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on October 29, 2014
Love this book. I bought this book quite a while ago and read it from cover to cover. It is on my coffee table and I still pick it up and refer to it and love looking at the pictures. It has lots of useful information, inspiration and tips for a DSLR and iPhone camera. great buy!
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on October 10, 2015
Book was in great condition! Thank you!
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on May 1, 2015
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on May 27, 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Lens on Life focuses on documentary photography: documenting life through photographs. The book aims to teach amateur hobbyists as well as aspiring professional photographers and fine art photographers. The photos in the book range from expensive DSLRs to the iPhone's camera, and use photo editing with software or iPhone apps such as Instagram and Hipstagram.

The part I loved the most was the first chapter, "Get Inside the Mind of a Documentary Photographer", where professional photographers are interviewed and we hear about how they came to become a photographer and what they do. Their stories do not only focus on their professional careers and for pay jobs but they talk about how and what they photograph for pleasure. I enjoyed hearing their process and thoughts on the art of photography and was inspired by the photographs.

Chapter two, I feel, is an uneven chapter. Besides tips such as you can find in almost any photography book, there is a section profiling the author's friend Jen Lemen that is about self-portraits which was not a favorite part of the book, it seemed dragged out and was uninspiring to me. Later, a section asks us to think about the story behind a photograph and to try to figure out the action happening without any context other than the image. I did not find this a useful exercise since my observations were sheer guesswork because the subject matter was about foreigners with customs so different than Americans.

The next two chapters, about 60 pages, focus on planning a documentary project. This could be done for fun as a personal project, for an art exhibit, or for a paid job. The author used her own photographs taken in third world countries to illustrate the points such as to connect with people you respect and admire and to be respectful of your subject. Not covered is how to go about finding a paid editorial job, I guess there are other books on the market that cover that important topic.

A recurring theme in the book is to use your photographs to help make change in the world. I found it interesting to hear multiple photographers felt frustrated that they were sent on assignment to photograph problems in the world, to shed light on it, and then they felt guilty that no real change or solutions resulted. The author has founded a nonprofit organization, Lens on Life, working with people in third world countries to teach them to document their own lives. Some photos taken as part of that project are included in the book. I found those opinions interesting but they left me feeling almost guilty for not doing something monumental or professional with my photography. I'm "just" a hobbyist taking photos for enjoyment. I felt that another book by Focal Press, Expressive Photography was aimed at my demographic.

I enjoyed this book and felt inspired by a good portion of this book. Anytime that happens with a book about photography or art, it earns a 4 star rating from me: I Like It. Although not everything here applies to my life, I still found it a worthwhile read and worthy of my time.
2 people found this helpful
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on May 27, 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I am an avid amateur photographer (some people accuse me of being a pro but I'm not there yet), and documentary photography is an area that I'm interested in pursuing now that I have more discretionary time. This beautiful, well written book has definitely piqued my interest in pursuing documentary photography.

The writing is clear and concise, thought provoking and not too technical. In the intro, Roberts says "The drive of your curiosity and pursuit of elusive magic moments could lead you down narrow paths, winding roads, and steep hills toward people and experiences that could change you in ways you never expected - but the view will be quite spectacular." This kind of writing just draws me in, turning the pages to see how I can experience that kind of life-changing challenge and adventure!

The author takes the approach that documentary photography can be a socially responsible pursuit. She challenges the reader to "use your talent responsibly as a documentary photographer to broaden perspectives, challenge norms, build empathy and expose the truth in ways that might create awareness for issues unseen or ignored and generate thoughts that could result in potential solutions". She participates in "Fair Content" (, a collaborative effort to encourage those who make money from their work in documenting inequalities around the world to provide fair compensation to their subjects.

The large format book is printed on high quality glossy paper which really shows off the photographs. The stitched binding allows the 2-page spreads to lay flat. The typography is varied, and the layout and graphic elements are sophisticated and appealing. I have uploaded a few customer images which display the varying page layouts. Captions and notes bring your attention to how images were made (exif data), though this is not really a technical book on what camera equipment to buy and how to use it.

The first chapter includes interviews with 7 successful documentary photographers with different backgrounds and portfolios and provides a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes. My major take-away from this section is that there is no one way to approach the craft.

Chapter 2 challenges you to stretch your creativity and uncover your vision and includes sections titled "Avoid the Expected Shot", "Let the Background Drive the Foreground", "Capture Spontaneous Gestures & Reactions", "Create Drama with a Slice of Light", and "Hunt for Clues to Help Reveal Your Story", among others. This chapter also includes a number of workbook style pages to guide you through the process. Chapter 3 is titled "Find Your Focus and Plan Your Project", assists you to cultivate a project-based approach to documentary photography and includes the practicalities such as hiring a local guide, what to pack, what to wear, etc. The Final section, Chapter 4 includes thought-starters for how to connect with your subjects while on the shoot.

My only criticism of the book is the fact that some of the text is printed in a very small font; particularly when the text is white on a black background, it's difficult to read. Additionally, white text on black pages with no white margins doesn't allow you to highlight or add notes.

Whether you're interested in expanding your documentary photography skills, or you're just interested in learning more about the process and seeing the work of some successful photographers, this book is a must-read and one you'll pick up again just to browse through the compelling photographs.
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on June 6, 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The book starts with a Chapter titled, "Get inside the mind of a documentary photographer," which consists of essays about different documentary photographers. I initially thought this would be just fluff, but it turned out that I have already re-read the chapter, getting more on the second read than the first.

