Tag Archives: books

Book Review: Head First HTML5 Programming

You can’t read about modern web development without hearing something about HTML5. It is a term that covers not only the next version of the HTML markup language, but a broad array of facilities exposed as JavaScript API’s. Eric Freeman and Elisabeth Robson’s new book Head First HTML5 Programming approaches HTML5 from this point of view, and uses the friendly, pictorial style of their highly successful Head First Design Patterns.

You’ll need an understanding of HTML and CSS before you dive in. This book assumes that you have those technologies under your belt, and starts right in with JavaScript. The first four chapters of the book are a good introduction to JavaScript, the web browser Document Object Model (DOM), event handling and objects. This ensures that you’ll have the level of JavaScript knowledge necessary for the chapters to come. And you will need it. In the remaining six chapters, the book covers the use of Geolocation, AJAX with JSON, including JSONP, the Canvas tag, the video tag, the various Web Storage API’s, and Web Workers. Each chapter teaches you about its subject material by building a decent size application in JavaScript. I think that seeing how an application will use a feature is the best way to really learn about it.   

If you’ve been wondering about the new features in HTML5, this book is a good introduction. The authors have stuck to the parts of HTML5 that are pretty well defined, and stayed away from those parts of the standard that are still changing. The Head First style presents you with the material from many different angles, which helps to make sure that your brain holds onto it.

One of my daughters is interested in web programming. She needs just a little more CSS learning and then she’ll be ready to step up to dynamic HTML / HTML5. When she is, I’ll be handing her a copy of this book.

Disclosure: Both the authors of Head First HTML5 are friends, and Eric Freeman used to be my boss at Disney.

Why I haven’t bought a Kindle

I’m going to spend a significant portion of the next 10 weeks on an airplane or away from home. I also have a large stack of technical papers (in PDF form), and a few books (also in PDF) that I’d like to read. My travel bag is a very decent size, since it has to accommodate camera equipment, so the last thing that I want is to stuff a bunch of paper into it. I would be a perfect candidate for a Kindle.   

The Kindle appears to make PDF reading a second (or more like 10th) class activity. E-mailing large PDF files to get them converted to the Amazon format? Sounds very unpleasant to say the least. I’m also not thrilled about the price, the inability to expand storage, or the inability to manage what could grow to be a very large book/document collection.

Kindle lovers, this is your change to speak up and correct my misconceptions, or to confirm them.

Book Review: Photoshop Lightroom 2 Adventure

The folks at O’Reilly sent me a copy of Mikkel Aaland’s Photoshop Lightroom 2 Adventure. You would think that a book about Lightroom wouldn’t really be necessary, but it turns out to be useful, especially since software doesn’t come with manuals anymore. The number of Lightroom books is also probably a gauge of the demand. In any case, I was interested in the first version of this book, Photoshop Lightroom Adventure because of Aaland’s columns on O’Reilly’s Inside Lightroom blog, and because of an interview that I heard on one of George Jardine’s Lightroom podcasts.

The book is a guide to Lightroom, and is populated with pictures and stories from an adventure trip that Aaland and a number of other distinguished photographers took to Tasmania. In the first edition, they took a trip to Iceland, which has now given me the bug to take a photo trip there someday. I found the book to be very helpful. I learned a bunch of shortcuts which I didn’t previously know, and I got to see examples of how to do the same tasks that I do, but using a different mechanism (a lot of this involved direct manipulation of the histogram in the Develop module).

The chapters on the Develop module are the strongest point of the book, partially because this is the strongest part of Lightroom. There is good introductory material, but there is also good stuff for advanced users, like how to hack the textual representation of develop presets. I added several presets to my repertoire by using this trick. My favorite of the Develop chapters was the one about the recipes from the various photographers on the Adventure. I always find it instructive to see how someone has done the post processing on a particular image. Know how much (or little) someone has done helps when you look at the finished picture, and gives you an idea of how far you’ll be able to take your own images straight out of the camera.

If you’re interested in getting more out of Lightroom, I’d have no problems recommending Photoshop Lightroom 2 Adventure.

Book Review: Welcome to Oz:

A while back I finished another Photoshop book, Vincent Versace’s Welcome to Oz: A Cinematic Approach to Digital Still Photography with Photoshop.

This is an advanced Photoshop book, because I consider any book that spends two chapters on how to combine several images (not via HDR) to obtain a single image to be advanced. The first chapter alone was worth it for me. Versace talks about how to control how the viewer’s eye moves around in a photograph and then shows how one might take a photograph and process it so that the viewer would take in the photograph in the desired manner. He introduces the technique of creating image maps which are then used to guide the various post processing steps.

In addition to white and black points, curves, layer blending modes and gaussian blurs, this is the first book that I’ve read that discussed the use of Photoshop’s Lighting Effects filter. Being a lighting guy, I’m not sure how I feel about that, but it was interesting to observe the rationale and effects of this particular filter. I’m not sure that I will ever use Versace’s technique of harvesting several images to obtain a single image, but it was interesting to see the thought process, which might be of use when composing pictures in the viewfinder and assessing the goodness or badness of a shot.

