Sunday, February 7, 2010

REVIEW: Lighting Techniques for Photographing Model Portfolios

This is one of those books you see at the bookstore, and the cover immediately grabs your attention. Beautiful woman, great pose, killer lighting, super sharp, etc… so naturally you thumb through it. Inside you find more of the same – fantastic composition, colors, exposure, etc… of more gorgeous women. Now unless you are one of those lame people that reads the whole book right there in the bookstore, you then have to decide is this book worth my $20+ or is it another one of those books that has great images, but no substance. Well that’s the question I’ll answer for you in my review of this recent book by Billy Pegram.

Who is Billy Pegram

If you are like me, you might not have ever heard of Billy Pegram before. However, odds are that you’ve seen one of his books in the section of Amherst books at your local bookstore. He has 3 other books:

Well, Billy Pegram is first and foremost an outstanding and creative fashion photographer from what I’ve seen from his work both in this book and on his web site. You can learn a little more about Billy on his web site bio, but suffice it to say that this man’s work speaks for itself! In fact, his work is so good it inspired me to get off my ass and start shooting some models again and pushing myself in directions I hadn’t done in quite sometime. 

Chapter by Chapter Walkthrough

Here’s my 2 cents on the chapters in this book:

  1. (Intro &) Basic Principals – These chapters read like a conversation, which I like. It’s as if you were sitting down with Billy at a pub or coffee shop and you said to him – I’d like to get into Model Photography, what should I know. It’s a good read with great images, but not really about technique – it’s about high level things you should keep in mind.
  2. The Physics of Light – If you want to really read about the Physics of Light, read the phenomenally good book called Light: Science and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting: Third Edition. This chapter is poorly named, but still useful as I consider it a more practical story about how Billy Pegram has mastered the color and shadows that light creates to make visually appealing images. A chapter could never really discuss the physics of light properly, so I generally roll my eyeballs when I see a book with this title, but in this rare case it’s a useful chapter despite the fact that it has relatively little to do with the physics of light.
  3. Light Placement – Chapter titles like this cause us to buy books because we see fantastic images of beautiful people, and we want to know – how did that photographer set up his/her lights to get such a great shot! Sadly, this 9 page chapter doesn’t show a single lighting diagram and only shows two images that show a lighting configuration. However, all is not lost. The author does touch on some useful concepts and discusses how some of his successful images were accomplished by using photos that show the impact of different lighting and the position of the model. It’s a useful chapter, but not quite what one would hope for from a chapter entitled light placement.
  4. Types of Light Sources – This chapter is a high level overview (with sample images) of the quality of light that differ light sources will give you. This includes both a variety of natural and artificial lighting sources/conditions. It is clearly geared toward the novice but the sample images provide value to all.
  5. Light Modifiers – Like chapters 2 – 4, entire books have been written on light modifiers alone. Sadly, this chapter simply enumerates the vast selection of light modifiers and in many cases only in the form of a paragraph with no image of the light modifier itself and a sample image. There are sample images and longer discussions of some modifiers like reflectors and gobos with actually quite a few lighting diagrams. The sample images were quite good and the lighting configuration diagrams were very useful, but I was hoping more out of this chapter than what it ultimately delivered on. This isn’t to say it is a bad chapter, because in fact it is quite good. The point is just don’t expect to read this chapter and know when and why to use a given light modifier like a grid and what size the grid should be to accomplish a given task. It’s not that systematic.
  6. Matching the Light to the Image – The title of this chapter has very little to do with the actual content. This chapter is very useful and informative, but should have been called “Miscellaneous” as that really describes what you get here. It starts off with “Determining the Model’s Best Market” and goes on to talk about age, height and overall appearance. Now how does that have anything to do with Matching the Light to the Image??? The chapter then proceeds to go through a couple case studies, then a discussion about the different types of modeling images (Fashion, Glamour, Lingerie, plus size, etc…). The net result again is useful information (especially what differentiates Fashion from Glamour), but it has nothing to do with chapter title. By this point you start to catch on that the author was probably given an outline of the chapters to write about from the publisher, but he pretty much wrote what he wanted and in many cases tried to stay at least in the ballpark of the chapter title. In this chapter he just said screw it and wrote whatever he thought was important to include in the book that wasn’t covered elsewhere. While his images suggest that he may have intended to stick to the subject, the reality is far different.
  7. Creative Techniques – The thing you notice about this chapter versus all of the others is that it is one of the largest and most practical chapters, so you get a sense that this was content of the book Billy Pegram really wanted to write about. You get into the mind of the artist and see how he thinks and works his magic. By this point in the book you’ve seen enough amazing imagery that you are excited to get into Billy’s world and understand how he thinks and executes on a shoot. This is probably the most accurately named chapter of the book and one that any photographer is sure to enjoy.
  8. Additional Tips – This is a whooping two pages of useful tidbits, but subjects that you know warrant more words than they are given in this chapter.

My images inspired by this reading book

Here are some shots that I took where I felt like I took something from this book and applied it to my own photo shoots:

While I think I might have pulled these shots off without reading this book, it was the act of reading it that inspired me to frame the shot on the left the way I did (and to tell the model to bring this jacket) and to tell the model on the right to put her back on (she didn’t plan on wearing it for the shoot). I’m happy with the execution of these shots and I think Billy Pegram’s inspiration from the images and words in this book made them better than they might have been had I not read his book.


By reading the chapter by chapter section you might think that I didn’t care for this book, but you’d be wrong. Instead, I actually quite liked this book and found that it had lots of useful and practical information. What was bad about the book was that the chapter titles were totally bogus as you can easily tell that they have little to do with the information the author wants to share with the reader. He does a good job of educating the reader on how to be a more successful model photographer, but not in a methodical way that some will require. In the end I kinda chucked because this book is written much like I would probably write a book because the author pretty much shares what is on his mind at the time he sat down at the computer the day he wrote any given section, despite what part of the book he was working on. He has a genuine desire to share his wealth of valuable knowledge but he expresses it very loosely which works well for some people like me, but less so for the more methodical types.

In the end I’m glad I got this book, and I enjoyed reading it. I felt I learned some useful information which I was able to apply to my work and improve my photography. To me that is the definition of a successful book so it is for that reason I must recommend* it. I use an asterisk because if you are the type of person who can watch something do something once and without taking notes, apply that knowledge to a new situation then this book will be useful. If you are the person who can use a complex product without reading the instruction manual, then this book is for you. If you aren’t, then you may find yourself with more questions than answers after your done reading this book.

Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate 
Value: Good for those who are a quick study
Recommendation: Clearly this book is for those who want to know more about how to photograph beautiful women. if complex methodology and/or theory bore you to tears, then this might be a good book for you so pick it up and enjoy. If you want detailed instructions, then skip it.

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1 comment:

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