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Shoot: Corporate Headshots with Three Flashes and Umbrella

Lesson 21 from: Lighting, Logistics, and Strategies for a Life in Photography

Joe McNally

Shoot: Corporate Headshots with Three Flashes and Umbrella

Lesson 21 from: Lighting, Logistics, and Strategies for a Life in Photography

Joe McNally

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Lesson Info

21. Shoot: Corporate Headshots with Three Flashes and Umbrella


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

Shoot: Corporate Headshots with Three Flashes and Umbrella

Now, with the next evolution, we started with an available light scenario. Over there, couldn't be easier. Little bit of a fill board. Come over here. In terms of flash photography, this is pretty darn easy, right? The trick of it is, well it's not a trick really, but it's just like walking in and realizing that the wall could be your light source. And ascertaining that, okay, that could be kind of cool. Now, if I want a little bit more control, not a lot more control because I'm going to use a reflected umbrella. I use a reflected umbrella for group photography because a catch-all of a reflected parabola is gonna spray the light simply and cleanly throughout the room. If I flip it up and go to a shoot-through umbrella, which is the way I generally use an umbrella, there's going to be more luster to the light, and more richness to it, but also more direction and hence a little bit of a depth of shadow that I might not need for three people. Now, Nick, how tall are you, about 6'1"? Ye...

