Category Archives Photography


Yesterday I few up to Birmingham, Alabama to spend the day with my buddy Jeff Rease (who we now affectionately call “The Chancellor of Birmingham”), shooting the AMA Racing’s Honda Superbike Classic race at Barber Motorsports Park. Matt Kloskowski came along with me, and the three of us spent the morning shooting (some of the shots I got are shown here; click on them for larger views).


We had full media credentials, including a Hot Pit pass, but as luck would have it; we only got to shoot for 30 minutes total the entire day, (during the Superbike morning warm-up session), because after warm-up and lunch, a huge thunderstorm moved over the track, which delayed the actual race long enough that I had to catch my flight back home without getting to shoot another shot. We only shot from one area, and for only that 30 minutes, but ya know what—we still had a blast! (and I would definitely do it again, if only for that 30 minutes).


Matt, Jeff, and I cracked jokes, goofed off, sorted our images in Lightroom, did some serious chimping, and generally just a great time hanging out for the day and talking about photography. Before I knew it we were on our way to the airport (where I’m writing this post).


The shot above is of the media/press room overlooking the track. This is a shot of Matt and I sorting and editing our images while it pours rain outside (photo by Jeff Rease).


Thanks Jeff, for hosting (read as: putting up with), Matt and I for the day. We love the friendly people of Birmingham, and the great folks at Barber Motorsports Park.


Tech Specs: Mostly shot with my 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens on a Nikon D3. I shot at a slower shutter speed (usually around 1/320 to 1/250 of a second) to get the blurred background and motion in the wheels). It was a very cloudy, very overcast day, so I shot at 400 ISO in Aperture Priority mode at around f/11. I took my 200-400mm f/4 lens but we were so close to the track, I hardly got to use it.


The final shot, below, of Matt and I was taken by Jeff “The Chancellor” Rease.



I’m sitting at my desk one day—the phone rings, and I hear, “Hey, ya Mook; it’s McNally.” He told me he called to tell me that he was putting together a special week-long small-flash lighting workshop in the amazingly beautiful, lush, tropical island of St. Lucia down in the Caribbean, from July 5-12th.

He told me that it would be limited to just a hand-full of students, and each day we’d all be shooting on location, including hands-on shoots on the beach, in the jungle; we’d be shooting all around the tiny island, and lighting everything from mountain bike racers to professional models, and that he was going to just immerse the class in how to absolutely nail location lighting with small flash.

He said he’d cover his techniques for mixing flash with available light, how to incorporate reflectors and diffusers, how to work with remote flashes, using color and gels, and basically he was going to share his whole bag of tricks on how to get pro results from small flash for your location portraits (which is the subject of his #1 bestselling book, ‘The Hot Shoe Diaries”).


He went on and on about how unbelievable the island was (he said it was a true paradise) and how incredible the resort was (he had been there many times before), and how gracious the owners of the hotel were, what an amazing location this was for a workshop, and the whole time I was thinking, “This sounds amazing; I’ve gottta sign up for this workshop!” and then Joe says, “…and I want you to come down and teach a class one-day on how to finish your images in Photoshop.” I said, “Are you serious?” He was. He had me at “Hey, ya Mook!” I still haven’t picked my jaw up off the floor. Long story short; I’m so there!!!!

Anyway, now that I’m the official guest instructor, I’m inviting you to be one of those 12 students that will spend a week in paradise learning from the master of small flash. On the last day some Photoshop Mook will show up and share some of his favorite Photoshop techniques for correcting, retouching, and finishing the breathtaking images you will have taken during that week with Joe. I should have lots of shots to work on, because I’ll be sneaking into some of Joe’s classes and shooting right alongside you. I just can’t wait!!!!


I asked Joe to tell me, in his own words, what the experience that week will be like. Here’s what Joe said:

“I have been blessed to have a bit of a second home in the Caribbean for 15 years–Anse Chastenet. I have always found a welcome there, and every time I have been there, I have found new inspiration about what to point a camera at. To be a better photog, stand in front of more interesting stuff. And in St. Lucia everything is interesting. The people, the setting, the light. We will work and shoot a lot for the week, and also mix in some hammock time and more than a few drinks with umbrellas in them.”

