Book Review: Skin, Lee Varis Skin: The Complete Guide to Digitally Lighting, Photographing, and Retouching Faces and Bodies: Books: Lee Varis

Book Review:

I purchased this book on a recent trip to the US after reading recommendations from fellow photographers on the Strobist Blog. The title, “Skin: The Complete Guide to Digitally Lighting, Photographing, and Retouching Faces and Bodies” should give you an idea of what goes on between the covers, and this was the reason that I had purchased the book – I wanted to know a little bit more about using the digital medium to photograph people.

However, if this was all I was expecting, I was in for a pleasant surprise – the author, Lee Varis, has been working as a Hollywood photographer for over three decades, and in this time has seen many changes in the way photographers work. He was early in embracing the new digital medium, and used his first digital camera setup already in 1990. So with this book he has aimed to share some of the knowledge gained in 15 years as a digital people photographer with his reader.

I found his writing style easy to read and understand, and the book approached the subject in a well structured manner, starting off with chapters on ‘digital imaging basics’ and ‘color management, workflow and calibration’, before moving on to more in depth topics such as ‘lighting and photographing people’, introducing some new techniques that I hadn’t thought about before along the way.

But chapters 4 to 8 are where the real fun starts. His approach is to go through a detailed look at many of the Photoshop features that relate to people photography, together with examples and exercises (a companion CD accompagnies the book). Although the examples he uses are specifically related to people, I found that the information I learnt has helped me in general regarding my use of Photoshop – the chapter on ‘Tone and Contrast: Color and B+W’ is an excellent look at different ways the individual channels play a role in both color and black and white imagery (I have already put many of these techniques into play in my b+w conversions), and the section on ‘The Color of Skin’, which basically explains contrast, tone, and the advanced use of curves, also provides a much needed overview of this genre.

Furthermore, Lee covers in some detail image retouching, and final print preparation, including a detailed methodology behind image sharpening.

I would recommend this book to any medium to advanced Photoshop users, especially those working with portrait and fashion photography, although as I said, all of the techniques can be applied outside of the realm of ‘skin’ photography.

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