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Chinese Turkestan: A Photographic Journey Through an Ancient Civilization
Chinese Turkestan: A Photographic Journey Through an Ancient Civilization
by Ryan Pyle
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $29.49
27 used & new from $18.81

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An Unpleasant Read, February 13, 2015
Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is located in Northwest China. It is bordered by Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Certainly it is one of the more exotic places in the world, made even more interesting by ethnic conflicts raging there. Ryan Pyle, a photographer living in Shanghai, presents us with the photographs he has made during many trips there, in a book which he has self-published. He claims he is interested in showing us the people there rather than examining the political situation. Pyle prefers to refer to the region as Chinese Turkestan.

Unfortunately, whatever interest his photographs might provide has been severely diminished by the layout of his book. The book is in a vertical format, 7 inches wide by 9 inches high. In this size many of the full sized photographs must be printed across two pages. Unfortunately this leaves the gutter running right down the middle of the largest images, splitting faces and places in two. Where he prints an image on one page it is a mere 2 and one-half inches by 4 inches, which is much too small for the level of detail in the images.

He often presents a series of 9 frames in a grid across two facing pages. This results in both guttered shots and images that are too small, without the format adding anything to the images.

The descriptions of the images are frequently several pages away from the images and in small type.

The images seem to have a limited range of tonality, and the skies are always steel grey. If this is accurate Xinjiang must be a depressing place to live, although I suspect that the tonality could have been more realistically presented by the judicious use of modern photo-processing techniques without compromising the reality.

The images look like those one might take in almost any third-world country with nothing to distinguish them. I often felt that some of them could have been improved if the photographer had made use of the techniques that the first-class documentary photographers of the world use to make images more artful and to explicate the content of their images.

The book has a curious dustcover with blank white space that adds nothing. Curiously enough if you remove the cover there is another image on the backside that might be more interested.

A representative of Pyle aggressively pursued me for a review, as I suspect he did other reviewers. As I warned him, I was experienced in reviewing photography books and was unforgiving of a poor product.

There is a lesson to be learned here for photographers. If you are going to self-publish a book, either learn about layout or get help. Moreover, learn to take good photographs.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 21, 2015 5:23 PM PST


Light and Lens: Photography in the Digital Age
Light and Lens: Photography in the Digital Age
by Robert Hirsch
Edition: Paperback
Price: $46.32
62 used & new from $39.41

1.0 out of 5 stars Thinking About Photography, February 9, 2015
For many years I suspected that that strange intersection of ontology, epistemology and semiotics called "photography theory" might be of some use to practicing photographers. I was surprised when I encountered photography theory in the guise of a "how-to" photography book.

I was quite excited when the book began by explaining that photography was communication. I expected the book to show me how technique could be used to enhance communication. Chapters followed on composition, the mechanics of the camera, exposure, light, how to look, the relationship of the image to time, the digital darkroom, presentation, a bit more on composition, how to think and write about images, types of assignments, particularly portraits and a couple of addenda on safety and careers. The book contained many illustrations by many photographers together with what appeared to be extracts of the photographers' artists' statements.

Unfortunately none of this information told me how to use the material under discussion to further communication. For example, the chapter on the mechanics of the camera explained what physical effects occurred when various controls were employed, but not how to use these effects for communications. The chapter on the digital darkroom described various tools and panels in Photoshop, but not how to use them to enhance an image. The chapter on thinking about photography described problem solving techniques that sounded like the most basic self-help book. On the other hand, occasionally there would be a surprising specificity as in a description of how to use the timeline facility in Photoshop.

The photographic illustrations were small and seldom appeared to have any connection to the textual material. Moreover, few of the images were what Ansel Adams described as "straight photography", but rather were of the more experimental variety, based as often on connotations exclusive to the photographer, but not available to the viewer, and of little use as a learning tool without far more explanation and clarification by the authors.

It may be because no single theme pervaded the book but I found the writing quite boring.

There may be interesting issues of ontology, epistemology and semiotics here for the philosopher of photography who has exhausted all the main texts. For the practicing photographer there are far, far better books to read to create a more communicative image.


