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Production Hurdles and How to Handle Them

Lesson 14 from: Lighting, Logistics, and Strategies for a Life in Photography

Joe McNally

Production Hurdles and How to Handle Them

Lesson 14 from: Lighting, Logistics, and Strategies for a Life in Photography

Joe McNally

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Lesson Info

14. Production Hurdles and How to Handle Them


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

Production Hurdles and How to Handle Them

Production hurdles, we're gonna talk about that, Lynn, the magnificent Lynn will be with me along with Cali today, be unafraid of your imagination. Ever have a hard time explaining to somebody what you think you want to accomplish with a photograph? It can be a little embarrassing right, because you're basically standing in front of people taking your clothes off, because your imagination is part and parcel of who you are and what you think and if I'm saying to like, Nick you know like, you're a big guy with a beard, I'll have you as a, you know, a warrior, and this is the way I'd like you to, photo, I'm gonna give you a shield and a battle ax and turn you into a viking, you know a Norse viking you know at the prow of a ship, and you'll have a horned helmet and the person's looking at you like, "I have to go now, this person's crazy." Sounds pretty cool to me. Yeah, you know and you can make it sound cool if you're passionate about it but you have to be able to articulate your imag...

ination well and be unafraid of it, okay, like this is another one of those garage series, this is my friend Drew Moore, enormous guy, he played for seven NFL teams in 12 years you know and then he got done in by injuries, he was I think defensive lineman, big dude, sweetheart, total sweetheart, you know, he calls me coach, he's like "Coach what do you need." you know he's just the greatest guy, so I brought him to a garage in Vegas and it was a continuation of the series, I wanted to do robo-mechanic, you know, the other mechanic was the crazy guy with the torches, he's robo-mechanic, so a picture out of your dream state can take a lot of hard work to make real, take the plunge without guaranteed success, run off the cliff camera in hand, I did that yesterday, you know, in front of I don't know how many people I mean like I didn't know that anything was gonna work out, I'd never shot in that bar before, nothing was pre-produced, you know, I was like okay let's take a shot in the dark, you asked where I start, how do I start, I throw a dart at the wall, and then I start clicking away, referring to your question again Kyle but I'm not gonna cycle back to it because I'll get started again so I'm gonna move on alright, so it can be a big deal, smoke machines, that's John Cospito who's now working as a staff photographer in New York, you know we got stuff going on in this garage, these cars, all that sort of stuff, and be sure you get a release on Oscar the dog. Oscar was the quote unquote watchdog in the garage, he wasn't much of a watchdog because he loved everybody and he was just like, (panting) you know and so I thought it'd be cute because Drew's so big and Oscar the pug is so small and he loved Drew and he just got up there, started licking his face, but the dog belongs to the owner of the garage and in the legal sense the dog is property right, so I got a property release on Oscar the dog and I paid the garage owner $200, cash, noted it on the release, cash received, release on Oscar the dog. Because this picture could be used commercially, and somebody could come back to me and say, "You are exploiting my dog," you know? Small things lead to big things, like noticing the light going upwards, I do have an active imagination. I think I have a fairly active dream state. This, I'm scouting this room, we are in the process of starting to paint it, it's a room in a house in Greenwich Connecticut, very wealthy community, I had this idea, I was asked to create Halloween imagery for the Photo East Convention and these pictures I made, I made two pictures for them that were dropped as like 14 foot by 10 foot banners in the Javitz Center in, on the end of 34th Street, in Manhattan and I had an imagination about this, because I really like that sort of stuff, so my imagination was that there's a little girl, sitting on a bed and she's reading a scary story late at night and she's supposed to be asleep and she's got this lovely mural on her wall that's elves and you know nymphs and you know woodland creatures and all of that, but what she's not aware of, there's an evil elf who's materializing right out of the wall. So I went in and I scouted this, and I noticed light doesn't go up, sunlight doesn't go up, I'm like, what the hell? The sunlight's going up, you know, am I, have I all of a sudden gone across the equator, you know? Am I all of a sudden in Australia? No, there was a pool, big house, wealthy community, big pool, sunlight hitting that pool coming up and I thought "Hmm, hmm." Lot of effort can go into making your light looking like the light that would've been there anyway. So shoot day, three Pro Photo 2400 Watt second units on booms up high banging off a Last Light six by six