Joe McNally’s LIFE Guide To Digital Photography

Joe McNally has put together the LIFE Guide to Digital Photography, which is packed full of tips, tricks, how-to, and beautiful pictures from Joe’s 30+ year photo career.  If you’ve ever experienced one of Joe’s workshops or seminars, you know he’s a fantastic teacher, and this book is an extension of that.  While he does write about the basics of photography, if you know Joe, you know that he’s found a way to work his own sense of humor and familiarity in with all the nuts and bolts to make it an entertaining read.

And if words aren’t your thing, it’s got plenty of amazing images.  Here are some pages from the book…

Here is Joe’s blog on the book, and you can order it from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

  1. It’s funny so, everybody thinks that Joe is perfect photographer, but in fact he is too booring sometimes….It’s funny to look for him. He uses 20 SB-900’s for a day shoot with Nikon D3s and F2…Tell me please WHY?))

    Anyway may be he is great, it’s only my mind.

      1. He is writing books, making courses instead of shooting ;-)
        He will talk about obvious things through his book.

        Something like: “Be creative”, and then…”Break the rules”….
        I do like Joe, but for now i think he is good for people who just started shooting.

  2. In reference to your post Alexander, I don’t think anyone refers to Joe as a perfect photographer. Joe is simply very very good at what he does, period! And I am sure the majority of readers would agree with me. And what is the problem with using multiple strobes to light something? Maybe he is trying to achieve a certain look, big deal. Boring you say? You are kidding right. I suggest you attend one of his workshops. Sounds to me like you are a bit jealous of a true legend.

    That is only my mind!

    1. I do like Joe, really…You right.
      I thing that Joe is wonderfull , but through experience you can do many of his shoots in a different way.
      Why should i use 10 SB-900’s instead 1 or maximum 2 pro-foto heads???

  3. For someone to disparage the methods Mr. McNally (or any other photographer) employs to create his images is clearly missing the point of this craft. Big Lights, Small Lights, Natural Light or Disposable cameras – who cares.. that’s not the point of what we do. Trying to capture something in a split second that has the ability to create smiles, tears, wows or more for years into the future is what photography is about. Joe’s spent his entire life working to “get the shot” in ways few of us would attempt. The fact that he’s selfless enough to share his decades of knowledge with any weekend warrior shutterbug wannabe pro is a bigger contribution to this craft than any of us will ever make.

  4. You know, I’m actually enjoying this book. I wasn’t sure about getting it, as it’s marketed for beginners. However, it makes for a good read and it’s always nice to analyze how he does something, perhaps vs. the way I’ve been doing something.

    Another nice perk was seeing a familiar face as one of his subjects. Some of the shots were from his visit with the Orlando Camera Club earlier this year and the model is the daughter of a good friend. Got her name spelled wrong (she’s Robyn instead of Robin), but what the hell. Blame the editor.

    It’s a good read and full of stunning images.

  5. Alexander:

    I think that this would be a valid criticism of someone – and something that I think even Joe would appreciate – if you made some sense in it. Now, obviously I don’t mean this to be negative or anything – i’m just stating my opinion.

    Let’s try looking at this way – so you can try to put it in perspective. You said the word Profoto so -obviously- you know what you’re talking about and are a professional.

    So, let’s assume that you meant that with a Profoto, you’re thinking that you want to go with a 7B and a lamphead to overpower the sun. I’d say.. on the average. That’s about 5K. Great.. so now you overpower the sun. You get into dusk.. blue hour.. and near night.

    -now- you want to do a shoot with a model.. where you need a main, a kicker, an accent.. maybe some backgrounds with gels.. in one shot.

    Oh, wait. You just have a 7B and a head. for 5K. While someone else has about 10 lights that they can THEN use in different scenarios. Now don’t get me wrong. The 7B is a great pack and head system and prob considered one of the Gold Standards out there. But it’s also 27lbs. So.. Now you want to carry THAT when you go on an assignment instead of saying “Oh.. you know what.. I only need 3 of these 20 SB800s.. I will throw them in my pockets and go”

    Ok.. now.. the “Be Creative” part and the perfect photographer part. First off – if you’ve followed the work at -any- point and listened to it, you’ll prob see that one of the things that kinda makes him important in a lot of people’s eyes is his ability to want to stick with something until he -gets- the shot. He’s prob one of the first people out there that will tell you that a lot of what he does comes with mistakes.. and that he’s fine with that.

    I’m also thinking that when he talks about relating to your subjects, trying to find the essence of that person, or when he talks about the multitude of technical information you’re prob still focusing on Be Creative.

    Stare very closely at that image. Now understand that this is what he:

    1. Does for a living (knocking out the ‘all you do is teach’ thing)
    2. Isn’t something that can be lit with 1 Profoto
    3. Has so many levels to it, light wise – yet looks completely simple.

    I’m going to make an assumption based on the post to say that you are a. young, and b. pretty new to this. Before you start dismissing people’s work or the ability to learn from others i’d seriously consider looking at the whole spectrum before passing judgement. I’d also post your own work too so people can understand how qualified you are to speak to it.

    Again.. not trying to be mean..


