Thursday, September 29, 2011

At-A-Glance: Eight Photography Books from Amherst Media

One of the cool benefits of running a successful blog is that you get lots of opportunities to check out new products, books, etc… However, the downside of running a successful blog is that you end up with a to-do list of reviews that is a mile long!

My friends at Amherst Media have been kind enough to send me a review copy of their new books as they are released and I’ve ended up letting them stack up as high as my monitor on my desk.

Normally I like to read a book cover to cover before reviewing it on my blog, but that is becoming increasingly difficult. As a result, I’m calling this an “At-A-Glance” article to denote that I’ve at least skimmed these books. What this means is that I can’t give a strong recommendation for or against as I didn’t read these books in-depth. I will however share my at a glance opinion of what I think of these books based on the content inside. I felt this was more valuable than a simple press announcement or phony positive review as I see in large magazines.

100 Techniques for Professional Wedding Photographers is actually the only book in this list that I’ve read cover-to-cover – over a year ago. It’s probably the oldest item in my to-do list so I’m glad to finally scratch this off the list.

This is a book that I was very impressed with when I skimmed it initially because the tips seemed meaningful and the photos were good. Bill Hurter is a respected figure in the Photography industry so I figured it was going to be awesome so I saved it for last in the big batch of Amherst books I got that year.

After reading this book cover to cover I found that at a high level there was some good advice – much like you’d get if you were sitting across the table asking Bill to give you some tips about how to shoot a wedding. That part was good, but what I didn’t like was that some of the advice seemed dated or in some cases I’d call it bad advice. This reality kept it from getting the high recommendation I thought it would earn when I first glanced it, but with that disclaimer this book is still not bad.

I’d say if you are amateur who has been asked to shoot a friends wedding (and for the love of God, if you are – please just be the secondary – not the primary photographer) then you’d probably find lots of the advice and photos in this book to be worthwhile.

Ron’s Advice: A decent book for the newbie preparing to shoot a wedding for the first time.

Engagement Portraiture: Master Techniques for Digital Photographers is a book that has some fun concepts but I was never super impressed with the execution of many of the shots. I also felt like many of the photos had a very low quality post-processing which I think is unfortunate in any book that is designed to help newcomers.

One interesting note about this book is that one of the featured photographers in it is Kelly Moore who is the same Kelly Moore of the the crazy popular stylish camera bag fame. Kelly’s not only a great bag designer, but she’s also a very good photographer which is exactly why she knows how to design a great bag that is both stylish AND functional. 

Ron’s Advice: Skim through it at the library or bookstore.

Lighting Essentials: A Subject-Centric Approach for Digital Photographers is a book filled with images processed in a way that I really don’t like As a result, when I did my first glance through this book I thought it sucked. When I forced myself to take a closer look I found that it was better than my first thoughts because Don Giannatti does go in depth on a handful of shots where you learn a little more about the “why” behind the configuration he used to get the shot. He has some good discussions of things like shoot-through versus bounce with an umbrella as well as hard light, beauty dish light and softbox light that will be helpful to the newcomer.

Ron’s Advice: Not a great book, but it doesn’t suck either. Newbies will find it to be helpful so it’s a good bedside book for the beginner to read.

When I saw the cover of The Digital Photographer's Guide to Natural-Light Family Portraits I wanted to just give it away to someone. I really hate photography books where the cover image sucks and honestly I felt this one sucked really bad. What’s more is that the image on the cover had the feeling of being shot with a head on on-camera flash with the wide angle flap down so it made me wonder – how is this natural light? I also really didn’t like the pose for this one so I just had a very negative opinion about this book right away.

After glancing through this book I was pleased to find a lot of images that were very nice – especially since they were indoor shots that had a studio feel yet were shot with natural light. That’s a pretty impressive accomplishment that made me wonder – of all the nice photos in this book – why in the hell did the author choose this photo for the cover? I just didn’t get it.

My final impression with this book was that text part of the content was pretty basic, but there were enough very good family portraits that it’s probably not a bad buy for those who are looking for more creative ideas. Despite the mug shot on the cover, there’s some really creative photos inside (like pages 32 & 33) that I think many will find useful. It’s tough to be creative sometimes when you are thinking about so many things for a shoot, so this book has enough good ideas that it can help you with that creative boost to make a nice family portrait rather than the mug shot shown on the cover.

Ron’s Advice: Despite the crappy cover, there’s some great shots inside that are sure to inspire creativity. It’s worth at least a library rental, but I’d say its worth picking up as you’ll want to refer to it over and over when doing group shots to get inspiration.

