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And Furthermore….

Dec 20

In Rambling at 8:08am

Geez. Some interesting commentary yesterday, ranging from feminine physiques to Photoshop to posing to pixels. In the interests of advancing information here’s a production snap from the lagoon, taken by our buds Rob and Jen Lace. There’s another version of the shot below.

Hopefully these snaps confirm a few things. A) Sara does have a left arm. B) She is on an island of sorts. C) The c-stand used in this picture is still sort of rusted out and has a hint of a sulfur smell. D) We are on location and I didn’t shoot this on a green screen. E) It’s only the combination of the lens and the angle of the above production picture that makes me look like Shamu wearing a cap:-)

Here’s another pose of her on the rock, sans, jacket. I didn’t like the pic nearly as well. In fact, for all the debate about her positioning, I have to say, I loved it. When she curled up, somewhat impossibly, on that rock, she balanced the frame and became a counterpoint to the lighthouse, graphically. It’s one of my favorite pics in the new book. This one below, not so much. But folks might like this. Or not. It’s okay. That’s the eternal beauty and damnation of photography. There’s no real right or wrong.

But there is passion, that’s for sure. Lots of people had interesting takes, and some advice, some of it even sort of medical. (Talk of extended or flexible hip joints and the like.) The fact is, I have often asked people to curl up, contort, or curve for a picture, for all sorts of reasons. There was Mary Ellen Clark, the famous diver. I shot her nude for LIFE, and this pose, a simulated tuck, was a good way of making sure, as she put it, nothing was hanging out.

Then of course, there was Pilobolus. But, this sort of contortion is cheating really, ’cause this is what they do.

I asked Jada Pinkett Smith, somewhat improbably, to hug a wall.

And Michelle Yeoh to crawl across the desert floor.

And the basketball giant Greg Oden to bend way over to fit into a frame. And then I gave him a tiny basketball to make him seem even more outsized than he is.

Also, the whole idea of  incongruity is one I’ve been in love with since momma dropped my on my head. I like taking disparate physical elements and placing them together, in unlikely context to each other, in hopes of creating something serenely surreal and beautiful. Or just plain odd. (Why is she on a rock in a lagoon? I don’t know.) The idea is to arrest the eye of the viewer. I took, for instance, this homespun clad, magnificently voiced trio from the New York City Opera into a Japanese pachinko parlor during the opera’s historic tour of Japan. They were styled for “Little Women,” a quintessentially American opera. So, I took them someplace quintessentially Japanese. The fun thing? These folks are in full throttle, singing beautifully in the parlor. Not a single person even looked up from their game.Wonderful.

This whole thing is about having a restless eye, one that is never patient, or self-satisfied. One that keeps pushing, and is happier thinking about what it will see next than it is dwelling on that which it has already seen. Win, lose or draw, the eye has to be an ever hungry hunter.

There was lots of talk, as there always is, about the pixels and the PSD and various digital whatnot. That’s okay, too. It’s important to discuss and assimilate the mechanics of all this. But it’s important to remember that the how exists only to serve the why. The how addresses the infernal machine, and the bells, whistles and dials. But the why is the real deal. Why pick up a camera at all? Why do we let ourselves in for all this frustration in the first place? Why go to the lagoon in the freezing cold? (That coffee house was much more comfortable.) There’s a ton of “how to” in Sketching Light,” but the larger, more important discussions dwell on the why of all of this.

It’s important to dive into the mechanics, to be sure. But not too far. When we pick up every pixel, and hold it up to a magnifying glass, looking at it every which way, like a precious bauble we just found during a walk on the beach,  it is self defeating, not to mention boring as shit. There’s an old phrase that describes that type of discussion and examination. I can’t remember it exactly, but it has something to do with the forest and the trees.

More tk….

Donna Luker says:

on December 20, 2011 at 8:20 am

Amen! That last paragraph is a keeper.

JL Williams says:

on December 20, 2011 at 8:23 am

Geez, for a universally beloved icon of the photo-blogosphere, JM sure seems touchy this week. Look, we’re all gonna buy the book, okay? But don’t expect us not to talk about it, or to raise questions where questions seem warranted. That’s not “boring as sh*t,” that’s critical thinking.

Roger Botting says:

on December 20, 2011 at 8:24 am

My copy of Sketching Light is sitting under the to be added by photoshop christmas tree. Will have to see how it compares to a scratchy sweater or more socks.

John A. says:

on December 20, 2011 at 8:29 am

One of the things I enjoy most about your photography, IS your unique perspective and ability to capture interesting compositions. This quality, in my mind, might be the hardest to learn (some may never get it), and you have this mastered.

