closure

November 14, 2011

I will not write further posts on this blog, as I have realized its original objectives were not being fulfilled due to inherent issues with its approach. I have in mind a different project to replace it, but it will not be on the same format (blog).

I appreciate those who found it useful, and I will keep the existing posts here.

Commercial photography handbook: Business techniques for professional digital photographers | title
Kirk Tuck | author
Amherst Media, 2009 | publisher
978-1584282600 | isbn
Paperback, 128 | # of pages

Recommended | rating
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As the prices of photographic equipment decrease, the number of people who seek to establish themselves as professional photographers increases. Books to help new photographers improve the quality of their work abound, but it is hard to find information regarding the business aspect of professional photography (which is at least as important as good photographs to succeed). This book aims to fill this gap by offering both general overviews of the market and business strategies as well as small scale routine procedures.

Presentation

Amherst books personally remind me more of magazines rather than books. They are large, relatively thin, and the layout seems to try not to leave any empty space on the pages, usually cluttering them with a lot of text, pictures and boxes. Print quality is above average. The text has an informal tone and is mostly direct and well structured. There are a lot of pictures, including examples of marketing tools such as websites, postcards and other usages, but sometimes they are not really relevant for the topic being presented on the text.

Content

The book is divided in 8 chapters. The first one gives a few fundamental guidelines that are better explained in the rest of the book. The second brings an overview of the main fields of commercial photography, the equipment and personal traits that suit them, and brief tips on how to start a career. It also presents two photographers and their works in their respective fields. On the third chapter the different options for learning the specific photographic skills are presented, most of it dedicated to the relationship between assistants and photographers, including useful insights on what one should and should not do in both positions. The fourth chapter is dedicated to marketing, and even though it is one of the longest it still is quite superficial in comparison to the others. It does, however, present a lot of operational procedures with examples and what to expect from each of them. Ethics earns its own, very short chapter, with guidelines that should not surprise anyone, but unfortunately might. The sixth chapter deals with the basic legal procedures and insurance. Pricing is covered in the seventh chapter, including basic finances for those who have no experience in the area and considerations about how to calculate costs, set prices and deal with problems that happen in real-world situations, such as unexpected costs, negotiating and not getting paid. The last chapter approaches three different financial scenarios that can ruin a business even when everything seems to be working well on a small-scale.

Target audience

This book is better suited for those who have photographic skills but no idea of how to run a business. It does not teach photography itself. Those who have some experience in entrepreneurship might find it too superficial, but can still gather plenty of useful information from the specific examples and everyday procedures. The reason I rate it recommended (instead of highly recommended) is because even though the content is useful, it still feels incomplete, delving deep into some topics while leaving others barely unscathed.

Verdict

Recommended

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Art and Visual Perception: a psychology of the creative eye | title
Rudolf Arnheim | author
University of California Press, 2004 | publisher
978-0-520-24383-5 | isbn
Paperback, 518 | # of pages

Highly recommended | rating
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One of the most comprehensive works ever published in the field of visual perception, a must-read for anyone interested in visual arts (including photography).

Presentation

Print quality and layouting is reasonable. The paper is thin and somewhat fragile, probably due to the length of the book: it would be far too heavy and thick if a different kind of paper was used. However, these things do not impede the enjoyment of the content: with only a few exceptions, it is comprised mostly of text and simple illustrations that do not require a higher print quality to convey their messages.

The language is clear and it is evident that the book is well planned and organized, in spite of its length. Against what most people would expect from a 518-page book, it has a moderate to heavy text density. There are no redundancies or repetition, and the feeling is that every page presents new concepts or builds upon existing ones significantly, thus resulting in an extremely rich amount of content overall. At times one that has no background on the subject might even feel like the text is not thorough enough in its explanations, but for the most part the abundant examples allow for good comprehension.

Content

The book is divided into chapters: balance, shape, form, growth, space, light, color, movement, dynamics, expression. Each of them illustrates how the human visual system interprets a number of visual stimuli and what psychological effects they have. It always cites experiments and studies performed in the past to reinforce its theories, even though the reader might not even need those to be convinced as he experiences them himself through the illustrations. It also puts great effort to avoid deeming rationalization as responsible for the way we interpret visual stimuli. It proves (albeit empirically) how many things are involuntary psychological reactions, since the expected rational interpretations do not always occur. Through this approach he offers insight on why some visual stimuli are pleasant while others cause discomfort, why some seem unstable while others might feel solid, why optical illusions occur and why some tricks so commonly employed in arts, design, films and related fields work.