Capturing The Moment: The Essence of Photography
Capturing The Moment: The Essence of Photography
by Michael Freeman
Edition: Paperback
Price: $23.90
27 used & new from $19.84

5.0 out of 5 stars When to Shoot, January 21, 2015
Michael Freeman has always been one of the more thoughtful writers about taking photographs. Many of his most recent books have focused on just one small part of the skills of image capture. This one is in the same vein.

The book is basically about the right moment to press the shutter button to get the best image. After an introduction that concentrates on the factors defining that moment (urgency, precision and speed) and the different kinds of shooters (Firemen, Builders and Marksmen) he presents a variety of his photographs, categorizing them by the type of moment, like slotting in place, or mid-air moment, or color moment and then discussing the considerations he used in selecting the moment. He further describes which of the factors was applicable to the particular situation and image, and then provides other information, like a series of images from which the principle photograph was selected, or clarifying graphics to support the point he is trying to make.

This is a book about composition, and while there may be mention of why the author selected a particular exposure or focus to capture the moment, there is no discussion of basic exposure or focusing or indeed any other kind of basic technique instruction. If you don't already understand these basics, the book will be difficult to understand, making it more useful to practiced photographers.

Freeman's photographs are accessible and well chosen to illustrate his points. I often feel that a series of photographs by the author may be telling one how to photograph like him or her, but, as Freeman says, although a "scene is unique...this is supposed to prepare you for something similar". It might seem that the concept of moment is most applicable to documentary photographers but Freeman includes photographs from a variety of genres from nature photography to landscape to portraiture to illustrate the idea's applicability. And even though it was only a paragraph, I took a moment of glee from the way that Freeman indicated his disinterest in Bernd (whom he calls Bernard) and Hilla Becher's deadpan industrial typologies.

I do confess that the graphic he includes in every discussion showing the relative urgency, precision and speed, while at first clever, appeared after a while to be overkill, but it only took up a small part of the page, and it did make the author's points.

After one gets the basic skills of photography down, it becomes much harder to learn anything new, especially about ways to think about your photographic composition. I found this book was able to get me to consider more about the moment to snap the picture.


GoPro: Professional Guide to Filmmaking [covers the HERO4 and all GoPro cameras]
GoPro: Professional Guide to Filmmaking [covers the HERO4 and all GoPro cameras]
by Brandon Thompson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $25.81
81 used & new from $19.46

3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Advertisement, December 28, 2014
It may be a bit churlish of me to criticize this book since it answered the question of whether I should add a GoPro to my camera bag. On the other hand, it often seemed like a long advertisement for GoPro.

The book has seven chapters: a primer on the camera; a discussion of mounts; angles to shoot each activity; a bit about capturing a story; editing; story analysis, and methods of sharing GoPro videos. Most pages show a bit of text on one side and a lovely photograph on the other. Many of the points include links to GoPro videos, with a choice of a URL, a QR code, or for me the most convenient, a page on the publisher's web site with links to the videos. These videos are all exciting, and perhaps can provide inspiration to GoPro users

Most of the book was too general to be of much help to a beginner. For instance, the primer chapter, where one would expect to find a description of GoPro cameras and accessories does not even include a single picture of a camera or the accessories that exist, let alone camera features, but rather just discusses frame rates and resolution. The lengthy chapter on mounts does not illustrate a single mount but rather just images captured using the mounts. The same is true of the chapter on angles, although the text explains how to use the mounts to get the angles. The chapter on editing doesn't explain very much on how to edit, although there is a nice discussion of cuts. The same sort of generalities without specifics pervade the entire book.

If you are an experienced GoPro user this can serve as an idea book. A beginner will have a harder time understanding how to get the most out of his GoPro, although his aspiration level will undoubtedly increase from watching the videos.

By the way, after finishing the book, I decided the GoPro was not for me.


