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Location Photography: On Assignment with Joe McNally

ThinkTAPLearn has released a new training title with Joe McNally—Location Photography: On Assignment with Joe McNally. You’ll have a chance to watch over Joe’s shoulder as he works his magic on the set of a dance shoot.

An industry legend, McNally began as a photojournalist and has worked for publications like Life and National Geographic. Joe continues to work on assignment today, producing amazing images and inspiring photographers. Watching him work is a treat.

Who’s this course for?

To get the most from this course, you’ll want to have at least a basic understanding of off camera lighting to fully appreciate the techniques. But it’s not all lighting. Joe devotes a good portion to discussing the significant pre-planning that took place before the shoot—an important lesson for any photographer. On occasion, anyone can get a lucky shot, but working photographers can’t rely on luck to produce great images every day. Joe covers the importance of background research and building rapport with the subject. He also spends time working through the location details and anticipating potential challenges.

Hits

What can I say? It’s Joe McNally. His teaching style is wonderful. He’s funny, approachable, and doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s got more knowledge of lighting and storytelling than most of us can ever hope for.

The course is a fascinating look at all that goes into a professional shoot. Even if you’re working at a much more modest scale, the important lesson is that the details and pre-planning matter.

From a creative standpoint, the series is quite inspiring. Joe magically removes the set (a dance studio) out of the frame. While he does have the benefit of a crew, the techniques he uses are still accessible to most of us. He’s not relying on any fancy post-production techniques, just a good old fashion knowledge of lighting.

The production quality of the series is top notch. Each individual video lesson is bite sized (most are 2-4 minutes), which makes the series very digestible. The overall interface is user friendly and mobile friendly.

Joe McNally
Some of the amazing images Joe McNally produces in this tutorial.

Misses

It’s really hard to find any flaws in the production itself. But there are a couple points I would note as you consider the course.

First, this course alone will not teach you all the techniques Joe uses in this video. While he mentions everything, there’s just too much going on to catch every detail. But to be fair, the course isn’t billed as a lighting 101 offering. If you’re just starting out, check out Joe’s earlier books, or a site like Strobist.com.

Second, there’s a lot of gear visible on the set. It’s a little intimidating. The combination of a big photoshoot plus the video production will do that. But don’t let all the gear scare you. As I mentioned, all the lighting techniques Joe uses can be employed with relatively simple equipment and a solid understanding of light. From what I can tell, much of the gear is for the video side, to ensure we really can watch right over Joe’s shoulder.

Final Thoughts

Joe is a master photographer and storyteller. I can’t think of a better person to learn the craft from.

If you have a good grasp of lighting and you’re looking to increase the overall polish of your work, this course is definitely for you. If you’re still working through manual flash settings, this course might be a stretch from the technical side. But it’ll be good a reference to have as your skills grow. It’s also a good inspiration to see what’s possible. Lighting aside, the discussions around preplanning, subject research, safety, pre-visualization, and creativity are vital to any photo project.

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