Review: The Visual Toolbox, new from Craft & Vision
THE VISUAL TOOLBOX is the latest from David duChemin, a digital “big book” released under the Craft & Vision label.
duChemin’s approach to photography is largely perspective oriented, and so his past books – while covering basic techniques to greater or lesser extents – have been largely agnostic toward the reader’s photographic skill level. The Visual Toolbox stands somewhat apart from these previous efforts, being squarely targeted at entry-level photographers. The book offers 50 lessons for stronger photography, of which duChemin says, “These are the lessons I wish I’d learned when I was starting out.”
That being the case, experienced photographers may want to give the book a pass, though it’s worth skimming and you may want to recommend it to friends or family. For novice photographers wanting to improve their craft, The Visual Toolbox is definitely worth spending some time with.
A couple of years ago, my aunt decided she’d like to learn how to better use her camera – an entry-level Canon DSLR with a kit lens – so I gave her the first two volumes of Scott Kelby’s The Digital Photography Book. If she were to ask me the same today, I’d give her The Visual Toolbox instead. By which I mean to say that The Visual Toolbox is my new go-to recommendation for anyone starting out in photography.
The book weighs in at 201 pages, comprising 50 lessons with hands-on exercises to help you improve your craft. The book assumes the user has a DSLR, and begins at the very beginning: switching the camera to full manual control, learning to optimize exposure, mastering the holy trinity of aperture, shutter and ISO, etc. From there, the book gets into camera movement, framing, controlling depth of field, lines and patterns, light and shadow, choosing the moment … and because this is a book by David “Photo Yoda” duChemin, lessons frequently stray from the technical aspects of wielding the camera to focus on more internal matters: slowing down, being in the moment and patient, finding serendipity in simplicity, shooting from the heart and living with the images you create. He also encourages readers to explore and appreciate our visual history, the works of artists and photographers who have come before us that we might learn from their example.
Throughout his lessons, duChemin reminds us that photography should not be about technical proficiency, so much as it should be about creating images that speak to us in a meaningful way. Technical proficiency is a part of that, but not the whole of it. In the fourth lesson, “Use a Slower Shutter Speed”, he says:
The longer I photograph, the more comfortable I become at the slower end of the shutter dial. I already have nearly 30 years of usually sharp photographs under my belt and I’m no longer asking, “Are they sharp?” I’m asking, “Are they alive?”
Motion blur certainly isn’t a new idea, but duChemin has a knack for spinning creative philosophy from the familar and casting it in a new and different light. He owns the foundations and will introduce them to you, and then he’ll subtly rock the foundation to keep you off-balance, to keep you sharp.
I am an overly technical person and must constantly remind myself to venture outside the box and stretch my legs. I enjoy deChemin’s slightly subversive approach to the photographic arts, and I rely upon him to give me an occasional shake – not to teach me about my camera’s aperture, because I already know that; but to push me out into the world to do something differently than what I usually do.
Throughout the book, the lessons are buttressed with inspiring, illustrative photography and hands-on assignments which task you to venture out into the world to play, to experiment and to make duChemin’s creative tools your own. They don’t send you out for 5 or 10 minutes to photograph rocks in the backyard; they dispatch you out into the world for a day or a week’s worth of shooting, to experiment with various camera settings or approaches to your subject, to come back and evaluate your work before moving on to the next lesson. The book could easily be blown through in a matter of days, but it asks you to take your time; duChemin doesn’t want you to read his book, he wants you to learn from it.
Let’s pause for a duCheminism on lenses:
It drives me crazy when I hear photographers telling each other that this lens is a “portrait lens” and that lens is a “landscape lens” or when you go to such and such a place you won’t need one lens or another. Lenses are about aesthetics, not applications, and unless you tell me exactly the kind of aesthetic you want, it would be extremely presumptuous of me to tell you what tool you should have to make your photograph.
And that’s The Visual Toolbox in a longwinded nutshell. I recommend it!
It’s definitely geared toward new photographers, so the experienced among you may wish to look elsewhere for reading material (you needn’t look far; Craft & Vision’s catalog offers a wealth of excellent material just for you!). But if your less experienced friend, family member or loved one is keen to make pictures, The Visual Toolbox is as good a starter as you’re likely to find, and don’t be surprised if you skim through it and enjoy it yourself.
I have a great deal of admiration and respect for David duChemin, not only as a photographer, but as a humanitarian, an educator and a pretty nice fellow. So I’m always pretty jazzed when he puts out a new book. Personally, I’m thrilled to finally have a new go-to book to recommend to friends just starting into this photography nonsense.
Use the promotional code TOOLBOX when you check out and pay only USD $17 OR use the code TOOLBOX20 to get 20% off when you buy 5+ Craft & Vision products. These codes expire at 11:59 PM (PST) September 17, 2013.