The Hot Shoe Diaries

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Do you know how to light an elf or an airplane? Can you do it with small flashes? Photographer Joe McNally has and shares the secrets and the results in this unusual book on photography lighting.

A book that refers to a martial arts movie and relates it to a killer flick of light, talks about lighting crocodiles, astronauts, and a creepy-guy-in-an-alley can’t be missed! There is even mention of a ‘walrus deflector’.  The there is that strange homage to Zalman King happening with the title.

Joe McNally has delivered a book that does all this and more lit with Speedlights! Yes, those little units that can sit on top of your camera and we often think of as the journalist’s friend or enemy. From one to many small flashes the marvelous photographs jump out as inspiring examples.

The lighted elf shot from McNally’s work is one of many from the One Light! section of the book.

The author is the first to tell you in the Introduction that this is not a manual. This non-manual will give the photographer a lot more to think about and play with than a lot of detailed diagrams and formulas.  Lighting with small flashes is only part of what is covered. There is a lot of interesting stuff about working as a photographer and the challenges associated with getting the shot.

McNally shares with the reader what has worked for him and why. From always shooting RAW to trusting the camera (most of the time) to meter the scene and even a good way to hold a camera properly there are many, many techniques and ‘secrets’ worth learning or reviewing. There are better ‘technical’ books on lighting. But how many textbooks have you read cover to cover many times? Yeah, well, McNally would have a slightly off-color comment or two about that comparison too! This is a fun book.

Lotsa Lights is a section about using more Speedlights than might be considered sane. Lighting an airplane with forty-seven Speedlights may seem an extreme exercise, yet McNally makes it work. The photograph was created for Nikon to demonstrate the capabilities of Speedlights. Oh, there is a lighting diagram, drawn in ballpoint on a doughnut shop napkin . . . some of my favorite technical tools.

The Hot Shoe Diaries is centered on the use of Nikon Speedlights and even has, gasp, a small manual in an appendix to their settings. Of course it explains the icons and buttons in a unique way. McNally’s way of course. Good Grief there is an ape suit holding a camera in this part of the book.  If you use another camera system, there is still plenty here for you. Minor translation of how to sync up your choice of flash may be required and you may have different features available.  The spirit of the dancer will guide you and perhaps you someday will write your own lighting diary.

The Hot Shoe Diaries: Big Light from Small Flashes by Joe McNally. Published by NEW RIDERS, Berkeley, CA 2009. ISBN 0-321-58014-1. New Riders is an imprint of Peachpit Press.
see also for online books

-CD Price ‘drg’

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  • Starriderrick says:

    Great feature drg,
    I found it very informative, interesting.


  • CD Price - drg says:

    Thanks Rick,

    This work has more immediate ‘technical’ application for Nikon users, i.e. Speedlights which should work for you!

    If you get a chance to look at or use any of the ideas in this I’d look forward to seeing them.

  • Kara says:


    Great article. I thought you and your readers would like to know that Joe McNally blogs on a weekly basis on where he answers user questions on photography, technique, etc. You can submit a question or photo at the following link:

  • CD Price - drg says:


    Thanks for you comments! Do appreciate your note about McNally’s web/blog presence.

    Joe would be more than welcome to post here at PR if he could find the ‘time’.

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