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Within the Frame – The Journey of Photographic Vision by David duChemin may easily be the most unusual – and best – book on photography that I have read this year. It is unusual in that it manages to bridge the gap between books about photography as art and photography as technique, delivering both. In my opinion, that is what photography is about.

The first chapter is devoted to vision – what it is that you see and want to communicate. The second chapter focuses on what feeling, idea, or impression you may want to capture and what subjects may show this to the viewer. The third chapter on gear and technique required to get the image you want. I think that the focus not on creating technically perfect pictures but on how to turn something you want to communicate into a picture is spot-on. The author really nails it here!

The fourth chapter is about storytelling in pictures – how to tell a story in a single frame or in a photo essay, how to create interest in the viewer. This chapter is a must if you want to go from mere visual candy to a four-course meal.

The next chapters are about photographing people, places, and culture. I really enjoyed the chapter about people (I love photographing people and got a number of useful tips and ideas from the chapter), but found that my attention flagged halfway through the places chapter, and did not pick up to the end of the book. It seems to me that the essential message of the previous chapters are repeated a bit too often.

The pictures in the book are compelling and beautiful, the printing is of high quality. You can find a number of them on his website at if you are interested. Despite all of the pictures having been taken in what amounts to “exotic” locations for most people from Europe or North America, I would not say that it is about travel photography. Everything in the book applies to taking pictures of your home town. Maybe even more so than when you are abroad …

I feel great respect for the way David duChemin approaches his subjects as human beings, not just props in his pictures. I feel the same way and I became aware of a lot of things that I have done without ever thinking about them. I have also learned a few very useful things about how to approach people.

The same applied for his treatment of technical aspects: he makes things that I have been doing intuitively become conscious decisions, giving me much more control. For example, I wish that I had read what he has to say about lens choices much earlier, it has taught me the value of wide-angle lenses, which I rarely use. This will definitely improve my ability to show my vision to the world. (Interestingly, he apparently went through a similar development, starting with telephoto lenses and only gradually learning to use wide lenses.)

Finally, I learned ever so much from his approach of treating photography as storytelling. If this is – as to me – a closed book (pun intended), you will benefit greatly from Within the Frame.

As I mentioned before, my attention and interest flagged towards the last two chapters. Maybe it was just too much to absorb? Maybe the chapters are simply weaker than the previous ones? I do not know. But I do know that even without the last two chapters the book is definitely required reading for anyone interested in photographing people, so it gets five stars!

5 stars (out of 5)

5 stars (out of 5)

Joe McNally’s The Hot Shoe Diaries: Creative Applications of Small Flashes is about lighting using small flashes (strobes). If what you find on Strobist is not enough, this is the book to get.

Joe starts by describing his gear. He’s a Nikon guy, clearly in love with his gear, and he clearly knows his stuff very well. I use Canon, so was there a problem? No. Most of what the Nikon strobes can do Canon can do too (and vice versa) so if you understand what he explains, it is quite simple to translate into the Canon world. Effectively you loose less than a dozen pages to “Nikonese”.

Joe then presents a large number of his images, explaining how he lit each one of them. There is a lot of anecdotal background describing how he came to make each shot, which I found quite entertaining.

Speaking of which, Joe is very funny. I laughed out loud a number of times reading the book which is something that can not be said of many photography books. If photography and comedy turns you on, this may be the book for you …

I found the description of how each image was created easy to understand and visualize (sketches are provided for the mor elaborate setups). Joe clearly is an experienced educator, I had no trouble following him and creating some of the effects.

The selection of images is quite useful as a number of concepts or different ways of lighting are explained which can then be combined for good effect in your own photos. While some pictures are way beyond my ambitions (I do not see myself rigging a dozen strobes to an airplane … I do not have a dozen strobes :-)) most are directly applicable to situations and subjects that anyone might encounter. I learned a huge amount of practical knowledge.

To summarize: if you are interested in lighting using strobes, this is simply the book to get.

5 stars (out of 5)

5 stars (out of 5)

Michael Grecco‘s Lighting and the Dramatic Portrait starts of by discussing various camera systems (35 mm, medium format, and large format) and their particular characteristics.

Then a number of pictures are presented with diagrams and text describing exactly how the lighting was set up to achieve the desired result. This is extremely useful to help understand how the picture was made. Why on earth the client contact for the picture (usually art director so-and-so) is important in this context is beyond me, however …

The remaining pictures are described without a diagram, but I had no trouble understanding the light after the previous chapter with diagrams.

I really like that Grecco not only explains the technical detail of the shot but also why he made it the way he did. Sometimes the reason is his creative vision, at other times it is a restraint that came up during the shoot (the subject objected, for  example) or the image evolved in the process of shooting, often in collaboration with the subject.

Grecco’s method seems to involve a truckload of equipment and a horde of assistants and specialist. This should not intimidate the reader. Most of what Grecco describes can be achieved on a much lower budget using inexpensive speedlights and some tinkering (and gaffer tape 😉 – the same principles apply as with super-expensive studio lights.

The book is strongly recommended to anyone looking to improve their lighting skills, especially when photographing people.

5 stars (out of 5)

5 stars (out of 5)

George Barr Take Your Photography to the Next Level, From Inspiration to Image is a book about improving yourself as a photographer to create better images. Like Alain Briot’s Mastering Landscape Photography is puts the photographer, the artist ahead of the equipment and the technique.

Read the rest of this entry »

There are a few contemporary photographers who’s work I find truly inspiring. Alain Briot is one of them. I know many of the places he photographs and his pictures capture their essence. I wish that I could transform what I see into a picture like he does.

So I was quite excited when I saw that Alain Briot has authored a book on his way of photographing landscapes. Read the rest of this entry »

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