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The Richness of Peru: Fashion Photography with Joe McNally

I can’t imagine any area of the earth better suited for a series of wonderfully high resolution fashion photographs than South America. The exuberance of culture and life, plus the sheer color in this region, make perfect subject matter for NIKKOR optics and the Nikon D810 camera. The Nikon D810, with 36.3 megapixels and an FX format sensor, yields files of extraordinary detail and outstanding color response.

A New Angle on Fashion Photography

In early spring I traveled with my studio team to Peru. Having never visited this area I immediately experienced that extra dimension of excitement one feels when seeing something totally new—especially when looking through a camera and lens.

Created with the Nikon D810 paired with the AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR lens, at f/10 and 1/200 second. It was lit with three Nikon SB-910 Speedlight units placed on a Lastolite triflash and shooting through a soft 51” umbrella. This light source doesn’t really “light” the scene; it merely sparks the model and perks up the color of the gown.

Created with the Nikon D810 paired with the AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR lens, at f/10 and 1/200 second. It was lit with three Nikon SB-910 Speedlight units placed on a Lastolite triflash and shooting through a soft 51” umbrella. This light source doesn’t really “light” the scene; it merely sparks the model and perks up the color of the gown.

This setting was a found situation. I loved the wall and the improbable nature of the worn, blue shutters. The model was able to use that space to frame herself and become a dynamic curvy object in the midst of all the straight lines and angles.

Vibrancy of the Moment

I found myself in the warm embrace of a people and a culture that is not only rich in history, but vibrantly in the moment. Colorful sources of inspiration were everywhere—such as when we chanced upon this beautiful mural.

The Nikon D810 and AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR lens was set to f/10 and 1/200 of a second. The light is very simple. Overhead is a 12’ silk, or diffuser, to soften the sunlight. At camera right is a 51” shoot through umbrella with three Nikon SB-910 Speedlights firing through to give the light just a little bit more direction.

The Nikon D810 and AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR lens was set to f/10 and 1/200 of a second. The light is very simple. Overhead is a 12’ silk, or diffuser, to soften the sunlight. At camera right is a 51” shoot through umbrella with three Nikon SB-910 Speedlights firing through to give the light just a little bit more direction.

The Nikon D810 with AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II lens was set to f/13 and 1/250 of a second. The light comes from an off-camera flash that is firing camera-left and hand held by my assistant who was hidden behind some pillars.

The Nikon D810 with AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II lens was set to f/13 and 1/250 of a second. The light comes from an off-camera flash that is firing camera-left and hand held by my assistant who was hidden behind some pillars.

A wonderfully spontaneous moment—you never know what a group of pelicans will do, but when you place fish around a model there’s a good bet they’ll gather. Be ready! This is a fluid sort of situation to be sure. Don’t get fancy with the light or try to overly stage things. Frame up, get ready and look for a moment of sheer exuberance or laughter.

Colors of the Coast and Country

I found color, beauty and life everywhere I went, ranging from the streets and beaches of bustling Lima, to the stark stretches of the desert of Paracas National Reserve, to the lush coastline of this astonishing country.

This frame was produced with my Nikon D810 and the AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens set to f/9 and 1/200 of a second. Lighting was a 5’ Profoto Octa softbox to camera-right, plus an off-camera flash unit.

This frame was produced with my Nikon D810 and the AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens set to f/9 and 1/200 of a second. Lighting was a 5’ Profoto Octa softbox to camera-right, plus an off-camera flash unit.

What I looked for here was a lovely contrast between the elegant model and the roughness of the abandoned boat. Color palette is important to observe when choosing wardrobe. You don’t want something too bright or out of range for the scene. The blue gown was the color of the sea, and the feel of her pose and the clothes are very serene and appropriate for this setting.

Captured with Nikon D810 paired with the AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR lens, set to f/11 and 1/200 of a second.

Captured with Nikon D810 paired with the AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR lens, set to f/11 and 1/200 of a second.

Nikon - At the heart of the image

This is a lovely setting looking out to sea. The model’s posing was smooth and serene. The sea green nature of the gown looked wonderful in this environment. A picture is a bit of a puzzle. You have the scene, the subject, the wardrobe, the light; they all have to work together. It’s up to you at the camera to get all the pieces to flow together. Compositionally, I used the classic rule of thirds here with the model to the left and the cliffs and the sea dominating the rest of the frame.

Enduring Nikon

We shot in the harshest of sunlight, in wind whipped deserts and on the rocks of the shoreline amidst cascading waves. I was never more impressed, all over again, by the responsiveness and durability of my Nikon gear. For me, these pictures are a wonderful and colorful reminder of how much I want to go back to this amazing place.

Gear Used

About The Contributor

joe-bio

Joe McNally

Joe McNally is an internationally acclaimed photographer whose career has spanned more than 30 years and included assignments in 60 countries. McNally is often described as a generalist because of his ability to execute a wide range of assignment work. His expansive career has included being an ongoing contributor to National Geographic—shooting numerous cover stories and highly complex, technical features for the past 25 years; a contract photographer for Sports Illustrated; as well as shooting cover stories for TIME, Newsweek, Fortune, New York, and The New York Times Sunday Magazine.

McNally regularly writes a popular, occasionally irreverent blog (joemcnally.com/blog) about the travails, tribulations and high moments of being a photographer, and has authored several noteworthy books on photography. While his work notably springs from the time-honored traditions of magazine journalism, McNally has also adapted to the Internet driven media world, and was recently named as one of the “Top 5 Most Socially Influential Photographers” by Eye-Fi. McNally was also named the 2015 Photographer of the Year by PMDA. His work and his blog are regularly cited in social media surveys as sources of inspiration and industry leadership. He is also 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, Nikon, Epson, Sony, Land’s End, General Electric, MetLife, USAA, Adidas, ESPN, the Beijing Cultural Commission, and American Ballet Theater.

A sought-after workshop instructor and lecturer, he has taught at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshop, the Eddie Adams Workshop, the National Geographic Society, Smithsonian Institution, and the Annenberg Space for Photography, Rochester Institute of Technology, the Disney Institute, and the U.S. Department of Defense. He received his bachelor’s and graduate degrees from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and returns there to lecture on a regular basis. He is proud to be named a Nikon Ambassador [United States], an honor that has a special significance for him, as he bought his first Nikon camera in 1973, and for forty years, from the deserts of Africa to the snows of Siberia, he has seen the world through those cameras.

See more of Joe's work at www.joemcnally.com.


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  • JR Johnsson

    Interesting, all but the first picture are VERY nice- that one gets an F in my class because it is crooked on purpose… sorry.

    • Wendy

      I agree- it would have been a fantastic image had it not been crooked!!

  • Bob Ray

    So in the image of the girl by the boat, I get the 5′ OctaBox flash to camera right but what does “…an off camera flash unit” mean? Where was that off camera flash located? I’m assuming for fill on the left but clarify, please…