Thursday, October 7, 2010

First Impressions of LIFE Guide to Digital Photography by Joe McNally

I'm a fan of Joe McNally and read his blog all the time.  When news came out that Joe was publishing a how-to book on photography -- the LIFE Guide to Digital Photography: Everything You Need to Shoot Like the Pros, I pre-ordered it right away.  Got my copy today, and I have to say that from perusing it, I'm kinda disappointed. 

Perhaps I should have gotten a clue from the subtitle.  I mean do you really expect to learn "everything you need to shoot like pros" in one book?  This book tries to do it all in 236 pages: lighting (including exposure), choosing lenses, composition, color.  From the breadth of the coverage, you can expect it to be very general.  As I said, I haven't finished reading it, but so far it seems so general as to be not useful.  Kinda like friendly tips.  But nothing solid enough to use in the real world. 

Take for instance the chapter on flash, which is the first chapter I jumped into (this is Joe McNally after all).  It has no mention whatsoever of TTL, or flash exposure compensation, or manual flash.  Or how to get any kind of specific result.  Sure, there are photos and exposure data, but no info about how that exposure was chosen, or what the rationale was.  Another example: it mentions off-camera flash but doesn't seem to mention anywhere how to use the flash off-camera or what the sync options are (wired or optical or radio). Yet another example: it talks about using the flash to bounce but doesn't say where to bounce the flash from.  The sample photo's shadows implies that the flash was bounced to high camera left, but the photo showing the flash in bounce position points straight up.  It's as though there's no intention to actually teach how to achieve results.

I plan to read it eventually but right now my impression of it is that it's just a coffee table book with pretty pictures and friendly but very general advice.  Maybe that first impression will be proven wrong... :-/


  1. Mic, photography is a business..I see no professional giving away his tips. All I see are simple tips, some tricks but I do not see the recipe for a complex (wow) shoot. Once someone do the perfect picture he may put down all the details and even a monkey(or me) will be able to reproduce .
    I learn lot from internet , tips from different sites but I do have the feeling they keep some details for them only. Is why I read your site , I see you give everything you know no secrets..thx

    However I have to admit that searching a lot on internet a lot off secrets will be revealed
    BTW ths fox mentioning the the Sigma 17-70…you tempt me little devil :)

  2. Well I don't expect pros to reveal all their secrets. But Joe described this book in his blog as a how-to guide, and the style is like that. The only thing is, the advice is too general to be useful (from what I've read). I was hoping he would at least teach some things, even those that are common knowledge to amateurs, in order to help beginners. But this doesn't even do that. It really seems like a book for display only (in my opinion).

    Contrast this book with another book I got recently, Captured by the Light by David Ziser. That one is very specific, like a tutorial. Step 1 do this. Step 2 do this. Etc. The info is specific and can be used. I like David Ziser's book and will be reviewing it. Neil van Niekerk's On-Cmaera Flash is another good example of a very useful book. This LIFE guide seems for entertainment only.

    As for the 17-70 OS, it does seem like a good buy. If you haven't looked yet, pls check out the flickr 17-70 OS group. Some of the shots look quite sharp, even sooc.

  3. If you haven't discovered it, his DVD with BOB Krist may have more of the information you're looking for. It goes into different scenarios where the Nikon Creative Lighting System is used. Also his book the Hot Shoe Diaries touches on it a bit. But that pretty much deals with his approach to getting some of his shots.

  4. Thanks James. I have the speed of light video if that's what you're referring to, and also have Hot Shoe Diaries (actually I bought it twice because I lost my first copy!). Those resources you mentioned are indeed very useful for me. This LIFE Guide is not so terrible but if it was given to a beginner, this would not be a good foundation.


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