Nikon Learn & Explore

Solving the Challenges of a Legendary Location with the Z System

Joe McNally photo of a model in a cart in the forest, in Romania

© Joe McNally

"The cars couldn't go as far into the forest as I wanted," Joe says, "but a local farmer came by with his horse and cart and with a little negotiation, saved us from lugging in all our gear. When we got there, I looked at the cart and it was terrific, so I put the model in it and we turned on the smoke machine." Z 7, NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S, 1/100 second, f/1.8, ISO 250, manual exposure, Matrix metering.

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.

Joe McNally photo of a model in a yellow dress in a mansion in Romania

© Joe McNally

"This was in one of the abandoned mansions in Bucharest. I believe it's rented for films occasionally." Joe placed a blue-gelled location strobe in the room behind the model. The atrium layout of the mansion allowed him to place the strobe that's illuminating her one story below. Z 7, NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S, 1/20 second, f/2.8, ISO 200, manual exposure, Matrix metering.

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.

Joe McNally photo of a model and her reflection in a mirror in Romania

© Joe McNally

Joe used an SB-5000 at upper left as a key light for this image, which he refers to as a test of the Z 7's AF accuracy. "The key to this shot was balancing the lighting—window light, strobe light on her, the Speedlight and the chandelier." Z 7, NIKKOR Z 14-30mm f/4 S, 1/40 second, f/8, ISO 800, manual exposure, Matrix metering.

Image capture as quickly as possible is key, and the Z cameras are made for that [using the Electronic Viewfinder].
Joe McNally photo of an aerialist upside down on silks in a mansion in Romania

© Joe McNally

Joe brought in aerialists from the Bucharest Metropolitan Circus for some of the photographs in the mansion. "We rigged the climbing silk from the floor above." The aerialist is lit by a location strobe; the room behind by available light and the chandelier. Z 7, NIKKOR Z 14-30mm f/4 S, 1/15 second, f/6.3, ISO 1000, manual exposure, Matrix metering.

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.

Joe McNally photo of a trio of aerial performers in a Romania mansion

© Joe McNally

In full performance costumes and makeup, a trio of aerial performers are lit by natural light from below bounced off a silver reflector. "This is one of my favorite pictures from the take," Joe says. "it's just so odd and interesting on a visual level, and completely suited to the mood of the place." Z 7, Z 7, NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S, 1/100 second, f/5.6, ISO 800, aperture-priority exposure, Matrix metering.

Romania: Mood, Light and Lens - Behind the Scenes of a Joe McNally photo shoot in the forests of Romania.

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