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A Book About Possibilities

Dec 5

In Books at 5:42am

It’s actually real. Just got sent a copy, and physically held it in my hands. It’s hefty, at 420 pages. I was feeling good for about thirty seconds, but I am cut no slack in my studio. Drew came up to me and nodded approvingly. “It’ll make a good doorstop,” he said.

So it goes. I do have apologies to offer, because this book was supposed to have been done long ago, and there are some folks (bless them) I’ve heard from who have left their pre-orders ride for over a year. Really, truly, apologize. The last couple years have been assignment work run amok, and I’ve had to improvise and re-invent our studio schedule constantly to just keep going out on location. (Which is where I am today, in an open field with a bunch of folks looking at me and expecting that I should know what to do next. Heh, heh–are they in for a surprise!) The delays weren’t entirely self-inflicted–I did wait to experiment with some light shapers, radio TTL and the like as they came on board. And, thankfully, we have been very assignment driven for the last year and a half. Lots of shooting. No down time.

This book was a long and winding road indeed. I looked at tried and true methods, new technology, big flash, and small flash. I experimented with lots of light shapers, both store bought and found, in the studio and on location. I pushed light through umbrellas and windows, off walls and cardboard, and into soft boxes and panels. I disclosed everything I did, via text, sketch and/or production photos. As I mentioned in the intro sections: “There’s a ton of basic information in this book. there are pictures, sketches, production photos, notes, and metadata. In most instances, I’ve divulged virtually everything you could want to know about any particular shoot, short of the color of my boxers. They’re generally blue, by the way, though I do have a couple of pinstriped numbers, and on really big shoots I wear my lucky thong. Joe make joke.”

A great deal of the book coalesces around the use of one light, be it a speed light, a Quadra, or something bigger. I also gaggle two or three speed lights into single sources (so they behave as one light) which is currently popular with new tools and light shapers coming on board.

Advanced techniques are discussed, but the book starts with one flash, hot shoed to the camera.

I take a look at radio TTL, and the new Pocketwizard technology, and examine all manner of triggering, from PW’s to Skyports to line of sight TTL to good old fashion manual slave operation.

There are lots of  production pix, such as the above, courtesy of Jay Mann, and sketches all over the place, courtesy of Numnuts.

The main deal with the book, and why I wrote it, actually, was to cover the gear, the nuts and bolts, the machinery if you will, very, very thoroughly. And then, having done that, get to the much more important questions about why we shoot. As I say, the “how” serves the “why.” There are several chapters called TITIK by my irrepressible editor, Ted Waitt, short for, “Things I Think I Know.” These are simply life lessons derived from 35 years of photography, all over the world, for all sorts of clients. Things to be aware of. Things to avoid. How to behave when things go wrong, knowing that they often do. Advice, if you will, on how to survive and navigate these perpetually uncharted waters.

Why big flash instead of small flash? Why does a certain face need a certain light? Why f11 as opposed to f2? Why would you choose one face over another? How to move fast, in a swirl of uncontrollable events, and keep your cool, light well, and come away with pictures. Building trust on the set, with models and crew. Self assigning, the key to everything. Mixing big flash and small flash. (The lede to that section: “THE BIG LIGHTS FORM YOUR SENTENCES. The little lights are the punctuation marks.”)

How to tell stories with light. How to use light as language. The underpinnings are technical, to be sure, and information about technique abounds in these pages. But the soul of the book resides in the realm of reasons we are compelled to use that technology to  shoot. And why, despite repeated failure, we never, ever lose that boundless enthusiasm the eye exudes when it is comfortably nestled into a lens. For those moments at the camera when everything works, I express thanks.

“…. I remain thankful to be a photographer. In the midst of the torrent of technology we swim in daily, the unchanging mission for all shooters is to make pictures that arrest the eye of the viewer and describe our chosen subjects eloquently. We are part of an honored tradition, that of storytelling, which goes back to the dawn of time. Those prehistoric people, painting on their cave walls—were they doing anything different than we are now, with all our pixels and technical wizardry? I think not. They were leaving their footprints, and telling the story of their times, and their lives. With those ancient pigments on those rough walls, they were saying one simple thing: Remember us.”

