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Exposure & Lighting for Digital Photographers Only

I recently encountered a relatively new book by Michael Meadhra and Charlotte K. Lowrie entitled Exposure and Lighting for Digital Photographers Only published by Wiley Press in 2007. 

Having taught photography for more than 40 years, I obviously have taught through the transition from silver-based photography to the digital era. As digital became the dominant medium, students changed radically in the backgrounds that they brought to the classroom.  In the beginning of the transition, most students already had the structure of the silver-based medium to draw upon. The relationships between exposure and development, and between f-stops ISO’s and shutter speeds were already in place. All I had to do was bridge the transition between film and the digital processing and printing where Adobe Photoshop® had become the darkroom.

But soon I had students in the beginning photography classes whose automatic cameras made all the focus and exposure decisions in the default mode, and the students had never encountered the relationships between shutter speeds, f-stops, and ISO numbers of the digital sensitivity of the processing chip in their camera.  To the silver-based photographers the ideas in Photoshop® such as "dodge" and "burn" were simple to assimilate, and seeing the shutter speed and f-stop at the bottom of the eyepiece screen were easily understood because they mentally had a relationship of the sliding scales of shutter speed and f-stop and depth of field to draw upon.

Because the automatic modes of the new cameras would make an acceptable exposure right out of the box in default mode, there was no longer the necessity of the student actually mastering the subtleties between shutter speeds, ISOs, f-stops and the resulting depth of field relationships.  Digital photography was harder to teach than silver-based film photography.  Composition and design in the subject matter remained the same, but the student saw the composition as flat rather than 3-dimensional.  Depth of field and emphasis in a composition came about by accident, not by design.  Trying to teach the reasoning behind knowing f-stops and shutter speeds became difficult, and had to be taught as design elements rather than the mechanics of exposure and design.

Frankly on a personal note, I wish Meadhra and Lowrie’s book had been available some ten years ago as it would have made my professional life much easier in that transition period; I would have required it in both my basic photography and lighting classes.  It is extremely relevant and useful in establishing the basic tools that the professional photographer relies upon to create a striking and story-telling image.  It provides all the relevant information about camera f-stops and depth of field, shutter speeds and action-stopping choices, as well as ISO’s and their effects upon the final image.

In addition, the second half of the book deals with light, both natural and artificial, and all the methods of modifying light and bringing it to the subject rather than simply accepting the light you are given at the moment.

Let’s take a look at the book itself for a moment, because even packaging affects content and the way we assimilate that content.  Wiley and the authors have chosen to not let the describing text and the example images get too far apart on the pages.  It is extremely difficult to keep an explanation and an example picture on the same page where there are a number of examples that often only require a bit of text.  But the book layout manages to keep the relevant material together the vast majority of the time.  It is only seldom that necessity forces the example image to appear on the next (backside) page and be separated from the information.

The color quality and tonal reproduction is a function of the careful selection of paper for the book and equally careful printing.  In a number of instances the author warns that the subtlety of the tone or color may not actually be visible in the printing of the examples, and in each instance the book reproduces superbly the variation in value or color it is attempting to show.  Please insert applause to the layout artists and the printers here!

The majority of the images used to demonstrate any idea or concept were shot specifically to demonstrate that specific idea.  It is obvious that the images were not selected from stock image files.  In the few instances where images are attributed to outside photographers the choice made in selection was excellently done, unlike some books that are made of text used to link images selected from a stock agency.

Both the beginning and the intermediate-level digital photographer should use this book.  The book goes from the descriptions of the characteristics of light, to the reasoning that explains that we are always photographing reflected light rather than objects or people.  The authors describe carefully the mechanics of the process of creating the image without ever losing track of the aesthetic decisions for using those mechanics.

Chapter 5, Making Creative Exposure Choices, though not a long chapter, does an excellent job of explaining Ansel Adam’s Zone System and establishing its continued relevancy even in a digital age.

A quick look at the nuts and bolts of Exposure and Lighting for Digital Photographers Only follows: 346 pages including an excellent index and appendices.

  • Chapter   1    The Nature of Light

  • Chapter   2    The Color of Light

  • Chapter   3    Balancing The Elements of Exposure   

  • Chapter   4    Measuring Your Exposure

  • Chapter   5    Making Creative Exposure Choices

  • Chapter   6    Controlling Motion With Shutter Speed

  • Chapter   7    Taking Control of Aperture Selection

  • Chapter   8    Dealing With Digital Film

  • Chapter   9    Lighting Tools and Approaches

  • Chapter 10    Making Light Available On Location

  • Chapter 11    Making Pictures of People

  • Chapter 12    Getting Into The Action

  • Chapter 13    Photographing Nature

  • Chapter 14    Taking Pictures of Objects

  • Chapter 15    Approaching Architectural Subjects

  • Appendix A    Contributing Photographers

  • Pro Glossary

  • Index

The latter half of the book concentrates on specific set-ups for portraiture, sports, nature, product illustration and architecture. While any of these topics are worth several books in themselves, a useful and broad overview is available for each subject.  Each chapter is certainly enough to give a photographer a speaking knowledge of the subject and a direction to pursue if more information is desired.  Overall, Exposure and Lighting For Digital Photographers Only is an excellent read for someone beginning in digital photography or who feels that they may have skipped a few basic points in their understanding of digital photography as a medium.  It will certainly convince you that there is much more to digital photography than purchasing a digital camera and using it in automatic or default mode.  It will make you quite a bit more professional.


By Dr. Michael N. Roach

Dr. Michael N. Roach is a retired Professor of Art from Stephen F. Austin State University. His 33 year teaching career spans the silver to digital age. His images have been shown throughout the American South, Russia, Ireland and France; some of them are in the permanent collection of the Combes Gallery at The American University of Paris in France. An avid Mac Computer advocate he teaches workshops on digital imaging and courses in Adobe Photoshop as well as digital printing for the Fine Arts.

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