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Book Review: Understanding Exposure by Bryan Petersen

I read this book about a month ago. Off the bat I can tell you that Bryan Peterson is an amazing writer, and when it comes to teaching photography technique, I’ve not read a better author (I highly recommend his other book as well, titled “Learning to see creatively”).

I wanted to wait till I’d tried out a few techniques before posting a review. Today, I can confidently tell you that this book is a winner. It has taught me some of the most important things I’ve ever learned about photography. I was slightly embarrassed after reading this book because I realized how little care or thought I put in for most of my photography.

Since I’ve always dealt with automatic cameras (even my film camera half a decade ago was an automatic), I’ve never thought much about exposure – how much light is captured by the camera and in what way – something that is determined by the triplet of aperture size, shutter speed and sensor sensitivity (ISO). Understanding Exposure offers a wealth of insight into the subject, divided by two main themes.

The first theme describes a “correct” exposure is and how to get it. This is mainly about determining the correct amount of light that’s captured in each shot. The automatic metering of a camera can often be wrong for complex scenes – especially those that involve both sky and land – which used to often result in washed out scenes that didn’t look too impressive. The biggest change this book induced in my shooting: I now mostly shoot in manual mode. Even on my compact Canon Powershot A570 IS. And I can tell the difference.

The second theme is about getting the “creatively correct” exposure – and this describes making the right choice of shutter speed and aperture size to enhance your composition. These concepts I was more or less aware of but its still very well explained, and it was good to go through it again.

Of course, the ideas are explained with the help of many photographs from the author’s portfolio. The photographs are relevant and often breathtaking. Overall, this is an inspiring book and has certainly changed the way I shoot. I’d heartily recommend it to anyone who’s getting serious about photography.

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