Book Review: Gordon Laing’s In-Camera

Gordon Laing’s In-Camera book is a natural evolution of the famous website CameraLabs.com. If you’ve been doing photography for many years the way that I have, you probably remember watching his videos and reading his ultra-long reviews in your photographic journey. In fact, Gordon was one of my biggest influences when I started the Phoblographer–originally publishing reviews in daily field review journals only to be concluded at the end of a larger compilation blog post. Gordon gets pretty technical and in-depth on his website; but In-Camera is more or less the antithesis of his website’s famously long reviews.

Gordon Laing’s In-Camera is what I believe to be a travel photography tutorial book designed for the photographers that know the absolute basics of photography’s artistic philosophies and the rudimentary technical pillars of the art form. Like the title implies, it’s designed for you to be able to get the best photo that you absolutely can within the camera. For a whole lot of us, this sounds like a dream. Personally, anything that gets me away from the computer in my office sounds great within the boundaries of being a responsible business owner. But the less time that I can spend editing, the more time I can spend shooting, commuting, and building interpersonal relationships with the people that I often photograph or photowalk with.

With all that groundwork and foundation already planted, Gordon takes an interesting and somewhat unconventional approach to a tutorial book. While most photography tutorial books will sit there and teach you the nitty gritty of it all, Gordon realizes the fact that anyone and everyone can simply head on over to YouTube these days and just watch some videos that tell you all these things. However, practical application is seriously lacking–and that has given birth to the current boom in photography workshops. So what Gordon Laing’s In-Camera does is breaks down his thought processes and reasoning for creating a large number of photos contained within the book. He applies and talks about his creative freedom usage, a tiny bit of technical knowledge, and mixes in a healthy amount of travel-bug knowledge. The majority of the time, he gives a whole lot of what photographers want to read: good information into the insights of why he did what he did, technical specs displayed very cleanly on the left side, and a pro tip on the bottom.

The greatest thing about all this is that Gordon gives this information in a way that will appeal to a large number of photographers. To that end, the photographers reading this book most likely haven’t found their photographic identity and perhaps just like traveling and taking photos. A reader can go from absorbing Gordon’s thoughts on the best tacos in NYC to a burlesque dancer at a Sony event and then to being transported to a pub in Budapest within a few pages. All the while, Gordon sticks to his principle of trying to get it all right in camera and moving on about his life.

For those introductory, amateur travel photographers Gordon Laing’s In-Camera book is a pretty awesome read. But at the same time, the book falls short in some regards. You see, I’m an experience portfolio reviewer considering that one of the subscription tiers at La Noir Image does this and we’ve been featuring photographers on a near daily basis here for many years now. So when I look at images and interview people, I get a bit more into their head. I personally know Gordon–in fact I’ve made dinner for the man and he’s spent some time at my apartment in Brooklyn. We’re all aware that he can go on and on talking about something and that could be where this book falls short. In all truthfulness, I believe that perhaps Gordon’s editor or publisher asked him to keep it short on the descriptions for the purposes of layout and pagination. But Gordon could easily have waxed poetically about why he decided to create an image in black and white, what it was doing for the scene, and the deeper story behind how and why he shot something in a specific way. Gordon often likes to get images right in camera and will spend quite a bit of time experimenting and using his knowledge to do just that. At times, the book feels a bit like the SparkNotes version of that (for those of you who remember SparkNotes.) And I think that not allowing Gordon to be Gordon with only a little bit of a leash sometimes doesn’t give us the absolute fullest benefit that I know that we can get from him. To be fair though, perhaps the crowd that is reading this book doesn’t necessarily care to read all of that information; but instead the experienced photographers would.

Gordon Laing’s In-Camera is available for a pretty darned affordable price point considering that it’s a hardcover. And if you know anyone still trying to figure out their photographic identity, I strongly recommend that they pick it up over at Amazon.