Deal 9: Hacking Photography mega-deal
This reader review of Brian Peterson’s Understanding Exposure was submitted by one of Digital Photography School’s beloved forum moderators – Saralonde. Thanks for going to the time to write this review Saralonde!
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:
Who is Understanding Exposure For?
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)?
Buy Understanding Exposure at Amazon.
April 22, 2013 04:25 pm
Great review. This was the first book I read after buying my DSLR after years of using point and shoots in auto mode and it got me off and running very quickly. I can also highly recommend Peterson's companion books on Flash and Composition.
September 30, 2012 05:03 am
I've read the book, its quite good. I have a slideshow of my work on youtube, I just need to find outwhere to buy youtube views
February 11, 2012 06:58 am
I just bought this book for my tab to read on a Kindle app. I am a few chapters in and have already picked up some interesting things that I have not figured out yet just trying to get the whole manual settings on my own. I will post again when I finish it up.
January 24, 2012 06:28 am
I also loved this book! I recommend it to anyone who wants more than a album full of 'point and shoot' images.
November 29, 2011 10:10 am
Just downloaded this book this very day to my kindle. compulsive reading for myself (very much a beginner) with a bridge camera Fuji HS20. i have read 25% of it already and can i say it has explained so much as to why not to use those auto settings, i have had what i consider to be milestones of advancement just by experimenting with shutter speed/aperture setting and of course ISO setting with some mindblowing resuluts. Well done Brian for giving us a chance getting kinda' addicted already!
Kind Regards Ray (Manchester,England)
November 8, 2011 06:20 pm
A commenter referred to this book as "bible." I could not disagree more.
The goal of exposure is two-fold:
1) To get the proper exposure while at the same time
2) Achieving a certain effect (like shallow or extreme depth of field, freezing or blurring action, etc.)
This book only illustrates how choosing various combinations of ISO, shutter speed, and aperture can effect your pictures. But, it does not address how to achieve the proper exposure. In fact, the key technical information is factually incorrect. The book confuses more than it helps.
For instance, the author creates terms like "Brother Sky" and "Mr. Green Jeans" and then adds his own bizarre twist to the old worn out "plumbing" analogy. Instead, the book could just say, "In snow, just spot meter the snow and open up 2 stops," which is 100% reliable. But no, he says to meter "Brother Sky" (the blue sky) and shoot. But, "Brother Sky" is rarely reliable. This is the old John Shaw idea that never worked reliably, since the blue sky can take on varying tones. Also, if the snow in the scene is not sunlit (like the sky is), then the exposure will be way off. And, if the sky is not blue, then what?
How about the exposure for a yellow flower? Just spot meter the yellow and open up 1.5 stops. (1.3 to 1.67, really). These simple problems are not addressed. What about green grasses. Well "Mr. Green Jeans" says it's -2/3. That's completely wrong, too. It's zero, for the most part. -2/3 is probably correct for darker evergreen trees. What a disaster.
And the most humorous idea is his use of the old flawed plumbing analogy for aperture/shutter speed/ISO, which is already silly enough. But, the analogy fails when it comes to illustrating ISO. Instead of coming up with a more pertinent analogy, he introduces "worker bees" that carry away water to represent ISO. This can't be real, but it is! The publisher found a talented photographer, but not a good technical teacher.
This is just one more photography book that confuses more than it teaches. I know because when I was first learning I never found a great book or source that taught it completely. Most books really taught much and some were just plain erroneous, like this one. That's the problem when big name photographers are asked to do a book about something that they are unequipped to address.
The book "The Backpacker Photography Handbook" by Charles Campbell was quite good in that it taught the various "exposure compensations" for the different tonalities. But, it lacked in that it only addressed the simplest of lighting scenarios (single light source situations, as opposed to scenes that are both sunlit and "skylit"). And, it isn't a modern book that speaks of histograms, etc.
