Author: Glenn Rand, Chris Broughton & Amanda Quintenz-Fiedler
Publisher: Rocky Nook, 2011
Aimed at: Photographers striving for artistic effects
Pros: High production values, lavishly illustrated
Cons: Lacks depth, rarely gets hands-on
Reviewed by: David Conrad
This book's subtitle and blurb suggests it might have some technical advice. Does it live up to this promise?
A book that deals with the issues of using a digital camera in the widest possible context seems like a really good idea. However there are two types of photography books: art-y and science-y, and this one leans very heavily towards the arty. The whole presentation is attractive and it is a book that will immediately catch the eye. There are lots of, sometimes impressive but always high quality, photos scattered throughout the text but these usually don't really have any connection with what is being discussed. They seem to be there just to give a dry technical discussion the qualities of an art book.
Indeed you can tell the stance of the authors almost at once from the way that the arty photos are credited with a tediously repetitive - "Courtesy of the artist" below each one. Notice "artist" and not "photographer". If you feel uncomfortable with "artist" or would prefer the more honest and down to earth "photographer" then you probably aren't going to get on with this book. There is an attitude that says that you should call yourself a photographer and let the world decide if you are worthy of the label "artist".
When we get to the real meat of the book, i.e. the technical discussion, then it really is all there but it is presented in a sort of hands-off distant way as if it was high theory rather than practical technology.
Part 1 - The Basics introduces digital photography as if you were a reader from the planet Mars who had never seen a camera. It goes over the history of photography from the camera obscura to classifying the current crop of digital cameras. We also have brief discussions of topics such as reflex cameras, digital camera backs and so on, but all in such slight detail that you really don't gain anything other than the most high flown theoretical feel. For example very rarely, if ever, does the text contain the name of a particular model or make of camera. The section discusses some topics that are specific to digital cameras such as sensors and how the color mask works etc, but it also covers lots of topics that would have been fine in a book on any camera technology - lenses, aperture, depth of field, lens flare, exposure.
It does have some observations that are almost interesting about the difference between digital and film - such as the ability to change the sensitivity in the standard exposure equation. With film you would have to stop and change the roll loaded in the camera to set the ISO speed but with a digital camera you can select the speed using a menu - and this is something that many photographers tend to overlook except in extreme lighting conditions. If you already know most of the photographic theory then at the end of Part 1 you will have had a refresher course. If you didn't know the theory you probably still won't know it because the discussion is just too hands off. Find a bigger, thicker and more technical presentation.
Part 2 promises good things in that it is specifically on "Working Digitally" and the digital workflow. Here we at last get some practical procedures such as calibrating your exposure systems and using histograms, but really the specifically digital considerations seem to be slight and fairly obvious if you have a grasp of what is going on. We also have an extended discussion of whether you should capture the final image in the camera or capture the best image you can for later processing. The authors seem to remember the real problems of trying to manipulate an image in the darkroom all too well and much of this discussion is by comparison with older methods.
Again the approach is very much hands-off and while you will find mentions of PhotoShop and other software this is far from a how-to-do-it book and you are really only going to get the broadest outline of the possibilities. In fact if you know about PhotoShop, Gimp or what ever photoeditor you use you might well be thinking why are they just scratching the surface of the biggest creative revolutions to hit photography?
The final part of the book looks at going beyond the basics. There is a short discussion of adjusting the exposure using a zone system - which could be thought to be going back to the techniques appropriate to film. Then there is a discussion of using digital black-and-white - that most arty of regressions.
Of course lurking in the wings is HDRI and we do get a chapter on this exciting technique - but all too hands-off and all too briefly. The final chapter is a look at combining film with digital and while it is interesting it really doesn't fit into the mainstream.
This is not a book you should buy if you need a practical discussion of digital photography. It just doesn't go into enough detail or provide extensive discussion of the ideas it presents. The authors clearly do know what they are talking about but refuse to present what they know in a technical way. There is also the feeling that they are influenced too much by the way things used to be done rather than buying into the amazing freedoms that digital provides.
If you want a book with photographs by "artists" and a vague whiff of fixer then you might like this book, but if you want to learn about the technology of image capture there are much better books.