the rules of photography book review by michael maersch

Look, everyone deserves a modicum of respect; so when I finished going through “The Rules of Photography” I received from Focal Press and found myself wondering aloud “Is this guy someone’s brother/brother-in-law/son/cousin at Focal Press or the Taylor & Francis Group that they actually published this thing?” I decided I had to do an online search for him and his photography. (The information presented within IS THAT BAD, THAT INCONSEQUENTIAL to anyone other than the individual who has never seen or held a camera in their hands, who has never thought about composition or “art” or expressing oneself with pencil scratches or crayon drawings or doodling on a sidewalk with chalk like a 5-year-old. O.K., perhaps I’m being a bit harsh here. He has two other books published by FP; but based upon what I saw here ain’t no way in the world I’m going to squander my precious time!) And btw, his photos are not all that bad.

Alright already; so let’s get positive here. His writing style is both conversational and unassuming. It reads much like having a warm chat with a friend and I find this most endearing.

The book seems an almost perfect fit for the individual new to photography or for someone teaching an Intro Photo course. His initial chapter – on cameras, lenses and basic photo concepts is both concise and pretty much accurate. The information comes in tiny snippets – oh-so perfect in this texting, Twitter-centric world of “I gotta short attention span” we live in today.

Because the author makes his points in only a paragraph or two this book would be a perfect fit in a classroom environment where the instructor intends to go into more detail answering questions prompted by Kamps’ spare writing style. HOWEVER, as one moves on into the book, as Haje begins to explain “the rules” more and then how to break’em I found his explanations quite ham-fisted and less than effectual in their presentation.

As well, I found the content afforded to be profoundly incomplete, ever so fragmentary and in some cases downright erroneous. "Examples please!"

Raw capture is rarely mentioned throughout this book except in passing. Though the term is listed within the index a bunch of times this is because the term is used only here and there as almost an aside. There is no chapter, no full page even about its relevance to photographers working with the reasonably sophisticated, entry-level digital SLR’s available today.

AND I found next to nothing about or, more importantly, dissuading newbies from working with JPEG as a capture file format (unless, of course, one is using a point-and-shoot digi-cam or phone to make pictures and that’s the only choice available).

Whenever Mr. Kamps wades into the issue of “white balance” he leads hapless newbies reading his work into a real mine field. Even if you are shooting Raw – God forbid JPEG – whether you shoot a camera store-bought “18% gray card” or, as he suggests “a white piece of paper” to help you later find correct white balance you are sure to become SO FRUSTRATED with the process you will simply throw the concept out the window never to return to or consider it again! If you intend to achieve White Balance shooting a digital camera you need instead to buy a somewhat expensive “digital gray card” you can tuck inside your camera bag; then later, simply click on this single element in a throw-away image shot for truly easy – and accurate – white balance inside your editing software of choice – Done Deal! *White paper IS NOT WHITE!* Go ahead; line up five “white” envelopes, five “white” pieces of paper. They’re all white BUT… Even camera store gray cards (I have found repeatedly) can be WAY OFF as “neutral gray”, pure gray without a color cast to it.

I could go on, but why bother?

Often Mr. Kamps seems only to be grasping at straws as he moves through “the rules” and even quite a few of the photos he has chosen to illustrate the points he is making are really less than convincing or illustrative of the proposition.

Well this one is being donated to the local public library. I can’t (in good conscience) give this away to someone in my Meetup group, a client, student, neighbor or friend. Yikes.

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