Remembrance is important, and the discussion of how we achieve significant remembrance, for us and our subjects, is ongoing and important. As I say, again, in the intro section….

“The discussion is important, because talking about this stuff makes us all better shooters. It’s just that when the talk starts and stops at the numbers, and the whole world revolves around the precious, soulless hardware in the bag, we miss the point. The point is the picture. The conversation starts there.

So we do need to know the numbers, and that’s a beautiful thing because they are, indeed, knowable. There are good, clear, reproduc- ible, precise approaches, distances, f-stops, and shutter speeds here in this book, and elsewhere. Sure-footed knowledge of technique feeds your pictures, and grows your confidence. and that confidence enables you to pursue ever more aggressively the answers to the far more interesting questions that are really the heart of the matter.

So read on, if you will. Study the numbers. Learn the techniques. Ask the questions. Create your own beautiful pictures. Risk failure. Court disaster. Entertain possibilities.”

This is a book about what might be possible when you pick up a camera.

More tk….

103 Responses to “A Book About Possibilities”

Alan West says:

on December 5, 2011 at 5:55 am

Have had my copy on order with Amazon for what seems to be ages, glad it is real and hopefully will receive it soon. Christmas Present to myself I think.

Michael Schiavone says:

on December 5, 2011 at 6:00 am

Joe, can’t wait to pick up your new book. When do you think it might be in Adorama.Looks like your class is already full at Adorama.

Ian Loomes says:

on December 5, 2011 at 6:01 am

Thanks Joe, and just in time for Christmas). I have had mine on order since day 1, and I know it will be worth the wait. Keep doing what you’re doing!

Leif (Sweden) says:

on December 5, 2011 at 6:02 am

I just have to have it ;-)

Regi Varghese says:

on December 5, 2011 at 6:10 am

Joe, congrats. Been waiting so long to get hold of something from you. You’ve always been an inspiration to many photogs like me and will be an essential book in every photographers personal collection.

Lee Ann says:

on December 5, 2011 at 6:10 am

Awesome! And as usual, so well said! Can’t wait to get a copy!

David Dredge says:

on December 5, 2011 at 6:12 am

Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to read it.

Adam says:

on December 5, 2011 at 6:12 am

Damnit Joe, and here I told my girlfriend i wouldn’t be buying any more books!

Paul Kelly says:

on December 5, 2011 at 6:17 am

This has just gone to the top of my Christmas list! Can’t wait to get hold of it, looks great!

Guido says:

on December 5, 2011 at 6:20 am

Thx for sharing the great news! I’m one of the guys who left the pre-order since october 2010 but i think you haven’t to apologize…i have just patiently waited and now You said it’s done…i can’t wait to see it in my mailbox! :D
Thx for sharing and inspiring us (me at least) and push us to improve our skills as photographers and maybe also as persons! :)
wish you all the best

Darren Elias says:

on December 5, 2011 at 6:26 am

Several times over that past year I received an email from Amazon with a subject that started along the lines of: “Your order of Sketching Light has…” Shipped? Shipped?? Shipped??? “…been delayed to about (insert far off date here).” It hurt. I cried. I attempted to bribe Catholic Nuns to stand over you with a ruler and pointer (I told them you once chewed gum in Church). I waited.

Without seeing the book, I know it has been worth the wait. This is going to be awesome!

BTW, the nuns are hard to call off… so if Sister Anges Nazareth and her team show up at your studio, I am sorry.

Louis Cayle says:

on December 5, 2011 at 6:31 am

Joe ,

You inspire me as a photographer, and as a “strange” individual or character as I like to call it. Keep up the amazing work you are an inspiration to us all!

-Louis Cayle

Jan Winther says:

on December 5, 2011 at 6:35 am

I got 3 other books written by you, and I am not going to leave this one at the bookstore. I cant wait for it to be delivered.


