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4.5 Rating
Joe McNally: Shooting a Portrait with Speedlights

Joe McNally sets up a portrait on location using Speedlights

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Using Shadows for Dimension in Photographs

Joe McNally explains how shadows add dimension

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Photography Lighting Tutorial Part 2 - Control of Color

Go on location with Joe McNally for a video tutorial on lighting…

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Photography Lighting Tutorial Part 1 - Control of Color

Go on location with Joe McNally for a video tutorial on lighting…

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4.7 Rating
Joe McNally

Commercial photojournalist Joe McNally is a Nikon Ambassador. Learn more about his photography.

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Imagine That

Nope, we didn't make a mistake. The photos you see here were not taken by several different photographers;…

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Using Multiple Lights in the Studio

Blair Bunting discusses checking lights on set

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Six Steps to Lighting Magic with Joe McNally

Follow lighting expert Joe McNally's instructions for easy flash photography…

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Flash Points: The Control of Light

Color temperature, rear sync, slow sync: Three key elements in flash photography.

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Introduction to Three-Point Lighting & Other Video Lighting Techniques

Advanced lighting for video

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Using Shadows and Light in Your Photographs

Cliff Maunter on using shadows and light

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Active D-Lighting

Active D-Lighting optimizes high contrast images to restore the shadow and highlight details that are…

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Getting the "Cool" Look

My daughter, Kiara, wanted some pictures of herself with her new guitar. She was looking for some…

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The Anatomy of a Powerful Image

Jerry Ghionis on creating powerful wedding imagery

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Cliff Mautner: King of Hearts

Cliff Mautner's unique style has made him a successful and in-demand wedding photographer.

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4.2 Rating
Using Variable Neutral Density Filters to Adjust Exposure in DSLR Video

Adjusting exposure with Variable ND filters

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Quick Tips for Taking Better Portraits

Suggested Lens choices, exposure settings and focus modes

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3.6 Rating
Setting White Balance

How do I set my camera’s white balance for different lighting situations?

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Awesome Skies: Tips and Techniques for Photographing the Northern Lights

Learn how to photograph the Northern Lights or…

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4.9 Rating
Speedlight Tutorial: Day to Night Technique

David Tejada uses Speedlights to create the illusion of a night scene

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Getting Creative with White Balance

Try getting creative with your camera's white balance for some interesting results.

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Taking Pictures at Dusk and at Night

How do I take pictures at dusk and at night?

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Using the Highlight-Weighted Metering Mode

When to use the D810 and D750's highlight-weighted metering

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One Shot: On the Beach

Deborah Sandidge on shooting crashing ocean waves

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ISO Control

For digital photography, ISO refers to the sensitivity of the camera's sensor. The ISO setting is one of…

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Photographing Sports Indoors and Out

Capturing the action of a sporting event is easy when you follow a few simple…

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Photographing the Night Sky

Astrophotography: tips for making great images of the stars, moon and night sky time-lapse

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Using Auto FP High-Speed Sync to Illuminate Fast Sports Action

Dave Black on using high-speed flash sync for sports…

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Photographing Dogs: Capturing Action

Tips for taking better photos of your dog in action.

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Using Fill-Light Adds to the Expressiveness of Portraits

A tip from Nikon Ambassador Tamara Lackey

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Popular Nikon Lenses for Shooting Video

Primer on popular NIKKOR lenses for HD video shooting

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Want Better Landscape Photos? First Check Your Definition of "Landscape"

Tony Sweet offers tips for better landscape…

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The Inspired Image

Communication is key for Dixie Dixon in creating stunning images

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Basic Underwater Photography Tips

5 tips to taking better photos under the sea

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Action and People Photography

For those who want to take better people and action photos

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3.4 Rating
Elements of Photography

Ideal class for those who want to take great DSLR photos

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Joe McNally: Shooting a Portrait with Speedlights

Firefighters. They share, along with cowboys, an innate ability to simply step in front of a camera and become a photograph. Henry, of the Soufriere Fire Department in St. Lucia, has a look, a presence, if you will, that speaks to the camera.

To do this portrait, I made some camera moves before I even put it to my eye. When doing what one might call a "formal" portrait, I've always enjoyed a more blocky type of aspect ratio. Don't know exactly why. It might hark back to film days when I shot a lot of 6x7 and square medium format stuff. In the D4S there is a menu setting where you can alter your frame from the standard DSLR view to 5x4, which is what I did here. I also shifted into Monochrome. I still have color in the raw file, but when I shoot B&W, I like to see in B&W. It makes a difference. I rarely shoot in color and then convert it to monochrome later. I try my best to think and see in the palette I am shooting, at the moment of exposure.

One subject? One light, at least to start. (Best to keep it simple and move fast when working with firefighters, as they’re likely to disappear at any moment.)

Here’s where light placement, hence a C-stand, comes in, well, not just handy, but pretty much essential. Depending on your taste, of course. You can light from the side, or elsewhere. You can light from any place you want. But, my instincts said, light from overhead, symmetrically, and for this, you’ve got to extend, or boom the light source.

Which is, in this particular equation, a 24” white interior Lastolite hotshoe soft box. Handy, simple, all purpose light source. It’s pretty soft and forgiving, but also directional, hence the shadows.

It gives Henry a look, for sure. It’s moody, and has attitude. But, pitched from up above, that’s all it gives. You don’t see the eyes.

Want the eyes? That calls for another light, given the attitude of the first light, which I didn’t want to change. I washed a Group B TTL light off the silver reflective sleeve of a Lastolite trip-grip diffuser, placed on the floor, about 8’ in front of the subject. Voila! Eyes.

But, this is a wash of light, it flows upwards towards Henry, and lights not just his eyes, but it puts details into his overall frame and what he’s sitting on, which happens to be some sort of air filter we found in the firehouse. It's nice enough, but not really specific. If you want a light just dedicated to his eyes, best to use something like a gridded or snooted source, something that produces a small, concentrated splash of light that really locates the eyes and not much else.

For the above, there are a couple things you could use. Lastolite makes a gridded, magnetized snoot that is collapsible and cool. It travels well, and the whole kit, with the grids, frame and snoot give you lots of options. The big blow of light behind Henry is the same contraption I had just used to fill the front of him. It's a Speedlight bounced into a silver tri-grip.

Give a little, get a little, is the rule of location. Other rules abound. Solve one problem, create two more. Murphy's law. The frequency of the bread falling butter side down is in direct relationship to how expensive the carpeting is. etc.

Location is problem solving, often times. Eliminating the frontal, general fill and going with a very specific source meant I lost a touch of detail in the background. So, I pulled the floor fill rig around to the back of Henry, to light up the rack of bunker gear hanging back there. True to the general pattern of TTL, the camera's brain rightly perceived that area to be dark and pumped out too much light, as you can see above.

Plugged in - 2 EV (also tried - 3) and dialed up the background to a decent, moody level.

We ended up here, with three lights. Group A, overhead, boomed Lastolite 24" hot shoe soft box. Group B, fill snoot for his face and eyes, running low power, about - 3 EV. And the background, Group C, a bounce off of a silver reflective surface (the Speedlight is just laying on it) running in similar toned down fashion, minus 2 or 3.

Here's the final camera specs. D4S, 1/20th, f/5.6, 70-200mm f/2.8, set at 170mm. I have minus three programmed into the camera, but the D4S ignores that command because of it being set in manual mode. I did my scout in aperture priority, getting the rough exposure for the scene dialed in, and then flipped the camera into manual to proceed through the making of the shot.

Joe McNally is a Nikon Ambassador.

Learn more about Joe on his ambassador page.

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