Direction & Quality Of Light – Book Review

Direction & Quality Of Light - Book Review

It is not secret that Neil Van Niekerk (who also runs the tangents blog for photographers) is one of our favorite photographers (and favorite bloggers too). This is why we were happy to see that he has a new book out – Direction & Quality Of Light. If you are familiar with his blog, you know that Neil’s writing is clear and informative, so it won’t come as a surprise that the book ranks high on my recommendation list. The following is kind of a half review half overview of the book.

What Is the Book About?

So I was kinda cheating before, the name is the book is actually a bit longer ) the full title is Direction & Quality of Light: Your Key to Better Portrait Photography Anywhere which better explains what this book is about. And the book delivers what the title promises, it helps understand how different lights effect a final portrait.

The book does a little ramp to get the readers up to speed and into a mutual baseline and then analyzes portraiture light from every possible angle (pun not intended)

Who Is This Book For?

My take is that this book is not an intro book and is meant for photographers who understand their basics pretty well. While the book touches on ISO, shutter and aperture, it does so briefly and quickly jumps into lighting (and advanced lighting at that).

It is not that the starting photographer will suffer reading the book, quite the opposite, but to really suck it all in, you need to be able to eat stops for breakfast.

As far as what you’ll get out of the book… well, first there are many techniques and cheat codes / cook book recipes in the book that you can start using even if you don’t fully understand them. The better part is that the book does help in understanding the motivation behind each setup and idea. So if you invest the time in following the motivations and understanding the reason behind each setup, you’ll have a far stronger toolbox when you are done with the book.

One word of caution though, you can use this book to rationalize your G.A.S (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) – especially on the video lights and multiple strobes chapters, but Neil probably says it in the first or second page, it is not about the gear. So My advice to you is to master any technique offered in the book before jumping into new purchases.

Direction & Quality Of Light - Book Review

Chapters 1-3 – Basics & Natural Light

Those three chapters server as a quick camera and lighting bootcamp. If you listened to my advice before, and only got the book if you know your camera, those chapters should only server as a refreshment.

Here Neil covers some lighting essentials like hard light vs. soft light; the direction of light; the concept of fill light; exposure metering and many, many tips on working with natural light. In fact, there are some great nuggets on natural light right there in the intro.

Chapters 4-6 – Introducing Flashes

Here Neil covers the basics of strobes. (Neil is a Nikonian so the terminology is a bit Nikonish, but it can be easily adopted to any other system).

Chapter 4 deals mainly with flash introduction. While this part is a bit too short for my taste, it gives a pretty solid base on the terms that you’ll meet later in the book. (In general be prepared to meet a lot of new Acronyms).

Chapter 5 takes the concept of fill light and applies it to Strobes.

If you read nothing more in the book, read chapter 6 that deals with Bounce Flash and the Black Foamy Thing (BTF). It will help you to get the most out of your on camera strobe.

Chapters 7-9 – Advance Strobe Techniques

All those chapters deal with advanced strobe techniques. If you read any of the big lighting blogs like strobist, you’ll find yourself right at home.

I think that chapter 7 ,that introduces Off Camera Flash is the longest chapter in the book and it is packed with information accordingly. Neil take a tour of off camera flash starting with motivation, going through the technicalities involved with off camera flash (triggering, TTL/Manual, HSS), positioning, control, feathering & bounce, and covers a few extra setups.

I would call this chapter the applicative form of strobist lighting 101. It is no replacement to that, but it shows you how to apply the techniques you’ve learned in theory.

Chapters 8 and 9 touch on multiple strobes and gels. They serve as a great appetizer, and if you want more multiple strobes, you can always get one of McNally’s books or the Strobist DVDs.

Chapter 10 – Hard Sunlight

Boy, this is a good one. If you ever went out to shoot, only to discover a harsh, unforgiving sun, you’ll be happy that this chapter is included in the book. I only wish it was longer.

This chapter really covers the most basic aspect of dealing with harsh sunlight and has some great tips. I was missing a section on using reflector here, but even without them the chapter provides a few useful nuggets, especially on posing in hard sun.

(I am going to skip chapter 11 here, it deals with video lights and only servers as a very, very light intro).

Direction & Quality Of Light - Book Review


Absolutely go and get it. Mostly for two reasons:

  • If you are in the transition phase where you already know the basics and more to move into more advanced lighting / better use your light this is a good book for you. Sit down and read it.
  • If you want a reference book with ideas and setups and ways to approach complicated lighting conditions, you can browse through it. Then when you need specific advice, pick it up and read the relevant chapter.

[Direction & Quality of Light: Your Key to Better Portrait Photography Anywhere /  Neil van Niekerk, $19.76 on Amazon]

  • D.Pulsar

    Just bought and received it. You convince me … !