The latest offering from photographer Henry Carroll comes in the form of Read This If You Want To Take Great Photographs Of People. Published by Laurence King, this is the follow up to the hugely successful Read This If You Want To Take Great Photographs and it certainly packs just as much of a punch.
There are a lot of photography books out there that aim to sell you on an idea that they can turn you from an amateur into a professional with a single purchase. It’s a common business technique that applies to many areas and it preys on those who wish to compensate their lack of time or skill, with their availability of money. More often than not, these books are huge tomes, which include a comprehensive database of everything you may possibly need.
Read This If You Want To Take Great Photographs Of People does not fall into this category. This is a book that does not extend beyond its reach. In fact, despite what the title may suggest, this isn’t even a book that claims to be the answer to all your problems.
This begins with the structure. The book is small. Coming in at roughly A5 size and 128 pages, this isn’t a block of wood. This is accessible, and its size is the first indicator of that. The problem with any photography craft books that I’ve come across in the past is that they’re impractical. Photography isn’t something normally done on a couch at home where you will likely always have your library on hand. No, photography is a living breathing process done in the streets, in the city, in life itself.
Unlike most self-help authors, Carroll understands this. This book is efficient to the degree of military precision. You won’t find a word in there that isn’t needed, and therefore, he has created a book that any working photographer can throw into their gear bag to use as a reference tool before, during, and after a shoot. Rather than merely informing your process, Carroll’s book can become a part of it.
With examples from some fifty master photographers and short chapters that never stray from their point, this book can remind the artist of the important questions they need to answer before they can get the best possible images. “Who is calling the shots?” and “Assault your subject”, “Don’t worry about fitting in” and “What’s your angle?” – these are all areas that Carroll addresses with the unique skill of combining brevity and depth. It seems impossible that an author could distil such complicated issues into a neat stack of two or three paragraphs, but somehow that feat is achieved here.
The self-proclaimed experts of a technical subject will always want to indulge their intelligence with long-winded anecdotes that eventually contain a basic lesson or two. This isn’t that kind of book. Not to compare it to fast food, but this has immediacy unlike other texts. “Don’t let your subject hide behind their smile.” That is some insanely valuable advice that could be explained with a balletic lecture, or it could be described as Carroll did – with a single sentence.
‘Read This If …’ is a staple. Treat it like your pantry rather than your star ingredient, and you’re on to a winner. This covers the broad spectrum of portraiture with ease, chopping it, identifying what you need to know right now, and then giving that to you in small digestible pieces. If you need more of a certain subject, then its numerous photographic illustrations have likely pointed you in the right direction. What Carroll does better than other authors is let you in on a secret: there’s a lot you don’t know in this world. This book acts as a guide to the horizontal reference points for each genre and the possibility of taking great photographs of people. Does exactly what it says on the tin.
Photos by Lauren Pritchard