Presented with a fantastic photo opportunity but no flash, what’s a photographer to do? A chance encounter forced Joe McNally to come up with an ingenious solution...
Joe’s got a great photo opportunity, but no flash! What’s a photographer to do?
Recently I intersected with photographer Bob Carey and his photo project, The Tutu Project (www. thetutuproject.com) which helps support people with breast cancer,
and their families. Bob’s been photographing himself in a tutu, and is encouraging others to #Dare2TUTU too. In the process I learned the answer to the question: ‘So how do you shoot a flash picture… when you don’t have a flash?’
The list of stupid things I’ve done with a camera, made into a book, would make for a heavy tome indeed. Sort of a
War and Peace of photographic misdemeanours. Remember the book in Young Frankenstein – How I Did It? My title could be How I F%#@&*$d It Up,
Again and Again. I could dream up excuses for many of these, but that is a strategy that only compounds the stupidity of the offense. So, it’s better to just own up. Promise you’ll do better next time, and advance the film. (Sorry. Dated reference. What would you say now? Go onto the next capture? Sounds lame.)
Anyway, after a full day of teaching my recent National Geographic Expeditions workshop class about flash, out on the streets of NY during Hurricane Joaquin, the students were done and done with flash, at least temporarily. I had a feeling, as I approached our next rain-lashed location, that if I pulled a Speedlight out of my bag and once again lectured my sodden troops on the advantages of artificial light, there would have been mutiny.
I went with available light techniques. Hand holding. High ISO. Being inconspicuous. I wandered up to the bridge at Pershing Square, with the handy 28-300mm, to show my class the notion of compression. All those available light tips were pertinent, as we opted for the blessedly dry environs of Grand Central Station for our next location.
Then our intrepid producer, Liza Politi, came to me in an absolute fever and said, by chance, she had met The Pink Tutu folks, they were here, and wouldn’t it be great to shoot?
Ever get that frozen smile on your face as you nod your head and say all the right things – “Great, awesome! I can’t wait to shoot it! Gonna be terrific!” – all the while knowing that one of the crucial pieces of gear you might need is safely tucked away in your hotel room? Yeah.
I started shooting Bob, who is patient, and a terrific shooter as did everybody else in Grand Central. I mean, how you not gonna shoot this gutsy guy in a tutu?
Thank goodness for the upgraded high ISO function of the D810, as I was shooting at ISO2500, using available light, with Bob out there in the cavernous reaches of Grand Central, naked save a raggedy tutu. There was a certain pathos to it, but I knew I needed to get closer. And also, let’s face it, the light in Grand Central ain’t great. What to do for some measure of contrast and pop?
Use other photographers’ flashes. I didn’t borrow one, but I thought, if I could drag the shutter long enough, maybe I would get lucky. I used this technique long ago for a Vera Wang runway show, shooting a story on globalisation for National Geographic. The yellow border mag wasn’t interested in straight-up runway shooting, so I found a spot at the opposite end of the other shooters, and just opened my shutter.
My class saved my butt. I asked them to go behind Bob, and at the count of three, shoot flash pictures. I hunkered down on the floor, figuring, eh, maybe f/8, which gave me a shutter drag at 1/5 sec. Went to consecutive high, and hoped for some crossover of my open shutter with a couple of pops of light, just to sharpen Bob and create a bit of an event feel. I got the shot, and felt better. I had something I could chip in to The Tutu Project. Many thanks to my wonderful class.
If you don’t bring it, you’re gonna need it. Sigh. • To see more of Joe’s amazing images, visit his website at
I started shooting Bob, who is patient, as did everybody else in Grand Central. I mean, how you not gonna shoot this gutsy guy in a tutu?
You can’t miss out on an opportunity to shoot a grown man in a tutu, flash or no flash, so what to do...? The answer, says Joe, is to call on your experience (above right)
The technique used for this National
Geographic shot provided the solution