Lessons from Internationally Acclaimed Photographer Joe McNally

Sometimes having a great opportunity is nothing more than being at the right place at the right time. That place happened to be Google’s headquarters in Mountain View California. And the time was a casual Monday morning. And the luck I had was finding out, just hours before, that world famous photographer Joe McNally was going to give a free lecture there that day.

Although I’d seen Joe McNally speak over video many times, this was my first time watching this great photographer in person. The hour-long lecture passed all too quickly. Joe share a series of his photographs, revealing the stories behind each one. The rare look into Joe’s work was fascinating. I also walked away with a deeper understanding of what makes Joe and other great photographers outstanding:

Joe McNally lecturing the Google group.

Be The Best

Photoshop and digital photography has made it possible to make really good images without years of intensive training and experience. But listening to Joe talk about how he made his photographs made me realize that those who have great technical foundations still easily stand out from the rest. Joe is especially famous for his superb lighting skills. Sure, other photographers can also light a photograph well with 1, 2, or 3 light sources. But Joe managed to light an entire island – Ellis Island, NY! Now how many photographers can do that!

Be Different

“The world is much seen. What are we striving for? An element of uniqueness.”

This particular quote from Joe resonated deeply with me. I’ve heard the same advice from Chase Jarvis and other creatives before, and it’s worth emphasizing it once more here. Joe has a portfolio of professional athletes and legends. They are all people who have been photographed numerous times, this forces Joe to tell a unique story with these subjects to make his images stand out.

Have Vision

It goes without saying that great photographers also embody a creative vision. We are storytellers with imagery as our medium. From Lord of the Ring influenced campaigns for Nikon to a National Geographics story about Light that took him to the top of New York city, Joe really demonstrated his perspective into assignments. He is not afraid to be provocative, to be bold, to add complexity, or simplicity. Although it was not without challenges, to the viewer, Joe also executed his vision perfectly each time. His visions seem to come from a myriad of experiences, hours of research, and rich exposure to different facets of life.

Have No Fear

Some of the best stories from Joe that day were the behind the scenes to the behind the scenes of his photoshoot, like training his body to take g-force in order to do a story with the Blue Angels, or throwing up in his own space suit so he wouldn’t get vomit all over the photoshoot in 0 gravity. Some of my personal favourites were instances when Joe bit the bullet, neglected the dangerous around him, and held out for the image.

All images from Joe McNally unless otherwise stated. 


3 responses to “Lessons from Internationally Acclaimed Photographer Joe McNally

  1. Pingback: A Colorful Nature | Canoe Communications·

  2. Wow! So lucky! I always want to go to speakings of all types: photography, books, music. I don’t know where to find them though. Do you know any websites or places I can find out about them?

  3. thanks tracy – that’s some good advice and related to what i do as a director/scriptwriter of television shows and short films. lighting and telling a story is still key and while digital technology has enabled many of us to reach a level never once dreamed of, the good ones always place content/story first above and beyond anything else. an image can just be an image, but it’s the angle, the mood, the action within the frame that really needs to stand out. for me, i like capturing things in the raw. rawness is a qualilty that has always appealed to me, especially in rock/music photography. early anton corbijn with joy division and depeche mode stands out for me. organic stuff. 🙂 thanks for sharing and keep sharing your sessions for us who can’t go. – persis. xx

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