Monday, April 21, 2008

REVIEW: Best Business Practices for Photographers

Thanks to a 5 hour flight to Dallas taking nearly 20 hours, I was able to read Best Business Practices for Photographers by John Harrington in its entirety in one day (not an easy feat).

This book is the best book I've seen to date on the business side of photography, and as a former small business owner I can tell that John really knows his stuff. Of course, John also seems to be an arrogant big shot photographer who is beyond taking small jobs or caring about having his name in a big magazine, but he's kind enough to give us a peek into his life so he can't be all bad. I think that the average Joe who is getting started in this business isn't going to be able to carry the attitude he has, but he does state that his book is not for newbies so I guess this is why.

The reason why this book is so good is because John really gives you a ton of inside info like his email conversations negotiating some of his big contracts as well as his invoices to various clients. You know longer have to wonder about how much someone bills - you can see it!

He also goes into legal issues, copyright infringement and so much more. In the end, you can see why so many people say this is the bible for photographers who are trying to get the business side of things working smoothly.

This book is NOT a simple read, and it isn't for people looking to make a career in microstock transactions (which John has a disdain for). In fact, I think that you pretty much should have a name for yourself before you start taking John's advice, but there is definitely something for everyone who is interested in selling their pictures in here. It is for this reason, I can wholeheartedly recommend this book for those who are looking to give up their day job and taking on the photography business full-time as well as those who are just looking to make a little money on the side.

Skill Level: Advanced (to the point you could earn a living with your work) Value: Priceless- You can only learn this stuff through the school of hard knocks or John's book, so this book is worth every penny. Recommendation: Recommended. After you've made your first $20 on selling your photographs, use it to buy this book.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

REVIEW: How to Make Money with Digital Photography by Dan Heller

There are legitimately good books on the subject of making money with digital photography like 2008 Photographer's Marketand Best Business Practices for Photographersbut they are a tad bit bland and not very inspiring. Dan Heller's book takes a different approach and is filled with great pictures and plenty of inspiration. It is clear from reading this book that Dan is a great guy and an excellent photographer, but sadly that is really all that this book offers.

This book is a short read (maybe a couple hours at most) and when you are done you get the feeling that the way Dan makes his money in digital photography is by ripping you off with nonsense like this book. Sure, it is a great picture book for Dan, and he means well, but he spends a lot of time going over basics that are covered by every photography book on the planet (i.e., what types of memory cards you need) and he is very noncommittal in his advice making this book utterly useless. Well, that might be a bit harsh as there may be a nugget or two for some people (especially in his section that shows the math behind selling postcards) but overall I felt like this book was a waste of time based on the title. If it was called Dan Heller's Picture Book with Anecdotes and Lessons Learned, then I'd say it was an excellent book. However, that wasn't the title so I say pass on this book unless you just want inspiration from his great pictures.

Skill Level: Beginner Recommendation: Not Recommended

For real books on making money with Digital Photography, try these:

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

REVIEW: Digital Portrait Photography & Lighting - Taking memorable shots every time

If you have been reading my reviews up to this point then you know one of my metrics for determining if a book is really good or not is by how many post-it flags I put on the pages for things I think are worth remembering and revisiting again. Well Digital Portrait Photography and Lighting is now the record holder at 35 flags - well more than any other book - yet I still don't feel this is the best book I've ever read.

The first problem I found with this book is that the images displayed in this book seem to me to be either overexposed or oversaturated, so I found very few pictures that I felt were shots worthy of authoring a book. However, the part that was the worst, at least for me, is that a vast majority of the pictures in this book are credited by someone OTHER than the authors, so it makes me wonder how good are these authors really?

Another important observation I had in this book is that a lot of the advice given contradicts everything I've read or learned to this point. Some examples include recommend crappy tripods that are sure to disappoint, mediocre lens recommendations, and flat out poor advice on how to pose a group based on today's conventional wisdom. Collectively it made me feel as if the author had less experience or knowledge than I have, so I really started question the teachings of this book. However, just when I was ready to say it was garbage, I'd find a section or two that would just pour out tons of useful advice.

This book made me think of my own book authoring experiences where I had two best-selling books that were co-authored with other people who I never met or spoke with. This lead to us releasing books that sold well, but didn't necessarily flow well or send the same consistent message through the book. As a result of this, I began to suspect that two authors for this book worked in isolation without much context as to what the other was doing. This was confirmed by the fact that the book repeats itself over for some basic concepts over and over again, and it doesn't seem planned - it seems like a bonehead mistake. Between this fact and the fact that the author is rather verbose even for simple concepts, I find that there is more rubbish than value in this book.

So all of this of course begs the question - if the book is such rubbish, then why did you end up with 35 flags for important concepts in this book? The answer is easy - there is some good stuff here - especially when it comes to web site references and how to deal with different body types for portrait photography. Sure there's lots of useless crap in this book too, but from page 26's "tip" until page 326 there's plenty of useful nuggets worth remembering.

I can say that you shouldn't take this advice as the word of God (as I would do with many of Scott Kelby's stuff), but you can add a mental note (or flag) that has you thinking the next time you do a shoot.

Skill Level: Beginner (but I would recommend other books first) Value: Fair - there's useful nuggets here for sure, but I still think there are at least a half dozen books that should be on your reading list before you get to this one. Recommendation: Barely Recommended. This is a book you read after you've read everything else and committed the nuggets of them to memory. At this point this book has some nuggets of value, but it also can corrupt your mind with the crap and poor advice it offers in many portions of this book

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REVIEW: Rick Sammon's Travel and Nature Photography

Rick Sammon's tutorial on Canon.com is one of the best resources I've found to get up and going with your new DSLR camera - even if you shoot with a non-Canon camera. There is REALLY good stuff here and it is interactive learning at its best. It is for this reason that I was excited to check this book out and see if was as helpful as what Rick did for Canon.

