Joe McNally and The Moment it Clicks

A few years ago I went to a mid-week lecture given by Joe McNally and a few other photographers who were teaching at the Santa Fe Workshops here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Ever since I started working as a photographer, I had ogled quite a few of Joe’s images in National Geographic, Sports Illustrated and many other magazines. I liked his style and the way he thought about photography – and I was blown away by what he could create given carte blanche on an assignment. But nothing I had read about him previously prepared me for his lecture that evening.

As Joe worked himself into the talk, he started telling stories. They were tales of woe spun in a humoristic tone that was without any ego. It was the “straight skinny” no-holds-barred, this-is-what-happened manner in which he communicated that really caught me off-guard and had me hanging on every word.

He told a story about an assignment that he worked on for Sports Illustrated where he was shooting in fighter jets. At one point while shooting, the pilot was pulling some pretty extreme maneuvers and Joe told us “I began to feel sick, and then I threw up.” As you can imagine his puke was all over the canopy of the F-15. He then went on to say, “I wiped the puke off with my arm and kept shooting – you only get so much time up there in a fighter jet.” That was it. We were all rolling in the aisles with laughter. It was then that I thought I need to take this guys workshop to learn about lighting but more so because he tells it like it is – unvarnished and real. I had not meet many photographers up till then that were willing to be so open about their work and the profession. And Joe didn’t disappoint, when I finally did take his workshop it was just what I expected: intense, real, inspiring and challenging. And it was chalked full of little tidbits and one-liners that had us reeling for five straight days.

So when I got a copy of Joe’s latest book The Moment it Clicks, I was reminded of the stories I had heard him tell, his great enthusiasm for photography and his incredible talent for teaching. The first thing you’ll notice when you start reading Joe’s acknowledgements is a long list of friends and colleagues that have helped him get to where he is. While reading this I remembered how much Joe is a people person. And I thought to myself, what an important lesson for all of us, no matter what profession we are in – no matter what we do, it’s all about people. Joe understands that. That is the heart of his photography and I would bet it is a huge reason for much of his success, aside from his obvious talent. If you understand this about Joe, then his incredible skill as an instructor, as a photographer and his openness all falls into place.

As I read the The Moment it Clicks, I got the feeling I was back in a photo workshop and Joe was whispering words of wisdom in my ear. His book is filled with pearls of wisdom for the amateur or aspiring pro photographer. Some of them I had heard before in his workshop and lectures but many I hadn’t heard. The book is laid out in a logical fashion but I found myself skipping around a lot keying in on photos that were of particular interest. And I have to say my favorite part to the book is the last chapter: The Bar is Open. In this last section Joe moves onto to other topics regarding the life of a professional photographer and he gives us an insiders perspective on the life of a pro photographer via some very comical stories.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit and learned a few new lighting tricks I hadn’t seen before. All in All, it is inspirational and I laughed quite a bit – Joe’s humor and sharp wit were in fine form. Another bonus is a whole other chapter that is available for download from the Peach Pit Press website. Check it out on Amazon.

If you’d like to read more about my experience in Joe’s Location Photography and Lighting workshop check out my Perspective article entitled “Real Moments” in the Summer 2006 issue of my newsletter.