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Light and Production Q&A

Lesson 29 from: Lighting, Logistics, and Strategies for a Life in Photography

Joe McNally

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Lesson Info

29. Light and Production Q&A


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

Light and Production Q&A

Throw a lot of information your direction. We'll be talkin' a little bit about you know, flash and lighting and this and that, and those kinds of nuts and bolts. Lynne will come in, we'll sit down, we have contracts and bills and things like that. That's the romantic side of photography, right, that's why we all got into this, right? To sit there and go through contracts. That's the fun part of this. It's not, obviously, but it is essential. And if you wanna do this as a business, if you wanna keep going forward, if you wanna keep your business enabled, and also create the breathing room for you to think, right? The breathing room for you to maybe try something, and take a stab at something that not necessarily you're gonna be compensated for, to take a risk. This is a very risky business. It's risky in the sense of an emotional component, a financial component. Sometimes physical risk is involved. You have to, as a friend of mine told me many years ago, if you're going to go forward a...

s a photographer, you have to make uncertainty your friend. You know, you just do. There's nothing that is guaranteed about this. I mean, I have lots of colleagues, as we all know, newspapers have kind of hit the skids, and I have lots of colleagues I know and I've talked to over time, who were staff photographers at newspapers. And when you're a staff photographer, some of your world has structure to it, right? You know, maybe your schedule doesn't, 'cause you're all over the place, but you know, you have salary and benefits and equipment and this and that, maybe a company car, and all those tools are provided for you. Dropped out into the world of freelancing, and that is a really kind of scary parachute jump right there, you know. And I've been doing it a long time, I'm used to it at this point. I don't think I could work in a regimented situation. I think you've already seen my relationship with Kenna and Kathy. (laughing) I've got authority issues, like major, major authority issues, you know. But yeah, it would be hard to do that. Photography is that sort of fluid thing. I went to five different grammar schools. And I didn't know it then, it was kind of painful always being the new kid, but it's actually really good training to be a photographer, 'cause you're always the new kid. Think about the normal work situation for folks who have that magical thing called "a job." They come to the same place generally speaking every day. They have maybe the same desk or office, or cubicle, or whatever. They know their colleagues. There's a set of parameters that are known. This person's a problem, (chuckles) OK, you know, this person is gonna facilitate, this person does this, you sit down at meetings, you know the players. So there might be unexpected things that happen to be sure, they always do in everyone's life, but for your average workday, maybe 80, 90% of it is a known kind of... Equation, I guess that's the word I'm lookin' for. We don't have that beauty and benefit. We're always being plummeted into something that we're not familiar with. Thin ice, potentially, with people who maybe don't like photographers, you never know. You may walk in to photograph somebody, and you know, they have a bad feeling about photographers in general because the photographer who shot their wedding messed it up. You know, (chuckles) people can be vengeful. There was a wonderful colleague of mine in New York City, Chris Callis, and he's a well-known studio photographer. But he was in the Army in the '60s, and he was a photographer, and he showed his work around. He was stationed at a base I believe it was Oklahoma, and he always started his slide shows like this. The commander of the base liked his pictures, and said, "Hey, shoot my wedding." You know, the commander of the base tells you to shoot the wedding, you shoot the wedding. (chuckles) You know? Unfortunately, it was back in the days when cameras only synced with electronic flash at 1/60 of a second. He shot the whole wedding at 1/250 of a second. So all he had were these black and white negatives of the bride's feet. (chuckles) (audience groans) The rest of the image was all black. And so he shows those, he's go those pictures of like the legs of the bride, you know? And then the very next slide, he's riding a tank in Vietnam. (chuckles) (audience laughs) You know, this can be very dangerous business. (chuckles) So yeah, uncertainty confronts us on almost every level. And we'll talk about that. Lynn is a truly wise voice, and has been through the mill of contracts, and this and that and the other, and she'll be with us later on. Question not pertaining to lighting setups and that, but more on the production side. What's your take on working with agencies that are gonna help photographers get jobs? Photo agencies, OK. Photo agencies used to be, when I was growing up photographically, they used to be mom, in lots of ways. 