Monday, January 18, 2010

Understanding Exposure, a Start

{1} Prague castle in the snow; {2} toy trumpeter braves cold, poses at 6; {3} a sledding hill straight from Breugel; {4} C, kindly putting up with me and my photo taking ways.

And another book review...

Understanding Exposure, by Bryan Peterson *****

Peterson writes like a teacher, one of your favorites maybe, the one with the knack for using simple stories to clear up complexities. He starts slowly, explaining as he goes so that you can easily keep up. He hangs memorable tags on abstractions, neatly parsing aperture scenes into three types ("storytelling", "who cares" and "single theme") so that by the time you get a few chapters in, you can already start filling in his tags before he's finished. Success.

I like that he ties theory to his own photography too, showing just where in a view he takes his metering, and why. He suggests exercises, he explains every (gorgeous and well printed) photo in his book. His method is basic, and it works. I tried all the exercises twice, and read each chapter twice too, just letting the ideas sink in. It took me a few weeks to finish, just to make sure I got it.

And it worked. I did get it. I understand exposure; shutter speed and aperture are no longer mysteries to me. Depth of field, no problem; light metering, a cinch!

At least in theory. Whenever I understand something better technically, it takes time for that technique to show up. I start thinking too much, and thinking kills my ability to see. Or maybe it's the ton of snow and children demanding sledding time. No pictures, Mommie!

Everyone needs their excuses, right?

Even Understanding Exposure. It is a fabulous all around introduction, but I did miss a few things. Peterson skips focal length completely, and he rushes through filters as if the bell were about to ring. (Really rushes, it's sort of startling).

Still, if you're just getting to know your DSLR, or want to know what to do with the M setting on your better-than-a-snap-and-shoot, I'd check the book out. I gave Understanding Exposure a 5 star review on Goodreads, and I also gave it a kiss* when I finished. High praise indeed ;-).

*Thanks Meg, I really did love it!


marja-leena said...

Whoa, it's as if you are talking directly to me, as I'm in the throes of learning all this with our new macro lenses! It's been suggested to me that I should take a photography course or read a good book on it. Thanks for the recommendation.

Julia said...

Definitely take a peek at Bryan Peterson's book. I was surprised at how easy it was to absorb. If you're in a bookstore and there are other Peterson books I'd really like to hear what you think of the others. I've never seen them and am tempted but have no way of prescreening.

For a specific tutorial on wide angled lenses, try this link: It is a lot more technical than Understanding Exposure but does have good tidbits in it.

Barrett Bonden said...

I suspect I'm teaching you to suck eggs but anyway... Between my retirement and Mrs BB's I occupied myself with PR (£250 a day - what a cheapie, but it was 13 years ago.) which included photography as well as text. This was a pre-digital continuation of what I did on the mag so there was no checking the print on the back screen. On top of this most of the shots were indoors in gloomy manufacturing plants. The tripod was essential as was the cable trigger since exposure times were sometimes as long as half an second. And yet again, there was a limit to the size of aperture since the depth of field can shrink alarmingly when you get really wide. However, having travelled, say, 100 miles to take the shot and being aware that you were charging someone for what you were doing were excellent disciplines for getting it right. Quite simple really: film was cheap and I simply shot a range of speed/ap combinations. Oh, and I had a decent camera, a Pentax M50, having been let down by a Fuji cheapo about 50 miles west of Toronto. Happy days (I lie! I lie! My clients gradually dropped off the vine, unimpressed by my surliness.)

I used a wide-angle lens for office interviews but eventually it was my imagination that failed. There are just so many configurations possible of a boss with a telephone against his ear or sitting in front of a computer screen. Where possible I took the interviewee into his own plant and shot him driving a forklift or working a crane but even these palled after a time. In my "art" phase I'd have him peering round the corner of a lathe or reflected in a window, simultaneously arguing that I was not diminishing his status. Blogging and novel writing are, on the whole, preferable.

Julia said...

Do you still use your Pentax? I can imagine the boss would rather cherish a picture of himself driving a cherry picker. Hard hats do throw a shadow though!

When I worked at the research magazine, we were each responsible for the photo shoots for our own articles. Portraits of professors abounded and it always was a trick to come up with something creative that definitely did not involve standing at a desk, hand on a pile of books. My favorite portrait I was responsible for projected writing from 19th century stories onto the face of a professor of gothic literature.

I can only find a tiny snapshot of it online now, but the bigger picture was quite fun, filled the spread, and the professor really liked it too. At the time, I was only responsible for the art direction and writing, not the actual photography so I didn't have a chance to practice with exposure. But now, time to shoot!

Julia said...

I should add that pleasing the professor and filling the spread were the two most crucial elements of any shot!

lizardek said...

That shot of your daughter is adorable. :)

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

A book that gives clarity to a subject is definitely worth kissing!
Lovely pictures--you live by a castle! Lucky!

Julia said...

Thanks Liz, the color came out really nicely on that one! It's so nice when kids start holding still for shots ;-).

GG, I love the Prague castle. We don't live right next door but we can definitely walk to it (about 30 minutes, over the river and through the woods). It is the most prominent part of the Prague skyline, and a constant in our life.

Lynn said...

I love everything about that sledding picture!! And definitely will be looking for that book. Thank you!

eurolush said...

Thanks for the review. Sounds like a book I need to read. Soon.

Love the photos. The sledding hill does look like a Breugel! And, as always, C is adorable.

I'm coming to Prague this year, damnit.

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Tracy said...

Your review is just what I need Julia. I have been thinking for a while that my DSLR and I need a better relationship and this book might just help with that. Gorgeous photos too - all of them. I am impressed that your daughter will stay still for you!

countrypeapie said...

You are most welcome -- thrilled that you enjoyed it so! (I already thought your pictures were fabulous -- can't wait to see what happens next!)

Lucy said...

I've got one by him too -'Learning to See Creatively'. Technically I can't fault him, and there really are some good tips and ideas, but there's something about his attitude to photography, very much about it's commercial saleability, and how much money he's made from this or that photo, that annoyed me a bit. I found myself enjoying a certain amount of schadenfreude that old fashioned, pre-digital photographers like him, albeit who had to really study and work and grasp things much harder than I could manage, are presumably largely out of a job now with the freely available stock of photos now available on the web.

But that's a bit of petty sourness, really, I'm sure I could benefit from what he has to offer. The trouble is, I find, I study and painfully come to understand things like exposure and apertures and so on, then promptly forget it all as I've got no head for that kind of information, and go back to the IntelligentAuto mode, or at best one of the special programmes on the dial! Which is why I've never progressed beyond a bridge camera.

But you'll do better than that, because you ahve a super-techno-brain! And these photos are lovely.

A good book on the more creative side is 'The Photographer's Eye' by Michael Freeman.