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the author

Emmanuel Bigler is a professor in optics and microtechnology at ENSMM,
Besançon, France, an engineering college (École Nationale Supérieure
d'Ingénieurs) in mechanical engineering and microtechnology . He got
his Ph.D. degree from Institut d'Optique, Orsay (France). E. Bigler
uses an Arca-Swiss 6X9 FC view camera.

ENSMM, 26 chemin de l'Épitaphe 25030 Besançon cedex, France
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Reading notes, 
"Interior Shots, Pro-Lighting series,'' 

by Roger Hicks & Frances Schultz, ISBN 0-82306-465-4, Amphoto, 1996
French edition translated by René Bouillot, ISBN 2-86258-186-2, 160pp, éditions VM, 1996

par Emmanuel Bigler

(in french)

When comes the time of choosing a book on photographic techniques in a bookstore, it is not uncommon to browse through the contents first before eventually checking who is the author on the cover page. For artist's books featuring their photographic work, on the contrary, the first thing is usually to look for the author before checking if the contents suits you.

A famous exception to this common rule might be Ansel Adams series on black and white photographic techniques, where the great artist is also a fascinating professor [1] explaining both basic and advanced photography illustrated with his most famous pictures.

Needless to say that after purchasing this book on Interior Shots for its technical contents, it is another good surprise to discover the names of two excellent British and American authors, and (for the French version) translated into French by a one of he most respected French authors on photographic techniques.

The rules of the games in the 'Pro-Lighting' series is that the authors, namely R. Hicks et F. Schultz for this volume, call for help a panel of skilled professional photographers in order to share some of their best ``professional quality'' images with the readers, explained by a precise description of the methods and equipment in use.

The book shows many different examples to suit most personal preferences from the pure geometry of the ceiling in a mosque to the nave of a cathedral, from the most contemporary style of office furniture to the most classical and so British interior, where on the wall the portrait of the XV-st Earl of Westminston (or his cousin) is gently mocking at the photographer.

The reader should not expect to find a list of tricks used by craftsmen like in a do-it-yourself home repair or gardening magazine; amateurs sometimes dream that the mere knowledge of such tricks will transform them into skilled professionals: certainly not, but, yes for sure, fine craftsmanship this is actually the spirit of the book as far as professional lighting is concerned. The book is intended more as a support to the training of a young professional photographer, and such a student may have reasons to be impressed by the technical mastery as exposed in the book: he will have a lot to do before reaching the same level.

An amateur reading the book should not be deterred from taking his own photographs of interiors, even if it is unlikely that he could ever be able to put together all the equipment listed in the explanatory pages. After all, amateurs of classical music performing at home on a small piano should not stop from listening to the best records by best piano players: on the contrary, this will help them to practise scales and eventually to play their favourite pieces. In a sense, this is how the book by Roger Hicks and Frances Schultz might be considered: an essay in musicology helping you to better understand music masterpieces, or an educational recording explaining in detail the difficult parts of a given piece and how they were ``solved'' by a famous artist. Here in photography, for our pleasure, we are shown a selection of photographic interpretations of classical subjects.

However, even if the amateur has reasons to be intimidated by all this lighting maestria, there are a few simple techniques to be immediately applied without a lot of equipment. For example, about the difficult point of balancing light for a picture taken inside a church, Quitin Wright, one of the contributors of the book, proposes a very simple (at a first glance) technique to get an even illumination of the whole nave in a cathedral. The solution consists in using available light only, coming from highly placed stained-glass windows, and adding a well-chosen linear graduated neutral filter to balance light between the ground and the ceiling.

As far as cameras are concerned, the 4''x5'' view camera takes the lion's share, followed by the medium format (6x6, 6x7). Roger Hicks, almost asking us to be excused, proposes his personal vision of the classical interior of an Alabama home taken with a 35 mm camera fitted with an ultra-wide angle lens (14 mm). Yes, he says, since the final printed picture was intended for a 4''x6'' format only. Ok, Mr. Hicks, we understand that you want to stop any starting controversy about that, but how could the passionate reader of your books admit that you, the exalter of the 5''x7'' view camera, how could you take a picture of this interior with a 35 mm camera without movements!!

On the contrary: the demonstration is even more fascinating, the expertise shown by Roger Hicks in framing and lighting this interior picture makes very difficult to see at a first glance that it had been shot with a 14mm lens with a 35mm camera. To those who tell you abruptly, in passionate discussions between amateurs, that ``you should never use a focal length shorter than a 28mm, otherwise you'd get too much deformation'' we want to answer: c'mon guys, a bad workman always blames his tools, just look at the results obtained by Roger Hicks in Interior Shots with his 14mm !!

The nice workmanship shown in the book is very classical. Perspective rendition and mastering unwanted effects of converging lines does not pay any tribute to whatever kind of modern laxness. Either large format camera movements are used according to the rules of the art, or when medium format 6x6 cameras without movements are used hand-held, the verticals are always kept perfectly parallel. In another book on architecture photography with large format cameras [2] written at the end of the 1990's, the Californian photographer Julius Shulman is worried about the publication of lesser quality architectural photographs, his feeling is that it is either because art directors are less stringent or because ``modern'' photographers do not care for the proper equipment or technique.

Julius Shulman could be reassured reading this book on Interior Shots: at least on this side of the Atlantic, good authors like Roger Hicks and Frances Schultz --who actually share their time between Europe and the USA-- with the help of professional photographer friends who contributed with their best architectural images, are still there to show us that modern architecture photography is still made in compliance with the same good rules that made Julius Shulman successful in his career. And those amateurs or professionals who would take the liberty to publish images with ``slanted towers'' only because they lack proper skills or proper equipment, they can make benefit of reading this excellent book. Unfortunately Interior Shots, Pro-Lighting series may not be easily available in English as of 2002; and as a French reader we have to thank the publisher VM and translator René Bouillot to bring this excellent work to the French speaking community.

References

[1]

 

People will often try to oppose a famous artist to a professor of fine arts, who would be doomed to stay forever in the shadow of the great masters, whose works he has to explain and analyse daily for his students. Or you'll always hear about a beloved artistic genius, supposed to be unable to communicate about what he does and for whom any kind of transmission of his artistic knowledge to students would be impossible. In classical music, almost all great composers had students, but few of them became as famous as their master. And all famous musicians did learn music some day from a professor, but in History, those professors will be forever hidden behind their student. There might be an exception in French classical music, where Gabriel Fauré was both a renowned musician and an excellent professor, he had for some time Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel in his class. Well actually Fauré's master classes were probably very special in a sense that the old master probably never tried to impose anything to students with such a strong character as Debussy and Ravel. Thirty years later, when Georges Gershwin, fascinated, met Maurice Ravel and asked him if he could take lessons with him, Ravel --who could be extremely abrupt-- declined, and after arguing that the young American musician was already rich and famous (so he did not need anything extra), he mentioned ``no, you would only compose poor Ravel music...''

[2]

Julius Shulman, ``Architecture and its Photography'', 300pp, ISBN 3-8828-7204-0, Taschen America, 1998, (ISBN 3-8228-7334-9, in French, Taschen, 1998) ; this book unfortunately contains little technical information about how the photographs were made.

However, the following book by the same author is more oriented toward large format architectural photographic techniques including case studies:

``Photographing Architecture and Interiors'' by Julius Shulman, Richard Neutra (Introduction), ISBN: 1890449075, 180 pages, Balcony Pr. ; Reprint edition (May 15, 2000)

 

Emmanuel Bigler January 20, 2003

 

Dernière mise à jour : 2003

 

 

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