Saturday, November 5, 2011

Book Review: Lighting Essentials by Don Giannatti

That age old saying, I believe, goes something like this: "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him  to fish and he eats for a lifetime". This concept is often lost when it comes to photography books. There are countless step-by-step books on the subject of photography at any given bookstore which essentially give you a fish. They show you how to do one particular thing or a given lighting setup. These books are very efficient at teaching people that one thing, but as soon as your clients get tired of that "thing", well... you have to buy the next book to learn that "other thing". Maybe that is the point; keep them coming back for more. It's good for business right?

Well, Don Giannatti is not one to sacrifice teaching to make a quick buck. I have taken two of his workshops and they are definitely the best bang for the buck workshops you will find anywhere. Don's workshops are on the low end of the cost scale compared to his peers, but he goes all out to teach you everything you need to know to start venturing out on your own. I guess that makes him a teacher first and foremost! Sounds like just the right guy to write a book on photography right?


Don follows the same principles he applies to his workshops in this book. The language is easy to understand, tone is entertaining and conversational. He strikes a very good balance between theory and practical applications of that theory. The images used throughout the book were chosen not to show-off his own portfolio of best images, but to best illustrate the concepts he is trying to get across. This is classic Don Gianatti, when he is teaching photography it's never about him. It's about you. As it should be.

This book focuses on his concept of subject-centric lighting. Rather than taking a particular lighting setup and then seeing how your subject will look in that light, Don's approach works it the other way around. How do you want your subject to look? What kind of lighting do you need to make it look like that? It's a subtle shift in the way you think about making images, but this way of thinking frees you from your lighting gear and gets you to focus on the image you want to create. After all isn't that the end goal? Do you send your clients a list of the gear you used on a particular shot? Of course not. It's not important. They care about the final image. By thinking from the subject out, you disassociate yourself from the equipment and essentially go back to basics. In fact, the book hardly discusses specific gear. It does go into the quality of light produced by umbrellas, softboxes, beauty dishes, etc... as this is critical information to know, but mostly the discussion is generalized. He focuses more on the quality of the light needed to produce a desired effect on the subject.

Another key concept of subject-centric lighting discussed in the book is pre-visualization. You must be able to picture in your head the shot you want, before you shoot it. This is something you can practice and Don goes over the process of developing this critical skill. One way is to go over this check-list to determine why you want to make this picture in the first place? What's interesting about it? It not only gets you to imagine the final image in your head, but also will improve your composition skills by getting you think about what's important and not important to include in the shot.

I would say that if you are an absolute beginner who just picked up you first SLR camera, this book is not for you. Don does not go deep into the basics of photography or off-camera lighting. He assumes you already have a basic understanding of the gear. He does go fairly deep into the basics of exposure and the relationship between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, but again it's a good balance between theory and the practical applications of that theory. You will get more out of his discussion on exposure, if you already understand the basics as he focuses more on what are the trade-offs rather than how it works. What do you give up by increasing ISO instead of opening your aperture and vice versa?

What I liked the most about this book is that it never loses sight of the main philosophy it's trying to get across. Find your purpose, visualize an image that serves that purpose and build your lighting to create that image. The book, more than anything, gets you to start thinking before pressing the shutter button. Don gives you all the skills you need to produce any image you can imagine. By not making the book about specific gear or specific techniques he really opens the door for you to create your own vision.

I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to take their photography to a new level or just in a new direction.

Don Giannatti's Lighting Essentials book is available through Amazon here.