Friday, November 19, 2010

Book Review: "Captured by the Light" by David Ziser

As an amateur family photographer, I often look to techniques of event photographers, especially wedding photographers.  Wedding photogs have to contend with most of the same challenges that we family photographers face: quickly changing environments, little or no time for setup, subjects moving around all the time, etc.  You know what I'm talking about.  That's why shooting weddings is one of the most difficult disciplines in photography.
One successful and well-known wedding photographer with decades of experience is David Ziser.  David also runs a blog ( for aspiring and current wedding photographers.  His blog is amazing.  I don't know how he finds the time or energy to put out so much quality content with such frequency.  I give his blog my highest recommendation.
A few months ago, David released with a how-to book for wedding photographers, called Captured by the Light.  It took me a while to review it because it's very densely packed with information. 
David's book is a fairly comprehensive and self-contained guide on wedding photography.  He begins with a discussion of portrait lighting -- appropriately so because it forms the foundation of the lighting we try to achieve in wedding photos (many of which are environmental portraits).  From there, David discusses different ways of using the flash, both on-camera and off-camera, with and without modifiers in order to create beautiful wedding photos while dealing with many challenges.  David then discusses composition techniques and gives examples of how he applies those techniques to his wedding photos.  David follows with a detailed description of the equipment he uses (cameras, lenses, etc.) and explains how he uses each tool.  Finally, David narrates a full wedding day, describing the usual sequence of events and what he does in each phase.
Throughout the book, David provides very specific instructions and detailed explanations, leaving nothing for us to guess.  Step 1: do X. Step 2: do Y. etc. etc.  It's practically a hands-on tutorial.  His writing is clear, down-to-earth, and interesting, and the sample photos and diagrams illustrate his points very clearly.
Almost all of the techniques in the book are directly applicable to family and candid photography and are very useful.  That said, if you are passionate about photography and have been learning this stuff for a while, not all of the techniques will be new to you. 
Criticisms: nothing significant really.  Perhaps I could say that sometimes his approach sounds too precise and rigid.  However, anyone would have the common sense to experiment and deviate as needed.
I also need to mention if it's not obvious that although this book a comprehensive how-to guide, it's not intended for the beginning photographer who has zero knowledge.  You have to know at least the basics of exposure, TTL flash, and manual flash.  You don't have to be an expert but you should at least know the basic stuff. (Where would you get those basics?  How about starting here on this blog! :) )
Another potential issue for those who are planning to use these techniques for family photography -- some of his techniques require an assistant.  For family photographers, a light stand or helpful passerby may fill that role.
In summary, this book is an excellent resource not just for wedding photographers but family and candid photographers as well.  David's book covers just about everything you need to know to cover 95% of challenges in event photography, and if you pay attention, you can probably learn enough to invent solutions to the remaining 5%.  It's well written and full of beautiful photos that will inspire you.  I give it 5 stars.

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