I recently participated in a panel discussion at PhotoPlus Expo, designed for young, mostly student photographers. The central issue to be addressed was roughly, “What do I know now that I wish I knew when I started?”
That’s a big list. But I only had ten minutes to speak, so I cut to the chase and got down to basics real quick.
Be careful with your archive. Simply put, take care of your pictures.
Jeez, I lost a lot of pictures. I changed agencies a number of times, worked for a lot of magazines, and often traveled one way while my pictures were traveling another. I’d be in Africa for a month and my stuff was getting sent to an editor who might be careful or careless, to a lab for duping, or to an agent who may or may not have scruples. Or, I just threw things away, unwittingly, carelessly.
Hang onto your stuff. What else do you have but your pictures? Why do you work so hard? At the end of the day, what do you have to sell?
Ideas. Create them, protect them, and describe them well. (Which means have good writing skills!) And, as hopeless as it seems sometimes, project them out into the marketplace. Repeatedly. If it’s seaworthy, somebody will bite. Without ideas, there are no pictures.
You might love the magazine. (Read, client, job, publication.) The magazine don’t love you back.
Understand you are in this, ultimately, alone. On your own pins. As soon as you get cozy about the run you are on, with anybody, things will change for the worse. The editor who loves your stuff will get fired. The magazine/client will hit hard times. Greece will default on some sort of loan, or we’ll get in a trade snit with China and for reasons impossible to fathom, the stock market tanks and your work clock slows down.
So, be resilient. Develop solid skills. They will be the foundation for the build of your career. You’re gonna hear “no” a lot. Or you’re not gonna hear anything at all, for stretches of time. Be confident. You’ll find another client. That editor who adores you will resurface someplace.
And ultimately, take satisfaction in the fact that you will endure. You know how to find work. You know what to do with yourself when you don’t have an office to go to. You’re not afraid of losing your job, ‘cause you’re not gonna fire yourself. And you love making pictures and that is a fire in your gut. Ya got sand. You’re in it for the long haul.
When things are at their worst, oddly enough, that is the time to be your most aggressive and take your greatest risks.
Don’t be afraid of your imagination. It’s hard, sometimes, to admit or explain your imagination about where a shot or a story can go. You are revealing a lot about the way you think, and therefore about yourself. When you are asked about the photos you have in mind, you find yourself articulating same, and it can sort of feel like you’re undressing in front of a bunch of gawking onlookers. But it’s okay. Get used to it, and be unafraid.
Diversify! Observe basic good business practices and find clients who will pay you what you are worth. Nuff said. Good clients are out there. Churn. Research. Find them.
Know your craft! Work hard at it. Know your stuff. If you are not confident with your tools, your pictures will be tentative. And tentative pictures ultimately lead to no work, or, even worse actually, work you don’t want.
Know that you will age, and take steps. There will be a day when you can’t quite make out your control panel anymore. You’re cranking that diopter on the viewfinder to the max. And your knees (ankles, back, shoulders, neck) creak back and forth like the cemetery gate in a horror movie. Take care of yourself.
Find something so beautiful you can’t help but shoot it. When you find such a thing, and your eye is in the lens and your heart stops, just a little, with every click, the money you may be paid, or not, doesn’t matter.
Make uncertainty your friend. There is no road map to good pictures, and therefore no real destination as a photographer. You’re never gonna stop, and you have no idea where you’re going. Relax about that. Realize it’s a beautiful thing. Celebrate it.
Gonçalo Barriga says
Powerful images, inspiring writing, as usual. Thanks, I needed that today! 🙂
Words to live by, doesn’t matter if you’re into photography or not. I needed to hear this today. Thank you!
Clinton Ferrara says
A great photographer and a great teacher. Thanks Joe.
John Keane says
Wow! Words to live by, certainly not just for photographers. Thanks for for sharing your philosophy and your work.
Hey Joe- If this picture taking thing doesn’t work out for ya…you can ALWAYS write! Per usual, the words….AND the photos, continue to kick ass and resonate.
I’ve followed you since the 70’s; thx for still being around, and BETTER than ever!!
I remember listening to you speak at a show in Birmingham, UK and telling a story about the photo with the Hollywood sign. I also remember that your MacBook pitched just before the presentation and how calmly you rebooted it and told us that when you work with technology sometimes it will let you down.
Two tales that I have since regaled as examples of how to expect the unexpected and how to stay calm under pressure. “Make uncertainty your friend”
Very powerful Joe! you have always been an inspiration to me. Thank you for these words today!
