Posts tagged ‘book review’

April 1, 2014

Book Review: Behind the Image – Research in Photography by Anna Fox and Natasha Caruana

by Suzy Walker-Toye

basics creative photography 03 behind the image research in photography book cover I’m not sure why this book even got put onto the reading list. To me it seems to go from one obvious and belaboured point to the next. The first two chapters could have been condensed down into one or two good introductory paragraphs and a bullet list of ideas. For example do we really need to be told to visit galleries on a photography course? Do people in the modern age really need to be told what a bookmark is and how to use one? I was expecting to flip to the front and see that this had been written in the early ’90s but its actually from 2012.

It starts off nice and specific, ie you have something to research or you want to do a specific project which would need a proposal then it gets a bit wishy washy and seems to be suggesting places that arnt really specific research places as such. Galleries for example are great for inspiration and interesting exhibitions but unless they happen to have one on your topic it’s not really targeted research for your own projects.

The book is split up into 6 chapters, Planning, Development through research, Practice as research, Compiling your research, Research and practice and the Impact of research.

The first part of the chapter on planning was quite interesting, the idea of making a research proposal (or brief) is one which could transfer into one of those useful skills that all clients need but newbie freelance photographers often lack the practice in. This chapter brought to mind the recent Miss Aniela Creative Live workshop (which I recently blogged about here), and her concept of making a pitch document for the client and supplementing it with mood boards once the time comes for shooting. In fact several times while reading this book her workshop sprang to mind.

Basically a research proposal comprises of a title, a topic or theme, target audience, suggested practical approach to how you intend to carry out the work, any details of local access you might need (and other organisational details and permissions), funding proposals, summary considerations for social media, timetable & budget and proposed research references.

As much as this is important, I can’t help to think it sort of sucks the fun out of the creative photographic process, nailing down details up front might put some people off doing the project entirely, especially if its a personal project where you are your own client. It seems like it would be very easy to have a method of working which overanalyses things and loses that spark of spontaneity that some projects need to get off the ground.

The idea behind the approach and methods section reminded me of what I was doing (unofficially) with my pdf learning logs. Basically giving myself a history of where the ideas where coming from as they evolved. A useful exercise if a bit long winded for normal (non-assessed) work.

The Being Informed parts of this chapter I think could have just been summarised into a few interesting bullet list of ideas. Looking at photographers histories, books, magazines, journals & gallery visits all seem pretty obvious if you are researching something photography based.

I thought the case studies were interesting, they gave a good context to what the book was trying (and often failing) to express and keep the reader engaged with.

Unfortunately, the second chapter almost made me put down the book in exasperation. As I’ve already mentioned, no one in this day & age needs whole sections on why the internet is useful and what to do with bookmarks. There really was no need to go into that level of detail in stating the obvious (again). Its almost as if the publishers had given a page count and the authors felt some padding was needed (that apparently the generous whitespace and photos throughout didn’t give already)? Do yourself a favour and skip over this chapter.

Chapter three, “practice as research” started off seeming a bit random, touching on a few main places where you might take photos (the studio, street photography) – So? Eventually it got to its (very long winded) point of trial and error photography as a journey to new ideas or finished work. The same with Post Production and the types of things you could decide to do to your image. The self-evaluation form section was mildly interesting (we basically do this in the course at the end of each part anyway) but I think this whole chapter was a bit outside the scope of the book, long winded and not very well written. Sorry, just my opinion.

Chapter four, is useful if you read this at the beginning of TAOP course but with a bit of trial and error you come up with your own ways of organising your research materials (most people use blogging and personal workbooks for the course).

Chapters five and six see the book winding down and concluding by repeating fairly obvious themes and conclusions from earlier chapters.

In conclusion, read the contents page and imagine what each (very interesting sounding) heading might talk about. Expand on that logically in your mind. Close the book, reading no further.

October 7, 2013

Book Review: The Hot Shoe Diaries by Joe McNally

by Suzy Walker-Toye

The Hot Shoe Diaries: Big Light from Small Flashes: Creative Applications of Small Flashes (Voices That Matter) by Joe McNally This one isn’t technically on the reading list but was recommended to me. You know it’s going to be an interesting read when you learn something new in the first 12 pages. The HSD, unlike the other flash books recommended in the course notes is not a manual on how to shoot flash – Joe even states that on the into page xiii – This Is Not The Manual. This is a book you can sit down with in the train or with a cup of coffee and read like a normal person. And just who is Joe McNally, well as a National Geographic, Time, & Life photographer and internationally acclaimed American Photographer he knows a heck of a lot more about different light situations than I ever will. 😉

“Light is quicksilver. Magic. It is here, then it is there. Then it is gone.”

Its basically a book filled with different lighting examples and the stories of how they were shot, this makes it sound pretty dull but I found it really interesting to read. I tried to make notes on it as I went along so I would be able to refer back to my book review when I needed to look stuff up for reference (hence the page numbers throughout the review).

