Bryan Peterson has updated his book "Understanding Exposure" (Amphoto, 2011) yet again, and has successfully created a methodology by which a beginning photographer can start to understand the techniques of using the in-camera metering system in a dSLR or film camera. Overall, this is a perfect book for people who have recently picked up photography or who have advanced from a point and shoot camera to a digital (or film) SLR camera. This means that this book will definitely help these photographers figure out what all the basic knobs do on their cameras instead of simply setting the camera to Program mode. The reason this is important is that the photographer then makes the grand leap from simply guessing how to make images to knowing how to make the image even before setting up the camera. The more comfortable a photographer can get with understanding the basics of exposure, the faster the transition will be to making creative photographs, one that requires a knowledge of exposure.
Bryan Peterson starts you out fast by doing the one thing you didn't want: force you to use manual mode. Even I will sometimes teach people to slide off the Program mode to Aperture Priority mode, but I think his method may actually be fundamentally better. By using Manual mode only, the author takes you through the steps of adjusting the ISO, the aperture, and the shutter speed for a variety of situations. The image-to-page ratio is very nice, too, so you feel as if you are making progress in the book and following some of his shots that explain the concept he is describing. I was very pleased at the progression he made through the first 50 pages and through the exposure "triangle" that he explains (ISO, aperture, shutter speed). I also did have to agree with him that the camera manufacturers are to blame for the overwhelming amount of "extra" buttons and modes and how this eventually confuses people more than helps them.
Bryan takes some of the difficult subjects and breaks them down into quirky phrases so that the reader can remember what he is talking about in the next chapter. It's actually quite helpful because as you are beginning to understand exposure and camera settings, everything sounds the same. "Exposure" and "mode" and "meter" and "scale" all seem to jumble up in your mind. Bryan uses phrases like "Mr. Green Jeans" to help the photographer remember that metering off of a green subject is slightly different than metering off of a blue sky ("Brother Blue Sky", in case you were wondering). Little colloquial phrases like this make up the didactics in what can be a rather daunting task of learning how to expose frames in your dSLR properly.
Besides the straightforward understanding of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, Bryan also give the photographer little hints along the way, as well as some sections on the basics of other types of ways to manipulate exposure and use exposure creatively. For example, he shows why the circular-polarizer filter is so useful, cannot be duplicated in Photoshop, and how it works best at a 90-degree angle from the sun. He gives a short primer on High Dynamic Range (HDR) and explains why it is such interesting development in exposure. He even gives a great tutorial on multiple exposures on a digital camera: something I hadn't really thought about since I have been shooting mainly on Canons for the last six years. These are all creative ways to manipulate exposure, both in-camera and in post-processing.
This is a must read if you are 1) still confused about aperture, shutter speed, ISO, 2) you are a beginning photographer, or 3) you are moving from a point-and-shoot camera to a dSLR. Bryan Peterson does a great job at taking the photographer through those basic concepts, especially if you have a manual-mode camera next to you. Also, this is a must read for those going to a workshop who are not solid on some of these principles. I feel like this (and some practice) may catch you up and make you feel more confident going into such a situation or just learning on your own.
Title: Understanding Exposure / 3rd Edition
Publisher: Amphoto Books
Author: Bryan Peterson
Pages: 174, glossy