The lush tropical Anse Chastanet Resort he mentioned is our home for this workshop (you can see some of the views in shots above, taken by McNally himself—Here’s the link with workshop and hotel details), and if you scroll down that page a bit, you’ll find the info on Joe’s “Hot Shoe” workshop in paradise, which kicks off the evening of July 5th with a meet and greet. It’s going to be the learning experience of a lifetime for just 12 lucky photographers, and I hope I’ll get to shake your hand, and go shooting with you down in St. Lucia in July.

NOTE: Joe wrote about the whole thing on his blog; here’s the link to read about the resort, the island, how he wound up down there—the whole nine yards. A great read!


Last week I got an email from a reader in Denver, Colorado who had seen my post about my Indy Racing assignment, and he needed a favor. He was preparing to take his family to Walt Disney World in Florida (It’s one of their favorite places so they’re regular visitors) and since has shot it so many times he was wondering if I had any ideas he could use for a self-assignment at Disney World.

The funny thing was: I had faced that same situation (both my kids are Disney fanatics, and I grew up about 45 minutes from Disney’s Main Gate and I started going there back in October of 1971, so I’ve shot it “to death.”). I shared with him a couple of self-assignment projects I had done at Disney, and one I hoped to do in the near future. Anyway, I thought it would make kind of an interesting post about shooting a place you’ve shot many times before. Here’s what I told him:

(1) Try and capture a series of images inside Disney (particularly in the Magic Kingdom park) that most folks would never know were taken inside Disney. Look for architectural elements, flowers, little alley ways, etc. and you’ll know the assignment worked if you ask someone where it was taken, and the last place they would guess would be Disney World. The image shown at the top was taken in Tomorrowland, and while that one’s not that hard to figure out (especially since you know we’re talking about Disney), I included a few below taken in other parts of the Magic Kingdom that are a bit harder (these were taken about three or four years ago).




The top two were taken on Tom Sawyer’s Island in Frontierland, and the bottom one was taken in one of the shops in Adventureland.

Now, the one’s below are a bit harder yet, because they were taken at Disney World’s EPCOT Center park (once again, about three or four years ago).





Now the photo below is a special case, because back when I took it, I ran it here on my blog and challenged people to figure out where it was taken, and I offered a prize to the person who figured it out. It took several days (and a few hints) to finally get someone to choose Disney World. Here’s the image:


It was taken in the Morocco section of EPCOT’s World Showcase. OK, onto my 2nd project.

(2) Shoot only things that are round. I got this idea from Photoshop World Joe Glyda, who always gives himself assignments for his presentation during “The Art of Digital Photography” panel at Photoshop World. I tried this one myself and you can’t believe how many things are round in the Magic Kingdom, from sewer covers to the round street lights on Main Street to signs and even one of Mickey’s ears. The circles should almost fill the frame, so it’s obvious the circle in the subject. I had a great time with this one (but could not find a single shot from it, which is kind of driving me crazy because I know I have them on a hard drive somewhere).

So, those are two I had already done, but the one I had been saving for the future would be called “Quiet Places” or “Alone in the World” and it would be to capture a person (a child, a parent and child, a senior citizen), enjoying Disney when it appears they are all alone in their little corner of the park. So, for example, if someone was standing in front of the castle looking up at it, you’d have to frame the shot so you only see that single person, and the castle. No one else. So, no tourists or park employees could appear in any shot. If they’re standing on a bridge over-looking one of the little moats around the castle, you have to frame it so it looks like they’re all by themselves in the park.

Anyway, he really liked the ideas (his exact words were, “…that’s exactly the kind of thing I was hoping for.” Then he sent me a link to a shot he had taken a few years back that accidentally fell into the category of my future shot. He had taken a photo right when the park opened, first thing in the morning, of a little girl all by herself looking down Main Street toward the castle. There were a few other tourists on the left side of the photo, but they were out of the way enough to make you think, “Hey, how’d he get a shot with the park so empty?”

