Joe McNally

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...

NPhoto - - Contents -

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. thetu­tupro­ 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

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