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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”

Patrik Lindgren says:

on December 6, 2011 at 7:34 am

This one is gonna find it´s way to my bookshelf, just as your other two books. :)
There´s not that many photographers that are equally good in the written language as they are behind the camera, you are one of the best at that.

Zona Ocho says:

on December 6, 2011 at 8:45 am

Hi Joe. I’m from Spain

I only want to say, YOU’RE THE GREATEST!!!

An example to follow.

Thank you.

Michael Power says:

on December 6, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Hey Joe sooooo looking forward to seeing the book I am sure it is a labor of love and IT WILL NOT be a door stop but will be at my side for a long time to come. Congratulations dude glad your busy schedule lets you have time to finish the book, now quality time for Joe.

Rich Gibson says:

on December 6, 2011 at 2:45 pm

My 15 months of patience to be rewarded. Gauranteed to be THE photo book of 2012. Thanks Joe for teaching us how to Speak LIGHT.

Deb Peluso says:

on December 6, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Oh happy day!!

Libby says:

on December 6, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Well if you wouldn’t have spent 2 months on a smelly bus in your underwear with David Hobby we’d all have it by now! Hey Joe, you know we love ya so don’t fret. We’ll all have it soon enough and as they say, good things are worth waiting for ;-)

David says:

on December 6, 2011 at 4:23 pm

Joe, I sure hope you will have an electronic version of your book.I would have loved to watch your latest DVD but cant beleive in 2011 I have no other alternative than buying plastic and burn more fuel…Still havent seen it :-(

Dont mean to rant, love your work and Im looking forward to read your new book.Im hoping since 2012 is just around the corner you guys will catch up and offer greener alternatives…

Richard Davis says:

on December 6, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Amazon are flagging mine for delivery on January 4, 2012 – about 340 days after the other books on the same order. Thought I might as well let it ride as I knew I wanted the book. Looking forward to its arrival!

Christopher Campbell says:

on December 6, 2011 at 9:00 pm

Will there be an electronic app like the Life Guide….

click here says:

on December 6, 2011 at 11:02 pm

great post save up the great work.

Hamidi Alwi says:

on December 7, 2011 at 2:10 am

Hey Joe,

Congrats on the new book. Please make an announcement once it’s available for the iPad – Nice work, Joe.

iThank you.

kyle jerichow says:

on December 7, 2011 at 5:38 am


With the release of your book and everyone clambering to get it, I wanted to ask what photographers you look to for inspiration/recommend studying, or as you say those upon whose shoulders we stand.

All the best,

William Chinn says:

on December 7, 2011 at 5:34 pm

When we were both very young when this book was announced, I volunteered to purchase a copy of this LONG awaited book for a couple who responded as fans to your blog. There were some medical issues involved with their future at the time. Please let me know how I can fulfill this promise.

Dana says:

on December 7, 2011 at 5:57 pm

Awesome, just pre-ordered a copy.

Gus says:

on December 7, 2011 at 6:57 pm

Pre-Ordered two copies :)

Bill Sparks says:

on December 8, 2011 at 1:35 am

Just pre-ordered the eBook from Amazon. Looks awesome. Can’t wait to read it.

Marci says:

on December 8, 2011 at 10:53 am

Can’t wait til the release… Thanks, Joe, for all you do. :)

Darren Elias says:

on December 9, 2011 at 8:45 am

My new delivery date from Amazon is Dec15-19! Woo HOO!!! I’m calling off the nuns, Joe! Well, as best I can. I can’t wait!

Now, I’m hoping that somewhere in the book (or if anyone on this blog can help) there is a really clear explanation of what exactly SU-4 mode is used for (and what it does)! I guess I’m just extremely dense because I just can’t get a grasp on it from anything I have found so far.


Tony McNally says:

on December 9, 2011 at 9:41 am

Keep up the good work Joe, best wished from another of the McNally clan.

Wally Kilburg says:

on December 9, 2011 at 10:44 am

Just received word from Amazon that the book is shipping early.


on December 9, 2011 at 11:22 am

Hello Master Joe, just ordered my copy!, looking forward to start reading every word.

Thanks for sharing knowledge!



George says:

on December 9, 2011 at 11:48 am

I just noticed the e-version has been loaded into the Kindle reader on my iPad. It looks like anything else on today’s to-do list just got cancelled.


Anirban Chatterjee says:

on December 10, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Hi Joe
First a big thanks for making a difference to my life by sharing your experience. Somehow I do manage to see a “life” beyond my cubicle.
And thanks for writing this book. I have read your earlier books except the one with Life but this on my humble opinion is the best.
A Thanks won’t express everything but lets say one person from India is indebted to you for changing his life.
Thanks again

John says:

on December 10, 2011 at 7:05 pm

My copy was shipped from Amazon today. I ordered it on Feb 8.

