Borkware Photoblog

January 29, 2008

Just finished reading: Photos That Inspire

Filed under: Books, Burn It — Mark Dalrymple @ 4:37 pm

Cover of Photos That Inspire

Rating: Borrow It Burn It

(edit: After having read other books since this one, the less well Photos that Inspires wears. Spend your money on something else, like Joe McNally’s book instead)

So far I’ve been pretty pleased with the PhotoWorkshop books I have read – they’re the ones with the orange stripe along the cover and along the spine, and are easy to spot in the bookstore. They have interesting, useful content, and also have sets of exercises for you to do after each chapter.

Photos That Inspire has been a disappointment in comparison to the other PW books. Perhaps that’s why it was the only PW book left on the shelf at the local Border’s. The book itself is a photo per page, sometimes straddling two pages, with a paragraph or two of light intro, and a paragraph or two of photographer’s statement. The editor’s intros are generally vague, but occasionally offering a nugget of useful information. The photographer’s statements are mostly of the “I was doing something, then happened upon this shot” variety, with the occasional over-the-top I Am An Artist self-indulgence. There are also no exercises, even though the word from the publisher and the PhotoWorkshop blurb on the back cover mentions them.

The quality of the photos are hit and miss. Many aren’t better than what you’ll find by randomly trawling through Flikr. This is not surprising since these are taken from the user community of There are a few really nice ones (I loved “Beggar”, the cat), but most are just “eh”. Many have technical problems that are waved away with “I intentionally made this blurry to give it an impressionistic feel!” explanations. Even the front-cover photograph is highly processed and out of focus.

The editing is also careless. The inclusion of technical details are fine (camera, lens, f/stop, shutter speed, iso, film type), but much of the same kind of data is inconsistently presented, such as “Camera 20D digital SLR”, “Canon EOS 20D digital SLR”, and “Canon 20D digital SLR”. These are all within 10 pages of each other. Some is also incorrect, such as calling a Canon SD-800 IS a “digital SLR” (which it isn’t – it’s a very nice point and shoot). Saying “that’s how the users input the data” isn’t an excuse – that’s what editing is for.

In the action and sports chapter, the term “panning” is used easily a half dozen times in the editor intros, and then the next to last photo in the chapter has “you need to follow the subject with your camera in one smooth movement during the exposure. This technique is known as panning.” Better editing would have had this statement before all of the other uses. One orchid picture utilizes “an aperture of 1/60 because he was using flash” (ok, it’s a think-o). Also, the “grasshopper” is actually a praying mantis.

One final oddity is that well over 70% of the photos are on Canon equipment. Most of the Nikon photos are film SLRs, and there’s a smattering of exotic brands all sharing the other 30%. The proportions definitely don’t jive with things like Flickr’s camera finder.

I had not visited before writing this, and on the site I noticed they have an “alliance” with Canon, which kind of makes me suspect of the criteria used to choose the photos. Actually, this seems like a good plan – get money from customers so they can be considered for publication (Showcase level), and also get money from Canon from their alliance, and so feature their products in the books. There’s probably nothing nefarious going on (and it’s just capitalism if it were) – I bet the community there has a higher proportion of Canon hardware users than others given the Alliance. Knowing that, though, I know what filter to read PW materials through.

With all that negativity aside, it was a diverting couple of hours flipping through the book. If a library or a friend has it, it’s worth borrowing for an evening or two, or flip through it at a bookstore. But I wouldn’t buy it again.


1 Comment »

  1. A lot of companies use written works to sublty promote their own (or others)products.

    I personally find it distasteful. If they are going to promote products instead of providing information then they should clearly state it on the book. Something like “Brought to you By and Cannon”.

    At least that way you expect it when you purchase the book.

    Comment by ebookguru — January 29, 2008 @ 4:59 pm

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