Gregory Heisler's 50 Portraits Book Review

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?!

Gregory Heisler 50 Portraits Cover

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.

George W Bush in 50 Portraits

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.

Arnold Newman in 50 Portraits
Pete Seeger in 50 Portraits

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.

Mario Andretti in 50 Portraits
Mick Jagger and Tina Turner in 50 Portraits
Bruce Springsteen in 50 Portraits

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.

George W H Bush in 50 Portraits

Beautiful Ile de Ré, South of France

To make up for the terrible weather we're having at the moment, I thought I'd whisk you away to the South of France, and in particular Ile de Ré just a short car ride over the bridge from La Rochelle.

To say this island is stunning is truly an understatement.  Visually and spiritually this place is unlike anywhere I've ever been in my life.  The way of life here is true bliss, every day feels like a hot lazy Sunday afternoon.  If you ever wanted somewhere to go to just get away from the rat race for awhile and live a slower pace of life, Ile de Rey would top my list.

We arrived by car over the large bridge that separates the island from mainland France and parked up in a large shaded carpark off the main street of Le Bois Plage-En-Ré.  I'd originally read about the island years and years ago in Stephen Clarke's A Year In The Merde (which I'd highly recommend getting a copy of) but only had a vague visualisation in my head of what it would be like.   In it Stephen gets a bike and heads out to live on a rural farm, we didn't go quite that far, but bike seemed like the best way to get around the island.  We headed into town and rented ourselves two deux vélos and headed out.  The fact that the entire island is flat helps a lot, especially when most times that you stop in a small village you can't help but have a glass of red wine and soak up the sun.  Enjoy the images.

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Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Deer Park

It seems like a lifetime ago that I actually got out to take these images.  It was probably one of the last decent days of weather we had before the winter cold set in.  Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Deer Park are beautiful places to take a crisp autumn walk, and I thought I'd combine that with some deer hunting.

It was actually more difficult than I thought it might be, it certainly gave me the utmost respect for all the wildlife photographers featured on the Natural History Museum Website.  The patience they must have is incredible.  For a start deer doing exactly stand still for very long, and they're extremely skittish and unamused by my attempts to get nearer to them.  The slightest rustle of leaves or branches and they pretty much all look up from whatever their doing and turn in unison to look at you.  Then you're forever in their sight as you inch closer and closer, right until one of them decides enough is enough and off they bolt.  At some points I felt a certain kinship with Fenton.

Anyway when I did manage to get them standing still I started to notice that it was really the light that was the star of the show.  Getting the backlight hitting the backs of the deer added a stunning quality to the finished images, just a shame that by the time I'd got into position to get that backlight the deers had run off.  I did manage to get a few nice shots though before the sun dipped behind the hills.  Enjoy!

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