RENE TUERK says
This is most powerful article I have read lately. Clear, simple and honest! Thank you!
Joe, you are so damn good, it hurts me! Love this post, love your work, and your prose. Always a laugh to be had while soaking in some truly amazing images. Glad to have shot with you, and crossed your path, you truly define the term “inspiration”
Jenny Yip says
Thank you for sharing your pictures and wisdom! You have truly inspired me, thank you so much.
R. Scott Duncan says
Great, inspirational, thought provoking read. Enjoy your work tremendously. Thanks!
Michael Mah says
Mr. McNally, of the photos that have been lost, I sure hope it isn’t that “Evening Elegance” photo you shot back in the early 90s where you have the lady all dressed up and looking out of the chopper as you are flying by the World Trade Center. Man that is an awesome photo and that photo has inspired me up to this day. Incidentally, if those helicopter photos are still hiding in your offices somewhere, I sure do hope you decide to share that photo (and maybe more from that set) someday soon! Many people have no idea what I am talking about and would be in total awe if they see it!!! Thank You!!!!
Michael Clark says
Sage wisdom, wise words. Another classic blog post Joe! Love this one. Good advice for seasoned folks as well.
Joe McNally says
Many thanks Michael! Means a lot that you stop by the blog. All the best and continued good luck on your amazing career run!
Joe McNally says
yep, I do Michael…still have them. And you may have given my a blog post to write about! all the best….
Vanilla Gorilla says
Another great post Mr. Joe. As a trained Journeyman Electrician, I help young apprentices grow to become journeyman. As I read your books, blog, and articles you are training me to become better at the craft. Thanks again.
Claude Angers says
Great question and words of wisdom in response…This post will from now on be a DAILY source of motivation and inspiration. Thank you for sharing Joe!
This is so inspiring! Just what a start-up photographer needs to hear. Kudos to you Joe and God bless.
JC Ruiz says
All amazing tips by an amazing photographer. I definitely like the tip when it’s at the worse is when you should be your most creative. It makes sense. What else do you have to lose?
Steve Wylie says
Your simple portrait of ballerina Callie is still, for me, the most evocative dance portrait of all. It’s a touchstone, the gold standard of dance portraiture.
Joe McNally says
Wow…thank you thank you, Steve. Callie was truly angelic as a dancer. It was a privilege to photograph her.
Jim Donahue says
I can only hope that someday you will tell us how you got that images with mutipule dancers
Jewella C Miranda says
Thank you Joe. I needed to read that today. I stopped 9 years ago. I start again, and “tentative” is so where i’m at just now… but the addiction and creativity like yours, encourages.
“Greece will default on some sort of loan” ,
when you face this situation from the inside (i am from Greece) the process of making a living as photographer gets more and more difficult. but there is always a way We as photographers are always facing problems on the field. And we have to solve them. the same way we manage to make a living
Very inspiring writing Joe. and your images always Surprising
all the best !!!
Thanks Joe great inspiration.!!!
Jeff Edvalds says
Joe, you’re one of the greatest photographic storytellers of all time. I hope others understand, that anyone can achieve the technical skills, but few will have the character, honesty and ability to translate the emotion of the moment…Thank You Joe.
I REALLY NEED THIS IN MY JOURNEY TO PHOTOGRAPHY
Sounds like the beginning of a new book…. 😉
Carlan Tapp says
Joe – Thank you for your powerful thoughts, words, and photographs. Keep the journey my friend.
John Barbiaux says
Great article! Your writing style has a way of educating and encouraging readers… Your passion is clear as day. Glad I found your blog.
Fotografia de Casamento Florianópolis says
Muito bom seu trabalho! Realmente um fotógrafo diferenciado! Parabéns!
As a budding image artist, I stumbled across your work and it’s amazing! Following close second is the way you articulate the expression in your writing. This is a second career for me as I am a disabled veteran of both the USMC and the army. Battling with physical alements as well as PTSD, I constantly find myself on the ground trying to get back on the horse. I love capturing images, the workflow of processing and the feeling of bliss when the client exudes so much joy in the final product we have created together. But as said before trying to stay the course and keep forward momentum is the hardest thing for me. Reading your words and seeing the images you have captured are an inspiration that I feel I have needed. You have a loyal follower my friend! Thank you for sharing your experiences with the world!
geniux supplement says
Cotswold Designs says
Powerful images backed up by powerful words!
Thanks for sharing this with us newbies! A lot to learn from you.
Matthias Butz says
Thank you, Very Helpful