Location, location, location”¦ after a great first day in studio and a bombardment of lighting know-how from Joe it was time for us to go on location. Our class of fourteen was divided into four teams of three and a team of two. Tuesday’s location was a Masonic Temple in downtown Santa Fe, this place reminded me of the set of The Shining, a big kitchen, a ballroom and except for us, not a soul around, yet plenty of interesting places to shoot. Wednesday’s location was a beautiful bed & breakfast just outside of Santa Fe, located on an eleven-acre horse farm. As I took a brief break, I looked out over the farm and off in the distance was a wall of snow-capped mountains, just beautiful.

Meeting with Joe prior to scouting the prison.
Meeting with Joe prior to scouting the prison.

The third and final location was by far the most interesting. We arrived at the New Mexico State Penitentiary at 1:00PM; we unloaded our gear and assembled in the area where this place got it’s reputation. In case you don’t know the story here’s a brief synopsis. It was February 2, 1980 when inmates at the correctional facility began to protest overcrowding and inferior prison services. It quickly exploded into a full-fledged riot. On the night of the riot, there were 1,136 inmates housed in a facility designed for 900 men. When the riot finally ended on February 3, 1980, thirty-three inmates were killed and over two hundred were injured. All twelve of the prison guards taken hostage were released with a few receiving minor injuries. The riot at the New Mexico State Penitentiary still remains the scene of the worst prison riot in U.S. history. While scouting the location I would walk down long dark hallways with charred walls that still showed signs of the fire, there was an area with bloodstained mattresses and broken windows were everywhere – really creepy! What made it even more interesting was that there was only a single Porta-Potty on site and six of us were suffering from food poisoning from a not so swell dinner the night before. Now that you know all the gory details it’s time to get back to the workshop.

Each team is assigned a model and gets to choose their location. Each team also designates a main shooter while the other members act as his/her assistant. After an hour, we would rotate to a new location with a new model and new designated photographer. Since we were all there to learn, it wasn’t uncommon for those of us playing the role of assistant to take the last 15 minutes of the session to grab shots of our own. What really made the team concept interesting were the different personalities and egos that everyone brought to the table, in a way I found it helpful to learn how to deal with these personalities and in one situation deal with the conflicts. At the end of each day we would pack our gear, make sure nothing was left behind and head back to the studio. Each team was responsible for charging the battery packs on the Rangers and making sure you had everything assigned to you. We would then head back to our rooms, sort through the days work and select five photos that we felt were successful, the catch was we could not make ANY adjustments in Photoshop. All images needed to be output as a JPEG, directly from the RAW image. Joe felt this was the best way to check lighting and exposure.

We were hit with a surprise on our last full day, Friday. We assembled back into our teams, assigned a model and given a magazine assignment. “Your model is the hottest new designer out of Beverly Hills and you are shooting the cover of Rodeo Drive Magazine” was our directions from Joe, who was playing the role of an Art Director. We had three hours to hand over a finished JPEG. An interesting test of developing the concept, lighting and picking props and outfits.

Overall it was a very impressive week and I would recommend the
experience to anyone. I would especially recommend any Joe McNally workshop that you could get in. His teaching style is amazing and his personality and sense of humor is contagious. It was not only what we learned in the workshops but the information we got in the informal sessions, such as our breakfast with Joe at Harry’s Roadside Diner; there we learned so much about the business of photography and how this industry is changing so much and what we need to do as photographers to stay alive. Other than not seeing my wife and kids for a full week, I would definitely do it again if given the chance.

I’ll leave you with one final quote from Joe, “We are in the democracy of digital,” meaning that anyone with a digital camera and Photoshop can claim to be a photographer but it’s workshops and exercises like those being offered at Santa Fe that can really distinguish the pros from the wannabes. It’s also up to us to push our craft, and not be afraid to experiment.

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