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Build a Better Photograph: A Disciplined Approach to Creativity 1st Edition

11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1933952185
ISBN-10: 1933952180
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Michael E. Stern, a professional photographer since graduating from Art Center College of Design in 1979, has been working in the entertainment industry with The Walt Disney Co., Warner Brothers Studios, Universal Studios, and Sid & Marty Krofft Pictures among others. He has photographed executives, celebrities, products, architecture and created special visual effects. In 1995, he added digital imaging solutions to his repertoire. In 2000 while working on a project for Disney's California Adventure he honed his skill set as a digital restoration expert and continues working today on a variety of other projects. In addition to beta testing hardware and software for several companies, Michael is also adjunct faculty at Brooks Institute of Photography in Ventura, CA as an instructor in digital imaging, reflective metering techniques and location lighting for budding photojournalists. Finally he has produced customized Photoshop tutorials for working professionals who need precise, clear information, presented in an innovative way.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Rocky Nook; 1 edition (December 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933952180
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933952185
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.4 x 9.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,360,358 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael E. Stern picked up his first camera when he was 12 and has been going ever since. Self-taught early on, he continued his photography education in Jr. and Sr. high schools, Cal State Northridge and Art Center College of Design where he earned a BFA in 1979.

He has operated small, medium and large commercial studios in Hollywood and Burbank. His career began with movie poster assignments and quickly moved towards multimedia productions for Star-Kist Foods, van conversion companies and the largest design and construction firm in Japan.

A long-standing relationship with The Walt Disney Company was established in 1982, but only after smiling and dialing for two years before getting his first photography assignment. He's also worked with Warner Brothers, Universal, Paramount Studios and Sid & Marty Krofft Pictures. A reputation of quality, creativity and making the deadlines has driven his career forward for more than 30 years. In 2011 he added time-lapse photography design and production to his list of services.

1995 was the year he began learning about digital capture and in 2000 he scanned, restored and printed 140 aviation-themed historical photographs for Disney's California Adventure. As a digital restoration artist Michael continues to work on projects for educational institutions, companies and private parties.

Michael teaches in a variety of formats: community college, private college, online lectures and in-person workshops. The topics of photographic theory, Photoshop, Lightroom, artist business practices and how to be successful at self-employment are his specialties. His first book: Build A Better Photograph, A Disciplined Approach To Creativity, is an informative look at his approach to maintaining a professional photography presence beyond f/stops and shutter speeds. His podcast: "Build A Better Photograph" is aimed at advanced amateurs, college students and early career professionals. Podcasts are available @ iTunes.

His second book: "Remnants, the Art of Object Scanning" is available from

In 2011 Michael moved into time-lapse production as a way to provide more services and story telling experiences for his select clientele.

Michael's web-hub: is the place to find out more about this dynamic individual.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Conrad J. Obregon VINE VOICE on November 27, 2009
Format: Paperback
Michael Stern probably has a lot to tell us about making photographs, both with a camera and with Photoshop. Unfortunately, he doesn't convey much of this knowledge in this book, and what he does convey is ill organized.

"Build a Better Photograph" is divided into four almost unrelated parts. The first shows how the author constructs environmental portraits by building up layers within Photoshop; the second shows how he created a photographic Christmas card for a client; the third shows how he made images from scanned objects, including dead things; and the final chapter shows how he develops product photography. The common thread throughout seems to be the use of compositing to create images.

Unfortunately, he almost explains how he composites images in Photoshop but never quite gives enough information so that the less-experienced reader can actually apply his techniques. In most cases he provides screen shots of the Photoshop layers panels for his composites but he often doesn't explain in enough detail how to use the tools with which he created the layers. He sometimes promises that he will reveal things, and doesn't. Typically, Stern tells you the lighting effects filter is important, but rather than explain it, he tells you to keep practicing with it until you understand it.

Apparently Stern was trying to use images he had created to show the reader the decision processes he used to achieve the final product, but even when ordered in time sequence, the processes are not explained clearly enough to be of use to most people.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Bill in Burbank on January 8, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a rather eager photography novice, Michael Stern's book was in some ways "beyond" me. In some cases, he takes for granted the reader has more technical know-how than I actually do. I "waded through" those parts.

Nevertheless, I found his book informative and inspiring. His professional but personal, informal explanations of the many techniques he uses to make photographs, particularly portraiture, were enlightening and interesting. Most people have no idea of how much preparation, technical knowledge, psychological insights, and expensive photographic "gear" are involved in taking a truly professional portrait - or a significant picture of anything. And then to be successful, the necessities of surviving in the business of it all is truly an enormous undertaking. But Michael does it with seeming aplomb and good-natured humor.

I found the book inspiring in that I will do what I can to apply some of his principles and techniques to my more modest world of amateur photography, but it surely gave me a much greater appreciation and understanding for the work of those who do photography for a living.

Bill in Burbank
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dorothy on January 6, 2010
Format: Paperback
I found this book to be an excellent addition to my library of Photography books. I have never before read a photography book where the photographer has reflected so intensely and honestly as Michael Stern does in this book. The deconstruction of his creative process is an invaluable and enlightening experience. I think for readers who are looking for a book that gives short and non-creative technical answers to complex photographic tasks, then this is definitely not the book you are looking for. If, on the other hand, you are looking for something completely different and are prepared to accept Michael Stern as an honest and valuable mentor to guide you to become a better photographer then this book is a rare find indeed.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Bulent Celasun on December 22, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Michael E. Stern is an accomplished professional photographer. In this book, he provides tips drawn from his personal experience, for a successful photography business. Stern essentially handles 4 specific projects: Environmental portrait, compositing techniques, using scanners for macro photography and, product photography. He is very enthusiastic about the projects he has chosen and explains the rationale behind his approach and decisions. Many of his discussions are directed to those who may consider a career in photography. That is why he repeatedly deals with the client relations aspect of the profession, including pricing of the services provided. Certainly, those parts are not necessary reading for strictly amateur people with no ambitions to become a pro.

The examples he has chosen have all been shot under controlled lighting conditions, which is understandable for a pro who has to control every possible variable while shooting. For amateur enthusiasts, like myself, these are not essential, to say the least. Stern provides details on the use of Adobe PS throughout the book. Some more have also been provided in the accompanying DVD. People who like tips and tutorials on using PS for a particular effect (involving many, many layers) may find the provided material helpful. Since I do not use PS, those parts mean less to me (although, I can simulate the effects, if needed, using my software).

The accompanying DVD contains example images, a few *.psd files and some PDF documents. Many of these have been referred to in various parts of the book. The DVD also contains some tutorials and presentations which are outside the scope of the book but can be helpful, nonetheless. In general, the production quality of the book is good.
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