Rick Sammon's Travel and Nature Photography is a 309 page book with some excellent photography that proves that Rick really knows what he is doing, but as you read this book you realize that this is also a very random person. The flow of this book is very poor and you can easily tell that Rick wrote chapters while on planes (which he admits in the book) with little substance or thought about how they flow with the other chapters of the book. While this doesn't necessarily imply that this book is useless, I can say that it isn't one of the better books out there.

One of the ways I judge the value of a book is by how many pages I flag as having useful nuggets of info I haven't read elsewhere, and this book was limited to a paltry 3. In addition, despite its large appearance this is a really simple book filled more with pictures than with substance so I easily completed it in 4 hours (a record for me for a book of this thickness). It makes a great inspirational coffee table book, but this book isn't going to make you a better photographer (unless all you need was inspiration) and honestly I was disappointed there wasn't more advice about how to make better Travel and Nature pictures based on the title of this book. I know for certain that I learned much more in the smaller book by Scott Kelby entitled The Digital Photography Book.

While I still think that Rick Sammon's tutorial on Canon.com is one of the best places for ANY new DSLR photographer to begin, and it was instrumental in helping me, I think that this book is more fluff than anything else.

Skill Level: Anyone (this book isn't deep at all) Value: Poor (nothing more than a coffee table book) Recommendation: Skip it. it has great pictures and might be inspirational for some, but for me it was more of a waste of time than something of value to help my photography.

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REVIEW: Light: Science and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting: Third Edition

After reading Skin by Lee Varis, I was prepared to be dazzled by complex words and theory, yet be underwhelmed by what I actually learned. I am pleased to say that in this case, I couldn't be more wrong. Light is truely an excellent book!

While this book is an advanced theory oriented text book, it is good – damn good – because it demonstrates that theory in a practical manner. This books teaches you the basic principals that help you truly understand what is going on with light and what you can do to control it. This is some advanced, but powerful stuff, and it warrants your full attention from cover to cover. In short, this is NOT a book to read when you are sleepy. It also isn't a book where you can skim or skip chapters because each chapter builds on the previous. This is heavy duty theory, but it offers practical, real-world applications that can help you become a master of light.

In addition to covering portrait lighting, this book also covers such complex topics as lighting metal, glass, shiny spheres, black on black, and white on white objects. What's more, it has the best explanation of polarization I've ever read and it is written in a way that normal people can understand. It primarily focus on studio lighting, but the theory could be applied to natural lighting.

However, this book provides one of those major "ah ha" moments when it explains the family of angles. This basically explains why you sometimes get killer light in your photos and other times it is horrible because there is a solid theory that explains where the light source has to be in relationship to the camera and subject you are photographing. While this is some seriously advanced stuff, it is explained in a way that you can understand (assuming you didn't skip chapters) even if it may take you a while to actually master the theory into practice.

A word of caution though - this book is NOT for beginners because you already have enough to learn, so this book will be overwhelming. You need to have mastered the basics of your camera and understand concepts like aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and exposure to the point that you can apply them and their impact on each other without thinking about it. I also suggest that you have read books like The Digital Photography Book and Learning to See Creatively before you tackle this book.

Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced Value: Excellent Recommendation: Highly Recommended - After you've been through at least your first year of DSLR photography and mastered your camera, taken 10,000+ shots, and really understand the basics in practice, then you may be ready for this book. When you are, you'll have a light bulb go off in your head and will be on your way to taking better studio pictures.

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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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REVIEW: Learning to See Creatively by Bryan Peterson

 

The approach I have taken to becoming a Digital SLR photographer has been to focus on the technical aspects first before I worry about the creative aspects. I did this because when I review my own images, if they are NOT sharp and colorful then I'm generally going to dismiss the shot right then and there. It can be the most creative and artistic shot ever made, but it'll never see the light of day because I'll delete it.

It isn't uncommon for me to send a picture I like to my friend, and co-worker, Sean Daniel, is one person who I generally send my favorite pictures for review. He generally looks at it and replies, hey you should check out Bryan Peterson's Learning to See Creatively without any other comments. I think this means, creatively your picture sucks Ron and you need a get a clue so go read this book.

Well for various reasons it has taken me over a year to get around to reading Learning to See Creatively, but in this case Sean was spot on. This is an outstanding book that should be read early on and multiple times during the first years after you step up from a point and shoot camera. Bryan's books is very well written and informative as he shows you how he gets some great shots and how you can take a shot from being just mediocre to outstanding. The approach is simple and not the least bit intimidating, and I found the book to be a joy to read. In fact, I've got these other books he has written on order:

Yes, this book is that good.

One of the things that sets this book apart from others is that Bryan challenges you with assignments to help you apply what you have learned. He is a photography teacher, so this is a natural way for him to work. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit and the assignments are both fun and very inspirational.

To me a testimony of a good book is how many Post-It Flags I stick on things that made me say "AH-HA, I gotta remember that". For this book there were 10, and every one of them is a real eye opener for me.

I highly recommend you buy this book, read it cover to cover, and do all of the exercises. I feel quite certain that when you are done you will certainly be learning to see creatively!

Skill Level: Beginner to Advanced
Value: Priceless
Recommendation: If you want to take great pictures, this book will teach you how and then it is all up to you from there. Highly Recommended and dare I say - a must own?

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