Instructional books on photography are one of two types: The first usually tries to cram so much information into it that the author just manages to touch each topic without going deep enough into it to give the reader a well rounded understanding of each topic. Fortunately Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with a Film or Digital Camera (Updated Edition) falls into the other category where a small area is covered thoroughly enough for the book to be truly useful.
Peterson starts out with a definition of ‘Exposure’ and then goes on quickly to tell you to put your camera into ‘Manual Exposure’ mode. Although I hardly shoot ‘Manual’ these days, this was how I learned photography, and it is a necessary step to learning exposure control. He talks about using the camera’s light meter but doesn’t go into explaining what it is until page 114, so if you need to know what it is, you could skip ahead to read that bit.
Peterson then goes on to explain how exposures are governed by the photographic triangle: the relationship between Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. This is a surprisingly difficult subject to explain (believe me, I’ve tried), and he does a decent job of it. He does mention a lot of ‘f/numbers’ here, and if you get lost, don’t fret: read on… it does get better.
The pages that follow are the heart of the book and are devoted to explaining how each component of the photographic triangle affects the exposure and some very photo examples demonstrate each effect. I like how he explains the creative use of aperture, and this section is a good read even for seasoned photographers as a sort of ‘refresher’.
He calls the small apertures like f/22, f/16 “storytelling apertures” because the small apertures with their corresponding large depth of field hold a lot of detail in sharp from foreground to background. He calls the large apertures like f/2.8, f/4 “isolation composition” for their ability to isolate the subject from the background.
He calls the middle apertures like f/8, f/11 “who cares” apertures and I have a slight difference of opinion. I’d like to call the middle apertures like f/8 and f/11 ‘sharpness maximizing’ apertures, as those are the apertures that deliver best sharpness from typical consumer lenses like the popular 18-200mm zoom, and everyone cares about getting the best performance from their lenses. So unless I’m trying to do something creative with the aperture, or unless my shutter speed is the priority, I like to leave the aperture around f/8.
The next section covers the importance of shutter speeds: how a fast shutter speed can ‘freeze’ motion and a slow shutter speed can imply motion with creative blur.
Peterson also gives a pretty thorough look at the different qualities of light: hard frontlight, soft overcast light, night and low light, etc, and how to make use of creative exposure to take advantage of the lighting conditions. For example, how to create a silhouette in strong backlight. Again, there’s a lot of information here and a lot of useful tips.
He rounds out the book by going into different filters, multiple exposures, blah blah. Ok, someone might be interested in this stuff. On the whole, I’d rate this book 5 out of 5 stars and it is probably the best book you can buy on the subject.
The book is best for the beginner, perhaps someone who has bought his or her first DSLR, and who is keen on moving beyond the ‘green’ fully automatic mode. It is available for $17.13 here on Amazon.