The new third edition of Chicago commercial pro Bryan Peterson's book Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera was just published yesterday, and is now shipping.
Quietly, under the radar (under mine, anyway—I already understand exposure, at least as well as I'm ever going to), Understanding Exposure has become a huge, vast, gargantuan bestseller, one of the best-selling how-to books in the history of the medium. It's a book for beginners and some intermediate photographers, but—well, beginners and intermediate photographers love it. Just take a look at some of the 763 (!) Amazon customer reviews for the second edition. And don't forget, we all start somewhere, sometime*.
Bryan Peterson (right). Photo by Jason Schneider.
Mike*Or maybe some of us just need a refresher, or a bit of remedial work. Not long ago I bought a whole book on Layers, because that's something I just don't understand very well for some reason. I'm going to read it, too, I swear.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Ben Mathis: "I have to admit that this book was an immense help to me when I was getting started in photography. It explained the why and how of the aperture/shutter-speed/ISO triangle so clearly. I now recommend it to anyone getting into photography."
Featured Comment by Jim in Denver: "I was at a photographer's store/gallery in Jackson Hole, Wyo., chatting to one of the guys there, and he mentioned that there is no one 'right' exposure for any given scene or photograph. That is the type of advice that can totally confuse a beginner but completely liberate an experienced photographer. That single, offhand remark as changed the way I look at photography, to a huge benefit."
Featured Comment by Jan Ignatius: "I can definitely vouch for the book (I have the second edition). When I was starting out with photography, Understanding Exposure finally made everything click for me regarding the 'exposure triangle' of aperture, shutter speed and ISO. It also taught me some new techniques like panning and zooming during exposure. Whenever a friend or a colleague asks me for guidance on getting started with photography, I happily recommend the same book."
Featured Comment by Matthew Miller: "It really pains me whenever I hear someone talk about an exposure 'triangle,' and because this book puts so much emphasis on that visualization, I don't recommend it.
"Not everything that has three properties is a triangle! Crucially, these particular factors are linked in a different way: they work like the dimensions of a cube (or rather, rectangular prism), where the volume is the resulting exposure.
"The triangle explanation, on the other hand, simply confuses the nature of the relationship. Let's say a triangle with dimensions 3, 4, and 5 corresponds to ISO 400, ƒ/4, and an exposure time of 5 seconds. Great, we can draw a nice diagram. Okay, now, increase the shutter speed to 10 seconds, and draw a proportional triangle...hey, wait! That's impossible!
"The same thing happens if you make the factors be the angles of each corner—it just doesn't work out. Even for triangles which happen to be valid, the change to exposure isn't illustrated at all by what happens when you change part of a triangle.
"The 3D visualization might be more difficult to present nicely in a printed diagram, but I'm pretty sure a decent graphic designer could handle it.
"Clearly 'it's a triangle!' works as an explanation for many people, but I don't think I'm just being pedantic in objecting to it. Having the wrong visualization may be fine for introductory understanding, but having that stuck in ones head can make moving beyond that harder. It'd be better for the book to talk about 'here's three unrelated things!' than to present it as a triangle."
Gordon Lewis replies: I get what Matthew Miller is saying about the inadequacy of a triangle to illustrate the relationship between shutter speed, aperture and ISO. For what it's worth, the analogy I like to use is that light is like water flowing out of a faucet. The shutter speed determines how long the faucet is open. The diameter of the faucet controls the volume of water flowing during any given duration. The size of the glass you hold under the faucet is the ISO; i.e., how much "water" it takes to fill the glass. The higher the ISO, the smaller the glass and therefore the less "water" it takes to fill it. A "correct exposure" fills the glass to the brim without causing it to overflow. I'm not claiming this is a perfect analogy, but at least it gets across the idea of what would happen if you make any one of the three factors smaller, larger, longer, or shorter.Featured Comment by dale: "I will support Bryan's book, not simply for his explanation, but the way he presents it. I too had acquired the math back in the '60s probably around the same time Bryan did (we are the same age). But Bryan, who would be equally adept at selling Ginsu knives, has an appealing energy in his presentation and a solid interest in your success. I can credit him with a few lightbulb moments generated by his books and a significant one (Satori) in the first few minutes of a location workshop. I too had been uncomfortable with the term 'triangle' and modified it to 'triumvirate' whenever I felt the need to explain such stuff. Overall, as his success in print indicates, Bryan has a knack for instruction and is a good guy to hang out with, too."