'Cause there are agents in New York, small agencies, photographers would come through New York, on a job, and you'd sleep on the sofa at the agency, you know. And there was that kind of a relationship. Historically speaking, you would shoot a job, you would give it to your agent, your agent would resell it, you'd share it 50/50. The agent would also pursue work for you, and bring your portfolio to XYZ client. That relationship has, I don't know if faded is the right word, but a lot of the bigger agencies have just kind of disappeared, and certainly the smaller ones. There are some boutique agencies that are still doing well, photographers who are out working journalistically and they count on the agent to kind of disseminate their work. Getty, of course, is the big octopus on the block. They are an enormous force photographically. At the Rio games, I think they had 140-150 photographers, lots of money transacting there to be sure. Getty is in a way almost as big a corporation as the corporations we actually do work for. So there's upsides and downsides to that. They have wonderful photographers, just legendary people, people who are so good. You know the corporate infrastructure that they have to interface with, I'm not in it, so I shouldn't comment on it, but it seems daunting to me from a distance for sure. So there's also places like Wonderful Machine, you know, which is a listing of photographers, and there's a number of those kinds. I participate with Wonderful Machine. And they will bounce your name out to folks, and they take a certain fee to do that. They don't take a percentage of the job or anything like that, but it's a referral sort of source. So there's those out there. I would say that all those agencies at this point, the success is mixed, very mixed, OK. And a lot of folks are going through those sites, and the jobs that can result from them could be good. We have not had a tremendous influx of work from any of it, to be honest. So we get work over the transom, through word-of-mouth, social media. Instagram is almost like an agent. I'd stop short of really describing it as that, but a lot of photographers, Ami Vitale, good friend and colleague at the National Geographic, is a very active Instagrammer. She's got a huge following. And I know that she actually has told me that work comes in from Instagram. A lot of photographers have told me that. And we talk about that sometimes. We've gotten potential clients and jobs. If your Instagram feed is consistent and has a certain stylistic continuity, the gentleman who was just here teaching at Creative Live, John Keatley, has a very consistent style that he presents on Instagram. So you have to choose all those elements wisely. So that's again kind of an overall description in response to your question. The fact is I don't know how efficient agencies are anymore in getting you work. There's also the other level of that, and that would be you go beyond agent to what might be called a rep. The reps used to be again a small player. They would have maybe six to 10 photographers max. Now you've got huge representation agencies that have a whole list of photographers, makeup artists, stylists, you name it, I mean just the whole nine yards. Again, the conglomeratization of all of this. Years ago, did you ever imagine, we're like these furry little creatures that go out and make pictures, and all of a sudden somebody looked under a rock and there we were. You know, and it was like "Oh, oh," you know. (chuckles) (audience laughs) "No, I don't like the light, go away, leave us alone, "we're having fun just over here in the corner!" Well, they perceived that as potentially money-making, right, and your picture became intellectual property. 'Cause all these huge pipelines of information got built, right, and they have to fill those pipelines. That's what these big corporations are based on, is the constant flow of information. And the only way they can produce that and make a profit is to get that intellectual property as cheaply as possible, and then the game was on, you know. So, it's been an interesting process for sure. I have a boring question, it was more about the-- I'm outta here, sorry. (laughing) When you're culling the photos, and you went through them, you go through 'em pretty quick. And I wondered if you go back to them, what do you present to your client, do you give them the opportunity to choose the expression they want? I know that you're looking for something, and I know that a lot of times the photos that I pick, my client is like, "Ugh, I don't "like how I look in that one." So what do you give them to look at, and do you ever go back and say, "Gosh, I can't believe I missed "this one, this one is a good one." Good question. Yeah, that's another interface where we have lost a measure of control. (sighs) Historically magazines in the best of their iterations would assign a photographer because they thought that photographer was the right photographer for that particular job, had either an emotional context to their work, or some sort of style that suited the task at hand. And they would trust the edit that would come back from that photographer. I would do major jobs for Life, and send them 10 images. And they just shut up about it. They were like, "OK." That's my take. If I don't like it, I'm not gonna give it to the client, because the client might use it. That has been frayed away. More and more magazines over time just said, with the onslaught of digital, "Send us everything, we want your whole take." You know, the Sports Illustrated photographers who are out there shooting action, that's a tough gig man. 