silver, why silver? Has the shimmer of a pool, okay, it's not warm, okay, it's got a reflective shimmer. What do I have to do to make my light the predominant light in this scenario? See the flood of daylight that's out here, I gotta black that window out. So I gotta put a cutter up there, a solid opaque cutter that takes the window out of play, takes that sunlight, makes the window go dark. The only light that comes through that window, you see this window is shut off, the only light that comes through that window is the upward cast shimmer of basically, what is that, you know, about seven, 8000 Watt seconds of light, popping up in there. Then inside, trying to make the room look like it might look okay, is this the time for an umbrella, no. This is a Pro Photo globe, not sure if they make them anymore, I've got a couple in my garage thankfully, what is the globe doing? The globe is that light, right, the overhead light that would ordinarily be in a room. What's this speed light doing, it's got a gel on it, a full CTO, Cliff, because this I want construed to be a tungsten lamp. But I'm not gonna rely on the tungsten bulb that's in there okay? That's the result, and that comes out of camera, okay? Little bit of retouching that we did here, straightens the lines, I should've had a tilt-shift camera, so Cali straightened my lines for me in the aftermath. But we work with a brilliant Russian body painter, Anastasia Durasova, she's a genius, and she took this mural and painted her into it, now why is her face a little brighter? There's a speed light stuck in the dolls, with a snooted cone on it and a grid, and there's a little pop of light. These are speed lights this inflection here in the bed, this here, that is a full CTO okay with another CTO on there, these are all double gelled because my light outside is daylight, my speed-o-trons are daylight and I'm shooting this in tungsten white balance so the room has that twilight shimmer, right, so this goes to this wall, this goes to the stuffed animals, there is a flash, it's a Morris mini-slave, does anybody know that name? The tiny little cheapo garbagey kind of things that you, you know, God, you wish you didn't have to use them but it's taped into the book; the light that's bouncing into her face is not from the flashlight, I have to see the flashlight because the intimation is like, oh, the book is glowing from the flashlight, so all these lights have a job, right there, okay, there's the light, this is lit, there's the sunset on the woodland scene, there's the evil elf, light piling through here with a scrim on it, now this is a big production right but the lessons here are small. The lessons here are very relatable, okay, because every piece of this puzzle, just like I did yesterday, with speed lights, I put together one step at a time and that's what you have to do when you're on location and you're building something, it's like putting together a jigsaw puzzle basically, okay, toolbox has to be varied and complete, okay. It's our job to find the beauty in everyone, said that yesterday, okay, from that face, which is a one-light picture, five foot octa, off to camera right, done, little, well there's a wind machine, you know because she had the kind of hair that screamed for a wind machine, you know, and my friend Donald, my dear friend Donald, in Santa Fe, this is with a one by three Pro Photo strip, he's looking into it, I am shooting this at about F16, F somewheres in there, why would I do that? Because I want the background sharp, but I also want to drag my shutterspeed down, so I shot this I dunno 15th of a second, eighth of a second, somewheres in there the New Mexico storm is coming in, the wind is up, I don't need a wind machine out here I got a natural wind machine and his hair blows wildly around I'm just on the edge see, see the governance of the flash is right on his eye, the eye is sharp enough, it's not completely tacked but it's there, okay, he is sharp. But as it rotates, this is the area of governance for the flash, it has flash duration that's helping me stop and sharpen him as it fades, his ear's not sharp his hair's not sharp, all of this stays sharp, this kind of gets sharp in here but back in here it's all blurry because you lose the governance of flash at that point, it rotates out of the domination of the flash light into the governance of the ambient level of light, okay? How do you get from here, to there? That's done with speed lights, this is basically three speed lights, that's it, everything I did that with we used on the set yesterday, the little 24 inch EasyBox, the secondary light that we used for Ryan, that's the main light, there's a little snooted grid popping up into her you can see the little catch light there, okay, there's also another thing that we use for low light sometimes, it's called an up light, okay, again it's a Last Light product, I'm a big fan of Last Light's stuff because it's, it's well made it stays with you okay I've had some of this stuff for years, and I, as I noted yesterday I beat the snot out of my stuff, so, there's a little inflection of low light and then there's a little shimmer from a speed light strip box right over here that puts this little kind of detail in here, and so