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Painting with a Lens: 07/25/16

Painting with a Lens by Rod Deutschmann

Painting with a Lens by Rod Deutschmann and Robin Deutschmann is another of the many photography books I've read recently as a way to hone my craft. This one teaches photographers how to stop relying on the automatic settings and explore the options available through manual shooting.

I've been a photographer most of my life, learning with my grandmother's cameras and moving on to my own. Since 2012, I've been using an Olympus Pen Micro 4/3 camera, my first time having a camera with interchangeable lenses and the freedom to really explore a wide range of photographic techniques previously difficult or impossible with point and shoot cameras.

I have to admit that early on in Painting with a Lens I was seriously considering throwing the book across the room. I didn't because it was a library book and I really do want to improve my photography. There are lots of good tips here but they should be taken with a sense of humor.

Why the negative reaction? The Deutschmanns have an abrasive tone of voice. Many how-to books start by the author bragging about their superiority and expertise. When technology's involved (say camera equipment, for instance), the bragging can get extremely unpleasant fast. This comes in the form of: my set up and my method is the ONLY way to do it properly; If you don't follow my way, you are a poser and should be ashamed.

In photography the "correct method" divides along a line of: strictly in camera (with specific set up, usually a specific type of camera and tripod) vs. a fast and loose approach (handheld, automatic or presets, with lots of photo editing on the computer). Old books also get into the film vs. digital fight with supporters in equal amounts on either side of the argument.

The Deutschmanns are firmly, unapologetically in the "manual camera only" camp, though they are interestingly, not strictly pro-tripod. They suggest carrying a variety of beanbags to hold the camera against things available on location (walls, rocks, etc). Where I take exception to their advice is on the "no touch up in the computer" part of their thesis. Whether it's on a computer or in the darkroom, photographers have been fiddling with their results in the printing to paper stage for as long as there have been cameras. It is part of the creative process.

Once I got over arguing about post-processing with the book (which is silly because books don't talk back), I settled down to read the rest of the book to see if there was some useful (to me) advice.

There was: the importance of working in a fully manual mode. In all honesty, until I read Painting with a Lens, I hadn't made any attempts to turn of auto focus. I had been playing with apertures, shutter speeds, and white balance in camera, but not actually focusing my photos myself. In the nearly three years I'd had my PEN, I hadn't figured out how to turn off autofocus. So, I made that my new goal.

Oh my goodness. The world opened anew for me. I could finally see with my camera the way I wanted to. It was an empowering and frightening experience.

Three stars

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