Illuminating–Joe McNally’s LA Lighting workshop


The Master in his element–Joe McNally answers questions while his assistants ready the set for a glamor shoot on the stage.

If you were among the 650 or so photographers at the LA Convention Center yesterday listening to legendary photographer Joe McNally, I have to wonder:

  1. how many of those present understood the tech talk
  2. how many were there because they liked his gadgets
  3. how many were there because Joe’s philosophy about photography resonated with them.

It is probably a mix of all 3 but for me, his willingness to share is refreshing in an industry that is known to be competitive and cut throat.


Voice actuated lightstand– One of Joe’s assistants aims the tethered commander at a Nikon Speedlite situated about 100 feet at the back of the grand hall for the audience participation portion of the “show.”

Despite the general sentiment that the marketplace is awash with inexperienced amateurs due to the affordability and availability of digital photography, Joe McNally is secure enough in his own abilities to operate as an open book.

It’s no wonder his sessions are often packed.

I arrived an hour before the start and only managed to find seats 5 rows from the front and on the right most aisle. So listen up, if you plan to catch Joe on one of these arrive at least 3 or 4 hours early to get a front row seat.

Except for the one setup where he was trying to add some color on the front of the laptop with 3 people, I never looked at my watch.

I could tell Joe was going to get the front of the laptop lit, even if it meant we all had to leave late.

So it was no surprise to me when Joe ignored an off-hand remark from the audience to use photoshop.

Overall the day was inspiring and went by so quickly in part because of the help of his 2 assistants Drew and …..(sorry I can’t recall his name)

Joe McNally’s presentation has been become very polished and refined. Yet, despite the constant time checks with Jeff for “military precision,” it was great to see how he managed the time lost due to hiccups with great anecdotes or banter.

For my money, it is the best $100 you can spend if want to gain some insight into how a successful, tenacious and completely driven photographer should be thinking.

Even though some of us felt left out because we weren’t selected to be on stage for the final group shot, Joe was kind enough to allow those of us in front of the stage to participate in a fun shot.

If you look at the picture I grabbed off the giant screen that Joe took of his airborne models lit by a single Nikon Speedlite, you’ll see my upraised hand holding my point and shoot Canon Sureshot G3 on the bottom left corner.

By the way Joe, I hope you didn’t mind my grabbing and using these pictures. And if you haven’t bought his 2 books, you really ought to.

The Moment It Clicks and Hot Shoe Diaries are best sellers.

If you’re at all curious about Joe McNally, head over to his blog, and get ready for some laughs.


My camera is famous–This is it–my 5 minutes of fame.

6 thoughts on “Illuminating–Joe McNally’s LA Lighting workshop”

  1. Wow.. Joe,
    Thanks so much for taking the time and trouble to say hello here. Next time you come through LA , I’ll bring more of my students. But we’ll plan to be there early.

  2. Hello Dave R,
    Thanks for taking the time to leave your comment. As I said, even experienced photographers would have picked up something from his workshop.

    I just loved his anecdotes and stories. His all-inclusive attitude and willingness to share is what makes him a rarity. But it speaks to his confidence in his abilities.

    On the problem with lighting the front of the laptop during the workshop, I wasn’t clear what he wanted to do. My solution would have been to put the camera on a tripod, turn off ambient light in the room, turn on the computer and let the Apple logo burn in with a long exposure, then expose the picture normally with the flash.

    I agree with you that 2 D diagrams leave a lot to be desired but much of what he showed you can pick up through experimentation on your own.

    The best photographers don’t necessarily make it in the business because they don’t know how to run a business.

    In that sense Joe is a rarity, he has been able to parlay his artistry and not compromise too much and still be so successful.

    That to me is the epitome of success as an artist.

  3. Definitely a worthwhile workshop. Technical details you can figure out online; for me the most useful bits were how he did light placement (2D lighting diagrams leave a lot to be desired); how he works through lighting problems; and most important, that you’ve got to keep pushing the envelope to get those really interesting shots even when things don’t seem to be going your way.

    Most of the lighting setups were just brilliant, but that red gelled laptop with the blue background was just weird. Learned a lot from the portrait lighting.

  4. DeeAnn,
    Joe McNally gives these one day workshops with Kelby Training.

    NPPA, National Press Photographers Association, which I used to belong to during my rookie years has been ineffective in helping educate its members.

    Sadly, I’m sure their numbers are dwindling these days.

    If you don’t get a chance to see Joe McNally in person, you might find some videos of him online like this one below.

  5. That workshop sounded educating, fun and your retelling hilarious.
    Did you find that workshop through NPPA? Sounds like you got way more than your money worth Peter, thanks for sharing story & photos. Nice G3 shadow…

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