Joe McNally is a legend. His career has spanned over 30 years, 50 countries and regular contributions to the biggest and best magazines, like Life, National Geographic and Sports Illustrated.
He got that way because he’s a truly awesome and innovative photographer, yes, but also because he knows how to light the scene.
Whether he’s using a bank of Speedlights, softboxes, umbrellas, diffusers and bounce techniques, or a single flash, Joe has supreme technical mastery and ingenious creativity when it comes to throwing beautiful, appealing light onto his subjects. Light that makes you want to scream and shout. Light that makes you want to cry. Light that, as a photographer, you wish you had even a sliver of the control and creativity that he has when he shoots.
That’s where this book comes in. The Hot Shoe Diaries: Big Light From Small Flashes. AKA the Nikon Flash Bible. In it, Joe actually shows you how to create and control the light in ways that give you not on the technical know-how, but also the confidence to go out and light scenes that would have scared you to death in the past.
Back when I went looking to expand my own lighting skills and equipment, I went out and got this book. Over the course of the next week, I read it from cover to cover. Then I read it again. Then I read it yet again, this time with my little red Moleskine notebook in hand, jotting down notes and ideas as I covered each chapter for the third time.
Then I went out into the world and lit things, and I suddenly saw the world open up. As someone who had previously relied primarily on natural light for my photography throughout my career, I realized that I didn’t need to be scared or intimidated anymore if my subjects weren’t lit by perfect afternoon sun anymore. I had options. I had equipment. I had new ideas.
I’ve actually been shooting with off-camera flashes for quite a few years, ever since the days of the Nikon SB-25 and 26 units. These days I’m using the SB-800 and SB-900 units, which offer wireless communication and creative options that far exceed anything that the SB-26’s could every do.
That combined with the knowledge that I gained from reading The Hot Shoe Diaries, I feel like my style and professional abilities have a whole new edge compared to what they were in the past. I don’t run, frightened when I need to shoot inside, or when the light outside is not optimum. In fact, I actually seek out challenging shooting situations with excitement and confidence. Hard to believe that one book could make that much difference, but it did.
Even though Joe uses Nikon flash equipment, his concepts for creating and throwing light are universal. So, if you’re a Canon user, you can still get a lot from his book, although you might want to also check out the long awaited Canon Flash Bible, Speedlighter’s Handbook: Learning to Craft Light with Canon Speedlites by Syl Arena, which I reviewed earlier this month.
No matter which system you use, if you want to expand the scope of your photography skills and creativity, I’d definitely recommend either of these books, although if you’re a Nikon user, then it’s a no brainer- check out The Hot Shoe Diaries, I promise, you’ll walk away inspired.