Book Reviews

My search for materials to teach motion picture and video photography has been frustrating. With few exceptions, not many basic books are written for film and video. Worst of all, even the best books go out-of-print. Those that include equipment that becomes obsolete are not reprinted. Fortunately there are many books on still photography that are very applicable to film and video. I have found very few good books in libraries. It is hard to find still photo books where the locations are NOT exotic places and subjects. Most photographers and filmmakers have to deal with whatever location they are given. It is up to us to find images in any location that will help us tell our tale.

Besides the books mentioned below, here are some authors to look for. Some of the equipment in their books might be out-of-date but basic photography will never be out-of-date. These authors include: Freeman Patterson, Michael Freeman, John Hedgecoe, Gerald Millerson, Michael Langford, Ralph Hattersley, Carl Shipman, John Shaw, Bryan Peterson,

A bit about publishers. Focal Press is the largest media book publisher. 800-366-2665 Most of their books are excellent. A few titles are misleading and a few are out dated. Amphoto is a high quality publisher of still photo books. The Pro Lighting Series, Quarto Books, by Rotovision from Switzerland have many photography tricks applicable to film and video. Kodak has many good basic photography books distributed by Silver Pixel Press.

BEWARE of the fancy "coffee table books" like "everything about the movies". These books are generally superficial, often inaccurate and rely on glossy pictures supplied by equipment manufacturers. Borders in Santa Barbara has a pretty good collection of photo books. I don't know about your area. Most new bookstores do not have a very good selection of photo books.

Used Books
There are a lot of well written but out-of-print books out there. Many feature obsolete cameras, but their theory is still good. There are the Kodak and Time-Life's Life Library of Photography Series, plus many others which in thrift stores are a dollar or two. There are many picture books on every part of the world for research. I personally like the books of less exotic people and places and with more of a documentary approach.


Bare Bones Course for Film and Video by Tom Schroeppel is the best introductory and review book for motion picture and video technology. This book will keep any beginning film/video maker out of trouble. Don't be fooled by the cheap price. For the camera-person, the explanation of screen direction is all you need. For the director, the explanation of camera is enough. Order from Tom Schroeppel, 3205 Price Ave. Tampa, FL 33611, $10.95 includes shipping.

The Joy of Photography
by Kodak, good stuff applicable to film and video. Great for the study of composition and shooting on location.

Light, Science And Magic by Fil Hunter and Paul Fuqua, Focal Press. A wonderful book on table top and product photography good for stills, motion picture and video. The book's title is a bit misleading. There isn't much about the "Science" of light. An understanding of basic photography would be very helpful before buying this book.

The Complete Dictionary of Film
by Ira Konigsberg, 2nd addition, Penguin Reference. One of the best bargains in books about film. 4000 entries of very accurate information. A bible for anyone on a film set or interested in film. The accuracy of this book is something for other writers to aspire to. (See "Konigsberg Guide"/Glossary of Terms)

The Photographic Eye / Learning To See With A Camera
by Norman Sibley and Michael O'Brien. A great book of theory and pictures taken mostly by students of everyday locations and people.

The Camera Assistant's Manual by David E. Elkins, Focal Press. A very well done book on cameras and assisting and for any budding cinematographer or assistant.

The Camera Assistant, A Complete Professional Handbook by Douglas C. Hart, Focal Press. Every aspiring camera assistant or cameraman who works without an assistant should have this book. Very well presented. The writer's view is from big studio production and his set etiquette views are reflected by that experience.

The ASC Manual by ASC Publishing. A gold mine of information for the cinematographer, BUT not a primer. One should be firmly based in basic photography and motion picture camera theory before buying this book.

The Hands On Manual For Cinematographers, Second Ed. by David Samuelson, Focal Press. Another gold mine for the cinematographer. Has a more European slant. This also is not a primer and the buyer should know the basics first. David Samuelson is one of the most prolific and knowledgeable writers in the "Biz".

