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Review: Image Interpretation Techniques

a new eBook from Bruce Percy

in Book Reviews , Thursday, August 29, 2013

The internet has brought about a huge change in book publishing. In the “old days”, getting a book published meant getting a publisher, an editor, a designer, a printer, a distributor and probably a lawyer or two. All this presented a high bar to entry, and although self-publishing, at a range of levels, could work, generally you had to jump through the hoops, and this provided a reasonable quality filter. Nowadays all you need is a desktop publishing application and a web service.

One area which has bloomed in this new world are photography “how to” eBooks. There are countless examples on offer, on topics ranging from the ultra-specialist to getting started guides, and quality ranging from absolute crap to excellent. And with wide ranges of pricing to match.

There are various ways to evaluate eBook quality, including design, layout, writing, photography and content. They don’t always come together - I have examples of eBooks which look gorgeous, but where the content is a severe let-down, basic to the point of laughable. I’ve also had to hack through jungles of mangled prose delivered with all the grace of a 3rd rate corporate PowerPoint presentation, to get to a kernel of valuable information. I haven’t come across many photography eBooks which tick all of these quality criteria, but of those that do, several come from the (digital) pen of Bruce Percy.

His latest eBook, “The Digital Darkroom: Image Interpretation Techniques” doesn’t really break any new ground - in fact the topic has been done to death by the likes of Michael Freeman, John Paul Caponigro, Alain Briot, David duChemin and a host of others - but it just does it better, by avoiding mystification and waffle, and bringing a very welcome clarity of expression to the table.

The topic is essentially an extension of ideas about image composition, discussing how you can use digital darkroom tools to help to lead the eye and to enhance the composition you made in the field. There is no discussion of technology here, just the ways in which generic software tools can be used. This in stark contrast to another eBook I purchased not so long ago, on Dodging and Burning, which I expect to cover similar ground, but was actually a sumptuously designed never ending rundown of various things you can do in Lightroom. I don’t even use bloody Lightroom. While I expected it to be an enjoyable read, I didn’t necessarily expect to learn that much from Bruce’s book, thinking that I already know this stuff, and that anyway it will be applicable principally to Bruce’s very distinctive style. I found out I was quite wrong, on both counts.

The book starts off by discussing visual paths through an image, and how the eye can get attracted - or distracted - by some sometimes quite innocuous areas. Where often people will tend to boost things, like saturation or contrast, Bruce shows that locally reducing such parameters can be more effective in achieving a good balance. It also helps that his example photos are pretty good from the outset, in that it the subtle enhancements he makes are all the more impressive in their effect. A set of case studies demonstrates various techniques, and includes the application to portraiture as well as landscape. I have to say the book immediately made me take a closer look at the photos I’ve recently been editing, and inspired to add some touches I otherwise would not have thought of. I have my own approach to enhancing areas of images, and actually it uses a tool which Bruce doesn’t cover - but that’s all for the better, as seeing things from his perspective can only add value to mine.

Getting back to design, typography and layout, it is clear that Bruce Percy, unlike far too many photographers, not only cares about such things, but is skilled at them. It makes a big difference - so many pundits on photographic style preach from the most horrifically designed eyesores of websites.
On a final point, the vast majority of eBooks I find are of the “read once, delete” variety. This one is quite the opposite, being both a rewarding read, and a reference I’ll come back to many times.

There’s a lot packed into the 37 pages, and although the presentation is clear and easy to follow, it isn’t necessarily suitable for complete beginners. Oh, and one more thing: at £9.99,“The Digital Darkroom: Image Interpretation Techniques” is pretty expensive for an eBook. But there are those that know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Unless you fit in that category, I thoroughly recommend this eBook, and indeed the others you can find on Bruce’s web site.

Posted in category "Book Reviews" on Thursday, August 29, 2013 at 11:11 PM

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