Interview with Joe McNally

Composition and lighting tips from Joe McNally

Award-winning photographer Joe McNally, master of lighting, who shot for Life, Sports Illustrated and National Geographic, tells us more about the underpinnings of being a good photographer, or simply put, how to get better photographs.


In our latest video, Joe McNally shares a few insights with us, and goes back to some of his legendary photographs. Composition-wise, he emphasizes on trying new angles, changing viewpoints, like this photograph with the Hollywood sign. This photograph from a helicopter only took roughly half an hour for the shot itself, but months of preparation. Even if  you don’t go to such an extent, Joe McNally insists on getting prepared thoroughly prior to a shoot. Imagine the job, pre-visualize your shoot in the first place, and do your research. Finally, checklist your equipment, and make sure you pack some redundant equipment, especially for assignments where you don’t get a second chance. Here is the photograph that went through all this preparation :

joe mcnally hollywood

Hollywood sign – Photo Credit : Joe McNally

On this next photograph, is an example where Joe McNally changes usual angles :

joe mcnally Telescope

Industrial – Photo Credit : Joe McNally

Photography Composition sure has its rules, but Joe McNally also tells us about it as a fluid art form, and others ways to compose, with only half the face for example :

joe mcnally Portrait

Portrait – Photo Credit : Joe McNally

And here is a photograph, where Joe McNally made use of some of traditional composition rules, like the rule of thirds, and his particular care of the edges of the frame.

joe mcnally Stealth

Industrial – Photo Credit : Joe McNally

Video Digest :

  • Composition : Try new angles, get the camera in a new position.
  • Composition : There are rules (Rule of thirds, Edges of the frame) to know about, but it’s also a fluid art form.
  • Mental approach to photography : Imagine the job, or the assignment, pre-visualize it.
  • Make some research prior to the assignment.
  • Checklist your equipment.
  • Get to talk to the people, your subject, before you even think about picking up your camera. Build a bond with them to make them feel more comfortable.
  • Shoot multiple frames in a portrait situation, in order to catch that one picture which just works, which has that Mojo
  • Lighting : Light is Language.
  • Final advice : “Stick with it”. You’ve got to love photography and be tenacious.

More about it