonna incorporate some measure of all of this over here. And so, if I want to put a light here, I'm going to influence my composition. So this is the picture over here, I can't have light living here right? Alright so let's back the light off. If I back the light off to bring out of the frame, it's way the hell over here. By the time it gets to him, it's not even influential, and it also scatters everywhere. The further you put your light from your subject, the more those pixels tend to be like, it's like herding cats. They just go everywhere. I'm already like, no I'm going to put the light for him on the dark side of his face, and fill that in and hopefully, this light coming in here is going to be my little kind of rim light. Cool? Alright. Alright Brad, I don't know why we'd do this again, but we'll do this again. Cool. Predictably, not much has changed. I don't know why I shot that, you know, it's make Brad feel good day okay. Very predictable result. Everything is, yes. Since you're starting now just with this available light, and you're on a tripod, what is the ISO that you start with in this setting. Okay good question, I'm at aperture priority at f 5.6, my ISO is 400 right now. It's kind of a mid range ISO. 400 used to be a lot of ISO. Now I do not fear it because 400, 800, 1600, it's ridiculous how good the quality of the modern digital camera is at elevated ISO. It's just nuts. Yes Dylan. Are you setting kind of a base white balance right now. Are you kind of be creative with that in a little bit. Good questions. I will get probably shift around a little my white balance. But this is at auto white balance. Again new generation of that technology, I find the auto white balance to be very smart. And that's usually go to default, I start there. If I have to shift up, when we get into gels, I'll probably shift out of auto white balance, because auto white balance is trying to potentially correct against the effect and feel of those gels. So I'll go into something that is fixed. Good? Alright. So, like a lot of dead zones and this and that. Compositionally I'm going to shift a little bit more and push in closer. And eliminate some of this. Lets see how we do. Would you mind going back in Brad for a sec. By coming in I'm going kind of improve hopefully my composition here. Interesting, lets do this. Alright, cool. This is just adjustment time. You're subject saves you. Like right now I'm just going through the mechanics of exposure, when your subject comes in, that's when the photograph really starts to come alive. And that's when I'll really start to hone in on what hopefully will be a good set of exposures, and also composition. I would never leave this the way it is. Always remember this. Like that, no you know. You're going to have to let that, get rid of that. Because you have to patrol the edges of your frame. As you have hot areas, like this is going to be a problem for me later on. I want to get a picture of that, but they're strong verticals. And I want to get a human being in there, so that means I'm going to have to maneuver my composition to something where I include those cause I don't want to cut him in half, 'cause what'll happen. If I cut him in half, then I've got these hot vertical pipes of light going up into the edge of my frame creating an avenue for my subject, my viewer to just go right out of my frame. Remember, psychologically we are programmed. I'm looking at you guys right now, I can feel the magnet in my head, in my eyes, trying to pull me this way. Cause we are physiologically programmed to go to light and bright. We just are. So patrol the edges of those frames. And make sure you haven't got something incredibly hot sitting out there like a nuclear waste land beckoning your viewer to like leave your photograph. It's an exit ramp, and trust me if they go off, they aint coming back. Brad, lets do this. Would you guys want me to do like a straight flash rendition of this, or are we past that. I'll put out a straight flash on the camera and just see how we do with it. It's not going to look good at all. But it's way below where we are collectively as a group. But it's a throw a dart at the wall kind of, this is why we use off camera flash. This is why we use light shapers. 'Cause now, I have to manufacture or push light towards him. Lets see what happens. Alright, I don't think that in this initial TTL round there's going to be a heck of a lot, we'll see how it goes. Remember I'm at minus two, 1/25th of a second at 5.6. Opens him up just a little bit. That's a TTL fill response basically. I'm going to have to drive this flash a little bit harder. So let me put, I don't know, what do you think. Want to live dangerously we'll go to two stops. Alright, can we take a break I'm exhausted. My camera is weeping this is so beautiful. No it's not good light right. It's not good light. Straight flash, like hitting him with a Howitzer of light. This is why we use light shaping, and off camera instruments. Because light can develop character, but it can also equivalently destroy character. You can take the best looking person on the world, and make them look like Quasimodo, not that I did that Brad, I did not do that to you. It's reasonable, it's not Facebook quality yet, you know. That is simple stuff. Is anybody else like understand, or appreciate even though his photograph is not good, appreciate what just happened though. Like I just did a couple of buttons on the camera. The camera focused for me, camera white balanced for me. The aperture priority exposure took over. I adjusted that a little bit. My flash I adjusted a little bit. The flash and the camera had a conversation. I could be at the camera there just doing this and ordering a latte at the same time, and the camera is doing the heavy lifting for me. That's why I get very impatient with folks who kind of you know, especially at schools, like younger photographers complain about the gear. Do you have any idea how hard this used to be. Any notion at all. When something like this, when the automated system of the camera kind of just like put me in the zone like immediately, I still kind of am very thankful for that. 