Mose's Like Man lit with 1x3 foot Strip Soft Box and Quadra, Sketching Light, Illustrated Possiblities of Flash, Joe McNally

“Sketching Light: An Illustrated Tour of the Possibilities of Flash” by Joe McNally – A Book Review

Sketching Light: An Illustrated Tour of the Possibilities of Flash‘ © 2011 by Joe McNally is one of those 432 page books I’m reading cover to cover.

McNally starts off Chapter 1 with one redheaded model, on seamless white background.

Mose's Like Man lit with 1x3 foot Strip Soft Box and Quadra, Sketching Light, Illustrated Possiblities of Flash, Joe McNally
Lit with a 1'x3' Strip Softbox from the bed of a pickup truck

Chapter 1 demonstrates in words and pictures how different light modifiers, like beauty dishes, soft boxes and umbrellas create different effects, based on which modifier is used and where the modifier is placed in relation to this subject.

With regards to lighting with flash of people as subjects, ‘Sketching Light‘ is exactly the kind of book I’ve been searching for.

There are books we pick up and put down.  Books we like for the images and books we learn from.

For shooting people on location and in studio, ‘Sketching Light‘ is one of the books we learn from about how to use flash.

Joe is a Nikon shooter.

Sketching Light, Illustrated Possibilities of Flash, Rear Cover, Black Girl Leaping in AirTherefore, most of examples in ‘Sketching Light‘ refer to lighting using Nikon SB-900 SpeedLight flash units and with Nikon D3, D3x and D3s bodies.

While SB-900‘s are the underlying lighting source behind most of Joe’s examples, he does use studio flash and portable flash unit examples and often uses mixed light examples, including flash with continuous and flash with ambient sources.

Except for Nikon specific settings and modes like Nikon’s TTL, SU-4 and SU-800 modes, the overall lighting schemes are fully applicable for users of any modern camera systems (i.e. Canon).

Joe also does a full chapter of test, review and use of the newest Nikon SB-910 Speedlights.

Long story short, Joe likes the SB-910‘s  …

In fact, Amazon’s description of the  SB-910 uses images shot by and © guess who?   That’s right, Joe McNally himself.

Joe tests and helps design lots of flash gear and modifiers.  He knows his stuff and knows how to explain light.

This all works to make ‘Sketching Light‘ the excellent source for anyone wishing to book learn, in 432 clearly written and illustrated pages, how to use flash in different lighting situation to solve different people lighting challenges …

Keith Richards, Top Hat, Smoking, Character Study, Lighting Diagram
Hand Drawn Lighting Diagram for Character Study of Keith Richards Smoking a Cigarette, VAL is McNally Shorthand for Assistant, aka Voice Activated Light-stand

Chapter by chapter, the content of ‘Sketching Light‘ is about:

  • 5-10% hand drawn lighting diagrams (see included sample here)
  • 30-50% descriptive text
  • 40-60% images, both production images and final images
Keith Richards Smoking a Cigarette in Top Hat
Keith Richards Smoking a Cigarette in Top Hat, Awesome !!

The mix is just about right. While sometimes, I wish Joe had numbered his images and referred in the text exactly to which image he was alluding to, if one reads the chapter, all is usually pretty clear.  It’s just on going back, reading a chapter cold, one may need to do a bit of hunt and seek to link a particular picture to a particular bit of text.

All in all, between the text, the final images, the production images and the line drawing, complete with hand scrawled hints, one gets a firm idea of exactly why Joe did what and how to do it ourselves in similar circumstances.

Production shot in desert for dancers leaping
Production shot for dancers leaping in desert

Joe will not just show you a shot and tell you how he did it.

As in chapter one, he often will have various examples of alternative ways of doing something a bit differently.

Four Dancers Leaping in Desert, with mountains in background
Four Dancers Leaping in Desert, Simple ... Right ??

McNally discusses how doing the shot differently has a different result.   And, why he chose the particular way he chose for this particular circumstance.

Via Joe’s dialogs, we learn why a light was place so far away, instead of closer or further, or why a particular modifier was used, instead of another, like the wind was too strong to use a big soft box, etc, etc, etc… it is 432 pages after all …

While you must be ready to read, the word content is just about right.

Goldie Locks would be proud.   Fewer words and one might not understand the subtleties.  Many more, and we might lose interest.

Sketching Light‘, just released in December is hot off the presses.

If you are willing to read a bit, there will definitely be pearls of lighting wisdom you can put to use right away.  I know I sure have.  You will too.

IMHO, ‘Sketching Light‘ will be a classic whose value can be appreciated until something like continuous cool lights become available in inexpensive portable high power configurations suitable for still photography use.

An important text for shooters of flash, ‘Sketching Light‘ will be useful for beginner through pro level shooters of people as subjects.

While there are other excellent books for using flash in specialized circumstances, ‘Sketching Light‘ is the best book I have read on learning to use holistically use flash, and by far the leader in Speed Lite use, for any shooters of people as subjects.

I received my issue a couple of weeks back.  Today I’m on page 164.  I fully intend to read the whole 1.25 inch thing, probably finishing in a couple more weeks or months.

It’s 9 x 8 x 1.25 inch paperback which I carry everywhere to read a page here and there when and as time allows.

If people are your subjects and you like to learn more about shooting them with flash, particularly small Speedlights buy this book.

Sketching Light‘ also has an extensive Look Inside Preview available on Amazon.

To see this free preview, click here then select “Click to Look Inside” once on Amazon.

Click here to buy or preview ‘Sketching Light: An Illustrated Tour of the Possibilities of Flash‘ on Amazon today.



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