Saturday, April 5, 2008

REVIEW: Skin by Lee Varis

Imagine for a moment that Lee Varis was assigned the task of writing an owners manual for a toaster. Based on what he has done in Skin, I would expect that he would begin the first chapter by discussing entropy. Next he would show how this applies to thermodynamics in a lengthy discussion of heat capacity.

With this background information he would move on to a discussion of conduction before he'd finally discuss the electromechanics of Charles Strite's invention of the automatic pop-up toaster. Of course, none of this discussion would be complete without a etymology of bread and the viscosity of unhomogenized butter versus homogenized butter.

Now, if this is how you learn and you think this is a fantastic way to learn how to use your toaster, then Skin is the book for you. On the other hand, if you think that all of that discussion is a load of crap and you just want a simple explanation of how to toast a freakin piece of bread, then Skin is DEFINITELY not for you!

Lee Varis is the polar opposite of Scott Kelby (who likes to just get the point and tell you what you need to do), and after reading his book I am beginning to believe that he is a legend in his own mind. After all, his book features many photographs, but most were taken by other photographers! In fact, after looking at his images on his own web site I can understand why - because he isn't that great of a photographer. He's definitely a very smart man (or at least wants us to think so by using big words and complex theories when more simple alternatives will do). However, he seems to have made a career of overprocessing his poor photographs in Photoshop so that they would convey some sense of art and value to others. However, I have yet to see any of his photographs stand on their own as an unaltered shot.

Now, before you scratch this book off your reading list I am here to tell you that there are some useful nuggets in this book that are sandwiched between too damn much theory for the most of us. In fact, I equaled my number of flagged pages in Learning to See Creatively by Bryan Peterson at 10. So, this is a good book and there is good information, but the author does a very poor job of presenting it in his attempt to cover up for his inferiority complex by overanalyzing basic subjects and using a bunch of big words.

However, I am here to help you. If you are going to buy this book, I suggest you read the important stuff and skip the rest unless you are really in to Bayer Pattern or Ansel Adam's Zone System. For me, the real value of of this book was in the following chapters:

  • Chapter 2: Calibrating for Digital Capture (skim)
  • Chapter 3: Lighting and Photographing People
  • Chapter 6: Retouching (the best part of this book)
  • Chapter 7: Tattoos section only
  • Chapter 8: Sharpening, Soft Proofing & Preparing for Print only

In my opinion, the rest of this book is crap. Of course, those who appreciated the toaster discussion at the beginning of this blog post will scoff at the blasphemy of which I speak, but for normal humans who are less analytical will find that these excerpts of the book tell them what they really wanted to know.

Skill Level: Advanced Only Value: At $40, there's much better values out there unless you are the scientific type in which case you might find this book to be the holy grail. For me, your money is better spent on Kelby books. Recommendation: Get it from the Library, read the good stuff, and return it. It is WAY more complicated than it needs to be, and even some of his final results are just way too cheesy for my taste.

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