Books on photography

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As an avid reader, I have ended up with a small collection of photography books. Part of them are books that promise to teach photography and the rest collections of photographs. I wrote a review of Thorsten Overgaard’s short ebook ‘Finding the Magic of Light’ and the comment I received was that the book was too pricey. From the tone of the comment I have a feeling that the reader had purchased the book based on my comments. I have been thinking of the comment for a while that made me think of the books I have read and the influence those books have had on my photography.

Books were not my only source of education. I have been fortunate enough to be mentored by Magum photographers Nikos Economopoulos and Martin Parr in two different workshops.

There are two elements that try to outdo each other when a viewer sees a picture. The first is the content of the image and the second is the structure of the image. Photojournalism (street photography including) tries to focus mainly on the content of the image, communicating something that happens. Editorial and fine art photography tries to focus mainly on the structure of the image, in terms of composition. The ultimate images are the ones that blend both these elements successfully.

Another addition is the technical aspects of photography – ISO/speed, aperture, shutter, dynamic range, zone systems etc. These are a necessary part of education brought primarily by the technical limitations of the medium used. If you are hell bent on using film (there are many good reasons), a sound understanding of the science behind the medium is essential to exploit the full potential of film. There are no short cuts. You have to understand dynamic range and how to maximize it. You have to understand exposure pretty well to create stunning images. You also have to understand the scanning process if you include digital in the workflow.

Of the many books, some books have stayed in my mind longer than the others.

  • The Photographer’s Eye by John Szarkowski. In a few pages of text and some consummate images this book succeeds in making the reader understand the difference between content and structure, and what makes an image interesting.
  • The Photo Book, by Phaidon publishers. This book introduces the reader to all the stalwarts of photography, one image at a time. The reader has to research further, to develop their style further.
  • Various photo books depicting the works of great photographers. Looking at good pictures make you a better photographer. There is nothing better than looking at more and more pictures and art work to improve one’s craft.

Do you not have to read about technical details? At the minimum, understand to use the exposure compensation dial. Tip for absolute beginners. Set your camera to auto and shoot a black wall and a white wall, separately. Think why both the pictures look gray rather than black and white. Now use the exposure compensation dial and see what happens to the images. That will set you on the right track.

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Regarding Thorsten’s book? It made me focus mainly on the quality of light and I have been taking better portraits ever since reading it.

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