While I think you in no way needed to vindicate that portrait from your book (it was freaking awesome btw), I did really enjoy your rebuttal, and images you chose to illustrate your point. I added a couple of new favs to my list. :)

Hope your holiday week goes a tad bit smoother!

Mike says:

on December 20, 2011 at 8:29 am


Great post. Nice to have an (ironically) sane voice in the land of critics.


Joe McNally says:

on December 20, 2011 at 8:45 am

Hey JL…not touchy at all. I’m enjoying the discussion, to be sure. It’s flat out fun, and techy stuff can get me going as well as the next person. But, the pixels are just meant for something bigger, and something none of us, happily, will ever completely figure out….

Bill Bogle, Jr. says:

on December 20, 2011 at 8:52 am


great post. I think I am more impressed with Drew’s balancing ability in the picture. That must have been photoshoped, as it almost as if he is walking on water. Now tell the true story. How many of you ended up in the water after the shot.

Merry Christmas.

Bill Bogle, Jr.

Joe McNally says:

on December 20, 2011 at 8:56 am

honestly, this was one of the few watery locales we’ve worked which was mishap free:-) !!! I was just in the swamps of Fla. and fell in…sigh…usually it’s me….

Colleen says:

on December 20, 2011 at 9:00 am

Love your work and I love this discussion. It’s good to know that sometimes the “expert” pixel peepers can be fooled to think something has been photoshopped when it hasn’t.

Iain says:

on December 20, 2011 at 9:08 am

Why did you have to use that production shot? Poor chap will be further confused, thinking you’ve photoshopped out Drew’s left arm.

Get the impression sales of your book in the UK are going rather well. Ordered my copy from Amazon on 2/11/2010 (that’s 11/2/2010 in your language) and they sold out before they got to me. Almost a year and 2 months – he who hesitates is last!

Ted V says:

on December 20, 2011 at 9:21 am

Awesome… I love the blog.. and I am loving the book on the kindle. Thanks


Scott says:

on December 20, 2011 at 9:21 am

The last paragraph sums it up, not only for photography, but for life. I had this same discussion with a friend yesterday, following a shoot where we just walked into a cool looking church and asked if we could shoot. We were talking about the old cliche that asks if the glass is half full or half empty. I said it was besides the point. The question is: do you seize life by the balls and go after moments that are going to create something special or not. Like stopping by a cool looking church and asking the staff if you can shoot. Or leaving the warm indoors to go outside in the freaking cold to shoot a model perched on a rock standing in a lagoon.

Richard Davis says:

on December 20, 2011 at 9:25 am

And there I was thinking this was originally an image of an unemployed welder from Ohio dressed as a ballerina taken in a derelict workshop and masterfully photoshopped by Cali into what appears to be an image of a girl, crouching at the water’s edge. Now you’ve shattered my illusions with all of your facts.

Tina Blum says:

on December 20, 2011 at 9:28 am

You tell’em, Joe! Personally, I always look forward to the next time you jump into the “ring” for another round.

Marios Forsos says:

on December 20, 2011 at 9:28 am

The last paragraph should be made into a giant banner and flown over each and every photo show or workshop. It should be made into t-shirts and, ideally, plastered outside every copy of Photoshop sold… well said Joe!

stanchung says:

on December 20, 2011 at 9:30 am

So it is the jacket causing the illusion! PSD is around for entertainment and to point to low balling clients what the would get if they try to be cheap. [too cheap]

-You made Datuk Michelle Yeoh crawl on the desert. FTW! LOL

Great shots Joe and Happy Holidays. XD

darren_c says:

on December 20, 2011 at 9:31 am

Well I’ve always found that pixel peepers, those who live life at 100% crop, always seem to miss the bigger picture.

Joe, as always, you have a great way of telling, and defending, a story.


Rebekah says:

on December 20, 2011 at 9:37 am

Perfectly phrased…as always. Thank you, Joe.

GaryD says:

on December 20, 2011 at 9:38 am

Excellent stuff as usual. Joe, if you were ever to tire of photography (fat chance), you could hang out your shingle as a philosopher. Happy winter holiday of your choice.

David Cope says:

on December 20, 2011 at 9:53 am

I have which doesn’t tie directly to the story at hand, (which is terrific, btw!)

I think of you as the King of Speedlights, but when I saw the Elinchrom oct. and studio head poking out the back, I thought HERE’s the guy who can answer the question that tortures me!

I have three Nikon Speedlights and would like to add to it, particularly to increase available power for some situations which points me toward studio lights as doubling or tripling up SB910s just seems silly to me, but I can only afford one at a time which would require mixing the studio light with the Speedlights. How the heck does one do that, if it can be done at all?

