Lighting and Design for Portrait Photography
Author: Neil van Neikerk
Publisher: Amherst Media
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5 (2 Reviews)
Family Friendly: True
Lighting and Design for Portrait Photography is the fourth book published by Neil van Niekerk – one of the acknowledged masters of flash photography and manipulation of light – and for me represents a big departure from his previous style of writing and his approach to teaching this particular aspect of photography.
"Lighting and Design for Portrait Photography is the fourth book published by Neil van Niekerk…."
His previous books, On-Camera Flash, Off-Camera Flash and Direction and Quality of Light, show how to date van Niekerk has concentrated on detailed description of the techniques of on-camera and off-camera flash, and, put somewhat crudely, the management of sources of light to their best effect in photography.
Lighting and Design is instead a series of short, sharp tutorials that each take no more than a double page spread. In this, this book is more like a snapshot of some of the fundamentals described in van Niekerk’s Tangents Blog. Indeed, comparing to Tangents, one can see that this, in the main, is exactly what it is – each double page spread is a more detailed, extensive and illustrated description of the material available on Tangents.
To this end, I feel that Lighting and Design, for more so than any other of van Niekerk’s previous books, is not really suitable to read as a stand-alone volume without a significant amount of experience with a camera and camera lighting. Whilst I’ve suggested in my previous reviews of van Niekerk’s books that they are far better read together, one can nevertheless see that each can still be read and its materials absorbed in their own right. This does not appear to be the case for this book – it is far better considered as, and read, as a companion to On-Camera Flash and Off-Camera Flash, and as an extension volume to Direction and Quality of Light.
All that does sound a bit negative, but it’s not intended to be. The quality of the work presented is excellent. Whilst the first three books provide essential learning for the manipulation of light sources, Lighting and Design then gives a series of intensive lessons as to how to apply that learning.
And, whilst a lot of this material can be gleaned through Tangents, this is a ‘long trawl’ compared to the condensed lessons Lighting and Design represents; furthermore, Lighting and Design represents van Niekerk’s most recent thinking, approaches and inspiration on the subject of lighting, whereas the route to this thinking can be followed by reading Tangents – as any long time reader such as myself can testify. Both routes are interesting in their own right, so it really depends on what you wish to gain. For faster application, Lighting and Design is clearly the route of choice.
What impresses me most about this book is the range of subject matter covered; from indoor and outdoor photography on location and studio portrait lighting to idea development, composition, posing and directing, each is exemplified by a series of the aforementioned short lessons.
Clearly these lessons do not have to be read in any particular order, so dipping in and out of the material without loosing any context is quite easily achieved; you can spend a couple of minutes just brushing up. Conversely, you can spend a few hours or more and fully immerse yourself in the short lessons relating to one of the main topics with equal ease. The beauty of this book is that it allows for both approaches without confusing the reader, so you can happily choose whichever approach best suits your particular circumstances.
This leads me to my one criticism of this book: I really don’t think that it can be read, as a stand-alone volume, by anyone with less than a good working of knowledge of photography in general and lighting methods in particular. It is most definitely a book for those at the intermediate to advanced level, and even then I would still recommend it be read with any or all of van Niekerk’s previous books (or other equivalent material).
An excellent, detailed look at lighting in photography as presented through a series of short lessons that also build up to several more detailed general subject areas.
This book can be read as learning for either, or both, depending on your needs at the time, but I would recommend reading only in conjunction with van Niekerk’s other Amherst Media books as a source of more general learning on this subject. As a stand-alone volume, it does not – and clearly is not intended – to achieve this.
All the best,
Chasing Rays Photography.