Review of The Weekend Photographer by John Van Put, a book aimed at amateur photographers shooting for themselves while traveling.
The author says from the get-go that he’s not a professional photographer (although, with the book published, it would seem a distinction without a difference). He writes in the introduction:
From the outset, I should make it clear that I am not a professional photographer nor is it a profession I should wish to pursue on a full-time basis. As the name of the book suggests, I only do photography on the weekend unless I am on holidays over a prolonged period of time.
But, he says, photography is an important part of his life, “a great form of escapism from the day-to-day grind of my everyday job.”
As a weekend photographer, I am my own critic and the manner by which it is done is not considered or commanded by anyone else. I sense that if it became a major source of income or a deliverable item for someone else’s expectation, then I would lose the very basic principle and fabric for what I currently do and enjoy.
In short: he takes photos for himself. And he does it for the fun of it. And that’s the reader the book is aimed at.
As a photographer, Van Paul has an eye for the dramatic. The photos are culled from his collection taken while traveling abroad in New York, Washington DC, Florence, Rome, Hong Kong, Paris, and Amsterdam, Niagara Falls, and Baltimore. But Van Paul has the good fortune to live in a world-class area for photographers: Sydney. And it’s Sydney and its environs that contribute are the subjects of most of the photos in the book. The book is organized thematically into chapters on City, Nature, Seascapes, High Definition Range (HDR), Night, Landscapes, Sepia and Monochrome, and Sunsets and Storms.
The gist of the book is: “Here are some photos I took that I like. And here’s how I did it.” Each photo has shooting information with it. Many of them just have exposure settings. Most of the shots were taken with fairly expensive higher-end gear like the Canon EOS 5D MkII rather than entry-level DSLRs, Micro Four Thirds, or point-and-shoots.
While the book is nominally focused on taking the shot, most of the photos are heavily cooked in post-processing. For many of the most dramatic shots, you can’t simply go out and shoot the photo that’s published–it requires the help of processing software, especially with HDR, or high dynamic range, photography. But the nuts and bolts of the post-processing is never explained except in passing. For a part of the image-making process that is so integral to how these images were made, that’s a significant omission.
The book contains minimal text. When there is, it typically explains how the photographer approached the challenges of shooting in that particular location or some brief remarks about the location, but it rarely offers much detail that you could apply in your own shooting.
Bottom Line: This isn’t a book that every photographer is going to love or find useful. If you’re after a detailed guide, there are better options available. If you’re in the target audience (amateur photographers taking photos for themselves) and you are looking to take dramatic location photos, this book will give you plenty of examples of those kinds of shots and provide some insight into the decisions that went into those photos. Nearly all the images are heavily processed–many with HDR–and that can either be a positive or a negative depending on your photographic tastes.
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