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“The Language of Light with Joe McNally” – a Review

language-of-light-digital-photography-schoolOn the one hand, I could make this article one of the shortest I’ve ever written– a rousing recommendation of only three words: “It’s Joe McNally!”

Thank you. Good night. Drive safely.

Okay…I get it. Some of you may not be convinced. I respect that. That’s why we’re going to take a closer look.

For those who may not know, Joe McNally is one of the very best in the business. In a career spanning 30 years and 50 countries, his work has appeared in National Geographic, LIFE Magazine, Sports Illustrated, TIME, Newsweek, Entertainment Weekly, and a host of other magazines you’ve probably read. Even if you’ve never heard his name (where have you been hiding?), I’m pretty sure you’ve seen his work. If you are ever able to attend one of his workshops, I highly recommend it.

Joe is a master (a word I don’t use lightly) of at least two things–lighting and teaching. As a photographer, light defines or plays a part of everything you do. Regardless of whether you are talking about speedlights, studio lights, street lights, or sunlight, it’s a given that every light source has three attributes–color, quality, and direction. Since every photograph requires light, it stands to reason that having a firm understanding of how to control, manipulate, and manage light would be an important step towards raising the bar on your photography. As he puts it himself in the intro,

“Light is how we speak as photographers.” – Joe McNally

A typical Joe McNally seminar or workshop tends to be filled with sentences that begin with things like, “The photo editor at National Geographic once told me…” or “My editor at LIFE Magazine used to say…”  These are your cues to start feverishly writing down every word that follows.  The Language of Light lets you put the pen down and take it all in–a three-hour guided tour through the how and why of Joe’s “big world of small flash.”

There are a few things that really stand out, separating this DVD lighting class apart from the rest. For starters, it’s conversational. To the extent that this language of ours has words and concepts that need explaining, who better to do it than the man who’s written some of the best books on the subject? The other huge advantage to The Language of Light is the ability to watch as Joe starts each shoot with a basic premise, then explains and demonstrates each step in the process–walking you through from concept to finished image.

Remember that old line? “Those who can, do. Those who cant’ teach?” Well, here’s a guy who does both and doesn’t hold anything back. If he knows it, he wants you to know it. It’s not just about the “how.”  It’s also about the “why.” And that, my friends, is worth the price of admission.

Here is a basic breakdown of the set.

Disc 1 – the Language of Light

They say the best place to start is at the beginning, and The Language of Light takes that to heart. Disc 1 gets you going, explaining light and why it does what it does in simple terms. Prepare to be blown away by what he can do with a single speedlight. Topics include:

  • Turning one small flash into one big light
  • Controlling harsh natural light
  • Dramatic one light portraiture
  • Tour of small flash light modifiers
  • Light placement

Check out the Disc 1 preview in the video below:

Disc 2 – the Language of Light

Disc 2 moves out of the studio and goes on several location shoots, with lighting setups ranging from the basic to the complex. Topics include:

  • Location assessment
  • Basic strategies for one and two lights, as well as three or more
  • Getting the most out of a location
  • Environmental portraits
  • Conquering the sun with high speed sync
  • Mixing color temperatures
  • Athletic portraits
  • Lighting in small places
  • Group portraits
  • Engaging your subject

Take a look at the Disc 2 preview:

The three hours of photographic education contained in this set is some of the best I’ve ever seen. Knowledge, talent, energy, and passion come together in what I can only describe as a moment of enlightenment (no pun intended), where all the pieces seamlessly come together– and it all makes sense. It’s perfect for beginners just learning how to get the flash off the camera, as well as seasoned veterans looking for a refresher.

The Language of Light is available on Amazon.  Still hungry for more? Check out our very own e-book, “Portraits- Lighting the Shot” in the Digital Photography School Bookstore.

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Jeff Guyer
Jeff Guyer

is a commercial/portrait photographer based in Atlanta, GA. Still an avid street photographer and film shooter, Jeff also launched a kids photography class called: Digital Photo Challenges.

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