Anyway, I hope my reader’s idea, and my subsequent suggestions, get your gears cranking about what you can do the next time you’re at a familiar location and think to yourself, “Should I even bring my camera? I’ve shot that place to death.” Give yourself an assignment, and see what you come up with. Hey, ya never know.


I finally got around to covering a question that I get asked so often from readers here on the blog, and that is:

“What is the difference between off camera flash (like a Nikon SB-800 or SB-900, or a Canon 580 EXII), and a Studio Strobe?

If I have time, I sometimes answer people back with a direct email, but I’ve gotten this question so many times, I haven’t been able to answer them all. So, I thought I’d put together an example to show you my typical response to the question, which is purely my own opinion on the subject.

What I usually say is something along the lines of:

“Whether you use a small off-camera flash, or a studio strobe, what you get is a bright flash of white light aiming toward your subject.”

I know that sounds pretty simplistic, but that’s what it is. For example, two of the shots below were taken with a Studio Strobe with a small softbox, and one was taken with a Nikon SB-800 with the same small softbox.


First, see if you can tell which one of the three photos above was taken with the SB-800 (by the way; I know the shots themselves, which are unretouched right out of the camera) are kinda lame, but try to get past that part and just focus on  the light). Now, choose which one you think it is in the poll listed below. If you get it wrong; don’t feel bad. Joe McNally was in my office the day I shot it, and I asked Joe to tell me which one he thought was which.

He studied them for a few moments, and said something very telling; he said “The fact that it’s taking me a minute to figure out which one is which, says something, doesn’t it?” That’s the whole point right there! If you have to think for a few moments, the difference isn’t that obvious. Anyway, not surprisingly, Joe did get it right first time, but he too commented on how slight the difference was, and I agreed. It’s not “night and day.” It’s a subtle difference.

So, if the quality of light is at least somewhat similar (as long as you do something to diffuse it, like adding a softbox or shooting through a diffuser), then what are the advantages and disadvantages to using one over the other? (By the way, the correct answer is “The One On The Right”).

Here’s my short list of pluses and minuses:

Studio Strobes: Advantages

  • These are generally much more powerful than off camera flashes like the SB-800, 900 or Canon 580 EX II), so they can throw a lot more light when you need it.
  • They were made to have softboxes attached, so you don’t have to have special adapters, specially made softboxes, etc.
  • They come with continuous modeling-lights built-in. These help you see your subject, they help your camera’s auto-focus lock on (try focusing in the dark), and they give you a preview of how the shadows are going to fall on your subject.
  • Since they plug into the wall, they recycle very quickly, and so you can fire off lots of consecutive shots (great for shooting fashion, or kids), without waiting for the flash to recycle, which is something you always have to do with off-camera flash.
  • They don’t use batteries, so you can fire the strobes without ever worrying about the batteries dying, or the power of the flash changing as the batteries wear down during your shoot.
  • They have a light stand mount built-in, so mounting them on a light stand doesn’t take any special adapters.
  • There are lots of accessories like reflectors, grid spots, barn doors, etc. that are made for use with strobes.

Studio Strobes: Disadvantages

  • You have to plug-them in (though for some you can have a separate battery pack for on-location shooting, but these packs are fairly expensive, and like any battery—they run out of juice)
  • You can’t just toss one in your camera bag—-they’re too big, so they usually need separate protective cases to go outside your studio.
  • Although most decent strobes are fairly rugged, at certain points in the process, the flash bulb is exposed (like when you’re changing a soft box), so you have to take a certain amount of care not to break the flash bulb, especially if you’re shipping it for a location shoot.
  • These require a wireless transmitter and receiver to fire them wirelessly.
  • Good strobes are fairly expensive (though I think the new Elinchrom BXRi 500s are a steal at their price of around $600 each, with built-in wireless receivers).
  • You’re not mounting one of these on your camera’s hot-shoe.

