When I finally took the plunge and bought a DSLR, to indulge my enjoyment of photography, I wanted to get a good basic understanding of a lot of terminology and concepts you just didn’t need when using ‘instant’ or ‘point and click’ cameras. The terminology of photography is endless, apertures, f-stops, ISO, depth of field, exposure and on and on; that’s before you start to factor in the digital aspect, and the skills and software that go with it.
I didn’t want to look for a book which covered only a single aspect of photography or which ignored the digital element, but I also didn’t have a lot of experience with film based photography other than as a ‘holiday-snapper’. I wanted something which covered as much as possible, in a logical way, without being patronising, but with more detail if I wanted to dig into it.
I stumbled across Complete Guide to Digital Photography on Amazon, and the reviews were very favourable. Within an hour, I was pleased with the purchase, and the book has been a constant companion in the year since I took up photography has a hobby, rather than something to do on holiday.
The guide is broken up into six major sections. The first two take you through the basics of cameras, the terminology of photography, composition, exposures, various techniques like macro and portrait photography, the kinds of software you can use and even some coverage of scanning and printing. That covers about a quarter of the book, and while it might be basic in some regards, it’s certainly essential and a very good foundation. There was a load of stuff in the first sections that I found incredibly useful, and still refer to on a semi-regular basis. As someone who had a ‘feeling’ for taking pictures, the technical elements really allowed me to understand why some shots looked better than others, and how to get the best out of my new camera with a nice short learning curve.
This is followed by another 128 pages (over a quarter of the book) on advanced photography. This section looks at different kinds of photography, and how the skills and information in the first two sections are combined to deliver them. For example, it covers street, wedding, still life, astro, sports, wildlife and landscape photography, to name only a few.
Sections four and five are all about digital image processing. They take up almost a third of the book, and cover a vast range of topics, again starting out with a set of basic skills and building that up into complex techniques. Finally, the book has a short chapter on using the images you have created, covering printing, photo-books, cards, and selling stock photography, for example.
Each of the major sections is broken up into little chapters on a specific topic. The writing is easy to read, the language relaxed and engaging, and the layout is very easy on the eye (2-column, images and text mixed together). Overall, I found the structure excellent, and the breakdown of the topics means you can flip between parts of the book you want to focus on very easily. Once you’ve read through the first two chapters, you can use the rest of the book much like a reference manual, rather than having to continue reading it one page at a time. However, given the easy going style, it’s actually no trouble reading it through in sequence the first time.
Mixed in with the chapters are assignments. These are exercises or invitations to try out a certain technique or style, and they lifted the book for me from reference manual to indispensable guide. It’s okay being excited about photography and getting a good grounding in technique and terminology, but you also need some inspiration, and the assignment sections were just that. Ideas, concepts or exercises designed to spark your imagination and encourage you to go out and try something you might not have done so. They are, without doubt, the best feature of the book.
If basic photography has a thousand terms, post-processing your images in a tool like Lightroom or Photoshop just doubles that. For me it was one of the most daunting aspects of picking up a DSLR, wondering if I could still get the best out of the pictures by taking control. The calm and engaging tone of the book really helped, and I found myself enjoying the post-processing for it’s own sake rather than being worried about it as an additional task.
As you might expect, the focus in the book is heavy on the Adobe software products, but you can take the concepts and terminology explained in it and apply it to other products. If you really don’t like the Adobe products however, you may find the two sections on the Digital Darkroom frustrating. Personally, I was already committed to the Adobe products, and so the focus on them was welcome.
All-in-all, I am very happy with this purchase. The Guide is both informative and interesting, and the assignments are particularly inspiring. I continue to read sections I’ve already covered, and use it as both a reference and a reminder, while still having plenty of assignments ahead of me to help me expand my skills. There’s still a wealth of information I’ve read through quickly once that I want to go back and really read in-depth again, such as portrait and street photography, in order to give it a proper try. Inspiring and informative, what more could you ask for in non-fiction?
Note: This review is of the 2011 edition of the book. There is a new revised edition of the book, published in 2014, which I do not own.