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Gear Overview

Lesson 3 from: Lighting, Logistics, and Strategies for a Life in Photography

Joe McNally

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Lesson Info

3. Gear Overview


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

Gear Overview

There's, you know,(sighs) there's no way to get around the fact, that you need the gear, right? This was, I was at the Rio Olympics, last August, there's my bed in my hotel room, okay, early in the morning and sorting out what I needed for that day, okay, it's a lot of stuff, you know, this was an extraordinary kind of an event, the Olympics is the Olympics, you know, thank God they only come around every four years, 'cause it really beats up your body as a photographer. I've had a relationship with the Nikon company for many years, you know, I'm very happy of that, I bought my first Nikon camera in 1973. There's our equipment, that's my savings account, (laughs) I wish I had a savings account too, but this is basically my savings account, okay, there's the studio truck, we go on location, VAL, that's some of the T-shirts, that we wear on location, anybody know what a VAL stands for? Voice Activated Lightstand. Voice Activated Lightstand, so that's Callie up there in the studio, Su...

burban, this, we're going to have as a record of this class, basically these next few images are stuff, that we use and we will use on location and you'll have the benefit of all of this kind of downloaded for you in a PDF kind of deal, I think. So yeah, the speedlights we'll be using, we use MaHa chargers and PowerEx batteries, they're very efficient, we use a whole variety of different light shapers, grip and accessories, I use name-brand stuff, you know, like that's a Gitzo tripod back in there some place, I, you know, if you, you know, things like that stay with you, they won't fail on lo, I mean, you know, trust me, there's technical problems galore, when you get on assignment, but I give myself my best fighting chance and I use name-brand stuff like this, okay, so they wanted a shot and this was, I was very blessed last year, because Donna Collin came out with a whole bunch of new gear, so they wanted some extravaganza kind of done with the new speedlights, so I suggested instead of getting like, you know, a hipster or a ballerina or something, I said, let's do something a little different, why don't we get a barber shop quartet and these guys were lovely guys, wonderful, wonderful, a lot of fun and this is the Oakland Paramount Theater and it's an art deco jewel and it's big, okay and it's all done with speedlights, so they wanted me to sort of throw on into deep left field, so this is 19 speedlights, part of them are radio controlled, part of them are line of sight, so they were absolutely wonderful gentlemen to work with, they were funny and patient, oh my God, talk about patience, 'cause this was one of those things, where it was not a crescendo of activity, that occurred in 10 minutes, this was a day on location and they luckily had a green room, that was comfortable, get 'em off the set, relax, make sure they're taken care of, make sure they have lunch and water, your subjects are your most valuable resource, absolutely and completely, you know, you have to take care of your subject, that emotional relationship, how many folks are, I'm guilty of it, you know, who here is guilty of like diving so far into your F stops and shutter speeds back of the camera, that you forget there's a human being out there and you become mute, you become this little robot behind the camera and you're like, oh God, and then of course, guilty, right, LCD, like you shoot a picture of somebody, you shoot a picture of Bob right here and I look at my LCD, I'm like, oh, yeah, (laughs) you know, that don't make Bob feel good, you know, you know, (audience laughing) you know, Bob's like, "What, did I do something wrong? "Oh God, you know, I look," 'cause you're right there, you're connected to the LCD, the LCD is not an LCD, it's crack cocaine, (audience laughing) okay, 'cause once you start looking at your LCD, you can't stop and you interrupt the flow of a shoot, so get it right and then hit it hard, okay, shoot five, 10, 15, 20 frames, bang, bang, bang, get somebody in a rhythm and talk to them, encourage them, make 'em feel like they're the most beautiful person in the world and you are emotionally connected to them right at this moment and that, you have to, that, I have another kind of set of slides downstream, I'll show you tomorrow, our responsibility as photographers is to find the beauty in everyone, you know, so I once proposed to Sports Illustrated to do the 50 Most Beautiful Things in Sports on a Polaroid 20 by 24 and they actually went for it, provided Polaroid put up the money and I had Polaroid money and then it went to the CEO of Polaroid and he said no, so the whole thing went to hell in a hand basket, but I had the idea across, through the gateway and you know, you think, oh yeah, 50 Most Beautiful Things in Sports, oh, maybe one of those beautiful tennis ladies, you know, like elegant, no, I had idea, you know, one of the 50 Most Beautiful Things in Sports, one of them was Don Zimmer's head, that old bald guy, who was the you know, guru of baseball, you know and he was like, he had a, he was basically Mr. Potato Head, you know, basically, you know, but you loved it, because there was so much character and beauty and the lines were hard won, that's your celebration right there of the life that someone's lived and that's very important, so always remember, just don't, you know, you know, if things aren't going well on the set and they will not go well today periodically, they'll blink, oh, you know, I'll be like oh, you know, project confidence, project serenity, okay, project a feeling towards your subject like you are doing amazing, the problems that we have to solve here, they're my problems, trust me, oh gosh, you know, but you know, hang in there with me, I'm a trained professional, this is gonna be okay eventually, you know, you have to build the confidence of your subject, if you're confident, if your subject loses confidence in you, you're cooked, you're toast, it's over, you know, so take care of them at the camera. Yeah, rough approximation, there's my four guys, okay, live with an umbrella and a couple of skips off the floor, this near term lighting is fired by line of sight, so I have my line of sight commander on a cord up in here, firing here, these near terms are line of sight, everything in the background is radio controlled and it actually worked pretty well, those lights up in here, like none of this is lit, these walls are not lit, why would you do that? This unbelievably beautiful theater and you