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Dec 30

In Friends, history at 9:16am

Round this time of year, I usually send a message to my buddy Bill down at the Geographic about the richly rewarding experience of the passing of time, the accumulation (hopefully) of yet another year of wisdom and experience, the wonder of change, the increasing depth and importance of friendship, not to mention the shooting of a few more good frames. (The latter of course, unlike the certitude of aging, is never a given. There have been years gone by when I’ve looked around and thought, wow, I really shot a bunch of crap this past twelve months.)

The language of my missives is often ornately descriptive, flowery, even. A rhapsody to the passing of time. Then of course I yank his chain and say something to the effect of “There goes another year down the drain.” He generally responds by advising me to do something that, when considered, is anatomically impossible.

Good picture, bad picture. Tick, tock. Keep breathing, sometimes, seemingly, right through the lens. A day with your eye to a camera can be like a breath of fresh, beautiful air. At other times, back there at the eyepiece, it can feel like a bad asthma attack. So it goes, as they say.

Still, despite frustration, pitfalls, bad jobs, errant pixels and the like, passing another year with a camera in hand is cause for celebration, which is good to be able to say. At this point in my life, the calculus of making pictures is an interesting one. Not too often does it come down to, “Hey, let’s go take some cool photos!” and off I skip into the sunset, with a DSLR, a fast zoom and a light heart. As time marches, I factor in the love of the click times the degree of difficulty/expense figured against the fee, minus the arthritis in my knees divided by the 3:30am wake-up multiplied by the length of the line at JFK over the missed connection plus the cranky subject doubled by the weight of my bags. The sum of that is…..I still go shoot.

I guess I’m feeling that Father Time thing especially this morning. I’m looking down the pipe of a huge and physically challenging job for a client starting soon, and I put on weight last year, writing the book. So now, back to the gym, and back to occasionally seeing Ederin, my boxing teacher. I’ve known him now for over eight years. Massively quick, and fit, he regularly makes me feel clumsy, stupid, slow footed and witted. (To make a photographic analogy, think about the first time you took the camera out of the box. That’s how I feel every time I get in a ring with him.) Recently, he was counseling me to keep him away. “Joe, think of me as a zombie, and if you let me get too close, I’ll bite you and infect you!” A few minutes later, backpedaling with spaghetti arms, he was closing in, up against me, chest the size of a movie screen, smiling maniacally, face close to mine, shouting, “I’m a happy zombie now Joe! I’m eating you!”

But then, every once in a great while, I connect. I move through a combination with authority, my legs and arms working in concert, and when I hit his target mitts there’s a flat, satisfying crack that bangs off the cinder block walls of the gym and reports back. On the rare occasions when I do that, Ederin spreads his arms out and nods. “That’s it,” he says. He thankfully leaves out the “dumb ass.” Christ, he could be a photo editor.

But, with the passing of time, there are gifts. One I’ve come to appreciate as I’ve stuck with this is the sense that, much more important than the ever crucial, actual photograph, is, at least at times, the connection that photo might make to someone who views it. And what might happen around that photo. I guess, it’s about the wonderfully important, positive effect of pictures on our lives. It isn’t about whether it’s your best photo, or how hard you struggled as the shooter to make it. It’s about the reaction to it, and how that might affect someone’s life in a hopefully good way. You become linked to that person, even if you don’t know them. Ever see those projected maps of the world used by the FAA, and air traffic controllers? In the early part of the day, as flights get in the air, there are lines tracing the flights, city to city, all over the place,  like the beginnings of a spider web. As the day progresses, so many planes are aloft, the earth might as well be a ball of string. Same thing happens when you throw a picture aloft. It takes flight, and makes connections. Destinations? Multiple, and unknown.

Thankfully, I’m connected, wonderfully, with my good friend RC Concepcion, and his lovely wife Jen, and daughter, Sabine. They are dear friends. And recently, they gave me a wonderful gift, a kind of a present that started with a picture. Win, lose or draw, good day or bad in the field, things like this are the reason to keep putting your eye into a lens.

A gift I gave myself this year was finishing Sketching Light. Again, many thanks for patience whilst I doodled and bumbled. My dear friend Syl Arena gave it a thumbs up on his blog. Seeing as Syl knows his way around a Canon speed light better, literally, than the Canon engineers, his positive review was very welcome. I always tease Syl about being like that Denzel Washington character, Eli, from the movie. He has the book of Canon in his head, and he travels the world dispensing its wisdom.

