Thursday, April 26, 2007

Book Review: Understanding Exposure

In my last post, I talked about taking control of focus. Well, in this post, I'll tell you how to take control of your camera's exposure. Or rather, I'll refer you to a book that tells you how to take control of your exposure.

Bryan Peterson's Understanding Exposure (revised) is a simple book at heart. Peterson, a working photographer (web page), describes the simple yet powerful ways of getting exposure right (and when I say 'right', I mean how you want it) whether you use a digital camera or film camera. To do so, he explains the basics of aperture, shutter speed, film speed, and the exposure meter built into almost every single modern camera.

Most of this information is available elsewhere, but Peterson does an amazing job of describing describing exposure in practice rather than theory. This is not a book where he spends two pages describing the mathematics behind an aperture increasing by a factor of 1.4 but doubling the light that hits the film. This is a book where he describes and easy way to get the exposure you want, and then he explains why to do it. Furthermore, he illustrates his lessons with appropriate pictures from his portfolio.

How about an example. Suppose you are taking a picture of a black cat snoozing on a dark blue couch. The cat is black, so you want a low-key picture with a black cat. But most cameras, if you use a semi-automatic mode (like aperture-priority or shutter-priority), will produce a gray cat on a medium blue couch. The problem is the meter in the camera: it sees a mostly dark scene, but it can't distinguish between a scene with lots of light and dark objects or a scene with light objects and not much light (think snowy landscape at night). I don't want to steal Peterson's thunder (or his book sales) but the solution is to meter your camera off a known source like a gray card or the palm of your hand. Outside, the main metering aid is the sky.

Personally, creatively using exposure is my next challenge that I would like to master and I borrowed Peterson's book from the library at the perfect time. In fact, I'm not yet done with it and haven't had a chance to start putting a lot of the ideas into practice. But Peterson's in-camera meter approach is so accessible anybody can learn to do it without doing any math. When faced with a backlit scene at dusk, the camera doesn't automatically know if it should expose for the sunset or the model, the photographer does. Peterson is all about taking control of your tools, and I like that.

So, buy the book, borrow it from the library, or borrow it from a friend. You won't be sorry.

Next up: Taking control of your children. (I wish!)

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