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There's Always Something to Bounce Light Off Of

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Veteran author Joe McNally, whose work has graced the pages of Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, and Time (to name a few), shares the stories behind some of his greatest shots as well as the lighting techniques he used to make them great.
This chapter is from the book

Wing It

Sometimes, you just gotta wing it. Got a job to shoot a photo portfolio of the overlarge freshmen NCAA hoopsters for Sports Illustrated. Started conjuring. One kid, Brandan Wright, had a wingspan of 7′4″. Okay, Batman comes to mind. Magazine liked the wings idea, but wanted them white. Cool...just switched screens in my head to X-Men 3.

  • “Magazine liked the wings idea, but wanted them white. Cool...now try finding wings for somebody six-eleven with arms that don’t stop. It ain’t easy.”

Now try finding wings for somebody six-eleven with arms that don’t stop. It ain’t easy. My studio manager Lynn, who is a magical producer, started making phone calls and after a lot of dry wells, finally found the wing makers to the film and television industry, a small outfit in L.A. (where else?) called...Mother Plucker! I kid you not.

Money is a huge concern in any production, and these wings cost $3,400, last minute drop shipped straight to North Carolina. Steve Fine, DOP1 at SI, called. “Can’t you go to a Halloween shop?” he asked. I reminded him of the size of our subject. Got the go ahead.

(Steve Fine and Jimmy Colton are currently the best one-two punch in picture editing, by the way. Steve has the calculus of sports in his head. He knows that if LSU beats Auburn this Saturday, he has to move three photogs on January 3rd to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl ’cause LSU will go up against Florida State.

He doesn’t even have to look at a schedule. Jimmy has always been a voice of reason and counsel to young photographers, an open door, and a shelter from the storm. Together, they are formidable and fight the good fight.)

So we got the wings at ll:30 in the morning for a 1:00 p.m. photo shoot. I was being allowed 30 precious minutes of this very important 18-year-old’s life, no more. I had exactly an hour and a half to figure out how to hang these wings, stage and light the photo, and come up with at least two different solutions.

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