I stuck with it and once I became accomplished I developed my own methods, analogies, and animations to teaching the topic. I developed a powerful and concise approach to teaching exposure and I hold these classes four times each year. I'm working on a tabletop book right now, but one day I plan to have my own book on exposure, possibly an animated e-book, that hopefully one day will be the true "bible" on this topic.
September 28, 2011 03:01 am
I must say that I am an amateur photographer and this is the first book I have purchased. But I bought the 3rd edition where he does include information on ISO and flash. This book is amazing and he explains everything.
June 4, 2011 03:47 am
Although I have most of his books, this is the first book I read about photography. It has helped me understand exposure better. This book serves well as a guide or point of referrence.
And Darren, I believe it spells Bryan..not Brian Peterson.
March 19, 2011 08:22 pm
I have this book too, I just recently bought if after much research into what book would suit me as I am a beginner and I am trying to learn the different concepts first and understand how my DSLR works and basically learning the technique. I am finding his book a little bit confusing and I have to say I am agreeing with Kimberly here that it is a bit challenging. I have researched another book - Complete Digital Photography by Ben Long and was wondering if anyone has read it (or any one of the 5 editions) as I would like to purchase the 6th edition to be released shortly?? Any comments???
March 10, 2011 11:14 am
Having just retired I was bought a nikon d90 for Christmas by my Wife after having joined a camera club in December , as I struggled to understand all the controls and after various discussions with various club members I was quite suprised how many photographers old and young shot in various priority modes after having spent out on all this sophisticated equipment they did'nt really know how to get the best from their cameras and I was not sure the info I was getting was right.
The general attitude was just play with it and take some photo's and pick it up from there,having the need to know why things work or dont work I came across your book on "Amazon" purchased it and a whole new world opened up just by being able to understand apetures and shutter speeds and I only shoot in the manual mode on the camera now. The book was worth every penny I paid for it and can only recommend very highly.
Regards John Cox
January 7, 2011 03:22 am
I got this book from the library and read it from beginning to end. Let me also say that I am very much a BEGINNER as I have only had my Canon SLR camera for about 2-3 months. I found that this book was somewhat challenging for me to understand. The author gave detailed info about the photos that were taken as a way for the reader to see what settings he used, but as a beginner, it just didnt seem to help me. Perhaps I need something that is even more basic - perhaps I need a class where I am taking a picture using one set of settings and then comparing it to another photograph where the settings make the picture look better and understanding th difference between the two. For example, when I take pictures with my SLR I can definetly see the difference in the pictures vs. my point and shoot camera. But, because my eye has not been trained, I can not and typically dont see why one setting would be better than another unless it is DRASTICLY different - not sure if you are understanding me here....but, for me, the book was a challenege. Thanks for suggesting it. I am going to be taking a class this month for beginners, so I am hopeful that after the class, things will become a bit clearer in understanding how to get and take the best photos.
November 26, 2010 07:39 am
I have to say that I found the book to be somewhat disappointing for an enthusiastic amateur. It's very difficult to identify who this is targeted at. For the complete beginner, you'll definitely learn more about photography, but there are far better and more complete books out there for you. For those who've got most of the basics understood and have digested most of their camera manuals and are looking to pick up some good practical tips, Scott Kelby's books are far superior and have way more useful content. It's of little interest to the professional.
Certainly, it is absolutely not a "bible" on digital photography or any other photography for that matter. Much is glossed over or omitted.
Of course, your mileage may vary ;)
May 25, 2010 12:40 am
This was one of the first books I bought on photography (the second was a book solely about the particular model of my camera). This book is great for understanding the basics of SLR photography. I have learned more from this book than any site on the web (sorry!). I like how he points out the mistakes he made in his effort to learn photography and explains what he learned from them. I also like how he points out mistakes he made later in his career (like switching from color to B&W film and missing a good color shot). I do agree that this book seems to have been written for film SLR cameras, but 99% of the techniques are still relevant to DSLRs. Overall, this is a great book for beginners with SLRs (both digital and film).
