Book Review: The Moment it Clicks

OverviewThe Moment It Clicks: Photography secrets from one of the world's top shooters

Whether you know it or not, you’ve probably seen Joe McNally’s photos. His work has been in Time Magazine, National Geographic, Entertainment Weekly, Life, Sports Illustrated and many others. His most well-known series is “Faces of Ground Zero — Portraits of the Heroes of September 11th” -a collection of portraits taken shortly after 9/11. Awards and accolades go to him the way other people accumulate coffee cups. American Photo magazine has listed him as one of the hundred most important people in photography. Blending high-level photo philosophy with technical how-to knowledge, The Moment It Clicks is one of the best books on photography that I’ve come across.

Intended Audience and Topics Covered

Mr. McNally draws upon his decades in the field to provide memorable tips and advice that are beautifully illustrated by his famous photos. I’d recommend that you have at least an intermediate level of photography knowledge (and an interest in environmental portraiture) to get the most out of this book. Although, really, even if you’re just starting out, there are enough non-tech bits of wisdom that if you just skim it for about ten minutes, you will be a better photographer than you were before you opened the book. Typically, he starts off with a deceptively simple-sounding concept (no more than a phrase), and then riffs off that (combining engaging in-the-field stories with technical details and how to’s about whichever photo that section is about.) The result is that, despite it being classroom-worthy, it’s one of the least dry books about photography I’ve ever read. It’s broken down into sections (“Shoot What You Love”, “Keep Your Eye in the Camera”, “The Logic of Light”, “There’s Always Something to Bounce Light Off Of”, along with a brief tour of his equipment and a chapter just devoted to life lessons (“The Bar Is Open.”) Even so, each section (not more than 1-2 pages each) is a self-contained unit. If you just open the book at random and start reading, you are guaranteed to learn some valuable lesson that, at minimum, can apply to photography and possibly to other parts of your life.

Picking out portions worthy of mention is really difficult. It’s all amazingly good. The ones I’ve found most inspiring such as “Bring A Camera (Then Use It)”, “Turn Around!”, “Zoom With Your Feet”, “Stand In Front of More Interesting Stuff” -at first glance, these may not sound like real gems of advice. But if you actually put the book down and then DO these things, then you realize how powerful the lessons in this book are. He does get into the technical details of how the shots were created -giving just enough information that you’re likely to remember out in the field. Mr. McNally is big on the Speedlights and Nikon’s Creative Lighting System. Much of the tech talk focuses on controlling light -especially artificial light (like flashes.) Much consideration is given to proper gelling of flashes and the use of flash modifiers (like softboxes, umbrellas, etc.) I highly recommend going the extra mile and buying his DVD set, The Language of Light, if you’re interested in further explorations and tech talk on how to light subjects.

This book also doubles as a coffee-table book. The photos are large and beautiful and hold up on their own without any of the stories or technical details to support them. There are a couple that were taken from the very top of the Empire State Building that make my hands sweat every time I see them. Some will be familiar to readers of any number of the magazines that Mr. McNally shoots for.

This is a very inspiring book and one that photographers interested in continuing their lifelong education should seriously consider picking up.

By Joe McNally
Published Jan 23, 2008 by Peachpit Press. Part of the Voices That Matter series. Copyright 2008
Dimensions: 9 X 9
Pages: 272
Edition: 1st

ISBN-10: 0-321-54408-0
ISBN-13: 978-0-321-54408-7
eBook (Watermarked)
ISBN-10: 0-321-55289-X
ISBN-13: 978-0-321-55289-1


  1. Joe is my hero! I get anxiety hannigg over the balcony in a church shooting a wedding. Flooded with worry that my lens hood or something will fall on the unsuspecting audience below. I can’t imagine how I would feel so high above the city. I want to know if the guys were having spit contests while up there.The Moment it Clicks is worth twice the price. Easily the best photography book ever written!Mat

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