Digital Photography – Expert Techniques


O’Reilly Media
ISBN-10: 0-596-52690-3
ISBN-13: 978-0-596-52690-0
387 pages
US $44.99, CAN $58.99

With a plethora of digital cameras appearing in the marketplace, purchases of these cameras has exceeded even the most ambitious sales predictions. Everyone and his grandmother now has a digital camera. A lot of these models are of the point and shoot variety. They’re small, lightweight, actually take great pictures, and have many features for the cost. There are lots of publications out there: magazines, how-to books, manuals, videos, and websites which help newbie photographers along the path to good quality photographs. If you’re looking for something like that, may I pass along a suggestion from the Ken Milburn, the author of this title under review? Before reading this book try Deke McClelland’s Adobe Photoshop CS2: One on One (O’Reilly). You will then be “up to speed” and more able to handle the various terms and maneuvers in Digital Photography: Expert Techniques.

Along with all the less expensive point and shoot cameras, digital SLRs (single lens reflex) have also grown up. Most of these cameras will be purchased by serious amateurs, or “enthusiasts,” and professionals. DSLRs have interchangeable lenses, more megapixels, and larger, more noise-free sensors. In other words they’re more suited to professional and “prosumer” photography.

DSLRs also are capable of producing high quality RAW files which are, in large part, what this book is all about. It’s also about workflow rather than procedures. If you’re interested in what it takes to make true professional quality images in the most efficient and cost-effective way this book is for you.

The first thing I loved about Digital Photography: Expert Techniques is its organization, and the chapter outlines at the beginning. Here the author tells us what’s in store for each chapter from start to finish. I also appreciate the way Ken Milburn writes. It’s almost conversational, like having a good buddy who happens to know almost everything there is to know about what goes into a professional digital photograph, and being a professional photographer.

He starts us off with an overview around which the rest of the book is structured. There is a quick guide in the form of suggestions (some are common sense, others are anecdotal) like getting your camera ready, computer equipment and its configuration, image downloading, backing up originals, presentation for client approval, winnowing, preliminary editing, and the final output. He includes logical common sense tips about equipment, settings, and more. He even provides a comprehensive list of what’s available — suggesting hard drives, backups, monitors, and DVD writers. Efficiency is always the byword in workflow, and Ken Milburn leads the way.

Milburn teaches us how to connect to DNG (digital negative), a nonproprietary RAW format which anyone can use. He suggests that it may become a universal format which means that even if the RAW file format in your software becomes obsolete you will still retain your RAW files through DNG. Safety. Efficiency. Smart.

Since the author has been a professional photographer for decades he has learned through experience and study about being prepared in the field for both seen and unforeseen circumstances. He passes along sage advise and counseling in his chapter BE PREPARED.

One of the great features which has separated Adobe Photoshop CS2 from the rest of the pack is Adobe Bridge. It is a browser, but so much more. Ken Milburn gives the reader an excellent primer on how this feature works and its many advantages. He shows how simple it is, and at the same time it is scriptable, customizable, has variable thumbnail sizing, and has multiple browser windows which can be opened at the same time.

Want to create and use panel layouts to sort as you wish? How about creating a meta data template including all your camera info like settings, history, status, and even IPTC (International Press Telecommunications Council) info? He shows you how to do all this, and more.

Once we get into Camera Raw, Ken Milburn shows us how to streamline the process. Once it’s set up you’re ready to rip. For you Photoshop Elements 4 users he shows the differences between Camera Raw in Elements 4 and CS2. He also tells us the why and how of it all so we understand why all this is a good thing. Take for instance the aforementioned DNG files. The author implores the reader to strongly consider filing using DNG and lots of backup. It’s possible that either through technical improvements, marketing considerations, mergers, or even dissolution of a manufacturer that a proprietary RAW format could become obsolete. It is certainly something to consider.

There are some clients out there who need their photos quickly. Wedding and sports photographers can attest to this. The author shows us that Camera RAW defaults to “smart” Auto adjustments for Exposure, Shadows, Brightness, and Contrast. So there’s a good chance of getting a publishable image right out of the camera. Sweet! Milburn demonstrates how to open and adjust multiple RAW files quickly when the files have the same exposure, brightness, range, contrast, and color balance. He introduces us to HDR (High Dynamic Range), and High Key images.

Layers have been around for quite some time, and here we are shown a system for non destructive editing. There’s a great chart listing in three columns Layer Name, Purpose, and Advice. It’s like a quick check on WWKD (What Would Ken Do) for using Adjustment Layers. Even for those of us who might be new to Layers he gives us a quick rundown of Layers and Features in Adobe Photoshop CS2.

Ken Milburn’s friend, Doug Sahlin, came up with an interesting idea which the author includes in Digital Photography: Expert Techniques. It’s called the Magic Workflow Layers Action. It allows us to include the layers in the workflow for almost every image automatically, ensuring the photographer will follow a properly layered workflow for most basic steps. You can either get this in the book or download it from the sites provided. This alone could shorten the learning curve in learning layers workflow.

All of the general repair tools are reviewed but the author goes way beyond the characteristics of the tools and into the world of commercial photography and how these tools can work for the professional photographer. This includes Glamor Tips, Architectural Tips, Still Life, lighting from behind, and more.

Are you into montages or collages? Ken Milburn can help, and does he ever. We’ve all tried to string together various shots in an effort to create a panorama of a scene too vast for one shot, but with varying degrees of success. The author talks about exposure, tripods, and framing. There are several example photos showing what a professional panorama looks like. I’ve made all the mistakes he mentions, and then some. Thanks, Ken, for straightening me out.

In his chapter “Creating the Wow Factor” we get into the details of the various tools and how, using layers, the photographer can enhance just about any aspect of lighting, colors (or black & white), and even using what he terms a “fictitious imaging tool,” liquefaction, which can remove unwanted pounds from a model, or add bulk to anyone or anything. He has many suggestions and techniques using Lighting Effects which are especially dramatic when used inside of layers. We learn how to make homemade backgrounds as well as Knockouts. If you like the look of hand coloring or tinting Ken shows us how to do it effectively and easily.

Milburn’s experience as a pro for many years becomes a windfall for us readers as, in the last chapter, “Presenting Your Work to the World,” he talks about some of the many ways to become recognized, and even paid, as a photographer. He starts by showing us how to get the prints we need by calibrating the printers and even LCD monitors. There are tips to show your images on the web, making portfolios, binders, contact sheets, and much more. And let’s not forget the all-important Copyright protection using watermarks.

While our author is certainly a huge fan and user of Adobe Photoshop CS2, he is by no means married exclusively to that software. He lists alternatives and even talks about the differences and some advantages of software like Capture One Pro, Raw Shooter, Aperture (which can be used with Photoshop CS2), iView Media Pro, and Adobe Lightroom. All of these programs have their high points and are not to be dismissed as second only to Adobe Photoshop CS2.

If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to be a pro in the photo biz, Digital Photography: Expert Techniques will give you a good idea of the dedication, knowledge, and work it takes to do it right. One has only to look at Ken Milburns pictures to see why this book makes so much sense. His photos are pristine. He seems to be able to connect with the very vibrations of the colors, shadows, and details which are all part of an image, but are often times skirted over by photographers, if only for the lack of knowledge it takes to recognize these things and bring them “up” in the image. His techniques, to be sure, are always pointed toward one thing, and one thing only. Making the best image possible with the least amount of effort and expense. And here it all is, in this wonderful and smartly instructive book. Rating: 5 out of 5


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