As we enter a very different, 2020 version of Halloween upcoming, I hark back to Halloween pictures past with the blog below. Fun memories and an amazing shoot day.
And, teasing this, as we are about to launch Chapter Three of The Pointe Shoe Mysteries on Adorama TV. A Halloween edition! What dastardly deed might occur in the world of ballet, as we celebrate this spooky holiday?
But, back to the blog at hand, or, previously in hand. A while ago, I was beset with notions of Halloween and how to express them visually. Those ruminations took shape as our team in the studio, particularly the amazing Lynn DelMastro, who does actively live in fear of what my imagination might trigger in terms of production difficulties, started to construct real time stuff to express my fanciful photo conjuring. Witness below, a blank room. Which of course Lynn found. And then, what it became, after some mural painting, propping, and lighting.
I don’t know why the folks at Nikon and the Photo Plus Expo administration listened to me back then when I came to them with Halloween ideas. For someone such as myself, raised up on comic books and the dark fantasies of Mordor, the notion of distressed trick or treaters, of small children poised on the verge of fantastical disaster and mayhem was completely normal. I was somewhat nonplussed then, when most people I tried to explain my ideas to would listen politely, tilt their head, look at me and say, “Sounds cool. You’re a sick bastard.”
PPE, the photo extravaganza, happened that year on Halloween. So, why not create some spooky, fun pics to advertise it? Doing these snaps immediately combined a lot of things I love. Being on location. Struggling my way through complex lighting scenarios. Being with a crew of talented people. Body painting people into other worldly wonders. And mostly, letting my imagination out for a healthy romp.
In this scenario, I conjured a little girl, reading a scary story by flashlight, long after she should have gone to sleep. Her wall is a wonderfully innocent mural of leafy woodlands, filled with faeries and other mild mannered creatures of the forest. Except for one, who seems to be coming alive, literally out of the woodwork, a malevolent creature, one with mischief and more on her mind. She is freaking out the other faeries, who would warn the little girl….if only they could.
The key to a job like this is preparation, and the assemblage of a bunch of amazing skill sets. The empty room had to first be illustrated with a vibrant, richly done mural. Dana Heffern, a terrific painter, worked in this room for eight days prior to the shot, creating the dreamy woodlands. A truly brilliant body painter, Anastasia Durasova, combined with hair stylist Jerome Cultrera transformed the lovely Tanya Sinkevica into the creature living in the wall.
When I scouted the empty room seen at the beginning of this blog, I noticed there was a shimmer on the wall, coming from high sunlight banking off the backyard pool, creating an upward cast, gleam through the window onto the wall. Hmmmm….how could I recreate that? I gave it a stab by firing three Profoto Acutes into a 6×6 Lastolite silver reflector, angled up from the backyard into the window. The prop stylist, Katherine Hammond, draped a sheer over the glass. I took my D810 into incandescent white balance. Boom. We had moonlight, glinting off the waters.
The D810, which was the vehicle of choice for me at that time, has/had incredible resolution. But, all those millions of pixels combine to make a stern taskmaster of a sensor, one that shows every flaw, and every undone, incomplete part of your picture in stunning detail. Hence, the light had to be right. It ended up being a combination of five SB 910 speedlights, mixed in as accents with three 2400ws Acutes, one B4, and two B1’s. Each light had a job to do, in a specific area of the photo. Then they all had to mesh into something plausible.
The process of doing this is slow and steady. Put up a light you think you need. See what it does. Modify or ratio it, up or down. Where are the dead spots? Fill those in, but with a governed, controlled light that doesn’t blow away the look and feel of the light you have already painstakingly created. I sometimes think about the physician’s creed when putting up a light into an already existing grid. “First, do no harm.” Then I think of the photographer’s prayer. “Please don’t let me f%#@* this up.” This is like building blocks. They are independent pieces, but they all rely on and react to each other.
For the forest idea below, the light was just as carefully controlled, except, it wasn’t a bedroom, it was a forest. The below is about 12,000ws of light, sprayed across a spooky forest, where two trick or treaters have unwittingly stumbled into. Mommy told you not to go into the woods! They say the trees in there come alive at night!
Many thanks to Mike Corrado and the folks at Nikon for listening to my wacked ideas. Happy Halloween! More tk… (Many thanks to Lynda Peckham in our studios for shooting lots of the BTS stills)
Beautiful work Joe. I love the fact that you take time to explain, not just the technical specifications of your shoots, but your thought processes. I have watched you many times… (that sounds a wee bit creepy) and find it a joy to listen to you. You have an equal gift, to your vast photographic talent, in the way that you converse with your audience, be it in written form, or video… I guess I’m a 43yr old groupie, but am fairly shameless to admit it.
