Solving the Challenges of a Legendary Location with the Z System


The forest is supposed to be haunted.

Perfect, thinks Joe McNally. We'll do a fashion shoot there.

He's going to be in Romania for a workshop, visiting several locations, including Bucharest, and, of course, Transylvania, which triggers thoughts of...well, you know: Bram Stoker, Dracula, Vlad the Impaler and Hoia Baciu, the forest known for legends of paranormal phenomena. Which makes it a magnet for Joe. Fashion set against the background of that forest is exactly the kind of juxtaposition he favors.

And just in case the proper paranormal atmosphere isn't in evidence, he'll bring along a smoke machine. Plus, with a properly atmospheric abandoned Bucharest mansion available as a shooting location, he adds some circus performers to the plan.

Good thing he brought along his Z cameras, too.

Starting Point

When we talked with Joe about the fashion shoot in the forest and the aerialists at the estate, we first wanted to know what drives him to create commercial images, whether in workshops or for assignments, that are also often surprisingly different and unexpected.  

"Well, obviously, I start out looking for something unusual, something different," Joe says, "but the reason for that—and I say this to my workshop students—is that the world is visually bored. We're inundated with imagery every day—each one of us is getting bombarded with images to the point where we're tired. So to get somebody to actually pay attention, to grab their eyeballs, you're looking for something that's at least slightly unusual."

In this case, the location was the starting point on the road to the unusual. The rest is what happens when Joe's imagination and expertise go to work.

Image capture as quickly as possible is key, and the Z cameras are made for that [using the Electronic Viewfinder].

The Z Advantage

Joe shot the stills with his Z 7, the behind-the-scenes video with his Z 6, and the shoot turned into something of a proving ground for the capability of the cameras, especially the speed and accuracy of the autofocus in general and the reliability of Eye AF in particular. "It sees the eye of the subject, locks on and stay with it," Joe says, "and that was super important for both the forest and indoor shots."

The mirrorless format turned out to be invaluable when the smoke machine was used, as Joe was able to see the exposure in the instant he took the photo. "The smoke goes where it wants to," he says, "and that affects the exposure, so image capture as quickly as possible is key, and the Z cameras are made for that."

Indoors the autofocus systems had a lot to contend with. Joe cites one photo in particular: "The lady in the mirror—lots of things are going on there. There's a hot light in the background, highlights up in the ceiling, her reflection, her hand extended, so the camera has to know what to do, focus-wise. Of course I'm directing it, pushing it in the right direction, but accurate focus is essential, and that camera does a remarkable job of providing it."

So if you're looking for the different, the unusual or the unexpected, it's always good to know your gear is going to provide consistency and reliability. Not counting that smoke machine, of course. Or the possibility of the paranormal.

Romania: Mood, Light and Lens – Behind the Scenes of a Joe McNally photo shoot in the forests of Romania.
Joe's website,, features galleries of images, a behind-the-scenes blog section and a listing of upcoming workshops.

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. Two of Joe's books, The Moment It Clicks and The Hot Shoe Diaries, both cracked Amazon’s top ten list of best sellers. Visit his website at and ambassador page.

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