The Art of Off-Camera Flash Photography: Techniques and Images from Professional Digital Photographers (Pro Photo Workshop) is a book that is just a collection of very short chapters featuring advice from 10 photography gurus. The info and photos the gurus have to share is interesting, but lacks much depth. As a result I’d call this more of a coffee table story book rather than an instructional guide.

Ron’s Advice: Great photos from great names in photography, but lacks depth – much like The Moment It Clicks by Joe McNally. I find Joe’s books entertaining for pleasure reading so I’d put this in the same camp. You won’t be a better off-camera flash photographer after reading this book (see Off-Camera Flash Techniques for actual instruction), but you’ll be inspired and motivated by what these pros show is possible. It’s worth picking up for pleasure reading only.

Painting with a Lens: The Digital Photographer's Guide to Designing Artistic Images In-Camera is the book for the person who has no desire to make an investment in high quality lenses and lacks the skill or desire to post-process their photos. It offers techniques that are indeed creative and fun, but I think they would be much better communicated in a video rather than a book. With that said, it does seem to offer some decent advice on tricks that you can do to get some interesting in-camera effects. I think some will find the tips discussed to be very fun to practice and a refreshing breather from perfectly sharp and well processed shots you see all the time. In fact, some newbies may enjoy it simply because their own work exceeds the quality of many images featured in the book.

Ron’s Advice: An interesting read to pick up some new topics, but don’t let the authors fool you – getting a good shot in camera is the first step – not the last. Probably worth buying or at least picking it up from the library or used books rack.

Studio Lighting Anywhere: The Digital Photographer's Guide to Lighting on Location and in Small Spaces wins my prize for the worst cover in this stack of books. Once again I scratch my head as I find covers like this to be such a turn off that I literally have no desire to pick up the book. In this case that’d be a shame because Joe actually does a pretty decent job explaining quite a few lighting concepts and tools. In fact, some might even say it has a style very similar to my style on this blog.

This book is very useful in that it features many lighting diagrams and discussions of the tools used to get the shot. Male geeks will also enjoy some of the sexy shots of pretty girls, but some of those shots are a bit heavy on the cheese.

I’ll stuff this book aside for a more careful read if I ever find the time, but given my current to-do list that may be years from now when we talk about the old days when people shot with digital sensor cameras! :-)

Ron’s Advice: Seems good and worth picking up – definitely worth a library rental at a minimum.

Christopher Grey's Vintage Lighting: The Digital Photographer's Guide to Portrait Lighting Techniques from 1910 to 1970 is an example of how the cover of a photography book should look! There are gorgeous tones, a fun/whimsical photo with complex lighting and fantastic post-processing. I’m pleased to say that inside the book seems to be as equally well done.

This book covers each decade from the 1910’s to the 1970’s and features both costume and photo processing that give the photos the look of that given era. In short, this is a really cool book that I can’t wait to read but just haven’t found the time yet. It features nice lighting diagrams, seemingly helpful Photoshop instruction and a lot of era appropriate photos that seem true to the period to which they are supposed to belong.

I think Christopher Grey did a great job on this book and I think it would be a great book for anyone who is interested in doing photos from any of the decades covered by this book.

Ron’s Advice: If the idea of doing period shots in any of the decades from 1910 to 1970 appeals do you then buy this book. It seems very well done and informative. It also seems like a heck of a lot of fun too!

Conclusion

I feel like I should apologize to you and Amherst Media for not being able to do more in-depth reviews of these books, but the reality is that the market is oversaturated with Photography books. I realize you can’t afford to buy every book that comes on the market and my “Which Books Should I Read? and What Photoshop Books Should I Read? articles are enough to keep most people busy for years.

Ironically, the last three books listed above seem to be the strongest ones of the bunch. They all seem to offer something new and interesting that I think those in a creative rut will enjoy. I also think that some will enjoy the 100 Techniques book will really appeal to some as well.

Naturally I want you to buy the books from Amazon because it helps to support this blog, but the truth is that you can just as easily rent them from the library as well. Either way, if you’ve got an upcoming long flight or some time to escape the world and read then you might find some enjoyment out of reading some of these books. Keep in mind though that if you do buy you may be able to save by shopping online with Amazon over your local bookstore.

If you’ve already read them then please share your feedback on the books you read below in the comments section. It would be useful to offer ronmartblog.com readers an alternative perspective from a real-world testimonial.

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