Build a Better Photograph – Book Review

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Build a Better Photograph
By Michael E. Stern

Rocky Nook Publishers
US $34.95, CAN $41.95
ISBN: 978-1-933952-18-5
133 pages

Michael E. Stern is a photographer. He’s also a scientist, business man, and an educator. In this very informative and anecdotal book, Build a Better Photograph, he walks us through what it means to be a professional photographer in the fields of Environmental Portraiture, Product Photography, 3D Scanning, and Compositing Techniques. His personal stories of how he secured certain jobs keeps us on the edge of our seats. As he relates some of his experiences working with clients in the corporate world he discloses some of the pitfalls that photographers can run into when faced with tough assignments and less than cooperative people.

Throughout this book his sense of humor is alive and apparent. Even though some of the subject matter could be considered "heavy lifting" Michael Stern keeps it professional, but light. He understands human nature as well as he knows cameras. His writing style makes reading and studying his concepts and techniques pleasurable and palatable.

Conceptualizing photographs is an art which should be practiced by all serious photographers. Mr. Stern has this down to a fine art. He explains, in detail, how this process is carried out. Using examples of his own jobs and sessions he shows us how his ideas, and some of the ideas of his associates, can morph into the decisions which will eventually create the final print.

His business skills are second to none. He understands that most of his clients have already conceptualized what they want. From there it’s up to him to take those concepts and mold them into practical and artistic techniques that not only please the client, but will please him as an artist and a photographer. When your clients are big corporations, like Disney, things can get a little dicey. But with skill, patience, and some nerve, Mr. Stern gets the job done. And he shows us how we can do that, too.

Michael Stern is a member of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals. He has learned to use his post production skills to full advantage while keeping the integrity of the finished product intact. In Build a Better Photograph you will learn how and when to use Photoshop, what tools work best for certain situations, and how to use those tools. Layers, Layer Masks, and Overlays are discussed. Step by step instructions are there for even the newest Photoshop user.

Along with the easy to read text and example pictures in Build a Better Photograph there is an included DVD which brings to life many of the examples in the book, and how the work was done. Included on the DVD is a series of Tutorials designed to show you, step by step, exactly how specific assignments were successfully completed. There is a section called Good Stuff which is basically a list of do’s and don’ts involving what Stern calls Color Factors, Photo Basics, and Roadmap to Retouching. The information here is invaluable to any and all photographers. There are also .mov files for viewing as we watch the entire crew work with props, makeup artist, and model as they build his iconic photograph, Santa Girl. The videos show how breaking down issues into smaller pieces, and how collaboration and cooperation, along with stellar leadership and humor, gets the job done. In my opinion the DVD alone is worth the price of the book.

There is a lot of theory and practical advice in this book and accompanying DVD. More than one would think given its size. For those photographers who would like a fly-on-the-wall view of what it’s like to put together large production photo sessions this book is a godsend. The amount of information offered is impressive. But even more so is the practical advice and guidance of one who has been there, done that, over and over again. It is immensely enjoyable to read. The layout, along with the DVD, is easy to follow. This is a great reference work to be used over a lifetime by those who wish to see how Michael Stern did it, and how, in turn, they can do it too.

MyMac Rating: 9 out of 10

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