Thursday, February 21, 2008

Book Review: Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson

Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson
Rating: 4/5

Of all the photography books I have on my bookshelf, and believe me, I have quite a few, this is the one that stands out as the most helpful. It is the first one I recommend to new photographers and it is one that I refer to when I need a bit of a refresher. It will take the fear out of moving from the point and shoot modes to the creative modes of your camera. Don't let the dry title fool you. This book will help you with composition, depth of field and other aspects of photography.

Easy to read and straight-forward, Understanding Exposure offers the basics of aperture, lighting and shutter speed, photography's basic triumvirate, to beginning and intermediate photographers. The book is divided into these three topics, as well defining exposure, special techniques, and a discussion of film vs. digital. This is not a highly technical book and any technical points are well-written and easy to understand.

The book includes many pictures that illustrate his concepts quite well. Being a visually inclined person, which is why I like photography, a good example shot often reinforces what you have just read. These are not just pretty pictures to show you his abilities as a photographer, but practical. Particularly helpful is his inclusion of exposure settings and lenses used for each image. It will help you analyze why his shots turn out the way they do and give you a starting point for shooting similar types of pictures. He also includes some exercises throughout the book to help you practice what you have just read.

An interesting section deals with what he calls the "Who Cares?" apertures. Peterson lists these as the f/8 to f/11 settings that you should use when depth of field is not critical, but you want sharpness and contrast for your shot. Also helpful to me was a discussion of the depth of field preview button, something I had long ignored.

A few small caveats:
  • I wish he would include ISO along with the other settings next to his pictures. He does not really discuss ISO until the end of the book.
  • This is a book written mostly for people with slr cameras (film or digital). Some of this information would not be helpful to those with a point and shoot.
  • If you are really into the technical side of photography, you might find this is not as mechanically inclined as you'd like.
  • Not much discussion of the use of flash.
  • This book apparently was written for film cameras then tweaked to add digital.

If you are a beginner, this book will help you understand the basics of exposure and help you take your camera off full automatic mode.
If you are an intermediate photographer, it will help you to sharpen your skills and move you to the next level.
If you are a beginner who is serious about learning to improve your photography skills, this is the book for you. Study this book (and your camera's manual) and you will be well on your way to becoming a better photographer. What more can you ask for $15.00 (US)?

Book Review: The Digital Photography Book Vol. 2 by Scott Kelby

The Digital Photography Book Vol.2 by Scott Kelby

Rating: 7/10

Even if you are a novice photographer, chances are you've heard of Scott Kelby. He has written more than 40 books about photography and Photoshop that are known for their user-friendly and humorous style. His latest book, a follow-up of The Digital Photography Book, follows the same approach: good basic advice told in genial buddy to buddy fashion.

This book came at just the right time for me. I'm starting to learn about off-camera lighting and I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed. Strobes, synch cords, pocket wizards, lightboxes or umbrellas; it's all making me feel a bit of despair since I don't think well in technical terms. The first chapter jumps right into using flash like a pro, discussing off-camera lighting and how to achieve it. I'm still a little confused by it all, but at least I know I just might be able to do this now. Each topic is covered in one short page with an image to see as an example, so even hesitant beginner can get the idea.

Other chapters cover shooting portraits, landscapes, weddings, travel and macro, as well as a section on building a studio from scratch. Lots of tips, some of which you'll find useful, others you might already know, but it goes beyond the basics of the first book. If you are a complete beginner, this book is not for you. If you are a somewhat advanced photographer, there will be nothing new for you. Point and shoot owners may get some tips from this, but it really is a book for dslr users, particularly in the first chapter on using flash.

A lot of the tips seem like common sense: get in close for portraits, simple backgrounds are best, have a clear subject in landscape shots. Others, like shooting close using a wide angle lens in portrait photography I hadn't heard and would like to try.

Best part of the book: the first chapter on flash and the second chapter on building a studio.
Worst part of the book: a lot of tips are too basic. Don't expect any amazing revelations.

Overall, this book is quick, easy to read, full of useful tips, and is a good choice for the photographer that has moved beyond the simple basics and wants to better their basic photography skills. At only $16.49 at Amazon, it's a good value.

Budget Lenses (under $200.00 US)

Photography can be an expensive hobby and, bargain hunter that I am, I'm always looking for the best bang for my buck. Sure I'd love to own a bunch of Canon L lenses and a full frame camera, but I'm not rich or a pro photographer, just a serious amateur that wants a variety of lens options with decent optics at a price I can afford. So these are my choices of lenses to buy if you have a DSLR and little money left to expand your range. I have, or had, all of them.

I started with the Canon Rebel XT and the kit lens 18-55 mm. The kit lens is generally panned by a lot of people, but it is really a decent lens to start out with, particularly since it is less than $100.00 US. It is still the only wide angle lens I own.

1. Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II ($70.00 US) for Nikkon users Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D ($108.00 US)
Rating: 9/10
Pros: great for low light, lightweight and compact, sharp, ideal for portrait photography, nice background blur
Cons: plastic build, can focus slowly
Known as the "nifty fifty" or "thrifty fifty", this lens is sharp at 1.8 and even better at 2.8. Really a great lens to have in situations with low light, especially if you can't use a flash. With no zoom to depend on, this prime gives you a chance to develop your skills. I found myself being more careful about framing and perspective. A lot of people use this as their walk around lens, but it does have its limitations. I used this lens so often that when it broke I bought its big brother, 50mm f/1.4.

2. Sigma 70-300mmf/4-5.6 Macro APO DG (under $200.00 US) Must be the APO version ( Mounts for Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Minolta cameras)
Rating: 8/10
Pros: inexpensive, comes with a lens hood, can function as a macro (1:2), versatility
Cons: needs good light (can hunt for focus), soft above 200mm
If you want an inexpensive zoom lens, look no farther then this. It can be used for portraits, outdoor sports, and nature/macro photography. This lens is nice for trying out macro, even though it is not true macro which is 1:1, not the 1:2 this lens has. It can manage some outdoor sports, but if this is something you shoot a lot, a faster lens might be better.

If you are new to photography and not sure if you want a zoom or a prime lens, this is a low cost way to find out. Are there better lenses then these? Certainly, but there are not many for under $200.00. Of course there are other options. You could save money for a more expensive lens or buy used.

My Review of Savage Port-A-Stand, Free Standing Background Support System with a roll 53" x 12' Seamless White Background Paper

Originally submitted at Adorama

Savage Port-A-Stand, Free Standing Background Support System with a roll 53" x 12' Seamless White Background Paper

Economical and Portable

By Saralonde from PA on 2/21/2008


5out of 5

Pros: Easy assembly, Good value, Versatile, Portable

Best Uses: Indoors, Studio

Describe Yourself: Hobbyist/Enthusiast

My photography has advanced enough that I felt I needed a better background for indoor portraits. Not being a professional, I didn't want to spend a great deal. I was a little worried that the relatively inexpensive price would get me something flimsy or not very adjustable. It turned out to be very sturdy and easy to set up. Definitely versatile: the 2 side stands can be used as light stands and it can expand by width and height.
Not sure if this would be good for a pro, but for an enthusiastic amateur, it's a great buy.