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It’s no secret that digital cameras are including more automation than ever before. But is this necessarily a good thing? Not according to esteemed photographer, educator and author Bryan F. Peterson. In fact, he points out in the latest edition of his classic volume, Understanding Exposure—a perfect book for beginners looking to expand their photo skills—that this perceived benefit of cameras that “do it all for you” can actually hamper your creativity. Instead, Peterson suggests the best way for you to create great photographs is to get familiar with manual exposure settings.
It’s one of many observations Peterson makes in this fourth edition. From the outset, he defines what exposure is and describes how it depends upon what he calls the “photographic triangle,” which comprises three important factors or settings: f-stop (or aperture), shutter speed and ISO. But like any great artist, Peterson goes beyond just explaining the concepts. He vividly illustrates every point in gorgeously printed photographs, which have all been updated in this edition. You’ll find informative examples of specific techniques, and you’ll also see remarkable side-by-side comparison shots. For instance, in the section on light, Peterson presents two exquisite shots of the busy Indian harbor in Deira, revealing the remarkable change in atmospheric light that can take place in the span of an hour.
Another welcome aspect to this book is Peterson’s candor at demystifying complex topics and throwing light on controversial ones. For instance, in the section “Diffraction Versus Satisfaction,” he notes how some photographers still cling to flawed notions, like never shooting with a small aperture (such as f/16 or f/22), where lens diffraction can produce a loss of contrast and sharpness. He vividly illustrates, in both text and photos, how that notion has been greatly exaggerated. He ends this section by writing, “Diffraction is a real event, but it should never get in the way of shooting compositions that demand extreme depth of field. Satisfaction is your reward, so get out there and get creative at f/22.”
Peterson has included additional subjects in this edition, as well. For instance, there’s an insightful investigation on how electronic flash affects the “photographic triangle.” He points out how TTL flash technology has truly been one of the most remarkable achievements of the camera industry. He then provides some simple rules to follow when using an external flash. He even shows you how to get the most out of your camera’s pop-up flash.
Throughout the book, Peterson employs plain language and easy-to-understand examples and exercises to illustrate his powerful theories and concepts. He also uses humorous anecdotes and his personal experiences to give you the feeling that you’re shooting alongside him in one of his workshops—it’s what makes the book so accessible. And because the new edition is clearly organized in sections, you can read it in the way that makes the most sense to you: cover to cover, or dive right into the section you’re most interested in. No matter what type of photography you shoot or how experienced you are, you’re sure to find some valuable tips and techniques in this new volume.
Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera is available now.