Arriflex 435, 16 SR, 35, Books by Jon Fauer. Gold mines of information about the cameras covered, cameras and shooting in general. Your demand will keep these books in print and Jon writing them. Distributed by Arri 914-353-1400 or For updates, additions, corrections and on-line feedback go to Jon has also produced videos on the 16 SR's.

Exploring the Color Image by Kodak Worldwide Student Program, Pub.# H-188, Silver Pixel Press, 716-328-7800. This is a compilation of some long out of print classics especially Color As Seen and Photographed. It is valuable to understand perception and how color film works. The book list in the back includes long out-of-print classics worth a small fortune on book search. $24.95.

Student Filmmaker's Handbook
by Kodak Worldwide Student Program, Pub # H-19a, Silver Pixel Press, 716-328-7800. This book has valuable information about lighting, Kodak Films, processing and exposure. There are some errors in the book and the sections on Marketing and Distribution seem to have been written by a MBA with little knowledge in the today's film business. Much of the information about film is very advanced and I feel is beyond "students". Glossary in back is OK but Konigsberg above is much better. $21.95.

Set Lighting Technician's Handbook by Harry C. Box, Focal Press. About as good as a technical book can get. It This is exactly what the title says. Anyone working in the electrical department on a reasonable budget motion picture set should own this book. There is little on exterior and existing lighting or for lower budget production. $39.95.

Film Lighting by Kris Malkiewicz, Fireside Book/Simon and Schuster. A very useful book for cinematographers who already have a working knowledge of light and the use of professional motion picture lighting units. A beginner might get lost in terms.

Picture Composition For Film And Television, by Peter Ward, Focal Press. A very well done book on classic film composition. I would recommend getting complete control of your camera first before worrying about advanced composition. $39.95.

The Photographic Lens by Sidney Ray, Focal Press. Dr. Ray is one of the best writers for understanding photo optics of working systems. Lots of theory, but you don't have to know much theory to learn a lot from this book. $32.95.

Applied Photographic Optics, 2nd Edition by Sidney Ray, Focal Press. This book is more complete than The Photographic Lens and is now in paperback. Definitely the best book for understanding optics and working optical systems. $66.95.

Scientific Photography And Applied Imaging by D Ray. Expensive, $150. An overview of various imaging technologies. Some good information about special shooting problems. You can get this on approval from Focal Press.

The Grip Book, 2nd Edition by Michael and Sabrina Uva, Focal Press. Probably the best book on motion picture gripping available. Full of up-to-date information on motion picture dollies, cranes, and grip equipment. Lots of safety, job security, and on-the-set tips. Rumor has it a 3rd edition is in the works with even more and later stuff. $32.95.

Backstage Handbook by Paul Carter, Broadway Press, 1988. A gold mine of information about tools, materials and practices for the stage, almost all applicable to film and video.

Optics and Focus for Camera Assistants, Art, Science and Zen
by Fritz Lynn Hershey, Focal Press. Not a simple book. Lots of technology and hi tech terms, many initiated in this book. If you know everything else about camera assisting and want to learn something different, this might be the book. $44.95.


The Art of Seeing, by Kodak. All about vision and the relationship to camera imaging. A great primer on composition. One book that does not rely on photography of exotic locations and subjects. It shows what documentary shooting could be like. Lots of ideas for images around your own neighborhood. I have used it as a text book for years. $17.95.

Existing Light Photography, by Kodak. Existing light generally means not sun light and definitely not studio light. It's light that's already there; at night, through windows, at events etc. Most of this great first book is applicable to video and movie work. $19.95.

Light and Image by Michael Freeman. Great books about exposure and composition for any medium. (Seems to be out of print. Damn!)

The New Introductory Photography Course by John Hedgecoe. Focal Press. Great for still photography and very good for motion picture and video photography. $27.95.

The Art of Color Photography by John Hedgcoe. Focal Press. Also valuable for motion pictures and video. $27.95.

John Hedgecoe's Creative Photography Workbook, Focal Press. Lots about location shooting and composition. $16.95.

