responsiveslider_lol_02 The Language of Light DVD - More
MeetJoe_02 Meet Joe McNally - More
inthebag What’s in the Bag? - More

Off to a Rip Roaring Start!

Jan 6

In Rambling at 5:46am

A great way to start off the year! We got a check for the use of one of my pictures, evidently a photo of a “man using laptop computer.” Awesome! With funds like this coming almost every once in a while, we are set. 

I don’t know who bought it, and I don’t know who sold it. The check came from a big publishing house which is known to consort with Getty Pictures, so I have to imagine Getty, the omnipresent octopus of picture sales, is involved in some way.

I have this imagination, I guess you’d call it, about my pictures now, given Getty’s dominating presence in the field, and that family name’s history in the oil business. I conjure that my snaps now run in pipelines around the world, just like crude, but a lot less valuable, and get sloshed onto ocean going freighters, flying the Libyan flag, crewed by a vivid collection of multi-national sailors, insured out of the Netherlands and financed through the Bank of the Caymans. They get transported here and there, and get sold at colorfully vibrant outdoor markets in port cities, say, on the west coast of Africa, pictures by the pound, auctioned off somewhere in between the livestock sales and bull semen futures. The sale gets rung up and then chopped, sliced, diverted, rounded off and otherwise divvied up among unknown but certainly necessary parties, and what makes its way back to my studio through routes apparently as circuitous as the Silk Road, is a remuneration, a sum, a check….for $1.32.

The actual arrival of such an amount usually snaps me out of my admittedly nonsensical reverie, and refocuses me on the question facing us every year: How do we do this?

January is always interesting. Once again, I feel like a weary, overweight Wallenda, stepping out on the wire once more, balance pole firmly in hand, studio staff perched precariously like railbirds on either side of the pole, looking at me nervously. I tell them it’ll be okay, fun, even. I don’t think they completely believe me.

If I were an airplane pilot, I would simply get on the intercom and tell everybody to expect “turbulence for the whole year.”

What is the goal? To make it to 2015? That’s worthwhile to be sure, but hardly an inspired rallying cry. I mean, you wouldn’t imagine a legendary commander, grasping a blood soaked saber in one hand, tattered regimental banner in the other, standing on the smoking ruins of a battlefield, outcome teetering on the brink, urging the lads to follow him into the breach of fire with a cry of, “Let’s make it to 2015!”

I have to admit the uncertainty of it all, not knowing where we’re going, and unsure if we’ll make it, is, for me, part of the fun. (I have a very stretchable definition of “fun.”) I have occasionally closed slide shows with a text frame that, referring to the notion of being a photog, says, “This is a journey without a destination,” which is something a colleague said to me long ago, and has proved true.

The young guys in the studio give me shit about this all the time, of course. On particularly confused days here at the shop, when none of us can find our ass with both hands, and we just lost a job we were bidding on, and someone else canceled some dates we had been holding, and we are definitely feeling like the statue and not the pigeon, it has happened that one of the staff exclaims, “It’s okay, guys. Remember, this is a journey without a destination!” Chuckles all around.

In riposte, I generally offer two words back, and they ain’t “Happy Birthday.”

Everyone seeks survival in this business in many ways shapes and forms, now that many of the tried and true channels of assigning, selling and shipping pictures have morphed into something else or disappeared. For our part, we do pretty much what everybody else does. We shoot, teach, blog, sell fine art prints, lecture, send out proposals, have meetings, chat things up on social media, send out promos, talk with clients, send in estimates, and then re-shape those estimates, sometimes endlessly. Nothing about it is rocket science. After all that, we peer into the mailbox and see if anybody sent a check, and the perpetually imperfect calculus of this business is upon us once again. 

But it’s also a miraculous calculus, at the same time. I am still tickled by the fact that I have made a career, gotten paid, put food on the table and a roof overhead by….shooting pictures. It’s still quite thrilling, actually, even at the above rates. So once again, here at the studio, we will shoulder the cameras and resolve to:

Try to do some good work this year. Be straight up with all concerned. Be fair and decent to all the folks around us. For my part, I’ll continue to attempt to be at peace with the absolute certainty that some of my pictures this year will be good, and others will outright suck. I’ll continue to let the ever blessed Lynn pick up the phone, as her good nature, inherent decency, wonderful demeanor, and absolute, fair minded precision with clients is the only way we stay in business. Lord knows where we’d be if I picked up the line even some of the time.

