Photography Q & A is the kind of book I really hate to review. Now don’t get me wrong. It is not because it is a bad book. In fact, it is really just the opposite, and that in and of itself comes down to the crux of the problem. It is its layout that makes it more difficult to review.
With most educational books – such as this on photography, the author puts together a set of topics that are usually broken down by chapter and/or parts, and they proceed to move from one area to another building on past information and generally leading toward a conclusion. Having done several hundred of these types of reviews, I find it very easy to look at a table of contents and navigate my way through a logical review.
When I opened up the TOC of Photography Q & A pretty much all I see are little titles such as “Zack is a Cynical Bastard” and “Taking photos is 10%” and “Nudes, Bar Mitzvahs, and WTF” and “My Shit ain’t Sharp” and “Delivering Images you Hate”. In fact I counted over 100 of these titles. How does one try to review something that bounces all over the place and yet make it make sense?
Zach Arias is an editorial and music photographer from the Atlanta Georgia area who came up through the school of Hard Knocks – much of which you will learn about through Photography Q & A. I first learned about his work through a video blog post call “Transform” that was done for Scott Kelby’s blog back in 2009, and I have admired his work ever sense.
Photography Q & A was derived from his Q & A Tumbler blog that he started in 2012. His initial goal was to answer 1000 questions – a goal that he has surpassed. These questions came from his readers and are as wide ranging as I am sure they are. His goal in producing this book was not to be defining on any one subject, but rather to “be the grout in your photographic life” — in essence, to fill in the gaps that many of the other books miss.
That said, Photography Q & A is really just questions that have been asked, and the answers that have been provided. What makes this book different is that Arias does not sugar coat anything as you will find out in the first topic “Zack is a Cynical Bastard”!
Here he sets straight out to tell you that if you are just getting started in photography you are going to have to deal with failure. Even if you have been doing this for 20 years, you will still need to deal with failure. As he puts it his goal is to kick you in the teeth, knock the wind out of you but then help you back up and remind you that the next level up the food chain will be even harder than your last one.
The business of photography is not about taking photographs, it is about taking care of business. Along with “Taking photos is 10%”, there are a lot of topics about making money in photography and about how you have to run your business to make a profit if you are going to survive. Do you dive off the deep end or do you make a regular full time job your corporate sponsor for your photographic business? He talks about pricing, branding, making contacts, and promotion. In other words, he shares his insights into making photography a full time living.
There is also a lot of talk about focusing your efforts. To be good at anything takes time and you cannot be very good at any one thing, if you are trying to be good at everything. “Nudes, Bar Mitzvahs, and WTF” examines how there are many photographers who try to mix in things that do not make sense. Being a wedding photographer and also shooting senior portraits can and do mix as does editorial and commercial photography. But there are photographers who try to do nudes along with children portraiture, or music with wedding. The goal here is to learn how to define what you want to do and focus on that goal.
There are also a lot of topics on technique as well as we learn in “My Shit ain’t Sharp” where he talks about you have to know your equipment if you are going to get quality from it. While today’s cameras are very advanced, the stuff contained within was placed there by engineers, not by artists, and so there is only so much that the camera can do for you. Until you know your camera and lenses inside and out, it will never be a natural extension of your arm.
Photography Q & A also has ten sections called “Visual Intermission” which look at photos by Zack Arias and describe the stories behind them. They range from a shot of a rising hip-hop artist who was such an ass, that he could barely stand up to have a photo taken, to a very touching image of his stepfather in which he reveals that every time he photographs someone he thinks about the fact that this may be the photograph that will be used at their funeral as a point of remembrance.
The main point of Photography Q & A is that the photography business is a hard business to be in and make any money. There are too many people with a camera who want to say that they are photographers, but they do not want to go that extra mile. The author, without apology, shows you how to set yourself apart, but that is up to you to succeed at it.
Some days you will hit it out of the park, and some days you will suck. What it really comes down to is the final sentence: “When you are breathing your last breath, will you be proud of traveling the globe and pursuing your dreams (even through failure) or will you be proud of sitting on your ass playing a video game every night?”
In the end, Photography Q & A is about how to pursue your dreams without all of the sugar coating that comes from many of the so called experts within the industry. It is about real world insights one question at a time. The business of photography, much like reviewing this book, does not come down to a small amount of compartmentalized chapters that tell us how to get from point “A” to point “B” to point “C”. Instead it is about dealing with 100 different things that come up when they damn well choose, and if you want to be successful in this business, then you just have to deal with it. It isn’t about obstacles, it is about opportunities.
My copy of Photography Q & A is already dog-eared with sections that of information that I know in the future that I will go back to for reference. The book is very easy to read and totally full of such insight that it will be of benefit to both beginners as well as those who have been pursuing this career for decades. It is for that reason that it is the first book I have ever ranked as a must own.