Review: The Hot Shoe Diaries – Big Light From Small Flashes by Joe McNally

My Hot Shoe Diary

I had mentioned several days ago that I had bought and was reading Joe McNally’s new book, “The Hot Shoe Diaries – Big Light From Small Flashes” and now that I’m finished reading it, it’s time for a review! This is Joe’s second book, following “The Moment It Clicks” which was a huge success. Let’s take a closer look at what is one of the hottest photography books this year.

The Hot Shoe Diaries starts off with the usual tribute and acknowledgements. I mention this because of the way Joe writes, I recommend reading this book cover-to-cover. It’s worth it. There isn’t a single piece of text in this book that I consider useless.

The book is broken down into four parts and each part has several texts, each of which tie back to the broader subject of the part. For example, Part I is titled, “Nuts ‘n’ Bolts” and it breaks down what gear McNally uses and why he uses it. It’s a basic run down of how he works, right down to how he holds his camera. He talks about camera bodies, glass (lenses), speedlights, grip gear and more. What an incredible insight into the gear bag of an A-List shooter.

Part II covers all sorts of lighting scenarios that Joe has been in where he has only used one single light. He talks about the many ways you can make one small light seem like a bigger light. Couple his detailed setup descriptions with his amazing images and you have a clear, complete, mutual understanding of how to re-create his setups. This is a springboard for your own shoot ideas and I have personally gotten a lot of inspiration from this book.

Part III expands on Part II and as you might have guess, now McNally’s using two (or more) lights. The content is more of the same, but now he’s building on the foundation he laid in Part II by adding and shooting with a second light source.

Part IV is where Joe really shows off. It’s titled “Lotsa Lights” and he writes about a setup in which he used 47 speedlights! This is the part of the book where you can see how Joe works down to the very smallest of details. This is the level in which we all strive for as photographers.

Throughout the book, McNally’s casual and straight-up style of writing kept me intrigued, smiling, laughing, and interested. I didn’t want to put down the book and I picked it up every chance I could until I had read it all. Joe doesn’t get too far into the weeds with tech talk, but instead explains the details in a simple and easy-to-understand method. He credits his ability to do this to his wife, Annie, whom he said kept him reeled in when it came to the technical details. Even the back of the book has a guide where Joe illustrates how to operate Nikon’s SB800 and SB900 flashes.

Not only does he talk about Nikon flashes and Nikon’s Creative Lighting System (CLS), but he also talks about lenses, light modifiers, grip gear, locations, models, and more. I really got the feeling that I was sitting and talking with him rather than reading a book.

In short, if you have any interest whatsoever in using small hot shoe flashes to light your subjects then you certainly should read this book. Now, Joe is a Nikon shooter and therefore everything in this book is about Nikon equipment. That’s not to say that the techniques don’t cross over, but you won’t see or read ANYTHING about the 5D MkII, a 580EX II, or an L Series lens. If you want to learn how to light like Joe McNally, read this book!

The image above was inspired by this book and it was a self-portrait that I created using 3 Nikon speedlights and a Nikon D90. It’s a lot easier than it may seem. The image below was from the perspective of where I was sitting when I took the shot. My youngest son Daniel wanted me to snap a shot of him, so here you go Danny!

Danny - HSD Photo Perspective

I hope you have a great week and I’ll have the Lastolite Ezybox review up this week too!


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