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Practical Artistry: Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers 1st Edition

24 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0596529888
ISBN-10: 0596529880
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Editorial Reviews Review

From Author Harold Davis:
I was recently asked to compile ten of my favorite tips and techniques from Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers. Here's a look at what I selected, along with the photos from the book that are used to illustrate each technique or tip and page references to text that explains the technique more thoroughly.

Briefly noted: these are not hardware tips (like what memory card to buy), these are photographic ideas that will help you stretch your technique and help you create the photos you can see in your mind's eye.

Top Ten Tips on Light and Exposure
1. Choose a wide-open aperture for low depth of field.
Sometimes a photo that is completely sharp is neither possible nor desirable. To create a partial blur effect in windy conditions, place your camera on a tripod.

Using aperture-preferred metering or manual exposure control, choose a wide-open aperture such as f/4.0. The resulting low depth of field, possibly combined with motion blur, will create a pleasing effect. (Pages 50-55.)
2. Use a slow shutter speed to blur the motion of water.
Moving water is rendered differently depending upon the shutter speed you use in your exposure. Setting the shutter actually sets how long the shutter will be open, not a speed.

Fast shutter speeds capture moving water crisply, and slow shutter speeds show water in motion as a blur. To create a very pleasing diffuse blur effect with quickly moving water, try a very long exposure time, for example, about three minutes. (Pages 92-94.)
3. Boost the IS0 to use noise creatively.
Photographers usually think of noise as something bad that should be avoided using proper exposure settings and post-processing remove it. But noise can actually be used creatively. For example, one way to create a "pointillist" effect in your photos is to boost your ISO and then shoot straight into a strong light source. (Pages 112-113)
4. Don't worry about white balance.
Many photographers spend much too much time worrying about their in-camera white balance settings. If you are shooting in RAW, the only thing this setting really does is control the way your photo is displayed in the camera LCD. So leave your camera set to auto white balance, concentrate on the photography not the white balance setting, and correct your white balance when you post-process your photo. (Pages 126-132)
5. Use a light box and overexposure to create a transparent effect.
To create the effect of transparency, try an inexpensive light box as your light source. Use the kind of light box that is used for viewing slides or other transparencies. Place the lightbox either under or behind the object you are photographing. This is an excellent technique for flowers and other semi-transparent objects. If you overexpose photos like this, you can bring out luminous and transparent details. (Pages 136-137)
6. To get your exposure right at night, try a test exposure at a high ISO.
If you want to capture star trails at night, you need to make a long exposure, which means using a low ISO. Before investing the time it takes to create this effect, test your exposure at a higher ISO and a faster shutter speed, then do the math to make sure your longer exposure is correct. (Pages 28-29 and 140-143)
7. Create a studio of your own.
You can create a home studio of your own using surprisingly inexpensive materials. Desktop lamps can be used for flood lighting, and LED headlamps can be used for spot lighting. Venetian blinds can control the direction of light, and sheets can be rigged to work as diffusers. A good art supply store is also a great source of inexpensive supplies that can be used to make a creative home studio. (Pages 146-149)
8. Use the RAW data in a photo to extend the dynamic range of your images.
You may not be aware just how much exposure latitude there is within a single digital RAW capture. By combining multiple conversions from the same RAW capture using the Adobe RAW converter, you can create a final photo that has brighter light areas and darker dark areas than you would ever have thought possible. (Pages 164-165)
9. Transform your photos to black and white using color information in the photo.
It's easy to convert a color image in Photoshop to grayscale by simply dropping the color information in the photo. But this doesn't get you great black and white images with exposure and contrast subtleties. To create rich black and white transformations, you need to work with the color information in the color photo before you drop the color information. (Pages 172-175)
10. Get your camera off automatic.
When you use auto exposure, you are letting your camera make the important decisions about the exposure of your photos. Take back control! Getting your camera off automatic means learning to really understand exposures. Furthermore, once you know how to set manual exposures you may find that your exposure settings are better and more creative than those the camera would have picked. By using manual exposure, you'll also find out when it is appropriate to use an automatic or semi-automatic exposure mode.

About the Author

Harold Davis is an author, photographer, and expert technologist. Harold's photographs have been widely published, exhibited, and collected. Many of Harold's fine art photography posters are well known, including some recent alternatively processed digital flower images published by New York Graphic Society.

Harold is the author of more than twenty books, and has written (and illustrated with his photographs) Digital Photography: Digital Field Guide (Wiley), The Photographer's Guide to Yosemite and the High Sierra (Countrymen/W.W.Norton), 100 Views of the Golden Gate (Wilderness Press). He is the lead author of a new series of books about digital photography from O'Reilly Digital Media. In addition, Harold has three popular websites (, (, and ( and blogs regularly for O'Reilly Media, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Series: Practical Artistry
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: O'Reilly Media; 1 edition (April 12, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0596529880
  • ISBN-13: 978-0596529888
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 0.4 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #916,830 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

For Harold Davis, a typical day's (or night's) work might involve photographing star trails from the top of Half Dome, investigating the close-up patterns of early morning dew drops with his camera, or finding a new location for photographing the Golden Gate Bridge.

