Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Book Review: The Ultimate Field Guide to Photography

 National Geographic: The Ultimate Field Guide to Photography
Since I don't have any new images to post I'll do another book review from the stack I have sitting next to my desk.  I received the book National Geographic: The Ultimate Field Guide to Photography as a Christmas gift a few years ago when I was just starting out and rather unfamiliar with photography and it was a bear to try and decipher all of the new lingo through wikipedia and photography websites.  I was lost and frustrated - a bad combination when at the same time you are so anxious to go out and produce fine images.  Being that the book comes from Nat Geo you can be sure that the quality of images and advice you get is top notch - the book takes you from buying your camera to digital corrections and how to get creative with things like panoramic shots and compilations.  This particular version is a little outdated and as such if you are interested you should go for the revised version which can be found here: National Geographic Ultimate Field Guide to Photography: Revised and Expanded (Photography Field Guides).

This book gives a solid overview of how to consistently produce good images by following the "rule of thirds" learning proper exposure, selecting the correct aperture (or f-stop) and understanding the feedback your camera gives you (with histograms for example).  For me, being the new owner of a DSLR at the time, I was easily confused by all of the lenses available and the numbers associated with them (their f-stops and mm ranges).  I was under the impression that if 200mm brought my subject a lot closer than 55mm did, then a 300mm lens would be a huge improvement.  Well, for anyone who has used a 70-300mm lens for example knows that there is a small difference between 200mm and 300mm.  This book explained the different size and types of lenses (fish eye, wide angle, macro, zoom, telephoto, super zoom etc.)

What makes this book most helpful from a photographers point of view is that the main points of the book are illustrated beautifully with photos from Nat Geo photographers.  So when the book discusses wide-angle lenses, there is a photo taken with an extreme wide angle lens to get the point across.  There also are diagrams explaining different aspects of photography in detail - like the excellent section on aperture and "controlling light".  After read this section and studying the diagram, I was 100% confident in knowing how your aperture affects the amount of light that hits the sensor (and subsequently, your shutter speed).  In the section of the book that covers flash photography - a handful of images are presented to demonstrate how flash can effectively (and not so effectively) be used.

Another cool thing about this book is that it is written by a number of different photographers.  While the basic stuff is pretty cut and dry for professionals of this level, it's the creative sections of the chapters that let the authors transfer their photographic skills into words.  While one author writes a section on making an image tell a story (something that a photojournalist certainly would have experience in) another writes about how to use a remote camera setup (which a wildlife photographer would find very useful).  There is no generic feel with this book that you may get from other instructional titles - and the images are all gorgeous unlike other books that rely on cheapo stock images to fill their pages.

While there is a lot of good in this book - there are a few flaws (which may have been addressed in the updated version, I cannot speak to that).  The book covers a lot which can be a little overwhelming for a nubile shutterbug (though it is called the ULTIMATE field guide, so what should one expect?).  The section of film is a waste - we are well into the digital age and if you want to shoot film you need to buy some old books that really let you learn about it - not read 1 chapter that skims the basics.  The same can be said for the section on scanning for the most part.  While there may be some readers who are interested in scanning their original slides that is probably a true minority and this book would be better without it.  Some of the advice can be a little hokey (like the section on making your photos into cupcakes and cookies - yes, that's actually a section in the book) for a field guide that is supposed to take amateurs to the next level.

So, if you have been interested in photography for awhile but feel like you can't makes heads or tails when it comes to understanding ISO, aperture, lenses, focal length and shutter speeds and you want a comprehensive book to lay it all out for you this is an excellent title.  The authors are tried and true professionals and the pictures are nothing short of top-notch.  For the price, this book is a must.  If you are a more advanced shooter and consistently shoot your DSLR in Aperture Priority you're best saving your money for another title.  Click the link below to check out the newer version of the book - you won't regret adding this to your bookshelf.


1 comment:

  1. hey thankx for the review...was looking for one such book!!!