December 24th, 2010


"Digital Photography Masterclass" by Tom Ang

I finished (a first read-through of) this a while back, but never wrote it up, so I guess it will have to count as book 52. I got this for my birthday, having read a few reviews about digital photography books - what I was originally looking for was something that covered image manipulation, but was not Photoshop specific as I don't have Photoshop. Which is a harder task than you might imagine ;) But the middle section of this book seemed to fit the bill, and I liked the style from the few excerpts I read on amazon & in Waterstones.

And I'm glad I got it, the whole thing has been useful (not just the image manipulation side of it), even tho I'm no way near the skill-level implied by the "master class" bit of the title! The book is broken down into four sections - "Mastering Your Camera", "Developing Your Skills", "The Digital Darkroom" and "Advancing Your Photography". Then each of the first three sections has several chapters that he's called tutorials, which have a common structure - a handful of double page spreads talking about some aspect of the subject (like "depth of field" in the "key camera controls" tutorial, or "burn and dodge" in the "perfecting the image" tutorial), one or two images with some more in-depth analysis (or a step by step through manipulating an image), and finally an assignment that covers things he's talked about during the tutorial plus some images that fit this theme (for instance the assignment for the exposure control chapter is to take photograph of a still life, thinking about lighting and exposure as you do it). The last section is a series of interviews and photographs with individual photographers, but each still has some analysis of the images plus an assignment - they're divided into types of subjects, like an interview with a woman called Tamao Funahashi who does landscape and nature photography.

At no point does he say "you should use this setting and get this result", the book is completely non-prescriptive. Which is what made it work so well for me. It's all about things you want to think about while you're taking photos and while you're manipulating them - things you should be aware of or techniques you might want to use or deliberately ignore. So after mentioning the rule of thirds or placing your subject at the lines of the Golden Section as "rules" of composition, the in-depth image analysis talks about an image with the main subject right in the centre, and how that works for that particular shot. The digital manipulation section is also concept focussed, so it talks about (for instance) sharpness & blur and when you might want to sharpen your image or when you might want to blur it, rather than handing down the "best" settings for a particular filter or tool. The step-by-step sections are then at the level of "sharpen up this area of the image" rather than "apply Unsharp Mask at settings xyz". It also makes a significant effort to be non-Photoshop specific, although I did have to google for a few things to find out how it worked in the Gimp and the name used in the book turned out to be the Photoshop name for something. I don't mind having to figure things out for myself a bit, though, I am after all someone who taught herself basic HTML as a by-product of reading a book about how to write CSS ...

In the end I liked this book for much, much more than the image manipulation section that I initially wanted it for. It was interesting as something just to read through, and I think it's going to be useful to keep coming back to and to do the assignments from (probably more than once). A great birthday present (thanks, J :) ) and a good complement to the new toy I'm getting for Christmas tomorrow :D
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