© 2012 Rocky Nook

240 pages

ISBN: 978-1-937538-07-1

Price: $59.95 Hardover (laminated paper over boards)

Those of us who did not attend photography school or spend our twenties assisting in studios often have gaps in our shooting repertoire. Photography is problem-solving, and we have more than adequate analytical skills, but education still counts. I have seen too many cocky photographers get tied in knots when they take on a shoot that requires special skills. Also, many part time photographers lack the organizational and legal smarts to make their operations efficient and profitable.

Most educators know that learning a trade requires three elements: being told what to do, watching someone do it, and doing it yourself. To that end, photographers have sought out webinars and DVDs, where one can watch someone plan, shoot, and process, live seminars and classes, which allow one to perform the tasks and ask questions, and books, which lay out all the details and act as a reference.

Someone recently said that revenue from photography education now exceeds that from the sale of images. Whether or not that is true, there is certainly a lot of instruction going on, and anywhere there is money, there are problems. Many webinars and seminars are thinly disguised advertisements for products at their worst, and even when the class is useful, it is often limited by the sponsorships and allegiances of the instructor. Others have the faults of the worst sort of inspirational presentations – lots of teary stories and self-help nonsense. There are fantastic offerings available from creativelive and others, but they are habit-forming, time-consuming, tough to retain, and still are no substitute for hands on training.

Dennis Savini’s Masterclass is a nice counterpoint to the blizzard of instruction that targets rising professional photographers. A typical Rocky Nook production, it combines an attractive layout with well thought out, organized text. Gorgeously printed on substantial paper, it is bound to lay flat, as instructional books should.  Copiously illustrated with wonderful examples of studio work, it shows the best work possible in a variety of situations.

While this is a great book for studio photographers who want to broaden their skills, it is not for neophytes. The first quarter of the book, an introduction to general issues in studio photography, is much more suggestive than directive. Rather than give copious detail about issues like the physical plant, gear, legal issues, and marketing, it simply outlines the issues and choices you have to make. If you want detailed information on modifiers, cameras, lights, decoration, advertising, social media, etc., look elsewhere.

The meat of the book consists of a comprehensive catalog of product and corporate shots. Each shot is accompanied by technical details, and throughout the presentation, short articles with general lighting principles and shooting tips supplement the pieces covering the individual set ups. Post production and shooting steps are illustrated on those shots that rely heavily on special effects.

One weakness of the book is the short shrift given to portrait shooting, which seems like an afterthought at the end of the book.

The photos in the book were shot largely with medium and large format cameras, and the photographs produced, will in most cases be out the reach of most photographers. However, I learned how to be a better landscape photographer from studying Ansel Adams, even though I will never haul a view camera into the wilderness. The techniques and principles are clearly laid out in this volume and many of the set ups within the capabilities of most shooters. If one seriously wants to expand studio skills, the book could be useful.

That being said, it’s definitely a masterclass – amateurs or new studio photographers will likely find this volume intimidating, if inspiring, but in the end not as useful as other books aimed squarely at them by authors like Kelby and Evening. The introductory material lacks cohesion. For this group, the book does not justify the price.

For established or master photographers, however, it serves as an excellent reference book on handling tricky or specialized shooting situations. The setups show great variety, and the photography great craft and finesse, well explained and illustrated. This book would have been best presented with an expanded number of case studies and a less dismissive approach to portraiture.