Chapter 2, "Stretch your creativity & uncover your vision," is a bit uneven. It starts with some general guidelines, which are kind of generic to people photography, then there's another essay on a woman photographer who makes photos of herself and her life. This is heavily instagramed stuff that I could do without. Then comes the biggest gem of the book, "Hunt for clues to help reveal your story." This section offers five questions to ask yourself about an image. These offer a very helpful framework to help evaluate a documentary image. This section includes 12 photos to practice the questions on. Terrific. The chapter finishes with some more guidelines that are somewhat useful.

Chapter 3, "Find your focus & plan your project" is gold, mostly. It offers great guidance in planning a documentary photo shoot or project along with some crib notes. For someone just getting into documentary photography, this is great stuff. The last part of the chapter covers tips for travel to distant places, which might be in the third world. Why do we have to go to poor places to do documentary photography? This section should be useful if you plan to travel. It isn't necessary for doing documentary photography.

Chapter 4 "Push through boundaries & let your subject guide you," seems unfocused and short. There is very little about pushing through personal boundaries and some mostly commons sense guidance about respecting your subjects and telling us to connect with them. Ms. Roberts then tell us that we can simply focus on our friends and family and do documentary photography.

All in all, I found this a good primer on documentary photography and recommend it. There is some good information, especially in chapters 2 & 3. Chapter 1 offers a look into the lives of several documentary photographers. I found that inspirational and made the ideas more personal.
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VINE VOICEon June 15, 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'm a fan of photography and have taken courses on photojournalism, so this book seemed right "up my alley." And the first section was intriguing: a up-to-date look at documentary photography, refreshingly free of prejudices against simple equipment. I was pleased to see successful photographers using smart phone cameras, for example. Large and fancy equipment has it's place but so does unobtrusive gear.

Then I got to a long section of the book that appeared to be part of a textbook, complete with workbook pages to complete. It seemed out of place. I felt like the book was trying to be too many things. Some of the examples in that section were muddy in color, as though dull lighting was the new substitute for graininess in photojournalism. I gave up on the section and almost abandoned the book, but went on to read the last part, which made up for the uneven quality of the middle parts.

"Push through Boundaries and Let Your Subject Guide You" is the title of the last section. Here we see quality examples of the author's work that explain why she is successful. Several pages have the subtitle "Connect with People You Respect and Admire." That's good advice for photographers and journalists; in fact, it's good for everyone. It's good enough that I decided to give the book 4 stars instead of three.

The layout of the book is good, with large photos and mostly clear fonts although some of the color combinations for sidebars had poor contrast. The paper quality is good and the covers are sturdy.

So basically I can recommend this book with the caveat that you might want to skim through some pages.
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VINE VOICEon June 23, 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I love photography, but I can never seem to take photos that are inspired as much as those that I see in National Geographic and similar magazines/books. I was hoping that this book would give some useful information to help improve my skills.

The book begins with a fairly extensive chapter on the views of various documentary photographers, and then discusses how to find your own vision, planning a project, and pushing through your own boundaries. Each page contains plenty of tips and photograph examples (both color and black-and-white). There are also some exercises/worksheets on various photographs that are supposed to help you pinpoint why the picture is significant, etc.

A couple of minor criticisms I had were that there are some parts of the book that are very basic and stray from the true purpose of photography (the travel section that recommended printing your itinerary), and there were a few places where I thought the advice was good, but the examples weren't ("Avoid the Expected Shot" advises the reader to look for unusual shots and then gives two examples of wedding pictures that are pretty common).
One person found this helpful
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VINE VOICEon June 22, 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Stephanie Calabrese Roberts has produced an excellent volume on documentary photography. She combines interviews with well-known photographers, and just enough discussion about equipment to be useful without focusing on it, and deftly weaves in documentary sensibilities. Some of the best sections of the book are where she has photographs and exercises to help the photographer understand how to tell a story by examining photographs and asking the reader: What's happening in the image, Who are the characters, What is the setting and why is it important or unimportant, how does the image make you fell and what visual clues did you use to help tell your story.

Ms. Roberts use of well-known images and stories from luminaries in the field of documentary photography help visually bring in the reader as she adds in other photographers and images. This is a well organized, and well thought out book. Perfect to kick-start an experienced photography looking to do more documentary photography or for anyone who wants to understand a little more what documentary photography is and the work that goes into it. This is a good addition to any photographic library.
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on June 19, 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I wasn't sure what to expect from this book so I went in with an open mind. What I received was part memoir, part guidebook/workbook, and part compendium of inspiration.

Rather than approach the art of photographing the world around us from a single perspective we get to hear from various photographers who share how they came to the field of "documentary photographer", their experiences, and some of their methods and inspiration.

We're also given tips on how we can get the shots that speak those proverbial thousand words and then some. Plus we're given tasks to try (granted some of them may be out of reach for the truly starving artist--for instance "Plan an Assignment in a Faraway Land"--but they can certainly be modified without sacrificing too much of the spirit or intent of the project).

As if that weren't enough the visuals throughout are absolutely breathtaking, and in some cases, thought-provoking. I'm certain this is a book I will come back to time and time again whether I need a gentle nudge, a project idea, or just some inspiration.
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