Bus_Rider_Mexico_NS306Girl_in_Doorway_NS307Ironman_Underwater_newMcNally_283_G_v3 copyRwanda-Pano_NS026.tif
responsiveslider_lol_02 The Language of Light DVD - More
MeetJoe_02 Meet Joe McNally - More
inthebag What’s in the Bag? - More

Letter to a Young Photographer….

Nov 9

In Advice at 9:43am


Lectured last week at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. In the photojournalism department, the students all had that traditional mix of energy, enthusiasm, angst, and doubt so typical of that time in your life when you have just picked up a camera and are looking at it, wondering where it will lead you. The usual mix of questions are ever present: Who do I work for? Can I make a living? Will I ever be any good at this? Will my pictures have impact?

Nowadays, that traditional line of questioning is accompanied by another significant set of queries. What is the future of all this? Will I shoot video or stills? Can I get a job where somebody pays me more than a nickel for my photos? Will there be any newspapers left in a few years? Should I also go to business school? How many pixels do I need? What the hell is going on and how am I going to fit in? When I left school a traditional path for many J school grads was small paper to slightly bigger paper to mid-size daily to a big metro. It was a process. It had potential structure and pace.

Now, graduating into this field is like blasting into hyper space. The destination’s uncertain, and the road is a blur.

The raft of questions I fielded last week brought me back to a letter I received some years ago.

Dear Joe,

We met a few years back, I was,  I guess, a runt high school kid with a camera.  now, I guess I’m a lost science major, have no idea what I want to do with myself, and everyone just tells me to do what I like. I can’t justify transferring to what I regard as the large year round summer camp of arts school, but have no idea what to do with myself, now or in ten years. I know this is a little weird getting an email from someone who you might not even remember meeting years ago who, at 19 is going through a midlife crisis, but I appreciate any thoughts anyone might have other than the “follow your dreams” which doesn’t fit with my New York cynicism.  I guess I was wondering, as I was told to wonder, and ask everyone I know (or “kinda sorta” know) who does something interesting for a living, how they wound up doing what they were doing?  Anyway, it’s a heavy question with a ton of run on sentences.

Would really appreciate any input you may have on the matter……thanks….


Of course I remember you. I am sorry for not getting back sooner, but this last two months have vanished with road work, and I did not want to just dash you off something superficial. Follow your dreams is not a bad thing to do, but I am well aware of the practical limitations of such a plan. The world gets more and more restrictive in terms of a free wheeling approach to life, and despite all the press given to those who strike it rich and play their own tune doing it, there are the much more prevalent stories of most of the rest of us who grapple day to day with exactly the same issues you are facing. A science major in the Ivy League is a pretty strenuous thing to do, I imagine. Art school would be a different atmosphere altogether. I don’t know what might be possible in terms of combining them, or finishing a degree (very important!) and then trying your hand at some art education.

The fact that you put your camera to your eye instead of running on 9/11 indicates something restless and perhaps unusual in your makeup, and as someone familiar with being regarded as unusual, I can tell you it is definitely a two edged sword. The things you struggle with now you will struggle with your entire life. It is the essence of a creative soul, really, without being pompous and overblown about it.

Being lost isn’t the worst thing in the world, either, especially at 19. I hadn’t even discovered photography at 19, but nothing in particular concerned me about my aimlessness. Probably a lack of depth on my part, no doubt, but then it did leave me with room to move and the ability to imagine myself in different contexts. I do know that when I finally engaged in photography, it was like a black hole, an irresistible force that pulled me, my time, my energy and, without exaggeration, my every waking (and sleeping) moment. I had never known such a resonant thing.

I do know I went abroad, and became the lab manager for the Syracuse London photo program and took 9 graduate credits. I left my lab duties in the hands of a fellow student (and my princely weekly pay check of 5 English pounds) and went to the east most tip of England, a place called Lowestoft. There I talked my way onto a fishing trawler (November in the North Sea, lovely indeed) and went off to to do a 2 week jaunt, with hope of making a photo essay along the lines of what I had seen my heroes like Gene Smith do. I remember the smell of tea late at night, and lurching through 40′ waves sitting in the wheelhouse, and the utter blackness of sea around, and thinking, yes, this and the like is what I am cut out to do.

I’ve been fortunate in that I have been able to act on and make a living out of some largely irresponsible urges. I have had a bit of a comic book of a life, I am still drawing the panels. I sense something like a change of scenery may be a good thing for you, if you can afford the time and effort to launch yourself in a different direction and in a different environment.

Don’t know if your science professors possess the capacity to excite and inspire, but I was blessed with a very good and inspirational photo professor who helped me at least realize something larger was always possible. Have you thought of chucking it for a while and going abroad, and trying your hand at some art education? Or trying your hand at anything that comes along? Or trying your hand at essentially nothing? I’m not suggesting something totally out of bounds or dangerous, but the search for something that propels you, draws you, and simply becomes that which you cannot help but do is in itself a worthwhile endeavor. And if and when the discovery of said treasure occur– eureka! I still love photography, and enjoy the simple act of being a photographer more now than when I first picked up my dad’s camera.

One thing my dad did tell me, and it has echoed in my ears for a long time. He was the quintessential corporate man, a salesman, and in his later years, he became disgusted with the ways of his world, and told me on numerous occasions, “hang out your own shingle.” Which is what I have done, and been happy to have done. The jalopy called McNally Photography has transmission trouble, a couple of flat tires, and not all the cylinders fire, but it still moves, and I drive it where I want to go. There is a great deal of value and satisfaction in that, as I look back. I’m still standing, and lots of others fell away or played it safe or never tried. The simultaneously wonderful and daunting thing is that there is so much still to do, so much ground to cover, and my best work is still out there, somewhere. I am still on safari here, the great picture hunt, as someone once called it.

I don’t know if any of this makes sense. You are just beginning to write your pages, and the thing to remember about this early rough draft is that it hardly matters what you do exactly, as long as you continue to become something close to what you might imagine you want or need to become. Being a bit slow and never prone to academic excellence and achievement, I really have had no choice over the years but to embrace Einstein’s thought. “Imagination is better than knowledge.”

Stay well. Call anytime. Joe

144 Responses to “Letter to a Young Photographer….”

Bob DeChiara says:

on November 10, 2009 at 8:38 am

A great impact post! Man i love this blog!


Garrick says:

on November 10, 2009 at 8:41 am

This is exactly why you’re one of my favorite photgraphers. Great post Joe.

Nate says:

on November 10, 2009 at 8:41 am

Good read, especially as a 17 year old runt hoping to go to university for photography. Very inspiring.

