Wednesday, October 04, 2006

How Do I Get Better?

I see a lot of folks on photography forums or letters written in to photo magazines asking where they should start. It seems like I see roughly the same question every day. Lots of times folks know how to point and shoot with their digital camera but don't necessarily understand what it takes to make a good photograph. I, by no means, pretend to be a professional photographer or an expert at photography. I'm learning though, and I think I'm getting better.

Learning photography should not be all trial-and-error. Granted that trial-and-error plays a role in the learning process; however, I think most photographers would agree that there is a fundamental level of knowledge necessary to gain significant knowledge and experience through the trial-and-error process.

I'd like to take a moment to share my thoughts on a few books that I've referred to previously, which I think would be excellent sources for those wishing to take the next step in photography from the casual point-and-shooter to the serious amateur/hobbyist.

Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson
Bryan Peterson is an excellent teacher. He's great at breaking down intimidating concepts for the novice and explaining them on your level. The book breaks up exposure into the three fundamental elements that go into properly exposing a photo: aperture; shutter speed; and ISO (or, film speed). This is the book to buy for those who have only ever used a point and shoot camera or who always shoot their SLR on full auto mode (the little green rectangle setting). Simply reading this book will make you a better photographer overnight if you fall into these categories.

If you've got a basic handle on these concepts but not sure you really grasp the significance of one or all of them then you should consider adding this book to your library as well. Aside from the technical basics, Bryan teaches you how to look at a scene and capture a creative photo in addition to a properly exposed one.

Before you buy another camera, lens, flash, or any other gear, buy this book if you're wondering what you should spend you cash on. It'll be the best $15 you ever spend on your photography gear.

Understanding Digital Photography by Bryan Peterson
I really consider this book an update to Understanding Exposure. If you've never shot film, don't care to ever mess with film, or would like to understand the differences between digital and film technology on a more basic level then consider this book. It teaches all the basics I've pointed out in my comments on Understanding Exposure above and adds the digital flavor to the mix. I wouldn't be suprised if the two books are consolidated in a future version. Either way, they're both great books and you won't go wrong with your purchase of either or both - I've got both ;)

The Photoshop CS2 Book for Digital Photographers by Scott Kelby
Scott Kelby is simply the Man when it comes to Photoshop. Not only does he know the insides and outs, he also knows who to teach it. Kelby is the Editor in Chief of Photoshop User magazine and the President of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals. There are a ton of uses for Photoshop and a ton of books explaining how to use it. There aren't that many books that are dedicated to photographer's needs. Kelby's Photoshop for Digital Photographers series responds to this niche.

Chances are, if you have a copy of any Photoshop version, that Kelby has a book on the particular version you've got. If you've got Photoshop and a digital camera, you need Kelby's book. He gives you step by step instructions for the particular actions that you're trying to do. Additionally, unlike other books that try to do the same, he gives you actual values to use for the actions. This gives you a great idea of the starting points for applying blurs, unsharp mask, grayscale, and the likes. When I'm working on my computer, I've got this book on my desk.

These books are permanent fixtures in my library and I still frequently refer to each of them. Your money will not be lost in the purchase of any or all of these books. There's plenty of knowledge in them to grow with you for some time to come. Don't take my word alone though. Check out the reviews on Amazon from the links above or elsewhere around the net.

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