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