The Essence of Photography: Seeing and Creativity
The Essence of Photography: Seeing and Creativity
by Bruce Barnbaum
Edition: Paperback
Price: $28.93
82 used & new from $22.01

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heartbroken, December 9, 2014
Immediately after I finished reading "The Essence of Photography: Seeing and Creativity", I turned to the copy of "Visual Symphony", an early book by Bruce Barnbaum that has graced my coffee table for more than thirty years, and paged through it. I was heartbroken.

I had hoped that "Essence" would give me an insight into Barnbaum's creativity that would allow me to give further life to my own photography. It did not.

The photographs in "Essence" are wonderful, and a careful perusal of them will give the viewer great pleasure, and hopefully extend the vision of a viewing photographer. If you don't have a book of Barnbaum's images, their inclusion here would justify purchasing this book. They are in the style of the f/64 school, which included Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, but with the author's own individual stamp. On the other hand, one may be better off just skipping the text.

I blame myself. I see how many of the arts use the same techniques: focus on the subject; explicate with the details; know what you want to communicate. My error was that I thought that skill as a photographer might lead to skill as a writer. Instead what I found was a rambling memoir, not organized to make points, and not edited tightly to avoid the extraneous. Still, there was just enough clarity to show that Barnbaum's ideas jibbed with other accomplished photographers, although in a few cases, his suggestions seemed rooted in the past. For example he suggests that the photographer should learn to work slowly, i.e., not just grab the first image encountered, but continually think about what better techniques can be applied to a situation and what adjustments to make, both technical and spatially, that will more fully reveal one's vision. But then the author suggests that a way to do this is to return to film and view cameras and perhaps even the chemical darkroom. That ship has sailed. The digital camera is small and convenient and it's a natural response to press the shutter button and let 'em rip. Returning to the past seems an inefficient way to slow down the digital photographer.

Barnbaum teaches workshops and I am certain many of his students may rush to his defense. Once again, skill teaching a workshop doesn't mean skill as a writer. If you want to feel his influence, take one of his workshops.

In summary, great images and boring text.


The Portrait: Understanding Portrait Photography
The Portrait: Understanding Portrait Photography
by Glenn Rand
Edition: Paperback
Price: $28.48
72 used & new from $21.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's Mostly About the Light, December 1, 2014
A good portrait shows the viewer something more than just the exterior of a person. I read the second edition of this book to see if the authors could tell me how to do that.

The book is technical in nature and takes a classical approach to the subject. After a brief history of portraiture, it explores the nature of lighting the portrait with respect to the placement of lighting equipment and the play of light and shadow on the face of the subject. Next the authors explore setting the proper exposure, and lighting ratios. The authors explore the planes of the human face and lighting patterns for the face. They explain lighting setups, with from one light to several. The authors discuss backgrounds, mixed natural and electronic flash, composition, posing and facial analysis and finish with advice on relating to the subject. The book is illustrated with sets of images of an illuminated bust and a single main model and photographs by a variety of famous and should-be-famous portraitists.

Light is really the heart of the book. Equipment is discussed generically, so if you want to know about what electronic flash to use or how a light stand works you will have to go elsewhere. But assuming you know how your equipment works, and understand fundamentals like exposure and focusing, the concepts presented here should enable one to capture a good portrait.

In the review of a prior edition I complained that the authors referred regularly to the use of an incident light meter and ignored the reflective light meter found in most cameras but this has been remedied. There is still reference to light ratios, which seem a slight anomaly in the digital age, but I now see how a familiarity with the topic can help a digital photographer in his or her setup.

I'm happy to report there is no discussion of putting babies in cute hats or piling up suit cases in the woods. On the other hand there is little discussion of how to convert one's vision of the soul of the subject into a lighting pattern, but I have yet to come upon a book that does that. Perhaps the only way to learn that is to study the great portraitists in photography, drawing, painting and so forth.

If you understand that with portraits, as with all photography, it is the handling of light that allows the photographer to express his or her vision, this book will be of value to you.


Pioneer SE-MJ522-K Fully Enclosed Dynamic Headphone
Pioneer SE-MJ522-K Fully Enclosed Dynamic Headphone
Offered by What a deal!
Price: $25.50
9 used & new from $19.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Perfectly Fine, November 24, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
If you want to hear your MP3 player on the subway, or play a video game and not disturb other people, or even watch late night TV without bothering your neighbors, headphones may be a good choice for you. They certainly sound a lot better than earbuds.