Me and my partner once took some headshots for a woman who was a lawyer, but was looking into freelance writing. She was in her late 20s, and in my opinion way too young to get really tied down to a job. Her and her husband told us, “don’t go into a field or take a job because your parents or someone else want you to do it, and don’t do it just for money either. Find something you love, then find a way to make money off it”
this article made me remember that

Nathan Ebel

Great job,

Catalin says:

on November 10, 2009 at 8:46 am

I’m passed the student years, but I think what you wrote applies to anybody at any stage in life. Great read!

johnwaire | photo says:

on November 10, 2009 at 8:49 am

thanks joe! just the goose i needed this morning…

Francesco B. says:

on November 10, 2009 at 8:52 am

Joe, I don’t want to ruin this beautiful post by commenting it with useless words, I’m going to print it and keep it with me instead.

thank you, thank you, thank you.

Robert Vanelli says:

on November 10, 2009 at 9:04 am

Great inspiration Joe! I sent this link to my karate students off at college, told them this is a MUST read.


Ed O'Keeffe says:

on November 10, 2009 at 9:07 am

Thanks for publishing this Joe, this is very inspirational to me!

Denny Medley/Random Photography says:

on November 10, 2009 at 9:15 am

Utterly awesome.

Joe says:

on November 10, 2009 at 9:23 am

Mongo one moment and this the next. Brilliant.

Filipe M. says:

on November 10, 2009 at 9:26 am

Most inspiring thing I’ve read in a while, and while I’m not as young as the guy you’re addressing in your letter, sometimes I find myself thinking along the same lines. What to do, where to go, the whole thing. Thanks for sharing.


Les Doerfler says:

on November 10, 2009 at 9:37 am

And that young man took Joe’s advice and grew up to become Syl Arena.

Mike Woodhouse says:

on November 10, 2009 at 9:58 am

Cracking post, Joe. I expect you probably know that whatever you could get here for a fiver (probably not much) back then, you’d get a lot less now!

I do wonder about the “follow your dream” advisors. It always seems a little like a copout to me. What about those of us who never really had much of a dream? ;-)

Cheng says:

on November 10, 2009 at 10:04 am

This post is very interesting to me since I’m also a science major and have interest in photography. Thanks for giving such a good advice in the post. The best thing is probably to find passion and act on it, be it science or photography.

Rich says:

on November 10, 2009 at 10:05 am

Exceptional post. The fishing trawler story was incredibly inspiring.

Matt Dunn says:

on November 10, 2009 at 10:05 am


Great post…and I think what I like best is that it’s not really about photography at all – the lessons drawn out in the exchange of letters are important “life” lessons regardless of whatever we choose to do in life.

And I always thought of the McNally Jalopy as being slightly more sporty than you are describing it…


Mark says:

on November 10, 2009 at 10:06 am

It’s always scary to try the “hang out your own shingle” thing. Nerves – and pixels – of steel are needed.

Any idea whatever happened with this young writer?

W says:

on November 10, 2009 at 10:10 am

As a 40 something with a sound job making 6 figures (not in photography), I still find that this applies to me. The question that I’m trying to answer might be a little different but the result I’m looking for is the same.

Thanks for adding a new dimension for me to consider Joe.

Rob Byron says:

on November 10, 2009 at 10:15 am

Well spoken and wonderful advice. By the way, the “dad” in you is showing.

Hans says:

on November 10, 2009 at 10:16 am

The biggest risk in life is not taking risks at all. If you take risks you take the blur path of unpredictability, but in my book also embrace uncertainty. It takes you closer to yourself and rewards will come.

Bob says:

on November 10, 2009 at 10:16 am

One of your best works. It should be shared with others, as I have done. Thanks.

jason harry says:

on November 10, 2009 at 10:18 am

well writen joe, re “sruggling and It is the essence of a creative soul”, …again (as always) spot on… may try and hook up with you in italy next year if you are still doing the VSP workshops… later dude.

Stacey says:

on November 10, 2009 at 10:20 am

Thanks so much, Joe! I’m 33 with an MBA and a cushy marketing gig, but I’m taking the plunge. I may still be at the job, but I’m making plans, paying debts and taking chances with my shingles so that I’m on my own in 2010. Photography brings ME back to my life. I’m in love with it. Great post!

stephen hunton says:

on November 10, 2009 at 10:20 am

thanks for this Joe. In a lot of ways, my mind probably sounds like the 19-year old student. I recently got laid off from my career in advertising. Major agency experience, major brands and heading in the direction of being a successful account guy. Over the years I’d been shooting and had plenty of ADs telling me that my eye was good enough to be doing this full-time. I’d been thinking and planning to try to go full-time in 2-years (you know, play it safe build a book, etc… especially since I’m married with 2 kids), but once I got laid off I just started trying to get jobs. It’s scary, it’s a grind, but when I’m producing my own creative product, I just get excited. I believe it can be a career and although there will be a ton of blood, sweat and tears all over my camera (especially this and next year)… it’s MY blood, sweat and tears and that makes the hustle worth it.

Thanks for your openness on this blog. It’s more valuable to us newbies than you could know.
Stephen Hunton

Michael Laverty says:

on November 10, 2009 at 10:21 am

That was just what I needed to read. I’m just starting off in the photography business world & I’m finding it really hard….reading this fills me with a little bit of hope :-)

Cody says:

on November 10, 2009 at 10:27 am

Great post Joe! As an full-time IT manager and a part-time engineering student I can also relate to this problem. I love photography and want to spend as much time as possible doing it. I have often thought of what it would be like to become a pro photographer, however, this would require me to hit the “reset” button on my life…. its a tough decision to set down you science or engineering degree for a passionate hobby.

After doing a seminar with Joe this weekend you can see he still loves photography and is very passionate about it. However, the big fear I have is would I still love photography as much as I do now if it was my livelihood.

Jay Mann says:

on November 10, 2009 at 10:29 am

Excellent post, as always. I certainly agree with the idea of travel and expanding horizons. For me living overseas, not in the garden shots, is like living inside the image, really experiencing it. This way it is possible to maintain a day job and still do the photo thing for fun. Photography is a means of passing a little of the experience on to others.


T Surratt says:

on November 10, 2009 at 10:31 am

Impressive speech Joe and your line of thought could help a lot of kids trying to make a decision about “what to be when I grow up”.
But you forgot to leave your phone number for me to call… :>)

Jason says:

on November 10, 2009 at 10:33 am

Amazing – with an amazing amount of regularity you take complex issues that we face in a cynical world and are able to quintessentially make things sound so simple – and after reading, I often find myself saying, “Well, duh, that makes sense.”

Then I realize beforehand, I was asking the same questions. There is something that burns in all of us, and while you say photography is what burns in you, your transition to teaching and instruction is evident that you have a gift for gab too. Another great post Joe, thanks so much!

Zntgrg says:

on November 10, 2009 at 10:34 am

Feelign the same way, but at 28…i call that “earlier midlife crisis” too :|

Jesse says:

on November 10, 2009 at 10:54 am

My wife wrote to her favorite author, Robert Pirsig, looking for advice. He wrote back, as you did, and it made a huge impression on her.

Joe, you’ve obviously made a big impact in the photo world with the path you chose. But by sharing your knowledge and advice, via workshops, the blog, and letters like this — I wonder if you are making an even greater impact on the photo community. And that is not to diminish the impact of your images alone.