Ron Martinsen also was wonderfully gracious over on his blog, citing the book, and showing some of the spreads.

I’m reading this book now and loving the hell out of it. It’s going to be my holiday vacation companion (even more so after I get my Kindle Fire on Christmas <g>), and I think you might enjoy doing the same. This version has more depth and details as well as a couple chapters to set your bearings before he dives in to the good stuff. Based on a 2 hour skim of the entire book, I see nothing that will keep this one off my highly recommended list, so I’m going to jump the gun and say this is a “great to have” book.

Many thanks for the kind words, guys. I’m quite sure the long suffering, ever patient Peachpit team–Ted Waitt, Lisa Brazieal, Charlene Will, Kim Scott, Scott Cowlin, and Sara Todd–appreciate them, too. They were about to transform themselves, I think, from being book editors into a SWAT team, and show up in my driveway with a bullhorn. “Just give us the book, Joe, and nobody gets hurt.”

More tk in 2012…..Happy, safe, and blessed New Year to all…..

Brian says:

on December 30, 2011 at 9:25 am

Thanks for sharing your passion and knowledge with us, Joe! I’m at half-way through Sketching Light, and everytime I’m done reading a chapter or two, I grab my camera and flashes, and start shooting.

Happy new year!

Scott Otis says:

on December 30, 2011 at 9:38 am

The video is a great gift indeed. I received your new book for Christmas, and am enjoying immensely…may need to order the e-version as well. All the best in the new year.

Bill Bogle Jr. says:

on December 30, 2011 at 9:42 am


Thank you for all of the gifts you give us, amd Sketching Light is a gift of knowledge. Great read.

I know the feeling all too well of putting on the pounds. Perhaps that is why some call it losing weight, but for me it always seems to find me again. Suddenly it is back, accompanied by that wonderful dinner ans dessert. Well, 2011 was a year for me to work at it, at 53, and I took of over 50 pounds to get into the best shape I have been in perhaps in my life. Hard work, but it was worth it. Those five flights of stairs is a free gym membership. I know it is tough, but it sounds like you are working hard at it.

All the best in 2012. Thanks again for the all of the presents you give.

Bill Bogle, Jr.

MMBfotografia says:

on December 30, 2011 at 10:05 am

Thanks and have a great 2012 master!

Rich Cave says:

on December 30, 2011 at 10:20 am

Still waiting for your book joe Amazon have sent no less than five notifications telling me how late it is going to be. The latest was for the end of January, so all good things come to he who waits I suppose.

I have enjoyed your blog over the last year and it is a place of calm, humility and not one jot of ego. Which is rare in the world of photography. Hopefully next year will bring you some challenges, surprises and the chance to meet.

To all those who may be reading my comment, I committed a faux paux last year at a social event whilst working whilst photographing an event. Something went wrong big time and I was threatened and harangued at the event.

I was about to thrown in the camera, when I wrote to Joe, the advice and support he gave me stopped me throwing it all in. For that Joe has my gratitude and support.

As Joe says a bad day out of the office is better than a good day in the office.

Hopefully will find the time to bump into you Joe, that beer is still on the counter waiting for you, and in honour of you its a lite…


Happy New Year,

Gary Dumbauld says:

on December 30, 2011 at 10:26 am

Joe, our (insert Winter holiday of your choice here) gift for many years has been you. Your knowledge of course, but also your insight, your sensitivity, your ability to translate reality and the way you see and interact with it into allegory, metaphor, audio and video–whatever it takes to present your unique take on light and life to the rest of us. Thank you so much.

Kenneth Barney says:

on December 30, 2011 at 11:09 am

Thanks Joe! the new book is fantastic, not that you need the praise from a amateur photog like me. I’ve enjoyed your Nat Geo spreads, and your blog has always been a source of insperation, thank you for your willingness to share so much.
your humor always makes me laugh (“Joe make fire”)

Karen B says:

on December 30, 2011 at 11:14 am

Meaningful words…. love the video…. you have a gift that you share beautifully!

Thank You! Thank You!

Charlie L says:

on December 30, 2011 at 11:26 am

Joe, thank you for everything you for all that you do for the industry, the knowledge you share, your images and your fantastiv wit. If you lived in Japan, you would be considered a national treasure.

Speaking of gifts my wife gave me one of the best, your new book. Everything came to a screaching halt Chrisrmas morning untill I finished thumbing through it. Can’t wait to sit down and read it cover to cover, digesting all the knowledge, wit and wisdom you have to share.