April 26, 2010 01:46 am
Nilo needs to re-read the book. Bryan talks about optimal sharpness being at f8-f11 at the outset of the book.
October 30, 2009 08:19 am
Just a few words to thank you for the website. It's very very interesting.
August 5, 2009 02:59 pm
Someone on the forum recommended this book to me, and I have to say I love it. I've had my camera for over a year now, and it was only yesterday, after reading the book that I started to play with the manual modes rather than just using it on automatic.
August 5, 2009 07:01 am
I agree! After a seven month loan to a budding photographer, she finally returned it this past Sunday, and I'm happy!!
Note to Bryan: There's a incorrect reference on page 128; you were standing in Alamo Square Park, not Bryant Park, in San Francisco.
July 22, 2009 09:37 am
I purchased this book along with Sean Arbabi's "BetterPhoto Guide to Exposure." I quickly sold Peterson's "Understanding Exposure" after realizing that Arbabi's book is more timely, informative, and has much better aesthetics. Arbabi's book doesn't stop with exposure. If you are a beginner photographer, you will learn more with Arbabi's book.
June 26, 2009 11:11 pm
@photo styles and adam saxe -- You might want to read John Shaw's Nature Photography Field Guide . He has a chapter on exposure which may set the lightbulb off on why the Sky Brothers and Mr Green Jeans work. Remember that the spot meter in your camera is reading 18% gray at 0. White snow spot metered to 0 is grey card white which is not the correct exposure for white. But to the camera it is proper based on what it knows.
June 26, 2009 06:09 am
This was helpful thanks alot.
April 29, 2009 04:25 am
I think this is an excellent book for folks that want to understand what you can do with exposure. The Sk brothers and Mr Green jeans are great crutches for tough exposures. Mr Green Jeans, landscape primarily green, meter with EV -2/3. So Greens are underexposed by -.67 or 2/3 of a stop. I have practiced this an it is a brilliant hint for metering.
Yes this could be redone for DSLR, but the concepts are there to make someone a but more effective and efficient photographer.
I believe his references to the smaller apertures are for creative exposures. Sharpness doesn't always make for a better photograph. For example, the amusement park might be sharper at f11, but you would not get the shutter speed needed to show the motion of the ride.
December 18, 2008 11:51 pm
How can a book that talks for f/22 or even f/36 in different occasions and for different reasons e.g. sharpness (and this is repeated alot at the first half of the book) can be a 5 star book ?
If you are a beginner that you may have heard that the sharpest f for most lenses in digital age is mainly between f/8-f/11 then soon you will be lost with this book.
And i am talking for the revised edition.
The best thing for Peterson is to rewrite the book for digital because this one is a messy job.
And it is a pity because he can write.
July 12, 2008 07:13 pm
Picked up this book just after I bought my first DSLR. Highly recommended reading for anyone entering photography for the first time.
June 1, 2008 11:33 am
I love this book because at the time I was learning photography this came as a godsend! I also got this for $3 at a local booksale here in Manila.
March 29, 2008 09:40 am
I have 2 or 3 of Mr. Petersen's books, including this one.
My impression is that he's a good at what he's doing.
I have a couple of issues with his books though:
1. Too many of the pictures show very, very low print quality. The composition, the colors and the exposures are there, but the detail is not.
2. (and the first one might be related to this) He openly advises you to stop (your wide) lens to f22 or lower and everything from a few feet to infinity will be sharp. That's probably ok in medium format and certainly is ok in large, but for 35mm or crop-factor DSLR and even more so on a camera with a smaller sensor, I'm yet to see a lens, which does not get significant distortion problems at f22.
The result is "equally not sharp", not "equally sharp" image.