Thanks for all you do. And thanks for taking time and consideration to share letters like this. This old dog still appreciates the inspiration and life lessons.

Lloyd Eldredge says:

on November 10, 2009 at 10:59 am

Great stuff. I needed to hear that too… even at my age.

So, is there a “rest of the story”?

Lyubov Strauss says:

on November 10, 2009 at 11:03 am

Your words is truth from your soul. It is excellent. I always believe that you are great photographer, gifted artist,great speaker and great teacher. Not every photographer could be a great teacher but you could. You have ability to receive it and give it, and you treat your talent as a gift which it is not your property and your pride but something was giving to you to serve others and create beautiful world around you. You have that passion and commitment to you journey which you were taking years ago, and you are never give up making mistakes, falling down, and getting up again to continue your journey. Young people in age 19 couldn’t see their future, and we could when we been on the road for 20-30 years. It is so clear for us that we are on right path, and we ready to any obstacles because we have been through so many already that we don’t feel pain anymore. Photography is the gift which will choose you, and later on you could be using your gift because you devote your life to it. Not everybody could be the artist, or photographer. It is not easy journey which everybody could take it. Joe had great teachers, and great masters to teach him photography, and I blessed to meet great photographers, and had great teachers. Young photographer should listen to the call. If it is your journey, and your destiny, nothing in the world will stop you doing photography, and each time you will have support and help, and knowledge to follow your journey. You have to be hard worker, study everyday, increase your knowledge and wisdom, because when the question will come you will have the answer. It is fun, challenge, mystery, and knowledge. It is not easy road, but you want to have interesting life with different things every day, and challenge every day, take this road and enjoy the journey.
Joe, we need your teaching in St.Louis, Missouri. We are waiting for you to come with Scott Kelby next year for Photoshop World. We have thousand of young and professional photographers who needs your wisdom and advice. Please let us know when you are coming to St.Louis, Missouri.

martin says:

on November 10, 2009 at 11:05 am

great reply…poetic.

Bill Bogle, Jr. says:

on November 10, 2009 at 11:13 am

Joe, wonderful post. With a daughter in College majoring in PJ (she is a junior at RIT) it is a sobering but essential post. She has been wondering the questions you ponder, including the really fundamental issues (as a HS senior at 17, she asked how individuals get health care coverage if they are on their own. At her age I was trying to figure out how to get into college).

It must be a generational thing as well. My Dad insisted the same thing, but I did not follow it, much to my chagrin. My belief is that debt from student loans stifles creativity, as we are required to pay those loans off as soon as we graduate, and it mandates a steady income. We are getting far away from that lifetime employer, and it seems that the whole business model is changing at warp speed.

I do believe that any business courses photo or art students can take are essential. Most businesses fail not from lack of excitement or new products, but lack of a business plan or practice. Banks don’t like ideas, they like to lend on plans and income. I think a disciplined approach to all of it is essential.

Bill Bogle, Jr.

Emmanuel Carvalho says:

on November 10, 2009 at 11:17 am

Great post. Inspirational!

Al says:

on November 10, 2009 at 11:22 am

Joe, thank you for posting this. At 53 I am still deciding what I want to do when I grow up. Your response was brilliant. You are as good a writer as you are a photographer….art with the camera and art with words. You “da man” !!

William Chinn says:

on November 10, 2009 at 11:35 am

Never expect a yes/no answer from Joe McNally. What you get is the proper answer for you based off of years of life experience. Whether you ask what do I want to be when I grow up or how do I light the scene in a Los Angeles photo seminar, be prepared to think out an answer or two or three. It may be right or wrong, but it is your answer. Great blog, great seminar.

Alex says:

on November 10, 2009 at 11:48 am

Thank you Joe. Thank you for being open-hearted. Thank you for your time and your passion.

This post did impact me. I will save this post in order to go back and read again, again and again.

Thank you.

24-year, master student in Mgmt, photography loving, lost in the world, lost in “what I wanna do”-thoughts… yearning for photography and “contribute to a better world”… / Alex

Graham says:

on November 10, 2009 at 12:11 pm

Joe, that was such a thoughtful letter. You truly are an inspiration.


pedrojoper says:

on November 10, 2009 at 12:18 pm

Wise words! Kinda, sorta in the same situation (or was, a while back, I made the switch from Civil Engineering to Audiovisual Communication). Also 24 y.o. and was a bit lost until a few months ago, now I’ll just try and live doing what I love and hope to get payed for it :) I’m getting a degree anyway, and it includes video, stills, editing, 3d animations and so on, so I’m reasonably confident I’ll get payed…

Richard says:

on November 10, 2009 at 12:22 pm

As always yet another pearl from someone who has been further down the rabbit hole, than most of us dare dream of going.

I am punished with two passions – flying (my career) and photography (my hobby-that-sometimes-makes-me-some-cash).

While I don’t regret choosing the former over the latter, I do see it day in and day out.

Sit in an airport and watch the people pass you by… there are a lot of people who have 2 lives… the one they live, and the one they wish they did.

Maybe a good photoessay…

Bart says:

on November 10, 2009 at 1:18 pm

As I enter into retirement, I’m faced with the same questions. I appreciate your response as it reminds me of grabbing hold of my passion and running with it. I feel like you tossed a Hail Mary and I caught it. Thanks Joe!

karthik says:

on November 10, 2009 at 1:44 pm

wow, this is a great post. Thanks for this…

I am at 20 now. I feel the same as the student who mailed you. I feel like you have personally advised me, after reading this.


chanelle richardson says:

on November 10, 2009 at 1:50 pm

i feel as though this was written for me. just when i needed to hear it most.

motivating. inspiring.
beautiful words.

thank you.

Joshua says:

on November 10, 2009 at 1:55 pm

Awesome post. Could have been shorter. he he. Just kidding.

Certainly makes me sit up and think whether I want to be doing what I’m doing, 10 years from now. Answer is NO :-)

Hottshots says:

on November 10, 2009 at 2:03 pm

Joe, I can’t decide if you’re a better writer or photographer.
You make your words count in the way you make a single SB-900 light a remarkable image.
Thanks Joe for every photo you shoot and every word you write.

Francis says:

on November 10, 2009 at 2:17 pm

Wow! Exactly what I needed when I needed. Love the letter and the answer.
Thank you Joe!

Frank says:

on November 10, 2009 at 2:31 pm

It’s already said many times but can’t be said enough.

Thank you for doing this and thank you for being You.

Frank Wise says:

on November 10, 2009 at 2:45 pm


Thank you for continuing to inspire us all, and letting us know they we aren’t crazy, that others have the same infliction we have, this “Photography bug”

You are extremely talented, very witty, and exceptionally humble. Was proud to be a member of the audience at your LA seminar, and, sorry to say this, next time your here, I’ll be back ;-)


Andrei says:

on November 10, 2009 at 2:56 pm

If what Joe says here is true and he is honest (and I believe he might be) than it’s really hard to be in photography AND to photograph what you love AND make money with it. If not even McNally Photography doesn’t fire all cylinders then what can the rest of us mortals say… ? The thing is if you love what you do and are content with what you have (Heb 13:5) then you should love your life and keep going.

