Sketching Light book cover

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.

Believe me when I say that Sketching Light is like having a conversation with Joe. I know. Truth be told, I owe a lot to ol’ Joe. Years ago, he opened my eyes to the potential of using big flash on location during a workshop in Santa Fe. Many times since, Joe’s hauled me out on memorable shoots. He’s had me translate his Nikonian into Canonista during workshops—in both New York and California. Joe also opened the door to my relationship with Peachpit Press—which lead to the publication of my Speedliter’s Handbook. So, yes, I’m biased.

Let me offer up the following insights as a Canonista > 

> Sure, the book is Nikon-centric. Joe is Nikon-centric. If you shoot Canon, or Sony, or any other brand, don’t let this worry you. Strip out the Nikonian jargon and Sketching Light remains a heavyweight when it comes to lighting. (Unabashed plug, if you shoot Canon, my Speedliter’s Handbook will give you all the info on buttons and dials that you need.)

> 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. So many possibilities.

> 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.”

Sketching Light – paperback

Sketching Light – Kindle/eBook

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3 Responses to Sketching Light: Proof That Joe McNally Has No Secrets

  1. michaelmontalto says:

    Great review Syl. I'll pick it up and see if it is as good as your Speedliter's Handbook. I recommended it to a couple of my friends who picked it up and also thought it was exceptional. I look forward to picking up a copy.


  2. […] Sketching Light. Again, many thanks for patience whilst I doodled and bumbled. My dear friend Syl Arena gave it a thumbs up on his blog. Seeing as Syl knows his way around a Canon speed light better, […]

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