don't light the walls? Hello, you know, the ceiling was not lit, they had these lights over here, but you so you know, I have lights up in here, that are firing off the ceiling, these are my flashes, the blue lights, these are natural light from the theater, all these wing lights back in here, the background lights back in here, all my stuff, you know, and it actually worked pretty well, we really kind of hung it out there to see how well the radios would work and it worked quite well, so I was happy with that. Yeah, I had a question more about your team and how you initially started building your team, when you first hired your first assistant? First hires, yes, well, Lyn, believe it or not, who has been with me all these years answered an ad in her local town newspaper, Busy photographer seeks part-time help, 20 hours a week, flexibly arranged, I remember the, and I think Lyn is the kind of person, who becomes so indispensable so quickly, I think she worked 20 hours like one week in the early '90s, you know and after that, it just steamrollered forward and became a full-time job and much more than full-time, I mean, she is, literally she's the heart and soul of so much that we do at the studio and that was a dicey thing for me to do back then, because I was still primarily an editorial photographer, I was a one-man band, I had moved out of New York City, I had left any assistants, I had no assistant at that point, closed down my studio in New York, moved to the suburbs, we were about to, thinking about having our second child and if you know anything about New York, two children in New York City is a very expensive proposition, so we migrated northward, which is a classic trend, you know and then I was working heavy for the National Geographic and you know, younger people have a hard time getting their heads around this, but when I would go to Africa, say for the Geographic or some place like that, no cellphone, no computer, no FaceTime, nothing, zero, no email, nothing, you know, I was gone and I was working in the Interior at that point of Tanzania in a little village called Dodoma and you know, you're just gone, you know, at that point and so nobody was answering the phones, nobody was selling stock, nobody was generating invoices or anything at all, you know, so I realized I needed somebody to keep the lights on, you know, at least part-time and so that started it and then started to work again with full-time assistance, I've probably had, I dunno, maybe a dozen full-time assistants over the course of my career, you know, Callie, as I say, has been with us for seven years and it's actually a little bit of a mentoring program, 'cause our previous two assistants have gone on to become successful photographers, John left the studio and he's now a staff photographer at a very powerful, kind of small, but powerful company in New York City, that generates social media content for Fortune 500 companies, 'cause you know, the big companies, you know, they don't know how to do social media, it's like, "Buy our product, it's really swell," you know and so they employ younger, hipper companies to translate the language of social media for them, so John's full-time and he's shooting video and stills and he's making a good salary, he's fully benefited, he's got insurance and all that sort of stuff, it's really a job as a photographer, Drew Gurian, who was our full-time assistant for quite a number of years has gone on to be a very successful rock and roll photographer in New York City and he's hanging out there more precariously, he does not have a job, he's a freelancer, just like I am, you know, and he's working, you know, for magazines, Red Bull and places like that and he's doing quite well, so it is kind of a graduation, that we, you know, kind of put folks through, Lyn and I have seen many a young person off, you know, and then they never call, they never write, it's terrible, it's last... but yeah, so... so it's a responsibility, you know, I have a payroll. So, that's the, as I'll say tomorrow, there's actually a slide that says this, the unromantic part about photography is that you wake up in the morning and you have to figure out a way to turn your time and pictures into money, that's part of the equation, you know and it's not that wonderful thing of wandering the streets of Morocco in the late light, you know, it's hardcore, you know, ever wonder about this? The fact of being a photographer and running a photographic business, more accurate, the fact of running a photographic business, occasionally, maybe even more than occasionally, prevents me from being a photographer, 'cause instead of going out and maybe generating an image, I gotta hunker down on email, I gotta write a proposal, I gotta write a blog, I gotta do an Instagram, I gotta you know, it is full fledged across the board just, it's a 24/7 job, I, you know, I'm not bragging or anything like that, but I work real, real hard, you know. Victoria, did you have a question? I do, it was about lighting or timing actually with your lighting, you said it took five hours for that one setup, that you had for that one photo, are you usually generally offering one photo from these big shoots, or is it like, are you doing a bunch of different lighting per day, or is it, I mean, obviously it's situational, but are you, how much time are you allowing yourself, you know, to have multiple lighting situations for you know, a single shoot? Good question, it is about the nature of the day, in this situation, I was controlling everything, it was my budget, we had you know, we had the talent and we had the bar, we had a certain prescribed amount of time, kind of similar to what we're doing today, you know, but I've also done catalogs like for golf attire, where I've done literally 15, 16 setups in a day, you know, and those are brutal, absolutely brutal, you're out there, you're pushing on high rollers, you're pushing a 12-foot silk around a golf course, you know in just awful weather, 'cause those catalogs, I mean, there's no more romance associated with them, you're not waiting by poolside with a drink with an umbrella in it, you know and you know, waiting to see how the golden light develops, you're working your butt off right through the worst light of the day, so you're silking and you're moving and you're shooting and shooting and shooting and at the end of the day, you really do feel like you need to take a shower, 'cause you just like look at yourself and say, what have I done? I sold my soul today, I put a price on my soul today and the price was for a catalog, I don't know, maybe 3,000 bucks a day, something like that and I needed to do that, because I needed to keep my studio alive, was it fun? No.

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