Joe McNally’s lighting workshop

I attended a 5-day lighting workshop in Vancouver (organized through Vancouver Photo Workshops) with Joe McNally a couple of weeks ago.  Joe's a great, down-to-earth, self-effacing guy, pretty much as he comes across in his blog, and he worked us and himself hard.  Beyond his huge volume of published work with National Geographic and Life magazines, he's well known for his mastery of flash photography, in particular the use of Nikon's Creative Lighting System.

Probably the best part of the workshop was seeing the thought patterns and the methodical approach he uses — sizing up a location, working one light at a time, tweaking, and adding more lights as needed.  As an event photographer and photojournalist at heart, I'm used to having to work quickly with what I'm given, and it's instructive to watch something done methodically, one element at a time.  I plan more creative shoots in future and to work this way.  Also, I plan to work harder to nail the picture in-camera to reduce the amount of post-processing work; Joe's ability (and National Geographic's requirement) to deliver completed shots in-camera would shame everybody.

The workshop was well equipped with all manner of lighting gear, from C-stands, reflectors, softboxes (including an Octa) to Elinchrom monoheads and Ranger portable packs.  As a result, there was little need to wait for other teams to finish with certain limited bits of gear.  I did find the Elinchrom bayonet system a bit frustrating to work with, so I feel better with my decision to go with Hensel.  There are a lot of nifty little things I ran across that I'd consider picking up in future, including some small flash softboxes, and various clamps and modifiers.  I brought several of my SB-800 flashes and my SU-800 commander, which ended up being valuable additions to the arsenal.  In the midst of the class, I also picked up a D700 and SB-900.

Each day was spent working in teams along with various models and areas in the studio and small or large flash.  Our last day was spent on mock assignments that Joe set for us.  Ours was to photograph a self-absorbed Bollywood star newly arrived in North America.  We spent 3 hours setting up for just two shots.  Joe's a hard marker when he puts on his photo editor hat, but I appreciate that!

All in all, it was an exhausting but tremendous experience.  It was a great opportunity to network with Joe and the other photograpers.  Kudos go to Marc, the organizer, and to my various team mates over the last week!   It was definitely worth the price for the smaller class size and overall quality of the instruction.