Last year I got a call from photographer Joe McNally asking to talk to me about a project that he wanted me to work on. I have the absolute pleasure of being able to call Joe a friend , but its never really lost on me the fact that when we are working, this is Joe "Frigging" McNally we are talking about. Joe is one of the three most influential and inspiring photographers for me - a long studied idol. To be asked to do a project with him filled me with anticipation.

As it turned out, Joe wanted me to work as a guest instructor with him on an annual class that he does: The Advanced Flash workshops at Jade Mountain. Jade Mountain is a beautiful resort in St. Lucia. In this wonderful paradise, Joe takes out a small group of photographers and takes them through the paces of a variety of different flash scenarios. This isn't a "What is your favorite Fstop" kind of event - you are a shooter.. with an assignment.. and your goal is to produce an image that celebrates the person that you are trying to shoot. From sunset portraits to mountain bikers racing along the jungle - you learn how to run your gear to light an image.


My contribution to this? I was tasked to take the participants through the world of post processing as well as explore the world of HDR with them. I know. The concept of tying Joe McNally and HDR in the same sentence sounds like a complete shocker. HDR is often a polarizing topic, and many photographers have started big flamewars on its contribution to the photographic space.

Joe however, saw this situation differently. To him, this was a technique that merited a space to talk about. While it's not something that he himself works on, he appreciated the form enough to give it a platform. To that, he believed enough of my contribution to it to talk about it as one of the foremost experts on the topic (I assure you, his words.. not mine)


Knowing how the industry can sometimes be on HDR never really bothers me. I believe that for the most part, my work on it stands for itself - and I've prided myself in showing through example how you can totally work on it and have great results - not the typical "Elvis on Velvet" kind of look people cringe at. Having said that, this was one of those situations that did make me nervous about me doing it. Here's a person that I respected - asking me to teach and show my art. I would be lying if I didn't say I was determined on focusing on other types of shooting entirely - ignoring the use of HDR. I figured my technique would be something that I would keep to myself, for fear of not wanting to look too different - or look bad.

I guess I wanted to write about it because I believe that many of us as photographers struggle with that entire concept of voice all the time. In looking for a place for us to make a mark, we can often struggle with accepting the things that we like and surrendering to them. To giving in to what we love and in the process of it, finding a new style that we can call our own. We quickly comb through websites of other work and say to ourselves "Look at THAT. That image is great. If only I shot this. If Only I shot that.. " Perpetually looking at the grass on the other side just keeps us thinking that the grass we stand on isn't as good.. or cannot be cultivated as well as the one right in front of us.

At times like this, I remember a maxim that my good friend Pete Collins shared with me:

Comparison is the thief of Joy.

Rather than sit and compare myself to all of the other stuff around me, I found it better to just sit and think to myself "This is what I do. This is how I work. Let me dive into the scenarios and leverage how much practice I've done with this technique to see if I can bring about something completely new that these people have not seen." Eric Clapton was once asked about legendary guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn. When asked about playing next to Stevie, Eric stated that he tried not to watch him play. To do so would have him lost in the greatness.. and not let him speak what he wanted to say musically. Arming myself with that, I just said "Let me be truthful to myself and contribute by shooting what I love"

The next few days, I spent them making pictures that I was immensely proud of. From gigantic panoramas of the environment to intimate portraits of my wife resting after a wonderful day, I was able to really show what it felt like to be in this magical place. Imagine my surprise when I found out that the principals at the restaurant really loved the images. The work really resonated with the students as well, and I was able to teach how I produced the images, giving me a chance to do what I love - share my experiences.

Rather than swim in comparisons, remember that doing what you really love can be the best way to express your photographic gift. It's the best way to leave your mark on this art . Its also the best way for you to find joy in what you do.