'Cause they're like, in the football season, they're shooting a college game on Saturday, they go back to their hotel room at night, they get on some sort of FTP, and their entire take is downloading overnight, thousands of frames. They get up at the crack of dawn the next morning, they're on another plane, and they're at the pro game on Sunday, and the same thing repeats. That's really hard work. You know, we all thought digital, "Ah, it's gonna make our lives easier, "no more film, no more processing, no more lab, OK!" Yeah, well who became the editor? Who became the lab? We did! You know, and it's really hard because a lot of photographers are not the best editors of their own work. But the efficiency of digital is paramount. So now, newspaper shooters don't even come into the office anymore. And I'm riffing here, I'll get back to, but there's also the issue there, like the development of young photographers. My advice to young photographers used to be, "Get yourself a job at a newspaper." 'Cause when you come back to the office at the end of the day and there's that collective processing aspect, and editing, you're bouncing into older, wiser photographers. And you're learning from them, and you're growing with them, and they're giving you a lot of grief, and calling you kid, and telling you your stuff stinks, and all that. And you grow photographically. Now it's all electronic, nobody comes into an office anymore, so you don't have that context of the staff. And I miss that. I miss that, and I think young photographers are suffering because of that lack of community and the immediacy of that. To a degree the internet has replaced that, but it's still not, you know, it ain't like next to you, you know, givin' somebody an elbow. Hey that's, what are you thinkin', huh? What are you thinkin'? So, (chuckles) I mean some of the critiques I've had over the years, I've had my ancestry analyzed for me. (audience laughs) In very colorful terms. And my work described as beyond hope, also in colorful terms, but anyway. So we have lost a bit of control. Clients wanna suck everything in. I don't know what you do as a wedding photographer. I can't really comment on that. People have a wide disparity of working, all throughout the industry. People in, you know, Portland, Maine are charging different things from people in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I don't know what those things are and how they relate to the local market. I try my best, and Lynn can speak to this, to define the expectations of the client and manage them. You will get ten selects, finished images. That's what this digital package that we're charging you for costs, or translates to. If you want more than that, these costs then ensue. And then we start to process more. I tend to oversupply, not because I'm in love with my images, but yeah, if we're gonna flesh things out for a client, it also puts the good guy stamp on you, you're giving them a little bit more than they actually maybe bargained for. But I do try to control it, and the bottom line is I try not to give a client something I don't like. I try to hold that ground. And it's getting harder, 'cause a lot of clients just say, "OK, nope, everything, we wanna see everything." Alright Joe, thank you. Couple more we'll try to get in. One is from Fati, in Florida, who I believe is a student of yours. Fati Colada. Wonderful, wonderful man. Fati's question is, "Joe, how do you maintain "color consistency in your photos throughout the shoot, "and what are your rules for managing colors "in post-processing, printing, online, "online publishing, all that?" (Joe laughs) Big question. (laughs) Yeah, that's kind of a large question. (laughing) Which I'm not gonna answer real well, you know, we do what we do, we hope we make it look good, and then we send it. I mean, it's a really simplistic response. You saw what Callie did yesterday. That's not a hoax, that's not a mirage, that's kinda what we do. We try to do as little as possible. And I think some folks were asking in the class yesterday, "how do you manage the color on location?" I come down on the side of skin tones, right? And if I have to let everything else go, I let everything else go. I come down on the side of skin tones. I'm an editorial photographer. I'm not the kind of photographer who sets up a bunch of lights and then puts a color checker out. I don't have one of those. I probably should, you know, there are people probably right now going, "Oh my god!" You know, but I'm too loosy-goosy for that. I'm after a picture, I'm after an emotional response. There's flaws in all my pictures. At a certain point, you can finesse a tenth of an F-stop to death, but what are you doing simultaneously? You're also finessing the emphatic nature of your photograph, the emotional quantity of your photograph, into nothingness, OK? At a certain point, you gotta let it rip, OK? I had a response on a picture I made for Sports Illustrated of a family. There was mirrors in the background, and I had 'em doing this funny stuff, and I was kinda gettin' 'em together. And I knew the mirror was there. I knew the mirror was there, I was behind the camera and I was hidden from the mirror. But at a certain point, I had the camera pre-focused and all that sort of stuff, and I was gettin' 'em excited, and I just stepped out from the camera and I kept hitting the button, like, "Go, go for it!" And I knew at that point I was in the mirror. I didn't care! OK, I didn't care, and that was the picture Sports Illustrated ran, two pages. I got a letter about it. "You should have observed that mirror." (audience laughs) Well... You know, just kind of stretching there for a second, sorry... (audience laughs) Yeah, look, we make mistakes, we tumble forward, but at the end of the day, our mission is