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Jan 28

In Dance at 11:20am

One of the cool things about any career is how random acts and circumstances ultimately determine a course, or provide direction. And no career I know of is more random than photography.

In 1978, I moved into a great little studio apartment on W. 65th St. in Manhattan. It cost $250 a month. If I looked east, from my fire escape, every Thanksgiving morning, I had a view of the Macy’s balloons as they floated and bumbled their way south towards 34th St., from their inflation stations up by the Natural History Museum on Central Park West. If I looked west, and leaned way out, I could see a piece of Lincoln Center, hub of the dance universe in NYC. Little did I know that moving into that apartment would influence my choice of photographic subject matter for the rest of my career.

I noticed dancers, virtually every morning, making their way towards the practice studios over at Lincoln Center. It was easy to pick them out, bun headed, duck walking, extended necks, carriage maintained just so. Mixed in of course would be a dance bag, the inevitable bottle of Evian, and a certain arrogance of gaze as they move through the streets with a physical grace they never allow to dissipate, while the rest of us scurry into the subways. They are an elite, like fighter pilots in pre-flight mode, going to a practice studio where they daily make their bodies do things most humans never think of attempting.

I made the above picture in 1978 or ’79, and with those isolated clicks, I knew I would return again and again to the world of dance, camera in hand. We have just put together a Quicktime movie of my dance work, with the intent of sending it out to ballet companies, in hopes of attracting assignments. We always seek work. It’s a thing we continue to do, as any photographer must. Many thanks to Jon Cospito and Michael Cali in my studio, who did the heavy lifting of putting this together. Love to know what readers might think. You can link to it direct on Vimeo….

Or, here is the link to the video section on our website, and it’s the first one that comes up: –!/video.

More tk….

Dennis says:

on January 28, 2014 at 11:55 am

That’s great Joe – I’d hire you ! Wonderful pictures and your team did a great job putting the video together.

Jon says:

on January 28, 2014 at 11:56 am

Your ability to capture motion astounds me! It’s like chaos controlled.

André says:

on January 28, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Thanks for this amazing video. Very inspirational.

Karen says:

on January 28, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Joe! I too am a photographer (Southern California-based), and have seen you speak at Photoshop World and I have your book “The Moment it Clicks.” I also was a dancer from age 5 and took many kinds of dance for 20 years: ballet, tap, jazz, modern, musical theatre, hip hop… You name it, I danced it. So your photos of dancers touch me especially so on multiple levels and you are truly one of my photographic heroes. From your impassioned voice in telling the stories behind your images to the final product … You are eloquent from words on a page to the final image and a true inspiration to me. I’ve learned so many tips from your book from the technical to the conceptual (thinking out of the box). Thank you for sharing your gifts with the world! :)

Pierre W says:

on January 28, 2014 at 3:21 pm

Thanks for sharing those images .
Two in particular speak to one’s soul : the sore feet of the dancer and the boy/girl standing on his arm with the large shadow

Steve Wylie says:

on January 28, 2014 at 4:13 pm

Ever since my first portfolio review, which you graciously consented to give me back about eight years ago, you’ve been a mentor – whether you’ve known it or not- and a continual inspiration. Thanks for doing that for me, and for countless other photographers whom you’ve inspired to see better and create memorable images.

Marv Ross says:

on January 28, 2014 at 5:35 pm


What software was used for the zooms and pans? Nice flow and rhythm.

Bill Laramie says:

on January 28, 2014 at 5:58 pm

You have and always will be a source of inspiration. Seeing some of the images clipped from your Kelby training videos reminded me of how caring and concerned you were with not only getting the shot but ensuring the talent was taken care of in the form of adequate warm-ups and rest. Your management of a photo shoot is noteworthy as is your end result. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with those of us who continually strive to improve.

Ivan Boden says:

on January 28, 2014 at 11:50 pm

I just threw my camera out the window.

I am so not worthy of owning it anymore.

Your work is brilliant, imaginative, evokes emotion and beauty of dance, unlike anything I’ve seen before.

Thanks for sharing… Leaving now to pick up the shards of plastic and glass off my front porch and dump them into the recycle bin called my life.


David Taranza says:

on January 29, 2014 at 8:14 am

I recognize most of the pictures from your books and videos, and I truly admire your passion for dance, how you can capture the charm of each character, and the master craft behind every shot.
I believe that the video will help your studio get new assignments, and I could only wish you’d share a few of them with us. You are our inspiration, our compass point.

Karen Kurta says:

on January 29, 2014 at 8:58 am

Just stunning, Joe! So inspiring.

Bob From SLC says:

on January 29, 2014 at 9:25 am

Mesmerizing. You have been blessed in being there and in the capture and presentation of these images. Thank you.

Laurence Schiffman says:

on January 29, 2014 at 10:31 am

You couldn’t have chosen a better collaboration: beautiful young men and women, the gorgeous form of dance, and your talent. I, marginally, prefer the more natural, simple images. A few of the others seem a bit forced and contrived. Overall, the portfolio is jaw dropping. The lighting is stunning and most of the shots approach perfection. I hope to see more of you and dance.

Glenn Barlow says:

on January 29, 2014 at 10:59 am

You are the master, how could any dance company choose anyone else. These dancers allseem to be in motion, hard to do with a still image. What really makes them special is the visual contrasts of the environments you place the dancers. The video is strung together nicely to tell the story as well.

