This review is written as unbiasedly as possible, and in an effort to keep it that way my initial bias must first be stated. The author, Michael Frye, is the photographer from which I draw the most inspiration. Why the “most inspiration” and not favorite or best?
Because photography isn’t like running. There is not a quantitative way to measure one person against the next. So why was this mentioned now? Because it’s that influence which led to this being the first book to be plucked from the Christmas gift stack to be read.
Bias stated. Onto the review.
Published back in 2010 by Focal Press publications this 160 page book holds up well as an introduction to the world of digital photography. It was written to be just that. An introduction. It provides a good platform for those interested in photography to learn the topics that the truly interested will one day tackle further. The more advanced photographers, who would probably never buy this in the first place, would find it to be far to introductory for their liking.
Since it was clearly written for someone more on the beginner side of the fence, the book will be reviewed as such.
Throughout the book there are quotes from Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, Edward Weston, and others, that act as a nice segway between the old masters and the new approach to the same medium. Equally as nice are the images that are found on virtually every page. They do not dominate the book. Rather they provide context to the statements and act as examples for the techniques.
The images provides a good crossover between a technical book and simply a coffee table photo book. Some images would have been served better by being printed larger. Mainly the ones where the reader is asked to identify differences between the images created during the creative process. The worst example occurs on pg 144 & 145 where the topic of expanding the depth of field is covered. Three images of a wildflower field are initially presented to show how the DOF was not great enough to get everything in focus. It took shifting the book and finding better light to discern the differences between the images. Even then the appearance was minor. Larger or images of different subjects would have been more beneficial. Similar instances occur at other points. The ones detailing obtaining high ISO noise and details in the shadows stand out.
The book is broken out into three main sections: Technical Foundations; Light, Composition, and the Art of Seeing; and The Digital Darkroom.
In “Technical Foundations” topics on a wide range of areas are introduced and a few paragraphs are written on each. For a beginner there is a lot of things in this chapter that could easily drive one to research the topics in more depth. Some of the topics (metering modes) could simply be learned from reading the manual the manufacturer shipped with the camera. One that definitely could not be learned from the manual is the section from pp42-49 that covers the zone system and how it can be applied to color digital photography. This section was personally the most useful in the book. Not to spoil any sales, but an article paralleling the section can be found online. Don’t skim these pages.
In “Light, Composition, and the Art of Seeing” the topics of light, composition, and the art of seeing are covered. Didn’t see that coming did ya? Descriptions and uses for different lighting situations are presented. The myth that a bright clear sunny day is the best time for nature photography is hopefully overcome by any holders of such a belief. The section of composition leads the reader further down the path of being creative with their images. Simplification, lines, focal points, etc. are covered. Those topics have been written about many times and are also covered here. Nothing groundbreaking because nothing like that is really needed. The final section focuses on capturing a mood. Here the authors years of experience shine and one will learn as much from the words as the images. The importance of unusual opportunities, color, the moon cycle, and various exposure approaches could easily have been expanded into a book of their own.
The final section covers the digital darkroom. The topics again provide insight into workflow and post-processing possibilities. This is where the book begins to feel slightly dated. Not terribly, just some. This was to be expected with a 4 year-old book that covers technology topics. Virtually every section in this chapter could become a book, or hours long youtube video, on their own. This isn’t a step by step guide for the heavier topics and it wasn’t written to be. Topics covering workflow and color spaces were the most valuable.
All in all, there isn’t anything in the book that can’t be learned elsewhere. It’s the well developed presentation of the information that makes it easier to swallow. Few people enjoy reading technical topics written about in bland books. To the readers delight they will find this most certainly isn’t one of those bland books. Beginners will find this book to be extremely valuable as they learn the terminology and techniques they hopefully will pursue deeper. Filled with many great images (many I was unfamiliar with) it is a great starting point for individuals. I’m happy it was the first from the stack.
Want the three word version? “Great introductory guide.”