Author: Efthimia Bilissi & Michael Langford
Publisher: Focal Press; 8th Edition, 2011
Aimed at: Intermediate photographers
Pros: Good coverage of the physics of photography
Cons: Insufficient coverage digital topics
Reviewed by: David Conrad
If you are a seasoned photographer, this could be the technical reference work you are looking for. It has reached its eighth edition so it must be doing something right - however the subject matter covered and the style may not suit every reader.
What do you need to know to "be" a photographer?
If you just want to take pictures with a point-and-shoot then not a lot. However with today's almost instant feedback digital cameras you really don't need to know very much at all. You can take a photo, look at it and as long as you know which knob or menu item to twiddle to move the picture in the direction you want it to go then you know enough. If this is how you think about photography then this book isn't for you because by this measure it contains a lot of technical information that simply isn't relevant to picture making. If on the other hand you have any curiosity or interest in things technical then read on...
Chapter 1 starts off with the obligatory section, in a photographic theory book, on color and human color perception. All good stuff but the explanations tend to be on the terse side and if you don't know what a wavelength is before reading it you will need to go and look things up else where. All of the chapters close with a summary and a curious set of "projects" - though I doubt many readers will actually try any of the projects out.
The second chapter is about camera equipment and not just digital. You will learn about "silver halide" cameras as well as digital. Chapter 3 is more universal and it covers choosing lenses. This is fairly technical with details of transfer functions and how to measure the quality of a lens. Chapter 4 moves on to lighting and it too is completely general. Chapter 5, however, is a bit more oriented towards film photography and covers tone control. Here we learn about the zone system and how it applies to film processing. Most of this theory is superseded in digital photography by use of histogram manipulation.
Chapter 6 moves back to digital again with an in-depth coverage of image sensors. Not only do you discover how they work but how they fail. From the sensor we move on to the entire computer system including scanners and printers. This seemed a bit old fashioned but it is still relevant to many. While it covers technologies such as drum scanners and film scanners it doesn't mention technologies such as IR noise removal that detects dust on the surface of the film and removes it digitally. It does cover displays and printers but probably not in enough depth. While it mentions color gamut it doesn't deal with color profiles at this point leaving them for the next chapter.
Chapter 8 is on image management and manipulation. This is a very weak chapter if you are already strong on working with digital tools such as PhotoShop. It goes over some very basic material such as bit depth and layers but in a very general way. It looks at which sort of file format to use, color systems (RGB, CYMK etc) and color profiles including calibration. It also shows how to use color profiles in PhotoShop. A final section on "image processing" is inadequate for a book that claims to be advanced. There are some good discussions of image artifacts introduced by resizing, rotation and filtering but it just stops far too soon. Perhaps image processing needs a whole book to do it justice, but it certainly needs a complete chapter in an advanced reference work.
Chapter 9 returns to film photography and looks at the different types of film you can use. For many this is a trip down memory lane, for others a look into a bygone world. This is not to say that film is completely dead but it is a niche activity. The next chapter deals with processing film and color printing - and while interesting from a historical point of view has little left to say to modern photography - even so I found it fascinating.
Chapter 11 is about extending photography and, no, it's not about advanced digital techniques such as HDR but instead about infrared and UV photography using film and underwater photography. It does cover panoramic photography and 3D photography using digital cameras but it mostly ignores the software approach to the tasks.
The final few chapters are a bit out of place. Chapter 12 considers subjects - yes the sort of thing you might take a photo of. If you haven't worked this out by now you probably shouldn't be reading an advanced photography book. Chapter 13 covers reproduction and archiving including traditional printing press methods Lithography, Letterpress etc. It also attempts to give you an idea of how to supply pictures for reproduction and for publication on the net. Again some interesting discussion but not enough that is up-to-date. Chapter 14 is on "Professional Photography" which makes you wonder what the rest of the book was about. It is a guide to turning professional and the world of professional photography - markets such as wedding photography and so on. Finally we have a chapter on Business practice - accounting, charging and generally running a business. Most of this could be left out of a book on advanced photography to give room for more and deeper coverage of all of the digital ideas that have been glossed over.
I enjoyed reading parts of this book but it fails to do justice to modern photography as practiced with a digital camera and a digital darkroom. Things have moved on remarkably quickly and many of the chapters serve as a reminder of times not long past. Covering film techniques is not a bad thing, but not covering digital techniques in more depth is.
If you want to know about the timeless unchanging facts of physics that apply to photography, digital or otherwise, then this is not a bad place to find out about them. If you want to find out about HDR, using histogram-based exposure methods, digital retouching and creative techniques using software then you need another book. This particular volume is in need of a complete re-write and not just a next edition.