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I’m back from four days on the Island of St. Lucia in the Caribbean, as the Guest Speaker at Joe McNally’s Off Camera Flash workshop. The workshop was an even more amazing experience than I had expected, and I learned a lot more than just photography.

This week, I’m going to share some different things I learned as an instructor, as a student, as a guest in a very special resort (more on this in a moment), as a businessman, as a husband, a father, and as a photographer (it’s amazing what you can absorb in just four days).

It’ll probably make a separate post each day this week to share these lessons, and I’ll weave my stories in alongside some of the other important things happening in this; the week leading up to my Worldwide Photo Walk on Saturday. But as I’m sitting here on the five-hour flight from St. Lucia to Atlanta, (and then a short hop home to Tampa), all this stuff is swirling around in my head, and I’ve got to get it down on paper (even if it’s not really paper).

First, we’ll start with the shot up top. I arrived after the workshop was already underway, and after checking in at the resort, I headed down to the beach to catch Joe’s sunset shoot at the beach.

When I got there I high-fived my assistant Brad Moore, who was already there assisting on the shoot, and then watched as Joe waded offshore with a local scuba diver to do a portrait, along with his assistant Drew holding a large Elinchrom Rotalux softbox with flashhead attached, as one of the students (A great guy from Texas named Clint) held the small Elinchrom Ranger Quadra battery pack and cables (more on this later in the week, when I post a video we did here in the studio on the Quadra).

It was just a one-light shoot, using a single studio light on location, but man did Joe make that one light sing! Check out the final image on Joe’s blog (here’s the link).

More Proof it’s a Small World
The next morning, we headed into the small town of Soufriere, so we could do some street shooting. After wandering the streets for an hour or so, we met up with our guide from the hotel, and he mentioned that there was a fire station nearby if we wanted to drop by and see if they’d let us shoot their trucks, so we headed over there.

A student from our group got about 100 yards ahead of us, and got to the station first. A fireman was standing outside, and he saw the photographer’s Canon camera and said, “Hey, I’m a photographer. I’ve got a Canon DSLR, too!” They started chatting and the fireman asked the student, “Hey, do you read Scott Kelby’s blog?” (I kid you not!). The student tells the fireman that I’m actually part of the group, and of course, he thinks the guy is pulling his leg until McNally and I come around the corner 30-seconds later.

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The firefighter’s name is Garvey Charlemagne (that’s a portrait I took of Garvey above), and he’s an avid photographer, and just a wonderfully gracious, kind, and incredibly patient guy as he let the class make portraits of him, in full gear, for around an hour, and it was Caribbean island-hot down there (that’s real sweat, in other words).

Although my blog connection to Garvey might have gotten our foot in the door at the fire station, watching Joe work in this environment was a master class unto itself. Joe just has a way of ingratiating himself in any situation, and within minutes these firefighters, were rolling out the red carpet to do anything Joe needed to “get the shot.”

He had them do everything from move firetrucks, to dress up in full gear, to doing group shots with the entire department (including the Captain in his full parade best), to pulling out all sorts of gear, posing in different locations—you name it. They were so taken with Joe, and he worked the scene like such a pro, that everybody, firefighters included, had a blast.

On the flipside of this; Joe does something for them, which I think is very, very important; he immediately sends them the best finished images from the shoot. (They may not at first know what it means to have Joe McNally make your portrait, but they soon will).

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Here’s Joe and I posed with Garvey (photo by Steve Rogers), after the shoot. A big thanks to all the guys at the Soufriere Fire Dept., and a special thanks to my blog reader Garvey. You guys were awesome!!!

Ya Just Have to Know What to Ask
I have a running joke with Joe. When we were walking the backstreets and alleys of Sufraire, I put the camera to my eye and shouted ahead to Joe, “Hey Joe, you been shootin’ much HDR??” He turned toward me, and I took the shot below, which pretty much says it all.

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Can Joe Pick a Workshop Location or What!!!!
Our host resort for the workshop was the fabulous Jade Mountain hotel, which has already become a favorite hideaway of celebrities (which we knew), but what nobody knew until the third day of the workshop was that Travel & Leisure magazine had just named the hotel the #3 best hotel in the world (the first time in history a Caribbean hotel had made Travel & Leisure’s exclusive Top 10 List). Believe me; these accolades are well deserved—-I’ve never seen anything like it.

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Here’s the view from my room (they call them “Sanctuaries” and they’re well-named). It’s a 17-photo pano; taken hand held, standing inside my room. It’s 62 inches long at 240 ppi.

It stitched together perfectly; totally seamlessly, without any input from me, all in Photoshop CS4 (well, I selected the photos inside of Lightroom, then chose “Merge to Panorama in Photoshop.” I’d do a tutorial on it for you, but there’s nothing to show. Select 17 photos; choose “Merge to Panorama in Photoshop” and then wait a few minutes and it’s done.

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This one was taken from the breakfast table in my room. It’s not a pano. I just cropped it that way in Lightroom.

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This isn’t the lobby. This is the hotel room they gave me as an instructor. I kid you not. This is where they put me up. My wife and I walked in, and our jaws hit the floor. There’s only one wall (on the left) with a 14-foot high door, so basically 1/3 of the room has a wall, and the other 2/3 are wide open to the sea. But it gets better.

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There’s actually an Infinity pool in my hotel room. It has steps down into it, and then it’s around 5-feet deep. It’s not a hot-tub—it’s much bigger—it’s a pool, and it’s amazing (as is the view).

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Here’s where I shot the first pano from. That’s the canopy bed on the left. The room came with a full time butler who was fantastic, and I could go on and on, but it was immediately clear why this hotel was awarded the #3 hotel in the world. I can’t imagine what you’d have to do to #2. The service was like nothing I’ve ever experienced, and the entire resort, and its staff, made sure everyone; instructors and students, had an experience of a lifetime.

Thanks to Nick and Karolin Troubetzkoy, the owners of the Jade Mountain Resort, who have created a magical place where you can unwind and relax at a level like no place else. (Check out their Website, or follow them on Facebook).

There’s more to Come
I’ve got so much more to share, but they’re closing the aircraft doors for our connection down to Tampa, and it’s already really late. I’ll have some insights on the workshop, on learning, and Joe, and a whole lot more, but I just had to share a few fun stories to kick things off.