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on 7 November 2009
After reading some of the previous reviews, I do wonder what some people expected when they bought this's well known this guy exclusively uses Nikon kit, so it was always going to feature that company's products. I use Nikon at work (as a Crime Scene Examiner) and I've just gone over to Canon (EOS 5D MkII) and Metz for my private stuff, so I feel I can give an unbiased opinion.
I bought the book because I wanted to know more about the capabilities of Speedlight lighting, as recent years have seen a lot more accessories available through companies like Interfit (their Strobist range). In the old days you had bulky studio kit or weedy little underpowered on-camera units. That's all changed now.
The author's use of American "slang" can be a bit irritating, but it's just his writing style. He's an American so get used to it. His pictures aren't perfect either (whose are?) but he doesn't say they are. It's all a matter of taste, after all, and if his clients liked them then who are we to criticize?
Where this author excells is in his huge well of experience using this type of lighting. In many cases, it's a case of using the kit to get a picture or not getting the picture at all, and for this you can thank the guy's background in journalism.
I really liked the case histories for each picture, with sketches and detailed notes to show you how he achieved the results. Some are really simple. So simple in fact you're left feeling quite inadequate, as there's always a temptation to over-light things and lose the atmosphere in a scene.
The author seems to have the knack of knowing exactly how much light to use, and where to put it, to achieve natural-looking effects under challenging situations. That's exactly why I bought the book in the first place, as I aspire to this myself.
So don't get hung up on the Nikon branding thing...just transfer the techniques to the kit you use.
And don't get hung up on the author's style of writing. He's American OK?
Additionally he's enthusiastic about what he does, and this comes over in the book.
So if you want to expand your knowledge about using Speedlights, get it.
And if you think you can write a better book on the subject then go ahead and do it.
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on 6 November 2009
This book is all about flash. Not the single tiny spark of light found on most cameras, but dedicated shoe mounted and remote flashes. The best aspect of this, is that McNally sticks to methods requiring just one single flash. Alot of photographers use more than one flash as well as expensive lighting equipment, but McNally shows how to acheive striking photos with minimal equipment. He does however let himself go in the last chapter and uses all the flashes he can find (and there are lots!).

Throughout the book, a couple of pages are used to cover an assignment that McNally has completed. The first page is the chosen image from the assignment, together with a catchy title. The methods, difficulties and lessons to be learnt from each assignment are then described along with other images which either didnt quite work, have an alternative viewpoint, or just show the layout and arrangement of the lighting situation.

The book is close to repeating itself on a number of occasions. I say 'close' as an entire book on how to shoot with flash is always going to repeat itself, but the author actually does a pretty decent job of making each chapter unique.

Technicalities such as gelling, zooming and compensating your flash are covered by describing how and why they were used to take a shot.

A point to note is that McNally is clearly a Nikon user, and there is absolutely no way of getting away from it. It should be understood however that the author cannot be proficient in every manufacturer's equipment, and when describing methods it would be naturally easiest to describe the actual equipment used. Dont let this put you off however, as most top-end flashes (and cameras to some extent) have much the same features, and a Nikon flash is as relevent to a Canon flash.

Beginners: Probably not suited to beginners. You may be overwhelmed by the jargon and want to experiment with on-camera flashes first.
Advanced: Recommended, especially if you like the dramatic effects.
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on 26 December 2009
In this brilliant book, McNally goes into great detail about his creative inspiration, logistical challenges, available technology & accessories for particular shots. He shows annotated diagrams about how he set up the shot, and then also evaluates the successes, failures, how he would do things differently.

He is a hugely seasoned, highly successful pro who takes beautiful portraits - visually this book is a pleasure to leaf through. In addition, I enjoyed his honest, personal and conversational style and his anecdotes, it was an excellent read. He talks about his sitters, how he interacted with them, how he got the shots.

However, each to their own. I shoot Nikon, love off-camera flash, and do portraiture, usually on-location where the set up can be complicated. So this is my dream book. You shoot studio-light Canon product photography? There'll be another book for you somewhere else (if not, write one), don't come over here and start ripping on it.