Mountain Photography by David Higgs, The Mountaineers, Seattle. ISBN 0-89886-257-4. Great book on shooting in difficult conditions in the mountains, snow and ice.


How To Run Seminars And Workshops by Robert L. Jolles, Wiley. For any person teaching skills to adults or for a knowledgeable trainer who has not taken education courses, this is THE BOOK. I found so many obvious teaching techniques and tips that I should have known, but didn't. The first 20 pages are worth the price of the book. Mr. Jolles uses plain English and a lot of simple, clear analogies. His methods are well tested and proven, not a lot of hi falutin' education theory.


Land Navigation Handbook by W.S. Kals, Sierra Club Books. Great little book on handling maps, scale, reading contours, magnetic compass errors, and compass use. I differ on compass use a little for city and photographic needs. $15.00.

GPS Land Navigation by Michael Ferguson, Glassford Publishing, Boise, Idaho. If you have the time and inclination to learn GPS, this is very good book. I don't think that GPS navigation is necessary to find your way if you can read a map, but this books is great on all aspects of land navigation. It gets into more terms and depth than I feel are necessary for the photographer to predict where the sun will be, but does its job very well. $19.95.

Books on orienteering include titles such as Map and Compass. Orienteering is a sport of finding ones way using a map and compass. The skills are useful in the woods, but I think are overkill for photographers wanting to understand map reading and predicting where the sun will be.


Video Goals by Tom Schroeppel, 3205 Price Ave. Tampa, Florida, 33611. $11.95 including postage. Another is the Bare Bones/Keep the Beginner Out of Trouble book. An industrial approach that is applicable to film production too.

Video Production Handbook, Millerson, Focal Press, 1992, A solid treatment of all phases of video production. Lots of practical lighting and production information. $34.95.

Electronic Cinematography by Harry Mathais and Richard Patterson, Wadsworth. OUT OF PRINT, but a classic about the video cameras and exposure. Quite advanced, but no unnecessary fluff other than references to Panavision's attempt at video cameras. Video theory very well presented for people with a background in motion picture film.


Sensation and Perception by Bruce Goldstein, Wadsworth, 1989. Very readable and thorough text on vision, color, learning and the physiology of perception.

Eye and Brain, the Psychology of Seeing
by Richard Gregory, Princeton Science Library 1990. A REAL FIND. Very well written. In print and in paperback. $12.95.


Photography for the Joy of It, Photography and the Art of Seeing and Photography of Natural Things, all by Freeman Patterson, Sierra Club Books and another publishers. Great books about seeing and keeping it simple.

Reference Books for Ideas. This series can be found in used book stores. I like these books because they are of every day locations with real people, a documentary approach.

The Family of Men, The Family of Women and The Family of Children, Museum of Modern Art. The classic art of real life black and white photography. Study each shot carefully to see why it works so well.

Body Watching, 1985 and Man Watching both by Desmond Morris. These are good discussions of body language. Lots of people picture ideas. (Some nudity)


Grammar Of The Film Language by Daniel Arijon, Silman-James Press, A classic written in 1976. Full of editing and directing solutions. NOW BACK IN PRINT.

Film Directing, Shot By Shot, by Steven D. Katz, Michael Wiese. A treasury of information on design, directing, shooting for edit and the many phases of film making. I like the author's use of everyday English and established film terms. This is a book that might take years to absorb. I would suggest that you don't get carried away trying the more complicated techniques provided just yet. Keep things within your control. Some day you will have the budget and crew to do things in this large of scale. Do rent the movies discussed to study shot by shot.

Directing the Documentary by Michael Rabinger, Focal Press. Very useful in any kind of production, but especially valuable for lower budget/non-studio work. The writer really knows his trade and how to explain it well. Valuable for video too. $39.95.

Directing, Film Techniques And Aesthetics
by Michael Rabinger, Focal Press. This very well written book is aimed more at the craft of film directing in higher budget films. $39.95

© Copyright 1999-2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved.