Book Review: Complete Digital Photography

Books on photography span many topics and niches within the overall theme of photography. No single book covers every facet of photography and none (that I’ve seen) have tried. I did, however, find a book that covers all of the necessary essentials for photographers seeking to improve their skill set.

Complete Digital Photography
by Ben Long, 2005

Ben Long is a freelance writer based in San Francisco, writing articles for MacWEEK and MacWorld, among others. He also writes books in his spare time on digital photography, digital video, and the software tools used in these areas.

The book focuses on the realm of digital photography, addressing those of us currently involved with digital photography and those looking to become involved. Digital cameras have matured over the last several years, bringing with them professionals and amateurs alike. Good digital photography is within reach for many people, and this book helps to lay the foundation for several aspects of this hobby/profession. It is divided into four sections: technical foundation, equipment, photography techniques, and editing methods.

Technical Foundation – Learn what makes up a digital photo, including data storage and data representation. If you’ve ever wondered how a digital camera works, or what the difference between a CCD and CMOS sensor is, you’re in luck. This section also covers things like color theory and the history of photography, in case you’re interested in how photography came to be. You’ll also get a primer on basic photography topics such as focal lengths, shutter speeds, aperture, and ISO. Before moving on to the next section, you’ll learn how to evaluate image quality and spot artifacts inherent to digital photography.

Equipment – If you’re looking to buy your first digital camera or your next digital camera, you’ll learn what features to look for and various trade-offs between different types of cameras. In addition to the camera, digital photography requires a computer and editing software. Get the scoop on your various options.

Photography Techniques – Starting with the basics, you’ll get an explanation of what different camera settings do and how they affect your photos. Moving up to the essentials, learn how to effectively compose your shots and what tools you have to accomplish this. Then top it off with more advanced techniques such as motion, depth of field, tonal, and exposure controls. You’ll also learn about various types of special shooting techniques like macro, panorama, using filters, and working in extreme conditions.

Editing Methods – The largest of all four sections belongs to digital photo editing methods and tools. The book presents a good editing workflow that covers all the major editing tools you’ll need to finish off your images. The author uses Photoshop CS2 and Photoshop Elements 2 (trials included in CD-ROM) in his examples, while also providing you with the digital files so you can follow along with the tutorials. This section covers much more than just the basics of photo editing, and almost any photographer could benefit from reading this section to pick up some of the advanced topics.

The book is over 500 pages long and it’s packed with good information. When I picked this book up in late 2005, I started reading and I couldn’t stop. I finished the entire book (tutorials and all) in about a week — which means something when it comes to my reading habits. I usually take over a month just to read a magazine. I was captivated by this book and what it had to offer. I gained a better understanding of the basic photography techniques, and I picked up a ton of stuff on photo editing. I thought I had a pretty good understanding of how to edit a photo — I had no idea. To this day, I still go back and skim sections of the book to brush up on my skill set.

The biggest thing I’ve taken from this book is how to effectively create and use layer masks in conjunction with the other editing tools offered in Photoshop. I’ve said it before, but layers and layer masks are the most important tools you have for editing photos.

In all honesty, this book can prove useful for photographers at almost every level of experience. It is a comprehensive guide to digital photography, and it lays the foundations to build upon. The book was published in 2005, but it retains about 95% (or more) of its usefulness as the technology has progressed. It is written in such a way that is not completely dependent on the technology, and should prove to be a useful resource for years to come.