Danté Bell says:

on November 10, 2009 at 3:02 pm

Joe, what a timely post for me to read. I’m in the midst of major upheaval in my life and am preparing for major changes. I’ve been in IT for 25 years and hung out my own shingle for a major portion of what is loosely termed, my career. On Victoria Weekend in 2007 I was babysitting some servers in Halifax and my IT work well ran dry overnight. There as absolutely nothing. So I majorly dumbed down my resume and got a really junior job to tied me over.

Well, it hasn’t exactly done that, with me making over $35K less than I made in 1991. In fact, I’ve lost both of my houses to foreclosure and regret working my arse off to make payments for 15 years to lose it anyway.

In college, I was lucky to take some courses outside my majors and one of those was Photography. The instructor said I really had some aptitude and should pursue it further. Oh, by the way, she was a total babe, but that’s another story. It helped that my dad was an avid photographer, an engineer back when they were valued, and color blind, and my mom is a painter/sculptor.

Everywhere I went I took my A-1 with me, much to the annoyance of everyone. That is until one day at the marina, my camera fell out of the back of the car, smack down on the Tokina zoom lens! Nothing broke, but everything jammed, I couldn’t get the lens off and it was blurred in the middle. So, I quit taking it around and starting thinking about digital, but to get something comparable to my A-1 outfit was way over my price range. Finally got a XTi with some decent lenses and started back up again. But, my creativity was at an impasse. I hated the on-camera flash, but thought you need $20,000 of lighting to get things off the camera. That is until I discovered The Strobist and that’s how I started reading your blog.

The combination has worked to get me going again. I only regret that I didn’t get out of IT years ago and stayed with photography. Funny thing is, I really didn’t want to end up a poor, house-less photog, but am there anyway. So, I’m planning on re-entering the photo world, thanks to you guys and others. I’m even selling my 9′ Brunswick Anniversary pool table to get my start-up funds for some off camera flashes! You know I’m serious about this because I love that table :)

Thanks for the inspiration to pursue something new.

Dave says:

on November 10, 2009 at 3:37 pm

Dear Joe,

The eloquence of your words does not take a back seat to the eloquence of your camera. They are one and the same.

As someone who is currently writing the middle chapters of his dog-eared, meandering book of life, I am envious of the young minds who are fortunate enough to be touched so early by your wisdom and giving heart. (To all of you: embrace these words and ideas. They are a gift.) After all these years, I still find myself at the same crossroad, wondering what direction to point my sails. Is it too late? Has my window of opportunity closed? I hope to answer these questions in my remaining chapters. I do know that it is with regret that I never encountered similar words of wisdom during my formative years. Who knows which path I would have chosen?

I could have been a contender…

Steve says:

on November 10, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Your letter was one of the kindest and wisest bits of advice I have read. I’m sure it was much appreciated by the young photog.

caroline says:

on November 10, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Someone mentioned student loans stifling creativity… I remember leaving Chatham and thinking “Wait, you gave me a film degree and expect me to be able to pay you $30,000?!”

I remember talking to my dad, my junior year of college. I was going for Elementary Education, but wanted to do the art school thing instead. He hedged, thought maybe I should dual major, or do art on the side, or something so I’d still be able to make a living.

Maybe an hour or so later, he comes back in the room. Said forget it, I’m wrong. Do what makes you happy, you’ll figure out the rest.

So that’s what I’ve been doing. And I have a good feeling that’s what this kid will be doing, too, thanks to you.

Bill Rogers says:

on November 10, 2009 at 4:14 pm

I gotta say, what a bunch of bullshit! Well-crafted bullshit, but nonetheless … bullshit. Given the current state of turmoil in the industry, the only logical career advice about photography has to be run away! run away! run away! That rabbit’s got a vicious streak a mile wide! It’s a killer! He’s got huge, sharp …

Sorry, Joe. Editorial balance.

LindaB says:

on November 10, 2009 at 5:35 pm

Great post and words of wisdom, Joe.

Photography only found its way into my life a little over 2 years ago and I’m pushing 60. If only I were 19 again, suffering the angst of what could be and had such inspirational… Ah, BUT wishing things had been different is a waste of my time and we never know how much of that we have! Here and now I am having a blast with this new journey of discovery and creativity. That doesn’t lessen my appreciation for the thoughts you shared with this young man, even if they don’t apply to me the same way now as they might have 40 years ago. I’m equally moved by the generosity of your reply; taking time out of your busy life to respond in a meaningful way to a near stranger. This world needs more of that and it makes me feel hopeful. So thanks for that!

Bill Rogers, it’s all about perception and you’re reply may have been tongue-in-cheek, but I took more from Joe’s post than an offering of career advice. That we can be masters of our own destiny and, by increasing our exposure to new and differing experiences and influences, we exponentially increase our chances to discover our own life’s epiphany. I think few achieve that and I envy them.

I hear Paul Harvey’s voice saying “…and now, the rest of the story”. I’d love to know what paths this young man followed and where they have led him today.

J. Kiely Jr. says:

on November 10, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Joe – as usual, great stuff.
I’d only want to tell this student that it’s not about what you do, it’s all about who you are, and if what you do as work defines who you are, then you are not thinking big enough.
Of late, the way I see it finding fulfillment in life is a constant balance between self and other. I’d wager to bet many photographers / artists battle these challenges well beyond the “mortal coil” as it were.

I find great value in your words and images. Thanks for sharing.


Riley Caton says:

on November 10, 2009 at 6:15 pm

Joe – It is a struggle. I think it is supposed to be that way. If it weren’t, what would be the point? – Thank you!

Buddy Lee says:

on November 10, 2009 at 6:26 pm

Joe you have done it again. You hit the nail on the head! I am sure when I was a young pup someone shared this kind of advice and things to think about for my future of choice but then maybe I was not in a space to hear them. It was probably in my forties that this kind of advice really kicked in. And then I think there is a natural progression of trying to figure out who I am and who I want to become. Today is my 67th birthday and I am still trying to figure out who I want to become. While it is true that I do not make my living from photography, photography is soul food for me. The qualitative side of life if you will. I have often wondered if I put the same amount of energy and desire into photography fifty years ago that I put into my present profession where would I be. I think it all comes down to a passion and the desire to keep an open mind about what the possibilities are. None of us know where the road might take us but by golly we are going down that road, so attack the journey with vigor! Squeeze the most out of it and feed that passion. It seems the older I get the more passion I have which I am pretty sure keeps one alive and vigorous. It just amazes me how fast this life speeds on by. Joe I always appreciate your thoughts and feelings. This is one of your absolute best. And with all due respect to the previous responder. If that’s what you believe then you are right. As someone said “do not tell me that it can’t be done until I have done it”. Keep up the good works.

John says:

on November 10, 2009 at 6:50 pm

Thank You. Just…… Thank You.

Another aimless, wandering, freaked out but hopelessly in love with the world photographer.

