Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Book Review: The Rules of Photography and When to Break Them by Haje Jan Kamps

"You've got to know the rules before you break them." 

If it were only that simple. "The Rules of Photography and When to Break Them" sounds like solid subject matter for the aspiring photographer, but it's method of presenting the material is based on a faulty assumption: you either follow the rule or you don't. This creates the logical fallacy of equal presentation time: if you have two sides to the story, then you must devote equal attention to both sides. That's not the best way to critically think about things, but it is the way in which the subject matter is presented: here is the rule and here is how to break it. The problem that arises from this is that there isn't a deep discussion about how often a photographic rule should be broken, and when it is best to stay within the lines.

For example, the only pertinent answer to the question of "When is it okay to take a portrait with a wide-angle lens?" would be "If you have to ask, then you shouldn't try." In other words, the subject of focal lengths isn't an either/or situation: there are focal lengths that most definitely work better than others. Wide-angle portraiture can create some interesting and memorable images, but by all means, the vast majority of your portraits should be done at "portrait length" focal lengths.

That is the fundamental flaw with Haje Jan Kamps' presentation, but it is an understandable one as the rule/break-rule format lends itself to easy reading. Pretty much the whole book is example/counter-example... e.g., "Use the rule of thirds" followed by "When to Center an Image." If anything, the whole idea of "rule breaking" is a conceit meant to draw the reader in, as many of the counter examples aren't actually about breaking rules, but about following alternative ones. There are some important ideas presented in this book, but with some of the ideas, the concept of rule/break-rule is stretched a bit thin.

In all fairness, a beginning photographer could learn a few things by reading through this work, but at 176 pages it is primarily about initial exposure to core photographic concepts. There's enough material to encourage someone to try new shooting techniques, but since the writing gives example/counter-examples equal weighting it is more of an inspirational work than it is an instructive one. In other words, the writing is short and to the point, but there isn't a deep understanding that is being imparted. As a means of reference, its not something that you would revisit time and time again.

Being a work about photography, a word must also be said about the examples given: they are not of the highest calibre. That is not to say that they are not good quality, but they are not always fully illustrative of the concept. Describing a picture with words is one kind of difficult but distilling a concept into a single image is another. Simply put, the images used in this book are not up to the standard from the leaders in photographic instruction. The reason why becomes clear when you reach the back of the book and find multiple credits to various microstock agencies: iStockphot, Shutterstock, Fotolia and Photocase...

"The Rules of Photography and When to Break Them" is not without its merit, but there are better choices, both in terms of immediate usefulness and as long-term references.

1 comment:

  1. Great photographers know when to break all rules to get interesting and unique photos.I have a photography blog where I explained about Sunny 16 Rule.

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