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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Master Of The Moment


The Photo Traveler in conversation with Joe McNally

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Photo Traveler - Joe McNally Joe McNally’s new book The Moment It Clicks includes advice on shooting everything from twilight aerials from a helicopter over New York City to a wedding reception in Ireland.
Photographers are a funny lot. Because we're so visual, we're often, shall we say, less than articulate with the written word. That's why how-to books tend to fall into one of two categories: well written with mediocre photos or strongly photographed with pedestrian text. To find one that's as well written as it is photographed is a rare treat.

Everyone in the business knows what a major talent my friend Joe McNally is. His list of accomplishments and clients are legion: Life (its sole staff photographer for many years), National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, the Day in the Life books—the list is nearly endless. But who knew that Joe was such a great writer, storyteller and teacher, too? Anyone who has had the pleasure of reading his recent book, The Moment It Clicks: Photography Secrets from One of the World's Top Shooters (Peachpit Press, Berkeley, Calif., 2008, $54).

Photo Traveler - Joe McNally The book is more of a hybrid between a coffee-table book and a how-to volume. You get a beautiful display of a wide variety of Joe's greatest hits, with his candid, funny stories behind the photo, as well as tips on how to incorporate the techniques he used into your own work. It's an eminently readable combination, hard to put down, and guaranteed to teach you something about photography and the ingenuity and creativity it takes to do it on a world-class level, the way Joe has been doing it for the last 30 years.

Although he's known primarily for large-scale production shots, Joe also has done travel work for magazines like Travel & Leisure and National Geographic Traveler, and it was travel we spoke about in a recent interview.

Outdoor Photographer: Joe, how do you prepare for travel assignments? Is it different than some of the editorial assignments you've mentioned in the book?

Joe McNally: For a travel piece, you might skew your research a little bit differently. You're certainly not looking to do the seamy side of life or the problems that might associate themselves with a location. You're looking to capture high moments, or you're looking, most of the time, to capture beauty and the fiber of a culture to see where those things might occur. So you might take a look at, say, the calendar of events, and you might try to time your travel for major festivals or street fairs or for whenever life in any particular travel destination is at its most exuberant. So the basics are the same, but you might skew the research a bit to optimize the chances of getting something really resonant, really beautiful.

Outdoor Photographer: I love the story about the Day in the Life of Ireland assignment. They sent you to shoot a coal mine, and you ended up with a killer shot of a wedding reception. How did that come about?

McNally: When you've been doing this as long as you and I have, you know that Murphy's Law is always sitting in your camera bag ready to jump out—that can mean anything from bad information to bad weather. The [Day in the Life] research team in Ireland had the best of intentions, but they probably just thought, "Okay, we hear there's this coal mine. That would be great for McNally, he can go there."

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