the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

JUDGING BOOKS BY THEIR “COVERS”

A pensive moment with Timothy Egan, Pulitzer prize winning author of "The Worst Hard Time".

A pensive moment with Timothy Egan, “Opinionator”columnist for the New York Times and Pulitzer prize-winning author of “The Worst Hard Time”. 1/80 sec., f/6.3, ISO 1600, 300mm.

By MICHAEL PERKINS

THE TUCSON FESTIVAL OF THE BOOK, not yet five years old, has quickly evolved into one of the premier annual events in the publishing world. Hosted over an entire weekend in March during spring break on the University of Arizona campus, it showcases hundreds of authors and thousands of titles that range in content over the entire spectrum of the printed word. It is also one of the most hassle-free environments for candid photography of many world-famous authors, with an atmosphere which is intimate, informal, and bristling with energy.

In the simple discussion forums and panels of the TFOB, authors occupy the immediate space of their readers in a way that fires their features with zeal, a quality that lends itself powerfully to seeing the very faces of books. It’s a shooter’s smorgasbord, and the meeting spaces are compact enough (usually University classrooms) that a good medium zoom boosted to about 1600 ISO will give you captures fairly free of noise and a real feeling of being there. In these smaller settings, a relaxed feeling pervades, with authors evolving into stage performers rather than lecturers. The result is no bloodless reading, but a kind of theatrical sales pitch on behalf of the author’s ideas, one part poet and one part Professor Harold Hill from The Music Man. 

I started shooting at TFOB four years ago and have learned more each year about circumventing the less-than-ideal lighting scheme (there really isn’t any) and clicking off hundreds of “drat!” images that fell short of what I was seeing. Shooting inside by flourescent light always means taking sample images with various white balances and making changes on the fly, as well as compensating for the light fall-off and additional vibration risk that occurs when you’re fully zoomed in.

Best thing is, though, there are almost no visual distractions to lead the eye away from the authors, since

Culture hero Chuck Klosterman, author of "Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs"

Culture hero Chuck Klosterman, author of “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs”. 1/100 sec., f/6.3, ISO 1600, 116mm.

for the most part they stand before blackboards or blank walls. The shots don’t have to be simplified….they are already pretty stark. In addition, you can just frame head shots for the middle third of the subject’s faces, since you aren’t really there to capture their haircut or the water bottles and mics nearby.

Do yourself a favor and investigate a trip to the southwest each March for this amazing event.

If you love books, it’s essential. If you study faces, it’s the icing on the cake.

(NOTE: follow Michael Perkins on Twitter for the “Normal Eye Clicks Of The Day” and “Today in Photo History” at http://www.twitter.com/mpnormaleye. Share your own images with me, especially Instagram and phone snaps. You are always a vital part of this conversation.)

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