Ellis Island is a magical, historical place. It easily, quickly prompts reverie, spirits, and ghosts, much of it communicated to your head and your heart via the hallways, the peeling paint, the dusty artifacts, and the light at different times of the day. We’ve been blessed for the last couple of years to visit the still mostly deserted, off-limits section of the island via the auspices of the Save Ellis Foundation, and the Nikon School. We form a small class and shoot all day, taking a break for a bit to practice some lighting, in the old morgue, which believe it or not, is a perfect place to run a lighting demo.
And who did I call on to be a subject but my bud, David Maloney, who came all the way from Tulsa with his wife Tammie. David and Tammie are super shooters and jumped on the chance of visiting Ellis. David didn’t exactly bargain for being a lighting test, especially when I told him to look at the camera and give me his best impersonation of a mortician, but, hey, we try to have fun out there.
Here’s the scene, poorly composed, sorta sharp. And the way the camera logically interpreted it, on aperture priority. 1/6th of a second, f/5.6.
Steps need to be taken. Fill flash, on BL, balanced light feature, hot shoed SB-5000, used straight. Aperture priority, plus 1.3 with the flash kicker on TTL. This is a record shot, not an interpretation. Crop into it, and you could use it on your license.
Time to take steps. Go manual and underexpose the whole deal. No flash.
Add an off-camera SB-5000, camera right, hand-held, fitted with the Lastolite Speedlite 2 Soft Box, which has become our go-to, in the camera bag light shaper of choice. 1/30th at f/5.6, and the flash is TTL, bang on, no compensation.
Seriously underexpose. And put a remote, radio controlled TTL light with a CTO gel in the other room. No compensation with either flash. Exposure now 1/400th at f/1.4.
Tell David to give the camera his best “Welcome to the morgue, I’m glad you’re dead” look. The kind of mortician you never want to meet, even when you’re deceased. Add a third flash, blue gel, and pop it off the wall camera left. Add back a little ambient light, via shutter speed. Exposure now, 1/125th at f/1.4. Three flashes, all TTL, blue one running at about minus 2 or so.
Took about a half hour, and my thanks to David for being such a good sport. And thanks to the technology that makes this easy. D850, 28mm f1.4, and super smart Speedlights, helping out a photog who is often less than smart at the camera. And to the Lastolite folks, who listened when I said the new little Speedlight 2 box had to have a front diffuser with deep baffles on the sides, and the option of an equally deep front diffuser fitted with a fabric egg crate. Without the egg crate, the above light would have spilled onto his clothes and collar. Instead, it collects with impact and locates on his ruggedly handsome visage.
And, as always, a tip of the hat to Mel, JC, Carissa, and the Nikon School, who work with the terrific folks at Save Ellis to make all this happen.
? as usual…!!!
Wonderful narrative both in words and in pictures, as always
Tammie Maloney says
It was a fantastic workshop and the setting couldn’t be better. Thanks for teaching classes like these to help neophytes like me learn
Thanks so much for sharing.
I always appreciate how you break down your photos. Really helps to see and understand how you got to the final destination.
Quick question, what are your tips for working in low-light and getting tack sharp focus. I figure fast lenses, tripod, a steady hand, and lots of practice, but was wondering if you had any other tips if working by yourself?
Always inspired by your work, thank you.
Hope we can cross paths one day soon.
Terry Tinkess says
Hoping there’s a next time…
Terry Tinkess says
Missing out on this trip is getting real old, real. quick. Just hope there will be a next time. Ellis Island holds a special mystique for me, don’t know why, (maybe I was there before?) I do have a fondness for the way locations absorb a little bit of the people who were a part of them and being there for a day with someone with a larger-than-life imagination would definitely be something not to be missed (at least not for a third time!)
Diego Moreira says
Joe Mcnally is for sure my favorite photographer all time… I just love the simplicity and how he starts from zero to create a beautifull photography… Sometimes I feel so dumb because I allways try to think about several things at same time. Simplicity is indeed everything!
THanks a lot for the great lessons Master Joe!
Joe McNally says
Appreciate the kind words, Diego!
Joe McNally says
Hi Alim…I’ve really worked hard over the years at holding my cameras still at slow shutter speeds. Obviously, flash makes achieving sharpness easier. I shot here without a tripod, but a tripod, for slow shutter speeds is essential, for sure.
Jim M says
Great post showing the step-by-step, Noting that it took 1/2 hour is helpful to those of us learning flash — even for a master, it doesn’t “just happen.”
Kerry Sharkey-Miller says
Great workshop Joe!! Thanks to you, Cali, the wonderful Nikon Crew and Save Ellis Island for an amazing opportunity to photograph in such a special location!!!
Jane Ellen says
Visited Ralph’s today, saw Taco and Cricket, thought of you…..
Brandon Adam says
Great post as always, Mr. McNally! I love the shallow DOF on the last shot.