Bo says:

on December 11, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Preordered the book today at Amazon.uk, let’s hope it will arrive to Christmas! :)

sallya says:

on December 12, 2011 at 3:46 am

Cool.have a good day.

Adam says:

on December 12, 2011 at 8:16 am

I should be getting mine this friday. Cant wait!

Al says:

on December 12, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Well, Amazon has changed my “expected delivery date” twice. I think Joe is behind the scenes just teasing me by making me wait longer. It will be worth the wait !

Tim Lundin says:

on December 12, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Mine arrived in the mail today, can’t wait to dive into it. Especially the Radio TTL section!

All the best this holiday season,

PS, when are you and Krist going to make another Christmas video like two years ago?

Scott Bromley says:

on December 12, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Well alright! After being on “pre order” status from day one that this book was announced on Amazon.com I have received notification that the book will be arriving Wednesday! Thanks Joe for being so generous with sharing your knowledge.

William Chinn says:

on December 12, 2011 at 7:04 pm

Got my copy of the book today. Outstanding color, detailed diagrams. Glad I didn’t opt for the Kindle color version, though. Now don’t bother me for a few days while I go cover to cover at least once.

Stephen Ratcliff says:

on December 12, 2011 at 11:28 pm

Just got the book from amazon and with my surprise I spy MONGO on the book spine. Nice capture Drew. Can’t wait to dig in….by the way it is a beautiful baby!

pete says:

on December 14, 2011 at 9:16 am


Whats the issue with the book in the UK? I’ve been getting constant updates from amazon that says delayed with no delivery time yet confirmed.

and it was going to be a xmas present to myself ;-)

Bjarne Ytroy says:

on December 15, 2011 at 2:06 pm

This book looks very interesting. Flash can add so much impact to portaits. Normally it’s not lack of gear but to little know how and fanatsy that limits the photograher.

Kevin Lomax says:

on December 15, 2011 at 10:15 pm

Joe, book looks indeed very interesting! From a design point of view I am curious what (size of) fonts have been used for the captions and the body text of your book. The combination looks great!

Kurt says:

on December 16, 2011 at 1:16 am

“and on really big shoots I wear my lucky thong. Joe make joke.”

Oh dear. *That’s* not an image I really needed…

stephan mantler says:

on December 16, 2011 at 5:07 am

jablalex says:

on December 16, 2011 at 5:23 am

something about the northern light is VERY strange

vs says:

on December 16, 2011 at 6:02 am

Can’t figure out what’s wrong with the model in the “Northern (One) Light” picture above. Her legs look kinda out of position, don’they?

Matt G says:

on December 20, 2011 at 7:56 am

Asked “Santa” for your book for Christmas! Thanks for the info and inspiration Joe!

Eric Massicotte says:

on December 21, 2011 at 12:21 am

Just got the book! Thanks again. Tons of great insights. Making my life better. Cheers.

Zubair Hamed says:

on December 25, 2011 at 6:06 am

HEy joe,

Please provide a version like the iPad LIFE Guide. That would be freakin awesome since i enjoyed that immensely.

If not, a normal eBook version would suffice. iPad please! I’d buy in a heartbeat!


Zubair Hamed says:

on January 4, 2012 at 11:16 am

Welp just realize i can buy the PDF at peachpit. WOOT!!!

Silly kindle not available outside of US :(

Karen Tate says:

on January 17, 2012 at 5:28 pm

I’d forgotten to keep checking, but today I stumbled upon (my apologies to StumbleUpon) this entry, and – yay! – the book’s out! Good timing, as my PW TT5′s, TT1 and AC3 just arrived, and my SB-910 is on the way, to join my SB collection. Gotta pull out the brollies now… Man, I love your books – they’re not just highly informative, but they’re FUN to read! And fuhgettout PS disasters – they don’t know an outstanding photo when they see one. Just sayin…

Peter Polcz says:

on January 31, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Just got the book. I was so happy when I found out that I can order from a local book store in Hungary and the shipping took only 10 days. The book is fantastic, fully loaded with tons of tips and tricks. Very inspirational. Thank you Joe! :)

kelly borgman says:

on March 24, 2012 at 6:39 pm

I bought your newest book and am enjoying it. A great read as always. Keep up the great work.

Trevor Yannayon says:

on April 23, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Borrowed this from the library and after getting less than one quarter of the way through the book I knew I had to have a copy and placed my order. This book is worth every penny! You do a fantastic job of breaking down what appears to be complex lighting to simple steps. I have tried some techniques and tweaked them for my surroundings and LOVE the results. Thanks so much for sharing your approach with everyone.

Joe McNally says:

on April 23, 2012 at 2:49 pm

What a wonderful thing to say…all best, and many thanks. Very kind words…hang in, and enjoy the book….

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