Only comment I can offer, not knowing you intended buyers, is how comfortable they’d fill about the time to take dancers into these diverse environments, how economical is that to their business plan to take images in a place they’d never otherwise be. Not that that’s smart, but it might be how business people (I used to be one) think.

Glenn Barlow says:

on January 29, 2014 at 11:01 am

Sorry for the auto fill generated spelling errors above. My iPad wants to think to much when I type on it

Chris Schonwalder says:

on January 29, 2014 at 11:15 am

You again grab my emotion Joe. You did it with the photo of your Mom; with the story of the burned girl in Asia; and now (as often) with your verbal descriptions and photos of dancers. I shoot ballet, both professional and schools, and appreciate what it takes to excel in a dance career. Yes, an attitude, but with grace. Dancers move noticibly differently than other people on the street; but on stage, they make it poetic.

I’ve followed you for many years and have seen all the video images before; but never will it be too much. Thanks again from North Carolina.

David Potts says:

on January 29, 2014 at 11:32 am

Amazing! Thanks.

Bill Bogle, Jr. says:

on January 29, 2014 at 11:56 am

Stunning. I love your use of light (duh) and putting the dancers in unique locations. Who but you puts them in the boiler room or on the roof in Russia. I always wonder what they must think of you or your suggestions for a shot. But they all work magnificently.

Bill Bogle, Jr.

Joe Schmidt says:

on January 29, 2014 at 11:58 am

Great photography Joe. Maybe it was something with my internet connection, but the show kept stopping on Vimeo. Had to keep restarting it. Worke fine on your web site. The gremlins are at work.

Craig Lee McAllester says:

on January 29, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Thanks Joe, truly insightful. I’ve been shooting since 1964, and I’m still just a student of photography. Your work gives me the drive to keep going.

Doug Ayers says:

on January 29, 2014 at 8:31 pm

A dance company would be fools if they did’nt hire you.

Devorah Goldstein says:

on January 30, 2014 at 3:22 am

Whoa, stunning! And I recognize a couple shots from a Kelby Training video! 😉 Thank you for putting up such a large collection of your dance work for everyone to enjoy, hope it does the trick! (It should!!)

Roy says:

on January 30, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Beyond words! One of the (count on the fingers of one hand) blogs that have touched me deeply. Thank you Joe!

Phil says:

on January 30, 2014 at 4:12 pm

Very inspiring. Loving your work.

michael anthony murphy says:

on January 30, 2014 at 7:08 pm

Natural light in this one? it can’t be!!!

Gary Scaife says:

on January 30, 2014 at 8:04 pm


Elena Gerli says:

on January 30, 2014 at 11:01 pm

Inspiring and wonderful. Cirque du Soleil comes to mind…

Alan says:

on January 31, 2014 at 1:53 am

“… in hopes of attracting assignments.” One of the most amazing photographers around seeks work. Lesson learned.

Zoe Smith says:

on January 31, 2014 at 4:19 am

Wow what a nice dance step! As a passion or exercise, dance is really helpful for maintaining health. Thank you so much sharing it with us.

John Staber says:

on February 1, 2014 at 11:14 am

An inspirational video. My favorites are the shots with the dancers out of their element. Who but Joe McNally would pose a ballerina in the torpedo room of a submarine. I’ve learned a lot from you Joe but I think the most important lesson has been to put my camera and subjects in unusual places.

Rick Potts says:

on February 1, 2014 at 9:10 pm

Truly inspirational. I too stand in awe of dancers, even my own group, who have tried unsuccessfully to beat rhythm into me. Thanks for the video, although it was missing one of my favorites – the strobe effect of multiple images (which I am sure you have done several times). Thanks & keep shooting

Rick Potts says:

on February 1, 2014 at 9:11 pm

P.S. Congrats on the recent Award.

Fadi Kelada says:

on February 3, 2014 at 5:43 am

Thank you Joe for sharing this video, I’m working on ideas for the upcoming Fast Flash workshop, see you in Dubai :-)

Peter Steiner says:

on February 4, 2014 at 11:05 am

Amazing portfolio of work. I am an avid fan of your photography, and I truly feel you being AT HOME in this particular niche. The work just speaks for itself. :-)

Richard Hales says:

on February 6, 2014 at 4:01 am

Inspirational and informative as ever. Your words are almost as well put together as your imagery!

Rikki Hatfield says:

on February 10, 2014 at 10:34 am

Always learning inspiration photography tips from you. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge!!!!

Kryn says:

on February 12, 2014 at 11:08 pm

You know Joe, It’s interesting that the third time in a month’s time I read about Dance Photography. Earlier I saw a DVD borrowed from a colleague, with Dave Hobby doing a Dance photosession, and I saw some clips of Frank Doorhof doing dance photography, and now I see this post from you!
I still need to develop my own strobist techniques, as I’m just starting my first steps in that larger universe, but I actually have a friend who used to do professional dancing, and recently started a dance consultancy company here in Shanghai. I think this is a great opportunity to try some dance photography myself.

Alan Langley says:

on February 25, 2014 at 10:14 am

I really enjoyed the video but I have to say that I really love the image that you blogged – superb.

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