P.S – could I possibly ask what affect the pro-globe had on the image and your thoughts as to why you used it?
The Photographers’ Prayer…priceless…now I have to clean up the tea I just snorted…
Thomas Michael Ahern says
Wow! Always creative and an inspiration! I love the extra step you take… didn’t catch the woodland lady until second glance. 😀
It’s ideas like this that brought me into photography. Unfortunately – A bit envious here- I don’t have neither the tools nor the capacity to pull something like that without having to shell out thousands of dollars to bring it all together.
Nonetheless, it’s people like you Mr. McNally that keep photographers like myself pushing the constraints and boundaries and keep on dreaming that one day we’ll get the chance to unleash our imagination as well.
art meripol says
really admire the ability to figure all this out and combine so many techniques like the tungsten setting for the blue. I used to do similar with tungsten film. Curious about the ‘globe’ light near the ceiling and how you fired various unmatched strobes…PW’s?
John A. says
Absolutely incredible shots! Even after you explained the shot at the top of the post, I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around it. Killer stuff though!
Fabiano Rosa says
I´m a big fan 🙂
Daniel Mateus says
Great work , thank you for sharing ! 🙂
This makes me want to buy a plane ticket to NYC.
Chris Graham says
No words………… just awesome.
Wally Kilburg says
Brillant and beautiful.
Jan Timmons says
Brilliant. “Painstakingly created”, indeed. You’ve not lost that sense of childhood wonderâ€”this evokes so many memories. What am I saying! I still read and imagine the story around me. I’ve just never paused to plan lighting and staging my imaginary scene.
Fascinating explanation, as usual, with a superb result.
Joe McNally says
Sure, it just opens up the room. Tomorrow, we’ll post the video on the how to of the shot, and I try to explain the presence of that light. Stay tuned…
Raul Parra says
me encanta ver la preparaciÃ³n de la fotografÃa, increÃble trabajo, muy profesional
espero poder realizar algÃºn dÃa una fotografÃa de ese nivel, saludos desde chile
Thanks Joe. Did you consider shooting a little more from in front of the girl, so that the spirit was more behind her as opposed to alongside?
Anne Spradlin says
i just ran across this photo on Facebook. I was instantly captured and had to follow the link. You, sir, are a great talent. My dream is to be as good as you some day. Thank you for sharing.
Nikolay Mirchev says
I really love the concept, not to mention the rendition of the lighting!!!
Joe McNally says
Actually no….lots of reasons…config of the room, light through the window, etc.
No problem 😉 I noticed my comment wasn’t published probably because of my strange humour.
If i offended you, sorry about that .
God bless you anyway.
Joe McNally says
Hi David….no offense taken. Just absolutely and completely did not understand your comment. Wondering if there was a question in there, but couldn’t sort it out at all. Here’s your text below…if you could explain, happy to respond.
since a long time i’m following your posts on youtube and other places. I wonder, how do you do to have almost always the same short all these years, I’m wondering, it’s not scientific, just a question.
anyway,that doesn’t change my good opinion of your work Mr McNally, and i notice you did an other nice picture there due to your great expÃ©rience and your talent, and also those of all these artists all around you in the same time.
god bless you. 🙂
Bloody google translate. 🙂
well, i need to take a few more lessons of english before i can explain it.
Maybe next time. 😉
Joe, I have just been introduced to your work through this project.. This has been very inspirational. Thanks for sharing the details.. I look forward to more amazing things.
Valent Lau says
Brilliant concept. What does that ungelled light behind the dolls do?
Rebekah Nemethy says
You are my hero and this photo is just another reason why =) I discovered you in Barnes and Noble several years ago and your books have been a constant source of inspiration for me… if only I looked for your blog sooner!
As a famous Austrian once said, “I’ll be back.”
Charles Lloyd says
You imagination is incredible. What a great job coming up with the little girl reading and the scary person coming out of the wall.
As always you work in the best.
I’m always amazed of how you manage to make a very complex lighting setup look so simple. I’m also impressed by how you set each light at the right place and power. I look at the scene and I can’t imagine my self doing it with more than two or three lights. You are simply a true master Joe, that’s one of the things I admire most about you. By the way, have you seen Bob, I miss your videos together, the father Krist was a blast.
A lot of work for the great images, just love it…
Joe McNally says
Haven’t seen Father Bob! And I definitely need to confess!!! :-))) Thanks for the kind words and stopping by the blog, Jorge…..