March 17, 2008 11:23 am
I din't get the Mr. Green Jeans. The book says that from f32 to f19 is -2/3 (underexposed). But how can that be if he is opening the aperture for a brighter exposure, same shutter speed. Shouldn't it be +2/3? If we follow Bryan's rule, the picture, exposed off the green would be darker, not brighter. Someone help me understand.
January 9, 2008 02:34 am
I really like this book. While I agree with all the comments , this is how I felt.
Understand Exposure (revised edition)
reviewed by Dr. Eric Flescher, Olathe, KS: (email@example.com)
Author: Bryan Peterson
Publisher: Amphoto Books, 770 Broadway , NY, NY 1003
Released: 2004 (Revised edition)
Strengths: Beautiful color photos. Not a tutorial type book. This book is not a â€œpocket guideâ€ but a â€œfull meal deal.â€ It takes time to read and â€œ digest.â€ But it is a very worthwhile to help you improve your photographic skills.
Weaknesses: Only 160 pages but is packed with information.
I had read information about the author (of this book) and his focus on photography and the difficulties of using exposure. The essence of it struck a cord with me. I wanted to get this book and discover further about the author insights.
I have taken photographs for many years, under many different situation with the main objective being to advance my skills and capture better photos. Since the author had beautiful award winning photos, I wanted to know further about his methods concerning explaining relationships of aperture, shutter speed and film/ digital speed (ISO/ASA) which he considered the cornerstone of making (his ) magnificent photos. Called the â€œphotographerâ€™s triangle,â€ the main idea is to perfect this â€œtrifecta (three fold)â€ of methods (aperture, shutter speeds, and ISO/ASA). I was hoping that I would find fresh beneficial ideas that might benefit myself as well as other photographers. And I was glad I did.
This book is only 160 pages but is loaded with information within the six chapters and the index. Donâ€™t expect a series of tutorials for relaying the information. What this book offers is a set of insightful and easy to grasp notions that expand your knowledge of photography, photographic methods and the ideas which involve creating photograph in general.
The way the author writes is a like an â€œunfolding story.â€ The ideas and methods actually intertwine and integrate along the way. Each idea has at least one of the authorâ€™s superb photos that immediately â€œpops out at you.â€ He weaves his ideas and explains how the final product created this award winning photo. Basic information is included along with the final exposure and additional information. Several times the focus also includes how the photo were initially created and then gradually transformed into a â€œbetter photoâ€ and why. One or more photos show the â€œbefore and afterâ€ effects.
This book is not only enlightening but extremely instructive. Along the way to reading this beautiful books, there is information concerning polarizing filters, double and multiple exposures. Instead of reading this book as a speed reading course, you â€œdigest it slowly â€œ and â€œthink about what is being said.â€ In this day in age, where speed is everything, this is a welcome read.
This book is not a â€œpocket guideâ€ but a â€œfull meal deal.â€ This definitely is a book that you â€œslowly digest.â€ If you desire to learn about photography and take your time learning, this is a great book from an award winning photographer. While it might take a little time to finish the book , most will learn from the authorâ€™s methods and his ideas.
The best way to learn from this book is to read the information, think about the photos and then how it might relate to your photos that you have taken in the past or want to take in the future. Whether you are just starting your photographic endeavors or advanced photographer, the author will give you something to think about, learn and construct your photos to a better level.
September 1, 2007 06:18 am
I wonder if anyone out there has learned about exposure from the Basic Photo Series of books by Ansel Adams. His method is called the Zone System, and I find it to be the most scientific and fundamental explanation of exposure. I studied photography from his five books, starting in 1970--after he recommended them to me in response to my letter--and feel well grounded in photographic theory.
July 11, 2007 08:11 pm
I set a goal for myself this year to try to learn how to use my camera. I have read quite a few books and I have found this one seems to have really "clicked" for me how to use the camera on Manual. I took my first photos on Manual last week - none very good but I feel I understand things a little better having read this book. Maybe I need to re-read the Scott Kelby book because I found his one annoying (and I like his Photoshop books) - for a person without a big wallet, I found his emphasis on having the latest and greatest (expensive) equipment off putting. But as I say - perhaps I need to give it another go.
