Book Review 2011 #12: Creative Lighting

Creative Lighting
A book by Harold Davis
A review by Paul Weimer

Harold Davis is a well-known, award winning photographer based out of California, but with a suite and portfolio of pictures from around the world. He has a written a number of books on photography, most notably the “Creative” series.
Creative Lighting: Digital Photography Tips and Techniques is the latest of the latter series of books. Creative Lighting’s mission and goals are to allow photographers to take better pictures by taking advantage of, and in some cases, manipulating the light available for photographs. While a small section at the end explores how to use Photoshop to work with High Dynamic Range photography and other effects, Davis keeps the bulk of the book grounded for dealing with and creating situations in the field and in the studio.
Within each of the major sections of the book, Davis has a wide assortment of topics, usually only a couple of pages long, with one or more photographs to illustrate the technique or subtopic. The photographs are a strong point of the book. The sheer variety of the photographs in the book used to illustrate various ideas in lighting is absolutely amazing. From an underexposed model, to a high-key flower, from a simple picture of San Francisco, to a grand HDR panorama of the California mountains put together with Photoshop, Davis’ photography takes center stage.
With these beautiful photographs, Davis provides full information on the the lens and settings, and usually explains what he was trying to do with a particular photograph. In this way, Davis allows the reader-photographer an entrée into his mind and thought patterns. He often tells us what the light is doing, and how he is trying to make best use of it.
Those strong thought patterns I just mentioned dominate the book. Readers who have read Davis’ work before are aware of it, but new readers to his books might be surprised by Davis’ strong point of view. He has his likes, his biases and he is not shy about expressing them to readers. He is a strong believer, for instance, in photographers sticking to manual mode whenever possible. Many of the photos show his opinions and point of view as well.
While the ambient and natural lighting portions of the book are well done and well written, the real value of the book comes when Davis brings the readers into his studio, or enhances the natural lighting of a scene with fill lighting and other techniques. The book is replete with diagrams of his set ups that correspond to a nearby picture in the book that uses that particular scenario. As someone who has never taken a photograph with anything fancier than a camera’s flash, I was fascinated to finally be able to understand how to use some additional tools and techniques to change, adapt and increase the lighting of a subject.
There are a few minor shortcomings in the book, but not many. I was surprised, for instance, that while he discusses the classic exposure triangle of Aperture, ISO and Shutter Speed, for instance, he never actually lays out the diagram. While I am not a visual learner, I felt that the diagram is practically expected in books that cover the exposure triangle. Also, the breakneck pace of topics, rarely lingering on them for more than a couple of pages, might turn off some readers. The ordering of some of the early sections, too, could have been changed. A few times, I found that I needed to jump forward a bit to understand an aspect of a topic before returning to the main flow of the topic.
Overall, this book seems to be targeting post-beginners to digital photography, people who have been using their DSLR for a while, and are seeking to improve their game with using light to best effect. I think the book hits its mark. True experts in the field may only find value in the considerable inspiration that Davis’ photos bring, and complete neophytes are going to trip themselves up on Davis’ assumption that readers know the basics of the craft. However, for people in between who are looking to learn more about how to use lighting in their photographs, I recommend this book unreservedly. Fans and avid readers of Mr. Davis’ other works will find much to like here, as well.