Bob says:

on December 20, 2011 at 10:42 am

thanks for confirming…Du hast aus den Kopf gefallen!

Love it, Joe…many thanks!

John Fowler says:

on December 20, 2011 at 10:52 am

Is it that some folks can’t see the forest for the trees?

Greg C. says:

on December 20, 2011 at 10:54 am

Joe, thank you so much for these posts, so entertaining and informative. Merry Christmas Joe and Crew!

Swanky says:

on December 20, 2011 at 10:57 am

Hey Mr. Joe, I don’t usually comment on here, just lurk, but this has to b the best post ever. Thanks, I totally get it. Keep up the fight.

Arno says:

on December 20, 2011 at 11:11 am

I happen to be an airline pilot and there’s not one flight in which someone thinks that they need to comment on my skills… Navy pilot? Greaser? You hear it all on the same flight.

Everybody is an expert and a critic.

Don’t take it personal, you know what they say about opinions…. :-)

Ana GR says:

on December 20, 2011 at 11:15 am

ahhhh, I’m having so much fun, the previous posts comments, the explanation…
I love your art, and I love your sense of humour!

Glenn says:

on December 20, 2011 at 11:15 am

Most of these people want your life. I have all your books, read what and how long it took you to get here. Lets face it, you get to do what most of us just wish we good do. You get to do it because of the path you took and your creativity. Why care what any of us think, or bring attention to websites I’d never heard of before now.

Retired from corporate life, I now focus on photography and enjoy everything I’m now learning through blogs and books. What I don’t enjoy is all the pinheads claiming their abstract rants as “discussion.” Worse are all the sycophants who have to pant over every image by well known photographers by posting inane comments. (this comment is a rant not a discussion, though it is perhaps inane) Some blogs and especially Google+ have become the mirror used by Snow White’s Queen.

Your last post was excellent, enjoyable philosophical commentary, especially given what prompted it. This from a guy who’s personal Joe McNally interaction comes attending one of your workshops (while you were setting up one of your example images) “Sir, could you move to the side, you’re in the frame.” :-)

Tim Skipper says:

on December 20, 2011 at 11:19 am

Well as we all know the internet has allowed people to say things they would never say in person because they lack the balls to do so. Its so easy to criticize and mock when you don’t have to stare at the person’s face.

As for me I am half way through reading the new book. I bought it for my e-reader on my iPad and am loving it. My only complaint is with e-readers not the book in that your talking about a picture that isn’t visible since the reader shows only a page or partial pages at a time. Maybe one day they will figure out a way so that you see it the way you would if you were reading a physical copy.

I’m just glad you finally got a new book out. I’ve read Hot Shoe and the Moment It Clicks so many times the pages turn themselves when you get to the bottom.

gary smith says:

on December 20, 2011 at 11:36 am

There are so many things that draw me to your work, that keeps giving me the desire to make better photograghs. The fantastic images of course, along with your commentary, please don’t ever stop, things would be way to boring.

Johnny says:

on December 20, 2011 at 11:55 am


Was wondering why you didn’t use one of your flashguns for that highly controversial shot? Maybe her crotch would have been more visible with a smaller light positioned as only you can!

Norm Shapiro says:

on December 20, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Nice description of why we do what we do. I would also add the little things we sometime discover in our images after the shoot that we were not aware of while making the image. After many years of shooting and sometimes automatically going about the business of making images these nice little surprises often bring back the magic from the days when we were still using wet darkrooms and watching a print come up in the developer.

Virginia says:

on December 20, 2011 at 12:27 pm

I can’t thank you enough, Joe, for saving me time and $1,000’s of dollars by teaching me how to shoot my pictures right the first time, right from the camera, and not having to invest or rely on Photoshop.

Just over a year ago I could have spent close to the same amount of money buying Photoshop CS5, Lightroom, etc., as I did attending your St. Lucia workshop. The difference? You gave me the knowhow, tools, experience and an adventure that will last a lifetime – something that Photoshop could never have done. Best of all, now I’m out there shooting and making money instead of having my arse get fat and be a PSD of its own entity due to sitting for hours on end having to “fix” all my pictures!

Richard C says:

on December 20, 2011 at 2:52 pm

Joe, you’re just as much a character as Jay is, only a tad less profane. Maybe. 😉

And it’s precisely because of that that I can’t wait to see your next image, next words, next utterance, next crazy-assed idea. Some of us out here are always inspired by you and actually look forward to watching you dismantle a pinhead who has the temerity to blather about things he knows not!

Thanks for the laughs. And a wonderful holiday season and joyous 2012 to you and the family.

PaulMac says:

on December 20, 2011 at 7:44 pm

“These folks are in full throttle, singing beautifully in the parlor. Not a single person even looked up from their game.Wonderful.”

