Making Sense of Technical Books

Does it really make sense to be reading and learning about all those technical parts in photography? Might it be books on “digital photography” or “35mm film photography”, does it really help to read all that and can you actually implement that information in your work?

I speak to a lot of friends about technical parts in photography and most tend to be uninterested. In fact most people would consciously admit that they don’t want to learn or be bothered by the technical parts of photography. One of the most memorable example of this is the legendary & truly inspiring fashion photographer Tim Walker (interview). He says in his interview that he never really wanted to be a photographer because of the technical aspects involved and how his idea was changed because he had a great teacher.

Tim Walker For Vogue

So why is technical part important? In a old conversation with a master printer (Anil Sahab in Delhi who makes prints in his New Delhi lab for Raghu Rai and Raghubir Singh) I came upon a really interesting quote.

“What is the difference between a amateur and a professional photographer? An amateur takes a picture and then sees the print whereas the professional sees the print even before the picture is taken”

Just to make that clear, as you grow in photography and ideas of pictures, you will need to support those ideas with knowledge. Because without understanding light, the equipment you’re using or the subject’s intricacies, you’ll end up with something completely different or of considerably lower quality. A simple example is a recent show I attended by Zeb & Hania in Bombay. The event photographer was standing right besides me the whole time with his dslr, shooting. Noticing him working at 1600iso with a 18-55 lens, I asked him why didn’t he switch to a faster lens and a lower iso. His prompt reply was because he was standing close by and it didn’t matter. Well unfortunately for him it did matter (later I was speaking to the event organizers and they were a unhappy with the pictures). The reason this happened was because the photographer didn’t quite understand the light and pushed the camera to compensate for the lack of knowledge.

So whats the solution? Read, read as much as you can about the equipment you’re using or about photography. Not all information would be helpful right away but no information is worthless. Also when reading about film photography, you’ll find a lot of outdated articles (like how to use slide copiers or how to merge images or superimpose in the darkroom) which you might feel are totally redundant. But I’d recommend just reading through them because the new software based processes are designed on the very same principles. This information can easily be ported into the digital base you might be working on, specially in post production.

The 35MM Handbook bought off the street in Bombay for less than 10$

Another great thing is that a lot of people buy these books and sell them to used book stores. You’ll find them in abundance in these shops, cheap and amazingly affordable. Pick up one of them and just read it through. You’ll be surprised how much new information can come out of these readings and trust me, you’ll be able to handle your camera better and understand light much better too.

And if you need some reading recommendations in technical area :

  • 35MM Handbook – Micheal Freeman
  • Ansel Adams Series : The Camera, The Negative, The Print
  • Understanding Exposure : Bryan Peterson


2 thoughts on “Making Sense of Technical Books

  1. This is the reason why I want to stock up on photography books. The basic and old ones that really teach you techniques, and not the modern digital photography magazines which tell you how to take photos and simply retouch them after. As they say all the time, learn the rules before you break them!

    Yes, no information is really worthless!

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