Most helpful critical review
Good intro for a new or inexperienced photographer
on January 2, 2015
I realize no other reviewers have given this book less than four stars, most of them five stars, but the fact is I found it a bit disappointing. The problem may be that I’m not in the target audience. The book seems to be aimed largely at parents who want to take better photos of their kids. For an audience of parents who know relatively little about photography and don’t want to read a pile of books to learn, the book is probably quite good. But I’ve done photography, increasingly seriously, for decades, and am now transitioning to pro. This book is not a particularly good fit for someone like me. The thing is, there is nothing in the title or introduction that suggests what the book’s target audience is. And a section early on titled, “Advice for the aspiring professional” hints that the book is aimed at more than just rank beginners.
The book’s introduction begins with an excerpt from a letter Josef Karsh wrote to one of the authors raving about her children’s portraits, and urging her to write a book explaining her methods. After reading that excerpt I couldn’t wait to delve into the rest of the book, after all, praise from Karsh is high praise, indeed. But by the end of the fifth chapter I was wondering when she would start sharing this wisdom with us.
The book tries to be too many things to too many people. It wants to be a general photography tutorial. It wants to teach children’s photography. It wants to teach post processing. It talks about going pro, but often addresses the reader as if he or she is new to photography. To my mind the book would have been better had the authors focused on the central topic, and left the rest to the many other books that cover those subjects. There is no question that the authors are expert children’s photographers. I wanted to read more of that expertise and less of what I can get elsewhere.
The first five chapters, about 100 pages, could have been replaced with one simple paragraph: “If you are new to photography we recommend you read one of the following books to learn the basics…” Then get on with the real subject of the book—how to photograph children. There is nothing in those first five chapters you wouldn’t read in any other beginner’s book about photography, except that the words “people” and “subject” have been replaced with “children” and “baby”. If you have a DSLR, know how to use it and know the fundamentals of composition and lighting, you can safely skip these chapters without missing a thing (except maybe lighting). But don’t skip the photos.
One of the problems with this approach is that it just doesn’t go very deep on anything. The section on custom white balance, for example, says little more than there is such a thing as custom white balance; go look it up (admittedly, that’s an extreme example).
Chapter 6 begins to transition from basic photography to actual children’s photography. This talks about different styles of photography, and how they relate to photographing children. There was some good information here, especially talking about working with parents and setting expectations of the shoot.
Chapters 7 and 8 are really the meat of the book. I wish the seven sections of chapter 8 could have been expanded into seven chapters. We could lose the first few chapters of the book, or at least condense them, expand chapter 8, and end up with a much better book, IMHO.
After those chapters the book starts moving away from children’s photography again. A chapter on gear is pretty general, and again seems to assume the reader is currently using a simple camera. The discussion about which types of lenses are good for kid’s photography is useful, as is the kinds of non-photographic stuff found in the authors’ camera bags. I would have loved even more discussion about the props and toys used by various children’s photographers.
For me, the photographs are the book’s greatest strength. There are some wonderful photos of kids and families in the book. To the authors’ credit they did not limit the selection of photos to their own work. This surely made for a wider range of styles shown in the book. But the photos are also accompanied by a couple of my biggest peeves.
Every photo has a caption attached. No problem there; that’s pretty standard. But every caption is preceded by the phrase, “ABOUT THIS PHOTO”, in all caps. Now, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but after the first hundred or so photos even I started to catch on that when there is a little bit of text in a small, italic, sans serif font directly beneath or beside a photograph, that text just might be about the adjacent photo. I know I’m nitpicking here, but it quickly became irritating to me to continue seeing that phrase. We know how captions work, thank you.
And where did the authors get the idea that every photograph must be tagged with three pieces of technical data: shutter speed, aperture and ISO. It was as if a computer was programed to mindlessly extract those three fields from the EXIF data without regard to what would actually be useful. How much better it could have been if the authors had thoughtfully considered what technical information would be useful to show for each photo. It wouldn’t be the same for every picture. A photo illustrating how focal length affects the look of a photo would certainly include the focal length used for the shot, perhaps along with camera format (sensor size) and camera to subject distance.
But no, it doesn’t matter what a particular photo is trying to teach, we get those same three data for each photo, no more no less. I do like seeing the aperture information, because it’s instructive to relate it to the apparent depth of field. Most of the time, however, I don’t much care about the shutter speed or ISO. But I would often love to know other information, such as the focal length used, and especially lighting. One caption in the book does include the focal length range of the lens, apparently an editing slip-up, but we still didn’t get the actual focal length used for the shot, just the zoom range of the lens. Even when the text was talking about how a particular focal length can enhance the photo, we just get shutter, aperture and ISO. Sigh! A couple pictures in the gear chapter did do this, but I wish it had been done throughout the book.
In summary, I did pick up some useful information from this book. But I waded through a lot of same-old-basics to get to it. This book may be very well suited to someone new to photography and looking to improve the photos they take of their kids. To an intermediate photographer looking to move into the realm of children’s photography, the book can be a bit tedious at times. I wish the book had gone deeper into its real subject, and left the other stuff to the books that specialize in those topics. While the book occasionally seems to be talking to an aspiring professional children’s photographer, I believe it is best suited to a somewhat beginning photographer looking to kick their kid’s photography up a few notches. I do recommend this book, just with a few reservations for an experienced photographer.