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Professional Secrets of Natural Light Portrait Photography Paperback – March 1, 2000
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
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This book, however, does not address digital photography, since it was published back in 2001. Plus, I think the book shares the same problem that many Amherst Media books share: the author tend to center his instruction based on his own individual photos and not so much on how-to for typical shooting situations. In othe words, most of the book seems to be written based on collection of photographs the author already had, rather than him taking take various shots for instructional purposes.
A book like this would also work better as an instructional DVD. Understanding concepts of lighting is very challenging for novice photographers, and simply providing pages and pages of photographs is not enough. An audio/video presentation of how-tos would work much better.
So while I recommend this book, I hesistate to say that it will be the only one on the subject that you will need. On the other hand, if you take notes and go out and practice what the author explains in the book, you will benefit from it, especially on the subject of setting up traditional poses. And oh, this book has nothing in it about urban contempary portraits. All the photos are done in the classic mode.
The author's approach is to present a portrait and then explain the photographic considerations that went into it. Usually he provides an overhead diagram showing the relationship of camera, subject and light. With each picture a short description of lighting, photography and background is usually included. Some portraits have been selected because they presented special situations or techniques. For these, besides the trio mentioned, he offers a short discussion of the problem and how he solved it. For example a portrait featuring "head tilt" discussed what Box calls the C pose and the relationship of a tilted head to lighting.
When you've finished this book you will know how to look for that soft, indirect lighting that usually makes for attractive portraits. That may not sound like much, but it is probably the most important single factor for a good portrait. You will also have encountered a number of tips that will make your portraits better looking that you might not encounter elsewhere. For example, I had never read that having people in a group portrait dress in similar clothing would create of feeling of unity. And yet putting both members of a couple in white shirts and khaki pants can achieve that goal.
I have some nits to pick with the author. Box is a medium format guy and doesn't mention auto-exposure. Since most photographers are now using 35mm cameras with auto exposure, a little tailoring could have helped, but this shortcoming is not fatal. And he preserves a few photography myths, like the suggestion that a longer focal length lens creates a shorter depth of field. Optical science is clear that for the same image size on a negative, the only way to change the depth of field around a subject is by changing aperture.
Reading this book and following the author's advice will not make you into a Karsh or Avedon. Not only did those photographers create their portraits in the studio with special lights, but they also had some of the most photogenic faces in the world to work with, as well as a degree of talent that was (and is) exceptional. This book is aimed at the majority of us who will take our cameras outdoors to photograph friends and family and who will be happy if the result is a picture that will lead others to say "Doesn't Jim (or Jane) look great in this picture.
Some of the lighting techniques are useful and interesting, but when you are shooting outdoors, God-given light is pretty easy and straight-forward to work with. With a little practice, anyone with a good eye can master outdoor lighting for portraits.
Skip this book and save your $$ for a better lens. You'll be happier with better glass than having this book gathering dust on the shelf.