Oh yah, last October I found your Nowhere, Nevada. It’s changed since you’ve been there. Can’t wait to get back there and do some more shooting.

Best wishs for an amazing new year!

William Chinn says:

on December 30, 2011 at 11:31 am

While I have seen the video before on one of RC’s blogs, its a great reminder why we as photographers try to capture that one moment in time that means something to us. Thanks again to you and RC & family.

ps. Loved it when the answering machine played back, “Its Joe (short hesitation) McNally”.

Sebastian says:

on December 30, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Hi Joe!

I can’t wait to get this book delivered. I will then disconnect myself from the net and go through it in one go :)
Happy New Year mate, I hope it will be good for both of us.

Ivan says:

on December 30, 2011 at 3:07 pm

I’m reading this great book now. I’m relatively new to speedlites (yes, Canon), and this book is very inspirational. We need book likes this. Books that combine examples of creativity and technique. Can’t get enough of this. Thank you!

Eric Politzer says:

on December 30, 2011 at 3:18 pm

You know when “a day at the office” consists of plopping down and reading through Sketching Light that life is pretty darned good! Thanks Joe.

Catherine says:

on December 30, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Thank you for doing what you do Joe, you pick me up and dust me off and put me back on my feet every time I read you. It really means a lot.

Mike Nelson Pedde says:

on December 30, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Joe: Back, well, more than a ‘few’ years ago I was working with Environment Canada on a study to determine the effects of spraying a pesticide for spruce budworm on the other creatures that inhabit the forest. My boss was a great guy, and a very gentle man. One night we were out in an absolute downpour, with a flashlight that worked fine when it was pointed upward, but turned off when you pointed it down to see what you were doing, picking tiny pollinating insects out of these plastic buckets with a pair of tweezers and putting them into little vials of alcohol. At one point my boss turned to me and said, “You know Mike, sometimes I wonder why I love this f___ing job.”

I thought, “Yup, that sums it up right there.”

Marcia and I wish you and those close to you a New Year filled with as much peace, contentment, joy, health, excitement, and adventure as you can handle!


Ric Cederholm says:

on December 30, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Loving the new book so far (a Christmas present from my wife). Even my wife is giving it a good read when it isn’t in my hands.

Thanks for getting it out in time for this to be my present this year!



Paul M says:

on December 31, 2011 at 12:46 am

Thank you Joe for sharing your knowledge and passion of photography.

Had the book on pre-order and I recommend it to all my friends. They give me weird looks I shoot Canon but I’m recommending a photographer that shoots Nikon but I just tell them, they won’t regret getting the book. :)

After a well deserved break, I hope you put out another one.

Kyle Jerichow says:

on December 31, 2011 at 12:49 am


Don’t worry, I used to take boxing classes and let me just share with you the words of wisdom that I received from my boxing coach at the end of my last bout.

“Jerichow, you can take punches to the face like no one I have ever seen……but your form is terrible. You don’t belong in a boxing ring, you belong in a bar fight.”

Thus ended my boxing dreams. Oh well.

See you in Vancouver,

Harry says:

on December 31, 2011 at 1:20 am

Thanks for ‘Gifts’ and RC’s video – each a good end to 2011 and a good start to 2012.



Joaquin says:

on December 31, 2011 at 2:11 am

Hi Joe,

Is there somewhere besides Amazon where we can purchase Sketching Light?

Here’s to a great 2012 (without the end of the world).

Bill McQuerry says:

on December 31, 2011 at 2:28 am

Very nice. Thanks for sharing the video.

Joe McNally says:

on December 31, 2011 at 8:38 am

Good thought Kyle….being a photog i think automatically means you can take a pretty good punch….:-)

Bob says:

on December 31, 2011 at 9:16 am

my photographs keep on improving because of you…for that I am grateful.

best wishes for another fabulous year Joe!

Jeff Mulvihill, Jr. says:

on December 31, 2011 at 9:22 am

Get the book! It is every bit as fantastic as the reviews say! I’m a big “Joe fan” anyway, how can you not be… But this one is turning out to be my favorite… As he explains in it… It’s about the possibilities… Always making me think, always reminding me why I get up in the morning to bang my head against the ever challenging photographic wall… and for one simple reason… to, hopefully today, reach just one person with an image that I’ve captured.

Thanks Joe for the reminder and inspiration! Wishing everyone the best for 2012!,

Leif says:

on December 31, 2011 at 9:26 am

You are awesome, just love your pictures since I went to a masterclass in Venice with You as the instructure and discovered your pictures.

