Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Moment it Clicks

One of my newest favorite photographers is Joe McNally. I was turned onto him while reading several different posts at the Strobist blog. Earlier this year, Joe came out with The Moment It Clicks. The book isn't really a classic how-to or filled with explicit lighting, composition, or shooting technique. No, the book is filled with what I'll call McNally-isms, short, pithy stories, each distilled down to one core nugget of information.

The book is split four chapters, three short sections on his equipment, and a wrap up with stories from The Bar room.
  1. Shoot What You Love
  2. Keep Your eye in the Camera
  3. The Logic of Light
  4. There's Always Something to Bounce Light Off of
  5. Joe's Lighting Tips
  6. Joe's Camera Bag
  7. Joe's Grip and Lighting Gear
  8. The Barroom: The Bar Is Open
One of the first things that stands out when you flip through this book are the photos. Joe's experience as a photojournalist and creative bending of light gives each image it's own unique pop. My favorite, for example, is the photo of Fiona Apple dressed up in full plate armor and standing in a New York Subway train packed with people who seem to be practicing the art of looking without looking. With each photograph, Joe briefly re-tells the story leading up to the photo. I found myself up at 3am the night I received the book because I kept telling myself, "just one more story and then I'll go to sleep."

The second thing that pops out at first glance is the small quip that comes with each story, as if he was turning into the Aesop of photographic fables. I can't say any of them were over the top, but the more you get into the book, the more you start smacking yourself in the head and saying, "Damn! That's obvious! Why didn't I think of that?!"

A few favorite quotes from the book:

We bolt and slip her through the turnstiles -- sword and all -- unnoticed. Subway came right away and I started ripping film like crazy for five stops. On the train, New Yorkers, true to form, avoided eye contact. The Fiona Apple photo, page 40.

There's nothing as sweet and simple as human interaction. It trumps everything. Dr. Oz, page 36.

Sometimes, when you've got a camera in your hands you can convince yourself you're Spider-man. Cheerleaders, page 60.

Is the only good light available light? Yes. By that, I mean, any &*%%@$ light that's available. W. Eugene Smith, page 88.

Joe's Lighting Tips is much shorter than the other chapters and that's a good thing. Joe describes eleven different things you should probably be paying attention to whenever you're shooting. Everything from "Always start with one light" to "Remember, as an assignment photographer, that one 'aw shit' wipes out three 'attaboys'." I can't say I remember each of these things everytime I shoot, but I go back and refresh my memory every few weeks just to try and make it stick.

I am envious of Joe's Camera Bag and his grip and lighting gear. Enough said.

Finally, at the end of a tough day when Joe's done shooting he doesn't forget that "The Bar is Open." In the final chapter of the book, Joe cuts loose a bit and talks about some of the experiences he's had, both good and bad, sad and hilarious. Being a father, the stories he relates about his kids really hit home for me.

Overall, this book is pretty fascinating. I've read it four times since I picked it up in February and each time I'm drawn to something different, whether it's a close look at one of his stunning photos or if it's a nugget of information that I hadn't picked up on previously. If you haven't seen the book, I highly recommend it. Just remember, it's not a book on techniques. It's just Joe giving advice that has helped him throughout his career.

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