I understand fully at this point the Sisyphean task at hand. I will never shoot my “best” picture. That will always be in the future, out there, like a mirage, receding continuously, even as I stumble towards it, parched and half delirious at the prospect of that potentially momentous click. In the meantime, I will attempt to avoid shooting my worst picture. 

Most of all, I will remain in love with making pictures, still or moving, and consequently, in love with the whole idea of being asked to go out into the world and hopefully see it in a good, interesting, vibrant, refreshing, quirky, or daresay even a memorable way. What an inconclusive, open ended, impossibly wonderful task.

I’ll continue to do this because I love doing it, and because, truthfully, I really don’t know how to do anything else. There are bound to be pictures out there in the year of 2014, and hopefully, I’ll shoot a few of them.

More tk….








98 Responses to “Off to a Rip Roaring Start!”

Andre Arruda says:

on January 7, 2014 at 12:45 am

We’re dinosaurs. And a meteor is coming.

Tom says:

on January 7, 2014 at 4:57 am

At least it’s $1.32 more than folks who shoot for a byline.

Doug Nester says:

on January 7, 2014 at 5:19 am

Just one comment Joe, don’t forget to subtract the amount that you have to pay to Uncle Sam….Great article, looking forward to meeting you here in Dubai during 2014.

John Tebbetts says:

on January 7, 2014 at 9:17 am

Joe, once again, you say it like no one else. You may never shoot your best picture, or like many of us, be able to find your ass with both hands, but if all else fails, you can always write! All the best, John

MWP says:

on January 7, 2014 at 11:01 am

I too received a very small amount as my first income for 2014. $11.14 However, it is also the very first income as a photographer I have ever received as a business. I am on my way to becoming a paid photographer, so for now, I’m overjoyed that even this small amount indicates I can make a living taking photographs. A big thank you for all your helpful insight on all things photo.


Jonathan delano says:

on January 7, 2014 at 11:47 am

Sad sign of the times. But that’s a $1.32 more than all the viewers of the news channels that are today asking viewers to send in their cold weather pix / video – for free and with rights grab.

Cil says:

on January 7, 2014 at 11:52 am

I also have an imagination. When the Discovery Channel says a Pope decided what would appear in the Bible, I imagine, or truly believe actually, that the one part edited out went something like this: And God said “let there be light and upeth popeth Joe McNally.” To the one who can shoot from the highest point of the Empire State Building untethered, :) , you’ll always be the best. No worries.

Jojie says:

on January 7, 2014 at 11:59 am

I love how you are positive over an income that is far less than a coffee! I have pretty much forgotten photography all together as a hobby (blame it on an ex who is very much into photography as well and hooked up behind me to a guy who does photography/videography for a living).. what a turn off….but this year.. I am trying to get back to it.. and hopefully one day.. get some money back for the efforts.. even just a small penny! lolz..

Tom Trio says:

on January 7, 2014 at 2:32 pm

You must be a healthcare provider!

Amy Tierney says:

on January 8, 2014 at 12:34 am

Thank you for the deep belly laughs, aka the truth!

Brian Smith says:

on January 8, 2014 at 1:08 am

Dammit Joe! Stop gloating over the poor bastards who got a buck thirty one…

George Lepp says:

on January 8, 2014 at 2:29 am

Joe: I have not had the pleasure of taking in one of your programs in person. Seems I’ve been on the same schedule with you at NAP a few times in the past. I hope to become more familiar with your work in 2014 as I surely enjoyed you commentary here. All I can say is “Been here and doing that!” I’ve hear nothing but positive things about your programs. Maybe we can get you to Bend, Oregon, for a seminar. We’d pay you more than $1.32. We’d also take you out into the Cascades to look for those better images that we continuously strive for. Really a great article!