John Hanacek says:

on November 10, 2009 at 7:14 pm

You just blew my mind. To hear you say you weren’t involved in photography at 19 really made me pause and examine myself. I’m 19 and constantly worry that my work is not nearly good enough compared to my peers… but it turns out that I could have a future yet.

You may not read this comment, but that’s fine. I just wanted to let you know that this blog post has shaken me to my core and set my photographic soul free. Thank you Mr. McNally.

Dana says:

on November 10, 2009 at 7:57 pm

Joe, thanks for your insight and heart-felt answer to the young man. At 63, I’m still wishing I had become a photographer instead of a graphic designer. Shoulda, woulda, coulda. But, as a 5-foot 3″ woman, I’ll never become a basketball star, and as an aging graphic designer, I’ll never become a professional photographer. But, I am becoming a damn good amateur, and feeling the joy, the challenge, the thrill of the hunt, and the satisfaction of a few good frames. Your advice was spot on, we never really stop looking — why should we? Those that wander are not always lost.

edd carlile says:

on November 10, 2009 at 8:49 pm

Stirring words indeed.
(Joe Rocks!)

Andrew C says:

on November 10, 2009 at 9:02 pm

Thanks Joe. You give me courage… I only began taking any photo images at 27, every one else I’ve met had been doing it since they were kids. I wonder what the hell I was thinking some times. BUT, I’d rather take pictures, even of nuts and bolts, for money than almost any other job I’ve ever had. When I think of giving up photography I remind myself of this. Thanks Joe

Blake says:

on November 10, 2009 at 9:05 pm


That was a great letter that I’m sure meant a lot to that young adult. You are a true role model.

Aswirly says:

on November 10, 2009 at 9:17 pm

What a wise and thoughtful reply. I’m sure he was touched to recieve it, just as we are touched to read it here.

Peter says:

on November 10, 2009 at 9:24 pm

Hi – thought I would put my 2 cents in too! Joe’s words are sound, but after reading the above comments can also add a couple of ideas/points. I think it is absolutely necessary to maintain an open mind and grab the opportunities that present themselves – and not be afraid of a detour along the way. My path has taken me fro roof thatcher/photog to senior vice president of a major corporation to dive instructor (last change was made at the age of 52). All this has taught me that ballast is important (trying a lot of different things) and that luck is something you make. My camera was on the shelf for far too many years and with my new life has come out again. So do as Joe suggested – travel, try stuff, sweep streets, serve breakfast – it will all help establish a sense of direction and give you some ballast to execute your vision with.

Daniel says:

on November 10, 2009 at 9:34 pm

Great words. You could have been a writer! Wait, you are a writer! HaHa.
Really, though I thought that words can only be equal to the time you took to write them. That’s what the world needs today…Mentors. Its so valuable yet so underappreciated and sought after.

Anyone care to mentor me?

Louis Pang says:

on November 10, 2009 at 9:54 pm

Joe: You have the rare double gifts writing and photographing so well…your biggest draw is always your down-to-earth honesty which is even rarer. We live in a time where photographers are propelled into larger-than-life rock stars. Yet you described your business as “not firing all cylinders”. I find this kind of gut level honesty very refreshing. That’s a big reason I want you to speak in my country. We could use your inspiration in photography, life and the Joe McNally honesty and down-to-earth approach.

Simon says:

on November 10, 2009 at 11:23 pm

Every time I read your blog I come away with something valuable – and not always related to photography. You are a truly great & inspirational human being whom I hope to be fortunate enough to meet one day in person.

Thanks Joe

Jack Thompson says:

on November 10, 2009 at 11:24 pm

Hey Joe, I just turned thirteen and spent my birthday in my birhplace NYC, NY on the weekend. I love photography, and I only discovered it last year when I borowed my dads Nikormat and shot some black and white around my house, This post is just plain inspiring, on so many levels, my ambition is to study journalism at NYU, I really got the inspiration to do that when I bought your book The Momment It Clicks, since I bought that, I have built a base of freinds from photographing them skiing, Its my biggest pleasure to go out and just shoot, and my favourite satifaction when I say “I got the shot” and look at my LCD.

Thanks for the inpiration, I get it everytime I read your blog!
Jack Thompson

Bill M says:

on November 10, 2009 at 11:24 pm

Thanks. Really.

This isn’t just a letter to a youngster. It’s a letter to anybody struggling to find their way.

Barbara Molyneaux says:

on November 10, 2009 at 11:48 pm

Reading your post sent me to search for a newspaper photo I remember. I found it. You are standing in front of your exhibit, “Song of the North Sea” which was on view in the Newhouse Lobby. It was a big deal then. That irresistible force has been pulling you for a long time… and then it seems like yesterday.

Ashley says:

on November 11, 2009 at 12:06 am


My dad was from Lowestoft.

Gotta love Joe!

Randy Frost says:

on November 11, 2009 at 12:28 am

I hope you don’t plan on putting the jalopy in park anytime soon to pursue that crazy writing idea you had years back.

It is nice to see that the guys you look up to or aspire to be like, still ponder the direction they are going.

Thank you Joe for keeping it true and real. Keep doing what you do and letting people know its not all about great gigs with beautiful people and celebrities, but a real job of getting dirty and a constant worry of falling on your face. Like you said, “One aw shit, wipes out three thataboys!”

Kevin Nha says:

on November 11, 2009 at 4:32 am

I’m 27 right now. I graduated with a Film Degree. I always wanted to do photography since I was 13. My first camera was Canon Pellix. I still have it. But the reason why I went to film school is because I thought photographers don’t make enough money. Now I regret so much. It’s not about the money. It is about what I love to do the most. I should’ve majored what I love the most. I love every bit of photography. Now I’m in junior college trying to learn photography. But still I have doubt in my mind about how I am going to survive in this world with a camera. Am I talented? I don’t know.. Only thing I know is photography is everything to me. I’m ready to be poor. We’ll see how it goes in about 10-20 years.

Brandon says:

on November 11, 2009 at 6:15 am

I was inspired when I first heard you talk, inspired when I read your books, and inspired again by this post, which is my favorite yet.

5 years after graduating college in an unrelated major, during which time I unsure of the direction I would take in life, I am back in school studying photography. For the first time I have a picture of what I want to do with my life, even if it is still not in clear focus. Looking ahead to a career that guarantees harder work, more competition, and less pay than ever, it can be hard to put into words the justification that compels one to take such a leap.

Reading words like these is a blessing for me and I’m sure many others that have made the difficult choice to pursue one’s interests over taking the safer, more practical route that is often ingrained in our psyche as the ONLY choice.

Thank you sincerely for the post, I will pass it along to my peers.

Stefan says:

on November 11, 2009 at 7:29 am

Thanks, Joe

Reading this makes me more confident that what I’m about to do is The Right Thing.

After being a programmer for ten years, a job I took because there were only worse alternatives, I finally admitted to myself recently that it isn’t something I want to do for the rest of my life. At all.

