Books. They’re still a good idea if you ask me, even in this age of YouTube learning (which I also love). Especially for learning something visual like say.. photography: I like to have a physical, printed book. In this post, I’m going to present some of my favourite photography related books, and why I like ‘em.
1.. The Hot Shoe Diaries – Joe “Patina” McNally.
This was the book that started my journey into actually controlling and creating the light in my images. I had been shooting landscapes, and motorsport for a couple of years and then my wife bought me an SB900 SpeedLight for Xmas. I played around with it for a couple of weeks before deciding I needed to read up on this lighting malarkey. I searched Amazon for books on lighting with SpeedLights, and out of the list, one book stood out – partially because of the clever title – referencing those mildly erotic TV tales starring David Duchovny, but mainly because of the image on the cover. That yellow on blue contrast, the action and close in shooting – as Jay Maisel would say – Light, Gesture and Colour! I read that book from cover to cover, and studied Joe’s wonderful hand drawn diagrams hoping to detect where the magic was. Of course, it was later on that I realised just how fitting those imprecise looking diagrams are for communicating a lighting idea: the actual position and power of each light is only right for that exact setting, time, and subject. There’s little point describing exactly what power they were on, and the exact position relative to the subject etc. The real information was in the story that went with it – i.e. the process by which Joe arrived at that lighting solution, and the rest of the ingredients in the image.
2.. Sketching Light – Joe McNally
More wonderful stories, and images. I now read both of these books for the narrative – how does a photographer like Joe McNally approach a job? (and Joe has shot all kinds of wildly different assignments). Anyone who’s read these books will know Joe is immersed in popular culture, and uses his immense internal database of themes to conjure up images that go together with his subject, and then sets out to get it onto a memory card. There’s lots of feathering, patina and energy involved 😛 I also love Joe’s tales of photo assignments of yesteryear – with stupendous budgets, truckloads of lighting gear, carpentry, and helicopters. I love it.
3.. Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It – Scott “Now!” Kelby
When I added bigger lights and big modifiers to my growing collection of Speedlights, I watched the 3 part video course of the same name on KelbyOne, and I really recommend this to anyone looking into how to start producing consistent and quality results in a controlled “studio” environment (to me a “studio” is a room with some power sockets, and tbh, even the power is optional – just the walls and a roof will do). I bought the book to go with it as it’s a handy reference and quicker than trying to find something in the middle of a 40-odd part video series. Books offer the opportunity to stare at stuff at your own pace and LISIRI is a great format – showing the creation of an image from start to finish.
4.. The Photoshop Workbook – Glyn “just a touch” Dewis
I like Glyn’s first book on Photoshop for similar reasons: it’s presented as a series of worked examples, from capturing all of the elements to putting them all together. This is the most effective way to learn for me at least: I will only really retain something if I have a real need to know how to do it. Just watching people do clever stuff I haven’t had a need for yet doesn’t really stay in my head. I do usually remember that the techniques exists though and will go back and watch or read the content again when I need to actually do it. Wanna know how to add rain, sun rays? Cut out awkward subjects? Comp together parts from all over the globe shot in different light into one image? Make stuff look wet? Glyn’s got ya covered.
5.. Mastering the Model Shoot – Frank “awesome!” Doorhof
Now, tbh I had already learnt quite a bit of what’s in Frank’s book by the time it arrived – and quite a lot of it from Frank via KelbyOne, and his own video and blog posts. In fact I almost felt I owed him and had to buy the book as I’d learnt so much from all of the knowledge Frank disperses freely. Mastering the Model Shoot is a tour of everything you need to consider when working as part of a creative team, from hiring, keeping everyone happy on-set and of course, getting good results. Frank is a great presenter, and when you read this book, you’ll hear his voice – just like I hear Joe’s lilting New York/Irish tones when I read his words. Frank goes further than just how to shoot and light the images – this book is a comprehensive reference for all aspects of creating images with models in them – from styling and designing the shots, to hiring models and dealing with common problems on set, and of course etiquette when dealing with models – professional or otherwise. If you want to get creative with your camera and make images with people in them but don’t where to start – read this book.
6.. Light, Gesture & Color – Jay “bring your camera” Maisel
Jay Maisel is what you might call a real photographer. I know, I know – what does that make everyone else then? Well, I sometimes look at the images I make for example and they are, planned, created: the light is often of my design, sometimes the whole thing. This makes me a lighting engineer? Image designer? Jay makes pictures of things he sees, and captures what is good about the light, the gesture and the colour. He sees images around him and captures them. This book, and the sequel It’s Not About the f-Stop are very simple in design. Nice, wide layout, with an image on the right hand page, and some narrative on the left, where Jay explains what he saw, why he took it, how etc.
7.. The Photographer’s Eye/Mind – Michael Freeman
Freeman has a deliberate and laid back approach to photography, and in these two books, he wraps some science around the decisions he makes out in the field about what to shoot, how to arrange it and why one composition works better than others. He has analysed what often makes an image good, driven by long understood mathematical and psychological concepts from Fibonacci’s spiral found in so many naturally occurring things, to Gestalt’s theory of “closure” and opposition.