Steve F says:

on December 31, 2011 at 9:33 am

Lovely video! What a touching tribute and affirmation. Thank you Joe. Your work has inspired me for years and getting to meet you in Boston on The Flash Bus Tour was the highlight of my year. Your writing resonates with me and has helped me to understand why making pictures has been important to me for so long. Your humor, your willingness to share and your graciousness make you stand out for that and all you do, I thank you.

Jay Mann says:

on December 31, 2011 at 9:34 am

My brother managed to find a copy of the book on the 24th, so there was a copy under the tree!! I am shooting my son’s carribean wedding this week, the book is going to be a great read on the beach and reference for some photos. The pic looks great in double truck, page 23 and 71 are nice surprises. Have a great New Year and hopefully we will meet up in 2012.

Andor says:

on December 31, 2011 at 10:00 am

Thanks for sharing all the great posts and stories throughout the year – Happy New Year Joe!
…and Happy New Year to all reading too!

Mike Neale says:

on December 31, 2011 at 10:56 am

RC sez it best,…happy new 2012 year, Joe, Annie, Drew, Brad,…etal,…what a great team!

Glenn says:

on December 31, 2011 at 12:02 pm

What a great video. RC and his wife did themselves, and you, proud.

Dave H says:

on December 31, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Thanks for gifts. At 63 the years fly by. Glad to have spent week with Moose in Eastern Sierra, day with you and Mr. Hobby in Grand Rapids . Shots lots of photos..some good..others not so good but
privileged to have the opportunity to still push the shutter. Ready to celebrate 3 years cancer free so
I guess as long as I can still make a good image or two I will say “Life is good”.

Happy New Year. See you at PSW.

Linnea says:

on December 31, 2011 at 7:05 pm

Thank you for a highly enjoyable blog! Happy 2012!

Ali.a says:

on January 1, 2012 at 1:08 am

hi joe
nice`n cool sharing
it was great experience
i mean reading `n seeing ur wordz `n photos is wonderful
thank u

Mark says:

on January 1, 2012 at 9:48 am

Joe, first, Happy New Year. Second, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet you twice, both at Adorama seminars you gave. You are both a kind and gentle man, extremely funny, and one of the best photographers I’ve ever had he pleasure to view pictures from. I had a seat in one of your Dobbs Ferry Workshops a year or so ago but had to cancel last minute. You refunded my money in a flash.

Your Book The Moment it Clicks sits on my desk and I refer to it often.

The Hotshoe Diaries was fantastic.

So, granted only halfway through Sketching Light, why do I find it largely a repeat of the Hotshoe Diaries? The pictures are of course different and amazing. But the book, at least to my low-reading level is not much different and therefore, at least to my mind, not a lot different, and that is a bit disappointing. Perhaps there’s not much more one can say on the subject, I don’t know. The small hand drawn diagrams, while cool and cute first time around, have become old and are not the easiest thing to figure out. Compare and contrast them to your good friend Scott Kelby’s new book, wherein he shows overhead pics, gives all exif information on every shot, and his is a bit more helpful, at least to a person like me who may be a plate short of a picnic.

I realize I may get flamed here. And remember I did start off by saying I hold you in the highest esteem. I’d love to attend one of your workshops and will in the future. If you’ll have me now


DaveB says:

on January 1, 2012 at 10:31 am

Thanks Joe… wonderful reflection… from a semi-retired guy who, for some of the same reasons, wonders if it is time to give up the gig as a part time sales associate at a local camera store… but then a customer comes in and you feel their excitement as they begin the journey into photography… and you commit to another Christmas rush in 11 months

David Porter says:

on January 1, 2012 at 10:57 am

Hi Joe,
Your column really touched me in a profound way. In January 2009 a friend of mine offered to help me get a portfolio started by coming to a studio I rented in downtown Toronto. She was a competitive sailor, full time IT person and had a great sense of humour. I was having a rough time at the full time job and she was good enough to help me with my hobby.

I took a lot of what I had learned from reading your books, and strobist, and ended up with some photos she really appreciated, and got that wow factor. It was great to see her smile when she got the prints, as she really loved them and was going to use them on her social networking sites. The challenge I had over come was in helping people see the great person who was my friend, and not the wheel chair.

Thanks for all the lessons you post, they are well used. Loved seeing you and David Hobby in Buffalo with the Flash Bus.