June 22, 2007 04:41 pm
This is the second of three books by Bryan that I've purchased. I've passed over weightier tomes by various authors because Mr Peterson has the ability to make things easy to understand, and that makes me eager to put his knowledge to use.
I also recommend his book titled "Beyond Portraiture"
June 18, 2007 01:59 am
Sounds like a good book. Thanks for taking time to write the review.
One thing though, his name is spelled Bryan, not Brian.
June 16, 2007 11:12 am
Great review. Good detail.
I also appreciate everyones supporting comments. Thanks.
June 15, 2007 01:07 am
I won this book in the Camera review contest, and found it to be pretty beginner oriented. I ended up donating it to my High school art department.
June 14, 2007 04:07 pm
Probably the bible for me in terms of photography, i refer back to it all the time, everything is put simply which made it easy for me as a novice to first understand, great addition to anyones photographic library.
June 14, 2007 08:39 am
Honestly, I don't own this book, and have not read it either. I do own two other books by Bryan Peterson (Beyond Portraiture and Learning to See Creatively). I have to say that I disagree with many people who have commented so far. I am not impressed by his writing style, and at least in the Beyond Portraiture, what he suggests as possible tweaks to juice up photos, would not be acceptable by even amateur photographers.
On the other hand, I just finished reading "Exposure and Lighting for Digital Photographers Only" by Meadhra & Lowrie. I found it very informative and helpful (but a bit repeating - it is written to be used as a reference, as well as cover to cover).
For those who have tried reading Peterson, but did not like his style, Meadhra & Lowrie one is probably a better option. It also has caveats listed in the review covered:
- it is written with digital shooting in mind
- it is not very technical, but gives fair amount of details
- covers flash enough for a reader to want to get a fancy kind
- includes ISO as a major player in exposure
- written with mostly DSLR in mind, but explains exposure for point and shoots as well
It is a bit more expensive ($24 compared to $15 on amazon), but well worth IMHO.
June 14, 2007 05:06 am
This is the book for all beginners(like me). Maybe I am not as sharp, I keep going back to it over and over again. I am now reading "Learn to see creatively". I wish I could afford to attend one of his courses.
I may get Scott Kelby's book next. As you can see, I need all the help I can afford.
June 14, 2007 12:45 am
Funny timing. I just purchased this from Amazon a couple of days ago and am awaiting its arrival. I'm currently "stuck" in full automatic mode on my new DSLR (Nikon D80) and really want to move onto better things. I'm hoping this book will help. I can always add "ISO" to my tricks later down the line. (Perhaps ISO wasn't covered so much due to the "film" backgrounds of the book. With film cameras, your stuck using the same ISO until you use to the roll anyway. Then again, what do I know being a fully automatic kind of guy at the moment)
June 13, 2007 10:35 pm
I, too purchased his book and found it very good, but I didn't always understand completely what he was talking about, so I am now enrolled in his class Understanding Exposure over at Perfect Picture School of Photography. It's an 8 week course (I'm on my last lesson) and it answers all the questions I had about some of the things in his book. His critiques of my photos have been very helpful and he is one of the most enthusiastic people about photography that I have ever met. His class is not just about learning proper exposure...it's about taking a creative exposure. My photography has improved dramatically and I would highly recommend both the book and his class. (The class, admitedly is a little pricey.)
June 13, 2007 09:47 pm
One of the cool things about the Pentax K10D is an MTF-biased program mode. Although the f/8 and f/11 mentioned are good guesses, they're not necessarily the best for every lens. MTF is a technical measure of sharpness and contrast -- every lens has different characteristics -- and this mode makes the camera automatically choose the best for any modern Pentax lens. So it's basically the perfect "who cares" mode.
