Four photography books

Photographer eye cvr

Photography: A Crash Course, by Dave Yorath (2000).

Digital Photography: An Introduction, by Tom Ang (2003).

Hands-On Digital Photography: A Step-by-Step Course in Camera Controls, Software Techniques, and Successful Imaging, by George Schaub (2007).

The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos, by Michael Freeman (2007).

 

Not everybody who upgrades to a camera which goes beyond point and click, or who is contemplating ways to improve their technique, buys a brand-new photography guide, if they buy a guide at all.  Many people rely on second-hand texts that may be dated in some regards even if the basics are sound.  Below are brief comments on a selection of books published between 2000 and 2007 which in various ways present the medium to a non-specialist audience.  They presuppose little prior knowledge of photography in general or digital photography in particular, though they vary widely in complexity.

 

Photography: A Crash Course, by Dave Yorath (2000).

Billed as ‘a guided tour of the camera person’s art’, Dave Yorath’s Photography: A Crash Course is a very compact guide to the history, principles and practice of photography.  Written in an engaging style (though the jokiness may occasionally grate), it looks at the development of photography from its origins to the book’s publication in 2000.  Along the way it examines, in bite-size chunks, technological developments, famous photographers, aesthetics, the many functions of photography in both high and low culture, the relationship between art and commerce, and between photography as an expression of the public and the private.  Despite being condensed there is a great deal of information, imparted in a clear well-illustrated form.

The main drawback now, sixteen years after its first publication, is the small amount of space given to digital photography and the way the ability to take, manipulate, and publish snaps easily has increased exponentially in ways Fox Talbot could never have imagined.  Despite being slightly out of date in that respect Photography: A Crash Course still holds up well and is a handy introduction for anyone who wants to know a little more about the history behind the button on camera or phone.

 

Digital Photography: An Introduction, by Tom Ang (2003)

My edition of Digital Photography: An Introduction, by Tom Ang, was published in 2003, so it too is somewhat dated.  Topics address the basics of digital photography; ancillary equipment such as printers, scanners and computers, and how to get the best from them; and a lengthy chapter details image manipulation on the computer.  Sections on photographic techniques are relevant whatever type of camera one owns, and there are helpful hints and tips throughout.

It is generously illustrated with Ang’s own photographs and as with all Dorling Kindersley books looks very handsome.  The text discusses the subject in breadth but not in any depth; a beginner might find the technical aspects dealt with too briefly to be useful, or even fully comprehensible – notably some of the Photoshop applications; the book is a quick overview but anyone actually wanting to employ these functions would need to delve into them in more depth elsewhere.

An indication of how things have moved on since the turn of the century is the observation that ‘With a 3.3-megapixel digital camera you have really crossed over into the realms of professional-quality image-making.’ Despite the significant advances in camera technology, in many respects the digital photography scene of 2003 is much the same as it is today, but even so this edition is now out of print.  A fourth edition appeared in 2013, and earlier ones would only be worth reading if picked up cheaply.

 

Hands-On Digital Photography: A Step-by-Step Course in Camera Controls, Software Techniques, and Successful Imaging, by George Schaub (2007)

George Schaub’s Hands-On Digital Photography emerged from face-to-face courses he had run.  It is a straightforward guide to understanding and improving images, divided into three parts: ‘Understanding the digital image’, ‘in-camera controls’ and ‘software controls’, each part divided into short bite-size sections.  He has tried to make the examples of camera and software as generic as possible so that principles can be transferred to whatever kit and package the reader is using.  Each section includes exercises pitched at the beginner and the slightly more advanced user.

Of the three parts, the middle one on the camera is the longest, even though Schaub repeatedly remarks that many of the in-camera functions can be duplicated with greater control and flexibility in a computer program.  The last by contrast has been skimmed over, presumably in an effort to keep the advice general and not stray into aspects specific to a particular package; Schaub says that he is not offering a manual on how to edit an image in the computer, rather supplying broad advice on how to handle such issues as exposure, contrast and colour, and suggesting avenues for further exploration.

The language is straightforward, his examples showing how various aspects of the camera and software work are lucidly set out, and the novice will be encouraged to get to grips with the intimidating range of controls available to the modern photographer.  The benefits of shooting in raw are discussed, a format surprisingly overlooked by many photographers who fail to appreciate the flexibility it gives in the digital darkroom.   One may not always agree with Schaub’s aesthetic choices, but on a technical level this is still a good introduction for anyone taking their first DSLR from its box.

 

The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos, by Michael Freeman (2007)

In The Photographer’s Eye, Michael Freeman presents a sophisticated but clearly-expressed analysis of composition and design.  The book is divided into six chapters which build on each other.  The first looks at the frame and how it interacts with the content it is framing.  The second explores design basics, how the image’s components are organised and relate to each other.  Chapter 3 looks at the graphic elements that impose order on potential chaos and provide a satisfactory visual experience.  The fourth chapter charts their interaction with light and colour.

The penultimate chapter shifts focus from the photograph to the photographer, looking at intent, what the picture-taker’s aims are, whether conventional or challenging audience expectations, reactive to events or controlling the situation, documentary or expressive, and so on.  The final chapter concentrates on process, the steps a skilled photographer goes through, often automatically, to transfer the scene to a two-dimensional static image, thereby reducing a myriad possibilities to an ordered state in a way that obtains the maximum impact.  He draws on lessons from painting to demonstrate the different aspects of composition and looks at what other major photographers have said about the internal processes involved, adding his own insights.  As a consequence of his thorough analysis, Freeman is able to tease out what makes a strong image, one that is aesthetically pleasing and memorable.

This is a lot of ground to cover, but it is done elegantly; Freeman is critical of the jargon utilised by art experts that obfuscates more than it illuminates.  To aid the discussion some of the points are made by imposing line diagrams over photographs and he occasionally describes the steps he went through in order to arrive at the finished product on display.  The informative text is accompanied by his own excellent photographs, many taken in South-East Asia, and the quality of the production makes this a pleasure to read.

The result is a book for anyone who wishes to cultivate an eye for what makes a memorable photograph.  There is no great secret: it is a combination of experience, reflection, and a desire to improve.  If technique is automatic, more thought can go into analysing the scene to be captured until doing so becomes a reflex.  Such an approach is not a guarantee of great pictures, but it will lay the foundation to allow the photographer to improve.  In providing a comprehensive dissection of the variables to be considered, this is a valuable addition to the manuals which deal with composition.

An amusing footnote, on the need to be wary of copy editors: the caption to a photograph of a Nuba village reads in part: ‘…the real reason for having the man and child in the far top left of the frame…’ (p. 132).  However, the man is in fact holding a baby goat. Freeman would not have made the mistake because it is obvious at a glance what the man has in his arms. What must have happened is that he wrote ‘the man and kid’, and it was changed in the editorial process to child on the assumption that kid was slang and without bothering to check what was in the picture.

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