book review

More Photography Books

IR camera photographing a hot mirror
Latest entry in The Worst Photograph of All Time contest ... or an early example of 'synthetic industrial lube' chic? This is actually a test shot of an infrared camera photographing a circular hot mirror (often erroneously called an IR/UV filter).

The Making of 40 Photographs
by Ansel Adams

T his book contains reproductions of forty of Ansel Adams' most famous black-and-white photographs, along with a brief commentary by Adams. Adams believed that it is impossible to explain how he visualized photographs, and that aspiring photographers should learn by example. Therefore, the commentary consists only of a few reminiscences of the circumstances surrounding the picture, often written with failing memory decades after the photograph was taken. The photographs, mostly of mountains, aspen trees, old people, and old buildings, are reproduced in exceptionally high resolution. Their luminosity and their superb composition create an impression not only of fine art, but of a time now past.

Ansel Adams also wrote The Camera, The Negative, and The Print, which are intended to teach the rudiments of how to take pictures. Although some of the information in these three books is still useful, they contain only a few of Adams's photographs. The Negative is the best illustrated, and is still valuable reading today. The main audience for the others will be readers interested in antique cameras or readers enthralled by Adams's status as a famous celebrity.

The Camera: The use of several types of antique cameras.
The Negative: Ansel Adams's Zone System of composing photographs.
The Print: How to create good prints using photographic paper.

apr 29, 2012

The Photographer's Mind
Creative Thinking for Better Digital Photos
by Michael Freeman

T he premise of this book is that enthusiastic amateur photographers need to learn to take good pictures too. An image serves more than one purpose, says Freeman. Although a photograph has a literal meaning, its subject and artistic value, if any, also depend on who photographed it and why. This outstanding tutorial shows you, in concrete terms, how to take a good picture and—more importantly—how to analyze your photograph to tell whether it is good or bad. Freeman provides numerous examples of spectacularly good photographs and explains what makes them good. He also gives us a highly literate and insightful discussion of the psychology of beauty, an explanation of style, and a discourse on how to avoid using cliché. The idea is that photographers have to use their mind as well as their camera in order to take a good picture.

mar 25, 2012

The Low Light Photography Field Guide
by Michael Freeman

M ichael Freeman's latest baby is this tiny little book on photographing in low light. That means indoors or at sunset, not in the dark, which is a different and more technically challenging topic. There's nothing here about light painting or star trails. Occasionally his advice is misleading: for instance, 1 min at f/2.8 at ISO 100 to photograph moonlight, as he recommends, is way too long—I've photographed the Moon with many different lenses, and 1 minute would turn it into a saturated white blob. It depends on the camera and lens, of course, but a better starting point would be 1/200 sec at f/11, ISO 200.

On the other hand, it may be that he means photographing in moonlight, in which case a 1 min exposure would be about right. Never mind.

The real strength of this book is Freeman's excellent photographs, mostly taken in Asia and Africa. Most of the advice is about how to process the image in software, which should be useful advice for beginners. There's also stuff about noise, white balance, creating and fixing blur, and HDR. It's mostly technical advice, all of it useful, but somewhat basic for experienced photographers.

This book is marketed as a "field guide," and it's about the size of a camera manual, so you can take it with you and read it in the dark while you're fumbling with your ISO button. One last thing: normally I don't mention misprints ... but "cow pressure" lights, listed in a table of color rendition indexes, is beautiful.

jun 29, 2012

Night Photography:
Finding Your Way in the Dark
by Lance Keimig

N ight photography. The crack of your filter being stepped on in the dark. The sound of a farmer racking his shotgun as he drives you off his property. The low-pitched crunch, followed by a far-away scream, as a stray dog bites into your leg. The pretty flashing blue lights from the police cars that came to arrest you for trespassing ... with a camera ... in the dark. And those are just the advantages.

This book covers the practical and technical aspects of night photography: equipment, camera techniques, how to focus, histograms, and post-processing. For the latter, Keimig exclusively uses Lightroom. There are brief chapters on HDR, light painting, and film. His advice is good, and his photos are interesting, but a lot of them look like ordinary daylight photos: the only way you can tell it's night is from the foot-long star trails in the background.

Still, it's a fascinating topic, and an enjoyable hobby, if you can manage to stay out of prison.

dec 01, 2012

Digital Landscape Photography
In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters
by Michael Frye

E mulating Ansel Adams or Edward Weston is never a bad idea, says Michael Frye in this beautifully illustrated book. But it's not enough for a landscape photograph to be pretty. You must use all the available tools of composition to evoke a response in the viewer. Before you go out in search of aspen trees, you need to know what you're doing. This book teaches basic camera techniques and Ansel Adams's Zone System, and uses side-by-side comparisons to show you how to use camera settings, lenses, and Photoshop to imitate the film techniques used by the Old Ones ... the ones who made us. Yes, it is still in my memory banks. Oh, damn that Star Trek.

jun 30, 2012

Creative Nature & Outdoor Photography, rev.ed.
by Brenda Tharp

W e all know that good photography is more than a way of conveying information. It's a form of visual communication that can have strong intellectual and even emotional components. But what does this actually mean? For Brenda Tharp, it means making sure the picture expresses an idea and getting the viewer involved in the picture.

Bringing the viewer into the picture means using psychology to cause the viewer to be attracted to the image. This can be done using the principles of composition and clever use of shapes and patterns. In this book Tharp provides more inspiration than knowledge, but the goal is to teach the reader to think about the elements of composition while taking landscape pictures.

Identifying patterns, says Tharp, is an active process that must be practiced. Practice in seeing patterns is a basic first step in developing creativity. The technical skill you can acquire elsewhere. The more difficult skills—having ideas and designing good pictures— are skills that Tharp tries to show us can be learned. The brightly-colored, uncropped images of flowers, sandstone cliffs, sand, and trees in this book may not appeal to everyone, but they reflect Tharp's emotional, intuitive approach.

mar 23, 2012

Creative Black & White
Digital Photography Tips & Techniques
by Harold Davis

W hy would anyone convert a picture to black & white? Maybe for a retro, gloomy, or stark look, maybe to emphasize detail, or to emulate scotopic vision in a night scene, or maybe to try one's hand at taking pictures of aspen trees or the Moon rising over El Capitan. Or maybe you're just turned off by people using Photoshop to create images with unnatural saturated color, as some of the books above recommend. Whatever the reason, it must be a good one, says Harold Davis; otherwise, viewers will ask why the picture is not in color.

Grayscale images are usually studies in contrast and detail. But not all subjects make sense as black and white. To keep the viewer's interest, there must be something that would be lost if the image were color. Formal composition, says Davis, becomes more important in black & white. Some of the "soft-focus" images in this book illustrate the pitfalls and risks, the many tender B&W close-ups of toilets in the book being good examples. What he's saying here is that creativity means looking at ordinary objects in a new way. On the other hand, some objects, no matter how you look at them, will always look like s***. But you aren't being creative if you don't take risks.

I disagree with Davis on one point. At the risk of sounding like a Zen teacher, the decision to use black and white is not black and white. Having some subtle color can make the B&W scene seem more realistic. Much of the book is about using Photoshop and Lightroom. There's also a brief section on infrared photography, which is a natural partner for B&W. The examples in this book, some beautiful, some grainy, some deliberately blurry, and some not blurry enough, will help you decide for yourself whether to try it.

jun 30, 2012

See also Digital photography books