(see.. not all of the shots I made were HDR. This is a pic of my wife Jenn totally in her element during our vacation. :) )

*****

Im excited to say that I will be joining Joe again this August leading another workshop. This time around Joe is out there for two weeks. One week has students learning with the incomparable David Burnett. The next week, I go back with Joe and explore post processing, video production in Photoshop, HDR, and shooting techniques. If you want to join us on either week, you can find out more information at the link below:

The Workshops at Jade Mountain- with Joe Mcnally, David Burnett, and RC Concepcion

If you want to find out more about me, visit my website at www.aboutrc.com or visit me on Google Plus

About The Author

59 Comments

  1. Good article, RC

  2. Good stuff RC! Nice read and great images; both you and Joe are awesome!

  3. This workshop is at top of my bucket list!

  4. Sorry to be a hater… but these examples make me cringe traditional HDR techniques. Some people can use it.. other abuse it.

  5. Eeeeeeesh, when you started talking about bad HDR and then had all those pics embedded I thought, yeah I agree I hate over the top her, but then I realized all the pics in the post were like that… And that they weren’t specific examples of ‘bad’ hdr. Sorry, but waay too tacky

  6. horrible! BEYOND TACKY

  7. Another maxim comes to mind, “To each his own”. I choose to ignore the haters.
    Your post is so timely for me and Pete’s maxim beautifully illustrates your point. It takes courage to stake out a claim and work it. I’ve been to places similar to Jade Mountain and your images evoke fond memories. Would love to be able to participate in this one with you and Joe. What a blast it must be.
    Thanks for the post.

  8. In my opinion these are not ‘traditional’ HDR’s, one’s that are flat and leave no shadow. As McNally says, ‘If you want to make an image interesting, only light part of it’. And in these images above there is shadow as well as highlight. The fifth image down is simply stunning; for me a ‘grass is greener’ image. GREAT work RC. I have been inspired to try my hand at your style of tasteful HDR and am seriously considering buying your book.

  9. RC. Love the shot from inside the restaurant looking out to the mountains.

  10. RC, Great post! You have been my inspiration for GOOD HDR. I was struggling with HDR and was ready to pitch it as a method for me. Then I bought your book on HDR, and it revived my inspiration! I’m still not that good at HDR, but now I have a template to help work towards my goal. What people forget, I think, is that HDR is not for everyone and it’s not for every day photography. There is a time and place for HDR … and your book and photos prove that!

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    Dennis

  11. RC, as my dad would always tell me, opinions are like rear ends – everyone has one. While at Photoshop World in Orlando, I had a chance to chat with Joel Grimes about his work with composites. I love his style and have tried to use his techniques in some of my stuff. When he first started creating his composites, he was criticized to the point where he began to question what he was doing. When he came to grips with the fact that he was an artist, not just a photographer, he found peace and continued pushing the envelope in his composites. In essence, he decided to view an image as the base canvas for his ultimate creation, not the be-all, end-all. Remember the Impressionists? They were laughed at and now they’re revered for their style. It wasn’t that long ago that film purists scoffed at digital imagery as tacky, whacky crap and Photoshop was laughed at by the darkroom crowd. You do amazing work and your style is, well…your style. If it pleases you, you’re on top of the world, man. What difference does it make if isn’t what somebody else likes? God help me for saying this because he’ll never let me live it down – Pete is dead on point (cough, cough, gag, gag). Do what gives you satisfaction and keep creating what you see in your mind and the heck with what anyone else may think.

  12. I’m not an HDR fan, but I like RC’s work, particularly the portrait of the man on the beach. I can see beyond the HDR to see the nice compositions, lighting and poses. Also, for those criticizing him, realize that people may not like the way you process images, either, and unless you have the resume RC has and a guest spot on Scott’s blog, your time might be better spent working on your own photography.

  13. RC…the post resonates with me, not just personally, because of our friendship, but also pictorially. I’ve always mentioned that some photo editors have loved my work over the years, and others wouldn’t hire me if I was the last shooter on earth. Whenever you create something, or try to, there will be variance of opinion. At the end of the day, as a shooter, you just keep the camera to your eye and follow your head and your heart. And, RC, you have one the clearest, most incisive eyes I’ve ever encountered, and one of the most open, creative hearts. Proud to know you, and call you friend and colleague. St. Lucia here we come!

