a thousand words
Digital camera guides bring your photography to a new level
By all means read the
manual, but don’t stop there.
A good photography
how-to will (1) answer at least as many questions as it raises within
its scope, (2) show diagrams and definitions, and (3) include photos
illustrating various effects. Especially, it should have photos of the
same scene taken at the same time with different camera settings.
You won’t get
everything from one book (though some claim it). Anyway, reading more
than one source makes you smarter. Here are some of the newest
Digital Photography Problem Solver: The top 101 digital photography
questions answered, by Les Meehan, Collins & Brown, 2005, 144 pages,
stiff softcover, $17.95.
Strong emphasis on
digital. Much discussion of scanning, file-saving and software.
Pros: Friendly look and
feel; lots of sample photos, brief and direct answers with nitty-gritty
info like “The same image file would produce a print size of 12 x 12
[inches] if printed at 150 dpi, but only 3 x 3 [inches] if printed at
Cons: Some answers fall
short. Meehan asks “What are pixels?” but doesn’t answer well, saying
only that an image “is composed of tiny individual elements” and “each
pixel has a unique color.”
Overall: Worth the
How to Take Great Photographs, by John Hedgecoe, Collins & Brown, 2001,
160 pages, hardcover, $24.95.
John Hedgecoe has
written many premium-grade photography guides. This one shares much with
his latest productions.
Pros: Practical and
beautiful. Professional look and feel. Examples superbly demonstrate how
different camera settings affect a shot. A coffee-table how-to.
Cons: Not portable. No
diagram of a camera’s innards.
Overall: Excellent. You
will come away with at least one solid idea for improving your next
The Pocket Idiot’s Guide to Great Photography, by Shawn Frederick and
Bill Gutman, Alpha Books, 2005, 191 pages, softcover, $9.95.
The only book on this
list that is all black-and-white. Ignores the hows and whys and acts
like a cheat sheet, yet has thoughtful moments on photo composition.
Pros: Fits in your
pocket yet contains much useable information.
Cons: Very few sample
pictures. Bad/useless definition of “pixel” – “a tiny, colored square
that ultimately forms your digital image.” (One square forms my image?)
On page 14 the authors say “automatically” when they mean “manually.”
Overall: A good booster
or life raft, but don’t overburden it.
Digital Photography 101, by Michelle Perkins, Amherst Media, 2005, 94
pages, softcover, $14.95.
Assumes you have a clue
about photography but have never touched anything digital. Wastes space
on such gems as a list of useful websites -- including ones you’d never
think to visit, like Amazon.
Pros: Good glossary.
Cons: Too many
exclamation points, too little substance.
Photography 101 as taught by a poorly prepared substitute teacher at a
Don’t Take My Picture! (4th ed.) by Craig Alesse, Amherst Media, 2005,
102 pages, softcover, $9.95.
“The angle of view of a
lens (what the lens sees) is indicated in millimeters. The lens that
comes with most SLR cameras is 50 millimeters.” Yeech. Angle of view is
stated in degrees and is not “what” the lens sees but how wide a view
the lens gets. The 50 millimeters refers to focal length, not angle of
view (though they are related).
Pros: Does contain some
valid advice, like “Watch out for objects in the background … that might
look like they are coming out of people’s heads.”
Cons: Totally amateur
photos and advice like “carry spare batteries.”
Overall: When it’s not
confusing, it’s merely vapid.
Photography: the art of composition, by Bert Krages, Allworth Press,
2005, 243 pages, softcover, $24.95.
Calls to mind the art
book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Offers cognitive theory and
a series of exercises to enhance how you look at things – i.e. what
potential photographs you see where.
Pros: A whole new bunch
Cons: In an exercise on
photographing rocks, I don’t need to know about chelation and geologic
Overall: A cool,
mind-stretching side trip to broaden your skills.
A Guide to Taking Better Pictures, by Michael Coyne, Lonely Planet
Publications, 2005, 159 pages, softcover, $16.99.
Small book, beautiful
photos, covers everything including impromptu photography and the
etiquette of taking strangers’ pictures.
Pros: Lots of
stories-behind-the-photo. Every photo has a tiny caption indicating
equipment and settings used.
Cons: Most of these
were taken with SLR cameras, not your everyday compact point-and-shoots.
Principles still hold but your equipment might be a bit lesser.
Overall: Very good.
Landscape Photography: A Guide to Taking Better Pictures, by Peter
Eastway, Lonely Planet Publications, 2005, 166 pages, softcover, $16.99.
Just like People
Photography (above), but for landscapes.
Pros: One of the better
explanations of aperture and exposure.
discussion of histograms could cause frustration in real-life settings.
Overall: Very good.
The BetterPhoto Guide to Digital Photography, by Jim Miotke, Amphoto
Books, 2005, 224 pages, softcover, $24.95.
From the folks at
betterphoto.com. Like the Lonely Planet guides, includes a caption with
every photo indicating film, lens and exposure used. Offers “The Truth
about Digital Zooms” with evidence (digital zoom is not as useless as
everyone, including the author, thought). Did more to enlighten me, in a
shorter time, on the topics of JPEG vs. TIFF, noise, white balance and
composition than any other book here. Also taught me about EXIF data,
which no one else did.
Pros: Aimed perfectly
at the uninformed but clueful and curious. Talks freely about cases
where following the rules won’t work – which is a lot of the time.
Cons: Written by a man
who was able to keep his camera accurately pointed at his son’s face
while the son was being twirled in the air. No amount of know-how can
make me able to do that.
informative for real life, with great sample photos. If you’re only
buying one book....
Advanced Guide to Digital Photography, by Vincent Oliver, AVA
Publishing, 2005, 144 pages, softcover, $22.95.
Assumes you know
photography but not digital. Lots of Photoshop screen-grabs and advanced
tricks of the trade, like a workaround to get green reflected light out
of a wedding photo using Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layers and Gaussian
Pros: Very detailed.
Cons: How many people
actually calibrate their own scanners?
illustrations, clear writing, probably useful for advanced players.
New books are coming out all the time. I’m looking forward to How
Digital Photography Works, due soon from the publisher of the
award-winning How Computers Work. And don’t forget the Web, which is
full of free information (but you will pay in time and eyestrain).
Having surfed extensively, I can highly recommend
www.ted.photographer.org.uk, a non-commercial site I stumbled onto (look
under “Cameras” and “Photo Science” for nifty interactive graphics) and
And RTFM. That’s short for read the manual.