The introduction is all about the nuts & bolts of what Joe uses and why. What was the thing I learnt in the first 12 pages? Well, on p11-12 he is explaining the importance of EV. Mostly when I’m using my camera for underwater work it’s in manual mode, since my flashes are all manual so was my camera (this however may change now with my new Olympus set up), I rarely use Aperture priority so didnt have to understand this EV thing. EV is exposure compensation. In Aperture mode you are selecting the aperture and letting the camera select your other settings but what if you wanted it slightly darker or lighter than the camera suggests? That’s where EV comes in. You can compensate for the extra brightness or darkness you want.

Bright backgrounds will silhouette your subjects, hence you know to program in some plus exposure in order to brighten things for them. (p11)

Flash has independent EV controls because the camera EV is scene wide, a global input, which is both available light and flashlight. So if you dialled in some over exposure to the camera you have dialled in the over exposure to the flash too which would need to be corrected or the whole scene would just be darker than you anted (assuming we’re using TTL, which is sort of automatic mode for flash).

Upfront he lays out the very basic settings he usually uses and the reasons why. The book is very Nikon-centric but I’m sure it’ll translate into Olympus (or anything else) once you understand the gist. After twenty or so pages you might start to tired if the witty americanisms but push on because the content is worth it. He writes in a conversational tone but somehow gets the facts over. I found the little section on rear curtain sync (and why not to use red eye pre-flashes) on p14 interesting because I did have mine set to rear curtain but was finding the recycle time too long for the tiny hotshoe flash which my strobes optically slave from, I now have it on 1/64s power – more experimentation needed I think.

There is a section at the start on flash concepts which clearly lays out the terms Joe uses throughout the book, eg TTL (through the lens metering), CLS (creative lighting system – this is Nikons name for it) etc. He talks a lot about zooming the flash (so that your flash coverage is edge to edge even when you zoom in your lenses). I must remember to check out this feature if I purchase a topside flash, it seems important throughout the book (introduced on p22). There is an interesting introduction section on gear, gels, light modifiers etc that had me reaching for google to check out extra info on them. Given the price on some of this stuff, I think careful consideration on exactly what you might need and what might be DIY’d will be in order. Given that he isnt saying you need any of this stuff, he’s just explaining what things are that he uses so when he talks about them later in the book you arn’t left scratching your head wondering what he’s on about.

Once you set one of these puppies off, light goes everywhere. It’s up to you to tell it where to go. (p27)

Joe goes into quite a bit about colour, specifically balancing the colour of the flash (which is usually neutral white daylight) with whatever the available light happens to be. This is going to come in handing during the end of Section 4 of the course. On pretty much every photo he examines he explains which colour gel he put over his flash & why which I found really useful.

Light can be hard, soft, wrapping, harsh, slashing, sumptuous, glowing, ethereal, muddy, muted, brash, poppy, brassy, contrasty, clean, open – it’s a little nuts. (p38)

I found the explanation of how Joe shot an image of a Tanzanian woman (below) on p56-57 really interesting – balancing the natural (harsh) window light with his flash. He makes the point that straight flash would destroy the mood and atmosphere of the scene, the lighting from the window reminds me of the “cathedral” lighting I often see in caves, shipwrecks and under jetties.
Joe McNally p56

On p61-67 Joe goes through a couple of the pitfalls of on camera flash and iTTL (intelligent through the lens), and gives a good explanation of EV, gels & colours, again explaining that he adds a CTO gel to warm up that flashlight and he moves the flash off to onside, right near the subject to produce a more flattering light. On p70 & 71 he talks about adding Magenta filters to the lens to offset the overall greenish tone to a city night scene but then having to green-up his flash with filters to offset the magenta filter and blend the light with the available light (in digital you can just use the fluorescent white-balance instead of the magenta lens filter). One great effect this has is the dusky sunset gets more magenta – which made it look even better. On p83-85 Joe goes over why you might use fill-in flash, what exactly it is, and how such small nuances may effect the mood and story of a photo.

You know why they call it “fill”? ‘Cause the glass is already just about full. All you have to do is pour a little more in. (p84)

And what, pray, is a Lastolite All-In-One umbrella? Being new to topside flash I’m amazed by the variety of accessories and lighting modifiers. On p96 Joe goes through why he was using this umbrella and its various features to shoot a girl in a hoodie at twilight. He goes further with teh accessories on p98 where he basically overpowers the natural light with flash to recreate the sunset!

The ballerina photo on p102 is a really nice example of using shadows of things that are between the light and the subject to tell a better story in the photo.

The smaller the light source relative to the subject, and the farther away it is, the sharper and harder the shadows will be. (p104)

He gets serious with lighting delicate hospital moments (and how to over come the banks of hospital overhead florescent with a Lumiquest 80-20 attachment) on p109 and p130.

The moment is more important than the light. (p110)

The next few sections cover topics such as light texture (lacey light to get that net curtain effect), working without strobes and introducing them slowing in an on-site scenario (although most of us wouldn’t get to document behind the scenes at NASA), various times when putting the lighting outside the windows creates great effects, lighting on water in just a plastic bag – eek, mixing neon, flash and tungsten light sources and some other interesting stuff.

