When I was a lad, photographically speaking, Understanding Exposure by Brian Peterson was pretty much always recommended to those new to using the camera creatively. I’m not sure if there’s something wrong with me but I didn’t really get on with it. Perhaps my mind has been fogged by time or I wasn't ready for it at the time. Obviously others think it’s great, but it’s not a book I could recommend based on my personal experience.
So I’ve been on the lookout for an introductory book covering the fundamentals that I could recommend to workshop participants and others starting their journey. Several weeks ago Andrew S Gibson released an eBook called Mastering Photography which claims to do just that, so I thought I’d give it a look. Note this post includes affiliate links which means I receive a small payment for any purchases made via my site. It's by no means megabucks so it doesn't affect the objectivity of my reviews!
Andrew released a near identical book last year called Understanding EOS which is the Canon-specific version of this book. The same comments as below apply with more specific instruction on operating a Canon camera. If you're a Canon-user and want to buy the book, then buy Understanding EOS instead.
As a slight aside I think the name of the book could be a little more modest. To my mind mastery isn’t something that you can learn from this or any number of books (my bulging bookcase is testament to that!). It’s a result of years of practice and experience (and lots and lots of failures). It’s only a minor quibble and in fairness a less bold title would be unlikely to attract attention on a noisy internet, but I thought I'd mention it in the interests of expectations management.
The book opens with a discussion of what Andrew calls the 'Creative Triangle' - Composition, Lighting and Technique - and I like that from the outset he sets the tone that there's more to making a great image than just camera skills. The book mostly covers the Technique corner of the triangle, likely because without technique and understanding of our equipment we will struggle to explore the other components creatively. I'm hoping that Andrew will release future volumes to accompany this one to complete the creative triangle.
We're then shown a number of inspirational images with the back story and the photographer's thinking. I always enjoy reading these and find them helpful. Personally the thought of the wire wool burning shot terrifies me (yes I'm a scaredy cat!) so perhaps a more accessible image would've been better. Nonetheless it's a lovely image and certainly serves the purpose of inspiring! There are further illustrated examples throughout the book explaining the thinking that went into each.
We're then into the guts of the book - how to get off of Auto mode and start using the camera more creatively. We start fairly logically with the 'exposure triangle' - aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Here I think Andrew does a great job of explaining these and the relationship between them in a way that I was looking for when I first picked up the camera.
He uses good examples to illustrate the effects and he doesn't just talk about what they are, but more importantly how to use them creatively and some of the decisions involved in doing so. Related to this is how you use the less-auto modes of your camera - programmed auto, aperture priority and shutter priority - and that's well covered too. If you've been struggling to understand the effects of aperture, shutter speed and ISO and the relationship between them required for a good exposure, then I think this will be of help to you.
There's then a discussion of in-camera Picture Styles which is useful if you don't intend to post-process your image on a computer. Personally I encourage people to do their own processing as I think it's a key part of image making. But for anyone that feels a little overwhelmed starting out, understanding Picture Styles can certainly help to reduce the number of things you have to worry about and it's well covered here.
White Balance and Histograms - My Favourites!
The book then covers White Balance, and I was particularly happy to see Andrew discuss the merits of using WB creatively. For me white balance isn't about making whites white, but a key control in conveying mood in images. Andrew explains WB well and includes some good examples that show the effect of different WB settings.
There's an explanation of Histograms and I've discussed my love for them on this blog before. They can be a little intimidating at first so this is a good read if you need to get your head around them.
Finally there's talk of Colour Management. Many find this a daunting subject (including me! :)) but he's right to highlight its importance. I'm not sure it's a key concern for the beginner photographer, but it's certainly an important - and in truth relatively straightforward - step to perform as you improve.
"You won't become a master just by reading a book but it's certainly a step in the right direction."
And there we have it. Pretty much all of the key things you need to start using your camera more creatively are covered here, with good examples and good explanation of the exposure choices made by the photographer. While much of this information can be found on the internet it's not presented as clearly and beautifully as here. It's certainly the sort of resource I wish I had when I was starting out.
You won't become a master just by reading a book but it's certainly a step in the right direction. Given it's also only £7 it's certainly one that I'll be recommending to people in the future. Even better if you use the code july2 by 31st July it's only £5 - bargain! You can get the book here. Remember if you're a Canon user you want to get Understanding EOS instead.
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