she goes, from that, lovely lady, you know, to exotic, amazing, you know, creature of wow, fantastical imagination sort of stuff, how do you make this, look like this, that's a one light picture, speed light okay very simply done, nothing special about any of this okay, there's a little bit of fill board, you can see the fill board, see it right there, remember that silver fill that I used yesterday, okay, it's right underneath her and there's a soft box, again, what we used yesterday, up here, speed lights, okay, what did I do here, what was the transition from the boats being sharp to this? Aperture and high speed sync, okay. So you go, that's what I was just saying about the portrait we were gonna do of Kayako out on the street I went from 250 at 16 which would be more like that, okay, and that's fine if that's what you like that's okay, you know I mean that's the beautiful thing about this and the vexing thing is like so many people look at that like "Well no I like the boats." I'm like "Okay I'll give you the boats, you want the boats I'll give you the boats." You know, you know, you want it to be more of a beauty shot and just ambience in the background then you have the tools to do it, so this is like diametrically opposed to the couple of things I just showed you like the Halloween picture, that's a lot of work, that was done in one day, okay, this is done in 15 minutes, transition, Nick. It looks like there's also some different background compression, like you used a zoom lens or changed lenses between it because it's also, the background's much more sucked in as well. Yep this is a little, this is a wider lens, this is telephoto. Do you happen to remember the focal lengths at all, or anything like that? Yeah this was a 24 70, which is kinda my go to lens, and then this, I'll double check the millimeter length on it later, more than likely my 70 to 200. Those are the two lenses in my bag that I use most, you know, I could probably do 90% of my work with those two lenses, you know yesterday I went to the primes because I wanted really to throw things out of focus you know. How do you make this bridge, okay, that's an 85 millimeter lens at 1.8. You're liking this class right, you're a wide open aperture guy eh? (chuckling) You go and you take that bridge, and it's the same bridge right, I've shown these, these are older examples but they're good examples of how to transform a location, I try to wring the location dry, exhaust the possibilities, same bridge, different shutter speed, different F stop, different white balance, different lens, okay, so before you move from that location, try to get the most out of it, I mean she's a lovely model, she worked with us off and on for a couple of years, Yvonne Tan, based in Malaysia, and this is an 85, this has got, you can see there's a little inflection of warmth here, you see the catch light right there, that is a gold fillboard on the floor and a secondary flash bouncing into it, gives her a tiny little bit of warmth, but not too much Cliff, right, okay not too much gives just a little bit of warmth to that, and I kick the angle of the camera, shoot at 85 1.8, this is with a 14 24 and a fairly substantial F stop, because what I'm trying for here is the vertigo of the bridge, and this is a one light picture, that is the speed light, not the speed light box, the two by two, the square box that we used yesterday, again for Ryan up above, she's looking into it and she knows how to move, which is wonderful; F stops and shutter speeds are a bunch of numbers but the numbers add up to the look of the picture, they just do. This is, this is a lovely picture isn't it? (chuckling) horrible, this is a 24 millimeter 1.4 lens. And I'm shooting it at about, eight, 11, somewheres in there, you know, nice and sharp, the dumpster is a nice touch I thought, you know, and all of that available light you can see hardly any catchlights in the eye at all, little soft catchlight from the sky up there, alright, available light, ISO 200, 60th at F11, then it tried to light her, badly, okay that's a softbox to camera left, not a good effort, and that is 200 at a 60th at F11, 24 millimeter lens with badly handled flash, I needed to, I wanted to emphasize that, I just didn't need to remind myself by looking at the picture, it's like yeah, I go to that, move the light down push it in closer to her so it's more wrapping and nicer, fills her eyes, and that's 1.4, then I switch to my 70 to 200, and I'm shooting that at 4000 at 2.8. Now you have no idea where she is, she's no longer in an alley way with garbage and dumpsters, this could be the French Riviera, or I dunno, what that makeup would make you think that she might be someplace, I'm not sure, I'll leave that up to your imagination, but then I can use this lens, okay, right, 4000 at 2.8, my 70 to 200, I look down the alley way and I didn't move her, I saw the grid work in the alleyway, the cross sections and all that, and thought, well that's kind of graphically cool, so I backed off and shot my lens at 160th at F11, so. The model never moved, all those looks came from me just playing with F stops and shutter speeds, and the position of the light that's it, we stayed static right where I was. Okay, she didn't move, I