Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Book Review: Photo Idea Index by Jim Krause

Photo Idea Index is a photography how-to and what-if book written by Jim Krause. I picked it up one day when at a local bookstore looking for a different photography book. It is a small, easy to carry book in a durable, light-green, vinyl binding. It is a good size to throw in a bag or backpack. How is it? What topics does it cover? Well, follow the jump.

First to answer the “How is it?” question. I’m on my second read through of it, so I think it is a good book. As mentioned it is a good travel size to carry with you, although a tad heavy even given its’ small size. Each topic is covered briefly in easy to read language and segments. It makes for a good read during lunch, or a train commute, or any time you have a few minutes here or there. Of course you can read it all the way through as well. Each topic flows well from one to the other in a nicely organized manner.

The book is written more from an art designer’s point of view instead of from a technical photography point of view. It does discuss some technical details, but not so much that a reader would get bogged down or glazed-eyes over. No Inverse Square Law here, thank goodness.

Additionally, Mr. Krause photographed all of the pictures in the book himself, specifically for the book. Most of the photographs were taken with a modest compact, point-and-shoot camera; although there are sections where he used a DSLR’s creative capabilities as well. One of the points that Mr. Krause tries to make throughout the book is that good photographs can be taken with modest equipment. He also stresses the creative outlet and freedoms that a digital camera can provide to anyone. While I’m not fond of all of his chosen photographs, each one aptly illustrates the particular points he makes on each topic.

Speaking of topics, what will you find in this book? The book is divided into three main sections:

Section 1: You covers things like Point of View, Establishing Environment, Composition, Attracting Attention, Picturing People and Thinking Creatively. This section attempts to spur the reader’s creative muscles by presenting design, composition, and other creative considerations. It is also the largest section of the book.

Section 2: Light, Camera is about some of the more “technical” aspects of cameras and lighting in so far as they can be used as tools for a photographer’s creativity. However, the reader is rarely bogged down in truly technical details at any point. Instead the section attempts to explain how light and camera functions can be used to achieve given types of photographs or effects. Mr. Krause also shows the equipment he used for capturing the photographs in the book in an attempt to show that creative photography can be achieved without a lot of expensive equipment. He presents a few, easy do-it-yourself lighting options like using a small LED flashlight, or 500-watt halogen work lamps instead of studio strobes.

Finally, in Section 3: Digital Effects, Mr. Krause shows how image editing software such as Photoshop can be used to further a photographer’s or artist’s creative work. He covers features such as Levels and Curves, Hue and Saturation, Digital Backgrounds, Compositing, etc. Curiously, he doesn’t mention other imaging software besides Photoshop which is generally out of reach for many of the intended audience. However, most imaging software has similar features, so the user should be able to easily translate the discussions to whatever software he uses.

Perhaps the most important point that Mr. Krause states throughout the book in one way or another is that digital cameras free the photographer to experiment, have fun, and not to worry about his mistakes since there will not be any processing costs for them. The biggest advantage that film photographers had over the general person was that the pros could shoot lots and lots and could afford to make mistakes. Digital cameras give that same freedom to anyone now.

Photo Idea Index is a good book to help get beginning and even professional photographers a boost in their creative eye. It is an easy book to read in today’s hectic, time scheduled world. You can read a bit, put it down, and pick it up again later without fear that everything you had previously read had leaked out of your ears. If you are looking for a book that explains composition and design concepts in easy to understand language, then you can’t go wrong with Mr. Krause’s Photo Idea Index.

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