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157 of 159 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 2011
If you are a student of light, then consider Joe McNally`s new book Sketching Light to be a must-read. Sitting down with Sketching Light is like sitting down for a beer with Joe as he talks you through his favorite pix in a photo album. The conversation will wander, stories will be spun, jokes will be told, detailed insights will be shared, advice will be given, and you'll walk away grateful for the opportunity.

Short bits to know about 'Sketching Light'...

>The book is Nikon-centric. Joe is Nikon-centric. Don't let this worry you. If you shoot Canon, or Sony, or any other brand, don't despair. Strip out all the Nikonian jargon and 'Sketching Light' remains a heavyweight when it comes to lighting. (And, if you shoot Canon, check out Speedliter's Handbook: Learning to Craft Light with Canon Speedlites -- written by yours truly. It will give you all the buttons and dials info that you need to drive a Canon Speedlite.)

> 'Sketching Light' is a book about the possibilities of flash and it covers the full spectrum. Joe shoots Speedlights. Joe shoots big lights. Sometimes you need just a breath of on-camera fill flash from a Nikon SB-910. Sometimes you need the punch of an Elinchrom Ranger. Sometimes you need one light. Sometimes you need to haul out every light that you can get your hands on.

> There are plenty of set shots that show Joe and his gear in action. You'll also find Joe's signature lighting diagrams--drawn by hand on napkins and sketch pads--for nearly every shoot in the book. I recommend keeping a highlighter and a black marker on hand so that you can annotate your "aha!" moments as you read.

> Yes, there are photos in the book that no mere-mortal could make. Joe is, after all, the Indiana Jones of photographers. Yet, there are also dozens of shots that you can make today with gear that you likely have around you right now.

> There are no photo captions in the book. At first, you'll hate this. You've likely grown accustomed to flipping through photo books, pausing at a pic, and having the caption give you the basics so that you can move on. 'Sketching Light' makes you earn your knowledge. I guarantee you, however, that as you read Joe's narratives and decode his photos, you'll be a stronger photographer for your efforts.

> This is not a beginner's book that lays a foundation of basic concepts and then layers new ideas on top. Rather, Joe starts right in at an intermediate level and keep moving. Think of 'Sketching Light' as a long conversation that jumps around and you won't be disappointed. Each "chapter" is really another "hey, let me tell you about this now...." And yes, you can jump around 'Sketching Light' and read the chapters for the pix that interest you today and then jump to another spot tomorrow.

> 'Sketching Light' may give you deja vu. If you've read Joe's blog, watched his videos on Kelby Training, or attended one of his seminars/workshops, then you've likely seen some of these pix and heard some of these stories before. I see this as being like catching up with an old friend rather than a shortcoming. Of course, there were pages and pages of material in 'Sketching Light' that I'd never seen before.

While wrapped in a cover that says "flash", for me, 'Sketching Light' is really about vision and using whatever gear you have to craft images that express that vision. It's about dreaming big and having the courage to fail. It's a book that says "go out there and create the images that only you can create."
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65 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2011
Amazing book. He's a frikkin' genius writer, because he's so uninhibited and confident and smart that he gives you a brain-dump of everything in his mind. Take from it the bits you like, run with 'em, and have fun making some awesome shots.

If you haven't used a lot of flash before, you'll sometimes read over a page and have no idea what he's talking about. WTF? Not that he's overly technical... kind of the opposite, that he's so gushing and enthusiastic and dropping all the hip terms for everything ("start with a bit of a hot rim and then back it off, 'cause in a sidelight situation it's gonna blow it out by a stop... then it gets piped backed to the lens and baby, it's dark out there!"), that it's hard to bring him out of orbit and back into the land of 'OK, what button do I push?' But stick with it. Read the book, shoot, read it again, shoot some more. You'll get it.

McNally gets a lot of attention for using flashes in extraordinarily complex setups -- and yeah, he does. But he's always focusing on the people... the story... the eyes. He's not a landscape photographer. His stories about interacting with his subjects (models, celebrities, musicians, quarterbacks, astronomers, bagpipe makers) are what this is really about.