Neil says:

on January 8, 2014 at 5:12 am

1 000 000 more of those and you can retire!

davetiye says:

on January 8, 2014 at 6:22 am

i’m glad you liked it. . thanks for reading!

Brad says:

on January 8, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Hey Joe
Did you know that you have big fans even in the tip of Africa?

I am a huge fan, got your books, watched every u tube and love your approach to light.

One day, come visit us in South Africa, we’ll take you into the best wild game private lodge in SA. Imagine your control of light in an uncontrolled big game environment.

You’re approach to photography is inspirational and I hope to attend one of your courses soon.

Don’t let all the fame change your style,



Jim Proctor says:

on January 8, 2014 at 4:12 pm

You are a writer. Now if you / we photographers can show businesses, other businesses how to make money with our photographs then we really have a business that can will make sense. Why can’t we or don’t we do that. Photographs. We’d to be more than feelings. They need to be calls to action. They need to motivate markets to action. When we can demonstrate the economic value of our pics to someone else we have a real business. And we need to stop crying about our income and focus on what we can do for others and their incomes. That’s what business is all about. Wanna be one start thinking like one.

Ken Toney says:

on January 8, 2014 at 11:09 pm

You dog :)

Christophe Sorenti says:

on January 9, 2014 at 4:38 am

Hi Joe!
Thank you so much for sharing this with us, because this happens all the time and I think we then all wonder the same think : am I the only one that kind of incredible nonsense happens to ? I m right to accept this, what future do I have as a photographer if I don’t fight it ?
You are a daily source of inspiration for me and my team, surely to a lot more people out there, I wish you and your family all the best for 2014 !!!
Sincerely yours.

Joe McNally says:

on January 9, 2014 at 6:35 am

SA is amazing. Was there last year. Many, many thanks for stopping by the blog. And, I hope to be back in SA anytime I could manage it. best, joe

David says:

on January 10, 2014 at 9:36 pm

Thank You Joe!
I have been a faithful reader of your blog for a couple years now. What never stops amazing me is that your writing is just as good as your photography. Maybe in some cases better. This post is so good I just had to comment. I have been in love with Photography since I was 12. It put me through college. It bought my first house. I died a little when digital took over. Thanks to you and your willingness to teach and share I am back in love in every way with taking pictures. Thank you. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for your generosity. The very best to you and your family in 2014.

Heather says:

on January 11, 2014 at 1:11 am

Stop bragging and leave some monies for the rest of us, please. ;)

Ivan Boden says:

on January 11, 2014 at 7:03 pm

$1.32, man that’s unfair.

It’ll cost 5X that to drive to the ATM to deposit it.

Charlie MacPherson says:

on January 12, 2014 at 9:55 am

I went through a similar thought process several years ago, when I decided to dip my toes into the murky water of stock photography.

When I realized that iStock would pay me 20 cents (!!!) for a killer shot of a Snowy Owl – a shot that I spent several hours in -20F temperatures to shot with over $20,000 in gear, I walked away from stock and never looked back.

Running nature and wildlife photo tours has proven to be a lot more fun.

Michelle says:

on January 12, 2014 at 12:12 pm

I know this was more about how things are changing in the world of photography, but this struck me:

“I will never shoot my “best” picture. That will always be in the future, out there, like a mirage, receding continuously, even as I stumble towards it, parched and half delirious at the prospect of that potentially momentous click. In the meantime, I will attempt to avoid shooting my worst picture.”

Seriously? You must have a photo you consider your best shot so far?

Arno K says:

on January 12, 2014 at 6:59 pm

Joe, I got a spare room. Come on over. I’ll even feed you if you are willing to help out with the laundry.

Cause that’s how I roll.

Joe McNally says:

on January 12, 2014 at 9:31 pm

Yes, for sure. But the key part of what you ask is, “so far.” That’s the deal, is the continual hope for the best image you might shoot to still be out there….Joe

Ved says:

on January 14, 2014 at 9:57 am

Sometimes reading that even you are scared or at least nervous about the coming year, makes me feel discouraged. Discouraged because if someone like you who’s a legend, struggles with finances shooting pictures, how’ll I even start?.. But it’s the truth all newbies need to hear. It’s so damn hard. And it’s worth it because of that same reason I guess…thanks for sharing all your thoughts on your blog.

