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Required Reading

Nov 13

In Books at 7:55am

Greg Heisler and I grew up into the uncertain profession of taking pictures for magazines about the same time. Which was wonderful, as you could watch his extraordinary talents literally change the face of magazine portraiture and the use of color right then and there, in real time.  And not so wonderful, like when you would be called into a meeting with the creatives at a mag and they would throw one of his recent triumphs down on a table in front of you and say, “We want our pictures to look like this.” Gulp.

His talent is prodigious, and his grasp of what a photo needs to work is formidable. He shifts gears from fantastical colors to the simplicity of black and white with astounding dexterity.  His sense of graphics, of ways to include prescient, story telling information in a manner so subtle and richly pleasing to the eye that the reader is unconsciously being informed while simultaneously being seduced by the pictorial splendor of the frame, is nothing short of remarkable.

This book is a compendium of pictorial successes, some simple and direct, others complex and hard won, coupled with a conversational, often humorous assessment of those fraught moments behind the scenes when all things hung in the balance, awaiting the outcome of the simplest of questions. Like, “When will she come out the makeup session?”

If you are any kind of photographer, but perhaps, especially if you are a young photog, breathing fire, aching for success, poised on the verge of as yet unknown failures and successes, this book could be viewed as a letter you need to read. The time machine known as a career mellows, informs, enriches and deepens raw talent, which Greg had aplenty when he burst onto the scene in 1980 or so. As David Hobby mentioned over @strobist, some of the book feels like Greg is writing a letter to his twenty year old self. His reflections, insights, humor, and technical notes stem from a life on the pictorial edge. As he says himself, he took his biggest risks on his biggest shoots. Admirable, indeed.

One of my favorite things Greg says in his classes (and I have been to a bunch of them) is that there is a certain kind of lighting you do because it informs the picture, and shapes the message. And then there’s a kind of lighting you do BECAUSE IT LOOKS COOL. He is very matter of fact about this, which automatically frees him up from the more ponderous concerns of certain elements of photojournalism and allows him to experiment and have some fun. And fun, in any kind of photography, is key. I have worked for numerous editors in my career who were seemingly so weighed down by the gravitas of their mission (and thus, by association, their own importance in the grand scheme of things) that they literally would send you on assignment with an anguished look on their faces, as if they were sitting there with an A-clamp on their private parts. When Greg departs from reality, which he blessedly does every once in a while, his virtuoso command of color presents a visual riot, a bit like a well done sci-fi flick.

This book is a very deep pond one can take a languid dive into and be pleased and informed on so many levels. It is, absolutely, in my opinion, required reading and viewing, should one take the process of picture making seriously, or casually. It is also a refreshing turn of the road in the world of photo books. This is not a couple years experience married to a snazzy workflow. The ease with which this knowledge is imparted belies the hard won nature of it. Greg has grappled, more successfully than anyone, with that age old conundrum of seeing stories in faces, and telling them beautifully.

If there is a photog in your life, Christmas is coming. Just sayin’.

More tk…..




W Kilburg says:

on November 13, 2013 at 8:08 am

Nicely written and the praise is well placed. I bought the book the minute D Hobby wrote of receiving his copy. I help teach a lighting class for a local college and last night was our final class until spring. I took the book with and also played a video interview of Mr. Heisler for the students. None had heard of him, but they know now. About half the class (six students) drooled over the book, the other half indifferent. But those six usually hang around afterwards and talk about lighting and photography and Heisler fit right in. Great book.

Darren Elias says:

on November 13, 2013 at 8:14 am

I bought this book and threw all of my McNally books I the closet. Just kidding!

The wealth of knowledge that pros like Gregory Heisler and Joe share, elevates, inspires, and challenges any of us who hold a camera. And sometimes just leaves us in a bit of awe. Not just the execution, but the concept that was the eloquent starting point before it gets totally trashed and reworked and refined by every facet of the real world.

Thanks as always for sharing!


Gerard says:

on November 13, 2013 at 8:42 am

Wonderful review, Joe. Next stop is Amazon! :)

Nathan Chilton says:

on November 13, 2013 at 8:44 am

Thanks for the tip, Joe! Those portraits are amazing and inspiring. I’m looking forward to reading all about them!

Simon says:

on November 13, 2013 at 8:48 am

Eloquently put, Sir, Mr Heisler is one of the true greats, and hilarious to boot. I will be buying it very soon.

Bob Malone says:

on November 13, 2013 at 8:51 am

Joe, that was as well written a review as I have ever read and compelling to boot — really enjoyed your words. Greg has another sale to add to what I am sure will be a good number. And … if the photog thing doesn’t work out for you, Joe, I’d say a writing career would be a good option to consider … Just saying’

Bill says:

on November 13, 2013 at 8:56 am

Absolutely agree! It’s the finest book on portraiture I’ve ever read. Inspiring and humbling at the same time.

Roberto says:

on November 13, 2013 at 8:57 am

Thank you!

Dave Benson says:

on November 13, 2013 at 9:04 am

oh wow….

