This book came out of nowhere for me. Whilst I'd heard of Gregory Heisler (who strangely enough follows me on Twitter! Hi Greg!) I wasn't aware of his vast vast back catalogue of portraiture. Perhaps because he's mainly based in America shooting American celebrities and politicians he'd never really crossed my radar. How naive could I be?!
I wasn't actually aware this book was coming out until David Hobby posted a blog on Strobist outlining a number of photography books that would make great gifts for photographers. I was much more interested in The Road to Seeing by Dan Winters at the time mainly because of the gushing reviews I was reading everywhere. But I saw 50 Portraits was coming out around the same time and had some Amazon vouchers to use up after Christmas so ordered myself a copy. I certainly wasn't expecting this book to be as thorough and captivating as it is.
I did eventually get hold of The Road to Seeing, which is an entirely different kettle of fish to this book. Whilst that's more of an autobiography detailing how and why Dan Winters shoots the way her does, Heisler's book is a fascinating and in depth look into the mind and thoughts of one of the best photographers of our times.
Each of the 50 portraits is set up by introducing the person captured and the reason behind the photograph being required. Heisler then goes to beautifully deconstruct every single one. And not just from a technical standpoint including lighting positioning, cameras used etc etc, but also the reasoning behind the multitude of choices that can present themselves to a photographer at any given time. He does this with an ease of language and an understanding that would make sense to even the most beginner of photographers.
It's truly staggering how much thought goes into something that to the outside viewer would at first glance appear quite simple. Heisler's brilliance lies in both his brilliance in bringing out a certain feeling/expression from his subjects and his ability to make his lighting setups look completely natural. He is never lighting for the sake of lighting, there's always a reason behind using a certain light, or a certain lens. None of the photographs in the book are about the photographer, you pick up throughout that he never really wanted it to be about him showing off. He makes choices that are in perfect keeping with his subject.