These phones are of the supra-aural type, i.e., they lay on the ears rather than surrounding the ears. One probably gets a better sound with full size headphones that encircle the ear, but they are usually a little heavier. On the other hand, the pressure of the supra-aurals may be uncomfortable after long use. These phones are also closed back, which means better bass, but reduces of the likelihood of hearing any outside sound, which may be good or bad depending on your needs. The earpieces twist and fold so that the set can make a smaller package that can fit into a brief case (or a pocket if one doesn't mind a big bulge). The headband is adjustable for different size heads.

I tested the phones with smart phone, computer and sound system. They did relatively well acoustically in all circumstances. If you are playing a slam-bang video game with lots of shots and explosion this set is all you need, although the 1.2 meter cord may be a little short. On the other hand if you are listening to music or a movie with a good sound track you may want a little more. I tested the phones with the director's cut of "Blade Runner", especially the sequence with Zhora in the Taffey Lewis bar. (If you haven't seen "Blade Runner" the following might be a spoiler.) On a stereo or surround sound speaker system the noise in the bar encloses you, but with the phones there seemed to be a small gap in the middle. When Zhora broke through the store windows you could hear the breaking of glass but none of the high-pitched overtones of the tinkling pieces. On the other hand when Deckard fired his gun, there was a convincing boom.

Ergonomically the hand band literally gave me a pain. I'm bald and the headband scratched a little. Folks with a head of hair probably won't face this problem.

The connecting plug is 3.5 mm, so if you use Apple devices, you will need a conversion plug.

All in all, this was a perfectly fine set of headphones in a competitive field. Better -sounding phones are available but not to my knowledge in this price range.


Light, Gesture, and Color (Voices That Matter)
Light, Gesture, and Color (Voices That Matter)
by Jay Maisel
Edition: Paperback
Price: $39.24
72 used & new from $30.00

12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Feast for the Eyes, November 21, 2014
After reading this book, I thought that Jay Maisel might be better described as a photophile than a photographer because it's clear he is deeply in love with the play of light. If you want to get the feeling of Jay Maisel the artist, view the YouTube video of Maisel by George Lange.

The book is a portfolio of this artist's work. On the right side (and sometimes the left) of the gutter is a single, page-filling image. Usually to the left of the gutter, there is a short pithy comment about the photograph that reveals his no-nonsense, Brooklyn-accented view of the photograph, photography and perhaps the world. Maisel has been a great teacher of photography but don't look for instruction about technique. Instead you will hear him telling you to always carry the camera, to look, look, look and to shoot, shoot, shoot.

It would be easy to classify him as a street photographer or perhaps a generalist, but better to think of him as a looker and seer of everything. The images run from light patterns on a wall to a child, almost always in glorious color. I think of Maisel as an abstract photographer, not because his photographs don't look like reality, but because he's not as much concerned with the content as with it's explication by light and color. (I'm not certain what he means by "gesture" although it has something to do with the essence of the subject, but one doesn't need to understand his use of the word to appreciate his work.)

I could describe one of his images, but it wouldn't do the picture justice. If I have any credibility I hope you will trust me when I tell you that you have to see the images. They are a feast for the eye.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 25, 2014 9:29 AM PST


Fine Art Portrait Photography: Lighting, Posing & Postproduction from Concept to Completion
Fine Art Portrait Photography: Lighting, Posing & Postproduction from Concept to Completion
by Nylora Bruleigh
Edition: Paperback
Price: $20.48
70 used & new from $14.57

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Off the Beaten Track, November 16, 2014
Somehow I imagined that fine art portraits would look like the images of Yousuf Karsh or Irving Penn or Richard Avedon. Little did I realize that the images of Mylora Bruleigh would be little concerned with revealing her subjects, and more concerned with capturing an artsy, sometimes eerie, look more like the work of a painter concerned with affect and not capturing the person. These pictures are highly stylized, somewhat surrealistic and apparently designed for competitions or galleries.