Many thanks to McNally for sharing so much. I'm one of those people that look at the internet too much, and look at loads of "useful" tutorials online. Sure, I bookmark them, and "feel" like I'm learning, but it's so, so rare that I actually put something I read into practice - it all just becomes background noise. Not with this book. My photography changed for the better with every chapter, I've put dozens of things that he's talked about into daily practice, my friends have thought me remarkably creative with how I now approach lighting challenges, especially in group shots. Little do they know my secret weapon - a copy of this book.

And - it's not that I followed his set-ups to the letter, and herein lies what's genuinely awesome about this book. McNally doesn't write prescriptively, he uses the examples as case studies, what he infects you with is a delight in solving lighting challenges. He inspires you to think creatively when you approach a new, unknown situation, to be ready for anything, indeed - invite new and difficult set-ups and as you do, develop your own style & approach. So even you, patient, sllloww shuttter speeed Pentax landscapists, there may well be something in here for you too.

I wish I had it in hard-back, but the paperback edition is probably best because you'll find you're leafing through it a lot and stuffing it in your bag, it's not a sit-there-look-pretty book, it'll become part of your arsenal. Layout design, paper quality & print quality is also of a very high standard inc. many beautiful full-page photographs.

Buy it, read it, unreservedly recommended.
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on 31 March 2009
With so many books on photography out there that by their summary promise 'the earth' it can be difficult to know what to buy. Not so when it comes to this new book by Joe McNally. It is quite simply an incredible book on photography - focusing on the use of flash photography (speedlights). In the first chapters Joe takes you through the kit he uses and why and then page after page shows some incredible photographs and exactly how he created them using; every thought, every mistake, settings ... the lot!!!! it's all covered making this THE book to own.

Honestly, if you only had one book on flash photography, in fact photography in general, then this is the one to own; it really is that good. As a professional photographer, this book has taught me so much and given me so many ideas for shoots ... my only wish now is that there were more hours in the day :o)
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on 13 April 2009
This is part follow-up, part companion volume to the excellent The Moment It Clicks. It is as informative and well written as the earlier book but concentrates exclusively on the use of battery-powered flashguns (or "strobes" as the Americans like to call them).
Joe McNally is a very good writer, his breezy conversational style suggests that he is an excellent teacher too and this makes the 300 or so pages enjoyable to turn. This is not, however, a how-to book as such. We follow McNally through various situations, he discusses the set-ups and we see the high quality editorial-style images that result. As with The Moment It Clicks, anecdotal information features heavily alongside the technical and in my opinion this is good. What we're getting is a useful and entertaining insight into McNally's work and methodology including the improvisation and the occasional splash of good luck that photography depends on.
Don't look elsewhere if you want a how-to book; buy this as well as it's a bargain for £13. For a more how-to approach, visit David Hobby's Strobist blog and work your way through lighting 101 and 102: better than any instructional book I've ever seen.
Criticisms? If you are either a working photographer or enthusiast who wants to travel light - therefore the idea of small battery-powered kit appeals - be aware that although there are plenty of simple scenarios, McNally is also prone to shooting with 173 Nikon SB800s (I exaggerate . . . a little) and therefore this book is not just about small production numbers. He worships at the altar of Nikon and therefore the book could be considered more useful for Nikon users than Canon or other brand users. As a Canon user, I'm not overly-perturbed by this, if anything we should all hope that Canon get their act together because the Nikon CLS set-up seems superior to the Canon equivalent (if this book is anything to go by).
Finally, a fairly minor point but worth noting: because it is so specific to his practice and reiterating the fact that this is not a how-to, there isn't as much material for those of us that don't work in his way. He uses TTL off-camera control, aperture priority mode, second-curtain sync. If, like me, you prefer manual off-camera flash control, manual mode, first-curtain sync., this becomes even less of a how-to book and more a source of inspiration. And that is no bad thing.
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on 9 July 2011
I almost did not write this review, as I don't want too many people knowing how easy and fun this book is to follow and put into practice the techniques shown.
So what if the guy is a Nikon user. Come on, it's not rocket science to alter to Canon flashes. I'm a Canon user and I am not great at following most manuals or "how to" books. However I worked it out

