JOE MCNALLY: Master of Photographic Lighting
By Bill Dobbins
In the world of photography nowadays we live in an age of specialization. Photographers tend to focus on either commercial or editorial work and competition requires that they specialize in certain subjects. An editorial lifestyle photographer knows it can be a problem if he includes high fashion or landscapes in his portfolio. You can’t assume anyone looking at your work has any real imagination and can visualize your doing anything other than what they see in front of them.
This is the photographic version of the kind of type casting actors face.
But this has never been the approach to shooting images of Joe McNally. He is an internationally acclaimed, award-winning photographer whose prolific career includes assignments in nearly 70 countries. McNally is known world-wide as not only one of the top, technically excellent photographers of his generation, but his outgoing and accessible personality has made him a sought-after choice from CEO’s to celebrities to commercial and magazine clients alike.
Clients might like your work but they also have to like working with you. Otherwise you are at a disadvantage when it comes to getting assignments.
Joe McNally has never believed in excessive specialization. He is 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, Sony, ESPN, Adidas, Land’s End, General Electric, Epson, MetLife, USAA, New York Stock Exchange, Lehman Brothers, PNC Bank, and the Beijing Cultural Commission. McNally is equally comfortable climbing buildings or lighting a telescope to capturing quiet, sensitive subject matter with confidence in medical surroundings. He has shot numerous cover stories and highly complex features for the National Geographic, LIFE, and Sports Illustrated, where his research skills and unmatched preparedness were highly valued.
McNally won the first Alfred Eisenstaedt Award for Journalistic Impact for a LIFE coverage titled, “The Panorama of War.” He has been honored numerous times by Communication Arts, PDN, Graphis, American Photo, POY, and The World Press Photo Foundation. He 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 and one of the “Top 20 Influential Photographers” by www.featuredphotog.com, in addition to winning “2015 Photographer of the Year” by PMDA. McNally’s combined social media following is more than a ½ million to date and his popularity continues to grow as he pursues directing a variety of film projects.
“A career in photography is not an easy thing to do,” McNally says. “In the digital age there is the intimation that it is easy because the cameras are so automated, they make exposures for you for you – but for me, and whoever endeavors seriously to create great images, it remains hard work. Often hard physical work. You stress yourself physical, emotionally and sometimes financially. ”
McNally fully realizes that digital photography and software like Photoshop and Lightroom have drastically changed the process and business of photography. But like all excellent shooters he is also if fully aware that cameras, equipment and technology don’t shoot great photos – photographers do.
In the course of his career, Joe McNally has broken bones, cracked his head open and suffered all sorts of physical damage. And in the pursuit of getting the images that he wanted subjected himself to all sorts of dangers he now sees were “not smart” – in fact, dangers he realized at the time were not smart but which he ignored in his zeal to get the photos he wanted.
But he is also aware that getting the photo you are looking for is sometimes a long and frustrating experience. “Often you’ll shoot hundreds of bad photos before you finally drill down to something that is real or actually has any significant meaning. Sometimes you can shoot for a day, or even more, shooting photos you know are never going to see the light of day. It’s an exercise in tenacity sometimes.”
We see the iconic work of legendary photographers but not the lesser images that they discarded. Henri Cartier-Bresson might have popularized the phrase “the decisive moment,” but if usually took shooting many rolls of film before coming up with a truly memorable image. This process of working toward ultimate success is not limited to just photographers. Examining masterworks by great painters with X-rays has revealed how often they painted over or painted out elements on the canvas. What counts if the final result, not the steps an artist went through to achieve it.
Joe McNally has travelled the world in the course of his amazing career. But home is a quiet town in Connecticut which he shares with his wife, and Sammy the cat, where he remains enthusiastic about the next assignment.
Bill Dobbins is a veteran photographer and videographer located in Los Angeles who has exhibited his fine art images in two museums and a number of galleries and has published eight print and 16 eBooks, including two fine art photo books:
The Women: Photographs of The Top Female Bodybuilders (Artisan)
Modern Amazons (Tashen)
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