The book consists of a number of two page spreads, with a narrative and intermediate photos on the left and her final image or images on the right. In her narrative, she describes in broad general terms what she visualized for the photographs and how she achieved her vision. The narrative also includes a small box describing her shooting data. The initial photograph is the start of the process but there are then many steps in Photoshop and other pieces of software including plug-ins on the way to her look.

I have to confess that I don't like this type of photography, but I also admit that the author is clearly an artist for whom a photograph is just a starting point. I was horrified by the picture of a pregnant women hanging in a crucifixion pose, and even more so to learn that the women was a client looking for something different. Other photographs included women bathing in milk in what Bruleigh calls an "Underwater Visual Imaging Tank." (I looked it up on-line to see if it was commercially available, but then learned it had been constructed by her husband.) At first the idea sounded strange, but the opaque milk cuts off the submerged parts of the body, creating an interesting figure. All of the photographs are of women, including some young girls. The author dresses them in vintage clothing, cheesecloth and even bubble wrap. The pictures are mostly either high key or low key. Browns seem to predominate.

Photoshop techniques she regularly uses include folding one half of a figure over to the other side to make a bilaterally symmetrical figure. She then nudges limbs and figures into place. She frequently adds a texture layer to images. I would have appreciated more detail on her Photoshop techniques, but she only speaks in broad generalities.

As far as I was concerned this book was more of a portfolio or idea book then a how-to book. Photographers interested in creating images that are way off the beaten track may find this book interesting.


Your Photos Stink!: David Busch's Lessons in Elevating Your Photography from Awful to Awesome
Your Photos Stink!: David Busch's Lessons in Elevating Your Photography from Awful to Awesome
by David D. Busch
Edition: Paperback
Price: $28.16
43 used & new from $21.07

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Your Photos are Okay, November 6, 2014
I often complain that many books about photography show readers techniques for capturing and processing images but don't show the reader enough examples of how to apply the techniques. This is a book that shows us how to apply what the others teach.

As I read it, I kept wondering why the publisher had elected to use shock tactics in the title. As the authors acknowledge, the pictures in this book are good pictures, that the authors show how to make better. The pictures were submitted by the members of the Cleveland Photographic Society. Each image (or sometimes set of images) shows an original image, and then sometimes a subsequent image by the same photographer that improved upon the original image, either by taking a different picture or post-processing. The authors then made further improvements by post-processing. (Occasionally the authors conceded that the image did not need further improvement.) I don't want to insult the many good photographers who contributed images, but not many rose to the level of great art, and a few, after substantial improvement were just good. Still, even these kinds of before and after pictures can be quite useful to see how images can be improved.

Some of the improvement techniques, like changing the shooting position or cropping were pretty obvious from the photos, while some of the post-processing suggestions were more subtle, but careful scrutiny as well as the text revealed how the improvements had been made. I consider this approach an excellent supplement to the usual instructional approach of teaching a technique and then showing a photograph demonstrating the technique.

On the other hand, particularly with regard to post-processing, one had to already have developed some skills in order to benefit from the authors' approach. They usually describe the post-processing technique in general terms, as when they advise to darken a portion of the image. Given that digital photographers use different software programs to process their images, and that most perform similar functions, while using different tools, such broad descriptions give the general technique more applicability. On the other hand, if, say, one doesn't know how to apply a gradient, that instruction will only help if one scurries back to one's software and figures out how to use the appropriate tool. That's not to fault the book but suggests the appropriate audience.

The book is organized into chapters, like "Creative Cropping" and "Getting Up Close", each with several examples, but it's almost impossible to fit the images into such neat boxes, especially since many examples used several different techniques.

I applaud the authors for taking a different pedagogical approach. The more experienced photographers who seem to be the audience for this book may not be exactly able to home in on the information that will prove most useful for filling out their toolbox of skills, but the book should still prove of use.

I suppose a book entitled "Your Photos are Okay" would not have had as much of a marketing cachet.


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