So early October I decided to sign up for photography education, and it’s starting this December. It’ll take four years, but after that I hope I’ll be doing what I love most. Nah, “hope” isn’t the right word. I know I’ll be doing what I love most.

Thanks again

Christine says:

on November 11, 2009 at 7:55 am

I wish I could have read this thirty years ago…

Markus Linke says:

on November 11, 2009 at 10:24 am

@Caroline: Great Dad!

Chris Kallevag says:

on November 11, 2009 at 10:52 am

Wise words from Joe, thank you! I’m 45 years young with university degree in a different field. I was okay (barely) but bored with what I was doing, didn’t have the passion. After have had photography as a hobby for the last 25 years I decided to do it professionally. Now I’m taking a prof. photography course and have registered a bushiness.
I have been self employed for the last 10 years and studied quite a bit of marketing and sales on my own. For all of us who have found our passion but are insecure/scared/worried and asking our self “How the heck do I make a living as a photographer?” I can tell what I learned and started to implement.
It’s not primary how skilled you are, it’s (unfortunately) how you marketing and sell your self which makes the difference if you going to eat Cheetos or steak for supper.
I plan to be flexible, have a goal what you like to shoot but don’t be too rigid. If you just want to shoot celebrities in their 50+ million homes you will eat more Cheetos…
Do some “freebies”, I read at Strobist.com (David Hobby’s) site about approach people you want to shoot and offer it for free. It’s a great way to build your portfolio with the type of photography you love to do. I will certainly follow that advice.
I got some help and still get it from down to earth, no B.S. marketing and sales which applies to any business. Please email me (kallevag@eastlink.ca)if you like to have some suggestions what to read/study. The photographer is just one of the hats you have to wear if you like to run your own business.
Just a few words from a newbie photographer who finally found his path in life. And on a regular basis get inspired by great photographers like Joe McNally. Thanks again!

David Kendrick says:

on November 11, 2009 at 10:54 am

Your words to that young man had some great wisdom in them, and struck an old, faintly remembered key in me.

19 is an age where the whole world is open to you, and you only have a glimmer of what you would like to do for a job for the rest of your life!

It’s pretty daunting and overwhelming when you think about it at that age. I remember those same thoughts occurred to me 40 years ago, after I was booted out of my parent’s house, after graduating from high school! I chose college, switched majors a couple of times, got out with a degree in “Construction Engineering”, went to work with my dad in his excavating and grading business (really big dirt toys), finally took over the business, and retired last weekend after working there for 39 years, full time for 35 years.

Photography is my passion though, and I am trying to find a way to pursue that in some capacity, that will yield a little extra retirement money. I love taking pictures of my fly fishing trips, the Eastern Sierras, my granddaughters, etc.

Your advice to that young man, to explore different options is also relevant to me as well, a newly retired 59 year old.

By the way, your Blog site is the best in the business and is always informational and highly entertaining. Your irreverent and self deprecating humor and writing style is great, and I find myself laughing a lot at the way you phrase things!

Best of all, you take spectacular photos, and you are a source of great inspiration and information to me.


Chris says:

on November 11, 2009 at 1:04 pm

32 and still lost. :)

Thanks for the post Joe, great advice for all of us, not just the youngin’.

Joe halliday says:

on November 11, 2009 at 1:04 pm

Great blog post, even better words of inspiration…

Ronni M. says:

on November 11, 2009 at 3:08 pm

Thank you so much for posting this. As a late starter, it is really easy to feel overwhelmed by all that is going on now while trying to catch up. So this kind of encouragement is invaluable to me and countless others I’m sure.
Thanks again for all you do.

John A. says:

on November 11, 2009 at 8:26 pm

Hmmm… while I am not a 19 year old kid anymore, your response was definitely resonating. I imagine those were some of the most memorable words that young student has heard(read) and I bet he still remembers it well.

This was my favorite bit “I am still on safari here, the great picture hunt,…”

I’m going to keep that one. =)

Daniel Solorio says:

on November 11, 2009 at 9:23 pm

Thank you, thank you very much for this post. I’m not young( well I’am) I’m certainly young as a photographer. A combination of all you guys (chase, strobist, annie Lev, kelby, syl, zack arias, and many others) i feel recharged, and push to go and push myself do things, and pursue what i always have really loved.

Thank you very much for the insight.


Fadi Kelada says:

on November 12, 2009 at 6:58 am

Thank you very much Joe for your letter and your thoughts.

Alex Pletcher says:

on November 12, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Thanks Joe! I’m almost 18 and I have a passion for photography, but am definitely having trouble figuring out what the best path for me would be. I’m planning on going to an art school next year and this post has definitely been an encouragement to follow in the path of what I hope and imagine myself to be someday.

Jake says:

on November 12, 2009 at 11:07 pm

Fantastic Stuff. Truly wonderful. Thanks.

GT says:

on November 13, 2009 at 12:46 am

As many mention, great post and thanks for sharing. I wish that I had someone who could have told me that when I was younger. Especially from someone that you admirer his work and to have a reply from him. PRICELESS advice!! Joe, you are an impressive individual all around and I sure hope to take a class from/workshop from you in the near future.

Short story, yeah, I’m like Joe in one aspect! In high school our art teacher made us do the Walt Disney drawing test. A few weeks after, I received a personal letter from Walt Disney Studio asking me to come down for further testing as an inspiring animator. I was the only one out of the entire school who got that letter, so I was happy because I really like drawing animation. So, here is my mentors advice when I showed them the letter, my parents: “How could you work in the US if you are from Canada!” my career counselor: “Ok, stop dreaming an come back to the real life. Nobody makes a living by drawing animation cartoon unless you want to have a house under the bridge…” Still, today, after 24 years, I remember those words! So, man, I wish that internet would have been invented back then and that I could have email Walt Disney or John L. or better yet, the man of the hour Joe McNally :)

Another advice for you aspiring photographer, take the advice and run with it, really run with it and in 20 some years, you will be writing a completely different story then mine!

Raymond Chou says:

on November 13, 2009 at 6:36 am

Your letter made perfect sense to me, and great quote from Einstein in the end.

Jack Flemmings says:

on November 13, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Joe, thanks for the sharing this letter. It’s good advice. I’ve just turned 60 and been seriously back into photography the past 4 years when I picked up a Nikon D70s and literally felt the passion return. Don’t know where it was for two decades but I’ll never let it go again. And digital rocks! Yeah, I make a living in another field, but thank God I’ve made an impact with photography. There is something about connecting emotionally with others through this media that keeps me at it. Saw you in Los Angeles on November 6; I was the guy that said you were also a good business man. Keep that old jalopy running at all cost, it’s really your soul. God bless, -jack

Jim Powell says:

on November 13, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Fantastic blog. Thanks for sharing this. I imagine it’s been helpful to more than you imagine.

anita says:

on November 13, 2009 at 9:50 pm

This letter is a parent’s worst nightmare. You do know what it takes to get a kid in ivy league schools these days, – four years of careful planning, marketing experts, etc., etc. But, of course, you are right.