June 13, 2007 04:00 pm
This is the one book I always recommend when asked about photography books. Definitely a must-have purchase!
June 13, 2007 01:29 pm
I too really enjoyed the book and found it to be a quite a valuable resource. I've gone back to it a number of times to get a refresher on aperture and metering.
For beginners, I think it would be helpful to describe the exact mode he's shooting in and whether or not A or S modes would give as good a result as full Manual. As an example I was totally lost by this type of sentence:
"I then adjusted the shutter speed until 1/60 sec. indicated a correct exposure" (pg. 63).
I was wondering how does he know he's got the correct exposure? Why wouldn't he just set it in S mode at 1/60 and let the camera select the correct aperture.
I get it now, but at the time this concept was totally lost on me. By saying that it's in Manual and not one of the others I would have clued in.
June 13, 2007 10:44 am
I have this book and for me is very helpful, I really recommend this book for a beginner but you can find more information in this site too so It's a good combination do develop a good photography.
June 13, 2007 07:52 am
I also really enjoyed this book; however, I have one major issue with it... He often insturcts you to close down the aperture to eg. f22 and "focus at 2 feet". This focussing at 2 feet trick doesn't really work for any of my lenses and a more detailed explanation would be helpful. Better yet would be an explanation of how to set your focus at the hyperfocal distance (which is further away than 2 feet for my landscape lenses).
I woudl love to see a concise summary of each of his rules somewhere.
June 13, 2007 06:31 am
Looks like a trip to Borders is in my future :)
June 13, 2007 06:06 am
I love this book. I am barely halfway as I want to really have good time to read through this book. For a new beginner like me, I enjoyed reading his simple to understand illustrations for something that was intimidating for a newbie like me, exposures.
June 13, 2007 06:02 am
When people ask me how the heck I understand f-stops, ISO, and everything exposure related, I wind up using pointers that I found in this book. It took me a little while to understand these concepts and I wished I had his book earlier in my learning curve to help me out.
I highly recommend this book for any photographers who want to get better.
June 13, 2007 05:03 am
I think this book is a must for anybody new to photography and wants to take a bit more than just snapshot. I got the first edition out of the local library and was so impressed I bought the newer version.
I must get â€˜Learn to See Creativelyâ€™ out of the local library next
June 13, 2007 04:55 am
May aswell put my bit in there too...
This is a great book and definately one to put beginners and amatuers on the right road toward serious amatuer or professional. Another great title from the same author is 'Learn to See Creatively'. I have also been reading several books by Michael Freeman which I can also recommend as source material.
June 13, 2007 03:23 am
I haven't read this one yet, but it sounds like it'll be useful.
I'll have to swing by the library on my way home from work today and see if they've got a copy.
June 13, 2007 02:53 am
I agree; this is one of my favorite photography books. I also wrote a review over at my Blog back in January.
I find Brian's techniques very helpful and reading this book freed me to experiment a lot more. That has been a real boon to my photogrphy.
Thanks for adding your perspective!
June 13, 2007 02:33 am
Recently bought this book after the review of the Digital Photography Book by Scott Kelby. I wasn't overly impressed by it and thought it was a bit of a film camera book re-issued for digital photography. Don't get me wrong it is a great book, but I didn't learn much from it after Scott's book and reading the articles on this great site.
Great photography in the book and I did learn a few things, but I suppose I expected a bit more. I would recommend Scott's book first as I thought it complemented the great content on this site a bit more.
June 13, 2007 02:10 am
I wholeheartedly agree. This is one of the best book purchases I have ever made, and certainly the best photography book I've bought. It convinced me to stop relying so much on the aperture priority mode and to go to fully manual exposure, which I do almost exclusively now. Most helpful of all was Peterson's lessons on which part of the scene to use for your exposure -- sky, ground, etc. The whole "Sky Brothers" and "Mr. Green Jeans" trick is ingenious!
This is the photography bible for serious amateurs!
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