This book has longer stories, more details and more diagrams compared with the previous books. If you don't have his other books (Hot Shoe Diaries, or The Moment it Clicks) and you want to learn his techniques, *get this one instead*. It's fatter, it's got more writing, and the narratives are longer and more intricate. This one is more chapter-based with various techniques, and the other two are closer to "here's a cool photo, and here's a page about how I took it." If you have the other two and love him, then get this one since it's essentially all-new material, and his technique and philosophy are so useful and inspiring, that the more you read and see of his work, the better your photos will end up as a result.

*** Important note: McNally uses only Nikon and makes only passing mention of Canon. Everything is virtually interchangeable, *but* there's one important difference about flash exposure you need to know if you're a Canon shooter. All over the book, he's talking about the EV exposure compensation being a global adjustment (e.g., p. 213, 345) -- that is, if you change the EV on the camera, you program underexposure into the flash as well. That's how it works on Nikon, but *not* on Canon!

On Nikon: the camera EV and flash EV are indeed linked: lowering the camera EV lowers the flash output. So, to highlight the foreground, you go -2 EV on the camera, and then back up +2 EV on the flash to compensate.

But on Canon, this is *not true*: the camera EV and flash EV are independent. Dropping the camera EV drops the ambient exposure, but keeps the flash output the same! So to do the same as above on Canon, you want to do -2 EV on the camera, and leave the flash at 0 EV. If you do what McNally says, you'll end up over-flashing your subject on Canon.

This difference is *not* well documented, but you can find some more info on it at Canon's web page -- Google for "Canon EOS speedlite system tips" and click on the tips by photographer Stephen Wilkes, and there are a lot of sample photos for how this works. Neither system is better or worse -- but you do need to be aware of the differences!

*** Update February 2012. Nikon's new D4 will ship soon. The D4 offers the option to set the flash level using the Canon way, not the Nikon way... that is, on the D4, doing a -EV on the exposure will now leave the flash EV unaffected. Nice change, since it means you need to do one adjustment, not two, to lower the ambient level. It appears that this is an option (not a full-time change), and that this applies to the D4 only, not the D800. For details, search for an article called "Exposure Compensation When Using i-TTL Gets Easier with the D4" on Nikon's site.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Short Review:
Just get it if you are interested in location photography.

Long review:
I have read Joe's two books before namely Moment It Clicks and the The Hot Shoe Diary. To me the first was more like a commentary which made you get up and make some photos while the second was more a discussion on hotshot flashes (a bit Nikonish if that is a word) but this one goes to the proverbial 11 or perhaps 12 or 13 or may be more.
If you have ever wished to get inside the brain of Joe and understand what goes inside those "noodles" confined inside your skull then this is the book.
If you are like me who can not attend any of Joe's workshop then you simply grab this book and rest assured you know how he thinks while going about making those amazing photos. In fact I will even say that perhaps he did himself a big disfavor by writing this book because it not only talks about "which"gear he uses he also talks about the "why".....e.g. Why he used a beauty dish instead of say a soft box. Now I don't think it is a recipe book but if you seriously intend to learn about lighting your photo it gives you the entire "secret" and at the same time leaves you with enough food for thought to improvise.
To me this book should have come before The Hot Shoe Diary but as the saying goes it is better let than never.
A Big Note:
Learn from him and apply to your need. He talks about alternative but sometimes even the alternatives he suggest is beyond us amateurs (especially if uou are like me from India) But if you are open minded to learn the concept and improvise then there is no better alternative (at least to me) than this book.
If you are looking for kind of a recipe book then my suggestion will be to skip it.
Ultimately it is your choice.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 2011
Joe McNally (the author) is a gifted story-teller, both visually and with the written word. His images pull you in, stir emotions, cause you to linger over them in awe, and finally think, "How did he do that?" In this book he tells you.

He describes the scene he's facing, sometimes showing you preproduction shots. He shares what he was thinking, what did he want in the shot, and what he wanted to exclude with a shallow depth of field. He tells you the technical details that we photographers tend to obsess over such as F-stop, shutter speed, ISO, and white balance (which surprisingly was often auto WB). But he reminds us all that those are the settings for that particular time and location. A new day would likely require new settings. He discusses all the trade-offs between small flash, and big studio type lights, and why he chooses one over the other.

