Understanding Exposure

Are you looking to learn how to use your new dSLR camera, or just looking for a way to improve your photos by taking control of the manual settings on your camera?

It seems like not a day goes by without a new camera announced, offering some advanced, high-tech features that make it better than its predecessor. Cameras these days can automatically take a picture when all the subjects of a portrait are smiling or take a rapid succession of nearly identical photos so you can later choose which is the best. Even the most basic models can create stunningly good photos of nearly any subject in fully automatic mode. However, sometimes auto mode is not enough, and you’ll want to take full creative control. That desire won’t necessarily mean you’ll need the greatest camera out there, but it will mean you need a solid understanding of elements of exposure. There’s no better resource available today than Bryan Peterson’s book, “Understanding Exposure”.

Having sold over 350,000 copies worldwide, “Understanding Exposure” is considered by many photographers to be the preeminent book on the topic. It has found its way into not only the homes and studios of many professionals, but is often included as required reading in photography classes in high schools and universities.

“Understanding Exposure” takes all the basic concepts of proper exposure, things that at first glance might look like scientific formulas, and presents them in an easy-to-understand format that offers helpful tips to everyone from the beginning photographer to the professional who simply wants to brush up on his technical skills. By breaking down the concept of proper exposure into its individual components, Peterson makes understanding it easier, letting the reader digest one idea at a time before bringing them all together to drive the concept home.

Peterson takes readers on a journey of understanding, starting out with an explanation of proper exposure, and clearly defining the concept and the components: shutter speed, aperture and ISO in an easy to understand manner. Getting the right balance of these three elements is known as The Exposure Triangle.  In the book, each component receives an in depth inspection, and the reader is presented with the ways that each part will affect the final exposure, as well as other technical and creative considerations for the shot. The book continues with an exploration of light, including lots of large photos to help illustrate various lighting concepts.


The Exposure Triangle

Creating a properly exposed photograph may seem like an art, but it’s as simple as understanding The Exposure Triangle and applying its concept to the scene at hand. Every photograph is created by combining three technical aspects: shutter speed, lens aperture and ISO speed. The ISO speed controls the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor (or film) to light; lens aperture describes how large the iris of the lens is opened, controlling how much light is let in; and the shutter speed, as the name implies, describes how long the shutter stays open, which also controls the amount of light taken in.

The Exposure TriangleEach of these components is widely variable, and that variance may seem daunting to beginners and even many intermediate photographers. But Peterson lays out each of these concepts in a simple yet precise manner, allowing for easy digestion of the topic. All the science and math will melt away, leaving the reader with a new understanding of how to make stunning photographs.

History of Editions

“Understanding Exposure” was first published in 1990, and has sold consistently ever since. With the advent of the digital SLR and growing numbers of affordable, advanced cameras available, the book has managed to always find an audience. 350,000 copies and over 20 years later, the book is still a hot seller, garnering many 4 or 5-star reviews and often near the top of the best-selling list for any store that carries it.

While it was written before the world knew what a digital camera even was, the science of photography doesn’t change, making the information contained in the book immune to obsolescence. Still, Peterson has updated the book, now in its 3rd edition, for the growing digital audience. The new edition will discuss digital technology and the new abilities it affords photographers, such as previously unattainable ISO speeds and the ability to create High Dynamic Range images. Dozens of new images and an entirely new chapter will help illustrate these concepts for the reader.

Bryan Peterson

Bryan PetersonWhile Bryan Peterson is not a household name, he is something of a legend to many photographers. Peterson got his start as a photographer in 1981, shooting commercial assignments for clients like American Express and Eastman-Kodak. His career has taken him to the ends of the earth and back, and along that journey he’s amassed a wealth of photographic knowledge. Peterson decided to record and publish that knowledge to help aspiring photographers create their own breathtaking images. “Understanding Exposure” gained him fame with a wide audience, and solidified his name as one of the most respectable teachers in the photographic world.

Peterson has been able to parlay that fame into a successful career as a workshop leader, taking photographic students to some of the most beautiful locales around the world for in-depth learning experiences. Venice, Buenos Aires and New York City are just a few of the stops on his 2012 workshop schedule.

While juggling commercial jobs with a busy teaching schedule, Peterson has also released many other books about photography, addressing topics beyond simply getting the exposure right. Continue onto the next page for a listing of his other works.

Other Photography Books

“Learning to See Creatively: Design, Color & Composition in Photography” (Updated Edition)

While “Understanding Exposure” broke down the technical barriers to photography, it didn’t really touch on the abstracts of it. A properly exposed but boring photo doesn’t offer much as an art form. This book addresses more of the artistic side of photography, helping photographers see creatively, in ways that will add substance to their work.

“Understanding Flash Photography: How to Shoot Great Photographs Using Electronic Flash”

This is one of Peterson’s newest books. Peterson is an admitted “natural light” photographer, one who prefers to capture a scene with only the light that is naturally available. So in “Understanding Exposure”, he only briefly discussed flash usage, which itself can be an art form. In this book, Peterson devotes 160 pages to understanding how to use an external flash to light a scene that doesn’t have ideal natural light.

“Understanding Close-Up Photography: Creative Close Encounters with Or Without a Macro Lens”

Close-up photography is among the most difficult of all photographic techniques, so Bryan Peterson dedicated this book to demystifying the process. Peterson explains the concept of macro photography and provides a break down of the most commonly-used equipment. From there, he takes readers on a journey of techniques that will improve their close-up abilities in the field or in the studio.

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