UPDATE, JUNE 2024: Strobist was archived in 2021.
(Here is what I am up to now.)


Plug Into McNally's Brain with The Hot Shoe Diaries

Last year, Joe McNally lit a fire under the photo community's collective butt with The Moment it Clicks.

To him, it was basically a memoir. But to us, it was a glimpse of what it was like to be Joe. It was full of lighting info, too. But organizationally, it was more a conversation over beers than lighting compendium. Disguised as a photography book, it was really a coffee-table-ready blog, full of double-truck anecdotes and delivering more solid info than any photo text I had ever seen to date. Until now.

Ever wonder what it would be like if you got the whole, 50-cent tour of Joe's brain on just small-flash lighting? Hot Shoe Diaries is what it would be like...

Warning: Contents Under Pressure

Okay, so I am thinking an editor, say, some guy named Ted Waitt, maybe, says to Joe,"Why don't you just write down everything you know about small flash?"

Seems simple enough, right? How hard could that be?

Except for Joe went for a full 320 pages before his mind pooped out and turned to mush. Then he handed the finished book to Ted and spent the next two months in a Hopi sweat lodge, chugging Ensure/Red Bull cocktails until he had recovered enough to speak coherently.

Where Moment was anecdotal, HSD is soup-to-nuts, and all on small flashes. He begins by walking you through his entire gear bag, explaining his stuff (what and why) right down to the clamps and minor doodads. He names names, and is not bound with any corporate restrictions on what he can or can't say.

Gear-wise, he has everything but the kitchen sink. And that is not an exaggeration. In fact, I am pretty sure I saw an SB-800 going off from inside the body cavity of a raw chicken in one photo. And if you think I am kidding, you have not spent much time with Joe.

Did I say you get the full tour? Yeah, except sometimes the "full tour" seems like a solitary, late-night walk through that old amusement park on the edge of town at about 1:30 a.m. with the occasional strange noise happening in the background and did I just see that clown statue move a little bit?

Just the way you'd want it. I'll give it this: It ain't cliché.

This is My Rifle. There are Many Like it, But This One is Mine.

All of that wouldn't gear talk mean squat if he didn't teach you how to use it. Which is what he does for the next 270 or so more pages.

Granted, he's nuts. But he somehow escaped the straightjacket long enough to walk you through setup after setup, technique after technique for small flash lighting. It's a cookbook, really. Kinda like one of those 500-page Julia Child books jobs. You know the type -- where every recipe starts with two full sticks of butter.

I will warn the Canon shooters straight out: You're gonna be pissed.

The book is Nikon-specific, in that it embraces all of the capabilities of the Nikon flash system. And I mean all. I am thinking there will be engineers reading translated versions of the book in Japan, going, "He did what with an SB-800?"

You Canon guys be even more pissed because the book is good enough to where you will have to get it and read it anyway. Then one night you'll find yourself drunk-dialing Chuck Westfall at 3 a.m. yelling, "Why doesn't Canon have a book like this for me, Chuck? Canya tell me that, Chuck? Huh?"

Well, they don't have one of these because they don't have a McNally. And they won't have a McNally, either. Because if he ever even mentioned switching to Canon there would be a quiet visit in the night involving a loaded syringe or something like that. I'm told Nikon has people very close inside the McNally camp.

It goes without saying that if you are a Nikon shooter, this book is a no-brainer.

And while Joe may have everything Nikon has ever made at his disposal, he understands that you may not be so lucky. Which is why he spends over a hundred pages in Part One on single-flash solutions. Yep -- a hundred pages of one-light.

Which bumps this book up in the pecking order to something I would buy before I even bought my second flash. And if you already have two flashes -- no worries. He spends the next 125 pages tutoring you on multi-flash solutions, too.

A Textbook Solution

If you are a photo teacher in college -- yeah, I am talking to you, corduroy jacket with the arm patches guy -- do your class a favor and make this one required reading. It is informative, comprehensive and totally relevant to how people are shooting at the highest levels.

If you don't use this one as a textbook, check the locker of the kid that is shooting circles around everyone else in the class. This book probably will be inside. They even crunched the dimensions of the book down a little to make it camera-bag portable. It's about 8x9 inches, which means camera-bag portable. Great thinking on the publisher's part, IMO.

Lastly, I am both honored and psyched to have been referenced in the book. Very cool, really, because the book will be around long after I am on the wrong side of the grass. I won't mention where or how I got slipped in there. But I will say on a "completely unrelated" note there is an instance of a very buff body double being craftily Photoshopped underneath someone else's head. But mind you, this is "completely unrelated."

The Reader's Digest Version:

My advice: Get it.

Read it, and keep it in your camera bag as a combination reference and inspiration source.

The bad news they are just popping into Amazon's system and you can totally expect this one to sell out of the first printing just like Moment did. If you went pre-order, like I did, you'll be on the first run. And even if you do not make the first shipment, Amazon should be re-upping pretty quickly. Especially after the supply chain issues they had with his last book.

My copy has not arrived from Amazon yet, but I got to read an advance in PDF form on my computer on a cross-country flight earlier this month. Being a long-suffering user of battery-powered Macbooks, I dropped the monitor down to where it only gave me a mild headache and made it all the way through in one sitting.

Fortunately, the SWA flight crew was pouring heavily enough that night to offset the monitor brightness levels -- and enough so that I will get to read HSD again, for the first time...


Joe McNally: The Hot Shoe Diaries (List, $39.99. Amazon, $26.39, w/free shipping with Super Saver and Prime)
PDF Excerpt -- a BIG one -- from Hot Shoe Diaries
• Joe's upcoming Paso Robles, CA workshop (if there are any seats left)


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