I have yet to actually try Versace’s method on a photograph, but there are many stunning photographs in the book. I’m looking forward to things slowing down enough for me to actually sit down and try my hand at some of the more basic techniques that he described.

Book Review: Practical Django Projects

James Bennett, the release manager for Django has written a book called Practical Django Projects. At 237 pages, this book is even shorter than Learning Website Development with Django. Miraculously, Bennett manages to pack even more content into his book. He uses three different projects to illustrate the basic concepts of using Django. Early on in the book you are introduced to Django’s generic views mechanism, which makes it very easy to do the kinds of displays that are common in many web applications. Along with generic views, there’s a good treatment of how to keep functionality separated and reusable by good design of URLs. There’s also a much stronger treatment of the templating aspects of Django. He covers template inheritance, but also covers the creation of custom template tags.

Like “Learning Website Development with Django”, “Practical Django Projects” was completed before Django 1.0 shipped, so there are going to be some differences between what is described in the book and what you’ll encounter with Django 1.0. I like both books, and I’m probably biased by the order in which I read them. Either book would be fine for someone learning Django from scratch, but I think that “Practical Django Projects” is the book that I would turn to first when I couldn’t recall how to do something. In addition to the extra topics covered (and that’s not entirely fair because “Learning Website Development with Django” also has a few areas that it covers better), there’s more of an application building focus in Bennett’s book. That emphasis appeals to me, and Bennett has lots of application architecture hints sprinkled throughout the book.

Django is a great piece of work and deserves very serious consideration by people looking to build web applications. I’m glad to see that publishers are getting Django books out into the world.

Book Review: Learning Website Development with Django

The folks at Packt Publishing sent me a copy of Learning Website Development with Django by Ayman Hourieh. It’s a fairly thin book, weighing in at just 243 pages, but it it is a very good introduction to Django. Knowledge of Python is assumed, so if you need that information, you’ll need another book. Hourieh uses a running example, a social bookmarking application, throughout the book. This means that he is adding features to the application in each chapter, which is a style that I like because it shows how to use Django to build up a decently featured application piece by piece. There is lots of code, which I found easy to read, except for some places where the bold facing of new code was somehow omitted.

The only problem with the book was that it was finished before Django went 1.0, so there are undoubtedly some places where things are not quite in sync with Django 1.0. Hourieh did make an effort to deal with some of the largest 1.0 changes, like newforms, but omitted other like Unicode support. This is inevitable when the book and software are not in sync, but since Django only went 1.0 a few weeks ago, the only documentation that is completely up to date is the official Django documentation itself.

If you know Python and for some reason have been holding off on learning Django, this is a good book to help you get started. There is also an e-book version available via Packt’s website.

Book Review: Practical Artistry: Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers

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.

Book Review: The Photographer’s Eye

Learning to lighting has done a lot for my photography. It’s not just gaining a new appreciation for light of all kinds, but also the fact that lit photographs have cause me to think about photographs differently. I used to be a much more reactive photographer – I would just be waiting for moments to happen in order to capture them. Now, I’ve become a little more thoughtful about what I want to the end picture to look like, even in situations that are fairly fast moving. Improving my grasp of composition is definitely something that I am working on.

My favorite book on photographic composition was Photographic Composition by Tom Grill and Mark Scanlon. At least it was until I read Michael Freeman’s The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos.The entire first chapter is all about framing, which is the most extensive treatment that I’ve seen so far. In addition to a treatment of the usual compositional elements, there’s also a chapter on design basics, which I definitely needed some help with (and probably still do). Perhaps the best chapter of all is the last one on process, where Freeman walks through a case study or two, showing how he prepared and then composed a picture in a photojournalistic setting. Learning someone else’s thought process always seems to yield a bump up for me, much more so than just learning the straight mechanics.

Of course, with all things photographic, it’s not enough to read the book and understand it. The trick is putting it all into practice.

“The Moment It Clicks”

I haven’t been taking as many photographs as I would like recently. One thing I have managed to find some time for is some new photography books. Several of the photography blogs that I read have been talking up Joe McNally’s book “The Moment It Clicks”. McNally is a very accomplished magazine photographer, and the book is an accumulation of his experience in 30 years of shooting. There are over 100 little section in the book. Each section begins with a short quote/quip, and is accompanied by a full page photograph along with a full page explanation of the lesson, and often times an explanation of exemplar photograph.

Several other reviewers, including David Hobby, reported getting the book and then staying up way too late reading it cover to cover. I was sorely tempted to, but there was just too much information to do that. There’s an enormous amount of content and when I finished I was grateful for all the experience that I had just run by my eyeballs and brain. This is a book for working shooters, and if you don’t put the stuff to work, you won’t really get the value out of the book. The challenge for me, and I suspect many others, will be translating these short pithy lessons into a part of our regular photographic practice. Since we’re reading a condensation of 30 years of Joe McNally’s life, there’s no telling how long that will take. But at least now we have something that we can turn to periodically to remind us.

Even better, McNally has started a blog that picks up where the book left off.

Blog: subscribed. Book: highly recommended.