Off Camera Flash: Advantages

  • They are small, lightweight, and you can mount them right on your camera’s hotshoe
  • They are battery powered, so you don’t have to have access to an electrical plug to make them work, so they’re ideal for shooting outdoors, in a church for weddings, at the beach, or anywhere that “plugging-in” doesn’t make sense.
  • You can fit one easily in most regular camera bags, so your flash is always with you.
  • You can set them to be wireless, so there are no cables to deal with.
  • The transmitter and receiver to be wireless are already built in (in most cases) so you don’t have to buy them separately.
  • A really great off-camera flash is usually cheaper than a really great Studio Strobe.
  • You can carry a bunch of these in a very small travel case.
  • These were made for location shoots, and that’s where they really shine (though they work fine in the studio, because after all—like a studio strobe; they produce a bright flash of light aiming at your subject.
  • You can place these little suckers about anywhere—inside a car, inside a box, down on the ground, up in a tree, hanging from a handrail, etc., which gives you incredible flexibility about where you place your light.

Off Camera Flash: Disadvantages

  • They’re not generally nearly as powerful as a studio strobe (though you can buy some high-powered off-camera flashes, like a Quantum Q-Flash).
  • There is no modeling light in most cases, so they don’t help with seeing your subject, auto focus, or getting a preview of how your lighting will look.
  • They need fresh batteries a lot.
  • There aren’t nearly as many softboxes or accessories available for off camera flash (although new stuff is showing up much more frequently now than ever).
  • You can’t fire the strobe as rapidly because they recycle slower than most studio strobes.
  • You need a special adapter to put one of these on a lightstand.
  • You need to have an accessory of some sort to soften and diffuse the light.

So which one should you use?
Well, here’s the thing; It depends on what you’re shooting, and what your budget is. If you primarily shoot on-location, then you’ll probably want an off-camera wireless flash. You can use these in the studio, too, and they’re not crazy expensive.

If you want to do just studio work, get a studio strobe called a Monoblock (or a monolight), which means it plugs right into the wall. You can buy some really inexpensive ones these days, but with stuff out like the Elinchrom BXRI’s, you can now get a really good strobe for near the cost of an off-camera flash.

If you need to do both: lots of studio work but occasionally some location work, you have two choices:

  1. Just use all off-camera flash. They work in the studio and out in the field (but know the limitations I mentioned above).
  2. Buy a studio strobe that uses a battery pack. That way you have the advantage of studio lighting on location. However, this is a fairly expensive way to go.

OK, so how does the pricing compare? Let’s take a look at two set-ups that I use myself:

Off Camera Flash (for Nikon Users):

Two (2) Nikon SB-900s off-camera flashes ($450 each)
Two (2) Bogen light stands ($56.50 each)
Two (2) Lastolite EZ-Boxes with light stand adapters ($164 each)
One (1) Smith-Victor carrying case for lightstands ($37.50)

TOTAL: $1,411.50 (B&H Price)

NOTE: If you have a Nikon D3, D3X, the new D-5000, or any lower-end model without a built-in commander unit, you will need an SU-800 Commander Unit to control your wireless flashes, which would be an additional $249, or you could buy another SB-900 flash, but a commander is much cheaper.

UPDATED TOTAL: $1,660.50 (with Commander unit)

Off Camera Flash (for Canon Users):

Two (2) Canon 580 EX II off-camera flashes ($420 each)
Two (2) Bogen light stands ($56.50 each)
Two (2) Lastolite EZ-Boxes with light stand adapters ($164 each)
One (1) Smith Vector carrying case for lightstands ($37.50)


TOTAL: $1,315.50

NOTE: To fire your wireless Canon flash you need either another Canon Flash unit, but it’s cheaper to buy their ST-ET Transmitter, which adds an additional $220.


UPDATED TOTAL: $1535.50* (with transmitter)

(Note: you could save some money on either system by buying a cheaper light stand, a cheaper softbox—or maybe even a shoot-thru umbrella to cut the cost more significantly, but what I broke down here is pretty much the rig I use myself).

