GPP2014 – Strobing with Joe

On April 29, 2014 by Simon Fleming

During my stay in Dubai at GPP2014 I attended a number of different workshops with some really big names in the photographic industry. Their expertise and experience, and most importantly their willingness and desire to share these things was what really makes the difference. These people could quite happily earn a good living doing what they do (and what a lot of us can only dream of doing) and not bother teaching on the side. Yes I’m sure they are paid well but teaching what you know isn’t necessarily easy or something that a lot of people are capable of doing. Many believe they should hold their cards close to their chest for fear of someone else stealing their ideas, and somehow their talent? Not these photographers. It was really refreshing to not only stand amonst giants so to speak but to also have them impart their hard earned knowledge onto us so humbly and unreservedly. Something I hope to be able to do myself someday.

I have had many people ask me whether my time and expense attending this event was worth it. It was on so many levels. I sold some of my gear to get there – gear that I can, and will have to do without for now. What I got in terms of knowledge, growth and experience as a photographer far outweighs what that gear was worth. So once again, yes it was so worth it. If you have ever thought about attending something like this, and you are serious about your photography, find a way to get there. You will not regret it.

The final workshop I attended was a three day workshop with Joe McNally. The workshop was called “Fast bodies in flight” and was aimed at using small and large strobes, in virtually any environment, to produce portraits with a difference of athletes and dancers. The class was limited to 12 participants who all had to submit a portfolio of their work to ‘get in’. This ensured only serious contenders applied as well as creating a minimum standard of acceptable skill level which is a good thing to do when running a workshop of this nature I feel. Joe’s considerable experience in this area, 30 plus years, and his ever present sense of humour and teaching style made this an outstanding workshop. As a bonus, Joe’s first and second assistants Michael Cali & Jon Cospito were also there assisting Joe of course but also contributing with their own considerable advice and experience. And just to add to the bonuses, Joe’s wife Annie who has worked for Nikon Professional Services for many years and is also a seriously good photographer in her own right, was also with us to provide yet another outlet of learning and experience.  Wow, wow, wow…….    was it worth selling some gear to get there? Hell yeah.

On location day 3.


We covered a lot of ground in those three days, both physically and mentally. I loved every minute of it. One day we were roaming Dubai’s Knowledge Village campus in teams of three armed with a stack of gear, a model and a mandate to produce a range of images based on what we had discussed in ‘class’. The next we spent a lot of time indoors in a huge lecture hall with a stage shooting stroboscopic sequences with dancers amongst other things. Day three we were on the outskirts of Dubai, essentially in the desert, at a huge outdoor velodrome / riding circuit with weather that couldn’t decide if it wanted to blow in a sand storm or just rain on us.. cool. At the end of day one’s shooting we were advised that we would need to pick out our four best images along with one bad image to be submitted for review by Joe in front of the class in the morning. No cropping allowed or any major editing at all. Definitely no Photoshop. “Oh, and I hope you allowed some negative space for the editor and design team to insert text or heaven forbid the publication’s name if you score a cover”. This is how you would be required to submit your work to a large number of well known publications, so that was the deal here too. Oh shit, hope I had something half decent to put forward is all I was thinking from that point on. The next morning was both scary and exciting in equal amounts and another invaluable part of this workshop – learnt a lot.

Joe di-secting a classmates image next morning – yes they were displayed LARGE for all to see.


Here are some behind the scenes images I shot during Joe’s demonstrations of stroboscopic sequences. The first in B&W shows Joe & Cali working out the positioning of the lights for the sequence.. or possibly just Cali flexing up ready for a bout of arm wrestling which he is known to enjoy on the side. The second in colour shows one of our dancers going through her routine. Essentially the final image – all produced in camera – consisted of three different exposures. There is a small soft box to the left and right of a set track or line that the dancer will follow. A single exposure is made at each of these points essentially producing a frozen portrait of the dancer, and also creating a beginning and an end to the performance. In between is a  long exposure (4 seconds I think we were at) to allow the dancer to move from the soft box on the left to the one on the right. During this time rather than a single burst of light, a flurry of predetermined pulses fire from a number of unmodified flashes to produce the stroboscopic effect. This is not an exact science by any means, and requires a lot of trial and error, and patience. Joe has a beautiful image shot using this technique on his site here – produced completely IN CAMERA.

130314_Dubai_4482 130314_Dubai_4490 I didn’t try my hand at shooting instead preferring to give some of the others a shot whilst I continued to absorb all that was going on, and to also shoot some more BTS images. These are a few I made whilst Joe was shooting. I calculated my exposure based on his second shot or the stroboscopic sequence, and panned with the dancer for the four seconds whilst the two speed lights were pulsing.. the red lights are bicycle LEDs that were attached to the dancers hands. The two shots were panned at different rates to produce more or less separation between the multiple images in each.

130314_Dubai_4499 130314_Dubai_4500

A final shot of the stroboscopic routine from a different angle, and for a shorter exposure length, capturing the final soft box firing to produce a single figure this time.


There is plenty more I will share in some upcoming posts but I thought I would start with something a little more unusual…    thanks for reading.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *