Review: Photo Idea Index, by Jim Krause

Photo Idea Index, by Jim Krause

In the preface to one of this book’s companion volumes, Jim Krause describes the pages that follow not so much as a “How To” book as a “What if?” book. That seems an apt enough description for Photo Idea Index, one of a number of books Krause has authored for graphic design imprint How Books.

A dizzying array of topics are covered here. To Krause’s credit, he doesn’t neglect the place of the photographer in all of this, putting vision front and center. Nor is he particularly enamored of expensive gear (likely an outgrowth of his graphic design background; everybody I know who does graphic design is routinely asked to work miracles on a shoestring budget), which is a great reminder for photographers and others in the habit of always having only the latest and most expensive stuff. If you’re concerned with postproduction, layout, workflow, general creativity or vision, and whether you’re photographing products, people, real estate, or pretty much anything else obvious or obscure, there’s probably a tip or three here for you.

In a sense, it’s probably a good thing this isn’t explicitly marketed as a “how to,” since the dozens of exercises presented here are mere hints at, or suggestions of, larger concepts. If you’re looking for detailed step-by-step instructions, you’ve come to the wrong place. Each of these examples is a mere starting point, as with Krause’s other work. To my mind, there’s no downside here, as I’m the type to take what I need and leave the rest, and I’m willing to take the germ of an idea as a jumping-off point. If you approach the book in that spirit, it’s useful no matter who you are. If, on the other hand, you need more of a kick in the ass, you might be better off in the self-help section.

Here goes nothing… hopefully what follows won’t sound like I’m damning Mr. Krause with faint praise: While this book’s target audience seems to be people who are vaguely scared of photography (artists, graphic designers, and others of that ilk), novice and even experienced photographers will find much to use and appreciate here. Krause does for photography, and photographers of all skill/comfort levels what his graphic design books accomplish so well: he demystifies the process and makes it accessible. More importantly — to this reader, at least — he’s mindful of a spirit of improvisation and fun that pervades the best photography. Those “what ifs” can be found on page after page, challenging the photographer even as it welcomes him or her. If you’re not a photographer, you might give that a second thought after reading Photo Idea Index. And if you’ve got some experience under your belt, you may find yourself inspired to stretch your techniques and thoughts just a bit futher than before.

Postscript: Jim Krause is also the author of the perennial design bestsellers Layout Index, Design Basics Index (Index Series), and Idea Index, plus the companion volumes to this book, Photo Idea Index – People, Photo Idea Index – Places, and Photo Idea Index – Things. Like this book, each combines tips with stories, exercises and prompts, many drawn from Krause’s own experiences as a working designer.

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