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Inspiration matters

Scott Kelby brings clarity to photography

Scott_1 Wouldn't it be great if more people became better amateur photographers? And wouldn't it be great if we too could greatly improve our own skill-level and knowledge about photography to produce photos that we could be proud of? There are no shortcuts to excellence in any field, including photography, but wouldn't it be cool if one of the world's bestselling authors of photography books wrote a book full of tips that made you feel like you were hanging out with him one afternoon on a shoot getting tip after practical tip that you could actually use immediately without the jargon and theory (but with plenty of jokes to go with the killer advice)? That's exactly what Scott Kelby did in his bestselling book The Digital Photography Book: The step-by-step secrets for how to make your photos look like the pros. Except Scott did not just produce one such book, he produced two. And I have them both. (The Digital Photography Book Vol 2 was published last month.) Even if you are a pro you may enjoy these books, but if you are a complete newbie or an amateur photographer with ambition to become a remarkable photographer, then these two books are two you will want to checkout.

Scott_2 These two books are not the last word by any means, but they will make a huge difference for anyone who wants to get better. The lessons I learned in these two books not only helped me take better photographs, they also made me better able to assess good images from the not-so-good ones when selecting photos for purchase (from stock, microstock, etc.). There's some technical stuff in there, but mostly you learn how to take better images like the pros. You don't need to have an SLR camera to learn from these books, but these books are especially good for people who currently have — or hope someday soon to have — a professional grade camera. I do not have a digital SLR yet but am planning now to invest in the equipment after reading Scott's books. It will be worth it.

SK: For maximum impact, look for simplicity
I had a sense about this drawn from intuition and based on my own design experience, but it was reassuring to read Scott's ideas about photography and simplicity. Concerning city shots, for example, Scott says that clutter and distraction are the things that most often kill properly exposed shots. Here's a clip from page 171 of The Digital Photography Book.

" of the big secrets to creating powerful and dramatic urban and travel shots is to strive for simplicity. Look for simplicity in your backgrounds, in your people shots, in your architectural elements, in every aspect—the simpler the surroundings, the more powerful the impact...Look for the absence of of distraction. Look for the absence of clutter and noise, watch for distracting elements that sneak into the top and sides of your frame, and create some photos that have great impact—not because of what they have, but because of what they don't have—lots of junk."

                                                —Scott Kelby

Scott Thinks it's Hot
Hot_scott Besides writing over 30 books on photography and Photoshop, Scott appears regularly on Photoshop User TV. Scott also keeps a really cool blog, the Adobe Photoshop Insider. And since I am a fan of Scott's work (I've learned almost all my Photoshop skills over the years from Scott), I was very happy when Presentation Zen was selected for the first "Scott Thinks it's Hot Award." I have never met Scott but I can tell he's a great guy and he's certainly helped a lot of people over the years tell their stories through photography and other visuals. Take some time to checkout his blog, videos, and books. A lot of great stuff in there. 

Here's another one
Clicks The Moment It Clicks: Photography secrets from one of the world's top shooters is also outstanding. This book too makes you feel like you're just hanging out with one of world's best photographers (Joe McNally) and he's dropping one great insightful tip after another. This book is a real pleasure to read and scan. This book is a great complement to Scott Kelby's work.

Scott's gear
Scott Kelby's portfolio
Joe McNally's portfolio



I picked up Scott's books the same time I picked up my first low-end DSLR and it was an incredible jump start. Good synopsis of his hallmark works.

By the way, very cool to see you're keeping such a high quality blog. I went to Kansai Gaidai for a spell in the spring of 2005 and though I never had a class with you, I definitely recall seeing you around the building. Hope Japan continues to treat you well!



Excellent post. Thanks for the links. I am currently in the same position as you looking to buy an SLR. I was wondering which one are you going to buy?

Brian Reyman

Both great books - Scott and Joe are a few of the better authors out there.

I've written reviews of the books:

For Garrett, the Rebel series from Canon is great - the XTi and XSi are both solid entry level cameras.


My college roommate has a Canon XTi and has produced some incredible work with it. Personally, I chose the D40 as I prefer it's kit lens and other available lenses. It makes a fantastic beginner to intermediate camera, which should last me a long while.


Nice post, Garr.

I would have to agree that photography is definitely a great supplement for anyone interested in visual design.

I do have a SLR camera (Canon Digital Rebel XTi), and I simply love it! I brought it with me to Japan on this last trip. It was very intimidating to learn all the controls at first, but I was lucky to have photography enthusiast friends. I also recommend watching DVDs by Blue Crane Digital.
I prefer DVDs for disciplines where "doing it" is the key. But, I have heard of Scott Kelby's name, so I'll go and check it out!

As a newbie photographer myself, I think doing photography parallels and exercises many of the principles you describe in your book, particularly the last chapter. You may already know this, but the "Rule of Thirds" mentioned in the book is one of the first things photographers are taught about composition and how to "frame" a photograph. So, as you said, looking for as well as composing good shots is great practice for not only for assessing good images, but also creating your own visuals.

Along with identifying with simplicity, I think that photography complements visual design by:

1. Being in the present and connecting
Going out for a shoot helps you be in the moment. You're absorbing in your environment, looking for that particular image (or emotion) you want to capture. You feel "it" around it. As you take pictures, you begin to realize and identify with what connects with you. Why do you feel the way you do? This awareness can translate into effective design when trying to create visuals to connect with the audience. I believe that much of the psychology in why certain colors, shapes, and lines affect us they way they do is because we've been trained by nature to associated certain emotions or responses to those elements.

2. Aiding in the "Journey"
The last chapter of the book is truly inspirational. Photography is a great way to "just do it," "exercise your 'right brain'," "get out," and increase your awareness to the "lessons" around us.

3. Saving some money
I wish my company would give me a personal budget to buy stock photographs. But, the paradigm that believes in the importance of great visuals in a presentation is just not there yet. I love iStockphoto, but downloading lots of high quality photos can take a toll on my wallet. So, learning photography is a great way to create your own images! The resolutions of today's cameras can create almost print quality images (at least 250 ppi). I like to capture pictures in RAW, as to minimize image quality loss.


Excellent post. Like the previous ones! I just recently discovered your blog in an attempt to find ways to improve my presentations and those of my colleagues.

I just bought Jon Steel's "Perfect Pitch". I can only recommend it to anyone new to improving her presentations.

To GarrettB: I am in the same situation of needing stock images but not getting the necessary funds. So I will follow your actions and try to do my own stuff.

On a different matter, some nice photos can be seen here



Nice Post...Scott's Books aid the catalyst in your to be look for the nuances better when trying to capture it. I also liked the books from National Geographic on Digital Photography.


Thanks for sharing your feedback about the book. I wanted to get a copy of it, and am searching for some reviews of the book. If you said it's good, I'm sure it's pretty useful since I've been reading Presentation Zen for some time and trust your words...... :)

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