My question is - what quality photos do I need to take for the book to look good? Can I use an ordinary hand-held digital camera? Or do I need professional equipment, such as studio,lighting etc?
As they say, "garbage in, garbage out". What quality of photos would you expect in a book about martial arts technique? Would high-quality, well thought-out and composed shots increase your opinion of the book, or give an impression that the book is worth your time?
You can use a hand-held digital camera, but without the ability to control flash lighting, you will be at the mercy of the lighting at the scene. Some things to consider:
Assuming you are trying to capture real kicks and strikes, rather than posed kicks and strikes, you want to use a very fast shutter speed to absolutely stop motion at or before the moment of impact. Depending on the camera, a compact point-and-shoot might not allow fast enough control of the shutter speed.
Indoor lighting rarely provides enough light to allow a fast enough shutter speed to adequately freeze motion.
Even if you bring in lots of inexpensive lights (like simple LED or CFL light fixtures from the hardware store) to flood the scene, those inexpensive lights will suffer from flicker due to the AC mains frequency, creating color and/or brightness variation within just about every shot, and certainly shot-to-shot variation. See this directly related question, which shows martial arts examples: Do fluorescent lighting and shutter speed create a problem with color cast?
Note that if you use incandescent bulbs, this problem largely goes away (because incandescent bulbs still glow brightly between AC frequency peak-to-peak transitions, effectively smoothing out the light intensity variations). However, lots of incandescent lighting will throw off a lot of heat and consume a lot of electricity, so if either of those are a concern, you need to know ahead of time.
If you shoot outdoors in order to take advantage of lots of natural light (in a park or yard, for instance), you will get better results on a lightly overcast or partly cloudy day, rather than under direct bright sunlight. In general, shots taken in mid-day sunlight will suffer from blown out highlights and/or too-dark shadows due to the very bright and direct light from the sun. The clouds on an overcast day makes for a great diffuser, allowing light from all over the sky to illuminate your subject more evenly.
If I were the person shooting this project, I'd consider the following:
I'd definitely use a tripod and remote shutter release trigger. That allows the photographer to move around to adjust lighting, or be in a better position to see exactly when to capture a shot. Having the camera on a tripod creates more consistent images, and for a long shoot is certainly less tiring.
I'd try to have it shot in a dojo/martial arts studio with mirror walls (and no dance/ballet barre along the walls). The reason is twofold:
- You can use the mirrors to help direct more lighting into the scene as you wish. You can throw diffuse light at the mirrors to provide more backlighting, or you can bounce direct light to provide more focused backlighting. If the mirrors prove distracting for some shots, you can always cover with a backdrop, sheets, etc.
- You can use the mirrors to demonstrate only what's facing the camera, but also what is facing away. I'm not familiar with martial arts enough to know if that is necessary, but I imagine being able to see a far-side hand or stance more clearly might be important to show how balance or momentum is important in certain techniques.
In order to not have the photographer appear in the reflected mirror shots, I'd use a perspective-control lens (also known as a tilt-shift lens, although only the shift function would be used, not tilt), probably 90mm if studio room allows. See also:
Mirror Picture Set Up
What is the best approch to photographing a mirror or other highly reflective surface?
Lighting: whether indoor or outside, I'd certainly want to control and add lighting. I'd be prepared with at least two off-camera flashes with diffusers, and probably a static reflector or two.
Should I take the pictures myself or find a professional?
It depends entirely on the resources available to you, and your standards of quality. If you are the "director" of the scene, will you have time to worry about how to get good shots? Is the quality of the results highly important?
A different consideration could be: is it more important to get the shots and the book done (or at least completely drafted), and possibly reschedule the models (martial artists) for a 2nd photoshoot? Often "good enough" the first time is better than trying for "perfect". Perfect might prevent completion of the project, especially if you're doing the photography yourself without the requisite knowledge from experience.