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Q&A with National Geographic Photographer Joe McNally
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A contributor to National Geographic magazine for more than three decades, Joe McNally is an internationally acclaimed photographer whose career has spanned 30 years and included assignments in more than 50 countries. Having led many workshops in this part of the Caribbean, he has been instrumental in helping us craft this unique photography workshop. Here he reflects on St. Lucia’s stunning landscape and the special opportunity provided by the workshop to further develop lighting skills.
Q: What makes St. Lucia a great subject for photographers?
A: The island of St. Lucia is quite simply one of the most beautiful and lush places on Earth. The variety of terrain is a lure for photographers. In one day you can photograph atop a mountain, on a pristine beach bordering crystalline waters, and within a bountiful jungle. Variety and beauty await the lens of any photographer here.
Q: What is unique about the National Geographic Advanced Photography and Lighting Workshop in St. Lucia?
A: Most destination workshops in such idyllic places offer the basics only—how to work your camera and lens a bit better, or how to take higher-quality tourist-style photos that are a pleasant reminder of a good vacation. This workshop goes well beyond that. It pushes the photographer into an awareness of light—not only natural light, but also applied light, or flash. Flash photography remains a mystery to even some of the most accomplished pros. This class demystifies the use of flash relative to natural light and teaches the shooter how to blend the two. We work outdoors, mixing flash with the bright sun of the Caribbean; and then we offer lessons in how to balance flash in luxurious hotel rooms, making it appear natural and in concert with the light outside the room. We also examine portraiture strategies, such as how to handle a subject, posing, and lighting.
Q: What is the most important thing a participant should bring to this workshop?
A: As always, participants should bring a sense of curiosity and openness to experimentation. In other words, there should be a willingness to step outside of one’s comfort zone with a camera to explore greater possibilities and expertise. Of course, this is in addition to basic camera gear, a hot shoe flash if they own one, and a tripod!
Q: What are some key takeaways for participants in this workshop?
A: When the participants leave at the end of the week, their photography will be in a substantially different place than it was when they started the week. They will have explored techniques and advanced strategies that, in all likelihood, they had heard about, but never tried. They will work with models, and that will also be a new experience for many. They will leave with an accelerated understanding of how light works and how artificial light, such as flash, can play a substantial role in making their pictures better.
Q: Tell us about a favorite photo(s) you took in St. Lucia.
A: Claudette, a beautiful guitarist with the voice of an angel, is an island performer and often among the group of models selected for the workshop. Here, she is seen in a serene pose, with the sun reflecting off the water behind her. Without lighting her, she would be a silhouette. But by introducing a soft and rich type of flash lighting into the scene, positioned at camera right, she is now illuminated wonderfully, and her lovely expression speaks volumes about her serene demeanor. This is what we teach at the workshop—to speak the language of light.
Photo by Joe McNally
While aerial adventures are not part of the workshop, this scene is the beachfront at our hotel property, bathed in beautiful sunset light. The beach faces west, so hotel guests can watch the sun sink into the Caribbean every night. I have always loved the colors of the palm trees as they're brought to life by the golden light of the late sun.