I have purchased 12 books on off camera small flash techniques in the last year or so, and this book is by far the best and easiest to follow. It's written in a way that I find amusing and not too technical, yet for some reason I GET IT here.
A teacher once told me "If you make learning fun, people remember" Well I kind of found that with this book.
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on 24 March 2011
Joe McNally is the Jamie Oliver of photography!

A little bit of this, a bit of that, know the rules, bend em, break em, try stuff, experiment. I have always cooked like this and so why shouldn't flash photography be like this, too? It took Joe's book to ram this one home.

If only all photography books were half as entertaining as this as well as being educational. Joe's relaxed, even re-assuring style, of writing makes his book very difficult to put down; which you do need to every now and again just to try things out!

Only thing is that I now hanker after more speedlights and assorted accessories!
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on 10 June 2009
I really found this to be an excellent book. It challenged me to get my flash off my camera and start taking pictures. What higher recommendation can I give it?

You should be aware, however, that Joe is very much a Nikon user and there is a lot of information about products and settings that may not always translate for other brands. Since I have a similar camera and flash to the ones he uses, this was not an issue (in fact a huge advantage) for me.

What I really liked is the way he shows a spectacular picture, then breaks it down to show not only how he lit it, but also why he made many of the decisions and what settings he used.

I also enjoyed many of his anecdotes - I learned a lot about the fun (and not so fun) life of a professional photographer.

Beware though - it can be an expensive book! Since reading it I discovered all sorts of new toys that I just HAVE to have, like light stands, umbrellas, softboxes, extra flash units, grips, clamps, extension cables and and and....
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on 15 October 2010
Time was when hotshoe flashes were problem-solvers when there wasn't enough light or to add a subtle hint of fill. The most andventurous thing someone might do is stick one on a one bracket. Then Nikon's CLS and the Canon Wireless systems introduced the idea of using small flash creatively. Many photographers simply ignored this but people like Joe McNally picked up the ball and ran with it with impressive results.
But then a weird thing happened - fairly obscure people using flash off-camera 'went viral' on the net and became global geek superstars, folks like Zack Arias, David Hobby. Suddenly if you weren't a 'strobist' you weren't really going the whole hog photographically. The HotShoe diaries is a nerd's wet dream - lots of jargon-laden accounts of a guy living the dream. There's plenty of food for thought and ideas here and an insight into a successful pro at work. For me, it's more of a read once then put on the shelf book rather than some sort of textbook.
On the downside, visually speaking, I'm not alwaysw a fan of heavily strobed images like McNally's. Many in this book have that layer of American chintz to them that doesn't really inspire me. Plus the strobist scene seems to have spawned loads of amatuers running before they can walk and producing terrible images - people who should have learned photographic basics before going wild in the playpen with multiple flash. That's not really the author's fault, though.
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on 25 May 2010
I've been a professional photographer for 4 years now and I'm only just starting to realise the potential of speedlights in studio, but particularly on location.

Found this book really helpful. Joe McNally knows his stuff and this book is not a definitive recipe guide (set camera to x and speedlight 1 to y and speedlight 2 to z and you'll get the perfect result), but is more 'This is what I did at the time and it's a good starting point'.

He explains the different settings and capabilities of the Speedlights, as well as describing the effect different light modifiers, such as umbrellas, reflectors, coloured gels, snoots, etc. will have on the light. All written in normal language, not instruction manual techno-speak.

OK, he unashamedly uses Nikon and gives specific examples of how he used specific equipment. Suits me fine, but may leave Canon users wondering slightly!

Inspires you to try out different ideas. Thoroughly reccommended.
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