Review: Tom Ang: Fundamentals of Photography

Tom Ang: Fundamentals of Photography
Tom Ang: Fundamentals of Photography

Tom Ang has made something of a cottage industry of writing books for novice and amateur photographers. The challenge isn’t the books’ content; Ang’s style is concise, thoughtful and user-friendly. Rather, the challenge lies in choosing among the close to two dozen titles he’s authored, since many have overlapping themes, structure, and content. While a few genuinely break the mold (Tao of Photography: Unlock your Creativity Using the Wisdom of the East comes to mind), many of the others (Digital Photography Step By Step, How to Photograph Absolutely Everything, Digital Photography Masterclass) repeat themselves like a forgetful uncle.

Given the above paragraph, you could be forgiven for wondering why I bought Fundamentals of Photography: The Essential Handbook for Both Digital and Film Cameras. Well, a couple of years back, when I wanted a primer in photography that’d give me a little of everything, I browsed several books to see what would give me a fair overview of photography — the technology, the technique, postproduction, et cetera. This book does an admirable job of covering exactly what its title suggests. Light, composition, shutter speed, aperture, image manipulation, lens types and different kinds of photography (in other words, the stuff you’d need to get started regardless of what kind of camera you own) are all touched on here.

Another bonus: Unlike many of the other books on photography published in the last few years (and indeed, a large number of the author’s own books), this one doesn’t neglect film photography. This is a minor point (much of what applies to one also applies to the other, after all), but a welcome one nonetheless. There are also ample illustrations and diagrams, which are useful if, like me, you’re the type that likes a bit of visual reinforcement. If you’re new to photography and want something that’ll help you make sense of the jargon and also the technique, this is an excellent starting point, and probably one book that I’d recommend as a great first photography book. While it’s not “the only photography book you’ll ever need,” there’s no shortage of options available as you start to grow and branch out.

To clarify the opening paragraph: I’m not complaining. I found, and still find, Fundamentals a useful and informative read. It’s simply that unlike, say, Michael Freeman, whose books each cover a very different facet of photography, Tom Ang’s photography titles*  amount to taking the same Photography 101 course with the same professor for several straight semesters. The prof’s a knowledgeable and affable guy, but after a while, you’ll have heard these same things, in only slightly different words. For that reason, I would strongly suggest going to a bookstore that has multiple Ang books in stock, read them over, and figure out which one explains the information in the way that’s clearest and most useful to you, since you might come to the same conclusion that I did: you really only need one Tom Ang book. For me, Fundamentals of Photography: The Essential Handbook for Both Digital and Film Cameras was that book, but you may find one of the author’s other titles more to your liking.

*At least the ones not geared exclusively toward postproduction, which I haven’t checked out so I’m exempting them from what’s admittedly a blanket criticism.

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