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On LIFE, and Loengard

Aug 30

In Books at 6:07am

LIFE is strange, right? And wonderful.  It is, “Life Its Own Self,” as Dan Jenkins once famously wrote. I shot my first job for the venerable picture magazine that was once everybody’s TV in 1984. Became a staff photographer in 1994. Last one in a series of 90 staffers. Now, 26 years after my first frame, I just finished another project that, I’m proud to say, goes to print sporting that famous red and white logo.picture-3

Never written a guide before. Yikes. Lots of stuff to think about. There’s tons of info in it gained from 30 years out there with a camera in my hand. I’d sit down to write, and have this mental image of my brain as a dump truck, complete with backup warning, starting to pour stuff into my computer. Having done that of course, it would need to be shaped and formed, and I would somehow have to take my photo lingo shorthand and turn it into English. The book starts with the moment you open the box you just got, the one with the digital camera inside, and goes from those super basics right through lenses, light, color, composition to photo terms and concepts, and shooting strategies that make pictures better. Along the way, I drop in little blog like essays that relate field strategies and expertise in a fairly amusing and irreverent (hey, it’s me) way. The result is a guide that covers the basics, with anecdotes about how those basics save your butt when confronted with a photo situation that is decidedly not so basic.

Started on LIFE’s path years ago via being assigned by John Loengard, perhaps the most visually intelligent editor I have ever worked for.


A legendary shooter in his own right, he went from location work to the editor’s desk with impact and influence. (Not all shooters can do this. Many have tried, only to find they should have stayed on the street, and continued to do that which they were good at–shoot pictures.)

Not so John. He’s equally formidable with a camera, or a loupe. In his role as picture editor, to say he was provocative is to understate the case. He got you wired up for the assignment, made you nervous (at least he did me), and dropped incongruent and startling picture notions into your noodle. In short, he got you to think.

Thoughtful pictures are his forte. His book, Pictures Under Discussion, is a must for anyone who might want to do this seriously.




There are gifts that accrue from hanging in there and doing this nutty thing for as long as I have. One truly astonishing one–John wrote the forward for this book. His writing, just as intelligent as his photography, becomes a link between the historic LIFE of film times, and nowadays, with pictures as ones and zeroes. I followed suit in my writing. The book is all about digital shooting. But there are some film pictures in it. Why? Because none of the underpinnings of shooting good pictures have really changed. It remains, then and now, a situational, improvisational, nail biting, uncertain thing to do. It is first and foremost an art and craft powered by your head and your heart, and your sense of the world. The machine in your hands is immaterial. But–this powerful new digital machine can be mysterious and needs explaining. Hence the book.

I can say it has been a truly wonderful LIFE. I was a bit of a fireman for the magazine. Ever the generalist, I got  sent to cover all manner of things. In Russia, I bounced around, weightless, in pseudo-space.


Spent time with Leonard Bernstein as he composed.


Went to Rwanda after the genocide.


Took the clothes off the Olympic team in ’96.


Did a portrait of Kim, “the napalm girl,” and saw how someone’s entire life can spin on the snap of a shutter.


And, in a decidedly dad moment, put my kid on the cover. (Hey, I saved the mag some dough. No model fee. How’s that for a nice, juicy rationalization?)


In short, had the privilege of seeing and recording lots of different bits and pieces of life as people live it. Learned a lot of lessons. Tried to hold up, as best I could, the tradition of vibrant storytelling that was the indelible imprint of the magazine. In this book, I talk a lot about the how to. That’s a given. “How does this thing work?” is explained and re-explained. I also offer up notions about the “why for?” the “what if,” and the “you might just want to.”

In short, I talk about being a shooter. How you do it, and why you do it.

Many of the LIFE photogs were heroes and mentors to me. I was offered a small space in the book for a dedication. See below.

This book is dedicated to those who went before. To what they saw, and how
they saw it. And to the fact that, sometimes at great peril, in impossible
conditions, with all odds against them, they shot it well and beautifully,
and shared it with us. Their work is the stuff of all our memories.

More tk…

Joe Sankey says:

on August 30, 2010 at 6:50 am

Just awesome, Joe. And well said.

Penny says:

on August 30, 2010 at 6:55 am

Wow…what great images to show the span of your LIFE. What a range of emotion each image brings. You are a master at your craft and I enjoy coming to your blog each day to see your images, read your words, and be inspired.

Walt Calahan says:

on August 30, 2010 at 7:03 am


Can’t wait to get a copy. Perhaps it can be a textbook for the Introduction of Digital Photography course I teach. My college students deserve the very best, which you always provide.

Gregory PFISTER says:

on August 30, 2010 at 7:05 am

Hi Joe,
Great post. I love your story telling skills.
I can’t wait to get my hands on your new book, but I hope it’s closer to “The moment it clicks” with more details than all these shoot-like-a-pro guides (for this, there’s Scott Kelby).

Jojo Mamangun says:

on August 30, 2010 at 7:41 am

Hi Joe! Congrats on the new book! A guide book is always a must for newb and pros alike.

david says:

on August 30, 2010 at 7:46 am

I can’t wait to read your new book, Joe. All of your books have been not only helpful, but fun to read as well. I expect this one will be just as good.