Target audience

I would not recommend this book for someone who wants to start learning composition with intents of producing visual work, as he would not be able to easily relate those to his production nor employ it. A seasoned artist or photographer that has mastered the technical aspects and has plenty of experience with composition will find the book more useful, for he is able to bridge the theory to his practice, or more easily recognize the patterns described in real world situations. For those who intend only to enjoy the work of others there is no specific point at which I would recommend it. By allowing one to have new perspectives the book also allows one to enjoy visual art in new ways, recognizing the beauty of patterns carefully constructed instead of being only affected by the final result.

Verdict

Highly recommended

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The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction | title
Walter Benjamin | author
Suhrkamp, 1963 | publisher
978-3-518-10028-8 | isbn
Paperback, 107 | # of pages

Highly recommended | rating
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One of the classics, mentioned in virtually every contemporary philosophical book on photography. Walter Benjamin reflects upon the impact of mechanical reproduction in the field of arts and the way it is perceived and valued, describing the changes that paved the conditions for contemporary art to exist the way it exists today.

Presentation

The edition here reviewed is a German copy. It is simple and unpretentious: the cover has no picture, the layout is as clean as it gets, reminding a cheap novel. The book would be too short if it contained only the aforementioned piece, so there are two additional texts included: “A little history of Photography” and “Edward Fuchs: collector and historian”. This is quite common in English versions as well, some of them containing many other essays from the same author. It belongs to public domain, so you can also find it for free on this website (reading on a screen should not pose much of a problem considering its length.)

It is so short for a reason: the density is extremely high. Each sentence carries a lot of content, and quite often the message is not further elaborated on or explained, so multiple readings may be required. For those who understand German, it is recommended (as usual with any book) to read it in its original language, as even the best translation sacrifices some of the original meaning or style.

Content

The essay is split into fifteen chapters, plus a preface and epilogue. Each chapter brings a distinct topic, some of them relating to others and some having a high degree of autonomy. First, the author describes the effect of “aura” brought upon by works of art, investigates its causes and analyses how the reproductibility affects it. He then proceeds to analyse photography, its relation to art and specifically painting, and the features that are unique to it. After that, he also does the same in regards to film and theater. Throughout the book there are a few remarks on how each topic affects society, but he does not attempt to draw predictions on where they would lead to. Some parts of the text, however, describe such timeless phenomena that one could read it and think it was written recently. E.g.: he describes the ongoing process of loss of differentiation between readers and writers, saying that the common person can increasingly write and publish with ease. This timeless character is what makes it such a valuable read even decades after it was written.

Target audience

This book is not made for people who just want to use photography as a tool. It was made for those who want to reflect upon it, for those who are interested in art and its relationship with technology. It is ultimately a philosophy book, so it will not please those who seek immediate, tangible effects on their photography.

Verdict

Highly recommended

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The photographer’s eye

June 16, 2011

The photographer’s eye: Composition and design for better digital photos | title
Michael Freeman | author
Focal Press, 2007 | publisher
978-0-240-80934-2 | isbn
Paperback, 192 | # of pages

Highly recommended | rating
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Currently one of the best-selling books on composition for photographer’s, covers not only visual language but also the process of selecting subjects and semantic intents (conveying meaning through composition).

Presentation

The book is composed mostly of examples and diagrams, taking most of page space. In the first part of the book, especially when dealing with underlying visual structure, each example is presented with a copy with vectors and other schematics overlaid, which helps comprehension greatly. Print quality is very good, diagrams are clear, text is well laid-out and legible. The square format of the book works well with the many variations in page layout caused by the different examples, though coupled with the soft cover it makes reading slightly uncomfortable while holding it (the wide pages are always significantly bent). This small nuisance can be nullified, of course, by reading it on a table.

