Book review verdict: May be useful as a course text for the mindful photographer
This is my book review of Zen Camera, which presents a series of 6 lessons and tools to help photographers evolve.
David Ulrich makes clear that Zen Camera is intended to cultivate creativity in photography, and in ”… all areas of your life). Within the book, Ulrich provides a Zen-based approach to what many other authors refer to as finding one’s niche in photography. Mindfulness practice draws on the same foundation that Ulrich introduces.
He suggests starting with a clean mental slate, followed by asking and answering questions. This approach is certainly more nuanced than the usual “find your niche” route, but many photographers find their niche naturally, simply by photographing what attracts them. For those struggling to identify their niche, Ulrich’s framework may provide a useful tool. But if we need a tool that is essentially a process map, are we being mindful, following a Zen philosophy, or simply using a process checklist as we home in on our target of niche identification?
He also presents his recommendations on what is usually referred to as a peer review process, again taking a nuanced approach. The value of peer review is something that is taught to students of photography, but which may not be readily obvious to the casual photographer. But would the casual photographer buy and read a book such as this? Personally, I doubt it, so perhaps this book is better suited to being a Zen or mindfulness photography course text that supports Ulrich’s work as a teacher of photography, than as an off-the-shelf guide for photographers in general.
One of Ulrich’s statements that really stood out to me is this: “I don’t know of any widely available professional image editing solutions other than those from Adobe”.
There are a couple of worrying aspects related to the above statement.
First and foremost, Ulrich does not appear to have looked for Adobe alternatives. If he had done the research, he would have found other image editing options such as Capture One, On1, Canon Digital Photo Professional etc. I am not for one moment suggesting that any of these other applications are direct replacements for Adobe’s Photoshop or Lightroom applications, but they can be, and are being, used by professional photographers, including myself.
Secondly, and this for me is more important, there is no such thing as professional image editing software. There, I said it! (I also hold an MSc. in software development, so I’m quite comfortable making that statement).
There is, certainly, software that is used by professional photographers. That same software may also be used by amateur photographers, but does that then make it amateur software? Software is simply a tool, to be used as the user wants to use it. It is neither professional, nor amateur. The same is true of cameras. Take any “professional” camera and have a good look at it. Surely it has features required by professional photographers. But those same features may also be used by amateurs. Again, because a camera is used by an amateur photographer, that does not make it an amateur camera, it is simply a tool.
Ulrich has, therefore, demonstrated a lack of research in making his statement, and a lack of mindfulness in considering whether tools are actually professional, amateur, or simply tools, to be used by anyone. The author has simply fallen into the trap of acceptance. He has allowed himself to be conditioned to accept that Adobe is the only company that provides what he refers to as professional image editing software.
Ulrich also states that “Mindfulness encourages freshness of mind”, yet other statements by the author give rise to further doubts about his Zen approach. He confirms early in the book that “Photographers have died from falling off cliffs, being run over by trains while taking selfies, and all manner of gruesome ways resulting from not paying attention”. Having said that, he later declares that “photography does not have fatal repercussions…”
With Zen Camera, David Ulrich leads us to some of the same conclusions that we usually arrive at as we evolve as photographers; we identify our niche, we bite the bullet and ask for independent reviews of our images or portfolios etc. Ulrich presents his Zen Camera approach as an alternative path to realizing our goals in photography and life. For those who need help in these matters, the book provides a good starting point. For those seeking to adopt a more mindful approach to photography, the book provides some useful pointers.
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