Studio Strobes
Two (2) Elinchrom BXRI 500s studio strobes
Two (2) Bogen Lightstands
Two 26″x26″ Softboxes
Two Carrying Cases (one for strobes, one for light stands)
Wireless Transmitter (the wireless receivers are built into the strobes in these models).
TOTAL: $1,550 (B&H Kit Price for everything above)

(Note: you can buy cheaper strobe kits than this, but this is what I would recommend to a friend. A good quality strobe is like a great lens. It makes a difference).

I think the most surprising thing here is that the price difference between off-camera flash and the studio flash is not all that big. So, it really comes down to what kind of stuff will you be shooting; where you’ll be shooting it, and which type of system suits your (wait for it….wait for it….) personal preference. At the end of the day, that’s what it eventually come down to. Which set-up appeals the most to you.

I’m sure we’ll have people arguing back and forth to make the case that their way is “better,” but the bottom line is; they both will do the job. They both create bright flashes of light that aim at your subject. You just have to decide, for your type of work, which one works best, because the quality of light isn’t so much going to be determined by the flash or strobe itself; it will be determined by what you use to diffuse it, and where you choose to position it once diffused.

I think the cool thing is; we have some really great choices. We have great gear available today, that’s becoming more affordable, with great accessories that make our job easier, that are powerful, flexible, rugged, and a lot of fun to use. . :)


On June 24-28, thirty photographers will join me, along with landscape photography legend Bill Fortney, and fine art photographer Joanne Wells, for a photography and digital imaging workshop in the beautiful surroundings of Savannah, Georgia that will change how you shoot and process your images forever. You’re invited to be one of those thirty photographers.

This workshop, produced by the wonderful folks over at the “Great American Photography Workshops,” will combine on-location shoots each day, with classroom time focused on one topic; how to create stunning landscape images.

We start each day with a dawn photo shoot at some of the most beautiful shooting locales in the entire South. Then, after we break for a yummy breakfast, we’re in the classroom where you’ll learn about digital photography, about processing your images in Photoshop, and about how to combine the two to create really captivating images.

After lunch, we’re back in the classroom for more learning, and then as the beautiful light descends upon Savannah, we’re back on location shooting landscapes. After our shoot, we break for dinner to unwind and talk about the day’s experiences.

Now, I have to tell you, this will be the third landscape workshop I’ve done with Bill Fortney, and Bill really knows how to make these workshops an awful lot of fun. You’ll learn a bunch, you’ll laugh a bunch, and you’ll come away with some images that not only will wind up in your portfolio, you’ll definitely be framing and hanging some of these on the wall.

Because of my schedule, this is the only landscape workshop I’ll be teaching this year, and as someone that reads my blog, I hope you’ll be able to come to spend these five-days with me, Bill, and Joanne shooting, laughing and learning in the beautiful scenery of Savannah.

It’s $795 for the workshop, and obviously, space is very limited (both of our previous workshops were sold out well in advance), so if you want to go, here’s a link to more details and where to register. I really hope I’ll see you there, because this is a workshop you’ll never forget!


The rumor mill was right on the money—-today (as expected) Nikon did introduce a new entry-level DSLR—the Nikon D-5000 (shown above; photos courtesy of Nikon), which includes the ability to shoot HD video (like the D90), but it also includes a new swivel Vari-angle screen on the back, along with “Subject Tracking autofocus which automatically locks onto a moving subject.” Plus, according to Nikon, “The D5000’s D-Movie Mode allows users the exciting ability to record HD movie clips (1280 x 720) at a cinematic 24 frames per second with sound.”


Although the big buzz will be about the video features (your video writes to an SD card), the camera itself is no slouch, at 12.3 megapixel CMOS sensor, 11-point auto focus, 19-scene modes, built-in self cleaning function, ISO up to 6400 (no word yet on noise levels), 4 fps continous shooting, blah, blah, blah—-you can read all tech nuts and bolts over at Nikon’s site (here’s the link). By the way, it lists for just $729 (body only), and it’s expected to ship in late April. Sweet!


At the same time, Nikon also intro’d a new DX format lens: The Nikon 10-24mm f/3.5 – f/4.5 zoom lens. It’s pricey. More than the D-5000 camera itself. $899. Expected sometime in May, 2009. Here’s the link for more info.