Monte Zucker’s Portrait Photography Handbook

Monte Zucker’s Portrait Photography Handbook tells how to take portraits like the recently deceased Master himself. It is filled with examples of his classic style and discusses in some detail the reasons why Monte Zucker did the things that he did. I like it, and not just because I like Monte’s pictures.
I’ve been taking portraits for about ten years, my formal training involves the basics of turning the body at a 45 degree angle, tilting the head toward the camera for women, tilting it away for men, put the near hand on the knee and the far hand near the waist, and so on and so forth. Monte Zucker’s Portrait Photography Handbook covers all the basics and then moves from classical posing to more contemporary posing.
Monte Zucker was a huge fan of profile shots. Judging from the examples in this Handbook, he never did a complete setting without at least one profile, and maybe two, one of each side. In family groups he was very fond of piling people on top of one another, so that Dad would the base of a family pyramid. In my own work I have not always found it easy to get a family group on the floor and posed in the manner he describes. But I am thinking I may give it a try. In most cases, doing something different can make the difference between a sale and a -“We bought that one last time.”
Monte Zucker’s Portrait Photography Handbook has chapters on Posing, Lighting, Backgrounds, Equipment, Composition, Camera, Exposure, and the many other details of taking professional portraits. All the chapters are brief enough to make this Handbook feel more like a textbook. If Monte Zucker has one flaw it is his ego. Being a Master Photographer since film was invented has made him a bit condescending at times. He can’t help talking down to his readers once in a while.
Many people tell me they know all about the basic pose and the feminine pose. Yet they don’t apply the principles in their portraits. Knowing about them and applying the principles are two distinctly different things. If the ideas aren’t applied, there’s no sense in knowing about them, is there?“-Monte Zucker
Bot overall, his writing is clean and crystal clear. He tends to tell rather than instruct, he knows what he’s saying and if you want to learn, pay attention.
Monte Zucker’s Portrait Photography Handbook does fall short on a couple of points. There are no diagrams, though many of the images have a wide angle shot so you can see where the lights are and how the subjects are posed outside the camera frame. But I like aerial views with heights and distances spelled out for me. The book also has nothing to say on how you interact with your portrait subjects. A typical line from Monte Zucker’s Portrait Photography Handbook is ‘A two-thirds view of the face is achieved when the head is turned to the side, leaving both eyes visible from the camera. which is good enough information, but tells you nothing about how to achieve it with a real person.
I have worked with people that quoted our bare bones training manual to the extend that would say things like-Alright, look over here and give me a pleasant expression. You can imagine the type of expressions this request received, and pleasant was not always to term I would have used. So it would have been nice if Monte Zucker had put in a chapter about talking to the subjects and giving them directions. Many of his portraits are almost ‘over posed’ so I am guessing that he did a lot of talking during a portrait setting. It would have been nice to know what he said.
Other than that it is a good family portrait book. So many books on Portrait Lighting and Posing deal with weird lighting tricks and shooting the nude, Monte Zucker’s Portrait Photography Handbook is just a nuts and bolts book on taking good, solid portraits. The point of any book on Portraits is to make better Portraits and make More Money. I think I will be able to do both with Monte Zucker’s Portrait Photography Handbook.

Jon Herrera

Jon Herrera

Writer, Photographer, Blogger.
Jon Herrera

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Writer, Photographer, Blogger.

Posted in monte zucker, Monte Zucker's Portrait Photography Handbook, portrait photographer, portraits

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