to convey something powerfully. And if there's some flaws in there, so what? But Fati, all I can say is, I come down on the side of skin tones, we try to manage the files as well as we can. What Callie told you yesterday, we do a blog folder, a preso folder, and a finished tiff folder. There's also a PSD folder. And those are sub-folders on top of the overall job folder. We weed out the job folder, try to manage that, and that gets stashed on our drives. Then we will, as I need them, upload them to PhotoShelter, and then they live on PhotoShelter and I'm able to pull them down when I'm on a remote location. Thank you, keepin' it real, absolutely. One more question here, and then one from online, and we'll keep goin'. So sort of ignoring back-end work a freelance photographer has to do, like the editing, making contacts, finances, like that, you have to do without a team. Do you believe in today's market for a freelance photographer let's say starting out, it's enough to just be a photographer, or do you necessarily have to go into videography work? Good question. Do you need to be a videographer? I would say yes. You know, I would say you need the basics of those skills. Because it will make you more desirable to a client. We are pushing heavily in a video direction, we're gonna be emphasizing that this year as we go forward. And for lots of clients, the BTS, simple little BTS, is almost as important to them as the actual shot. So you have to have a multiplicity of presences, or, is that good English? Not really, multiplicity of... Personalities, perhaps, on the internet, and that means that you're putting out your Instagram as a still, but then there is an Instagram story, that's a little snippet, you know. We just did a job for ESPN, and they wanted gifs. You know, from location, little (boops) little things. Clients need, what I just said about this pipeline, they have this big pipeline, they have to keep it vibrant and keep it filled, so they're looking at us to provide them with a variety of skillsets that can help them keep that filled. So video is one of 'em, and I would absolutely council basic competency, at the very least, if you're gonna step forward into the marketplace. Alright, one more from online, from our friend Nora Levine, who has-- (laughing) Loose cannon, how are ya? That's my nickname for her. And hi Mr. Joe, seems to be her nickname for you, Mr. Joe. "How do you know when to get production help, "and when do you try to do it yourself? "Is it purely a budget consideration?" Good question. Budget of course factors into everything that we do. You know, but as I referenced last week, I was not assigned, I self-assigned myself, I went to Kentucky. I was conscious of the budget, Callie was on vacation, I went by myself, five bags of gear, transportation to the airport, flight, excess baggage, meals, hotel overnight in Cincinnati, rental car back to Cincinnati, another hotel night, etc. So I took that onto myself and I had no production help whatsoever. The scale of the job then, inherently intertwined with the budget, speaks to budgetary help, or production help, excuse me, as it relates to the budget. So yes, you look at the scope of the job, you look at how visually ambitious the job is going to be, you look at the timeframe of the job. And you also look to yourself. You have to examine yourself, "What am I good at? "What am I not so good at?" You know, I'm not so good at the details. I'm not so good at contracts. (laughs) Lynn is, and there are people out there who can help you with that on a freelance basis if you don't have the marvelous gift of a Lynn. There are excellent freelance first assistants. You know, whenever I was shooting large format, and I've shot large format on location in film days, 4x5, 8x10, but I always hired an assistant who could help me with that who was knowledgeable about it, because it wasn't necessarily my medium. So you identify where your strengths and weaknesses are. Where are my organizational skills, no I'm actually very organized in the field. I can process a lot of different information from a lot of different quadrants, "OK talent is coming, OK lights, move that," and I'm like a pinball out there, and that's a real strength, I'm really good in the field. I know that's where my job is, and that's where I focus. All the other stuff behind me, if I have the budget, yes, I will hire people who are good at it, better than I am. You always talk to people if you have somebody in front of the camera, hair, makeup, and styling. Can they do their own? Sometimes they say yes, and... It doesn't work out so well. So you try if you have the budget to backstop that by getting even for guys, like Ryan the other day didn't need much at all, but basic grooming. That's what we refer to with most. You know, these CEO types, if you have male and female CEOs, and so you really pay a lot of attention on the female side of things. I'm not being sexist, it's just... The guys are more naturally, you know. But they need it, so you have to provide it. All that speaks to, what does the client expect you to have? A client hires you, they don't expect you to come in all sweaty and lathered up with a truckload of equipment, "OK, yeah, I'll be set in a minute." You know, and they're lookin' around, they're like, "It's just you?" They expect you to rise to the occasion and supply them with the services, that they will have a measure of confidence in what's about to happen.

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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