James Mann – How to Photograph Cars
I haven’t seen the earlier edition of this book and so this is a review of it as a complete work rather than an update. My expectation, when I started to do this review, was that the book would only cover the basics and a few advanced techniques, due to its size. However, James seems to have managed to cover all the techniques you may need for pretty much every car photography situation. He could probably write complete books for each of the techniques he discusses but that would be rather over the top; after all you don’t enhance your skill as a photographer by reading a book, you are learning techniques. To enhance your skills you need to get out there and take photographs!
All the basics are covered: composition, light, location and so on, as you would expect; but then James adds the techniques and gives them a difficulty rating. I really like this as it enables the reader to judge whether a technique is several steps ahead of their skill set or just a little above by knowing what you are good at already. For example, in the Action Photographs, panning is given a level of difficulty of 5, and so if you know you’re pretty good at panning shots you can feel fairly confident you would master front 3/4 tracking shots as that’s given a level of difficulty of 3. That’s not to say though that it will be easy as it won’t, you’ll still need to get out there and practise to get it right.
There are a couple of areas that could do with an update still. Being a hobby photographer and car enthusiast myself, I would be horrified to find a photographer cleaning a car with a sponge and using a chamois leather to dry it off! I think the reality is that the photographer isn’t normally the person responsible for cleaning the car in most non commercial photo shoots, as the owner of the car will most likely be on hand to do that. I expect most of what James does is commercial as it’s how he earns his living, so I think we can forgive him this minor transgression!
There is a section at the back of the book that addresses legal issues. There are suggestions in earlier parts of the book that might mislead you to believe that what you are doing on public roads is legal; it may well not be illegal, but it may be frowned upon by the local police if you are not very careful. My suggestion is not to proceed with a particular technique if there is any doubt in your mind that the local police, if they see you, would want to stop you and question what you are doing.
Overall I think this is a fabulous book that can be used like a manual for the various techniques. It’s not a coffee table ‘glossy’ but rather an informative book that really gives you all the information you might need in order to begin practising. It’s great value for money and I think will help many car photographers to learn the techniques they need in order to develop their skills.