The Hot Shoe Diaries – Book Review

The Hot Shoe Diaries is a book on getting the most out of those small hot shoe flashes from Joe McNally.  I hate that it has taken so long to get around to writing a review about it, because it is an excellent book.

The Hot Shoe Diaries is not a book about how to adjust settings on your flash (you’ve got a user manual for that).  Instead, McNally walks you through numerous real world scenarios using his own images.  McNally has a very witty and self-deprecating sense of humor that really connects with the reader.  He cracks on himself pretty hard throughout the book, and he’s not afraid to share his own mistakes and misfortunes along the way.

While the book speaks directly to Nikon users (because that’s what McNally shoots with), it is every bit as applicable to Canon users.  The key technology referenced in the book is the i-TTL system that is the cornerstone of Nikon’s Creative Lighting System.  i-TTL is a cool acronym for “you shoot with the camera and it figures out how much flash you need to make the exposure look right.”  McNally’s insights on this system are nothing short of brilliant.  That said, the same technology exists for Canon users with a little variation in terminology and, as a result, the book is just as useful if you are a Canon shooter.

McNally provides the context of almost every image in the book, along with plenty of diagrams that show the scene, light and subject locations.  While most of these diagrams appear to be scribbled on the back of a diner napkin using some of Crayola’s best, they are amazingly effective when combined with McNally’s intimate narrative of the shot setup.

Joe McNally’s stories about his photos and his uncensored thought process on why he did what he did (and sometimes about what he did that didn’t work) make for one of the best books I’ve read on practical photography.  It’s probably the best ‘how to’ book that’s not necessarily a ‘how to’ book for photographers.

If you want to take full advantage of those little speedlights that go with your DSLR, then The Hot Shoe Diaries is essential reading.

The Hot Shoe Diaries retails for $40; however, at the time of this review, you can find it for $26.39 over at



  1. Zack says

    So is this book no good for Olympus, Pentax, Sony, Fujifilm, Panasonic, Sigma or Samsung users?

  2. says

    Well-written review! I was nervous when I opened this that the review wouldn’t do the book justice but it has. I’m no reader, but I got this book for Christmas and read 200 pages in one day. The photos are breathtaking and the stories are both insightful and entertaining.

    If you’re even thinking of getting this book, DO IT.