Rocky Nook Press recently sent me a review copy of Michael E. Stern’s new book Build A Better Photograph: A Disciplined Approach To Creativity, and since I am always interested in the creative process (especially when it involves disciplined thought), I was happy to sit down with it for some quality time.
I gravitate towards that word “disciplined” because I am an analytical and systematic individual. My trusty Mac computer dictionary provided the following:
With that in mind, I have to add I also like insights into the actual step-by-step thoughts in the designing process for a photographer, and I look for good illustrations and well-written tutorials done by an enthusiastic photographer. All of these are well covered in Build A Better Photograph: A Disciplined Approach to Creativity. Add a DVD with additional images, 360 degree panoramas of studio shots in progress, some short videos of photographic sessions, references, and tutorials and you have a concise and worthwhile package.
Mr. Stern writes in an easy-going style that makes the reader feel that they are in the presence of an out-going teacher who enjoys sharing his techniques and learning experiences‚ both the good and the bad‚ and he is not ashamed to admit to mistakes made in that they provide part of the lessons learned that he would share with the student. It is no wonder that he has had a wide and varied teaching career in addition to his studio work. Among the places that he has taught are Los Angeles Trade Technical College, Art Center College of Design, Glendale Community College, Burbank Unified School District, Julia Dean Photographic Workshops, Studio Arts, Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, and Brooks Institute.
Mr. Stern’s professional career involves some seventeen years working for the Disney Studios, extensive architectural, product, and portrait photography. He cites a deeply committed relationship to Adobe Photoshop and its importance to the digital studio of today.
Build A Better Photograph: A Disciplined Approach To Creativity (ISBN: 978-1-933952-18-5, US $34.95 CAN $41.95) covers four major areas.
The first is environmental portraiture, and in it he delves deeply into the process of designing the portrait and how to load the image’s environment with telling clues that give insight to the depth of the personality of the subject. Along with that he gives serious tips about controlling and predicting color output. Workflows on the computer with an emphasis on organization (remember that word “Disciplined” in the book title?) are considered in depth as well.
The second major area that Mr. Stern discusses is involved in compositing techniques using the computer and Adobe Photoshop. How to light and shoot a myriad of different images and to bring them together in a final composite is painsakingly described with a variety of tutorial screen shots showing the multiple layers and layer masks necessary to produce the final image result.
The third area that is discussed gives lessons on using the scanner in place of the camera and takes a trip into personal style and creativity. It attempts to open up the student to looking at shape and form in the small world in order to sharpen the student’s design skills and to realize that not all images have to come via the camera lens.
The final section of the book looks at product photography and how to light a product in such a way that it is easy to vary background and key colors and to composite separate product images into final images.
Throughout the entire book several ideas continue to travel side by side with the craft and techniques of both photography and Adobe Photoshop as skills. One of those ideas is that the photographer must sell himself or herself continually to the client. This is necessary because there are many photographers who are skillful as photographers but who do not maintain a pleasant working relationship with the client. The job of the photographer is to satisfy the client with both the product and a pleasant personal working relationship. A photographer walks a thin line as he or she trys to promote their own ideas and creativity, and at the same time to deal with the preconceived ideas that the client may bring to the conference table. Satisfying the client in part means that the client must feel that they have contributed to the design concept greatly even if the photographer has promoted his or her own creative design successfully. Each photographer must know when to listen and when to speak (and how to do it tactfully) as the photographer and client come to terms with the final design.
Dealt with indirectly, but explained well, is the difficulty in dealing with the chain of command in large organizations. The filtering process between the ultimate client in the chain and the photographer is a delicate one because each individual in the chain of command feels the necessity of placing their own mark on the final product‚ else they cannot justify their own position in the hierachy. Putting it bluntly, this is hell on the creative process and can lead to difficulties.
I found Build A Better Photograph: A Disciplined Approach To Creativity a good read; it will provide a great deal of insight to the creative process and the day-to-day managerial skills and personality necessary. Definitely a must read for the aspiring photographer who feels that mastering photographic and computer skills are all there is to the photography business.
His book has been published by Rocky Nook Press. Their books are printed on acid-free paper and the color in their books will survive long after the technical skills described in each volume will be replaced by the advances in our technology. Sometimes we get so caught up in the latest information that we forget how we receive that information. The “how” in this case is also important and should be acknowledged.