didn't move, and I was able to wrangle all of these different kinds of looks just from that math that you do at the camera, switching switching switching. Dancers did, okay, this is the perfect job for small flash, okay, and while that blonde model did not move I was confronted with a scene where these dancers were moving like crazy, okay, now this looks a little bit complicated, it ain't, you have to be very opportunistic like we were yesterday, in the bar, looking around, what is the advantage of this location, I'm on a stage in a small playhouse in a local, it's actually my hometown, the Richfield Playhouse, okay, Richfield Connecticut, so. These dancers are on stage and I'm doing various things with them, moving them around, et cetera and I notice that the back of the stage is a completely white scrim, an uninterrupted white surface and I'm thinking immediately shadows, okay, you gotta make that kinda connection you know and that does come from a certain level of experience, like what can I do with this but also like your imagination has to spring to life and say oh I could, instead of like "Oh crap it's just a white background there's nothing going on back there that's interesting," well let's make something interesting happen on it, and this light couldn't be, couldn't not be easier, anybody ever shoot a copy of a document on a copy stand? Two 45 degree lights, bang, camera up here, click. Piece of artwork, wherever it might be, okay that's exactly what I did here, if you guys are my dancers... I'm like this far from you okay, maybe a little bit further, roughly, my lights are right here, there's no umbrellas, there's no soft boxes, two sticks and two raw lights, crossing, all they're doing is crossing and I'm trying to maneuver them so there's an even spread of dispersion of the light along the row of dancers which we achieved pretty easily, now you're always going to have a little bit of variation in the intensity of shadow, you know, that's gonna happen but you see what's happening here is like, you can see the angles of the lights, this light over here is throwing his shadow there but this light here is throwing his shadow here, okay, she ends up at the end, and then she ends up back in here, okay, there's the, there's equivalent angles going on and it's just fun and then you get them to move I mean these are young kids, they're wonderful dancers they can do anything physically that's why I love to work with dancers, they can really physicallize your imagination you know so I ask them just to get close, make shapes. And this young lady is a dancer who came to New York and we worked with her a little bit, okay, this is shot at a 15th of a second, she's dead bang sharp, why? Flash duration, those small flashes man, they, I've got, I used for this, remember yesterday for Kuridan we used that big octa, you know, with two speed lights in it, generally speaking, and it's less true than it used to be because the technology of flash just keeps leaping ahead of time but generally speaking as a principle, the less power you drive into a flash the faster the duration. So having two lights into that particular receptacle means I'm draining the light less and I'm getting those lights to double up in tandem so that they are sucking less power per light therefore their flash duration is gonna be a little bit improved, so she looks into that light, that light is just off camera right here, okay, and it's looking up at her, you can tell, you see the attitude and see the shadow slightly moving up okay and the strength of the light right in here, I moved it up into this neighborhood so it's probably the impact of the light is probably about shoulder height, it's not classic position which would be up in here, it's pushing this way and I coach her into looking in here now over here are a couple of hot lights, steady lights, incandescent sources, and I'm able to control those because most of them you know have some sort of rheostat type of thing where you can dial them up you can flood them, you can do, some do anyway, some are just either on or off and then you have to ND them, you know you have to barn door them and ND them down, the older units are like that, so I just threw a couple of tungsten steady lights into this kind of goldish sort of cape or whatever you want to call that that she's got and that stays in motion, you can see exactly what's on the governance of flash, the main impact of the flash is right here, because that's the sharpest part of her, what's moving the absolute fastest, this leg that goes up, boom and you can see that's got the most blur to it, this is relatively sharp because it's staying down and relatively stationary to the scene so all those things you can piece apart, and introduce, this is essentially a one-light picture, one light source, so I hesitate to say it couldn't be simpler, you have to experiment, but these are just a pair of speedlights and you could do the backlights with a couple of work lamps that you ordinarily would see in your garage, y'know. And then we graduated to a beauty shot, she is, instead of a ballerina style dancer, she's more of a Bob Fosse All That Jazz kind of hoofer, you might call her you know a Broadway hoofer, and so we got an