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Book Review of: The Basic Book of Digital Photography

How to shoot, enhance, and share your digital pictures

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Review of The Basic Book of Digital Photography, Tom Grimm and Michele Grimm (Softcover, 2009)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

This is one of the best non-fiction titles I have ever read. It's well-written, well-organized, well-planned, accurate, and useful. The authors were thorough and thoughtful. The book delivers on the promise of its title and subtitle, 100%. Seldom do all of those come together in one work, but they come together in this one.

The book flows in the order needed to provide the novice to intermediate photographer with a solid foundation for getting the most from digital photography. That is, it starts at the beginning and guides you along the same path that you need to take.

The more I look at this book, the more impressed I am with it. Let's keep in mind I used to be a magazine editor. That background has led me to be an unforgiving, sometimes unkind, book reviewer. And a real nitpicker.

Summary

I can gush about what a great book this is all day long, and that won't help you decide if it's for you. I could also list all the things I like about it, but that's really not necessary. I'll sum it up thusly:

If you have a camera and aren't a professional photographer, you should have this book. Period.

Basic and B&W

At first blush, you might not consider this book "basic" because of its size. As you read it, though, you find the content sticks to that idea of basic and the book is an easy read. It's even easy to read where it covers technical details.

The one thing that struck me the most about this book was the authors had no need to "impress the reader." I've read too many "how to" books that resemble more of an ego trip than a mentoring. So, I always look for that and did not find it here. While the authors evidently know their material, they talk at the level of the reader instead of over the head of the reader. They keep it simple and practical, too. They assume the beginner has other things going on in life and can't spend 2,000 hours a year practicing the craft. Not all authors make this assumption.

This book is full of photos (thus explaining some of its size). I wasn't surprised to find a large number of photos on a book about photography. Every picture served to illustrate some point that's important to being a better photographer or to being better able to work with the photos you take.

Some readers may wonder why most of these photos are black and white, and may consider that a minus. It's a huge plus. One reason is money. This book is about basics. Part of keeping it basic is to keep it priced accordingly. Its list price does that, but would have been impossible if all of the photos had been printed in color. If you want to see more images, you can always go to the authors' Website.

The person interested in basics of digital photography isn't going to want to drop $200 on a book to get the same information available in a book that sells for less than a tenth of that price. Also, it's worth noting that one of the best photos of all time (taken of a little girl running in Vietnam) was in black and white. Observe and learn.

Some Background

Back in the day, several of my 35mm shots graced magazine covers (I have professional equipment and worked hard to learn composition). I'm not a professional photographer and need to take my shots within a fairly narrow range of conditions. I know enough about photography to have a reasonably substantive opinion about a book on photography.

I have a reasonably substantive opinion about a book on digital photography in particular because when I went from film to digital, I was lost. Not because of the computer aspect (I've built several computers from scratch, and people come to me for tech help), but because it's a bewildering new way to shoot pictures.

With my 35mm camera, I know which lens and which settings to use for a specific type of shot. This is like the bachelor who can make an excellent casserole or a great Chicken Dijon--something scripted, practiced again and again. And pretty basic stuff. Ask him to make something new and complex from scratch, and it probably won't be any good.

When I ventured into digital, I dropped down to a prosumer level camera partly because I didn't want to invest another three grand into camera equipment. But mostly because I wanted to get away from the lens-lugging, settings-calculating way of taking pictures. I thought it would be easier. It wasn't. In fact, many of the kinds of pictures that were easy for me with my professional camera proved impossible with my prosumer one.

This wasn't because the camera lacked anything, but because I did. Despite reading the manual cover to cover and working through a few sections with camera in hand, I just could not get it. All of the settings are on a menu, instead of an easy to see mechanical dial. What makes this especially bad is that when I bought this camera I didn't buy spare batteries or a power adapter. So to charge the batteries (which must be done at least once a week, even if not using the camera) I have to remove them and thus lose all of my settings. Starting all over again just to take a picture doesn't make for a great experience.

This is just an overview of the frustration I've had with a digital camera (though it's fairly high-end for a prosumer model). All of this frustrastion would have been prevented, had I read this book before buying my camera. So going forward, I'm newly encouraged and motivated.

What's Inside

This book consists of 18 chapters, two appendices, and a short but important introduction/preface. It's also thoroughly indexed, so it can serve as an ongoing reference as your needs change and your skills grow.

  • Appendix A is an extensive glossary. The authors appear to be allergic to the concept of confusing the reader. What's nice is you don't need to flip to the glossary as you are reading the text, because the authors explain as they go. Still, the glossary is there so you can look things up any time you want.
     
  • Appendix B is an extensive list of relevant Websites. Most such lists elicit a yawn from me, as they are poorly done and most of the entries are marginal. That's not the case here, at all. I've already looked up a few of these.
     
  • The introduction is titled "Read This First." After you read it, you understand why it's titled that way.
     
  • The first five chapters are about equipment and accessories. In my own case, I was able to confirm I had gone through this process correctly already (except for not buying that inexpensive AC adapter, what a mistake!). But that's because I've been playing with cameras for over 40 years and had some background to draw upon. For most people, these five chapters justify the cost of the book because they can spend camera and accessory money just once instead of 3 or 4 times.
     
  • Chapters 6 through 8 are about camera settings. I've had a love-hate relationship with camera settings for as long as I can remember, despite having read several books on the subject. This book finally gave me some "aha!" moments on that whole set of subtopics.
     
  • Chapters 9 and 10 provide good insight into how to take a good shot. Even with "the best" camera, you won't take good pictures if you don't master this material.
     
  • Chapters 11 through 13 are about managing your images. I am particularly anal retentive about filenames, having cut my computer teeth in the days before GUI interfaces. I thought DOS 3.0 was "the cat's meow" for usability, if that gives you any clue. People who learn machine level language and come from the early DOS years have specific methods for file management for specific reasons that still hold true (especially if they have done any inventory management work).

    This book has specific rules for those same reasons, and I know what happens when people break those rules. Most of the problems I've been called upon to fix are due to breaking those rules.
     
  • Chapters 14 through 17 are about editing, printing, and sharing your digital images. Chapter 18 provides the basics of using your camera's movie feature, sound recording, and photo scanning.

Only one thing missing

One thing the authors didn't cover is a simple bit of advice. If you lose your camera somehow, is there a way for someone to get it back to you? Yes. Insert a blank memory card. Then, take out a sheet of plain paper and write your name, phone number, and e-mail address on it with a fat marker. Don't write your physical address--if you lose the camera while away, this tells people your home is vacant at the moment. Then, photograph the paper and lock the image on that memory card. Make a habit of installing this memory card into the camera after each shoot or any time you are just carrying it around. If someone finds your camera and turns it on, there's your name.

Go a step further, and put your photo on that same image (the authors discuss how to superimpose text on an image). The big bonus here is if an airport security person (or similar) is trying to decide if you or the other person claiming to own your camera is the real owner, simply turning it on decides the issue. Put the same photo on your other digital devices, for similar reasons.

I use only one memory card, and the reason that's all I need is I transfer photos at the end of the day. I don't store them on the camera. That card has this image. I don't format the card, as the authors suggest doing, but if I did format it I would reload that image to it before putting the card back in the camera.

Conclusion

You will find other helpful books on this topic. But make sure you have this one in your collection.

 

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About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

The reviews I do will, contrary to emerging trends, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or not substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably another 6,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree undergrad and an MBA. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read to begin with.

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