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45 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2012
I am a big fan of Elizabeth Messina and I absolutely LOVE the quality of all her images. I bought this book in hopes of learning a lot more detail and technical information about her process, but I was very disappointed.

Her process and philosophy can be summed up in one paragraph. In order to create the soft and luminous look of her images, she basically shoots with film and always uses the natural light available. Nearly ALL of her images are generally shot at the same settings, a wide aperture of f2.0 and 1/60 sec and sometimes f/4 at 1/125 sec...or some variation of this. When working with the light, she always puts the light behind her subject or to the side and exposes for the shadows.

This is pretty much all the technical information you will get from this book. She repeats this same information over and over and over and over again in the subsequent chapters. The rest of the book's content is general and emotional rather than pragmatic, practical and informative. She rarely talks about "HOW" she achieves the look of her images.

For example, nearly every single image in this book will only tell you the camera, film type, and exposure settings used but she leaves out some of the most vital information about how she is metering and exposing each image. The reader can only ASSUME that she is exposing the shadow side of her subject's face every single time. But what is she using to get the meter reading? A handheld spot meter or her camera's center weighted meter? In addition, there is absolutely no mention of how or who is processing her film.

The rest of the book is common sense principles that you don't need to pay for. For instance that you should know your equipment well and experiment with exposures, that you should create a comfortable environment for your subjects in order to evoke a natural emotion etc.

Overall, this would serve as a beautiful coffee display book - but if you're a photographer wanting to learn how she attains the quality of her images, you won't get it. Elizabeth only talks about her love for using natural light, shooting at wide apertures and exposing for shadows.

Jose Villa shoots in a similar way, but I found his book "Fine Art Weddings" (by the same publisher) to be much more pragmatic, informative and useful.
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66 of 77 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2012
The author's images are lovely, but I felt this straddled the line between a display book showcasing images, and a book aimed at instruction, and satisfied neither category. The verbiage was general and lightweight, with plenty of fluffy bits about being honored to photograph certain celebrities or how a mother's glow enhances the image. There was virtually no instruction or direction of any kind. Very disappointed and will be re-selling my copy.
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37 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2012
I read an article in a photographer's magazine about this book, including an excerpt from the book. The information provided in the article was really good, so I ordered the book. I really didn't need to. The most valuable information was provided in the article. While the book covers many subject areas, the information provided is very rudimentory (beginner level) and extremely vague. Each subject only has a handful of paragraphs with extremely basic information.

Also, this author only shoots with film. While the author was kind enough to provide the aperture, film speed (ISO), shutter speed and lens info for each photo in the book, she doesn't indicate how she processed the film which makes a HUGE difference. Not all her photos have the same light or effect, and yet for the majority, the settings are f/2, 400 ISO, 1/60 with a 80mm lens. Plus, film cameras and digital cameras don't always use the same settings for similar effects. And, of course, digital cannot imitate film. With post-processing you can get close, but it's just not the same.

Additionally, if you want to follow the few directions she does provide, be prepared to tote a reflector AND assistant with you for nearly every shot.

This could have been a great book, but instead, it was a disappointment if your are looking for anything but the most basic of instructions.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2012
Beautiful examples, but if you are looking to actually learn HOW to shoot with natural light you had better look elsewhere.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2012
I've admired and been inspired by Elizabeth's gorgeous work for years, and been lucky enough to hear her speak at a number of conferences, so when I heard she was writing her first book I pre-ordered as soon as the link was up. I've loved every single page, every image, but the really amazing part is her voice throughout. Elizabeth shares with heart every step she takes each day she creates her beautiful images, and does it in a way that is really intuitive, easy to understand and apply. As a fellow professional photographer, it's so special to be able to really be inside the mind of such an especially gifted artist. When I got started in photography everyone shot film and waited for their film to be processed at the pub down the street from the lab; you could ask fellow photographers exactly how they would approach a situation and learn from your colleagues. In the age of mostly digital, we're all stuck in front of a laptop much of the time, but reading Elizabeth's book has made me feel like I'm able to pick her brain in person. She shares her approach and each step, down to the exposure, and in her own unique thoughtful voice. So much of her heart and soul comes through in the reading of this I could imagine being in her studio really talking with her. A must-read for pro or enthusiast (which will also take up residence on your coffee table it's so beautiful), this book will excite, educate and inspire you to make more beautiful images every day.
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27 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2012
The photos in this book are beautiful. Ms. Messina is certainly proud of them, as she should be. But this is definitely NOT a helpful instruction guide. All of her work is done on film, so the medium is completely outside the mainstream. Which translates to expensive and impractical for me. Her guides and instructions feel convoluted and snobbish. I bought this book to improve my craft but instead I got a self-congratulating call to worship of the author.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 18, 2012
I remember when Elizabeth announced that she was writing a book -- and the publication date was months away! I simply could not wait, and honestly had high expectations. I had followed and adored her work for years ... and assumed the book would be just as amazing.

And it was!!! I devoured every page within a couple days of receiving it. It's thoughtfully written, inspiring, and every frame in it is stunning.

Some people have commented that the book is not technical enough - but that is the best part. It shows you don't necessarily NEED to be bogged down with the technical side to create beautiful photos. What is most important is seeing the moments and seeing the light. And to me, that's the core of a photograph--it's the part that speaks to the viewer. Your audience may not care if you shot an image at F2.0 or F16 -- what they care about is the message. Does the photo speak to them? And every single photo I have seen from Elizabeth's website, blog, and this book truly does speak to me. Reading her book gave me a bit more insight into how to look for that message and how to look for spectacular light. But also, how to do that using my own unique vision.

In this book, she also tells the story behind her business and the story behind her photographs. It is reaffirming. That we are exactly where we need to be ... we all start somewhere and it's the journey that makes life most fulfilling.

I LOVED this book and highly recommend it. It has left me inspired and looking at light in a whole new way. Thank you, Elizabeth, for sharing a piece of yourself with us in this book!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2013
I'm a natural light photographer, and despite the title of my review, I do love her images. But I checked this book out from the library before buying it, and, I'm glad I did - so I didn't waste my money. I didn't learn a thing from this that I hadn't already learned about light, relating to customers, and doing business. The main theme about customers is "you have to 'bond' with them," or however she put it. Well, duh. And I didn't find much actual information on the way she shoots - not enough for me, anyway. And about doing business, that section's kind of thin. Might as well put a sticker on it saying, "Move along, folks, nothing to see here." Sorry, but for someone with such lovely images, this was a major disappointment. I was hoping to learn something new. Didn't happen.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2013
I'm a 29 German girl and it's because of this book that after many many years of soul (and job) searching I finally know what I want to do with my life. I got married in August of 2011 and have been seeing Elizabeth's work all over the blogs. That's why in May of 2012 I ordered this book just for coffee table matters ;) I had always liked photography and wanted to look at pretty images. What I found in "The Luminous Portrait" over the months has become and incredible amount of insight that I never expected.

It had been in the mail just one day before I went on a trip to Lake Garda in Italy with my grandmother and my father. I took the book with me - and some other books and a newspaper. I never read the other stuff. Instead I became hypnotised with this book. There I was, in the middle of this gorgeous light in Northern Italy, learning about light; with my loved ones, learning about how to take pictures with love. Since then I could not stop.

Actually I'm in the middle of my PhD in French modern literature and its bonds to photography. I had always wanted to do my PhD. But since I started it three years ago I realised that it's not something I want to do and something I CAN do for the rest of my life. Instead I realised that I don't just like photography but that I love it. And its Miss Messina's approach, her book that has enlightened me. Literally also because doing my PhD half heartedly had really started to get to me - leading me to forget what I actually can do and what I'm good at which lead me to a really dark place in my life. Within these last ten months I have slowly been coming back, I still am - through my lens. And it all started with "The Luminous Portrait".

By the way, as a scholar in literature I want to add that I have never read this book as a detailed How To guide. In my opinion it was always intended as a mixture between - yes - a coffee table book showcasing Miss Messina's gorgeous photographic oeuvre (which was long overdue since she inspired so many great now famous photographers) and a feel good-inspirational insight into her work, described by herself not some stuffy academic like me ;)
Thank you, Elizabeth!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 13, 2012
First you flip. Over and over, only stopping to marvel or show someone else in the room a particular photo. Don't do that though because they will invariably take the book away from you. The images are elusive, stunning, and magical. The intimacy and quality of light are unmistakable and I am now able to recognize her photos instantly. It's like hearing a new Adele song but knowing in a few words who the artist is. Although I would love to shoot like Elizabeth, of course I can not because I am me. And that's what she'll tell you. Trust yourself but this is how I do it...

She is constantly re-inforcing the importance of natural light by showing you how she hunts it down for every shot either by moving a subject near a window, diffusing a strong light source, making a group of people stand under trees to shade them, etc. It's a simple concept but sometimes we try to shoot for the light we have instead of looking for the best light. So says Elizabeth, get to your shoot early and hunt it down! It's there and you need to find it.

The best advice to a writer has always been "show don't tell." Throughout the book she shows you how she created amazing moments by establishing trust and intimacy with her subjects. Elizabeth's prose is intelligent and articulate and sneakily dense with advice and clear guidance of how to create a great portrait. She makes you feel like you are in an actual conversation with her while dolling out instruction in technique in a non-patronizing way.

For example, she says to have a baby's mother out of their eyesight so that the baby engages with you. I actually thought of that this weekend while I was shooting my four year old nephew watering beans. His mother kept trying to "direct" him so I asked her to make some sandwiches. When she left he starting squirting the hose all over everything. He ended up soaking wet, taking off his shirt, squirting the hose straight into the air and laughing hysterically. I got some great shots of a a delighted four year old boy with a hose instead of the more posed looking shot that his mom wanted. Guess what? She loved them. Thank you, Elizabeth!
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