He talks about things I would have never thought of like linking three SC-29 cords together so you can still use TTL. Other gems:
* Why your fill light should come from the same angle as your main light (so you don't make crossing shadows), and how soft it should be.
* Why frosted glass is such a great diffuser
* A face is a 180-degree half circle, with various exposure readings at different angles
* He uses and explains high-speed sync and it's limitation of reducing the illumination on the subject.
* "...shutter speed is like a curtain you pull back. The more you open (slow) the shutter, the more light pours in." Yes, I knew the effect of shutter speed, but that describes it so eloquently.
He does a great job of showing very clearly the difference between flash that is near the camera, and then putting it on a light stand and diffusing it in several different ways. It's a wonderful exploration of the subject.

He is self-deprecating, and just down right funny. And he is painfully honest about his mistakes, which makes us all think, "Hey even Joe McNally has dropped equipment into the river while photographing Gregory Hines!" He got his tripod back, and Gitzo repaired it since it has a lifetime warranty. McNally says he turned it in as "water damage", because it sounded better than "outright stupidity".

He speaks like an experienced photographer, for instance when he was shooting a man and wanted the moon with some detail in the shot he used, "600mm f/4, plus a TC-17e II teleconverter, which makes the overall lens almost an f/8, effectively." That's not to say a beginning photographer can't benefit from this book, because one surely can, it just isn't photography 101. If you want a more basic book try his LIFE Guide to Digital Photography: Everything You Need to Shoot Like the Pros.

With his previous books,The Moment It Clicks: Photography secrets from one of the world's top shooters and The Hot Shoe Diaries: Big Light from Small Flashes I would study them and think about each lighting set-up and experiment with something similar, for instance with gels, trying to emulate what he had demonstrated. Which brings me to all the gear. He is a master with light shapers, grips, and lights. Simply thinking that if I had all of his gear, I could replicate his images would be lunacy, and expensive. But I do take and study his suggestions. I then work on mastering one element and/or one piece of gear at a time. Once I'm comfortable with that light shaper, then I allow myself to consider the shiny new toy like the Elinchrom EL 26187 27.5-Inch Rotalux Deep Octa :)
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2012
I have Joe's other two books which I absolutely enjoy. I was dissappointed with this one though. I had my expectations high because of some of the great reviews. I am not sure what happened here but the book doesn't flow well and it doesn't seem like it was layed out very well either. When he is talking about an image often times it is a page or two away from the information relating to it. This is in no way a diss at Joe. I have been a fan of his work for years. He is very entertaining in his videos and his writing. And he has forgotten more than most of us will ever know. I do recommend two books that are outstanding. Syl Arena's book is absolutely incredable "Speedliter's Handbook" and David Ziser's "Captured by the Light".I bought 3 copies of Syl's book 2 as gifts.
As a final note on "Sketching Light", it felt like it had material left over from his other books, I know this isn't the case it just felt that way. What I really like is when Joe discribes actual jobs that he has done and how he did it. It seems very contrived setting up scenarios to use as an example when I am sure his real life escapades are way more interesting.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on December 9, 2011
Wow. Just wow. 1/2 of the way through and I just can't say enough. Joe is just such an incredible teacher. And of the Language of Light, the favorite subject for many of us. And while I wondered how Joe might better his first 2 books on Light, I need not have concerned myself at all. The master did it. How? Well, unlike "Moment..." which was retrospective in nature (and flat amazing to boot), this book makes you feel like you are along with Joe on the shoot, examing the various possibilities on the shoot. You're seeing what works, what doesn't, and how you manage to make the light speak nice. I mean, how cool is that? Being with Joe on a shoot... you will learn more in minutes than you have in a long time. Truly, this is a work to be devoured again and again. And if it isn't THE photo book of 2012, well never mind, it just flat will be. Now, if you'll pardon me, I am going to go finish the other half of the book.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
The decision whether to buy this book should be easy for one group of people, those who have read The Moment It Clicks: Photography secrets from one of the world's top shooters and/or The Hot Shoe Diaries: Big Light from Small Flashes and/or those who have attended one or more of the many workshops that Joe McNally has taught. For people who have experienced these books and/or his workshops and have enjoyed them (and I'll bet 99.99999% have enjoyed them) then the purchase decision will indeed be easy and these people have either purchased this book already or they will soon (assuming they still have any interest in the topic).