Carl M says:

on January 14, 2014 at 4:04 pm

Image-making inspiration, business-making slop.

Michelle says:

on January 14, 2014 at 9:07 pm

Joe, “So far” makes sense. Guess when I read you would never shoot your best picture, I felt a sense of despair thinking that if you haven’t managed to get your “best shot” then I might as well pack up my photography gear and give up. (Of course I’m kidding, no despairing here…well not much anyway). :)

I love your work.

Nancy J says:

on January 14, 2014 at 10:33 pm


Awesome, real words and thoughts from you, but we have come to expect such greatness! Thanks for the inspiration. Learning heaps from your Lighting CD’s too. Hope to see you again in Australia soon.

Curt Clayton says:

on January 15, 2014 at 10:19 am

Wow, how the world of commercial photography has changed! I still recall reading an interview with Pete Turner in the late ’80′s. He talked about his relationship with The Image Bank, one of the top stock photo agencies at that time, and how he had made over $250,000 on his stock sales the previous year. As Pete said, “not a bad chunk of change”. Joe and I are about the same age, so I’m sure Joe recalls those days. One thing has not changed; Joe McNally is still shooting great photos!
All the best, Joe!
Curt Clayton

Gerard Hilinski says:

on January 15, 2014 at 11:09 am

Outstanding post! Enlightening, but sobering. Welcome to the brave new world!

Carm says:

on January 18, 2014 at 10:56 am

I work an 8-5 job in a non-photography field. At my workplace, many of us “older” coworkers are encountering serious age discrimination and fear for our jobs. You are not alone. We are hoping to make it to 2015 and beyond.

Randy McKown says:

on January 18, 2014 at 3:22 pm

a buck 32 !!! .. damn, if you’re ever in Kansas CIty stop by and I’ll split a Big Mac with ya. :P

Benji2505 says:

on January 19, 2014 at 8:49 am

Don’t spend all at once.

dawn kish says:

on January 19, 2014 at 5:18 pm

Wow…I thought my stock check for $13.15 was bad. You nailed this one Joe. What to do? I guess raise the bar and keep making GREAT images because that is what we do and we love it. We have no choice. Thanks Joe for your creativity and knowledge. On ward, damn it! All the way to 2015. WHOOP WHOOP!

Ed Baumgarten says:

on January 19, 2014 at 5:51 pm

Click on brother….click on…….

Willard Clay says:

on January 20, 2014 at 12:28 pm

I have been a Getty photographer for 30 years. They recently sold one of my photos for $0.10! It was royalty free which means they took 80%. Your check tops mine for $0.02.
Will Clay

Gokul Gharai says:

on January 27, 2014 at 10:36 am

This is really excellent!!

Bonnie says:

on January 27, 2014 at 6:40 pm

I enjoyed your sense of humor and your talent for words. I am sure you are a good photographer as well. Thank you for your contribution. Stay Calm and Carry on :)

Louis says:

on February 7, 2014 at 11:05 pm

I understand what you mean Joe. Thanks for sharing so candidly and honestly. We all aim high and try to control the outcome. We plan, and create backup plans…yet so much of how 2014 will unfold is out of our hands. Do we expand? Do we scale down? Do more commercial stuff or shoot more our personal project? It like walking on a tightrope, as you pointed out, trying to balance food on the table and food for the soul on the other hand. Wish you and every in the studio the best in the Year of Horse!

Nick Giron says:

on February 24, 2014 at 7:30 am


You still make more than musicians, Joe

Catherine says:

on March 7, 2014 at 10:37 am

Joe, one of the best posts I’ve read in a long time and true for just about all creatives who write, speak, paint, shoot photography, etc. The whole time I was laughing because I’ve felt all those things each year. I’m saving this one for the times when it just doesn’t happen even close to what I envisioned. Thanks.

ron says:

on March 7, 2014 at 6:25 pm

Joe, you could be a comic for photographers or our shrink ! 1.32 in canadian funds is even less !

Leave a Reply