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The Only Photography Book You Really Need

London’s Trafalgar Square at Christmas

I’m a bibliophile and spent too much money on photography books when I first started. Let me save you some money.

Photography is all about the light. Getting the exposure right is critical. Yes, these days with digital cameras you can take as many shots as you need. Shots are free without the cost of film development. You can also fix a multitude of sins in Photoshop. I take a certain amount of pride in the fact that although I certainly don’t always nail a shot, I don’t do much post-processing of my macro insect portraits, usually just a few tweaks in Lightroom. Getting the shot right in camera is a thrill. It’s also more efficient with less time needed in post-production. And I’d rather be shooting than sitting at my computer.

If you aren’t getting the exposure right, you’re kind of screwed really. It’s like participating in an F1 race without knowing how to correctly use the paddle-shift. You may finish the race, but you won’t get anywhere near the podium. Photography is all about light. Proper exposure is at the core of good photography and understanding the relationship between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO (light) (the exposure triangle) will liberate you from shooting in auto or program mode and hoping for the best. I shoot in manual mode because I’m a control freak and I’ve got to tell you, it’s very freeing, giving me full creative control.

Bryan Peterson’s, Understanding Exposure, isn’t one long, dry treatise on exposure. Peterson takes a friendly tone as he explains exposure, then expands on it, offers examples and photography hints throughout, and solves problems (if your photos aren’t sharp, incorrect exposure could be part of the problem). The latest edition expands the section on flash photography.

When I began shooting in manual mode, which was about three months after I bought my first camera, and right after I finished Peterson’s book, I deleted a lot of images at first. I still delete a lot of images sometimes. I like to think it’s because my standards are so high, but some days, my photography just doesn’t work. I got frustrated. I wanted to go back to program mode. But I persisted, I practiced, and my photos are consistently better now. Which brings me to the reason why you only need the one book. Everything else you need to learn comes from practice. And trusting your own eye. I’m still practicing.

So, get the one book, Understanding Exposure, and practice, practice, practice.