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Should be called 'Stories of my Portrait Sessions'
on December 7, 2013
The title of this book is misleading at best, and outright inaccurate at worst. Sure, this book definitely is about portrait photography, but the meat of the book has nothing to do with 'secrets of great portraits'. Instead, this book is really just a collection of stories and anecdotes about dozens of different shoots. Each story is only several paragraphs long, and a few of these stories have a bolded fortune-cookie-like tip called out, that is ostensibly what the book calls the "secrets".
The real disappointment here is that the talk that Smith did for B&H to promote the book was really quite enjoyable. I liked it so much, I thought that the session would just be a teaser for some great material in the actual book. I was doubly convinced after seeing this as a recommended book on David Hobby's list of recommended photography books. But honestly, the book fell flat in almost every way. In fact, if you watch the video (which I do recommend), I think you'll get everything you wanted out of reading this book (and you'll get it for free). In fact, a huge number of images and stories in video are described in almost exactly the same way (with almost no additional detail) in the book.
The style of the book, where stories behind photographs are described, is not inherently a bad thing. Gregory Heisler's "50 portraits" book is done in exactly this style, and it is phenomenal. But unlike Heisler's book, many stories really lack a point--at least in the sense they do little to shed insights on making great portraits. Also, this book contains tons of stories (rather than Heisler's carefully selected 50), and many are just mildly amusing but hold little to no instructional value (beyond really generic, fairly obvious "tips"). This proves once again quantity is not a substitute for quality.
Jammed in at the end are poorly organized random chapters about equipment and post processing, but these neither fit with the theme, nor really had any detail that would be useful. These sections should have just been omitted.
Note, the kindle edition is poorly formatted, and makes matching text and images hard to correlate. It's not awful, but not good either.
I'm torn over this book, because I really wanted to like it, but came away awfully disappointed. If you just want to see some nice images and read some very short (not even 'blog-entry' style) stories behind the shoot, this book will suit you just fine. If you want to really learn something about portrait photography, this is definitely not your book. So overall, my advice is check out the video (it really is good), but skip the book.