For Photographers – Book Review – Understanding Exposure by Brian Peterson

It’s been a while since I’ve done any “For Photographers” posts so I thought I’d do some this year focused on gear and book reviews.   Despite being a wedding photographer here in Denver I don’t really intend to review more than 2-3 “wedding photography” books but instead focus more on photography books that cover either the underlaying concepts of photography or the creative vision aspects of photography.

I thought I’d begin with a book that I think should be not only mandatory reading by anyone wanting to better understand photography but the concepts discussed in this book should be fully understood and second nature as a bare minimum for people looking to get into wedding photography.

Understanding Exposure  3rd Edition / Revised and Updated

by Bryan Peterson

“Every photograph is a lie, but it is within that lie that a mountain of truth is revealed!
and the climb toward that mountain of truth is greatly accelerated
when one’s steps are rooted in the simple understanding of exposure.”
– Bryan F. Peterson

This book and I have a long history together – I read the first edition when it was brand new back around 1990 when I was looking to get a better understanding of how to control my exposures better and not be at the mercy of what the camera told me was a good setting.  Out of all the books and resources I’d read and been exposed to at the time, this is the one that really made the “exposure triangle” click for me.

Of course this 3rd version has been greatly revised since the original – thanks to digital there are sections on white balance, HDR, and online resources.  But beyond that the fundamentals of photography covered in this book really haven’t changed that much.

In the first section Bryan looks at “Defining Exposure” and the focus of these pages cover what is referred to as “The Photographic Triangle” which in a nutshell is the relationships between:
Shutter Speed

For instance if 1/500 at F2.8 on ISO 200 is the “correct” exposure for a scene, then what about 1/60 at F11 and ISO 400?
Guess what – it’s the exact same “correct” exposure, now which one is more “creatively correct” will depend on your subject and intent of the image as well as your own photographic style.

The second part of the book covers Aperture.   Here we get into depth of field and story telling versus isolation and singular theme apertures.  Add a few pages on “who cares” and macro photography and this becomes a section I wish more wedding photographers would take into consideration.   The emphasis on this section is the creative use of various apertures.

Too many times I’ve seen photographers get caught up in their hyper fast lenses that open to F1.2 or F1.4 and camp out there.  Everything they shoot is at wide open apertures and they consider this their style.   The problem is that while the isolation of F1.2 can be awesome for many shots and I myself probably shoot 75% of my work at F2.8 or faster, sometimes for story telling images (weddings are big stories) F5.6, 8, or even 11 might be a better choice to tell the “story”.    I think a good photographer should know and understand when and where to use different apertures to best create the image they are looking for.

Next up is Shutter Speeds and the creative use of both fast and slow shutter speeds.   This is a great section if you want to control the motion blur or freeze the action with intent, and not just as a by product of either ISO or aperture.

Then it’s on to Light in which a variety of lighting scenarios are looked at and how this affects (or freaks out) your in camera meter and how to work with it are looked at.   Here Bryan touches on exposure meters and 18% reflectance, and leads to one of my only complaints about the book.

I wish there was more discussion on ambient metering versus reflected metering, while Bryan touches on hand held meters and spot meters he focuses almost entirely on the camera meter which is a reflected meter.  This is an issue that confuses many photographers and I think Bryan could help clear it up for a lot of people with his writing style.   Heck last year I took a local workshop from a photographer (who charges a fair amount more than I do for weddings) and when it got to ambient and reflected exposures he totally tripped up and got half of it wrong – hopefully it was just the public speaking aspect of it and not an honest total lack of understanding about the subject.

Bryan’s sections on “The Sky Brothers” and “Mr. Green Jeans” are just about worth the price of the book to aid in figuring out “correct” exposure in contrasty settings with just the in camera reflected meter as long as either a nice patch of sky or grass is available.

The book wraps up with a section on filters and various types of flash use.   I still highly recommend this section because theres nothing in “digital” photography that makes polarizing, Neatral-density, adn graduated neutral density filters obsolete.

This book easily gets 4.5 out of 5 stars for anyone who is still at the mercy of their camera when it comes to exposure and the use of aperture and shutter speed and they don’t really understand how their cameras meter works and what it’s really metering for.