Guest Blogger: Drew Gurian PART III


Guest Blogger: Drew Gurian PART III

Building A Career In Photography, Part III

Opportunities I’ve had working with Joe/BTS look at working on-assignment

Joe’s been in the industry for 35 years, and has been a contracted photographer for National Geographic for about 25.  For most of his career, he’s primarily been an editorial photographer, so a good chunk of time I’ve spent on the road with him has been working on NatGeo stories.

My first week of work in the studio, Brad, his former assistant, showed me the ropes for a few days, went over the basics of all the gear we’d be using in the field, and took off for Florida, for his new job, as photo assistant to Scott Kelby.

The second week, I was thrown into the deep end, as we were starting a new story for the magazine, roughly about telescopes, and how we map outer space.

We headed to Monument Valley, Arizona for 4-5 days, and shot two setups.  Essentially, we were trying to demonstrate the three ways humans can see outer space (visible spectrum, infrared, and x-ray).  Interestingly, with an editorial story like this, unlike advertising/commercial jobs, Joe gets lots of freedom as to what he shoots, and how he shoots it.

Going to Monument Valley was Joe’s idea, as he liked the iconic/outer space-like look of the rock formations- and convinced his editor it would be successful.  This, of course, involved bringing a ton of gear with us into the middle of the desert– three screens (to show the three ways of mapping space), multiple laptops, projectors, generators, tons of sand bags, pop-up tents, etc.

This wasn’t long after we had started shooting the Nikon D3, and being that we were doing long time exposures (45-90 min.), had no idea how it would deal with noise.  As a precaution, we used an in-camera noise reduction feature, which doubled the exposure time for each exposure– so a 90-minute exposure quickly turned into three hours of sitting and waiting.

Being that we had absolutely no idea how much digital noise there would be, or exactly how bad it would be, we also made it a point to shoot film, as a backup.  All in all, we shot six camera bodies, all with time exposures, each running different brackets.  We had two Nikon D3’s, two Nikon F6’s, and two Fuji 6×17’s.  Sounds fun, right?

As if the shoot setup itself wasn’t crazy enough, we also had to deal with 3-4 nights of shooting in the Arizona desert– which was damn cold…

Keep in mind this was my 2nd week on the job, and my first shoot in the field with Joe.

We also did this shot a few weeks later, for the same story…

This shoot involved a 90-minute drive up 181 switchback turns, to the top of a 12,500 ft. mountain at 3am.  We spent the day lighting the interior of the telescope (which is a 20 story building) with over 30,000 watt-seconds of big flash.  Joe went up in a 175 ft. boom crane (sketchy, considering the 30-40 mph winds), shot the above photo, packed up gear, and drove down the next morning at 2am.

So that’s most definitely some of the more crazy types of shoots I’ve experienced while working with Joe.

On the other side of the spectrum, we also do a good chunk of ad/commercial shooting, and recently shot a good chunk of the Nikon D4 campaign.  Nikon’s agency asked Joe for a bunch of ideas, and they ended up biting on four of them, which we spent a few weeks shooting around the country this past winter.

Though I did assist on several of the shoots, I actually had the opportunity to shoot BTS video for Nikon Japan on five of those days.  As a studio, we’re fairly new to the world of video, but I can at least speak for myself, in saying that I’m thoroughly enjoying the learning curve.


Watch :

Joe McNally Photography – On Location with the Nikon D4


One major lesson I’ve learned over the years from Joe is the art of versatility.  Two years ago, none of us at the studio had really shot any video in our lives.  Then with the birth of DSLR-video, we knew we had to get on-board and give it a shot.  We still don’t claim to be a full production house, by any means, but we’ve gotten to a point where we can produce a professional-looking product, and it’s an incredible process to be a part of.

I always tell any shooter starting out in the business, that they NEED to have at least a basic grasp on video (and audio).  Sure, it’s entirely separate from still photos, but the more you can wrap your head around it, the more marketable you are as a shooter.

Hope this was a useful glimpse into the world of assisting, and happy to answer any questions at all.  If there’s any other recent shoots you’ve seen of Joe’s, or any other shooting scenarios you’d like me to cover, just leave a comment.

Next up in this ongoing blog series is the topic of Personal Shooting/Career Building, so stay tuned!


Click below to read some of Drew’s other posts:

Part I

Part II