    • Joe, I’m just gonna’ hijack this post to tell you here that you’re my freaking hero. I cannot possibly ever express how your work has inspired me besides now taking photos every day for the rest of my life, but thank you. A million times. Thank you.

      • Thanks back to you, Katie….very kind words, and much appreciated. Keep it going! all best, Joe

    • That is high praise from you, Joe. For that I am ever grateful.. :)

      RC

  14. Great article and great work RC

  15. Love your post, RC. And thanks for reminding me of Pete’s quote. Truly awesome and something I need to always remember.

    I am so stoked about being there in August and shooting alongside you and Joe. Joe changed my whole way of thinking of photography. And I always learn something incredible from you. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Great story RC.
    I like your comparison analogy of Clapton. However, I feel that I “Must” look at others’ works in order to learn, to gather inspiration, and to give me something to think about when I am shooting. When I first joined NAPP after a Ben Wilmore seminar in Arlington, TX., I did envy others’ works and wish I had made “That Shot” but I have evolved a great deal thanks to blog posts like this, Photoshop World, Kelby Training Videos & Seminars and just going through books.
    See you in September, Viva Las Vegas!!
    Mike

  17. Great article RC. “Rather than swim in comparisons, remember that doing what you really love can be the best way to express your photographic gift” I think I needed to hear that and practice it more myself. Not worry so much about what others think is right or good and just work at what I love.

  18. Well written RC. Many points struck a chord and easy to relate with as being there. I’ve often found myself cruising the internet looking at others work and saying many of the things you pointed out. I’ve started to sit back and spend more time on my work, while still complimenting great work that I come across. I’ve been through the Elvis on Velvet and even under the black light! I’ve had the balloon filled with various colors of paint thrown on my monitor and hopefully have started to find my niche (sunrise/sunsets) and work them the way I see them. Thanks for the inspiration!

  19. Wait, you’re saying I have to work on this trip? I thought I was going to be sipping tropical adult beverages while waiting to snap my shutter from the relative comfort of a chair.

  20. RC you are THE man! Joe is very smart for seeing the need for good HDR instruction in a growing sector of photography and addressing it in his workshop. A lot of consumers are in LOVE with HDR and those who do not see the beauty or value in it might miss out. I am very thankful that you have shared your knowledge so freely with me and have been a part of helping me form my photographic vision. Love ya man!!! Don’t let haters take anything away from what you contribute. – oh and very jealous that you get to work in St Lucia…AGAIN! Can’t wait to see your pics! :)

  21. RC- Still one of my favorite sets of images of yours. Now if we could only convince you to post where we can buy some of these prints . . .. I have had the panorama you shot in the pool of the mountain and hotel as a wallpaper since last year. I want it on my wall! Your work has inspired myself and others, thank you for taking the chance and putting it out there.

    • Hey Kevin:

      Thanks so much for that.. those are some of my fav images. Email me directly at rc -at- aboutrc.com and let me know what you’re thinking in terms of prints. Happy to oblige!

      RC

    • Hey Kevin:

      Thanks so much for that.. those are some of my fav images. Email me directly at rc -at- aboutrc.com and let me know what you’re thinking in terms of prints. Happy to oblige!

      RC

    • Def. the work belongs on a wall, and printed to scale. Here’s the thing too, guys, which RC was too modest to admit. The hotel owners themselves are in love…I mean in love…with what RC has done with their magnificent property. They have never seen it rendered this way, in this style, and they are digging it.

  22. I also initially thought these HDR images were of the “hideous” variety, but when you enlarge them, they are actually really quite nice :) I guess reducing image size somehow increases the HDR hideousness factor?

    • I agree 100% . I think a lot of the work that I do really needs scale. You tend to lost a lot of whats being done at smaller sizes. The more I blow it up, the more I notice in it.

