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About 80% Retouch It, 15% light it, 5% shoot it
on December 30, 2011
I'll start by saying I'm a big fan of Kelby's books - they're very easy to read (mostly because they're filled with photos and minimal writing opposed to the opposite!) and you usually get some new information in a non-technical way that's easy to understand.
Unfortunately, I'm kind of disappointed by this one -- while called "Light it, Shoot it, Retouch it", the majority of the book revolves around how to fix the images in photoshop (not too big of a surprise, since Kelby is a 'photoshop guy' before a 'photographer'.
I bought the Kindle version (for use on the iPad) and it looks great - images are clear, large and easy to see. I will say that I'd only use it on a Kindle Fire or iPad (the black-and-white kindles will lose a lot from the book, since it's so image-heavy). If you have one of the above though, this is a great way to save a little money and have a portable version "on the go" wherever you're at.
So the premise for the book is great - they show you a final image, then the lighting setup/camera info and finally the editing to get it there. If you read the free sample chapter here you'll only see the final image, lighting setup and camera information.. this is a bit misleading as about 80% of the content is actually in the editing of each image.
For each "look" you get a handful of views of the lighting setup, which is a great idea! An overhead shot showing the model, background, lights, camera, etc.. (plus some side-shots to see more detail and positioning). For each lighting setup/style, you get 1 image which that chapter will focus on (creating it from the lighting to camera settings to photoshop work).
The included chapters/looks are:
Clamshell Lighting, High-contrast lighting, dramatic glamour lighting, lens-flare lighting, using ring flash for fashion lighting, edgy lighting, full-length fashion lighting, soft glamour lighting, fashion side lighting, lighting for compositing, dramatic side lighting, 1940's hollywood-style lighting.
The entire book pretty much revolves around studio shooting (the exception being the fashion side lighting setup, which is done in a house-location) - while this might seem somewhat obvious for the book, a number of shots do show what looks like an "on location" background (spoiler alert - that's all photoshop).
The setups use between 1-4 lights each and a number of modifiers (a ringflash, diffusers, reflectors, grids, softboxes, egg-crates, strip-banks, octobox, continuous lights, strobes, beauty dishes, backdrops and more -- some take it a little further with fog-machines, hair fans and additional lighting). The funny part is that the book starts with "You don't have to spend a ton of money to get these looks" (which then goes on to say you shouldn't cheap on flash modifiers/accessories). It's also worth noting that a number of photoshop tools in here are specific to CS5 (the latest version), so if you're using CS4 or previous you won't be able to follow along with all of these.
For the lighting setups, Scott includes the power settings of each strobe - if you're trying to recreate this look exactly, this is probably helpful.. but for anyone else, seeing "This strobe is 2.6 and this one is 3.9 and this is 4.2 power" isn't going to help everyone. It would have been great if a ratio would have been used ("This light is half-power of this light and the rear light is double the power of the rest"). If you don't use the same lights he does, the power levels (2.6, 3.9, 4.2) probably won't do you too much good.
There is an "add-on" chapter for using a hotshoe flash instead of strobes, and 1 chapter showing continuous lighting, but for the most part this book only uses strobes (Elinchrom).
The "Shoot it" part is very brief on each chapter - showing you the shutter speed, lens, focal length, aperture and ISO. None of this was really helpful, especially since there was no explanation (why the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens on some shots and the 24-70mm 2.8 on others? Why 130mm, why 24mm? why that aperture?)
After this, you get a LONG section on post processing the image. I'll admit, there are some real cool tips in here (for sharpening/contrast), but I was also very surprised by how basic some were (in a "Really? That's the best way? I came here looking for a better way to avoid doing that!" way). There is also a LOT of morphing - model have an odd bump on their head? lets re-shape that. bald spot? we can add some hair there. With the amount of processing on each shot, this seems like a good book for the person who wants ONE final shot from a shoot, but not for the person who will be going through 100 images from a shoot and editing 40 of them. I was hoping for a way to get "that shot" out of camera, not a way to go in after the fact and fix it. Some stuff could easily be avoidable (shooting a full-body model shot on a 5-foot wide backdrop, then needing to fix it in photoshop? why not start with a 10-foot backdrop and save the time? Unless this is supposed to be a "If you end up in this situation.." tip)
As mentioned above, there are some Photoshop CS5-specific tools used in the processing, so if you're using CS4 or older you won't be able to follow-along completely.
I can see this book being useful for the person trying to run a photo business, maybe providing single-shots (or a small amount of them) and not afraid of photoshop, but for the average person you're probably not going to want to go through a 35-step process for completely re-creating a models face (lighting, cloning, sharpening, contrast, re-shaping, re-painting, re-positioning, background replacement) for a single shot. If you're going to do that, why bother with the crazy modifiers/flashes to begin with?
I'm not afraid of photoshop by any means (I actually like it!), but the amount done here just seems so excessive for anyone but the high-end fashion photographer.
With all this said - why the heck did I give it 4 stars?
Well, there is useful information in here - quite a bit! The lighting diagrams are helpful (a chapter showing the differences in lighting modifiers would have been nice - comparing the same shot with a beauty dish, softbox, grid, ringflash, etc..), the camera settings didn't do anything for me but there were some neat tips/tricks in the photoshop section (while I probably won't use the re-shaping, or replacing backgrounds, the tips for sharpening and contrast were very helpful. For that, it was worth it.