ah, 6'1". Okay, alright, Suzy, how tall are you? 5'2". 5'2", okay, cool. We need another person about your size. You stay with me. Tanya's pretty small, isn't she? She's a little short. Yeah, Tanya, could you come in please? See, this is my way of having authority issues with CreativeLive because eventually, I'll have the whole class in here, and they-- I'll do it under the guise of needing them for the picture. (laughing) Alright, Tanya, welcome, how's it going? Everything alright? You're going to be kind of nestled in here between Suzy and Nick. Alright, cool. Alright, Nick, kind of wrap around Tanya just a little bit there, a little bit like that. Perfect, yup. Britney, you remain resolutely the leader of the band here. So, the guys put up this A-group, these are all A-group. These are SP-5000s. Once again, just in terms of mechanics, I'm talking to them with the WR-R10. This is a transceiver device that plugs into an adapter here, the WR-A10. Our R10 goes into the A10 that goes into the flash. Fantastic. Anyway, it's gonna talk to these lights, I have all green. Here's a quick thing before I even start, the nice thing about having this arrangement of three flashes into a single receptacle is that I can kind of-- it won't matter with the reflected umbrella because it's just a big wash of light. But if you turn it into a shoot-through perhaps, and you want to edge light into corners and this and that, this is very handy because you can take the speed lights and push them out to the corners or push them down so the lower quadrant gets a little more weight of light. So you kind of selectively push light into the corners of a big receptacle. Say... you're all dressed in black and I needed to push more light down this way to just get a little detail in the black garments. Well, I probably could take these guys, push them this way so this light spills more this way. Incremental manage like tiny bits of f-stops here, tenths of f-stops, but every tenth of an f-stop helps. Alright, nice job guys, thank you. Check a spot for you? Want (mumbles) No, I think I'm alright. Let me just re-find my frame here. You guys look terrific. You heard my single flash at f11 quaking in fear. Beep, beep, beep, beep, oh god. I'm not gonna have that here because now I'm spreading the workload out. So I've done myself a favor. I've actually increased the volume of light, which is going to increase the quality of light, and I've also spread the workload among three flashes, and I've also linked those flashes up now with these battery packs. These are eight double A batteries in each of these packs. They're called SD-9s, and they liaison with the flashes, make them more efficient, make them faster to recycle. All that sort of stuff. Alright, ready for this, gang? You've drifted, Suzy. There ya go, there ya go, come in there. Okay, Tanya, this way. Actually, you turn your shoulders that way, cool. And Nick, you keep coming around, nice. Cool, cool, cool. You guys are awesome. Again, the critical focus, just FYI, politically speaking, the critical focus is on the boss. Nobody else will be out of focus, but if there's a critical focus. Okay, so now, this guy has got no overexposure in it. I'm gonna have to go to pumping a little more light into this puppy. I'm going to go to plus two stops. That's pretty good. Tanya, inch this way if you don't mind, and Nick, come around even more. Cool, let's see if I have any more gas in here. Let's go here. Okay, so I had to push the TTL to plus three, and I think probably it's getting some conflicting signals. Tanya's got a white sweater on. Nick's got a black shirt on. All that sort of stuff are kind of mitigating the response of the TTL on being purely efficient. So, I'm going to send them. Let's just do a quick experiment here. I'm going to send these lights a signal all to go full power. (chuckles) Alright, brace yourselves. Now, we're probably pretty close to... Well, a couple of stops. Alright, so I just turned everybody into someone who looks like they spent too long at a nuclear waste recycling plant. But now, I know that I have absolute control of the situation, and I'm gonna take, for that high-key look that I kind of liked before, I'm going to take two stops out. That might be a tiny bit too high-key. It's getting there. Let's take a 7/10ths of a stop out. Nice, cool, and there you have it. Let's take a look here. Suzy's glasses are clean. Tanya's glasses are clean. Easy, right? So, this is one stop shoppin'. I said it yesterday, if you're really desperate, put up an umbrella at ten feet, everybody looks good. You can get out of dodge and just kind of like, (mimes exhaustion and heavy breathing) Alright, I think I'll still get paid. (laughs) Alright, how about Cliff? Could Cliff come in please? Some folks were wondering if you are also checking the histogram in the back when you are looking at the details. I can. (laughs) I'm not currently, but I can. I can look at the picture and then I can dial up my histogram. My histogram is actually better than most of my histograms. It's actually got more guts throughout the entire range of values, all the way over the right. If you've looked at some of the pictures I've shown you, I tend to have a fairly strong, punchy color pallette, and I like saturated color, and a lot of my histograms coming out of the camera are-- (vocal throat noise indicating pushing) pushed to the left, okay, which I mean, there's a debate about is that good is that bad? I don't participate. It's like I like the look of the picture. I want the picture to look like what I'm seeing. That's why I also... The raw files are the raw files, we shoot raw, but I also am looking at that jpeg experience on the LCD, and I'm driving that because I've actually had questions from folks who say, "well, you're shooting raw, why bother with white balance at all?" I'm like, "Yeah, you gotta bother with white balance because there may be mixing white balances in the scene that you're observing and you don't want to be struggling with that. Callie, you know Photoshop a lot better than I, I mean, white balance coming out, even in raw files is pretty important. Andrew's also excellent at Photoshop. I mean, same, anything. Color, white balance, exposure. At the studio, the big thing for us is that we like to focus on a proper end file by the time we leave location. The last thing we want to do is spend hours in the studio, which is time, business time, taken away from other things that I could be doing for the studio. And Joe is also, since I've been there, we wanna get this done now, we want it to look good now. Photoshop is not the answer to a good photograph. Yeah, it's very much an in-camera experience. Being able to make sure that we're covering our bases, on location, in-camera, and then, transferring that stuff and doing dark room work instead of just snap and then bringing it in post-production. (laughing) Doing dark room work instead of emergency room work. Exactly. Exactly, yes. (mimes emergency defibrillation) I think we're gonna lose him! (laughing) Alright, Cliff, come on up here. Let me see, where am I going to put Cliff? Where have I got room in this photograph? Britney, do me a bit of a favor, and just slide slightly to your left if you wouldn't mind. Yeah, right about there, that's good. Suzy, you stay in the middle there. Cliff coming around to the desk area where Suzy is. Change places essentially with Suzy. Okay, cool, nice. Alright now Suzy, you come back in and get in front of the desk slightly. Kind of put your tush back in that way, good. Now Tanya, you come in, okay. And Nick, you step forward, okay. Alright so, yeah, that's nice, that's nice. Cliff, if you possibly can, can you edge up onto the desk, so you're just a little bit more in this dimension here. Now because I've got Cliff, now I've developed a little bit of a second-tier to the photograph. I'm gonna actually raise this up just a tiny bit. Alright, here we go. Now, I'm not going to change my values. Remember where I am is manual. I'm sending a radio signal to this telling it to be manual. It's at one quarter power, roughly. Okay, looking good, everybody's fine, perfect. Alright, so I have everybody covered there. Looking good. Y'know what's a gift the location just gave me, Cliff has got this really lovely kind of side light on his face, a little dimensionality there, and it's coming from those lights there. Now, as I am working here, this has been, let's see, we're at a 1/13th at f11. Now, that's where aperture priority starts to work a bit against you because I added Cliff. Now I've got a greater volume of human beings wearing sort of darker clothing upfront. What's my aperture priority shutter speed doing? Sliding slower and slower with each successive human being I'm putting in there. And that means that the windows are consequently getting brighter and brighter. So I don't want to play the game with aperture priority where I start putting in minus seven stops, so I'm going to get out of aperture priority. I'm going to go into manual here, and let's just do this, 250 at f11, alright? That's not going to be an accurate exposure, but let's just try 250 at f11. Now, what is happening? I've got the windows back, but it's kinda, sorta, a very flashed look, do you see the-- This is now a very flashed exposure because at 250 at f11, the room is going dark and I'm slowly blinding the chip, so now the chip is only seeing what is coming from this light. But I can mitigate that. I think I said yesterday I used my shutter speed as a set of leveler blinds, just kind of crank 'em open. So let's go this, let's do this. Let's go to 125th, perfect, everybody at the camera, nice. Okay, a little less flashy, little more room. Predictable, okay. Let's go to a 16th. Okay, alright, looking good. Tanya, you have an amazingly, consistently wonderful smile. Thank you. Every time it's there. The rest of you, eh, well y'know. (laughs) Kidding, joke, hey! Having some fun! Chock on the old arm! Here we go, okay. 1/30th of a second, f11, nice. That's about where we should be. I was about at a 1/13th or so, of a second. 1/30th is one stop down from that, let's call it, roughly speaking. And that feels like the windows are still blowing out, but I have the room, and you guys don't look like completely flashed. There's a mitigating effect to the available light. Oh, I just had a couple of questions clarifying for people for this set-up. So Eugene asks, "Are the flashes still on TTL in this scenario?" No, they are in manual. Manual now. But it is... it is a part of the TTL system. that I can use these flashes in TTL, but also send them a radio signal to go manual. So there is this kind of language that's being spoken still, even though I've locked the flashes down into manual. Alright, another question is do you always put diffusers on your speed lights? A couple of people were asking again about those on all three. Okay, alright, as I mentioned, when we were talking earlier, I never always do anything. Right. So, yes, I put the dome diffusers on because in this situation, I have enough power, I have enough light, and that little extra diffusion at the source is going to radiate into the umbrella quite nicely, so I'm not going to worry about it at that point. Pretty nice, easy going. If I was desperate, and there are many times I am desperate, that's the first line of defense if I need more power. That's a stop and third. I rip them off, blast away with just naked flashes. But what's the price I pay? Alteration of the quality of light to some degree. It's not quite as liquid, not quite as soft, right? And I'm going for that all the time. I'm going for that, or most of the time anyway. Sometimes I want a really sharp, hard light. I think you saw yesterday on location, I was using my flashes raw outside to simulate daylight, and that has no dome diffusers at all.

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