I don’t go looking for trouble, but this book was submitted to me for review, and reviewing means giving an honest opinion, so here goes.
Take a look at the cover. Note first that it is subtitled:?A Pictorial Guide to Shooting Great Pictures. Then look at the two cover pictures – a nice shot of a turtle with its reflection at the surface, and a not-that-nice blue-green view of a queen angelfish.
And that’s the story of this book: many perfectly competent but not especially inspiring photos alongside a lot of others that, mainly because of colour and lighting shortcomings, many photographers would in all likelihood consign to the bin.
And each photograph is accompanied by a long caption detailing how Mr Gates took the shot. Initially I assumed that some of these would be along the lines of “I included this one to show you how not to take a shot of snapper in low light…” but no, all the captions are mildly self-congratulatory.
God knows, my underwater photography is light years from anything to write home about, but while I might use it to illustrate an article, I don’t put it in a book entitled A Pictorial Guide to Shooting Great Pictures and pitch it as a benchmark for others to shoot by, while charging £34 for the privilege.
I then started wondering whether Larry Gates had happily sent his masterpiece off to the publisher and had it banjaxed at the printers. So I passed it to our esteemed Production Manager George Lanham, who knows all there is to know about print.
George wasn’t sure what to make of the photos, because there seemed to be no consistency in the reproduction. “Some images look as if they’ve been badly manipulated in Lightroom or Photoshop – others as if they’ve been printed from RGB files,” he said, getting technical. “Others look flat, or contain too much magenta.
“With the sections on point-and-shoot cameras or smartphones I can understand the difficulties, but some of these images are simply terrible.”
Including a short chapter at the back on post-processing seemed ironic in the circumstances.
The book’s format is to run through different types of camera and lens, and group together examples of images taken with that equipment.
After a while this gives the sense of being trapped in the home of someone just back from their holidays: “And this is one I took in Key Largo…”
Oddly, exactly the same image of a flamingo tongue snail is used in the 60mm macro lens section as is employed 32 pages later to illustrate the virtues of the 100mm macro lens.
George and I also agreed that the unparagraphed sans typeface, especially when set across the full width of the page, was not exactly easy on the eye.
Larry Gates, a US diver, tells us that he spent 10 years teaching underwater photography in and around the Caribbean, and has drawn on that experience for his book.
There are certainly many lessons to be learnt from studying these pictures, though not perhaps always the lessons the author intended.
There are so many great books on underwater photography now out there to inspire, awe and educate us, and I’m sorry to report that Underwater Photography is not one of them.
Review by Steve Weinman
Softback, 128pp, £33.99
Appeared in DIVER May 2017