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November 13, 2013

We had our first pretty snow today, quite early.  We took a drive out to Carter Caves today and spent some time in front of the lodge fire reading a bit about photography, the book above was mentioned yesterday.  

About a year ago I wrote a book review for our local camera club on another book,  Chris Orwig's Visual Poetry.  Amazon has it here for about $32 now and around $14 for a good used copy with shipping.  I thought I'd reproduce the review again here, since winter gives us a bit of downtime for study.   Orwig is an instructor at the Brooks Institute of Photography and a popular online and offline writer/lecturer/teacher.   This is not an instruction book like Vincent Versace would write with 21 steps to a good picture, this is more heavy on artistic tips and inspiration and lean on technique.  A  different refreshing mix than found in some other books.

The book is laid out in 3 sections:  the first being a "getting started" section about general topics of learning to see, creativity, and creative techniques.  The 2nd section hit specific photographic genres:  Portraits, Kids & Families, Weddings, Travel, Action & Outdoors, and Found objects.  The last section is the shortest, being about camera gear and a brief chapter on the path to becoming a professional.
I do best with structure and charts in a book but the structure of the chapters isn't that obvious with this one, but it does have a defined layout.  Most chapters of the middle section (the one I believe most of the OVCC would find more valuable) uses a layout of:  Inspiration, Practical Tips, Gear, Workshop Assignments, and a Guest Speaker section that highlights well known photographers.

A good example is the section on Portraits, as we have that coming up next in January. You'll find  ample stories told about accomplished photographers and their ideas on creativity, with probably the best one being  about the necessity of taking risks with your photography, by taking a chance.  The example is Yousuf Karsh who pulled Churchill's cigar out of his mouth before snapping the portrait of his face with the resulting anger and because of that, we have that wonderful glaring war-time portrait of Churchill that energized the British people.   I'll have to remember that the next time Mike Adkins stops the car in the middle of the road and sets up his tripod, often risks will yield a good shot.

Under the Practical Tips section, it is a blend of creative approaches with basic instruction.    Orwig really does give some rock solid advice, such as:

  • -Look around the frame before snapping the photo, minimize distractions. 
  • -Take the shot and get it out of your system, then take 3 steps forward to your subject and take one close up. 
  • -Walk away and look back and take another photograph. 
  • -Use a shallow depth of field. 
  • -Get the nearest eye sharp, that is the one that counts. 
  • -Shoot high, shoot low. 
  • -Take the camera out of the bag before you arrive and you will get more and better photographs because of not having to break the ice by introducing the camera during the session. 
  •  -Have your subject look at the ground, exhale, then look at the camera for the shot and the face will be relaxed. 
Well, you get the idea.  All great common sense things that we may not have thought about.

Now for the subjective opinion, would I recommend the book?   Most definitely yes, with reservations about who is asking.   We are accustomed to web-page designs and this book will take some study, you can't just fly through it as it is fairly lecture-like in the approach, as compared to Tom Ang's Master Class in Photography (also at Amazon)  that is laid out nearly like a multimedia web page with colorful charts and boxes.    I suggest underlining and marking up the book as you go along, then review the sections later by looking for your markups.   You have to also be able to mesh ideas from a book into your approach to photography, something not easy to do.  Tyson Smith once mentioned at a club meeting that tutorials, books, and seminars teach us things that seems to go into another part of the brain and we forget to use them when bringing the camera to the eye.  That's the task with art inspiration from a book.  

There has always been the idea there is sort of a magical formula to a good photograph.  That an accomplished so-in-so can tell you how to improve your photography.  This book takes a different approach, that your photographs lie within you but you can bring them out yourself with a bit of coaching, much like writing poetry or music.  Maybe that will work, my head is full of other people's voices when I take a picture.  I hear Willis Cook say to get away from the crowd and go around the side and back of the subject.  I hear Joe motioning to try this different camera angle.  See Mike stopping in the middle of the road to not miss the shot.  See Mike H noticing the details like a cap on a fireplace mantle or the juxtaposition of a manikin in an alleyway.  So, I think I'll get my $30 worth out of the book just for the one idea of shooting then taking several steps forward to shoot again, I think that's a voice that will stick in my brain.