Book Review

Analog Photography: Reference Manual for Shooting Film

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Last month, I received an email from Princeton Architectural Press. They offered to send me a review copy of Andrew Bellamy’s Analog Photography: Reference Manual For Shooting Film.

Flattered, I agreed.

The book arrived soon after, beautifully laid out throughout its 190 offset-type pages. The stark yellow cover made it a pleasure to look at and have on display around the house. It’s a pleasant read from cover to cover, despite the few shortcomings of a first edition.

Andrew is a New York design director with an impressive portfolio and award roster. This book effectively demonstrates his skill, passion, and dedication through mindful page layout, graphics, and illustrations. “Reference Manual” may sound boring by name; still, I found it delightful to look at and dip into. It’s well-written, relatively concise, and easy to digest: like a graphic novel.

The cover has the same feel as a Polaroid Originals instant film frame; the paperback texture is slick and textured. Solid and flexible. The binding is durable and neat, as expected from a professional publishing house. I’m tempted to say that just for the packaging alone, the book is worth the US $24.95, as printed on the backside.

The pages have a slight sepia tint and a monochrome colour scheme, similar to what you’ll find in a paperback novel. The paper, however, is thicker than expected, which is nice.

A book on photography with no colour, not even inserts, is a design challenge that Andrew tackles brilliantly. His schematic illustrations are clear and easy to understand. I found the concepts to be visually explained better than many full-colour diagrams found online and in print.

In contrast to a typical reference publication, this book boasts plenty of white space, cleverly marked chapter progress, and many decorative design elements. Bellamy’s digital display experience evidently plaid a major role in shaping the book’s motif.

However, I found some of the example photographs lacking. The illustrative subject choice, telephone poles and palm trees, failed to impress and even explain some concepts.

The definitions next to the illustrations are dense, detailed, and informative. The written style, in contrast to much reference material, is relatively simple and inviting.

Andrew’s passion for design and film photography is evident. It seems that he composed the book as if it was a story, rather than a collection of excerpts from scientific journals or history books. Having read this book, I feel somehow connected to a fellow writer and film camera fanatic.

It would make for even a better read, should more attention had been given to chapter planning. Being confronted with rangefinder diagrams immediately after the table of contents felt abrupt. The section order is somewhat random throughout.

To be frank, it’s difficult to understand what the focus of this book is. The title and the design messaging suggest a reference material meant for research. The content, however, does not provide clear references or bibliography.

I’ve also noticed that there’s room to add more information on film types, development methods, and scanning. Perhaps that’s out of the book’s scope. Yet I can’t help wanting more after being teased by the few pages that did discuss film speed and resolution.

Still, what is in the book is already very informative. Certain complex concepts, such as roof pentaprism image inversion are wonderfully explained with simple, beautiful schematics. There’s no shortage of information on exposure, focus, and shutter speed. Camera illustrations along with definitions are simple and easy to understand; practically all knowledge is actionable and is a must-have for any serious photographer. Film or digital.

It’s safe to say that the book provides a solid value, even for those who have limited interest in photography.