If there was one, and only one, book I had to recommend to any photographer who is serious about taking pictures of good quality, this would be the chosen one. Photography is considered the art of capturing light into a paper (nowadays, you can change the paper for any surface able to emit light, but it’s still the same), and the way to achieve this in the best possible way is by understanding light, how it works and its relationship with the environment.
Some objects are simple to photograph by their own nature, like plastic or wood. But in the moment we start adding other factors, like varnish (that reflects light) or metallic pieces, obtaining the right exposition is only one part of the problem: We want not only to illuminate our target in a way that allows us to photograph it but we also want that the light does not interfere with the reflective parts of the object. Portraiture adds a more complex definition on lightning as we are not only concerned about exposure and reflections but the final result must be appealing for the photographer and the model. Not all possible illuminations behave well with a certain kind of face, expression or pose.
The book is well structured. It begins with a presentation of light, how it moves and behaves in the environment, and how it interacts with the surfaces that reaches. A clear description of soft and hard lights is made, and also of the type of reflections that can appear and how to deal with them. Tricks to increase or eliminate them are suggested depending on the final desired effect (a reflection in a photograph of a painting can be annoying and unpleasant while the same reflection on a wooden statue can increase its depth or emphasize the varnish used to cover it).
After the introduction, a presentation of different situations and their related procedures is made. Wood, metal and glass are deeply explained, with all the different options to correctly illuminate them and achieve different effects. Glass, being by definition transparent, is one of the hardest challenges a photographer can confront, and the book is exhaustive in the correct way to deal with it.
Finally, a few chapters are dedicated to real world applications or special situations. One chapter is dedicated to portraiture, and how light interacts with the face. It shows different kinds of lightning and the patters to work with them. Although it is a little bit superficial on this topic it is exhaustive enough to understand how fashion photography works and to start taking better portraits. It lacks on information about posing, lightning ratios and light dynamics, so the use of another specialized book is recommended to get a good understanding of the topic, if desired. Also, a chapter about photographing white subjects on a white background, or the opposite black on black variant, is included.
It is important to notice that the book is not focused in recipes on “how to” do anything, like apertures, exposition or strict composition patterns. Instead, it provides an understanding of why things work the way they do and suggest adaptable patterns that can be reused or modified as the different situation require. Once this knowledge is learnt by the reader it will be easy to depict the picture you want in your mind and recreate those conditions on the real world.
As a summary, it is a very complete book for understanding light and how we can use it in photography to create the pictures we see in other media or in our minds. It is not a recipe book, neither an insight book about every kind of lightning for every situation. Is a book for understanding the principles and kinds of lightning and creating our own patters depending on the situation. A book useful not only as a source for consulting but also for thinking and reflecting about reflections. Although its limitations, some photographers consider it “the bible of illumination”.
Clearness: 4.5 / 5. (The higher the better).
Specificity: 3.5 / 5. (Higher doesn’t mean better).
Applicability: 5 / 5. (Higher tends to be better).
Graphical content: 4 / 5 (The higher, the better).
Title: Light. Science and magic.
Author: Fil Hunter; Steven Biver; Paul Fuqua.
ISBN: 978-0-415-71940-7 (paperback); 978-0-415-71941-4 (hardcover).
Have you read it? Do you have an opinion you want to share? Go ahead! Comments are open for you.