I’m not sure how it happened, but somehow I got onto the list for a review copy of Practical Artistry: Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers by Harold Davis. I’m not complaining in the slightest bit, just mystified. I’m a reader of Harold’s blog, and his choice of nature subjects is pretty close to mine, so I’ve always appreciated his photographs. This book is aimed a people who are trying to learn (and subsequently master) the basics of exposure, which puts it squarely in competition with Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure, which is a book that every photographer really ought to read.
So how does Davis’ work stand up when compared to Peterson’s? The basic sections are strong, and either book is fine in this respect. I think that Understanding Exposure has more of an emphasis on the creative aspects of photography, and does a better job of helping the reader understand how to achieve particular creative effects by manipulating exposure. In particular, for beginners, Peterson gives stronger guidance on specific values for apertures and shutter speeds, that can be helpful to people that don’t have much of a background.
On the other hand, I think that Davis has a much better section on understanding and using the in-camera light meters. I have the revised version of Understanding Exposure, which is updated for digital cameras, but Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers is really much more up to date for the digital age. There is a good discussion on ISO, and how to use ISO as part of the exposure control. Along with that there is an excellent discussion on noise and the use of noise in the creative process. I was glad to find some treatment of white balance. One of the easiest ways to pick out inexperienced photographer’s pictures is to look at the white balancing of the pictures. There is also a chapter on post-processing and RAW processing, a topic to which entire books are devoted, but I think it is helpful for people to understand the role of post-processing in the digital age.
As you would expect with a photography book, there are lots of pictures. As I mentioned, Davis’ preference in nature subjects is close to mine, so I really enjoyed the pictures, and there is lots of commentary accompanying each photograph. The photos in Peterson’s book are more diverse in subject matter, which is probably better from a teaching point of view.
At the end, though, I like both books. For the stage that I am at photographically, I have a slight preference for Peterson’s Understanding Exposure. I am working hard on the creative aspects of my photography, so I am in a frame of mind to be biased towards Peterson’s treatment. Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers is also a very good book, and I would have no problem recommending it to a beginning photographer. I certainly got something out of reading it (and probably could stand to read each book a few more times). The subject matter in these books is so important that one of these two books should be included in the box with every DSLR sold.