Call Me Al says:

on November 13, 2013 at 9:20 am

yes, a wonderful book from an inventive photographer and seemingly very nice guy (i’ve never met him.)

i’d say the photographs kind of look old school by now, but the lessons carry forward, and his lighting prowess is Just Amazing. i’ve been working as long as Greg (and you) and where he throws down this book of 50 portraits, i wonder if i even have one that comes close, even one…

a true original who earned and deserves his success (as do you, dear blogger.) (not sucking up, just saying’)

readers: buy it!

Patrick Downs says:

on November 13, 2013 at 11:00 am

I love the book too! Am working my way through it again slowly after a fast read. I was compelled to write about it, using it as the cornerstone for a small piece on portraiture. Great book, great photog.

HD2Dave says:

on November 13, 2013 at 11:25 am

Thank you Mr. McNally. I am incredibly excited to read this book!

Greg Lovett says:

on November 13, 2013 at 12:01 pm

I attended the very first Eddie Adams Workshop way back when and Greg was there as a faculty member. After his presentation, very late at night, he sat down with a group of us and with his tray of slides and went through every single one of them and explained how he did them. I knew right then that this man was someone special. Not just as a photographer, but as a person who cares about others. Thanks Greg, I still remember that night.

Bob says:

on November 13, 2013 at 12:59 pm

it is every bit as good as you say it is…

Charlie Cotugno says:

on November 13, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Glowing review, just reserved a copy and will pick it up later today. Can’t wait!

Hal Hagy says:

on November 13, 2013 at 7:34 pm

Now these are portraits and J. McNally is no slouch either. Heisler was an inspiration for my editorial portraits and and McNally inspired my corporate and commercial work. There were many others, but these guys are outstanding shooters and worth anyone’s time and perusal. I’m no giant, but I love good photographic imaging and they’re at the top of their game.

Barry B says:

on November 13, 2013 at 8:02 pm

Bought this book after David Hobby reviewed it and have been savoring each page since, only reading when I have the time to read, view, and absorb each session. This book has already caused me to think about my own work, both past and potential future and I’m only 1/2 way thru (note to Joe – I’ve had similar experiences with your books and DVD’s/videos/workshops).
What I also appreciate is the sharing of knowledge, insights, etc. with others in a highly competitive field. The apparent respect you guys have for each other (and I mean you guys in a broader sense)is noteworthy in today’s hypercompetitive society, and a breath of fresh air. thanks to Greg, you, David H. Scott K, and others for helping us learn from your experience, insights, and knowledge. Oh, and in case I haven’t made it clear, GO OUT AND BUY THIS BOOK (and not the ereader version – you want this in hardcover as the impact of the photography is much greater looking at it sized as it was intended to be published!

Jeremy says:

on November 13, 2013 at 10:35 pm

I have learnt a huge amount from the book already and have only read a few chapters. When I am done with it I will suggest to my wife that she read it. I think she will enjoy it, even though she has absolutely no interest in photography. That is how good it is.

Jojie C. says:

on November 14, 2013 at 7:32 am

I have bought a handful of portraiture based books. I am thinking of getting this one too. But just after I get back from an emergency trip over in America.

I like the comments that you guys made. It made it that much simpler and easier to just buy the book. I noticed in amazon.. it’s either kinder or hard copy? No pdf version or non-kindle version for people like me? Or do I just get the kindler version and what will be the pdf version?

Cindy Dyer says:

on November 14, 2013 at 7:39 am

Wow—what an amazing review! Heisler should give you royalties for all the sales that this review is going to make him! I just ordered a copy immediately after I finished reading your beautiful review.

I have one favor. If I ever publish a photo book (and I fervently hope I do), I want you to review it (favorably, of course). I think you’ll do for photography books what Oprah did for books with her book club! :-)

John says:

on November 14, 2013 at 8:35 am

Love this blog post Joe and looking very much forward to spending some time both enjoying and studying Greg’s book.

Jonathan Thompson says:

on November 14, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Dear Santa, please may I have……

Thank you Joe.

Ken Toney says:

on November 14, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Thanks Joe, it’s ordered! I was in Greg’s class at PSW 2 years ago, it was an honor to hear him speak!

Iain Anderson says:

on November 14, 2013 at 7:11 pm

I received ’50 portraits’ in the mail last week. The story behind the sitter on the cover brought tears to my eyes (I won’t give it away here). Suffice to say, what I get from this book, is a story about being human. – & Joe, don’t be so hard on yourself brother. You’ll get there one day 😉

Peter says:

on November 15, 2013 at 2:33 am

I bought it at the same time Joe was tweeting it out -:) and its mind blowing!

Tom McKean says:

on November 15, 2013 at 7:32 am

Thanks for writing about this book. I was so inspired that I just ordered it from Amazon!

Thanks Joe.

Ray Urner says:

on November 15, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Thanks for the tip, stoked to check that book out!

Greg Heisler says:

on November 15, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Joe, will you marry me? Thank you for your kind (and eloquently written) words. Coming from your esteemed self, they mean more to me than you know.

Kristin Linnea Backe says:

on November 17, 2013 at 12:41 pm

Tempting, I must say

Kristin Linnea Backe says:

on November 17, 2013 at 12:41 pm

And thank you!

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