Book Review: Understanding Exposure - How to Shoot Great Photographs with a Film or Digital Camera by Bryan Peterson

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Developing your Photographic Sense!

The most common advice that is given to photography beginners is to encourage them to shoot in manual mode. Today’s cameras have become machines that make use of advanced technology to take your creativity to places which would have never been possible in the era of film but what still remains are the principles that govern the creation of compelling images. The most significant skill that an aspiring photographer should develop is the ability to make manual exposures which not only provides more control over the creative process but also helps one understand the principles that help create an image. Once you start shooting by taking control of all factors that are involved in the image making you tend to develop your photographic sense and are able to produce more creatively compelling imagery.

Understanding Exposure - How to Shoot Great Photos with a Film or Digital Camera

Understanding Exposure

Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photos with a Film or Digital Camera is a bestseller from author Bryan Peterson, a world renowned award winning photographer. His other bestselling books include Understanding Close Up Photography, Learning to See Creatively & Understanding Shutter Speed. In this book Bryan tries to provide the fundamentals of exposure for creating interesting imagery. The book starts out by defining what exposure is and how changing the exposure affects the look and feel of an image. This then followed by the concept of the Exposure Triangle and the role played by the three components in determining exposure for a given situation. The most significant idea of the book is to let you see what is called as the “Creative Exposure” for an image rather than just the right exposure. There will always be instances where overexposing an image would be useful and situations where under exposing them makes sense, learning when and how to make this distinction is important for any photographer.

Content & Presentation (5 out of 5)

The next chapter deals with the aperture and how you can exploit aperture values for better exposure and compositional advantage. I love the rationale that Bryan provides for selecting various apertures for various shots like the “Who Cares” apertures. He also explains the depth of field considerations that come into play once the aperture values have been altered.

The second part of the exposure triangle is the shutter speed. Though most consider the aperture to be the numero uno exposure controlling factor, the shutter speed can as well be a very critical factor in determining exposure for creative shots. Using techniques like panning, implying motion, and freezing motion makes extensive use of shutter speed which also determines the exposure values of the image. Although Bryan has a separate book on the topic of creative shutter speeds, the chapter in this book serves as a primer for interested audience.

Light, the most significant component of any image is definitely a factor that any photographer should learn to manipulate for creative exposures. Bryan takes the reader through the various types of light and how to identify them. He explains what backlighting can do, how sidelight enhances subjects, etc. There are also inputs on night and low light photography.

The final sections on filters and discussion on Film vs Digital are addons to the fundamentals discussed in the previous chapters. Discussions on using Skylight filters, ND filters, polarizers etc. add to the knowledge gained from reading the section on light.


Though some people might consider the absence or brevity of the parts dealing with ISO pronounced, my opinion is that the section on Light more or less provides us with much more knowledge and skill as to how film sensitivity (ISO) plays a role in any exposure. That said, if you are looking for a book that will take through a step by step process explaining how to set the camera on manual mode, how to meter, etc. you would find this book of little help. The book is definitely targeted towards audience who already know their dSLR well enough that they can worry about their creative process rather than procedural encumbrances.

Understanding Exposure is a book that should be in the bookshelf of every aspiring photographer and it would definitely help a beginner as well as advanced users brush up their skills. The book is available at all bookstores and can be found on Amazon for about $16. This is a book that is well worth the money and time spent on it.