THE BALIDNG, stoop-shouldered veteran photographer took the nervous rookie aside. Whole blocks of buildings were burning in downtown Washington and this was the young photographer's first assignment for the newspaper. "Okay, kid," said the veteran. "There are only two things to remember: F.8 and be there."
The two-thing school of photography is survival-level basics. It might get a photographer through riots and family portraits. But for the photographer interested in more than just being there and setting the lens aperture to the safe mid-ground of F.8, there are this year more than a dozen new books which expand greatly on the two-thing school.
Kenneth Kobre, in his delightful book, How to Photgraph Friends and Strangers (Curtin & London/Van Nostrand Reinhold; paperback, $17.95), has broken away from the traditional nuts-and-bolts approach of the typical how-to photo book. Kobre creates the picture situation and then explains in non-technical language how to deal with it. For Kobre, the knowledge of mechanics follows on the need to know.
Kobre's book is not only extraordinary for its easy-paced, good-time attitude but for the design as well. Each of the 10 chapters, with marvelous titles such as "Control Your Camera -- Before It Controls You," is arranged into one-page subjects, each with its own headline. And Kobre has used the work of more than 70 photographers to illustrate his points. The pictures are large and well laid out with none of the irritating double-page displays that force the reader to destroy the binding in order to see the whole picture.
And with Kobre there is the feeling that he has told all, kept back nothing, shared all the secrets he has learned as a photographer. In one page, he demystifies the matching of color film with the light source, a chronic problem for photographers who only shoot color occasionally. And in another one-page segment, he gives good advice on how to help your subject relax, something many photographers never learn on their own.
And for the photographer looking for the mechanical approach, there is The Master Guide to Photography by Michael Langford (Knoph, $35). The world is crowded with encyclopedias, everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-photography-type books. This is a good one. It is exhaustive, detailed, scientific-based survey of photography.
Where Kobre's book uses photographs as the basis for inspiration, Langford is heavy on words and light on photographs. He does, however, manage to include enough pictures and illustrations to remind the reader that the final product is the photographic print, whether it is made with a view camera or with a scanning electron microscope.
The Art of Scenic Photography by Tom Grill and Mark Scanlon (Amphot, $19.95) has the look and title of a book which might appeal to a narrow group of photographers. it is a wonderful, gentle book for all photographers. It is more of a philosophy of image selection than a how-to book. Grill and Scanlon make some very important observations, such as: "Many photographers assume that anything other than a sharply detailed image is unacceptable in scenic photography; they view and interpret a scene not through their own eyes but through the eyes of those who have preceded them." They also choose to make their high-quality pictures with mostly 35mm cameras where tradition demands that landscapes be made with a large format camera.
Another book which would appear by its cover to be of interest only to commercial photographers, Advertising Photography by Allyn Salomon (Amphoto, $24.95), is instead a book that should interest any photographer striving to become a professional. Salomon, who is identified as a photographer's representative, is a skilled writer. He interviewed nine commercial photographers and then juxtaposed the discussion of their work with their pictures. The photographs are gorgeous and flawless. They are an inspiration to any photographer who has ever fought off the mysterious dust worms which can be counted upon to appear on the equipment, or on the negative, or on the print.
John Hedgecoe has two new books out. John Hedgecoe's Advanced Photography (Simon and Schuster, $35.95) is typical of many coffee-table photo books: big, bright, bland and with enough naked women to suggest an audience other than photographers. His other new book, The Art of Color Photography (Simon and Schuster; paperback, $14.95) is well organized, beautifully printed and easily understood.
Another book designed to be used in the field is How to Use the Zone System for Fine B&W Photography by John P. Schaefer (H.P. Books; paperback, $14.95). The zone system is a way of defining the gradations of gray between black and white and then translating that evaluation into adjusted exposure, film processing and printing to achieve the desired full tonal range print. The system which was created by Ansel Adams years ago works just fine but is sometimes difficult to understand for the beginning photographer. This book takes the reader through the process quickly and comfortably. What is curious, however, is that Adams is never given credit for his own creation.
For the gee-whiz crowd who wants to know how-did-you-do-it, Don and Marie Carroll explain how photographs can easily lie. Their book, Focus on Special Effects (Amphoto, $24.95), does a good job of explaining how to sandwich slides together to create new images, how to simulate motion, and how to make your own kaleidoscope.
Eastman Kodak, the folks who make all that film, is offering a two-volume set titled The Joy of Photography and More Joy of Photography (Addison-Wesley, $28). It disappoints. There is little joy in either book, and they tend to preach instead of inspire. The writing is dry, the picture display jumbled.
Among the new books which have the least to offer the consumer are Contact Sheet: The Secret of Creative Photography by Al Gruen (Amphoto, $19.95) -- poor reproduction of poor pictures by the author; The Handbook of Color Photography by Ellis Herwig (Amphoto, $21.95; paperback, $12.95) -- a mishmash of information and pictures; The Professional Photographer by Larry Goldman (Doubleday/Dolphin; paperback, $12.95) -- reads like advice from the city slicker to the country bumpkin; and The Photographer's Bible by Bruce Pinkard (Arco, $24.95) -- a ho-hum encyclopedia.
And then there is 50 Easy Ways to Take Better Pictures by William J. Hampton (Amphoto; paperback, $11.95), which just might be intended as a satire on the how-to pho the rules, rethink the everyday image. Hampton's "good" pictures are what most experts use as examples of "bad" photographs. He gives all the cliches of children, animals and bathing suits. He suggests a neutral background that will not interfere with the subject and then uses a picture of children at play with lamp poles and trees cutting into the background. Pictures meant to be sharp-focused are clearly soft. Maybe Hampton is the small-town photographer we all grew up with and the book is a record of that experience.
If these books are not available, or too expensive, or too long to read, there is always the two-thing school: F.8 and be there.