      Thanks!

  23. I once chastised Joe on his blog for not responding to what I thought was a simple question. How many frames did you shoot before you got the final frame. 10 days maybe a bit longer Joe Personally emailed me a reply to not only tell me why he took so long to answer my question but then he went into great detail to answer my question which was not that simple. I Have previously had purchased 3 of Joes books and have spent many hours watching his videos and I assure you that Joe is one first class guy and a very patient human being. Than ks again Joe.

  24. Truly inspiring post, like one in a million. Let alone the pics, just amazing.

  25. whether you like HDR or not, RC does HDR proud. For those who wrote some pretty nasty comments, we should all strive t be half the man that RC is. He is an inspiration for me far beyond his photography.

  26. RC, I still think you are one of the most kind people I have ever met. I love your art and I am SO happy that you are getting this opportunity to work in such a truly joyful environment. If I could afford to come along I’d have been the very first to sign up. Until then, I’ll be taking your invaluable advice and ditching comparisons to free myself to create. <3

  27. RC,
    I’ve been working on my architecture license so I’ve kind of dropped off the photography scene (temporarily) but posts like this one are worth shutting the books and reengaging for a moment over. You and Joe McNally have a high dynamic range of open mindedness and wide gamut hearts that allows you to vibrantly light up everyone around you in your own unique style. That’s why you are the perfect team. People living with blocked up shadowy minds and way too many blown highlight opportunities are always going to miss the point. What makes you and Joe the kind of teachers I can’t get enough of is not your image style, it’s your life style. Keep on bringing the vibrancy my friend. It’s a beautiful thing!

  28. No worries, Trent. Totally entitled to your opinion!

  29. No worries Justin… to each his own.. its cool. Thats the beauty of art. :)

  30. No worries Sean – id be really interested to see what kinds of images you’re shooting. Maybe theres something to learn there.

  31. Everyone… thanks so much for the comments… I really appreciate you guys taking the time to checking out the post and looking at the images.

  32. Well done RC, well done.

  33. A great blog post RC. Very nicely done.

  34. RC, well done! I completely agree with everything you said here. Follow your heart. Photography is personal.

    I’m still searching for my own form of expression because I enjoy so many kinds of photography. But I’m leaning heavily towards people/culture. I love photographing and interacting with people best.

    As for HDR, I’ve always been intrigued by it as a technique and I will continue to experiment. You’ve inspired me for that. I have tried several times, but with mixed results. Whether you like HDR or not, I believe it’s important enough to understand and learn it, even if you never use it or dislike the results. It teaches us a lot about the complete range of tones available in our images.

    But as a whole, I find it to be just that, a technique. I use the analogy, some people like oil paint, some like water color, some prefer acrylic. I believe a well composed photo of strong/interesting subject matter is what’s most important. Technique is there to enhance and attract, but it does not replace interesting subject matter.

    Cheers,
    Ivan

  35. I’m not sure why people bother to leave nasty/rude comments. If you don’t like what you’re seeing, just walk away. I, personally, am a fan of RC’s work and really enjoyed his write-up and photos, especially the beautiful panos. I am also looking forward to seeing RC in Calgary tomorrow! :-) Thanks for sharing.

  36. Rafael “Frigging” Concepcion, Well said! I wish more people would remember that photography is art. If any photographer is not attempting to create their own artistic interpretation of their photo subject then I don’t really understand what they’re doing with their camera. Furthermore, I think it is perfectly fine not to like any art, though I fail to comprehend while some find it necessary to criticize the art in a public forum, particularly in the artist’s personal forum. My preference is for HDR that doesn’t include anything living. That doesn’t make other HDR images wrong, it makes them a different person’s artistic vision. How boring this photography thing would be if we all captured our subjects the same way.

  37. Joe couldn’t choose a better collaborator. I think you both think a lot alike.

  38. I totally respect the effort and creativity that goes into making these images but personally I’ve never been a big fan of HDR. This series hasn’t swayed me :(

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