Joe McNally

What do you do when you’re on lo­ca­tion and things just aren’t work­ing out? In the sec­ond of his monthly col­umns for N-Photo, Joe McNally re­veals the im­por­tance of three lit­tle words...

NPhoto - - Contents - • To see more of Joe’s amaz­ing im­ages, visit his web­site at www.joem­c­

If the magic is miss­ing from your shots, Joe has three lit­tle words for you…

We all have per­ilous mo­ments in the field; those times when the sun’s not up yet, and the lo­ca­tion looks like garbage, and the sky is fea­ture­less, and you don’t have a clue what to do. The crew is look­ing to you to bark stir­ring or­ders that will lead to heroic pho­tog­ra­phy and you just hope it starts rain­ing so you have an ex­cuse to go back to the ho­tel.

There’s a new ad cam­paign out there for Apart­, fea­tur­ing Jeff Gold­blum as a TV huck­ster selling you the idea of the mo­ment: “Change your apart­ment. Change the world.”

In the realm of lo­ca­tion pho­tog­ra­phy, you are deal­ing with your own small­ish ver­sion of the world, try­ing to make what­ever par­tic­u­lar slice of the globe you find your­self stand­ing on at­trac­tive, in­ter­est­ing, vi­brant, or at the very least, mod­estly pleas­ing. When it’s not go­ing well, you have to have the gump­tion to gulp hard, stop ev­ery­thing, and start over.

“Change your lens, change the world.”

The gift of a dif­fer­ent lens is a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on the scene, and, po­ten­tially, fresh wind in your vis­ual sails.

Here’s how I got the photo at the lower-right. I shot the photo at the top right, and then moved in closer. I was founder­ing on the rocks of poor de­ci­sion mak­ing and un­cer­tainty, and was op­er­at­ing with zero clar­ity of thought.

The in­struc­tional sub­set here is straight out of the book of Jay Maisel – “And, yea, the pho­tog­ra­pher saw that it was not good, and heard a voice in his head say­ing, ‘Move yer ass!’” (That’s ac­tu­ally Jay’s voice, and it has a New York ac­cent.)

Stop. Walk away, and walk around. Shoot­ing re­ally wide? Try shoot­ing re­ally long. That was my sit­u­a­tion for the shot. I was in close, des­per­ately try­ing to in­clude un­nec­es­sary in­for­ma­tion, and I didn’t need to. I stopped. Pulled chocks. Walked away. Tried long glass, and boom! I had a pic­ture.

Now, in the new spot, I was lit­er­ally shout­ing dis­tance from the crew and the model. Back in the old days of lenses, man­u­ally fo­cus­ing this much glass through the dust and heat of the desert would have been an iffy chore. But here, with dead-ac­cu­rate AF, the res­o­lu­tion of the D810, and the clar­ity and coat­ings of the op­tics brought to bear, I’m shoot­ing my model from across the equiv­a­lent of a football pitch and I can still see her pores.

Which means it’s a won­der­ful time to be a pho­tog­ra­pher. You can con­fi­dently step onto the tightrope of a job and not just shuf­fle across in con­ser­va­tive fash­ion. You can stop mid­way and do a trick. Try a som­er­sault, pic­to­ri­ally speak­ing.

And, again, as we have all ex­pe­ri­enced, once you nail that one good photo, it puts swag­ger in your stride. You are no longer fear­ful of the job. And it’s im­por­tant, given the psy­chol­ogy of lo­ca­tion work, that you nail that first foray with a cam­era. It sets the tone for the day, re­as­sures the crew they’re not work­ing for a loser or an idiot, makes the mod­els anx­ious for you to shoot them some more… all that flows freely once you’ve shot your first suc­cess­ful pic­ture.

So, trust your­self to switch it up. Trust the gear. And, you know, move yer ass!

With dead-ac­cu­rate AF and the clar­ity of the op­tics, I’m shoot­ing from across the equiv­a­lent of a football pitch and I can still see her pores

The light­ing was sim­plic­ity it­self: one Pro­foto B4, fit­ted with a beauty dish, and a warm gelled B1 as a back­light, as­sist­ing the sun and defin­ing the windswept cape

Get­ting in close and shoot­ing wide (top) wasn’t re­ally work­ing for Joe. Walk­ing away – quite lit­er­ally in this case – and switch­ing lens, from wide to su­pertele­photo, made all the dif­fer­ence

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