Seedy motels mack of illicit liaisons, last stands, one-night stands, and desperate deeds done in the dark. Great photographic fodder. (p153)

On page 155 he goes into lighting without messing up the atmosphere of the scene as it stands. Increasing the punch and depth of the shadows by zooming the light through old dirty windows seems to be a favorite technique that he uses again and again.

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I want to get this posted up for my tutor to see what I have so far, so I’m leaving this unfinished to come back & edit to when I’ve finished reading… to be continued.

October 3, 2013

Book Review: Light Science Magic

by Suzy Walker-Toye

Light: Science and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

This is Nice simple introduction to lighting principles. I like the way they don’t try and narrow it down to using flashes and get too bogged down in the equipment right out of the gate. That is often off-putting to a beginner like me, when you pick up a book about lighting & flash. However here, they acknowledge that the same principles apply whether you are using the sun & clouds, desk lamps & DIY diffusers or high-end studio lighting. They are teaching the physics behind it (but in a practical and useful manner whatever your equipment).

For me personally I found this book very useful because I have only used flashes underwater (where the physics is a little different due to the water column, depth away from the sun, particles in the water catching the light (backscatter) and a host of other factors). On those flashes (two Inon z240 strobes), they come with two types of diffusers (but I have only ever used one set) and I have DIY red gel filters so that I get nice blue backgrounds. Colour drop off due to depth & distance is not an issue on land of course. When I shoot on land I use desk lamps for macro with official diffusers (just a little DIY tracing paper). Quite often I use shiny surfaces as backdrops so the explanations in this book will help me to master the glare and reflections to achieve the photos that I want rather than my previous trial and error approach. I’d recommending reading this straight away if you are doing this course and not waiting for section 4 (the lighting section).

They go through examples of photographing things and what sort of set ups would work and why. Such as photographing artwork & other flat surfaces (great for OCA students)! Also, shiny surfaces such as metal, transparent objects like glasses (the subject I found most useful considering my first assignment ideas) and photos that would need a mixture of surfaces catered for. Also, chapters on lighting people with one or more lights. Also, lighting for difficult extremes such as black on black or white on white.

I’d recommend this as a must read to anyone new to lighting or someone who’d only read lighting books that explained the who & what but didn’t get around to the why. This is a nice companion to the course and I’d say the most practically useful book so far. It’s also nicely laid out for reference, I shall be dipping back into this as a reference for years to come I expect.

April 22, 2013

Book Review: The Photographer’s Eye by Michael Freeman

by Suzy Walker-Toye

I’d highly recommend this book for beginners. And although I did learn a thing or two from reading it, I think there are slightly more sophisticated books for the advanced amateur. However as a companion book to the OCA course it’s unbeatable. The course is clearly based from it and written by the same author so you get more context for the exercises & assignments. If I had one criticism though it would be that throughout the book Freeman often makes sweeping generalisations. My brain immediately thought up exceptions to these and that cast all the rest of the well reasoned concepts & ideas into doubt in my mind.

The book is laid out well into the following easy to follow chapters and illustrated beautifully throughout. Chapter 1: The image frame is all about placing your scene within the frame of the viewfinder. Chapter 2: Design Basics takes that a bit further discussing balanced compositions and other concepts of choosing & framing your scenes. Chapter 3: Graphic & Photographic Elements goes over the effects of various lines and shapes in your compositions. Chapters 2& 3 together partners with the second section of the coursework on elements of design and reading them along with the exercises pads out the coursework text to give you an insight into the authors intensions with each exercise. Chapter 4: Composing with Light and colour goes through colour theory and touches on black & white imagery. It pairs closely with section 3 of the course on Colour which is the chapter I’m currently working through at the moment.

UPDATE 16 Oct 2013 – the review continues…
The book seems to side step the issue of flash & lighting as a main topic (but there are other books on the reading list if guide you through section 4 of the course).

Chapter 5 & 6 (Intent & Process) both pair well with section 5 of the course (which I’m doing now). They cover basic storytelling through compositional choices, hunting for a situation or story to tell, whether your images should be obvious or challenging to the viewer with respect to making them work for the story. The processes or workflows one might adopt getting or constructing the shot, anticipation, reaction times, patience & persistence. Also an outline of a basic set of templates that an image might fall into based on perceptual psychology. Of special interest with regards to the final section of the course are the sections on photo stories & layouts, juxtaposition & returning to a scene.

The last two sections of the book are about post production & how various films & printing, and later digital & photoshop, has affected the syntax of photography over the years. You do shoot differently if you know you have options to change things later. HDR is touched on as more recent option too. I think these two sections are sort of what the next module of the course are about (digital photographic practice).

One criticism I would make is that it ends rather abruptly. One moment you are reading about photography syntax and the next page is the index! Leaving you with a feeling of ‘oh, it’s finished?’ A bit like this review 🙂

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