Joe McNally says:

on January 1, 2012 at 11:28 am

Hey Mark…no worries, you’ll always be welcome, as is your viewpoint. Glad you liked Clicks and Hot Shoe. Doing a book about photography is…just like photography. Some folks will like a certain image, others, not so much. All part of the mix. Disparity of opinion is enjoyable and ever present, and we all learn from each other. You really liked Hot Shot, and Sketching not so much. Many, many folks have commented that while they liked Hot Shoe, they felt it didn’t go far enough, and this is the one, this book that offers all or most of the info they were looking for. There’s lots of discussion in the new book about bigger flash, not just speed lights, which seems to be a positive thing that folks have remarked on. Many like the sketches, and feel they add a dimension. Often there’s additional tips written into the sketches. And all my data is there, honestly, in every shot under discussion. Shutter speed, f-stop, ISO, WB, lens choices, and so forth. Can’t really think of anymore file info I could have disclosed that might have been helpful. As far as Scott’s book goes, it’s a wonderful book, and fully explained, right down to the settings on the power packs. What I emphasize in Sketching is the fact that, sure enough, here are my numbers, on that day, for that situation, but they in fact won’t be your numbers, at least exactly, when you go out there with a camera. The whole discussion, hopefully, pushes the conversation forward so that perhaps, if you draw from the book, the search for your own numbers and pictorial solutions will become more steadfast and sure-footed. Hope to see you sometime in 2012! Best, Joe

Joe Masucci says:

on January 1, 2012 at 4:23 pm

As I kick off my own photography business and blog tomorrow it is fitting that I come to the master and read his words. This guy is my photographic idol and hero. His insight is nothing short of amazing and his new book is simply the best. Kudos Joe and good luck in the new year.

Joe McNally says:

on January 1, 2012 at 4:54 pm

many thanks Joe….same back to you, and good luck!

Joe McNally says:

on January 1, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Also, Mark…appreciate you giving the book a read. If there’s a section or picture that you feel is not clear, shoot me an email and I’ll do my best to offer some thoughts….hang in, Joe

Pascal Sauvé says:

on January 1, 2012 at 11:24 pm

First off – I don’t own a flash (yet) but I absolutely loved Hot Shoe Diaries. Because of your work, the concept of a flash is not as worrisome as it once was. In fact it’s the next thing on the photo budget.

I’m 42 – now 4 years in doing this as a semi-serious hobby, I don’t know where my photography is going to take me both on a daily basis and in the long term. It’s a scary but very exciting thought.

But on some days, it feels like life is working against you. Some days we get plain tired and sometimes the wind gets knocked out of us. And then there days where you just don’t want to get out of bed since you know you’ll face the prospect of unrealistic client expectations and a ever dwindling pay/job security package awaits. And that’s just for a 9 to 5 job ! Never mind the professional photographers precarious situation in the last few years ! Yikes !

I think all photographers pay a price in some respects or an other. But you know what ? That’s the price of what you do which is far more preferable when measured against the erosive cost of inactivity or sticking yourself into a job you hate for the next X years.

As for my own photography, I can tell you that i’ll keep going at it as long as I have two things : my health and my passion.

The whole world may not say it often enough but we need you and we appreciate you Joe McNally. So please stay healthy and keep that passion showing in your photos.

Good Luck and Good Shooting,

Ron Martinsen says:

on January 3, 2012 at 6:35 am

Holy cow – thanks a million for the mention Joe!

Happy New Year!

David K says:

on January 3, 2012 at 11:44 am

What a wonderful gift from RC. WOW! Thank you for sharing. And please tell RC ‘thank you’ for sharing his very personal life!

Dave Dantos says:

on January 3, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Thanks for doing all that you do, Joe. Your books (which occupy places of honor in my stack of photog books) and videos impart not only technical info and an occasional sense of artistic whimsey, but also let me know that even Joe Mc screws up on occasion. This provides a modicom of comfort when one of my shoots turns into a train wreck, and encourages me to raise my head and keep going. Your raw honesty is but one of the qualities that differentiates you from the hordes of photog authors out there. So again, thanks Joe. I wish you a fine 2012. Dave

Tom says:

on January 5, 2012 at 4:39 pm

Just heard from Amazon that Sketching With Light is dispatching now in the UK.

Mark says:

on January 5, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Joe, as I already knew, you are a scholar and a gentleman. Thank you for being gentle in your reply to me. I perhaps was too hasty. I need to keep reading before coming to premature conclusions.

I have studio lights and that is what I was hoping to see more of.

Thank you again and apologies.


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