It was a very exciting and slightly surreal experience – I have been following Joe McNally for a long time now. I have his books and regularly watch videos of him teaching, shooting, showcasing his talent and his love for speedlights. He is brilliant at what he does and he is always very inspiring to watch. What makes him even more entertaining is his wonderful sense of humour.
Needless to say I bought a ticket to his workshop when it was announced he was coming to South Africa and I have been looking forward to the day ever since. As full time photographers we do not often get the chance to do something just for ourselves. Well, yes I went to learn but when the teacher is brilliant it doesn’t feel like work. It was a very special treat.
I walked into the auditorium and the nerd in me jumped out and made me race to an open seat in the front row… half an hour before the workshop began. Okidoki, Joe, here I am, ready and waiting! At that moment I didn’t care about anything else. I was happy. And what do you know, as the room slowly fills Joe appears from the back and starts walking down the front row greeting everybody personally and shaking hands (including me). He says he likes people and that really shows. He is not a crazy, loud, extrovert needing to make noise to get attention. He is just himself doing his thing. Nice and calm, lighthearted and relaxed. Yet always approachable. How nice!
He is definitely in love with speedlights and the ones on this table were labelled 15, 16, 17… I assume his “collection” does start with a 1.
This workshop was a “Watch and Learn” rather than a “Hands On” so I had decided to leave my gear at home – one day when I don’t have to lug my big bag around with me I need to make the most of it and travel shoulder-friendly, right?! I didn’t think that I might want to capture a few shots throughout the day so I ended up taking my precious iPhone to the test. It passed in some cases and let me down in others but I don’t mind. I still got some great moments to remember this day.
The above photo has been taken from the Nikon Facebook Page because I AM IN IT! And not only that… I am in a group of 5 being photographed by Joe! Whoohooo!
His assistant offered very kindly to email the image to me but it will take two weeks…So for now this image will have to stand in as a place holder… but in two weeks time I will be the proud owner of my own Joe McNally!
The embarrassing part about the whole things was that, since I was sick, I was sucking on throat lozenges all morning, red ones… yes… I guess you get a feeling where this is heading… Joe asked all of us to stand nicely together in a bunch – he was demonstrating how you can shoot even a group of people with just 1 one camera flash, bouncing it off the white wall behind him. So we all very willingly obeyed. Click. Image number 1 comes up on screen. All is fine. Then Joe asks us to put more vooma into it (no, I don’t think he used those exact words) and told us to imagine we were a band shooting a cover for Rolling Stone magazine and asked us to scream into the camera. So we did. Click. Image number 2 comes up on screen. And guess what…. yes… my tongue almost jumps out the picture it is so red! And guess what next… My face goes red. I believe as red as my tongue. At least that’s how it felt on the inside. But, hey, it was a good laugh for everyone. No harm done. The picture itself came out really well. But I guess, when I receive a copy of it, I may just have to photoshop that tongue of mine…
In the photo above he is showing a video and the photographs taken on top of the tallest building in the world – a project he did because it’s what he loves to do. He says:
To stay sane in this crazy, demanding world of photography we need to keep shooting what we love
Thank you for the reminder, Joe.
He focused on working with small, camera-bag-friendly gear and pulled of this amazing shot… with 1 speedlight… I think it’s very cool. No, it’s not rocket science but it’s very creative. Like! Like! Like!
Even though he said he promised the organisers not to go there, he ended up demonstrating building up a shot using 9 speedlights. Yes. 9. It definitely works and I agree with the use of every single one of them. Cool shot. And awesome to watch him building it up speedlight by speedlight.
During this 30 minutes of building up this shot Joe unconsciously so was entertaining us while trying to get to grips with African names. The guy in the control room was called Sipho. For us here a very common and easy to pronounce name, right? For Americans this clearly poses a challenge. Poor Sipho must have been called at least 5 different, and very creative pronunciations of his name. Syfo was one of them. We understand it’s not straight forward for Non-Africans. We forgive you, Joe and I am sure Sipho [See-po] does, too. Forgive me for adding this little snippet. I couldn’t resist. It was just so funny.
One of the last demonstrations was of another 1 speedlight set up with a beauty dish and a honeycomb which resulted in a set of some very strong, moody images of one of the guys in the audience.
It was a day filled with lots of precious tips and tricks, valuable advice, glimpses of what it must be like to look back onto 35 years of working in the industry, wonderful story-telling and many moments of truth-telling of what it is like to work as a freelance photographer which I so appreciated hearing. It’s not often that photographers amongst themselves are open and honest about how hard it often really is. And that we stick with it and put up with a lot of nonsense because once in a while we have those “Wow” moments or experiences that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. The art is, to maximise those so we can put up with the rest. And stay sane.
As photographers we give up the right to say NO
says Joe McNally, …and that explains why I eventually managed to get a picture with him. He didn’t say No to anyone all day.
At first I hesitated. I felt bad for him. People had been chasing him all day, for advice, book signings, stupid questions… (I admit I enjoyed the moment when, after answering a long list of the most basic of questions about speedlights he told one guy “well, you know, it helps to read the manual, too”). And I was sick. Very sick. With a bad flu and running a temperature – so I looked accordingly. Let’s just leave it at that. But eventually I realised it’s now or never and so I disengaged my brain and jumped at the last opportunity of the day, with my iPhone’s battery on 3%, I spotted a familiar face in the group of people standing around me (thank you Peter!) and shoved my phone into his hands. Please quickly take a picture!
Humans, we are a crazy bunch of creatures… but, alas here it is…
I’ve come to realise, once again, that one of the important characteristics of a great photographer is bucketloads of patience.
Thanks Joe for travelling all this way to share some of your knowledge with us. It’s been a most wonderful and inspiring day.