Reviewed by Gary Alech
It is widely acknowledged that a picture is worth a thousand words. Just how many words that picture, read photograph, is truly worth is dependent on the skill set and the physical and emotional connectedness of the photographer and the viewer. There are numerous technological aspects to photography. Ultimately the question is whether or not you can master the camera so that you and your subject become a single entity, assisted by an almost automatic understanding of the workings of the camera. How often have you marvelled at a landscape, or tried to document a moment in time, only to be disappointed whilst viewing your finished product? Experience and experimentation are sound tutors, but an efficient shortcut is to glean the knowledge of an expert. An expert who can break down and disseminate information in a user-friendly way, whilst encouraging you to have a go.
As a keen amateur photographer, I have perused many teach-yourself books over the years; some helpful, some not so. How would Complete Photography by Chris Gatcum rate? Upon looking at the front cover, two word groups jumped out at me – ‘jargon-free’ and ‘the best photos from any camera’. That, along with ‘basics’ and ‘techniques and composition’, caught my attention.
Initially, a quick flick through Complete Photography revealed that this contained plenty of information for both the beginner and the seasoned photographer. The main points appeared to be well illustrated, either by grouped photographs, tables or succinct diagrams. Time to get out my trusty Pentax K-7, a DSLR, and get to work. In Complete Photography, the author, Chris Gatcum, has a key message of getting the camera to speak to you through the images it produces.
Of concern to me has been my employment of flash photography. It has been challenging to get the correct balance of exposure, generally resulting in too light or too dark an image. I was pleased to find a substantial chapter on this aspect, particularly emphasising exposure compensation, detailing the use of half- and third-stops, and a variety of ways to achieve good results through ISO, shutter speed or aperture. The latter being more related to ambient light but still a valid point. After digesting this chapter, I did have an enhanced understanding of flash photography. Putting this into practice, I could see an improvement in my results. Not perfectly to my satisfaction, but with newly-acquired knowledge and continued practice, I feel confident that I’ll get there.
Sometimes the value of a manual is in reminding you of what you do know but, at times, neglect to consider. Take, for example, the Rule of Thirds, composition which recommends a particular position of the subject within the frame, generally placing that subject either a third across or a third down or up. How frequently do we forget this simple but powerful suggestion? Similarly with aspect ratio. I appreciated the reminder on camera care, an oft-neglected topic. Complete Photography acts as both a distinct learning tool and a refresher course, information ranging from very basic, such as labelling the camera components to advanced, such as using the histogram correctly to finely adjust colour tone.
Another aspect of perfecting colour is learning to use white balance proficiently so that blue, green, magenta and amber are in a harmonious proportion. To be made aware that auto white balance is not as effective as manual was an eye opener for me. The how-to is supported well by both table and colour-grid diagram.
Chris Gatcum promised no jargon and he delivered. I appreciated his analogy of filling a bucket to explain, in simple terms, the ‘exposure trinity’ of photography – ISO, aperture and shutter speed. His description was very visual and is now cemented in my brain.
I have to mention how well presented the Table of Contents is, each area broken down and then further broken down so that the reader can access the particular need or area of interest most efficiently. Being so detailed, I even found very interesting items I wasn’t looking for, such as hyperfocal distance and focus stacking. A word of praise also for the glossary.
Of interest to me was that, in this book, Chris Gatcum is not the sole photographer. He has showcased and named a number of photographers according to their areas of specialisation, including fashion, landscape, sports, portrait, interiors, food, still-life, street, wildlife, architecture, abstract, retouching and documentary photography. Each area contains a mini masterclass and top tips. This is a fine collaboration, and reminds me of the value of working with others.
Also of particular interest to me was the information on lenses. We all understand how crucial a good lens is, but I now can clearly see the pitfalls of the imperfect lens and how to spot one. The more I look through Complete Photography, the more my hands itch to get out and start snapping.
I had always appreciated traditional film photography and the author has re-sparked my enthusiasm in this by not only acknowledging its value but delving into darkroom processes and techniques. When photographs and instructions are as clear as this, it is hard not to be enthusiastic. This book has absolutely encouraged me to dust off a number of my old cameras.
My overall rating of Complete Photography by Chris Gatcum? I believe that the information that the author has conveyed in this book is exceptionally well supported, easy to read and digest, and works. I was able to be enlightened on all the aspects of photography that I sought out. This IS the complete photography book.
Chris Gatcum has had a passion for photography for over twenty years and has been a professional photographer, a specialist magazine editor and journalist. He is a best-selling author who is as comfortable with traditional photography as he is with digital.
By Chris Gatcum