Started posting a noir series over at Instagram. This was the leadoff pic, and there were some questions about the lighting, which is really pretty simple. We shot at The Blue Bar at the Algonquin Hotel, a truly historic property in Manhattan. Legend has it that the actor John Barrymore, who lived at the hotel when he was performing on Broadway, felt that people looked better in blue light. Out of deference to one of their most famous regular guests, they made the bar glow blue, and it has remained so to this day.

First move: spike the camera and establish a point of view. Move furniture to simplify the scene. Work with the subject to establish gesture, and size things up, compositionally. Of course here, definitely breaking the time-honored rule of thirds mandate by bullseye-ing my subject. Tripod/ball head combo is our go to, heavy duty Gitzo, fitted with the new Gitzo Series 3 quick release ball head. In a scene like this, the tripod is essential. Gotta keep those lines straight.

Working radio TTL here, with SB-5000 Speedlights, so no line of sight considerations. Main light overhead is the Lastolite EzyBox Soft box, fitted with an egg crate. This is the box with the white interior, which I helped Lastolite design. In a scene like this, with controlled, smallish light sources, I really think the creamier aspects of the white box are an advantage over the standard silver. Also, see the black paper looped over the leading edge of the box, on the subject side of the light shaper? That, oddly enough, is a very key thing for the scene. It blocks the flash from potentially hitting the reflective beading and prevents my light from interrupting the continuous blue flow of the wall.

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Joe McNally Photography
With just the overhead firing, the scene could look like this, in B&W.

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Joe McNally Photography
But, you don’t light a beautiful lady the same way you would light a hit man. For the lovely Laeticia, I filled from below with another SB-5000, fitted with a snooted grid, attached by a Justin Clamp. This produces a little beauty pop into her face and makes her light up, but in very controlled, confined way. This bar is not the place to drag out big Octas, etc. It’s a place for small controlled light.

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Joe McNally Photography
For the technically minded, the final, color image of our mysterious lady is in a daylight white balance, @ 1/15th of a second @ f5.6, ISO 200. Flashes are radio controlled, with the overhead being between a stop to two stops brighter than the little splash of fill. The C-stands are by Avenger. Two lights, controlled from the camera. Once the lights are set up, I never have to leave camera to achieve a desirable ratio.

Many thanks to Sam Brown styling, Deborah Englesman for makeup, Laeticia Harrison Roberts for her elegant look in front of the camera, and of course Lynn DelMastro, who produced the whole job.

More tk….

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Joe McNally
Joe McNally is an internationally acclaimed, award-winning photographer whose prolific career includes assignments in nearly 70 countries. McNally is known world-wide as not only one of the top, technically excellent photographers of his generation, but his charming demeanor, confidence and humor make him a sought-after choice from CEO’s to celebrities to commercial and magazine clients alike. He is among the rare breed of photographer who has bridged the world between photojournalism and advertising, amassing an impressive commercial and advertising client list including FedEx, Sony, ESPN, Adidas, Land’s End, General Electric, Epson, MetLife, USAA, New York Stock Exchange, Lehman Brothers, PNC Bank, and the Beijing Cultural Commission. McNally is equally comfortable climbing buildings or lighting a telescope to capturing quiet, sensitive subject matter with confidence in medical surroundings. He has shot numerous cover stories and highly complex features for the National Geographic, LIFE, and Sports Illustrated, where his research skills and unmatched preparedness were highly valued.