Friday, November 18, 2011

REVIEW: Welcome to Oz 2 by Vincent Versace

Recently I finally got around to reading Vincent Versace’s Welcome to Oz 2.0. It’s a pretty deep book that is very thought provoking. In fact, when I read the first edition I gave it a pretty harsh review because at that time I wasn’t really ready for material this advanced.

When I read the book this time I “got it”. I really appreciate getting an opportunity to look inside the mind of a photographer whose work I admire, and learn more about why he does some things that are different from my normal workflow.

Vincent Versace explains his method of controlling the viewers eye so that you don’t simply look at his image, but instead you become entranced with the image. Your eye wants to stay in the image and learn its story. It enjoys coming back to the image to see what else is there. This is what the art side of photography is all about, and Vincent describes with examples exactly how to turn an ordinary image into one that is extraordinary.

With that said some of the things that I found a bit cumbersome in the first edition remain in this edition. There is a LOT of info that can be great if you want to know every detail on how Vincent does his magic, but ADD types like me tend to drift off with that much detail. I tend to be verbose myself so I know this is like the pot calling the kettle black.

This book is so thought provoking that ADD types will find their mind racing with new ideas based on his comments. My instant gratification nature prefers my books to be direct and to the point with lots of screen shots (ala  Scott Kelby). This book is chock full of detail which makes it super difficult for me to focus at times, but the detail oriented types will love it.

Every serious photographer should read this book

This is a book where you want to follow along with Photoshop so you can physically experience editing a photo in the way that is described in the book – much like Scott Kelby’s 7 Point System. If you read it that way then the most important concepts sink in much better so that they become a part of your workflow. This is critically important as it can change your photo editing workflow permanently. Here’s an example of shot I recently did for a client where I have applied a portion of his workflow:


Notice how your eyes are draw to the face, then to the foreground boy,
and finally to the boy in the background before you explore the rest
of the photo. Visual distractions are also removed.

Here’s the before version with an image map overlay (hover over to see the before image only):

Mouse over to hide image map, mouse out to show it

With the image map technique that Versace encourages, you can see my strategy for adjusting the brightness of this photo. I try to place more control over the viewers eye by first removing distractions (grass, bright spots on the rocks, etc…) and then adjusting the brightness for the order in which I want your eye to travel over regions of the photo. The net result is a believable probability that subjectively might be to everyone’s taste, but it shouldn’t feel heavily photoshopped.

I came to a major realization while reading this book

The way Vincent Versace describes how he thinks and modifies his images is exactly what I’d like to do to my images – if I had the time and the talent. The reality is that I don’t have the time to put this much energy into a single photo. Sadly I also don’t always know where to darken part of my image 55% and another part 65% - even with image maps done in advance. This is the art part that you can’t teach – you just have to exercise and build that skill over time. In fact, some might argue it’s really a gift which some have and some don’t.

Despite my desire for my images to apply this workflow, reality dictates that I’ll only have time to adopt portions of it. What is great about this book though is that I’ll think differently and try to apply some of the concepts both in camera and in post processing. This is the real value in this book for the average person because you will think differently and look at your images differently after reading this book.

Advanced users can use this book as a tool to get to the next level

If you are a photographer who has advanced to the point where you are getting a lot of things right in camera, and you are doing a lot with layer masks, blending and opacity then I think this is a must read book for you. If you are still at the phase where you fix it in Photoshop, or do it all in Lightroom or Photoshop with just plug-ins, then this book may frustrate you (as it did with me when I read the first edition) until your skills are where they need to be to understand the content.

I’d like to thank Vincent Versace for writing this book as I feel this edition is helping me to grow as a photographer and think differently (much like Bryan Peterson’s Learning to See Creatively (class)). It’s super important to have these “ah ha” moments in your photographic journey to pull you up to the next level. In photography it can be rare for someone to go into such detail about the secrets behind their successful imaging. When you are ready for it, reading this book can be significant in getting you to think deeper about your work, so I highly recommend it when you get to that point.

What’s new for V2

This version removes two chapters of the book (which are available online at Welcome2Oz.com), and improves the organization/workflow of the four chapters that remain. For some reason I was able to follow it better this time, even if I did struggle at times to stay focused.

There’s a lot of good content added online along with some enhancements to the other chapters using Nik and onOne Software Products (special editions included free with the book). For some these free editions of the software can easily justify the cost of the book.

For those wondering if it is worth getting the second edition my answer is definitely yes. Even for those who get this book from the library, you’ll want to re-familiarize yourself with the existing chapters and definitely read Chapter 4 through to the back cover.

Online the “Oz 2.0 The Why To Of My How” and videos are worth a look as well. In addition, you can get Versace’s Wacom Intuos 4 Presets.

Conclusion

My review of the first version of this book was a bit off base simply because I wasn’t ready for this book at that time. Reading this book is much like reading the bible where your eyes may move across some of the content without really grasping the real message. It took me a few reads before I really “go it”, and when I did I found myself constantly pointing colleagues to this book. As a result of that fact alone, I consider it a must read book.

Take a look at my interview of Vincent Versace and his guest blog article to see more of his images and observe how your eye behaves with his photos. If this is something you want from your own work, then there’s no other resource out there better than this book.

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Disclosure

I was provided a copy of this book by Vincent Versace to get feedback from him about improvements in the second edition. I got the first edition from my local library.

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