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Book Review: The photography exercise book

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Book Review: The photography exercise book
by Bert Krages

Training your eye to shoot like a pro


Like many working photographers, Keith Cooper is self taught. Whilst it might stroke the ego to consider yourself as having some particular ability, in reality it’s hard work and practice that improve your photography.

Keith has been looking at an interesting book that provides exercises and ideas covering all aspects of photography, from technical proficiency to developing one’s own style.

Book Details

Title: The Photography Exercise Book
Subtitle: Training Your Eye to Shoot Like a Pro
Author: Bert Krages
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
Imprint: Allworth Press
Published: 18 October 2016
Format: Paperback | ISBN-139781621535379
Pages: 216 | Dimensions7.75 x 9.25in.

photography exercise book

Buy at Amazon US | Amazon UK

Things you need to do…

It’s the start of 2018 and like many photographers I’ve been wondering what I might do to improve/advance/develop my photography skills and vision.

A while ago I was asked if I’d like to have a look at Bert Krages’ book. My initial thought was that it would pretty much be a list of “try this” exercises of the sort I’ve seen that seem to think that you just need to go out and try a particular type of photography to somehow get better.

Well in a way it is, in that you really do need to go out and try the exercises, not just read about them. In much the same way that my piano playing won’t improve by just buying more books about playing the piano…

However it’s so much better, in that the reasons for doing things are explored in a consistent and progressive way that I’m sure will be of benefit to many.

First up, an overview of the book contents (from the publisher) gives a feel for the flow of the book.

Book Contents

Chapter 1 Foundations for Learning to See
The Importance of Seeing • The Importance of Composition • The Importance of Evaluating Your Work

Chapter 2 Proficiency with Your Camera
The Camera as Tool • The Camera as Object • Mastering the Controls • Holding the Camera • Exercise 1: Holding Your Camera Steady • Using the Viewfinder • Exercise 2: Photographing without a Viewfinder • Exercise 3: Camera Position • Focusing • Exposure • Exercise 4: Evaluating a Camera’s Meter • Technical Knowledge • Exercise 5: Test Something on Your Own

Chapter 3 Preparing to Do the Exercises
Perception and Abstraction • Knowledge Opens Up Possibilities • Experimenting with Genres Is Beneficial • Practical Considerations • Evaluating Your Images

Chapter 4 Seeing Light
Intensity and Range • Exercise 1: Shooting the Moon • Exercise 2: Isolating Light • Hard and Soft Light • Exercise 3: Magic Hour Progression • Exercise 4: Blue Hour Photography • Exercise 5: The Midday Sun • Direction • Exercise 6: Photographing Eggs • Reflected Light • Exercise 7: Reflections on Water • Exercise 8: Bouncing Light onto an Egg • Color Temperature • Changing Light • Exercise 9: Passing Clouds

Chapter 5 Approaches to Composition
Working with Points • Exercise 1: Eyes • Exercise 2: Signs • Exercise 3: Birds • Exercise 4: Conjunctions • Exercise 5: Bowling • Working with Lines • Exercise 6: Floral Lines • Exercise 7: Trees • Exercise 8: Horizons • Exercise 9: Rivers • Exercise 10: People on the Move • Working with Shapes • Exercise 11: The Shape of Eggs • Exercise 12: Gerberas • Exercise 13: Static Frames • Exercise 14: Steam and Water Vapor • Exercise 15: Dynamic Frames

Chapter 6 Seeing the World around You
Photographic Style • Inspiration • Exercise 1: Utility Lines • Exercise 2: Revisiting a Scene • Exercise 3: Depicting a Subject in Different Ways • Exercise 4: Take a Miniature Photo Safari • Exercise 5: Documenting Something • Exercise 6: Cobbling Something Together

Chapter 7 Thinking Like an Artist
History for the Artist • Work Ethic • Knowing Your Goals • The Artist’s Vision

Making use of the book

One of the most basic things I like to cover when I’m involved in any aspects of teaching photography, is the need to be able to properly look at what you’ve produced and decide in what ways (or not) it’s any good. The importance of just learning to see things cannot be underestimated.

But, that’s the sort of stuff that frightens many photographers, so I was pleased to see a quick progression into some of the technical aspects of photography. I’ve long believed that a mastery of the technical side of photography makes it much easier to convert your thoughts and ideas into tangible photographs and prints. The whole point of understanding what exposure is all about, is that it and many other technical aspects of photography can, with practice, become almost automatic to you.

I don’t have to think a lot of the mechanics of using shift lenses any more – it’s become about the images I want to create.  It’s also important to try things so as not to just think you know something (about focus and depth of field for example) based on some supposed internet expert.

Experience usually trumps internet ‘received wisdom’.

Do the testing… yes really do them

Try the technical exercises – a desklamp and an egg really can teach you an enormous amount about the realities of lighting, shadows and reflected light. Do you actually know how long a shutter speed you can hand-hold with a particular lens?

One of the exercises concerning light is to simply go out and take a series of photographs in the run up to and just after sunset. This really works. I did something very similar [the changing light as the sun sets] last year and it helped cement many aspects of lighting that I’d just assumed, even after quite a few years regularly taking such shots.  I’ve been a pro photographer since 2004 and taking the time to do some of the exercises has been of real benefit. It’s one of the reasons I write the articles and reviews on the site – they give my testing some structure, and I need to be able to write about it afterwards.

Negative space

One simple example. I don’t do sports photography, so rarely need to capture much action. I’d never thought about the importance of negative space in such shots and how that, along with framing, could often help give the optimal time to press the shutter.

When words don’t seem to be enough

Perhaps at some level I already knew this, since it seemed so intuitive once I tried it. This in itself covers one of the major ideas in the book, in that you may well know stuff (composition for example) without being able to explain it in words.

It’s this disconnect between the intuitive non-verbal aspects of creating photos and the hard technology aspects of photography that frequently limits people getting more out of their efforts. The attention to cameras/lenses/equipment is quantifiable – and safe.

I see the same in printing and colour management, where the equipment and software involved in colour management becomes an end in itself, missing the point that you need to have taken a great photo to make a great print, and that the capabilities of modern high end printers (such as the Epson P5000 I recently reviewed) are more likely to exceed the abilities of those using them than vice versa ;-)

Keep looking

One of the enduring messages I took away from the book was that you just need to keep on taking photos, and looking at images from all sources.  I collect photography books from charity shops and the like, even if they are 50-60 years old – when asked why, my answer is simply that I like looking at the photos. I’ve lots of book of paintings too, of all periods.

Don’t be put off by the spurious academic pronouncements you may read about the ‘real’ meaning behind photographs. Just because you’ve no interest in writing an essay about the life works of a particular photographer is not wrong, nor does it mean that you can’t ‘properly appreciate’ their work… look at their photos – do you like them – do you not like them?  WHY

As an aside, for a ready stream of photos that are supposed to be great but usually leave me stone cold, try looking at a copy of the British Journal of Photography.

Conclusions

A well written book that is packed with useful images to illustrate the matters at hand. It’s nice to see the author didn’t fall into the trap of only including ‘perfect’ photos – you will look at some and think ‘I could do better than that’ – good!

It’s a book for people who want to take more photos and increase their satisfaction from doing so. Definitely one to try if you feel you’re perhaps clinging to some of the technical aspects of photography as a bit of a safety blanket, to avoid the fluffy artsy stuff.

Buy at Amazon US | Amazon UK

Book Author Info.

Bert Krages is a photographer and attorney who is the author of two previous photography books, Legal Handbook for Photographers and Heavenly Bodies: The Photographer’s Guide to Astrophotography.

He lives in Portland, Oregon.

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