"Understanding Exposure" by Bryan Peterson

Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 3 out of 5
Yeah, but: It's one of the best books for learning photography.

The Long Version: I bought Bryan Peterson's book "Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with a Film or Digital Camera" (Amphoto Books) after reading multiple recommendations for it on several photography forums. It's one that I've read several times, and one that I've started recommending to anybody who wants help learning how to control their camera. On Amazon.com it's the second most popular photography book, only beaten by Scott Kelby's opus, Don't You Think I'm Funny In The Digital Photography Book.

"Understanding Exposure" is broken into four main sections. The first deals with the technical aspects of the cameras' controls, and does a good job explaining the relationship between shutter speed, aperture values, iso, and the whole idea of 'stops'. The explanation is as good as any I've read, which means it will probably still be confusing to many – it's a tough concept to really get – but the book doesn't get dragged down into the technical details. The point of the book is to make creative choices instead of just technically correct ones.

The bulk of the book is in the two sections that deal with aperture and shutter speed, and why particular values would be used in different situations. It provides a solid introduction to what most photographers come to know intuitively, skipping a lot of the whole learning-from-experience drudgery. It may even provide a useful summary even for those who have already put in the time. The sample photos are inspiring and clearly illustrate the techniques being taught, and Bryan Peterson sneaks a surprising amount of instruction into his stories and captions. It's something of a beginner's version of McNally's The Moment it Clicks, which is very high praise.

The book concludes with a discussion of light and special techniques which may be useful for those who haven't read similar material in every other how-to-photograph book. He includes a couple of useful tips on how to find neutral grey and other references in real-world scenes, which makes these chapters worth reading, and the final film-versus-digital section is so dated that it's quaint. Sometimes 2004 seems so so long ago.


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