Tag Archives: Joe

BOOK REVIEW: Joe McNally’s Sketching Light

Sketching Light cover

Sketching Light: An Illustrated Tour of the Possibilities of Flash is the third of photographer Joe McNally’s books that I’ve reviewed, and I never really grow tired of reading his stories. The quality of his storytelling and the depth of knowledge he has gained from years in the field is what makes his books so interesting, and Sketching Light is no different.

As you can gather from the title, Sketching Light focuses on using flash in photography and there are a variety of stories about the topic. Unlike The Art of Photographic Lighting, which I just reviewed, Joe’s chapters are full of text, intriguing and imaginative photography, and a lot of storytelling. All this is on top of technical details supported by first-hand field experience. The book really is an awesome read, and I’d recommend it to any professional photographer. (Amateurs and prosumers will enjoy it too, but Joe’s writing as a professional and some material just doesn’t apply to what they are shooting.)

I was also inspired by some of Sketching Light that did not really pertain to lighting. Joe works with a lot of models and subjects and he writes quite a bit about working with people. There’s also a section, “How Do You Get Fired from LIFE?”, that I was particularly interested in because I grew up reading LIFE magazine in the 1990s and surely saw Joe’s work without knowing it. He doesn’t even mention lighting in this section; instead, the section is about the actual value of accolades and how temporary the perfect gig can be.

There’s a couple criticisms I want to make about Sketching Light. Joe has published three highly-regarded books now, and I think the content is starting to sound the same. The previous book, The Hot Shoe Diaries, is also about lighting and I’m not sure another book about lighting was the best idea. The content is appealing but it also seems too similar to the other two books. I’ve also noticed that Joe’s writing style is very conversational, which I usually enjoy, but it makes for longer books. Sketching Light is over 400 pages long, and I think some editing could pare that down to 350 or even 325. Some of the verbiage in Sketching Light is not necessary. I criticized Eib Eibelhaeuser for an unusually dry writing style in The Art of Photographic Lighting, but I’d say Joe McNally’s writing style could be more streamlined and direct without losing its impact.

Despite this, Sketching Light is a wonderful book and any pro photographer would do well to have it on his or her shelf. I’m putting my copy next to Joe’s other two books, which I refer to regularly.

Sketching Light: An Illustrated Tour of the Possibilities of Flash
Joe McNally
Published by New Riders
US $49.99
Rating: 9/10
Buy from Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: The Hot Shoe Diaries Enlightens and Engages

hotshoediaries

Last year, “Legendary Magazine Photographer” Joe McNally published The Moment It Clicks, which was hyped as one of the greatest photography books ever published. I thought it was a great book, but not perfect—the handling of terminology bothered me, and I had hoped for more writing in a book over 250 pages. But that was in 2008, and this year Joe has published a new book, The Hot Shoe Diaries. Maybe it’s because I’ve had my head down the past few months working for my clients, but this book seems to have had less hype thrown at it—which is ironic, because I think The Hot Shoe Diaries surpasses its year-old predecessor.

More text, more stories, more enlightenment

The Moment It Clicks focuses on a relatively broad collection of photography stories and insights; The Hot Shoe Diaries focuses on lighting, and that focus really brings the book together. The first section of the book is an excellent survey of lighting equipment, settings and Joe’s own secret recipes for success in the field (look for his camera grip technique on page 40). The rest of the book presents a variety of Joe’s stories about lighting problems and solutions he’s encountered—everything from one-light jobs to assignments requiring lots of lights (up to 50!). You’ll also find a small appendix that covers some settings on the Nikon speedlights, but The Nikon Creative Lighting System by Mike Hagen is a far more comprehensive resource.

The Hot Shoe Diaries seems to have a lot more text than The Moment It Clicks, and the stories are just as compelling. I think the focus on lighting actually helped Joe bring together a more interesting collection of tales that really teach readers something great. And I think it’s interesting that there are no footnotes as there were in The Moment It Clicks—I didn’t even notice they were missing.

Something should be said about Joe’s writing style, which is a treat to read but might put off a few people. I prefer a clear, concise writing style with some humor, and sometimes I shake my head a little bit at Joe’s constant use of vernacular, pop culture references and otherwise goofy lines (“Say hello to my li’l frenn!”, “word editors who wouldn’t know a good photograph even if crawled up their zeppelin-sized pantaloons and bit them in their ample buttocks”). Writers normally avoid clichés, but in that second phrase Joe is recharging two clichés with words normally found in children’s books. Despite all this, I still think Joe’s books are fun to read without quite getting too annoying—and anyone who references The Uncanny X-Men at Photoshop World deserves a pass!

Good design, plenty of content and essential focus are what makes The Hot Shoe Diaries a must-have for photographers who use lighting beyond their camera’s pop-up flash. This book does more than give us some cool Joe McNally tales—it gives us a long glimpse into Joe’s working world, complete with camera settings, equipment recommendations and detailed lighting setups for some of his most compelling images. This is where great lighting really happens.

The Hot Shoe Diaries
Joe McNally
Published by New Riders
US$39.99
Rating: 10/10