Today, many people rely on smart phones or inexpensive point-and-shoot cameras to take photos, including travel photos. Too often, the results are poor quality snap shots. When I travel, my photos have to be good enough to publish on realfoodtraveler.com and in national print magazines and newspapers, so I’m always looking for ways to get to know my camera better and improve my shots. Beyond Point-and-Shoot: Learning to Use a Digital SLR or Interchangeable Lens Camera by pro shooter Darrell Young is a great place to start.
This book from Rocky Nook, publishers of terrific books on photography, takes readers from the basics of what kind of camera and lens to choose to using histograms, color space, and white balance. And this author does it in such a way that it’s understandable and even interesting.
Photography is a lot like baking – it’s both a science and an art. In order for bread to rise and bake just right, you have to mix the correct ingredients and apply the right time and temperature. The art comes in how to tweak ingredients and techniques, perhaps adding kalamata olives or some sweet apricot to the loaf or baking it longer or slower. The same is true in photography. You have to know the basics of your camera and how it works with light in order to apply the “art” of playing with different elements. Beyond Point-and-Shoot gives readers this basic understanding.
Gear, Controls, and More
Young’s first two chapters discuss gear—types of cameras, image sensors, lenses, and filters—and the pros and cons of each. He does a nice job of making the many choices in photographic gear understandable and explaining why some cameras and lenses cost much more than others. Learning about issues like perspective distortion, perspective compression, flare, light fall off, and color fringing can help photographers understand why they may be experiencing problems with different types of equipment. It certainly helped me understand why when I pushed a cheap zoom lens to its maximum length that many of my wildlife shots in Africa ended up with red halos.
Chapters three through seven deal with understanding the camera’s controls and how to use them. This is the meat of the book and the real value for the photography enthusiast. Like any good teacher, the author tells readers what he’s going to tell them, tells them, and them recaps what he’s said. Like the enthusiastic photography expert that he is, Young sometimes includes information that isn’t really necessary for the beginning photographer (do we really need to know what dynamic range is or the technical explanation of an f-stop?), but it’s easy enough to skip over this material.
This section is also where Young begins his helpful photo assignments. These are specific instructions that encourage readers to experiment with different strategies and techniques. The exercises illustrate Young’s points and give the readers hands-on experience.
For those who want to graduate from auto cameras and get out of auto mode when shooting, Chapter three, Understanding Exposure Control, may be the most important chapter in Beyond Point-and-Shoot. Young thoroughly explains the camera’s shooting controls–ISO sensitivity (the sensor’s light sensitivity), aperture (how much light gets to the sensor), and shutter speed (how long light gets to the sensor). He cleverly compares their inter-relationship to filling a glass of water from a faucet. He uses the water as light, the shutter speed (how long) to the faucet handle, the aperture (how much) to how big the faucet nozzle is, and the iso sensitivity to the capacity of the water glass. It’s so simple even the most technologically-challenged readers will understand.
Taking Control of Exposure in chapter four tells readers how to employ basic controls by controlling motion and depth of field (what’s in focus). This is a chapter than can make beginning photographers throw up their hands and want to revert to auto mode. Don’t do it! The author patiently explains exposure controls and their interplay. By completing the assignments in this chapter, the lessons become clearer and more understandable. Even readers who only get this far in Beyond Point-and-Shoot, will greatly improve the control of their camera and the resulting photographs.
The rest of the book covers even more advanced topics, including metering and scene modes (noted by icons like flowers, mountains, etc. on camera dials). Later on, he discusses histograms, an important tool that at reads exposure, and color space and white balance. While this section gets more technical than some beginning photographers might like, it’s still vital information and readers who feel overwhelmed can always come back to these subjects as they become more comfortable with the basic controls discussed earlier in the book.
Real Bottom Line: If you want a book that covers the basics of camera controls and how to use them, Darrell Young’s book, Beyond Point-and-Shoot, is the perfect first book. His language is simple and understandable and, like a good teacher, he’s patient and encouraging. Working through Beyond Point-and-Shoot, including doing the assignments the author suggests, will give readers the information to take control of their camera and make them better photographers. – by Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor