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REVIEW: Digital Portrait Photography and Lighting

Digital Photography and Lighting book cover “A portrait is a likeness.” Digital Portrait Photography and Lighting by Catherine Jamieson and Sean McCormick (published by Wiley) starts with this simple definition and premise and goes on to declare that “the photographic portrait may well be one of the more important social tools we have.” It’s no secret that I love making portraits—it’s probably my favorite type of photograph. So I was excited to finally find some time to read this book.

The book is organized logically starting with a quick fly-by of the various styles of portrait photography and briefly examines the “whos and whys” of portraits. Although the book is decidedly about technique, Chapter 2 gives a good primer on equipment with a special emphasis on what is and isn’t important for portraits. Chapter 3 is another brief but valuable introduction to the mechanics of lighting, important knowledge regardless of the type of photographs you want to make. Because lighting is so important, it’s no surprise it is an integral part of many of the following chapters.

The remaining chapters focus tenaciously on techniques. Everything you can think of is in there with many, many full-color example photos highlighting each technique. Composition, posing, outdoors and indoors, props, existing light, flash, studio and on-location, weather considerations—it’s all covered. The final three chapters focus on digital post-production techniques (the “digital darkroom”). Mimicking the structure of the strictly photographic portion of the book, this section covers equipment and then goes on to explain a variety of very useful techniques.

The book is so ambitious in its breadth of subjects that it necessarily can’t go into a tremendous amount of detail on each one. However, I found the amount of detail to be just right, and usually found good tips or advice on every single page.

Digital Portrait Photography and Lighting takes aim at a couple of groups: photographers who want to elevate their portraits from “snapshot” status and people who are new to digital darkroom techniques. If you’re looking for excruciating detail about any particular subject (environmental lighting techniques, for example), I’m sure you can find a 200 page specialty book that covers only that topic. But if you want a broad and solid portrait photography foundation, you can’t do much better than this book. Recommended.

[Note: Two of my photographs are in the book but I make no money from its sale and I bought my own copy for review. I paid $30 for it at Borders but Amazon has it right now for $20.]

John Watson

John is the original founder of Photodoto, but after running it for 4 years he had to focus on different things. If you're interested in what John has been up to recently, you can check is personal blog or browse his photo blog.