For 35 years Joe McNally has been telling stories. He is an internationally acclaimed photographer whose career has included assignments in over 50 countries. His images have graced the covers of Time, Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, and during the 1990's he was Life Magazine's sole staff photographer.
His latest book, Sketching Light covers both small and big light and covers basic lighting techniques, modifiers, one-light solutions. He then ramps it up by discussing images, flash technology, and a whole lot of lighting styles and approaches to get just the right kind of lighting that you may need to accomplish just about any task. Sketching Light is 432 pages and divided into 41 chapters, or, really, vignettes.
The first couple of chapters McNally talks about are the basics of flash and lighting, how it works and some of the things you can do with various kinds of light. He starts off by blasting some light at a model that makes her look, well, not so good. He then goes on to show you progressively how to make her look better through the use of different techniques and lighting modifiers to control where you put the light.
Interspersed throughout are these little personal stories called "Things I Think I Know." The first one – called "Risking 'No'" — looks at how certain facets ended up changing the direction of his life. In this one he turned down a trip to shoot the Olympics in Seoul Korea for the largest sports magazine in the world, in order to meet the director of photography for National Geographic.
The main stories are about shooting with flash, with strobes, with natural light and about all the different kinds of conditions that one can encounter. It is about all the different possibilities that one can encounter when trying to light a subject, how you have to learn how to make things work. It is also about getting into the author's head and exploring how he thinks about things when he is approaching a shot.
Contained within are the shots themselves, but more importantly, the information about the shots. Unlike many books, there is no simple technical information looming under the image to provide you with a cheat sheet. Sometimes there are diagrams, but for the most part in Sketching Light you have to work. You have to read the text to discern the information about the shot, but in the end, this will make you a better photographer.