The Advanced Digital Photographerâ

A book that gets photographers to describe for themselves important aspects of the digital process
The Advanced Digital Photographer’s Workbook
By Yvonne J. Butler, Editor
Focal Press, 2005
ISBN 0 240 80646 8

The idea is a sound one, take a group of great photographers who can also write and get them each to provide a chapter or two about an area they are expert in. The theory is sound. So how’s the practice?

This book brings together twelve authors to cover the material of the book, one of whom is also the editor. Chapters are:
*    Calibration and Color Correction
*    Getting Set Up for your Film Capture
*    File Formats: Choosing JPEG or Raw Capture
*    Digital Photography Workflows
*    Digital Light and Lighting
*    Digital Portraiture
*    Digital Travel Photography
*    Digital Infrared Photography
*    Advanced Color Correction: The 90% Method
*    Sharp Shots In-Camera and On-Computer
*    Photoshop:Using Advanced and Power Tools
*    Black and White Part I: Converting Color for Printing
*    Digital Fine Art Part I: How to Create It
*    Painter Creativity: Transforming Your Photographs into Paintings
*    Inkjet Printing and Color Synchronization
*    Black and White Part II: The Digital Black and White Print
*    Digital Fine Art Part II: Selecting Printers and Papers

The stated aim of the book is to provide a how-to guide for photographers that want to take their work to the next level. A noble and appropriate aim, indeed. And many of the chapter do contribute to this. However, and perhaps it is inevitable in a book like this, the chapters vary enormously in quality. Not the quality of the writing, which is pretty good, but in the quality of the material presented. The early part of the book seems to be the strongest with decent information that seems to fit with the stated aim.

It is the later part where the gaps open up and, at least sometimes, it seems not to be the individual author’s fault but in the planning of the book. For example, Stephen Burns’ chapter on how to create digital fine art really doesn’t fit. Stephen is a good writer and I know him. My feeling is that the book tried to do too much here and ended up giving too little space for the topic to be done justice. The chapter itself is fine as a tutorial of using Photoshop, it just does not fit in the context of the other chapters and fails to explain what digital fine art is and why a photography might want to go in that direction, something other chapters do. The same goes for the one on turning photographs into paintings using Painter. Jeremy Sutton is a fine photographer and knows his Painter stuff well. But again he is unable to explain why a photographer might want to do this and how it can fit into potential business models, etc. In both Stephen and Jeremy’s case, they both seemed to need a lead-in chapter to explain why and the options and then the chapters they did offering a how-to on one approach. Other areas are a bit weak because the example material is, frankly, not very exciting. An example here is the chapter on digital infrared.

Basically I believe the book tries to cover too much ground without the connecting material to make it coherent. For example, if the book had talked about the choices a developing digital photographer faces, from developing their conventional skills, to branching out into new areas of expertise, like commercial illustration, travel, digital art, etc and why they might choose to go each route before laying out a series of chapters in each direction that advance the reader and also helps them to really understand what is involved in that choice, it would have been great. As it is the book appears to be a grab-bag of areas and techniques without the structure to pull it together. Individual chapters are great and many of them fit together well, but the whole book does not.

So is this a bad book? No, far from it. Does it live up to its full potential? No. So who will get the most out of this book? Well, digital photographers who are looking for things to try and ways to improve. If you treat it as a grab-bag of ideas, some great information and techniques rather than as a coherent discourse, then you will not be disappointed.

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