In this book Numnuts (Joe's nickname for himself) relates more of his knowledge of lighting with flashes and of his experience as a freelance photographer (this book seems more autobiographical than either of the two previous books in this series - not really a formal series but effectively one nonetheless). Joe is a natural storyteller (both entertaining and educational) and this book is a fast enjoyable read. For maximum educational value I strongly suggest that you read his two previous books in the order I listed them above (which is also the chronological order of their publication) before reading this one.

Education should always be this fun! Highly recommended!

Full disclosure: I have read two other books (named above) by Joe, have viewed a DVD he did with Bob Krist (highly recommended!) and have heard him speak three times at Adorama (and he has graciously autographed one of his books for me at each of these three workshops). I mention this because when I read this book I can imagine him speaking what is written on the printed page from my first hand experiences with him. This colors my impression of this book so I admit that my review of it may be slanted. I do recommend your reading the other two books in this (non-formal) series before this one as I believe they build on each other.

Last Word: Kudo's to Joe for having the guts to publicly discuss his frustrations in a book with a well known current product from a well known manufacturer (Pocket Wizard's Flex/Mini system). Most people in Joe's position would have remained mum rather than say something less than positive in a book of theirs about a current product. It is not that I agree or disagree with Joe's take on the Flex/Mini system (I own some pieces of it and they seem to work okay for me but I have very limited experience with using them compared to Joe), it is just unusual to see a less than positive public discussion of a specific current product in a book like this. IMO, it gives more credibility to the opinions Joe shares on other products.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 19, 2011
Got it 2 days ago and halfway through it. I can't put it down.
I just bought another book by another very well known NYC shooter, and he tried to do his version of McNally. But the other guy failed because he doesn't have Joe's sense of humor or style.
McNally is a storyteller and teacher at heart, who just happens to shoot really well.
I hope this isn't the last book of a trilogy, because everything Joe writes is full of little nuggets and has a lot of meat with the nuggets.
Just buy the book. You won't be disappointed.

FYI, Joe addresses head-on 2 knocks he always gets from the haters. First he tells you that you can do just about everything he does with a Canon, so it is NOT a Nikon book. He uses Nikon and talks about them. Secondly, there are lots of reasons he uses the small flashes, and lots of places he uses the big flashes. he explains the reason for both.

Get the book. You'll be happy.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2012
Some people have criticized past McNally books for seeming to promote Nikon products, but no need to worry about that. Just mentally change where it indicates Nikon and substitute a commensurate product. Hell, you don't even need the equivalent speedlight. You could figure out how to adapt some of his tips even with many of the no-name brands.

With that in mind, Sketching Light is a great book on lighting with flash--far superior to any of the recent popular ones that seem to be created for the digital market. Joe M. takes you on a brief tour of a simple one light set-up at the beginning, venturing from an on-camera flash image to reflected and light-through umbrellas to softboxes to beauty lights so you can get your bearings in understanding the basic differences among them (or between them for those that don't know proper English grammar). But that is just the very beginning.

The rest of the book displays McNally's lighting techniques in the field, and as importantly, the thinking that went behind the choices he made to light a particular shot. So, you don't have merely a book of instructions, but images that show his technique has ecological validity. I pulled this book from a bookstore shelf, and stood there reading and looking at the first 40 pages, completely engrossed. How many lighting books, how many books on any photography technique book can pull you in like that? That's because the style of the writing, the techniques and descriptions, the thought processes, and the images themselves--are all packaged together in a semi-stream of consciousness method that is nearly like being inside the author's brain as he goes through his lighting experiences and methods.

The book is inspiring and makes you want to DO photography. That in itself is a terrific feat, considering the number of manuals out there that are so tedious that by the time you go through them, you want to throw your Nikon 7000 or Canon EOS out the window and watch a good DVD where someone else is doing the creating.

Sketching Light really is a book by one of the "voices that matter," the description for the books in this series, which often don't live up to that appellation. So don't keep reading my tyronic, philistinic view of the book, go get it, review it, and start shooting!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 15, 2011
Joe's book "Sketching Light" is quite simply the finest book about lighting I have ever read. If you want to learn how to light people on-location, this book will teach you all you need to know. It is simple to understand, fun to read, very inspiring, and absolutely chock full of useful information and stunning portraits!

As a former UPI staff photographer, let me just say: Joe...your book would even pass muster with Larry D! I can't think of any higher praise than that.
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