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Best Digital Photography Book

The Best Digital Photography Book

Learning Photography

I moved beyond point-and-shoot cameras this year and bought a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3, a much more powerful camera, though still a step down from a full DSLR. It is optimized for taking photos in low light conditions, at sunrise and sunset, when the light is the best for landscape and outdoor photography.

But the transition up from a point and shoot camera has not been easy. Aperture priority, shutter priority, ISO, f stops. white balance, step down filters: my eyes glaze over when I read photography books that assume I understand what they mean and how they interact. I’m a more hands-on style learner. I learn by doing and I like to master the basics in bite sized chunks before I get overwhelmed.

Since buying my Lumix, one of my hurdles has been finding a good digital photography reference book. It hasn’t been easy. But when I ordered The Digital Photography Book by Scott Kelby, I quickly realized that I had hit the jackpot.

Photographing Landscapes

Each chapter is broken down into a series of one page how-to’s that explain and illustrate beginner, intermediate, and professional digital photography skills. For example, here is a subset of the one page topics covered in the chapter on “Shooting Landscapes like a Pro.”

  • The Golden Rule of Landscape Photography – only shoot at dawn and dusk.
  • Become Married to Your Tripod – eliminate shake
  • Shoot in Aperture Priority Mode – how to keep the foreground in focus but get the background out of focus
  • Composing Great Landscape – don’t forget to have a foreground
  • The Trick to Shooting Waterfalls – use shutter priority mode with a long exposure
  • Where to Put the Horizon Line – don’t put it in the middle
  • Getting More interesting Mountain Shots – shoot from an angle that people don’t see everyday
  • How to Show Size – add a person to your shot to provide scale
  • A Tip for Shooting Forests – don’t have a foreground. Just shoot the tree trunks.
  • The Trick to Getting Richer Colors – Use a polarizing filter
  • What to Shoot in Bad Weather – shoot foliage after a rain. Shoot the angry sky before a storm.
  • Atmosphere is Your Friend – shoot in fog for surreal effects
  • Shooting on Cloudy Days – don’t shoot the sky
  • Tips for Shooting Panoramas – shoot vertical slices and knit them together in Photoshop
  • What to Shoot at Sunset – shoot a silhouette

Other chapters in the book cover: sports photography, wedding photography, how to shoot flowers, travel photos, and portrait photography.

I’m sure there is more to being a great outdoor photographer, but simply understanding these basic functional techniques has proven to be extremely focusing for me and I look forward to mastering them this season.

Disclosure: The author owns this product and purchased it using their own funds.

Do you have any other digital photography references you’d recommend?

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8 comments

  1. The best way is to read the manual, and then go out and practice, practice, practice. Then practice some more. Going out and taking photos helps you to become a better photographer, play around with the settings till you find what works for you.

  2. I bought my daughter a Panasonic Lumix 10x optical zoom for her junior year abroad and she came back with some wonderful photos. Prior to that purchase I had previously bought a number of digital cameras. I broke some, lost some and some flat out just crapped out. But along the way I learned a few things.

    Mega pixels: My first camera was an Olympus with 3MP. I was very happy with it and never unsatisfied with "my lack of size". As cameras grew in MP, I learned that the actual photo sensor – the CCD array – did not. So more light receptors were being packed into a smaller area. There are a number of side effects from this. The most obvious being a subtle lack of crispness because the light tends to bleed across pixels. I'm sure there's another more technically accurate description of this effect and it was very apparent when I got a newer 6MP Canon Powershot. It simply did not take better pictures. Equal perhaps, but not better. Recently my daughter got a way-cool top end Canon Rebel Digital SLR 12MP. But it comes with a professional feature. Raw tiff output. Most point and shoot cameras don't support this feature and will always compress the images into jpeg. My understanding that is that this is trade-off the camera makers do to make the camera faster (moving photos around internally) and to spec higher in the number of images you can store, and save on the number email bounces due to gi-normus attachments. And I suppose for my GrandMa is makes perfect sense. If your camera has the memory and supports tiff output *AND* you tend to use an image editing program like photoshop, GIMP (free) or picasa *AND* you know what your are doing when sharing photos – then *HUGE* MP can make sense. Afterall what's a 320GB drive good for these days? Bottom line on MP:. In a family of cameras where most of the guts are the same you CAN'T LOSE by opting for smaller MP.

