Visionmongers Book Review

visionmongers book coverThe title: Visionmongers, Making a Life and a Living in Photography is a perfect title. It was written by David duChemin who writes the pixelatedimage blog. He also wrote the book “Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision“. (See also this “interview” I did with him after reading Within the Frame.)

This book is a blend of the two. David is very clear in this book that if what you want is to make a living in photography, he wants to help you find out how to make a life in photography. There is a difference. You need to find a way to do something that you enjoy, find a balance between work and family, and find a way to feed your family.

If you are thinking of leaving “your day job”, or have recently jumped ship, or are starting to make some money from photography, this book is for you. In fact, if you are a working photographer, and feeling frustrated, this is also probably a good read for you.

So how does David DuChemin tell you how to make a life in photography in Visionmongers? He scares the shit out you. Seriously. I put the book down several times to go shoot instead of read. I kept thinking “Am I really good enough?” (Which is something that he addresses.) I think this was somewhat his intention. David follows a thin line (successfully I think) where he tries to make sure you understand just what you would be getting into. This is not an easy road. This is not a glamorous job. This is not a two hours a day job. This is hard work. Damn, I gave away the killer secret in the book already. Oh well.

David doesn’t want to scare you out of the life of a photographer. He is not afraid of anyone taking his job. He has made is own job. That’s a big theme in this book: making your own job. He just wants to make sure you really want to do this.

So after getting shocked a couple of times, and trying to take a real look at who you are, what your photography is like, and where you want to go, if you are still reading, David is back to all smiles. Back to giving honest, practical information, and concrete ideas about how you can get going as a full time paid photographer. (Ok, the whole book is refreshingly honest, but the second part isn’t as scary 🙂

There is a ton of information in here that while very relevant to photographers, isn’t really about photography:

  • Understanding what you are good at, and what your market wants
  • Learning how to serve your customers and exceed expectations
  • Basic marketing (logo, business cards, website)
  • Importance of contracts and insurance
  • Understanding finances (assets, liabilities, debt, pricing)

You aren’t going to be reading this book to learn what you should be shooting. Look to “Within the Frame” for that. You are reading this book because you want to know exactly how to make the transition from amateur to professional. You get the answer. You get the answer from several people in fact: Chase Jarvis, Gavin Gough, Zack Arias, and some others. David and the others all say the same thing:

  • Be good at what you do (taking pictures with vision)
  • Find a market to serve (while doing what you love)
  • Work really really hard

No silver¬† bullets here, but there is sound information you can apply in your own journey. As someone who wants to make the transition, I think this book succeeds in preparing one for the journey ahead, and in providing some great “1st step” marketing business advice. David mentions some other books in this one as follow ups for some of the business and marketing ideas that he has presented too. Who knows they might end up getting reviewed here.

Anyway, if you fit the criteria I mentioned at the top, of a photographer that wants to transition to paid work, part or full time, or a beginning photographer that wants some more business advice, then this is a must read.

Photoshop Lightroom 2 for Digital Photographers

lightroom2The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 Book for Digital Photographers by Scott Kelby is too long a title for a book. But I will forgive Kelby for the title seeing as the book is such a great resource for Lightroom.

I had decided to give Lightroom 2 a trial 30 day workout. I figured that if I wanted to really get into the software, I should get a book so I didn’t get bogged down. I have a couple of other books by Scott, and figured that this one would be good too. I wasn’t disappointed. I like his writing style, and his “just explaining to my pal” way of telling you how to do things.

From my last post, you can tell that I really liked Lightroom 2. I wonder how much of that was from the book. I started by reading the book before I even imported some images. When I went to import, I knew exactly how I was going to set up my import, how I would apply some basic meta data on import, and most importantly, that I should go get a sandwich while the import process happened.

There is a lot of good info and tips in this book. Many books on how to use software are of the sort where they go through menu options, and buttons and tell you what they do. Not really that useful. But thankfully, this book is not like that. It is truly useful. For example, in the beginning chapters on importing, he covers the pro’s and cons of where you might store your photos, and how you might organize your folder structure. How to convert your RAW files to DNG seemed simple enough, and I decided to do that on import. I doubt I would have without the book. Now I get my metadata like keywords saved back into the DNG file without needing a sidecar file. I doubt I would have figured this out without the book. Explanations on creating metadata templates for copy write info, file name templates, practical info on what the initial preview setting actually does and how much time it adds to import if you pick 1:1 round out some of the other useful things I picked up.

