Unboxing ‘Photography by the Letter’

Jeffrey Saddoris‘ Photography by the Letter is a lovingly designed dictionary of all things photography, from Aperture to Zoom Lens, with all kinds of stuff in between and a set of interviews with well-known professionals at the end.

To be honest, I’m not quite sure who this book is for. I picked it up to support Saddoris, whose ‘On Taking Pictures’ podcast with Bill Wadman was a wonderful weekly companion for me from shortly after its beginning in 2012, through the last episode earlier this year. So I know why I bought it, but, and I hate to say it, I’m not really sure who would want or need this book otherwise.

People who would benefit from it are unlikely to know that they would benefit from it; people who know about it probably already know most everything in it. Plus, while it’s very well designed, it’s a little bit busy, and it’s sometimes hard for my middle-aged eyes to find what I’m supposed to be reading on any given page, or follow longer entries through to the end, as they’re sometimes interrupted and the photographs and text boxes sort of scream from the periphery.

It might make a good gift for a new photography enthusiast, but I probably wouldn’t gift it… Experience indicates that other people are unlikely to read books you give them, unless they specifically asked for that specific book, and even then, it might end up sitting on a shelf, looking neglected. And it would probably make a decent reference tool in a small library somewhere, at a junior or high school perhaps, for students to pick up and manhandle from time to time, if these young kids manhandle anything but their phones any more, idk.

It’s not all bad, and users of all levels will find some benefit from this book, just be prepared to do a bit of extra work, sifting through all the stuff you don’t care about to find what you’re looking for. Peppered throughout are exercises to encourage further exploration and ranging from brief, computer-based things, to long-term projects. And the interviews at the end are interesting and insightful, though at $30, the book might be on the expensive side for what it offers.

Photography by the Letter started out as an ebook, and it probably works much better in a digital format. The layout just looks like a dynamic website, and many parts of it are begging for hyperlinks. I’m a bit too old to have any natural appreciation for or much experience with ebooks, and I’ve tried, but as yet haven’t really found ebooks to be very easy to use.*

Anyway, I don’t have any experience with the ebook version, but if you like and use ebooks, I would recommend the ebok version before I recommend the physical book.

Unrated.

You can find the physical book or the ebook at Saddoris’ website, and his ‘Process Driven‘ podcast is still running, and probably more informative and useful, if not as regular or various/peripatetic as ‘On Taking Pictures’ was, so please check it out, and given Saddoris some love.


*In general, it seems that ebooks are meant for a tablet-type device, something roughly the size of a book, that you can hold like a book, on the sofa or in bed, and read casually. But I don’t have a tablet, nor do I yet see the practical need for one (outside of using it to enjoy ebooks more effectively). They (ebooks) are painful on an iPhone screen or laptop.

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