Photograph Your Own Art and Craft || Susie Ahlburg

If only they’d left “your own” out of the title! The fact of the matter is that this is a book for photographers and not for artists who just want to record their work. It’s perfectly true that, to get top-quality results, you need a studio and a lot of expensive equipment; this much becomes apparent as you progress. In reality, probably the most useful section is the two pages at the end on “Commissioning a professional photographer”. If you want the sort of results that are illustrated, that’s the best thing you can do.

I do happen to believe that there is a need for a basic guide to recording artworks that’s aimed at creative people who want the best quality record they can achieve – but who can’t afford or can’t justify calling in a professional – but the reality is that it could probably be covered in a couple of magazine articles. It’s just a question of realising the limitations of your equipment, using the best light you can find and – please – getting the damn thing in focus.

As a photographer myself, I gained a great deal from this book and also found much to admire. If you want to look at good quality images of mostly 3-dimensional objects (there’s nothing here for painters), there are plenty to choose from. As examples of the sort of results you’d be looking for from a professional, they’re also invaluable, but it soon becomes apparent that even a keen amateur is going to have trouble matching them. As a photographer, I was also able to understand the technical stuff which is, to be fair, explained very simply. However, when I showed the book to someone with little technical expertise (but a good eye for a picture), they were completely at sea – something I did to confirm what I already suspected.

I am also concerned by some of the content. In the context of what the book purports to be, the section on the use of film can only be seen as a digression – film may have its attractions for the specialist but, for the simple purposes of record, it’s now so difficult to get processed that it’s really not practical. Additionally, some of the equipment illustrated looks a little dated and I can’t help wondering whether the book hasn’t been hanging around for a while. There are also some statements that really need to come with a health warning, such as “lenses for SLR film cameras are interchangeable with lenses for digital SLR cameras as long as they have the same lens mount” – yes, but also as long as they have the same set of electrical connections, or the auto-focus and, more importantly, the auto-exposure systems won’t work. Stick an old lens on a modern camera and you’ll need a separate light meter at least – assuming you can get the camera to work at all; they can be a bit picky.

As an introduction to photographing artworks, the book has quite a lot to recommend it although, because it so quickly falls into the realms of the specialist, much of the basic information, such as the (commendably clear) explanation of depth of field, is going to be superfluous. Once we get to the practical considerations of lighting, backgrounds and composition, everything gets onto a more sure footing and the student of photography may find themselves well informed. I think we’ll have lost the artists by that point, however.

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