Coming from Aperture, there are many things similar, but sometimes you make assumptions that can be frustrating if you don’t get some help. It was great to find out some of the things that Scott himself uses to make his workflow easier. I liked all the short cuts he gave, and how to switch between viewing modes, and especially how to use the lights out mode to see just your image. I still don’t use short cuts with Aperture. The way Lightroom stores images and how best to use collections and the way he sorts his images was all great info. I may not use or set up Lightroom exactly the same way, but hearing how someone else is using it is a great start instead of just clicking around hoping what you are doing is a good idea.

I think that if I was to go on about this book, it would end up being the same thing about every section. Scott tells you exactly how he uses Lightroom, some other possibilities, and shortcuts on how to do it. Everything is explained in a very simple manner as if he was standing over your shoulder telling you what to do. The images perfectly complement the text. There are just the right number of images that help you figure out what is going on. This just happens chapter after chapter. For example, I jumped ahead and tried to use the printing module in Lightroom without reading that part of the book. I figured some of the stuff out, but was getting confused about margins. After reading that chapter, it all makes sense. And he doesn’t just have a paragraph on how to set margins, he shows you how to create a couple of different print layouts, which shows you how to use almost all aspects of the tool with real examples. This is why this is a great¬† book.

If you plan on getting Lightroom, or even if you want to really get a good sense of the software during the 30 day trial, I definitely recommend this book. Get it before you download the trial or buy Lightroom and read the first few chapters. It will make your time with this tool much more useful and productive.

Hot Shoe Diaries Review

Hot Shoe Diaries by Joe McNallyI am finally finished reading my copy of the Hot Shoe Diaries by Joe McNally. If you want to check out what Joe had to say, here are links to a couple posts from his blog. But don’t forget to come back 🙂

Why did it take so long? Is it that dry? Far from it. It is an awsome book. Joe manages to work in quotes from several movies, including the Princess Bride. That was funny. I like his style of writeing. It might not be for everyone. Joe writes just like I imagine him talking, if he was talking to me. Just one photographer who has been around the block (or globe, really) to another photographer who wants to know more about this whole lighting thing. It feels very personal. You get to step into the shoes and life of someone who has taken shots with 47 Speedlights, or maybe it was 108. Not sure.

The book doesn’t really have seperate chapters per say. Some of the content is grouped into chapters, but the content is really one shoot. So it feels like every 2-4 pages is another chapter. This is good and bad. It’s great because I can read little bits at a time. I can read about one shoot while waiting for my kids to finish something. I can read about another shoot just before bed. You never have to stop in the middle of one of thes sections, because you only ever have a page or so to go. That’s where it got me. I never sat down with the intention of reading the whole thing, or 40 pages at a time. I just read bits and pieces every once in a while. Now that it’s done though, I wish there was more. I will probably start over with the location shoots again. I did with his previous book The Moment it Clicks too.

I found myself stairing at the pictures and rereading the text, trying to figure out where all the lights were hidden. He calls it a game of inches. Some of the lights are set up to just give that extra little flick of light that most wouldn’t notice, but taken all together, make for extrodianary images. I would find myself tyring to figure out the sight lines for the triggers too. How did he manage to fire that SB900 that is outside shooting through the window? With two extension cords from the hotshoe to a MU800 bounced off a reflector? What? Really?

As I am starting to get more and more into using little flashes, I am realizing just how amazing his pictures are. The lighting diagrams that he has in his head are astonishing. How he can look at a scene and know how to light it is still beyond me. Never mind the pulling it off. And yet it tells you how to do it. It’s all there. You just have to go out and give it a try yourself.

Thanks Joe. The book is great. I learned a lot, and expect to learn more as I reread it. I hope you sell a truckload. (To other non photographers that won’t try to put this knowledge to use 😉

Digital Photography Outdoors Book Review

digitalphotographyoutdoorsThe full title of this book is Digital Photography Outdoors: A field guide for travel and adventure photographers, Second Edition. Whew, that’s a long title. You can find it at The Mountaineers Books, and Amazon. I didn’t get it from either place, I found it at the Minneapolis public library. You should be able to request to reserve this book to a local library if you live in Minneapolis. (Ok, this has nothing to do with the review, but I hate the library’s site/search system. To be fair, they are trying to merge a few systems and county libraries, but Argg!)

James Martin has one of the better more recent titles at the library. I found this to be a good book, and worth the trip to the library.

