Tag Archives: light

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 Art of Photographic Lighting

Art of Photographic Lighting cover

Eib Eibelhaeuser’s The Art of Photographic Lighting is an interesting book and not the typical book that I see written for photographers. Many books about photo lighting focus on the fieldwork—lighting setups, equipment, handling natural light and other details. The Art of Photographic Lighting is part history book, part art theory book and part photo lighting book. I’m not sure whether this is a good or a bad thing.

Eib’s writing style is clean and clear, which I appreciate. There aren’t many anecdotes or stories from the field, so the writing is not very vivid or interesting like other photographers’ books. (Joe McNally’s books on lighting are practically the opposite.) I also was somewhat disappointed that there wasn’t more actual writing in the book: subjects are sometimes given just a few pages, and the pages often have plenty of white space and photography. The book design is nice and clean, but there is not as much content as I’m used to.

The content is solid. Eib is knowledgeable about many different aspects of photography lighting, including light bulb structure and history, flash configurations, color temperature, and quality of natural light at different times of day. I liked the chapters on natural light the best, and sections were well-defined (“Day,” “Night,” “Indoors” and more). As mentioned above, The Art of Photographic Lighting does not dive deep and these subjects aren’t always covered in detail.

Many pages in The Art of Photographic Lighting are devoted to photography, but quite a bit of it is bland and not very memorable. They do a good job of illustrating the lighting principles described in the text, and the images are technically good, but they are really just not too imaginative, exciting or artistic. I’m not sure how I feel about this because The Art of Photographic Lighting seems more of a textbook and the images do their job. Maybe Eib should strive to find or make images that do more than that.

Ultimately, like I mentioned above, The Art of Photographic Lighting is a good example of a textbook on photographic lighting. Its spare, clean style and comprehensive survey of lighting history and composition make it a very useful guide. However, I think the artfulness of lighting is lost and there’s very little text that sparks the imagination. That should be added to this book if it is ever given a second edition.

The Art of Photographic Lighting
Eib Eibelhaeuser
Published by Rocky Nook
US $44.95
Rating: 6/10
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

BOOK REVIEW: The Nikon Creative Lighting System

nikoncls

After reviewing The Hot Shoe Diaries, I have lighting on my mind and another lighting book to review: Mike Hagen’s The Nikon Creative Lighting System. Unlike Diaries, this book is a nuts-and-bolts compendium on Nikon’s lighting gear combined with chapters on how to get the most out of the gear and case studies for real-world instruction. It’s very well done and I think photographers working with Nikon speedlights should consider picking it up.

Definitive directions

What I like (and don’t like) about this book is the extensive coverage of Nikon’s speedlights, including the SB-600, the discontinued SB-800 and its replacement, the SB-900. Also covered in detail are the Speedlight Commander Kit (R1C1) and Speedlight Remote Kit (R1). The bulk of the book is devoted to the operation of these five products, which is good for those who sometimes need instructions for all these products in the field. However, it’s not such a good thing if you only own one speedlight—the rest of the pages are fairly useless in this case. I’ve owned a SB-800 for a few years and just picked up a SB-900, and I’m using this book to help master my new gadget.

The rest of the book—which doesn’t constitute many pages—covers general flash knowledge such as flash theory, how to successfully use wireless flash, white balance, using gels and case studies that really help apply the theory to practice. These case studies are really helpful because they are written so each one applies to a particular kind of photography (travel, portraits [outdoor and indoor], events) and lighting setup (one light with cable, pop-up flash, commander and remote, multiple remotes and more). However, while they are helpful they do suffer from a lack of space (each scenario has only a few paragraphs) and might not necessarily present that one scenario a reader really wants to figure out. For a real wealth of real-world experience, The Hot Shoe Diaries is a much better selection.

Take it for what it is

The Nikon Creative Lighting System may not devote enough space for using flashes in the field, but as a comprehensive overview of the Nikon Creative Lighting System it is well-done—clear, well-written and complete. Some readers may feel a glorified book of instructions is not what they need, and if that’s the case then steer clear of this one and use the instruction books that came with the products. But for that particular type of reader who uses several Nikon flash products and can use a book that covers it all, The Nikon Creative Lighting System is very well-done.

The Nikon Creative Lighting System
Mike Hagen
Nikonians Press/Rocky Nook
US$34.95
Rating: 9/10