Bitan Photo says:

on December 5, 2011 at 6:48 am

Based on the working title and the cover photo I expected this book would be more about the “vision thing.” But after reading this post I’m sold, and will be ordering the Kindle edition as soon as possible. Thanks for finally getting it done and available to us.

Joe McNally says:

on December 5, 2011 at 6:50 am

Awesome…did we grow up in the same neighborhood? n :-)

Verino Popovic says:

on December 5, 2011 at 7:05 am

This book is on my “buy list”. :)

Roger de la Harpe says:

on December 5, 2011 at 7:16 am

Always wonderful to get a new book that you’ve done in your hands. It looks amazing and will certainly be buying it (Amazon?). Really enjoyed your others as well.


Andor says:

on December 5, 2011 at 7:22 am

Great news its out – can’t wait to have!
Though – yes, i know, shame on me :-) – just halfway to read ‘The moment it clicks’. (At least i can tell you its AWESOME! – at the Kermit shoot part I’ve almost cried a bit.)

Mark Elliott says:

on December 5, 2011 at 7:22 am

Excited. Well done, Joe. I hope that it’s available in the UK. Going to check right now!

Scott Wiggins says:

on December 5, 2011 at 7:43 am


Glad to hear it’s finished. Hopefully amazon in the UK will get it to me before the fat bloke in red turns up as I hear my brother and sister in law have it ordered for me. :-)



Ian Pollen says:

on December 5, 2011 at 8:09 am

Great news, been looking forward to this book for sometime :-)

Mike M says:

on December 5, 2011 at 8:21 am

Awesome can’t wait to pick up a copy!
I’ve been a photog for 3 years, switching careers after reading “The Moment it Clicks” in early 2009.
I had little to zero knowledge about off camera flash or what the hell TTL was.
Your books and lifes work had a profound impact on my life I am forever grateful for what you do for the photog industry.

Have a Great Holiday!
Thanks Joe!

Steven Mackie says:

on December 5, 2011 at 8:44 am

An ever-ongoing source of constant inspiration. Can’t wait for it Joe!

Bobbi Lane says:

on December 5, 2011 at 8:44 am

Joe, congratulations! This is a monumental project and impressive in both it’s clear and concise technical information and the depth of the it’s conceptual approach. I’m so looking forward to getting my copy and also telling all my students!
Best of luck,

Marc says:

on December 5, 2011 at 8:50 am

I’m one of those people that has been on the pre-order list for about a year. When your next book is announced, I’ll be on that pre-order list too. Good things are worth waiting for! Thanks for the constant inspiration, Joe!

Jacques Babin says:

on December 5, 2011 at 9:10 am

“Light as language” © Joe McNally.
So simple, yet so profound. Imagine the possibilities… Thanks Joe.

Jeremy Frank says:

on December 5, 2011 at 9:13 am

I so cannot wait to get my hands on this.
The inspirational part for me is the fact that the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts, and that “the point is the picture”, and not just the numbers or the precious soulless hardware.

david says:

on December 5, 2011 at 9:15 am

Sounds awesome, Joe. Can’t wait to pick up a copy!

David Powers says:

on December 5, 2011 at 9:19 am

The book looks beautiful and inspiring. I just pre-ordered it at Amazon and with luck it will arrive soon. This is not for my Kindle, even the color version, but something to hold in my hand.

Deb Scally says:

on December 5, 2011 at 9:25 am

Terrific Joe! Every one of your books is a delicious treat, and I cannot wait to digest this new one. Cheers!

Tony Bynum says:

on December 5, 2011 at 9:36 am

Joe, is this book available for the iPad?

Stu E says:

on December 5, 2011 at 9:43 am

Joe, my copy has been on order for a week! How well is it working for Drew as a door stop? Need to know … I can’t wait to get my copy!!!
Seriously, I learned a bunch from one of your stops on the Flashbus Tour and from your other books and videos. Thanks a bunch for opening my eyes to the wonders of flash. Before seeing your work, I had never really used small flash for more than fill occasionally.