James has a pretty good writing style that didn’t bog me down. He uses his own pictures which are quite good. They are used effectively as examples to back up his text. I don’t think I would call it a field guide. I think you could drop the second part of the title. It is about using digital though. He mentions differences from film to digital threw out the book, but you wouldn’t need to know film photography to understand what he is saying. The second edition of the book was published in 2007 and is relatively up to date. File sizes have exploded since the book was published, but it doesn’t sound dated yet, and he mentions thinks like using a Lensbaby and using Lightroom.

I liked the first section the best probably. It is about composition, light, and color. He does a good job of explaining with text and images how to place yourself (or subjects) to get better angles and light. He discusses different times of day and the effect on light, and how to effectively add fill flash.

I figured Chapter 2 on equipment would be a take it or leave it chapter where he would just say use this and this. Not so. James presents how you can effectively use different equipment to take different pictures. Sure, there are some recomendations, but for example, he presents the differences between wide and telephoto lenses and tells you to go out and experiment.

Chapter 3 is more of a “how digital is different” chapter. It talks about how sensors react to light, exposure compensation, white balance, ¬†and even how to clean them.

Chapters 4/5/6 I was not expecting. Guess I didn’t read the table of contents. There were mostly about handling and processing your digital files. There are large book’s on subsections of this topic, but his ideas and tips were specific¬†mostly to landscape photographs. The instructions were pretty good, but a bit brief. With no experience in photoshop, you might get lost. There was some good stuff in here though. I thought the auto align layers came in with CS4, but I found how to do it in CS3 which he used, so that was good to know!

Overall, I give it a thumbs up to take out from the library. To purchase, I give it a maybe. It is not very advanced but if you want a beginning/intermediate book that covers everything in one smallish book, then this is probably worth the dineros. I liked it.

The Art of Outdoor Photography

The Art of PhotographyI just finished reading The Art of Outdoor Photography (Amazon). I took it out from the library. Twice. Extended my three week time each time too. Not the most riveting of authors. I had a hard time getting into it.

Boyd spends a lot of time in each of the chapters discussing film, film choice, and whether to shoot at 25, 50, or 75 ISO. My camera doesn’t take film, and only starts at 200 ISO. Does the fact that the book doesn’t deal with digital mean it has nothing to offer? No, but it feels dated. The revised edition is from 2002.

The concepts and techniques of outdoor photography and how to compose and visualize are not different on film or digital. He does have some good things to say about “seeing”, and light in the first chapters. There is a great chapter with picture examples of how perspective changes with the use of different lenses. He also has chapters on composition and using shutter speed creatively. This takes us up to about page 70. I feel this was the better part of the content.

The rest of the chapters are short sections on film types, and different outdoor shooting situations, like landscapes, close ups, underwater, and travel. It doesn’t feel like the individual chapters get to give enough attention to their subject matter.

He has some great pictures every once in a while, but most of the images are not very inspiring. I guess that on a whole, I would recomend looking for the book in your library if you want to give it a read.

Understanding Exposure

I have just finished reading Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. It was a pretty good book. Nothing earth shattering in it. There are some good tips on how to set aperture and shutter speed for different shooting conditions. It was definately written in the era of film, when DSLR’s were not really an option. He pushes using manual mode, and setting both aperture and shutter speed your self. Nothing wrong with that, but it seems like the built in light meters are better now. My D40, and now D90 do a good job in most situations. I prefer to shoot in aperture priority, or shutter priority and have the camera set the other. With digital I can then chimp the screen, and then adjust the exposure override. That just makes sense to me. I suppose that going the manual route would push understanding of exactly what is happening light wise. Maybe.

Anyway, I would recomend this to a beginner especially, and as a good “oh yea, I forgot that” type of read for those that are a little more advanced. It is not very expensive. I picked up mine with a Borders coupon a few days ago.

Buy this book. (The Digital Photography Book)

Judging by how many of these have been sold, there is no shortage of “The Digital Photography Book, Volume 1” if you want to borrow from someone. Scott Kelby wrote this book, and just found out it is the best selling digital photography book ever.

I have this too. In fact it was the second book I bought after some D40 manual. It is a great book. His writing style is great. He is funny, and presents topics in a conversational way that is interesting to read. There is lots of good info in here for beginners, and intermediate photographers that want to get the most out of their cameras.

It is cheap, about $16. Just go buy it.

[Update]

There are now three of these books. They are really quite useful. He covers a lot of ground across the three books. In the first there is a lot of “this is what lens, and settings I use of this type of shooting”, which is quite useful to beginners. In the other books he delves into lighting and portraits a lot more.

Probably the best thing about the books is the “recipes” section at the back of each book. In one or two pages he posts a picture, then describes the lens, the settings, and how to get the “look” he was going for in each shot. Very helpful.