'Cause I started with cameras that compared to these did not work. Older style mechanical cameras, as wonderful as they were, they were like bricks with lenses. You could beat the snot out of somebody with a Nikon F, but in terms of sophistication nothing like this right? So anyway, alright. Alright Brad, come on back in. So lets see. Alright so we don't need to take this any further. Do this for me, take your left shoulder and rotate it towards the camera. Fold your arms, kind of like you own the joint. Keep coming, keep coming, alright, right about there, good. Little highlight off the floor, he's kind of a negative space of that post, we got a little bit of the chandelier, we have a little bit of the bar. So, now what do we do. Get the light off camera. Let's go to a little soft box please. Now I have the beauty and benefit of having help right, obviously. How many folks here work by themselves a great deal. Okay, alright. So, where are we here. So I turned my flash on. Now let's talk a little bit about the mechanics, hang on I'm sorry Caley, it's premature to ask you to come out here Just check the camera settings. Yeah definitely. What Caley is doing is something I rely on him to do, he checks camera settings for me. If you want to see me mess with him during the course of like a big shoot, I'll be at the camera, 'cause I'm you know and idiot basically. I'll just look at the camera and I'll just go, "JPEG basic?". And his heart rate goes right through the ceiling. But that's just being a member of the crew and messing around. The mechanics of this basically is I've got green here. I've got green there. That means this light, and that radio transceiver are speaking to each other. So I'm not going to go into the specifics of Nikon speedlights. There's Canon speedlights, there's Sony has lighting. Every camera system has it's own brand of, or approach. And the technology has lets say they're cousins. Some people do it differently. This is actually, this radio control itiration of this flash is actually working really quite well for me. It's enlarged a big area that I could not have done that picture I showed you of the four gentlemen of the barber shop quartet, not possible with line of sight. It's just too far a throw. Too big a place. And some of those lights had to be hid. So when you hide a light it's hard to get a trigger to it. That means then that you are locked into a third party type of transmitter receiver kind of thing, like a Pocket Wizard or something like that. Which is all fine and good, the Pocket Wizard straight up are very reliable units, but they also confer upon you the gift of manual. So if you want to go all the way up into the rafters of the Paramount Theater to change an f stop of power. I was able to sit at the camera and just direct traffic right from the back of my LCD. Which is pretty terrific. Are you with me so far. Is this good information taking this step by step. I apologize ahead of time if I'm telling you guys stuff you already know, but please just feed back. Good to go so far? We're alright? Okay. So this little, a call it a dohicky. Nikon calls it a WRR10. Which is not exactly, it doesn't roll off the tongue. But it is kind of this radio, to me it's the keys to the kindgom. I keep telling them, call it something jazzier. Call it like the flash wizard, or something. Or you know a speedlight Gandalf. Or something along those lines, anyway. They haven't taken me up on that marketing effort yet. Brad would you mind going back into that pose please. Maybe come up in here. Now if i was working by myself, what am I constrained. I'm getting the light off the camera, but what am I constrained by. The length of my arm. Not to denigrate Caley here, but at this point in time, he could be replaced by a small cheap light stand. Those words hurt Joe. I know, I know, I know. But we're moving fast. He's going to hand hold the light. I mean I'm sure you guys have done this. There's always somebody who can help like, "Hey could you just hold the light?" Especially if you're photographing the boss. Is there anybody around. Yeah Harry, he's in the back, he'll come out and hold the light. But you always have to be careful with a VAL because they get distracted right. And they're kind of looking out the window, like ah crap it's still raining outside. And the light comes down this way. And then before you know it you're lighting your subjects navel. You know and you want to light their face. But Caley doesn't do that, he's very reliable. Yeah okay let's try that. Now I think that is potentially a little too full. Let's just double check my, zero zero, group A. That's a group A flash, TTL zero zero. And Caley came in here and he came almost beam over the lens. So instictevly I kind of knew that this was going to be too full a light. So Caley screwed up, but I let it happen, it's okay it's alright. I'll try harder. Yeah, could you please? Cause it couldn't be much worse, you know what I'm saying. So you want me to come more to the side here. Yeah come in a little more to the side. Nice. A little better. Still too much light. The whole thing is still a little too hot. So what am I dealing with here. What's our job on location as a photographer. One of the many missions. You eliminate variables. So what am I doing here. I'm dealing with too many variables, I feel anyway. Aperture priority is wonderful. I shoot aperture priority like crazy. Out on the street, all that sort of stuff. But in here right now, is potentially kind of bouncing me around too much. So what I'm going to do here at camera is I'm going to get out of my "A" mode right. Now lets do this, I'm going to shut the radio controls off, no flash. So 1/250th at 5.6, hand in there Brad. There we go. 1/25th. 60. 30. 1/15th. Lets go back to 30. Alright. That feels a little bit more saturated. A little bit more character driven. I want to isolate him relative to the camera and the light that Caley is going to bring. Okay let's bring that light in again please. Turn the radio back on. It pairs up, okay. Here we go. Alright, now come closer Caley please. Too much, too much, go back, go back. Getting there. That's a little better. Now I think I'm at a jumping off point having Brad has done a marvelous job just standing in. Lets do this, lets bring our real subject in. Ryan would you mind coming over. How about a round of applause for Brad.

Class Materials

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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!

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