They didn’t look up because they couldn’t hear you… Pachinko parlours need to be a new arbitrary reference level for loudness- higher than the “jet engine at close range” level!

Love your work, Joe.

Simon says:

on December 21, 2011 at 12:58 am

Just got your book having preordered it a long time ago, and after having read only a hand full of pages, love it already. Great unexpected Christmas present – thanks Joe, and a very merry Christmas & happy new year to you & your family.

And to those who choose to spend their lives trying to find everyone else’s mistakes (unsuccessfully in Joe’s case), let’s hope you find a way to remove your heads from your asses next year and move on to things more important in life.

Bronek says:

on December 21, 2011 at 1:57 am

this is so cool, Joe! thanks for sharing!

Bill Giles says:

on December 21, 2011 at 7:24 am

“Having a restless eye”. Well put.

Mike C says:

on December 21, 2011 at 9:30 am

Just got your new book. Fantastic !!
There are only 2 photography books I have read from cover to cover in one sitting, yours and Moose Peterson’s.
Thanks for the absolutely great book on lighting.

Ken Cave says:

on December 21, 2011 at 9:31 am

I did not know that sites like PSD existed. Do people have nothing else better to do than look for someone they can criticize. What a way to live your life.

Karen B says:

on December 21, 2011 at 9:36 am

Once again your words as colorful, imaginative and fun as your images! You bring smiles to your readers with every post – thank you. Have a splendid holiday with your family!

Ben Wong says:

on December 21, 2011 at 12:07 pm

“This whole thing is about having a restless eye, one that is never patient, or self-satisfied. One that keeps pushing, and is happier thinking about what it will see next than it is dwelling on that which it has already seen. Win, lose or draw, the eye has to be an ever hungry hunter.”

That’s why you are Joe McNally and we are not. Thanks for the article!

Matt Timmons says:

on December 21, 2011 at 7:48 pm

Aw Joe, you don’t look like Shamu with a cap on. More like Grimace from McDonalds or maybe Barney the dinosaur with a cap on. Happy Holidays from over in Hell’s Kitchen.

Theis Poulsen says:

on December 22, 2011 at 3:14 am

Sounds like there is some good stuff in the book. Better be I have been waiting for more than a year now… come on mr. postman bring it :)

Joe McNally says:

on December 22, 2011 at 10:26 am

appreciate the patience! enjoy (hopefully!) :-)))

Chris Nemes says:

on December 22, 2011 at 10:17 pm

Everytime I read your last paragraphs I somehow can’t help imagining them narrated by Morgan Freeman.

Jay Rodriguez says:

on December 24, 2011 at 12:57 am

No worries Joe, They just trying to get famous from you! :)

Dana says:

on December 28, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Love your new book, and all the incongruity you can capture so well. Appreciate the shared knowledge and the how-to, which is part of the process. The critics are “interesting” — a nice word to describe the incompetent, annoying, and innate comments. (The new Apple app! iCritic!) They serve us creatives in a positive way, tho. To keep us honest and self-examining. And, to fuel the fire for the next story. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts, Joe.

Eduardo Frances says:

on December 28, 2011 at 6:07 pm

What’s really sad and also maddening is that in the PSD disasters site aren’t ethic enough to see they effed up and to delete the entry with an apology, they keep it run a tiny addendum and block the comments… that’s the work ethic they have: “when PSD is proven wrong we play dumb”

Debbie Y says:

on December 29, 2011 at 6:39 am

Hi Joe – brilliant post, as always!

I pre-ordered my copy on 4 November 2010 (yes 10!) and have received frequent emails from Amazon telling me the dealline for release has been ‘revised’, lol!

Just had another one – latest estimate is for 14 January 2012 (i’m in the UK). I’m on tenterhooks! I loved your other two books – not just the stunning images, but your wonderful chatty style of writing – and have high hopes for ‘Sketching’ from what I’ve seen & heard so far!


Dave Short says:

on January 2, 2012 at 2:37 pm

What I find funny with the picture is that if you read the jacket as the line from of the underside of the left leg, it means you have to the read the rump of the left leg as the inside of the right. If you accept that, how short is her right leg in relation to her thigh?
lovely and funny picture.

Bryan says:

on January 3, 2012 at 6:12 am

it’s all about creation and you have created a feel and an interest in these shots, all different but all create a sense. keep the post coming.

I always wanted to know what happened to Shamu too ; )

Foto Frenzy says:

on January 4, 2012 at 11:38 pm

Great set of images (as usual) Joe as well as a great philosophy on what’s more important when viewing images, which is to say, the image itself and not the pixels that create it.

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