    1. Holy cow.. well said RC.

      I’ve never met Joe, or attended one of his conferences. But Joe seems to be the real deal. He cares deeply about what he does, and freely distributes the knowledge that he holds.

      I have so much respect for Joe McNally as a photogrpher, but also as a human being… I hate to see people disrespect his work.

      That’s all. :)

    2. Well said, RC. I know people have the right to their opinions, but to knock Joe for doing something that he does very well (and is so willing to share) just leaves me shaking my head.

      Alexander, have you looked at any of the work that Joe has done in NatGeo or Life? The man is a genius in analyzing a location and deciding on how it should be lit, along with making sure his subject is presented in the best possible way (although I’m sure Joe would be too modest to accept a genius label).

      Please post a link to some of your work…I’m sure we would all like to see what you can produce from your camera and ProFoto lighting. It’s important to back up your comments with proof that you know of what you speak.


  6. I have not had the pleasure if attending a Joe McNally workshop, but I did attend his presentation at the Orlando Camera Club. I found him to be exciting, interesting, funny and extremely helpful by sharing his experience. Can’t imagine anyone every finding Joe boring!

    I’m headed to Barnes & Noble right now to find his book.

  7. I want to be careful not to just pile on Alexander here, but I do want to point out a few things. First, Joe does use big lights, he works with Elinchrom and is pretty successful in integrating small and big lights together.

    Two, I am 100% sure he does not simply shoot at F2 (very odd criticism). I mean, just click on the jpgs in the post, the settings are right there.

    Three, about being boring. I can accept that you look at Joe’s pictures and think they boring, that’s fine. I don’t. I look at the pictures for hours at a time asking myself how did he do that? I’m not kidding, could I have taken this?

    Maybe you could have. But here is the thing, Joe knows he can but, like RC noted, admits that it will take work to get it…AND THEN SHOWS YOU HOW!?! Which is to say, we can watch Joe fail to get his pic. We see him think aloud about the error and how he’d fix it. We see him try again. I don’t know about you, but nothing is as inspiring to me as to recognize that we will fail but with knowledge and effort we can succeed, not in some larger context but for a given image we want to make.

    Finally, I can understand the problems you might have with blanket exhortations by professional photographers/writers that readers “be creative”. But this is a criticism of the writing…regarding a book you haven’t read. I think that you’d be taken more seriously on that count if you had actually gotten your hands on a copy.

    Again, not trying to be mean…just thinking about your comment.


  8. Well said RC.

    Obviously Alexander has never had the pleasure of being in the same room as Joe, because that “boring” comment never would have been written.

    RE Alexander’s quote: “I thing that Joe is wonderfull , but through experience you can do many of his shoots in a different way”

    I thought, as photographers, we find many different ways to shoot? Isn’t that what makes us unique?

    Just my 2 cents.

    1. You know i watched all his clasess when i was a beginner, and he seemed to me like a cool one instructor, may be i just do not agree with his pov. It’s all about time.
      I’m positive.

  9. I feel the need to jump in here, not to bash on anyone to just share a little story about why I still take photos.

    A few years ago… might be more like five or six now, I was bored with photography and frustrated with my images etc… Everybody who shoots has either been in this place or will be in this place. I decided to go to a small conference here in San Diego called the Photo and imaging something or other… They never had it again and attendance seemed really low… but the instructors were amazing.

    One of those was Joe McNally, and he was going to do a demonstration with the NEW SB-800 CLS blah blah blah… Well, I was a Nikon shooter and I wanted to see this new amazing technology, so off I went. Joe made it look easy. Have someone hold a flash here, have someone hold another flash there, have a dancer leap across the stage and BLAMMO he got a great shot.

    It was simple, it was to the point and more importantly, I left thinking that I could do it as well. Turns out that I can’t do like Joe but that doesn’t stop me from trying. So great images or not, what I got from Joe that day was the desire to go out and shoot again. For that I can’t thank him enough.

    I have been really lucky to see Joe present numerous times since then and have even seen him work on location at a real shoot. Every time I walk away a little more motivated than when I sat down…

    I’m glad Joe has written the books he has. They are guides, they are motivation and the are on my book shelf so i can get a little photographic pick-me-up any time I want

  10. Does the equipment matter? I personally don’t care how Joe lights his pictures, he can use flashlights for all I care. What matters to me is the end product, and the results Joe gets with whatever he’s shooting with are phenomenal.

    That aside, I personally think it’s great to have someone out there who can demonstrate the power and capabilities of these little flashes. Part of what I appreciate about Joe is that he’s shown me that I don’t need to drop thousands on some big lighting rig.

  11. Joe your great keep doing what you’re doing. I think Alexander is just frustrated at how successful you are regardless of the equipment you use. Your photographs speak for themselves. The quality of light is what makes a photograph regardless of what you use to light the subject. There are thousands of ways to light something but the objective is the same and that is creativity. By looking at your work anyone can see that you are very talented both as a photographer and as a teacher.

  12. I have been taking pictures since 1958. I am a Photographer, not a pro. Joe McNally is a pro. Look through his book “The moment it Clicks” and then consider the spectrum of books that Time-Life has published over the years. I was in Europe, Korea and Vietnam during these years and they were the primary books I had to learn and study from and they were and are good. Joe is up with the biggies and I will have this book tonight.

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