Content

There are 6 chapters, each one with approximately 30 pages. The first one is about framing, including aspect rations, cropping, placement and other considerations. The next two chapters cover visual structure, giving a very brief introduction to gestalt and defining aspects such as contrast, balance, vectors and so on. This first half might be of more use to those who have absolutely no background in visual arts: the concepts are easy to grasp due to their tangibility (especially with the examples). The reader gets a basic idea of what is presented by a photograph besides its meaning (the semantic aspect).

The second half of the book focuses on more global aspects (such as light and color) and as so might require a bit more practice followed by a second or third readings by the inexperienced photographer, as they are less tangible. The last chapter in particular is quite interesting to get an insight on the different approaches to photography as a process, including a case study that shows how he took a specific photograph (including the attempts that were not selected).

Overall the book is quite superficial (each topic is explained in 2-4 pages) and that in itself is not a problem, considering it is not meant to be the last book the aspiring photographer will read on the subject. My only criticism is the fact that this is never mentioned and there is no guidance for further reading. The book actually lacks a conclusion: it is simply cut-off after the last chapter, so I would be pleased to see that included in a future edition, where other books could be recommended.

Target audience

Photography nowadays is practiced mostly by people without any background in visual arts. Because of that, the classic literature on composition might not help them at all, due to the lack of examples and practical use of the concepts, as well as sometimes going into issues specific to painting. This book fills in this gap: the language is simple, the examples connect the concepts to real-world applications and approaches the subject from a photographer’s point of view. Even for those who have previous study in visual language it might be useful by getting to see it applied to photography. For those who have learned the technical aspects of photography (such as camera operation) or are interested in it as a technology this book is invaluable to widen their perspectives. Experienced photographers or artists might consider the book too superficial for their needs or might understand that many of the facts there presented can sometimes be completely ignored in virtue of others.

Verdict

Highly recommended

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Photo Icons

June 10, 2011

Photo Icons: The story behind the pictures | title
Hans-Michael Koetzle | author
Taschen, 1996 | publisher
978-3-8228-4096-2 | isbn
Hard cover, 351 | # of pages

Highly recommended | rating
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Regarded by many to be the best book to get a first glimpse of great photographers and their pictures, encompassing the entirety of the history of photography. This book approaches the task by focusing not on picture descriptions or biographies, but rather on the context (whether cultural, historical, political or personal depends on what is relevant to each picture) in which they were taken.

Presentation

Taschen is famous for the great care it devotes to the object attributes of its books and this one is no exception. The quality is impressive on all aspects: paper, print, layout, cover, typography, picture reproductions: nothing was overlooked. They all add up to something beautiful, durable and that makes reading an even more pleasant activity. The book is also available in a two-volume edition.

The text is well written and opts for a simple language, avoiding technical terms and academic photography concepts for the most part. Sentences are short, clear and objective, and such concision is welcome: each photographer occupies only a few pages, as it would not be possible to feature so many otherwise. Each chapter presents a famous photography in a double-page spread (or a full page if it is in portrait orientation), followed by the text on the photographer and context or anecdotes involving its creation. Other photographs from the same author are also presented, sometimes variations of the famous one — which is interesting as a curiosity, specially to judge what makes the famous one so special.

Content

The book covers every period of photography history in a superficial manner, which is by no means a problem considering its purpose. The focus of the text changes from picture to picture: some dedicate greater length to its analysis, some tell the story that led to it (as the title of the book suggests), some talk about the photographer or its motivations and so on. What defines it is what is more relevant to the importance of each picture.

This diversity exposes the reader to different aspects of photography and gives the book entertainment value: some of the stories are quite interesting by themselves, even to someone who has no special interest in photography. Every chapter also has a very short biography on side-columns, focusing on significant years.

Target audience

There is no need for previous knowledge in photography or art history to enjoy the book. Some technical aspects are mentioned when they were crucial for the image (specially regarding chemical processes for the early periods) and understanding them leads to better comprehension of a few details, but it does not pose a problem for general comprehension. It is invaluable as a first contact with famous pictures, especially to those who do not want to delve into extremely long books on the history of photography.

It is also interesting for people who like art in general, or appreciate photography regardless of not producing them. The short, independent chapters also allow quick reading sessions for impatient students or to fill in gaps in one’s schedule. For the seasoned photographer, the book might offer some different perspectives on photographs he already knows.

Verdict

Highly recommended

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