appropriate Bob Fosse style chair which is referred to just for your edification if you want to drop this at a cocktail party, that's a Vienna coffeehouse chair, I did not know that, Lynn found it for me because I told her I said, "I need to evoke Bob Fosse, I need to evoke All That Jazz." and so she started to do some research and she found out that the name of that chair, and we ordered it, I own it now, okay, it's in my garage, a Vienna coffeehouse chair, so God is in the details of these things we worked with an exceptional stylist in New York, Sam Brown Style, and an exceptional hair and makeup artist Deborah Englesman and so she styled her hair and what would you call that coif, 1930s, 1940s kind of vintagey, you know and the gown et cetera, and all these lights are out in the theater, looking out into the blackness of the theater, there's smoke in the theater, I like smoke, drifting back in there, some backlights and just lined her chin out just nicely, the light out front couldn't be easier, it's that EasyBox again, the two foot EasyBox. It's got a white interior, for her it's perfect, up to camera right and a little bit of fill skip off the floor so the main solution up front is two speed lights. That's where all those lights are, there's the chair, she did not move from this picture to that picture is the same spot, she just turned the chair and then I brought in frontal light, here all the lights are behind her except for a wing light, you can see, chair, shadow, right? Directional light, and I used a raw light, no soft box or anything like that from a distance because why, I'm in a theater, and when dancers and actors are on stage where are those lights? They're up in here too but they're on the wings, and they're raw, they're hard, most of the time, so I just flashed, bang, you know no ceremony about it whatsoever, I had to break out of this theater and this was the last setup of the day, I had to move fast so I just threw a raw light over there and we were done okay, so that whole theater is lit with speed lights; hey Bob. When you're doing a production like the Halloween scene, do you put it on paper first, or do you just explain it and hopefully people get your idea? Yeah good question in this instance with the PPE folks who wanted you know were interested in that, I didn't really have to explain it because they were on board with the idea of Halloween and they kind of let my imagination run, "Just give us something cool," you know, and so I didn't really have a lot of detailed explanation to do, what I just did, by contrast, now that's kind of in the photo community I'm generating these images I just made a proposal and I have my fingers crossed on it, we'll see what happens for a book that I'm gonna hopefully get engaged in this year and it would be 30 days in the field okay and I had to write that proposal short because it's going to people who are very very busy, CEO types, et cetera, but also a bare bones budget, and all of that stuff was enumerated and kind of put into the, into the easiest language I could make happen, so one page document governs the proposal and one page document details the potential expenses, then after that I followed up with more explanatory kind of, you know, easier going, conversational I guess I would put it, again a short email saying, "There are things that are covered in the contract that are not really enumerated in the bare bones of this, and that would be kind of additional time, thought process, a certain amount of editing, all that sort of stuff, you get wrapped into that figure, just so you know that there, you know that when we go out in the field to do a project like this, I don't punch a clock, right, I start in the sunrise and I'll work right through sunset and there's not like overtime, you know, I'm in this project right now, okay you're funding it, I'm in this project, I will find pictures wherever they need to be found," so there is kind of this range of stuff but I had to explain it very thoroughly to my production team and if you want to cycle back to that, when Lynn and Cali are in here we can do that, and Lynn can tell you some of the challenges of it, because that mural in that room took seven days to paint so, the painter was coming into that house seven days in a row. Now it was an unusual situation, unusual kind of arrangement for the people living in the house, and they were fine about it because they actually actively offer their house as a location for filming, some people with houses that are interesting actually make some money that way so, so that was a fairly lengthy process, but the imagination for that shot was something that I actually sort of had in my head a little bit for a long time, I harbor things, I'm not a kind of a, photographically speaking I'm not a water under the bridge kind of guy, I kind of keep things in my head and I hopefully cycle back to them, that shot I just showed you there was me at spring training doing a mirror production shot in the late 80's, and all these years later I always knew I wanted to work with mirrors again, last year I was finally able to build a set out of mirrors.

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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