Excellence in professional photography as seen through the lives and works of five masters,"" asserts the subtitle, but it's largely an empty claim: the qualities the five exhibit here are common to successful professionals in any field. Which leaves the book in limbo-nol informative enough for youngsters who are serious about photography and not interesting enough for anyone else. The only individual who begins to breathe is Edward Steichen; whether pioneering in aerial photo-reconnaissance or vitalizing commercial photography or assembling ""The Family of Man,"" he is an original and a catalyst. Ansel Adams' life and work are closely tied to one locale, Yosemite; there's little news, considerable musing. The section on Cecil Beaton is mostly window-dressing, that on Yosuf Karsh primarily an appointments calendar; the former is known for his claborate misc en scenes, the latter as a classical portraitist who can set up shop anywhere, but the author doesn't point up these distinguishing traits or contrast the two. Each of these men, and also David Duncan, the last, has chronicled his own photographic career, and their books are far more fascinating and revealing than this flaccid narrative with its recourse to stilted invented dialogue. Neither can the six photos per photographer (one a portrait) compare as a sampling of the man's output.