Harold Davis is an award-winning professional photographer. He is the author of more than 30 books, including Photographing Flowers: Exploring Macro Worlds with Harold Davis (Focal Press), Creative Black & White: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley),Creative Composition: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley), Creative Night: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley), Creative Close-Ups: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley), The Photoshop Darkroom: Creative Digital Post-Processing (Focal Press) and Practical Artistry: Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers (O'Reilly). Harold writes the popular Photoblog 2.0,

Harold is a popular presenter on digital photography topics. His workshops are often sold out.

Harold is well known for his night photography and experimental ultra-long exposure techniques, use of vibrant, saturated colors in landscape compositions, and beautiful creative floral imagery. He is inspired by the flowers in his garden, hiking in the wilderness, and the work of great artists and photographers including M.C. Escher, Monet, van Gogh and Edward Weston.

Harold lives in Berkeley, California with his wife Phyllis Davis, a graphic designer and writer who frequently collaborates with Harold on book projects. They have four children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Jeff R. Clow on May 9, 2008
Format: Paperback
As Harold Davis so aptly demonstrates in this brilliant book, the modern photographer has to be "one part artist and one part photographer." Thus, it falls on the photographer to have a strong understanding of light and exposure in order to create memorable works of photographic art.

For newcomers, this book can provide a wealth of information about how it is not the camera, nor the lens, but the use of light that separates the amateur from the pro. Mr. Davis has written this book with the digital photographer in mind, and it surely will become the classic treatise on the subject for digital imagery.

The book is richly illustrated with great photography by the author, but what I really enjoyed was that each of the subjects - white balance, creative exposure, shutter speed, etc. - was explained in detail and then a representative photo was used to "show" the effect of decisions that the photographer can make as they compose the shot. Whether you are a visual learner or prefer to read well written prose, this book delivers each in a well thought out manner that is easy to understand.

I also found the author's discussion of how to use the RAW digital format to capture the true nuances of light and color to be particularly informative. Initially, the RAW format can seem mystifying to a digital photographer who has not experienced the power that RAW can bring to a situation, and this book does as fine a job as any I've ever encountered at explaining how to harness RAW for best effect.

Additionally, I found that the three chapters on front, back and side lighting to have the best explanations I have ever read on the differences each of these lighting situations brings to an image.

I would heartily recommend this terrific book to any photographer - from the newcomer to digital imagery to the advanced pro - because it captures wonderfully the true building block steps that can turn a simple image into a true work of art.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By David Elliott on November 11, 2009
Format: Paperback
I must admit that I approached this book with some misgivings. Hundreds, if not thousands of books have been written on the subject of light and exposure. Some of them are excellent (the Time-Life series of photography books come to mind). This raised the question `Why do we need another such book?' My hope for this book lay in the end of the title `for Digital Photographers' and the fact that it is published by O'Reilly (the publisher of some of today's great technical texts). This book would be worth reading, I thought, if it covered the digital aspects of photography to a useful depth.

Before I get to the review, let me say the following about myself. I am an avid amateur photographer. I am faculty at a US college of medicine where I am a medical researcher and I teach microscopy and digital imaging.

1) This book is written by an amateur for less advanced amateurs. It has little to offer middle or advanced photographers.

2) I was very intrigued by the authors idea that "... this book is rich in pragmatic details. For example, you can find the exact lens and exposure settings I used for every photo in this book.... It's very reasonable to start with this book by finding a few photos that interest you, and discovering how they were made." I thought this was a wonderful idea. It is unfortunate that the book can't be used this way. Many of the pictures have obviously been extensively post-processed and no mention of this processing is made in most of the picture captions. Thus, the information presented will not permit replication of the results shown.

3) The book needs better editing. There are multiple examples of wrong page numbers or images being cited out of order.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Leigh Miller on April 25, 2008
Format: Paperback
Light and Exposure for Digital Photographers delivers today's digital photographer a fascinating, one-stop source for achieving superior photographic results. The photographs contained in the book are gorgeous and they alone are worth the price of the book. However, it is the step by step instructions, written in simple enough language for a novice, that ensure the reader will be able to create photographs of quality, like those in the book.

Anyone who has taken photographs is familiar with the experience of seeing one thing through the lens, clicking the shutter, and obtaining an entirely different, often disappointing, result. Many of us who are fond of taking digital photos and working with Photoshop, or the like, are used to attempting to make our average photos into something special by doctoring them with the digital dark room. Once in a while we get lucky. Light & Exposure takes the luck out of it and replaces it with the knowledge necessary to get the photo we wanted in the first place and the tools to enhance them afterward.

Harold Davis offers an array of in depth facts and instructions for serious photographers, insights and observations for the more artistically inclined, and hints and tricks for the dabblers like myself to enable the reader to create works of art in photography.

Any modern photographer utilizing a digital camera will find the
information and photographs in this book invaluable. Developing a strong foundation with an artistic bent is desirable asset to a photographer. Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers is the one, essential resource for any photographer's library.
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