8.. Shoot to Thrill – Michael Mowbray
This is a great book for practical and simple light – you know, for use in fluid situations such as weddings and other events where you’re moving fast and don’t have more than a few minutes to get each shot. It’s outside, it’s windy, you need to control the ambient etc. Michael doesn’t use enormous soft boxes or anything else that will be blown away or otherwise hard and time consuming to setup and carry about – it’s all 1 to 3 Speedlights on sticks, some high speed sync, TTL and it’s done. Presented as a set of worked examples, you see the image and see a) how it was achieved, and b) the thought train that led to the eventual solution.
9.. One Light Flash – John Denton & Adam Duckworth
This is a great whistle stop tour of common lighting scenarios using one flash. In fact, as there’s a brief introduction to gear, exposure and basic camera operation, you could well get away with nothing but this book, a Speedlight, trigger, stand and a soft box, and start taking effectively lit pictures.
10.. 50 Portraits – Greg Heisler
A real classic this one and a should be on every portrait photographer’s bookshelf. Tales of belligerent celebrity subjects, incidents and accidents, planned and unplanned outcomes, and fantastic results. These are portraits in the real sense as well – not head shots – many are in the subject’s environment, and every one is crafted to show something about their character or background. Every one is different.
11.. The Headshot – Peter “Shebang!” Hurley
Now – headshots! There’s nowhere to hide – there’s a face, and a plain background. So you better get it all spot on. When it comes to studio headshots with the face right up front – Peter Hurley is the man. There’s everything in here to get you started shooting some headshots, from some simple and effective lighting solutions to poses, angles and expression. The best thing in this book for me though is the approach and techniques Hurley uses to engage with his subjects. When all you’ve got in your shot is a face, and it fills the frame, the expression and emotion has to be real, and this to me is Peter Hurley’s core strength. It works too – I’ve shot 50 corporate headshots in an afternoon – twice now which only gives you 2-3 minutes with each subject. Going from zero to laughing and smiling – and I mean really laughing and smiling in 3 minutes can be tough, and this book helped me a lot.
12.. Direction and Quality of Light – Neil “BFT” van Niekerk
This book is another essential reference for shooting on the hoof, run and gun, making use of the things you may find – to get the job done. Neil uses small flash, on camera, off camera, video light, ambient light, and other “found light” such as table lamps, street lights, signs, traffic, cupboards, lifts etc. He also uses other bits of the environment, isolating them to provide background, foreground context, framing etc to amazing effect. Neil produces awesome portraits using on-camera bounce flash, of camera bounce flash, one light off camera, lotsa-lights off camera, video light, reflectors, gels and high-speed sync, all to generate directional light, blended to perfection with the surrounding light. The book shows the sequence: other things Neil tried and built on, or just flat rejected. I think this is important to show for anyone learning photography – there’s always that question when you look at great work: “did he know this was going to work?” when most of the time, the answer is “well kinda” but if you don’t start shooting, you’ll never get the shot.
Photograph Like a Thief – Glyn Dewis
In many ways, this is similar to Glyn’s first book, (and this is no bad thing) taking you through worked examples of Glyn’s own projects from idea to lighting and shooting to processing and completion. The twist though, is this idea of inspiration. I.e., where do the ideas come from? Austin Kleon wrote a book a while back called “Steal like an Artist”, and this book just seems to complete the phrase and (stealing from Ali 😛 ) “Steal like an artist, photograph like a thief” 🙂 Glyn explores the debate between people who think nothing can ever be imitated, or adapted and must be completely new and those who build and develop on existing ideas. If we adopt this attitude of everything being a pure creation, art, science and technology would go no further than a human life span allowed. We accept that science builds on what we already know (if science was a TV show research projects would start “Previously on, astro-physics and quantum gravity…” which would start with Democrates journey around the ancient world), and yet, in the art world (and I include photography in this) some people think we should start from scratch every time. Glyn knocks this squarely on the head and shows you a number of ways of kick-starting your creativity, with some awesome projects “in the style of….”, but not before taking you through all of the gear and techniques, from capture to compositing and re-touching.
Plus – it’s a cool looking book, thanks to Captain Orange – the Real Dave Clayton, and Rocky Nook, who always bind and make their books into strangely satisfying objects to hold.
The Photographer’s Guide to Posing – Lindsay Adler
This is the book on posing. I’ve read through it all. I’ve looked at other posing books and they’re all pretty similar – 1000 Poses for Men/Women/Children/Groups/Astronauts/Droids or Gremlins, with no explanation of why. Lindsay explains each element of a pose, why you do it, and when. How to solve specific problems with shape and form. The book is split into sections on men/ women, thin, curvy, young, old, fashion, lingerie, groups etc with specific problems with each dealt with an variety of ways. Lindsay also talks about how to remember all of this stuff, and flow from one poses to the next, creating variants on each basic pose. There’s plenty of examples of good, and bad poses so you can see the problem and how it’s fixed. I often work with experienced models on shoots and they can cycle through poses quicker than I can shoot them, however for some specific styles, you still need to fine tune. If you;re working with “regular” people or inexperienced models, this book is a fantastic resource.