Joe McNally Joe McNally is an internationally acclaimed photographer whose career has spanned 30 years and included assignments in over 50 countries. He has shot cover stories for TIME, Newsweek, Fortune, New York, Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, and Men’s Journal. He has been at various times in his career a contract photographer for Sports Illustrated, a staff photographer at LIFE, and, currently, an ongoing 23 year contributor to the National Geographic, shooting numerous cover stories for those publications. Joe was listed by American Photo as one of the 100 Most Important People in Photography and described by the magazine as “perhaps the most versatile photojournalist working today”. He has been honored as a member of Kodak-PDN Legends Online, as well as being a Nikon Legend Behind the Lens. In 2010, he was voted as one of the 30 most influential photographers of the decade in an industry wide Photo District News survey.

Photo Tips & Tricks:

Don’t be afraid of the shadows!

Shadows and dark areas lend drama and excitement to a scene, and retain a sense of mystery in your subject matter. One of the most important lessons ever taught to me by the picture editor of LIFE magazine was, “If you want something to look interesting, don’t light all of it.” Very true. Look for light in the back of a scene that has color and direction, and use it to define the shape of your primary or foreground subjects.
© Joe McNally
© Joe McNally

Use Light to Tell the Story

Show the environment to tell the story - you are backstage. Keep the mood of the environment by using a flash in conjunction with the camera. The flash should be off the camera, and use a gel filter over the flash to warm the light so it matches the scene.

Try to match the light you use to the light that presents in the environment. In this instance, the dancer in front of the mirror is being lit by makeup lights, which glow, and are generally warm in color temperature. So, the light has to come from the direction of the mirror, first off. Secondly, it has to be warm, just like the existing color of the light. It also has to fill her face with a low glow, which again, is the nature of makeup mirror lights. So show the environment! It is very story telling. You know you are backstage. But then don’t destroy the mood of the story you are telling by using a hard, white light flash at the camera. Take the time to get the flash off the camera, and gel it a bit warm, so it matches what your eye is seeing.
© Joe McNally

The Magic Hour

The magic hour occurs at dusk and dawn. It’s often the best light in contrast to the high light conditions at noon.

This shot, taken as daylight fades to dusk, allows for some detail on the streets, capturing the neon as it starts to glow. The combination of waning natural light and the beginnings of city lights doing their nightly dance are an excellent time to shoot. Be careful—there are only a few minutes of crossover where the play of daylight and night light match up well. Too early, there is no neon glow. Too late, it is pure night, with all being dark except that which is artificially illuminated. Also, for these kinds of moody conditions, it’s best to bring a tripod!
© Joe McNally
© Joe McNally

Focused attention: limit your depth of field

Limited depth of field can be very effective for portraits. It refers to what is sharp in the photo. Big number f-stops like - f16 create a very small lens opening and produces a large depth of field resulting in more items in focus. An f-stop like f2, or f2.8, has a very limited range of focus.As you can see from this picture, shot at f2, not too much is in focus. The critical focus falls on her eyes and the plane of her face. This causes the viewer to go right to her eyes and smile, because they are exuberant and sharp. Everything else falls out of focus, giving context, but not demanding attention.

Remember, we are programmed to seek out sharpness, and our eyes want to go to what is sharpest in the picture. This is a powerful way to direct the attention of the viewer of your picture, so use sharpness wisely! A lot, or a little, it’s up to you.
© Joe McNally

Lighting Groups

Soft frontal light often works best for groups. When photographing groups and faces in a picture, bringing light from the side can introduce problems. One person shadows the other, and so on. It’s best to light from the front, fully illuminating each face in the group.

Soft light is recommended to avoid hard shadows around the eyes. Remember everybody’s face is different. Some people have deep set eyes, so a hard light will cause them to go black.

Softer light is more pleasing and flattering for your subjects, and is easier for you, the photographer to handle. Think about bouncing the light off a ceiling, or a wall, or diffusing it through a photo umbrella, or even a big, spread out white bed sheet.
© Joe McNally

Backlight: Break the rules

The normal rule is to place the light source behind you, the photographer. But photography is all about breaking rules, and having fun doing that. Experiment. Backlight, while being potentially difficult to manage, can add drama and impact to a scene. Maneuver yourself so your lens does not flare, or flare too much. Bracket your exposures. You will be pleasantly surprised at the graphic punch and excitement backlighting can create.
© Joe McNally
© Joe McNally

Visit Joe’s web site and blog for more great ideas and wonderful photographs:

http://portfolio.joemcnally.com
http://www.joemcnally.com/blog/