Martin says:

on August 30, 2010 at 8:06 am

Great work again. Pre-ordered the book on Amazon. Can’t wait to get it.

Donna says:

on August 30, 2010 at 8:07 am

Congratulations!! No doubt that this will be a bestseller before it’s even released. I bought “The Moment It Clicks” and “The Hotshoe Diaries” and even though I rarely use flash, I am a great admirer of your work & words. I’m having to give up all my gear, but I’ll still buy this book to serve as an attachment to this passion until I have a camera again.

John A. says:

on August 30, 2010 at 8:12 am

Congratulations Joe! I went and added this to my wish list on Amazon. I thoroughly enjoy your writing just as much as I enjoy your photography. Looking forward to getting a copy of this.

Harvey Chua says:

on August 30, 2010 at 8:22 am

YOU’RE ONE GREAT PHOTOGRAPHER! Your book, like your blogs, will be an inspiration to many.

Anton Raves says:

on August 30, 2010 at 8:31 am


Will the book be available at the time Photokina in Cologne is kicking off in Germany, the end of September…? Will you be there to autograph it…?

Mark says:

on August 30, 2010 at 8:34 am

Brilliant. Congratulations my friend. You brought us all memories with your camera.

Matthew Williams says:

on August 30, 2010 at 8:38 am

Hey Joe,

Already pre-ordered the book through amazon, can’t wait for it to come out. Seems there is always so much to be learned from everything you create. Congrats on the book, can’t wait to get it!

Joe McNally says:

on August 30, 2010 at 8:57 am

Sorry, Anton…no….release date is Oct. 19…Joe

johnwaire says:

on August 30, 2010 at 10:10 am

that’s awesome joe! you continue to inspire and raise the bar…

Karen Vaisman says:

on August 30, 2010 at 10:17 am

Looking forward to it! Your ideas are equally as inspirational as your outstanding images. Thanks for making us all think!

Lorri E says:

on August 30, 2010 at 10:21 am

I can’t wait to get this book. Your photos always evoke so much emotion. You have provided the world so much in your photos.

By the way, I don’t normally have a fear of heights but when I look at some of your photos like the changing of the lightbulb on the Empire State Building, I suddenly know what it is like to have a fear of heights.

Ingoman says:

on August 30, 2010 at 10:31 am

Can’t wait to get a copy Joe! And hope to have the chance getting it signed as the other one…
Way to go!

Wayne says:

on August 30, 2010 at 10:37 am

Just pre-ordered it! Can’t wait.


Linda Brinckehroff says:

on August 30, 2010 at 10:58 am

Congratulations Joe on the birth of your lastest book.

I’m giving this book to everyone in the family for Christmas.

The dedication made me cry – you are a master wordsmith – always so poignant.

Michael P. Majewski says:

on August 30, 2010 at 11:07 am

Awesome Piece Joe. I can’t imagine how great an opportunity it would be to shoot for a publication like Life. I’ve always been inspired by the imagery that graced its pages, even before I picked up a camera or knew what photography was.

Patrick Delany says:

on August 30, 2010 at 12:09 pm


I just pre-ordered your book, really looking forward to the read. The book cover picture on Amazon is different than on your blog post, can’t wait to see which is the final version. Thanks for the brain dump! Here’s to lots of copies sold. Cheers!

Eric Politzer says:

on August 30, 2010 at 12:25 pm

beautiful, touching, classy dedication. very much looking forward to the book’s release. hope you and Drew made it home safely and comfortably from the Land of the Ices

ziserfan says:

on August 30, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Preordered it brotha…give any props to the Zumbrella?

Hernan Zenteno says:

on August 30, 2010 at 1:31 pm

I grew seeing latin american edition of Life that my father have in a shed in the back of our house. I am still amazed how in one place can work all this different photographers. I would like to know more about John Loengard because i read his comments about be a good editor and I include pass some of his comments to my editors, without reply (shame). He knew well how different we are in the field. I still love his book What they saw, my preferred book about photographers working in editorial environment. Sorry for take a comment aside your book, i am sure you will have good luck with this publication, but i really appreciate the picture and comments of Loengard of who i would like to know some more opinions about actual state of editorial publications of photographs. Many thanks and good luck from Argentine.

Steve Harrison says:

on August 30, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Mr. McNally,

Like most I respect your work and the time you take to share your knowledge.
I read all your material, watch your videos and follow your blog.

That being said I couldn’t help but notice (and couldn’t believe nobody else mentioned it)
After stating:

“Started on LIFE’s path years ago via being assigned by John Loengard, perhaps the most visually intelligent editor I have ever worked for.”

But…Uuhhmm, you cut his head off!


Orlando Enriquez says:

on August 30, 2010 at 2:12 pm

There’s very little to say about this news that has not been said already. Everyone who knows Joe Mcnally, and has had the opportunity to read one of his books, participate in on of his workshops or even just take a moment to really see one of his images already know what to expect. At least, I do. That’s why I made a pre-order of this new book on Amazon today, and can’t wait to put my hands on it.

