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Book Review: Visual Stories: Behind The Lens With Vincent Laforet by Vincent Laforet

Telling a story with a photograph is an art and it all centers around what you put within the frame, what you leave out, what you emphasize, how you use the light and color, and all of the little things that you have to work with image.

In Visual Stories, Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Vincen Laforet shares his images and his insights from nearly 18 years in the field.

Visual Stories is a technical guide as well as a source for inspiration. While technique does not make great photos, poor technique can inhibit a photographer from creating great images.

This book is also about telling stories and moving the viewer in many different ways.

Visual Stories is 264 pages in length and is contained in 13 chapters.

Chapter 1, “The Value of an Image,” is about more than the value of the picture contained within the frame. It is sometimes about the power that it has to move people. This chapter begins with the author’s experience with Hurricane Katrina and how the images he took helped to move people to action. It then goes on to explore what a photograph is and who it really is about.

Chapter 2, “The Story in a Single Image,” is what you are trying to get across with one shot while still trying to balance that with the aesthetic of a photo. Here you will look at what it takes to make a photograph relevant.

In Chapter 3, “Marrying the Story with the Aesthetic,” we learn that this sometimes means stepping out of the box, taking risks, and starting to create your own solutions. It is about looking at things from different perspectives and relationships to the moment.

Chapter 4, “The Art of Sports,” explains tha this type of photography can come down to research, the understanding of what makes a great shot, and the ability to anticipate the moment that is about to happen. This includes the location from where you will shoot, as well as knowing how the light and other elements will affect the location during the event.

Chapter 5, “Documenting War and Tragedy,” explains such work means sometimes putting yourself into harm’s way, but whether war or tragedy, it is still about telling a story and putting faces to that story and bringing a reality to those who are viewing your images.

Chapter 6, “KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid),” is about knowing what you are shooting and learning to be ready when the right moment is going to happen. Sometimes it is knowing what is the right gear to use, and sometimes it is letting the situation make the choice for you. This chapter looks at the core gear you should consider having, the additional accessories and workflow, and then how to bring it all together.

Chapter 7, “In the Air,” is about aerial photography and considers the challenges of photographing from the air – you can’t just hang out the door and shoot down. Here you will look at the various things that you will need to deal with when shooting from above.

Chapter 8, “A Love Affair with New York,” looks at the city that the author considers his home town. It talks about learning to see the potential in shots without being cliché and learning to see the same area in different ways.

Chapter 9, “The Art of Lens Choice,” examines lens discipline. When you choose a lens, you are making choices on what to keep in the image and what to exclude from the image. This chapter examines some of the options you have when you choose certain lenses.

Chapter 10, “The World through a Tilt-Shift Lens,” can bring a surreal look to your images and makes people stop and examine the world more closely. While they are looking at a real scene, many people can’t tell what you have done to the image. Go too far and sometimes the scene can look gimmicky, but the idea is that when you use one of these lenses it still should still be used to tell a story.

Chapter 11, “Seeing and Using Light,” looks at the importance of light to photography and what you need to know to use it correctly. Here you will see different methods on how to explore using light – both natural and artificial. You will also look at dealing with technical challenges as well.

Chapter 12, “The Paniolo,” are some of the first cowboys in the history of Hawaii. This chapter explores shooting in Hawaii. Here the author looks at the challenges of working during the rainy season, compositional techniques, and telling the story.

Chapter 13, “Never Make a Mediocre Image,” means that you are only as good as your last photograph. As a photographer you should always be striving for the next great image – the ones you think are unattainable, the ones that you have never seen before. You just have to be persistent.

Visual Stories will be an instant classic. It is well written and is an easy read for photographers of every level. It contains over 100 of the author’s photos with information on the shot as well as the technical camera settings used.

Also included with Visual Stories is a DVD that contains 60 videos that provide a personal view of the author and his work. Here he explains in more detail about his work and how he captured his images. If you want to see into the mind of an award winning photographer and learn from his experiences then I very highly recommend Visual Stories.

About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.

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