"You couldn't drag me back to the world of 36-exposure canisters" says Joe McNally

Joe McNally - The Real Deal
(Image credit: Hannah Rooke from Joe McNally - The Real Deal)

The latest book from award-winning photographer Joe McNally isn’t what you might expect. Rather than being led purely by pictures, Joe McNally’s The Real Deal: Field Notes from the Life of a Working Photographer is an insightful, witty and honest account of his 40 years in the industry. 

It’s no secret that Nikon Ambassador Joe McNally has had an exciting and successful career, but this brand new book sheds light on the good, the bad and the ugly. 

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Joe first headed to New York in 1976 with aspirations of becoming a professional photographer. He’d grown up in and grown out of small-town America, itching for the humdrum of city streets and a new life as a photojournalist. With a college degree and camera in hand, Joe went out in search of work, under the naive notion he would land a job just like that.

He did indeed find employment: as a copyboy at the New York Daily News. And there he started to climb the career ladder while living in a cockroach-infested hotel overlooking a theater. The Real Deal explains how Joe went from a lowly errand boy right through to the iconic photographer he is today, driven by an unquenchable thirst and an eye for a good photo. Sharing his highs and lows along the way, this isn’t just a book of accolades, it’s a mix of candid tales, field notes, lessons and insights.  

(Image credit: Hannah Rooke from Joe McNally - The Real Deal)

Since his days doing coffee runs as an in-demand copy kid, McNally has gone on to shoot some extraordinary people and places. From his ascension to a studio boy where he learned about popping film cassettes in darkness and how to decode photographers’ shorthand, McNally has shot the likes of Hillary Clinton, he’s traveled around the world shooting documentary series for National Geographic and his work has featured in publications such as Time, Life, Business Week and Men’s Journal

Reflecting on how much camera technology has advanced in the last four decades, McNally certainly doesn’t miss the days of shooting strictly on film. “You couldn't drag me kicking and screaming back to the world of 36-exposure canisters and Kodachrome,” he jokes in the book. 

Instead, McNally has embraced the digital era wholeheartedly, excited by the prospect of more creativity and less waste. While he comments on the fact that photography is perhaps easier now, he also stressed how important it is to understand your camera, its settings and how they can really ruin a shoot if you’re not on the ball. 

(Image credit: Hannah Rooke from Joe McNally - The Real Deal)

Even though the contract for The Real Deal was signed five years ago and McNally started writing it two years ago, you could argue it has really been 40 years in the making. Prior to becoming a photographer, McNally was an author and educator, but the life he imagined was an image-maker, so he set out to pursue his next challenge. 

His previous experience as a writer does however come through in the beautifully written, engaging text that is both laughter-inducing, nail-biting and encouraging. He doesn’t write from a position of power or superiority but from a position of experience, sharing the knowledge and lessons he’s learned along the way.

Whether you aspire to follow the same path, admire the work he’s done or just want to read a really good autobiography with a lot of very good images, Joe McNally’s The Real Deal serves up all of the above. It’s not an instructional guide (although it does deliver some handy tips and tricks) and it certainly isn’t just a highlight reel of his best bits, it’s a truthful account of what life really is like as a photojournalist. 

(Image credit: Hannah Rooke from Joe McNally - The Real Deal)

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Hannah Rooke
Staff Writer

Having studied Journalism and Public Relations at the University of the West of England Hannah developed a love for photography through a module on photojournalism. She specializes in Portrait, Fashion and lifestyle photography but has more recently branched out in the world of stylized product photography. For the last 3 years Hannah has worked at Wex Photo Video as a Senior Sales Assistant using her experience and knowledge of cameras to help people buy the equipment that is right for them. With 5 years experience working with studio lighting, Hannah has run many successful workshops teaching people how to use different lighting setups.