Perhaps, some day, Joe may come to Brazil and sign a few copies and shoot a few pictures!

Luis P says:

on August 30, 2010 at 4:44 pm

I cant say anything better than the words above mine. Joe your blog is always inspiring. An amazing career.

Levi Sim says:

on August 30, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Great! Now my students will have another option besides Kelby’s books for how to. I can’t wait to recommend it to them. Thanks for sharing again, Joe.

DennyCayman says:

on August 30, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Dear Mr. Joe,

Thanks so much much for what you have done to make such great stories with you great photos which I enjoyed so much in those magazines. The icing on the cake now is hearing you tell the behind the scene stories along with the teaching that you do so well.

Thanks Denny

Jim says:

on August 30, 2010 at 9:52 pm

Just go mine on pre order at Amazon, can’t wait to get it.

Martin Wolf says:

on August 31, 2010 at 2:02 am

Oh, that sounds great, Joe! Hope it’ll come out in german as well. Or maybe I even go for it in english.

Bob DeChiara says:

on August 31, 2010 at 5:16 am

Congrats Joe. Looking forward to adding this to my McNally collection.

nateparker says:

on August 31, 2010 at 6:33 am

Awesome! and that last makes my eyes well up, your blog either makes me laugh or cry, usually always laugh. you the Best Joe!

richard Hales says:

on August 31, 2010 at 9:41 am

If anyone can do justice to the usually dry, dusty word of the Photography Guide it will probably be you/ You have a turn of phrase and experience of L/life that can inform any photographer, or layman

Charlie Horvath says:

on August 31, 2010 at 1:04 pm

What great memories. I look forward to the publication and to reading your words. For all the joking, you have a way of bringing home what’s truly important…

Tim Skipper says:

on August 31, 2010 at 10:25 pm

Joe I am so excited to see another book from you. I’ve read The Moment It Clicks and Hot Shoe Diaries until I’ve about wore out the covers.

Now my wife will never get me out of the bathroom.

Terry Wheeler says:

on September 1, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Can’t wait to read another “Joe” book.
Somehow the internet just can’t replace the look and feel of a great publication such as LIFE!!!

Frank says:

on September 2, 2010 at 12:05 am

I’m glad you made another round teaching us how to get some more depth in our work.

Thank you also for “Pictures under discussion”!


Rick Joy says:

on September 2, 2010 at 5:08 am

You’re work is amazing Joe. I have read both of your previous books and the tips in those books has helped me become a better shooter. I can’t wait to see what you’ve got in the new book.

Eric Muetterties says:

on September 2, 2010 at 9:40 am

Great stuff. You always inspire! I need to get both books!

Frank says:

on September 4, 2010 at 8:57 am

Oh cool !!! I’ve got your 3 other books and this one is on pre-order as well.

Joe, what can you tell us about this “Sketching Light – Big Light From Small Flashes” book that seems to be on Amazon at the moment ??? Coming out in January next year ? Excellent news, if true.

Please confirm !

Erika Plummer says:

on September 13, 2010 at 10:28 am

Oh my GOD, pun intended – is it possible to buy a copy? My 5 year old is just navigating his way into his own spiritual understanding of God and loves taking pictures with a Fuji Polaroid I just bought him….

Remy G says:

on September 15, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Joe, thank you for this statement:

“For me, doing someone’s portrait is an exchange of gifts. The subject extends the gift of vulnerability and trust by getting in front of this unflinching machine with a big glass eye. Photographers extend also, expressly or tacitly, a reciprocal gift. The shutter sound is not just a click that allows light to hit a sensor. Those clicks are a language-photog speak, Morse Code, drumbeats-call it what you will. With every exposure, you are saying, “I will take care. I will do my best. I will reward the trust.”

It explains why you are such an incredible photographer, and how that even tho technical expertise (which you have tons of) is important, being real and personal, and connecting with trust and vulnerability, is just as important to get a ‘successful’ image.

Thank you and take care,
Remy Gervais
Sacramento, CA

Michael Wiesman says:

on September 26, 2010 at 8:11 am

Can’t wait to give this a read, Joe.

Ann Wiechmann says:

on October 19, 2010 at 9:33 am

Hi Joe,

Can’t wait to read your new book! Can we buy autographed copies directly from you (as Moose is doing with Captured)? If not, I’ll get it from Amazon. Thanks!


Ken Nakamula says:

on February 20, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Thanks for this article it helped me to know about Kim’s life.

I googled it “the napalm girl” and I knew about a bit of her life that is one of great lives. I have just started to read your book “The moment it clicks” a few days before I read this blog and one of pages was to explain for Kim’s portrait ‘ASK THE TOUGH QUESTION’. I remember that it said “Kim, I have to take photos of your scars” or something like that. I’ve not been able to get how hard asking that to Kim is but now I felt how hard it is and I kinda touch her scars through your the picture. The photo moved me to get a click to google search, thanks for that and thanks for you asked her the question. I appreciate that.


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