We need more top-flight schools that provide engineering and art education so students aren’t forced to choose.

Jonathan Markworth says:

on November 13, 2009 at 11:22 pm

I have another Einstein quote: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler”.

Joe, please accept my gratitude for sharing this personal story. I read it with both joy and sorrow. Joy, as I see another soul like mine who has received a perspective that is admirable and practical. Sorrow, as I was that soul who didn’t have someone like you to offer.

Money pays the bills. To a point, we chose the amount of bills. Photography is about emotion, not money, and if the right emotion, the right philosophy, the right shot to the heart, the right punch to the gut – photography pays the bills and more. But photography is still the capture of the reflection of light off of a subject. Often we cannot control the subject, which controls the light, which by itself is often uncontrollable.

We have not met. I hope we do. But without restriction, you inspire. Please recognize that there are those of use who are not often vocal that are in your debt.


Steve Perks says:

on November 14, 2009 at 8:26 am

I am not a pro and have no real urge to be one.
I have a day job I love, and I love photography.
I have more than decent equipment and am comfortable financially.

I consider myself very, very lucky to be able to shoot what I love, when I want.

I don’t have to do corporate and headshots to put food on the table and if the creativity dries up, I can stop whenever I want until my creative batteries are recharged.

Sure, timing can be an issue, fitting into client schedules, and credentials can be another problem (I’m just venturing into live concert photography)but there are no shortage of opportunities to work in areas of photography that excite me.

I can be a landscape photographer one year, dump it completely and be a people photographer the next (I’ve actually just done this!)Next year, I might be a sports shooter…the ball is in my court (excuse the pun)

I guess what I am saying is don’t go pro to get away from a crappy day job, you could end up just as stifled and unmotivated.

Emulate the styles of the greats like Joe and others who freely and generously share their vast knowledge and experience, develop your own style and enjoy what you do.
If doing this for a living rocks your boat and you have the photographic and business skills to make it happen, go for it!

flounderman says:

on November 15, 2009 at 10:33 am

Serenity Prayer time.

Susan says:

on November 15, 2009 at 4:30 pm

A couple of months ago I turned 50 years old and I had somehow never been to NYC, so I decided what better place to celebrate? So there I was, walking through the city streets, camera in hand, and thinking I’m turning 50 and turning a corner as well…and I plan to keep moving, discovering, reaching, dreaming…life is too short not to.
Great, inspirational post that speaks to all of us….young, old, and those in-between.

Dwayne D.C. Tucker II says:

on November 16, 2009 at 11:27 am


Thank you for posting this; I was reading this the day you twitt about it but I was on my phone now I am here it was easier for me to leave this comment!

I am so confused how to write how I felt when I was reading this; just wow, just wow.

Your Photography Friend,

Dwayne D.C. Tucker II
Nassau, Bahamas

Doug E. says:

on November 16, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Joe –

I am, uh a whole lot older than the student you replied to but have the same fears and trepidations – confusion. So, thank you so very much for writing this blog and sharing this post!

I’m floundering in a poor economy and like so many, have lost my job as the graphics design dept. was shut down and outsourced. While I’m lucky to have stability for awhile, I need to look down the road. I love design, art and photography! I doubt I’ll ever make money enough to “live” off photography, but I am as inspired as I was after 7/1/09 to play with my d700 and follow the light – your posts and enthusiasm fuel those dreams and keep the inspiration fresh.

I have absolutely adopted the “Imagination is better than knowledge” thinking and couldn’t agree more, gee, that Einstein bloke was kinda clever.

So, as I wait for any potential 2010 Dobbs dates (grin) it’s back to weird shooting (Hey, weird requires imagination… Or perhaps I ate too many paint chips as a kid?) and experimenting… With an eye towards the board, not necessarily, the bulls’ eye.

Thanks for all you do for us! Your drive and enthusiasm is truly inspirational – and motivating! My down time is now split between the realities of looking for a paying job and the joy of hearing my flash recycle.



jakob says:

on November 17, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Thanks Joe for sharing this letter and yr thoughts with us! Can`t tell that Im in the “position” of this yet, but maybe later, then I will sure remember!


Thomas C. says:

on November 18, 2009 at 8:03 am

This post is very moving, and could be aswell an “open letter to any young photographer”.

I liked “hang out your own shingle” :)

Al Kirby says:

on November 19, 2009 at 10:51 am

You need to get on to a heavy duty server. Its hard to get on to your site.

Matt Leitholt says:

on November 20, 2009 at 12:32 am

Joe, you work, your writing, your ambition is extremely inspiring. I watch your shoots on Kelby Training, read about different techniques in your books, and just dream about doing what you do. I’m a 17 year old in High School and I really take photography seriously, I’ve been shooting for 2.5 years now and really love photography, it’s my life passion. I hope to meet you someday. I’ll try to give you a call someday, hopefully you have a minute to chat.

Thanks for impacting my life, I wouldn’t be where I am without the inspiration.

Adam says:

on November 20, 2009 at 12:44 am

This is a really great post, thanks for the inspiration!

Travis Lankow says:

on November 20, 2009 at 5:38 am


Thank you so much for writing this. It resonates with me very much and hearing any words of advice or direction is extremely welcome. I’m 22 and photography has been both a compelling force as well as a source of frustration in my life. Like the person who wrote you that letter I chose to embark on a science degree four years ago. Most of the advice I got after high school was that photography was a fine hobby but anyone who tried to pursue it as a career was out of their mind.

This month I’ll have my first paid job as a photographer – doing food and event photos for a local business. It’s a pretty small job but absolutely huge for me. I doubt I would be saying that if it weren’t for your inspiration (and that of a few other photographers in the online community). Thank you.

Hope you have a wonderful holiday


Derrick Young says:

on November 20, 2009 at 6:39 am

Well, timely post for me and I believe this advice applied to any “young Photographer” regardless of age.

See I am 42. and 1 week ago I lost my job as a Systems Analyst a field I have been in for 20 years. I walked out of HR on November 12, 2009 scared, angry and scared some more. But a little part of me felt relief. I hated the Information Technology world. I was tired of the work I was doing and dreamed of one day being a professional Photographer. Being able to shoot, create and visualize. On November 13, 2009 being unemployed for 24 hours I Hung out my shingle. It has been a week now, and I have yet to shoot a single picture. That has me more scared than anything, but I keep telling myself the past weeks work of setting up backgrounds, lighting, curtains, counters, business cards, post cards, signs and more signs is as much needed as taking the pictures. I have several shoots booked for the weekend from customers who have wandered in over the past week. And today I will be hanging the last curtains over the windows the last signs and I will be done setting up. I can already feel the fear building for shooting my customers on the weekend. Will i get the shots they want, will I get the shots I want, will I remember to put the memory card in, are my ceilings high enough are my walls white enough and so many other fears building. But I have Hung out my own shingle.