Rick Phenicie says:

on December 5, 2011 at 10:06 am

Just pre-ordered a copy. Can’t wait!

Alberto says:

on December 5, 2011 at 11:01 am

i just pre-ordered the book on amazon (kindle ed.). Joe…I’m still waiting on a digital download of “The Language of light”….I am losing faith ;)

Johan Sopiee says:

on December 5, 2011 at 11:23 am

oh man! i can’t wait to get my hands on your book, Joe!

Joe Masucci says:

on December 5, 2011 at 12:38 pm

After the excellent FBT ( caught you in Boston) I pre-ordered with Amazon. Can’t wait to get ahold of this book. And can’t wait for a workshop near me. Thanks for all you do Joe & crew.

Gale Bizet says:

on December 5, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Happy Holidays Joe,
To your friends and family as well :>)))
Hope book gets here by the 14th.
Long flight from Warm Fl to Cold Bremerton Wa..:>)))To
Visit my lovely daughter Kelly and family.
However, if it does not, I have your other 3.
Love your writing and humor and especially your fantastic talent.
Cheers and Congratulations on a great success.

Stephen Ratcliff says:

on December 5, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Well it’s been a long pregnancy…….Nine months for me, but like any expectant mother in the closing days, I’m sure that you were just ready to get the thing out! Looking forward to having this baby delivered by Amazon and not a stork. It sounds like it is going to weigh in like a big kid. Congrats on this one Joe.

Ken says:

on December 5, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Joe, is the book available for Kindle or IPAD2?

if so where can I order it.

Have the SB900, so whacked out not able to shoot close up with out specular stuff


Mario Plouffe says:

on December 5, 2011 at 3:16 pm

Hi Joe, are you making a french version?

I don’t think i can’t wait anyway i buy the english version!

Save the Planet, the only one with Joe Mcnally

See you in Montreal in 2025?

RobyFabro says:

on December 5, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Now I know what my wife is going to buy me for Xmas!!
I’m looking forward to it, and…I’m going to take next month off so I can read it!
Take care.

Jurgen says:

on December 5, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Hi Joe,

Yet another book from you I have to add to my selection. Favorite part from the description: “How to tell stories with light. How to use light as language.” That’s the essence for me. I look forward to the book.

Tracy Comer says:

on December 5, 2011 at 4:23 pm

I just pre-ordered this book and cannot wait until it comes out. I really enjoy your teaching style and the content is always well worth the money.

Kristina J says:

on December 5, 2011 at 4:25 pm

So excited, pre-ordered both physical and eBook. Will you sign my iPad ;-)


Pip Neville says:

on December 5, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Had this on preorder from Amazon for just so long now, but who cares about that? Perfect timing for Xmas. Amazon keeps mailing revised shipping dates but hey ho, what do ya know, soon I’ll have a book to show. Can’t wait, and UK shipping due soon (unless I get another email!)

Eilif Stene says:

on December 5, 2011 at 7:57 pm

Dear Joe,
Looking forward to get a copy of the book. I don’t mind the time it took you to write it. Most important to me is what brilliant pic’s and knowledge you share with us, on your own schedule. Hope to see you in Norway someday soon, Joe. Best, Eilif.

Quinn says:

on December 5, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Hey Joe,
Just wanted to let you know this is really the only thing on my Amazon wish list so far! :)
Have a great day and thanks for getting this done, and done right, no matter the time!

Jay Mann says:

on December 5, 2011 at 9:28 pm

Very excited to see the book. Thanks for the plug. I will have to get a copy for my mom. :) Heading back to the snow for the holidays, hopefully I can see the book up there

Robert Nemeti says:

on December 6, 2011 at 2:30 am

Hi Joe, have all the previous books, cannot wait to receive this one, Christmas present for myself I think! Thanks for all these helpful tips

dAF says:

on December 6, 2011 at 5:29 am

Straight onto the Amazon wishlist :)
Loved your previous 2 books.

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