    Program Mode: Knowing what's going on here can really help you make decisions to produce, not take a better picture. Most point and shoot cameras have many "modes" for adjusting the camera to take a better picture in certain conditions. Bright sunlight (beach, snow), night time, indoors, portrait, sports, etc. Program mores are doing two things. First they automatically adjust the camera mechanicals aperature, shutter speed, but also more importantly the apply software filtering to the image coming off the CCD. For example, on my Canon Powershot there's a mode for "Forest". Nice. What it does is assume that you're in the woods with non direct sunlight surounded by trees and a lot of green stuff around. If the camera was in normal automatic mode, these greens would just not be as bright, or match what the human eye would see. So the camera in "Forest" mode cranks up the green a little just right. But really, if you are going to touchup your images using software on your own then you really want the rawest image possible. YOU want to be the one that fiddles with the color map, contrast, edge correction, etc, etc. Bottom line on Modes: Read the manual very well. Understand what the limitations are and, if possible, how to have the camera do less work on your behalf if you plan to edit the shots yourself.

    Whew!

  3. I should read a book on becoming a better photographer. I should but have not. The most I do is watch a LB guide video and paid attention to Bretts guide which is free at.

    http://btraffordphotography.blogspot.com/2009/01/

    Bretts blogs are superb and he is rather good with a camera. Steve Walton is the master and his blog a must visit. Also Colin Griffiths is very good with a camera. All free and inspiring.

    http://colingriffiths.blogspot.com/

    http://www.stevewaltonsblog.com/

    One other free guide and very fine indeed is on Andy Howells blog.

  4. Good pointers. Thanks Martin.

  5. Zil – that almost counts as a guest post. Sheez :-)

  6. I like Hendrik's advice, so let me amplify it a little. Digicams have so many features, you have to get on a steep learning curve. So make the manual more readable and accessible. I found an electronic version online, enlarged it 4x so the text was legible, printed and punched the pages into a ring-bound notebook. Then I tabbed the pages so I could go right to the section I needed. That made all the difference.

    Taking more exposures is essential to getting more good pix. Any scene worth photographing is worth at least a few bad exposures. If you try to keep more than 10% of your exposures, you're doing it wrong. I'm down to 6%.

    Chatting up professional photographers helps a lot.

    Continually putting yourself in beautiful places accelerates the process of getting beautiful pix.

    Know the limits of your gear. Bringing a pocket camera to Saratoga or Bosque del Apache or the Antelope slot canyons is self-defeating. Also dragging a 7 pound slr on a backpacking trip is nuts. ((Don't ask me how I know that.))

    A camera can save your life on the trail. The new Lumix ZS7 has built-in GPS.

  7. All good advice…

    My camera's manual is a sad effort at literature or ah a manual.

    I take millions of photos, but very few survive.

    I don't know any pro's.

    I put myself in beautiful places and even not-so beautiful one regularly.

    I doubt that a GPS can save your life on a trail. You need a map to go with it, and you need more than a location to get yourself out of deep sh*t. Peet peeve. Get a watch and a compass. They don't have batteries and force you to use your brain.

  8. Don't be bashful. Pro's will tell you everything if you ask. At the horse races, they congregate by the fence at the point with the best view of the far turn. In between the events, I ask about their cameras and what shutter speed they use. Same thing at key wildlife and scenic observation points. These guys show up with $12,000 worth of gear and *love* to talk about it.

    I was also fortunate when my working life took me into the publishing business. In front of the lens or behind the scenes, I always asked the photographers to verbalize their work processes. Everyone appreciates some attention, and are apt to be generous with their knowledge if you show a bit of interest.

    Now about GPS, EVERY Park Service ranger shares your low opinion and they have many sad stories about travelers who mindlessly relied on machine navigation. However …

    Bad endings usually result from a cascade of bad decisions and a little bad luck. I know about this from 1st hand experience, although I've always managed to stay 1 bad decision away from disaster.

    What happens when you are blinded by darkness or fog or snow, and can't locate yourself on a map? What happens when it gets late and cold, and you have no map, no compass, no light, and no shelter. In those cases, a camera can save your life.

    It happened to me on the trail to Lime Brook Falls near Manchester, VT. I started out at 4 pm on a nice day in December, hiking a 4 mile route with a 2000 foot climb. I had nothing with me but a vest and my camera, and had no idea where I was going. I found the falls and made my exposures with the last light of the day. Then I started running downhill back to the TH. Half way there is was cold and dark. With a half mile to go, I couldn't see my hand in front of my face under the pines. It was terrifying to think about losing the trail, which I was following by sense of touch.

    So I flipped the camera on and used the view screen as a flashlight. It worked. A heated seat and hot cocoa brought me out of a mild hypothermia, and I drove home as though I wasn't almost bear buffet.

    Surely I can be reckless, but I never leave home without a pocket cam. Now imagine my lust for a Lumix ZS7. It can GPS the location AND magnify maps and guidebook pages on its ultra high resolution screen. And serve as an emergency flashlight. Add steel wool, and it will start fires.

    Of course we must cultivate our equanimity. Of course a camera can fail at a critical moment. But so can **everything** else. Including a map showing incomplete or incorrect features. In your experience, have maps or cameras given you more failures?

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