Since I seem to be in the habit of simplifying things to an almost silly degree, let me at least be consistent. If we’re going to take photography down to its barest essentials, it comes down to framing a subject (composition) and getting that subject to look the way we want it to in our photographic medium of choice (exposure). There are, of course, dozens of ways to approach each of these things, and buckets of ink have been spilled on both. One author who’s added his two cents’ worth to that pile of prose is Michael Freeman, who’s approached the mental game of photography, composition, and a multitude of other subjects. While I’ll be revisiting the aforementioned works another time, today I’d like to consider Freeman’s The Exposure Field Guide: The essential handbook to getting the perfect exposure in photography; any subject, anywhere(Focal Press).
Freeman doesn’t just give an overview of the basics of exposure; if that were a photographer’s only concern, a camera’s Automatic mode would be sufficient to cover any situation under the sun (or under tungsten, for that matter). What he explores here is much more useful, whether to a beginning photographer, or a rather more experienced one who’s bedeviled by certain lighting situations.
After dealing with a handful of technical considerations in the book’s first section (terminology, sensor behavior, metering, gray cards and the like) and admitting that he’s none too fond of generalizations, Freeman nonetheless proceeds to spend the book’s next section laying out twelve types of lighting situations into which every picture falls, dealing not only with the kind of “average” lighting that makes for easy exposures, but also the low- and high-key lighting that’s the bane of many a photographer, and also leads to some of the most striking images once you’ve got the hang of the exposure.
The final sections (“Style” and “Post-Processing”) ensure that the book goes beyond exposure. There are brief pieces on finding one’s personal style, but also on using exposure to set/capture mood, making use of shadows, exposing for black and white, and the zone system, in addition to subjects like HDR imaging and exposure bracketing.
There’s more that could be said on each of these dozen scenarios, but to summarize them in a short enough form that they’d make sense in the context of a book review is to sell them short. As it is, none of the sections of this book is so long (each is two to four pages on average, with plenty of photos illustrating the principles discussed in each section) that you’ll be very long reading it.
This book’s small size (it should fit easily in your camera bag, and it probably isn’t a half-bad idea to keep a copy there) belies the wealth of information in its pages. Like Freeman’s other books, it’s thought-provoking, but just as importantly, it shows how to put those thoughts into action — to get them on paper, or on a screen, as you envisioned them when you framed the shot. If you flip through the pages at your local bookstore and are a bit intimidated by the information (as I’ll admit I initially was), that’s pretty much precisely why you need it. If, on the other hand, you’re an experienced shooter but still find yourself tripped up in certain lighting situations, this probably still wouldn’t be bad to have on hand. It won’t make you an overnight expert, but if it does nothing else, The Exposure Field Guide just might give you the confidence to take on shooting in more challenging lighting situations… and that’s where things start to get interesting.
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