The Perfect Portrait Guide – How to Photograph People – Book Review

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I recently went on a buying frenzy of photography books over at Amazon.

One of the books that I purchased was The Perfect Portrait Guide: How to Photograph People by Michael Busselle and David Wilson.

Portrait photography has always been the main focus of my own photography and so I was keen to read this book (recommended by a reader of this site).

I’ve spent the last few days reviewing the book and have really enjoyed doing so.

I should say up front – this is not just a digital photography book. Most of the techniques in the book are applicable to digital photographers and film photographers alike but it is not specifically targeted at digital photography.

While there are a lot of photography books out there with a very technical approach – The Perfect Portrait Guide is much more practical in it’s approach and uses A LOT of case studies as the basis for it’s teaching on portrait photography – this in my mind makes it a very useful book.

The structure of the book is fairly simple – there are four sections:

  1. Informal Portraits
  2. Formal Portraits
  3. Lighting
  4. Cameras and Equipment

Sections 1 to 3 are largely case studies. Each page covers a different aspect of the section’s topic and has at least one photograph taken by a Pro Photographer. The photograph is then talked about in the sections of:

  • Seeing: the story behind the image
  • Thinking: the challenge of the photographer – what they wanted to do
  • Acting: how the photo was taken
  • Technical Details: the gear used
  • Rule of Thumb: (not on every page) – a technique or rule that photographers can learn from the case study.

Section 4 tackles the topics of Choosing a Camera, Choosing Lenses, Camera Accessories, Lighting Equipment, Apertures and Shutter Speeds, Understanding Exposure, Choosing Film and Finishing and Presentation. Once again – this is not specifically focussed upon digital photography.

My Opinion

This book is not focussed upon teaching advanced techniques but gives a good overview of many of the topics a beginner to intermediate portrait photographer will want to learn in their craft.

The fact that it’s not focussed upon digital photography is at times frustrating (why a book published in 2002 has such a focus upon film photography I do not know) – however most of the techniques mentioned are just as relevant (for example composition techniques go across both mediums).

I really enjoy learning by seeing what others have done and so found the format of this book to be worthwhile. The example images are great and give inspiration for trying new things.

If you’re looking for a technical book then this is probably not the book for you

If you’re looking for an easy to read book for beginners to help you improve your shots of friends and family – you’ll probably enjoy this one – especially if you learn best by watching how others do things and then imitating them.

Get the The Perfect Portrait Guide: How to Photograph People at Amazon

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • Thanks for the review!

  • Scott Hampton

    How ironic!

    I just went on a book binge, too, and that’s one of the books that I purchased!

    I was wondering the same thing about the film, and was a little shocked that it was from 2002.

    One thing that annoyed me was the page design. The leftover RayGun design with the direction lines and arrows…ugh.

    As far as content, yes, it was very wholesome. The book doesn’t beat you over the head, but it delivers complicated topics very easy. I like the approach that it takes on light. The hand-drawn setups are excellent learning guides.

    I recommend it. It’s a good read!

  • hehe – yes that design was a bit average but the hand-drawn setups were helpful.

    thanks Scott.

  • Jason

    Why on earth should anyone be so shocked that a photography book is published for film and not digital?

    Having a digital sensor is behind the shutter instead of a square of film does not change any of the basic principles of photography.

    Also, although it is in decline there are many people out there still using film.

  • BRIAN BLACKMAN

    I am still using film cameras. Any information i get on them will be welcome. Iwill also like more information on portrait

  • After reading your articles about portrait photography, it is hard to imagine there are better books and info. 🙂

  • laire

    My developer, here in l Los Angeles, tells me that many of his clients are going back to film because they like the skin tones produced by film. I use the Hasselblad 503cw (film) medium format, and can go either way, (film/digital). Digital has immediate feedback and ease of file transfer, but as far as film latitude (exposure/equipment/natural characteristics), I personally prefer a medium format film slide/neg. You simply cannot compare 35mm digital to medium format film or digital. The 2.5x sensor size (medium format Hasselblad/others, 30-60 megapix) renders resolution unequaled compared to 35mm. Experienced professionals, other than wedding photographers, haven’t necessarily switched to digital. It’s similar to listening to stereo. I find analog, vinyl and tube amplification much warmer and simply more pleasing to the ear. Many stereophiles will agree, especially if they grew up listening to ‘quality’ analogue stereo reproduction. So, don’t buy into the concept that new technology is necessarily better. Many products are significantly inferior, but cost effective and affordable for the masses, as we see with the plastic cameras and lenses in production today marketplace.

  • zw82f4b

    “why a book published in 2002 has such a focus upon film photography I do not know” … erm, because there are tons of analog togs out there who still shoot film – like I do – who may also shoot digital – like I do. I am surprised that a photographer such as yourself would have such a narrow mindset when it comes to photographic medium. Shame on yourself 😛

Some Older Comments

  • laire January 18, 2011 07:27 am

    My developer, here in l Los Angeles, tells me that many of his clients are going back to film because they like the skin tones produced by film. I use the Hasselblad 503cw (film) medium format, and can go either way, (film/digital). Digital has immediate feedback and ease of file transfer, but as far as film latitude (exposure/equipment/natural characteristics), I personally prefer a medium format film slide/neg. You simply cannot compare 35mm digital to medium format film or digital. The 2.5x sensor size (medium format Hasselblad/others, 30-60 megapix) renders resolution unequaled compared to 35mm. Experienced professionals, other than wedding photographers, haven't necessarily switched to digital. It's similar to listening to stereo. I find analog, vinyl and tube amplification much warmer and simply more pleasing to the ear. Many stereophiles will agree, especially if they grew up listening to 'quality' analogue stereo reproduction. So, don't buy into the concept that new technology is necessarily better. Many products are significantly inferior, but cost effective and affordable for the masses, as we see with the plastic cameras and lenses in production today marketplace.

  • lampi October 21, 2009 04:48 pm

    After reading your articles about portrait photography, it is hard to imagine there are better books and info. :)

  • BRIAN BLACKMAN October 28, 2008 06:59 am

    I am still using film cameras. Any information i get on them will be welcome. Iwill also like more information on portrait

  • Jason April 26, 2007 11:01 pm

    Why on earth should anyone be so shocked that a photography book is published for film and not digital?

    Having a digital sensor is behind the shutter instead of a square of film does not change any of the basic principles of photography.

    Also, although it is in decline there are many people out there still using film.

  • Darren December 8, 2006 10:01 am

    hehe - yes that design was a bit average but the hand-drawn setups were helpful.

    thanks Scott.

  • Scott Hampton December 8, 2006 09:47 am

    How ironic!

    I just went on a book binge, too, and that's one of the books that I purchased!

    I was wondering the same thing about the film, and was a little shocked that it was from 2002.

    One thing that annoyed me was the page design. The leftover RayGun design with the direction lines and arrows...ugh.

    As far as content, yes, it was very wholesome. The book doesn't beat you over the head, but it delivers complicated topics very easy. I like the approach that it takes on light. The hand-drawn setups are excellent learning guides.

    I recommend it. It's a good read!

  • Brian December 5, 2006 02:08 am

    Thanks for the review!

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