I read your Blog post Joe and it starts to put some of the fear aside. I feel better inside and inspired to forge ahead as a Mid-Life “Young Photographer”. Here in Canada we have a store that sells a big red Button that when you push it says “That was Easy”, desks all over Canada now have easy buttons on them. I wish it was that easy, but your blogs, videos and books are like a big red McNally button. I read or watch and walk away feeling relief and inspired. Keep up the good work sir and be safe.


Robert Raszczynski says:

on November 20, 2009 at 7:13 am

That’s really moving letter. Thanks for sharing it.

Kimberly says:

on November 20, 2009 at 12:51 pm

Such valuable advice. Thanks for sharing.

Tim Camuso says:

on November 23, 2009 at 9:09 pm

Wow! I wish someone had said this to me 20 years ago.

KLBO says:

on November 25, 2009 at 4:51 am

Thanks for sharing that. I know exactly how this fella feels. I recently graduated from nursing school, but instead of studying for my boards, all I think about is playing with my camera. And even though I may take hundreds of photos with 1 of them being ok, its enough for me to play again tomorrow.

You statement of
“You are just beginning to write your pages, and the thing to remember about this early rough draft is that it hardly matters what you do exactly, as long as you continue to become something close to what you might imagine you want or need to become…” certainly moves me. Even though I know what I ought to do (be practical and take my boards), being practical doesnt seem as important as being true to my dreams.


Steve Marshall says:

on November 26, 2009 at 1:16 pm

A lovely letter – I saw a re-tweet and followed it through to your website. What a find!

The ‘follow your dreams’ urge doesn’t go away… I remember being 19 and wanting to follow a career in photography and somehow taking a detour – now 30 years later I’m finding my way back to the track. I have found a way to bring photography into my day job as a consultant/facilitator – a journey that has taken me about 10 years now – via a couple of Maser’s degrees and a PhD – but in 2010 I will be changing my company name and following the photographic route…

The practicalities of this have involved a whole ton of hard work – applying photography to organisational change, social initiatives, executive coaching etc etc. These days people even commission me ‘just to do a few shots’…

My life is changing and I would say to your young photographer, ‘Think business, think niche, network well and develop your art….’

Don’t expect it to come easy but it can be done… keep the faith!

Steve M

rick says:

on November 27, 2009 at 8:58 pm

What a great letter..as someone who lived the dream of working as a professional photography for over 20 years, before trading it in for a “safe” corporate job, I can only echo your sentiments. Do what you love, and you’ll find a way to make a living out of it.

I now sit, 10 years removed from my “dream job”, trying to claw my way back. I agree with Steve,..”think business and network”…A love for photography with no idea how to sell it, is a hobby. However, in the Internet age, there are more revenue streams available than ever before.

If I were to suggest 3 things to aspiring photographers, it would be to study business, marketing, and shoot, shoot, shoot.

Roy says:

on November 29, 2009 at 4:43 pm

Joe – Good advice that applies to life, including photography. I am at the opposite end of this thing we call the human life-span at 79 years of age. I have done so many things, worked so many jobs, been way up and way down, would probably be considered a failure in a business and monetary sense, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Now, in the shadow side of life, I am heart and soul into an on-again off-again hobby of photography and loving it. After 65 years of being a (sometimes successful) shutter snapper I am taking classes, learning a lot, even using digital to my great surprise, and will remain a dedicated amateur even though some work does sell.
To both you and your young friend, you are never too old, nor are you too young, to start on a path that seems to be what you desire and then change your mind. And if you so decide, you can (and may) change your mind many times before you find your dream. It is all adventure, it is all a journey, and it can be such fun. Good onya.

Susan the Rhino ;) says:

on December 1, 2009 at 10:21 am

“Being lost isn’t the worst thing in the world, either, especially at 19″

But still lost at your 37th… game over, I guess…

But Joe, I read your words again and think u wrote them also for me :)

Carol Lundeen says:

on December 1, 2009 at 11:01 pm

Joe, I’ve been wanting to see you speak for years, especially now, after reading your letter. Thanks for being yourself and letting us know you.

ostrov says:

on December 2, 2009 at 9:40 am

Thank you,
very interesting article

Alvin Yap says:

on December 9, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Dear Joe,
I follow your blog on and off; I do more wildlife photography and am still figuring out how to shoot wolves with softboxes and grids, but I digress. This topic is something that hits close to my heart as I have been through it.

I’ve met some people, though generally younger students who are unsure what to do in life. Two things I will tell them: know thyself, find out what you really like to do in life and try your best to work your way into it, and to a look at this http://www.sloperama.com/advice/lesson40.htm

Keep on shooting :) Love that 200/2VR :)


Cammie Landholm says:

on December 21, 2009 at 3:45 pm


This was passed on to me from a photographer friend of mine who keeps telling me to take the leap of faith and pursue my dream. If I had only myself to worry about I would, but since I’m married with other responsibilities, leaping isn’t a option right now, but I’m in the process of building the path so that when the time presents it’s self I’ll be ready.

I believe God is in charge and he hasn’t quite given me the full signal to jump, but I do believe he will.

The answer you gave your 19 yr old friend is the same answer I try to get my 22 yr old step-daughter understand. Go after your dreams while the responsibilities of your load are light.

Great post thank you.

Garrett Nudd says:

on December 23, 2009 at 9:01 am

Honest. Inspirational. Motivating. The best “essay” I’ve read in a while. Thank you Joe!

CY says:

on December 30, 2009 at 1:52 am

Thanks Joe! Your photos, writings, and thoughtful opinions are really helped and inspired!

Jen Pruett says:

on April 26, 2010 at 2:02 pm

This is amazing essay very inspiring Thank you for sharing Jen

Yuko Versoza says:

on June 4, 2010 at 9:44 am

I’m thankful for ur neat post! I will be subscribing

Komkrit says:

on June 8, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Good afternoon Joe,

I’m somehow wandering around today and stop by at your site and this blog. This is called, by me, a journey to unknown, however the life style which you, we’ve chosen, is the fullest way to live life, at least I believe it is. Totally, true, inspire, and real. Me too driving the same car you do, the one which still get me around. You are full of energy and vision. Those are most needed by whose trying to make the different. Thank you for sharing what you do to everyone. I appreciate your works and life style also looking up to see more to where you go…by the way I like the mini video of Bob and you. That was cool.

All the best.


osago says:

on January 16, 2011 at 10:28 am

I do not regret that spent a couple of minutes to read. Write often, yet surely’ll go read something new.

Covering Letter says:

on July 2, 2011 at 4:01 am

The fact that you put your camera to your eye instead of running on 9/11 indicates something restless and perhaps unusual in your makeup, and as someone familiar with being regarded as unusual, I can tell you it is definitely a two edged sword. The things you struggle with now you will struggle with your entire life.

Covering Letter says:

on July 2, 2011 at 4:03 am

I’ve been fortunate in that I have been able to act on and make a living out of some largely irresponsible urges. I have had a bit of a comic book of a life, I am still drawing the panels.

Michael Wallace says:

on December 18, 2011 at 2:11 am

Your blog has definitely inspired me to really completely change my way of writing. I want to let you know I appreciate your great work.

Leave a Reply