A good, solid beginner's book about photographic lighting.

I'm a sucker for good lighting books and I hate poorly done lighting books.  One of my favorites is nearly all theory. It's called Light, Science and Magic, and every photographer deserves to have a copy on his or her book shelf. In the last four years the marketplace for lighting books has been flooded by a torrent of books; some good and some beyond mediocre. But a good, hands-on, intro book is a nice thing to have. Syl Arena's has written a nice, small book for people who are just now getting ready to stick their toes into the water of photographic lighting as it exists beyond the little, nasty flash that's built into your camera. He's written a book that will help you take your first steps toward working at photography independent of existing light.

The book is published by the same group that published Nicole S. Young's book about food, Food Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots, that I reviewed about a month ago so I expected to find the book very richly illustrated with example photos. The book is NOT aimed at people who've been through all of the Strobist.com routine and it's not aimed at professionals out to improve their technique and their understanding of lighting but it IS aimed squarely at someone who might have picked up a camera, gotten bitten by the the enthusiasm bug of photography and is now ready to add a flash and get started figuring out how to use one, two and three flashes off their camera. 

The book discusses the quality of light, color temperatures, the direction of light and all the relevant basics. He then goes on to teach the rudiments of lighting a portrait, working with flashes outside in the sunlight and how to trigger everything. I was first exposed to Syl Arena's writing when he came out with his first book, Speedliter's Handbook: Learning to Craft Light with Canon Speedlights. I bought that book because I was using Canon flashes and I wanted to make sure I knew all the tricks, shortcuts and operational nuances of the brand. What I found in that book was a very meaty and in-depth "how to" book that was fairly well written and quite comprehensive. I loaned the book to a long time Canon "pro" photographer and have never been successful in getting it back. But I remember that it was quite useful to me.

When Syl came out with the latest book, priced at under $15 in paperback, I was intrigued enough to buy it. I wanted to see how different it would be from my first two books. Well, not much has really changed in lighting but the gear continues to evolve and Syl does a good job incorporating the latest triggers, flashes and techniques into the book.

If it sounds like I'm hedging on giving it a full recommendation, I am not. It's just that so many people who read VSL daily have advanced beyond the need for an introductory book. And I don't want anyone to think that this is a lighting revelation of biblical proportions. If you haven't messed with light and you are interested in getting up to speed with battery powered flashes then this book has my hearty and enthusiastic recommendation. The writing is informal and flows well, the information is rock solid and the example photographs clearly illustrate his points.

If you just bought your Profoto flash system upgrade to the Alien Bees you've been using for a few years you probably won't get as much out of it. But that's just the variable nature of experience in photography.

If you do decide to buy it go for the paper back version. It's not much more money than the e-book and I think basic books are great in paper because you can take them anywhere you go and whip through them to the parts you need now. Besides, we might be the last generation that has the choice of buying on paper. 

Just thought you'd like to know about this one. I read it in my hotel room in Abilene and it kept me interested enough to stay away from HBO and CNN...


Ash Crill said...

Thanks for posting this!

I have never worked with lighting before, but my very first external flash is on its way from B&H. You do have beginners reading you blog and we appreciate being alerted to resources such as this book.

My copy will be electronic, in keeping with the spirit of the times!

Kirk Tuck said...

Ash, If it's your first external flash then this book will be perfect for you. Please let me know how you like it.