Book Review: Practical Artistry: Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers by Harold Davis

Practical Artistry: Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers by Harold DavisHarold Davis is an accomplished photographer, many of his fine art photos have become well known posters such as those published by the New York Graphic Society.

He is also a prolific author, with more than 20 books to his name, including Digital Photography: Digital Field Guide (Wiley), The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite and the High Sierra (Countryman/W.W.Norton) and 100 Views of the Golden Gate (Wilderness Press).

Harold’s latest book, Practical Artistry: Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers is a fine example of his work both as photographer and author. The artful way that the images and text are presented in the book are very instructive to amateurs and could also be a spark for experienced photographers looking for inspiration.

The images are stunning. This is fine art photography at its best. But instead of just admiring the pictures, you are actually encouraged to shoot the same photos by following the author’s directions. The artful photos in the book are accompanied by very instructive captions that tell you exactly how each image was captured. It’s like having a mentor come to your side and say, “Hey, buddy, look at these photos. Ain’t they great? Here’s how I got them.”

For example, on page 23 Harold describes how he took a photo of an old barn fence:

“Sunset cast strong shadows of an old fence on a barn along the northern California coast. I knew that I want to capture detail, so I picked the lowest available ISO (100).

“I knew I needed the entire image to be in focus, because I wanted the right part of the image to appear to be part of the same plane as the part of the shadow projected on the barn. To get as much of the image as possible to be in focus (high depth of field) I selected the smallest available aperture (f/32).

“With ISO and aperture selected, I used the exposure equation to choose the shutter speed that matched the average light from the scene falling on the sensor…”

And he describes the rest of the shooting process, detailing what kind of lens he used, the shutter speed, aperture, ISO and whether a tripod was used or not. He does this with every image in the book, and the book is chock-full of these artistic images!

Now for the captions. The images in the book are captioned, every single one of them describing how the images were taken and you can actually follow along to make the same exposure settings with your own images to deepen your understanding of your photography. For those new to DSLR photography, this is very useful. Indeed, this is practical artistry in action!

The main text of the book is another interesting matter. Harold takes the principles of classical photography, condenses them in his own straightforward words and applies them to today’s digital photography. He proceeds from the premise that if you understand the principles behind a concept, it’s easy to look up the details.

In the main text, he dwells on such mandatory topics as shutter speed, aperture and ISO, the 3 main things to understand if you are to get exposure right. He also discusses the creative use of lighting and how to work with white balance. Even night photography is covered. Chapter 6 guides you through digital processing of your images, today’s very convenient equivalent of the darkroom of old, using your computer and some software instead of the dark, lonely and smelly darkroom.

As he discusses the underlying principles in the main text, the accompanying photographs offer very instructive captions that explain his photographic process and creative intention. There is a preponderance of macro and landscape shots among the images, perhaps a reflection of the author’s preference. But they are all stunning. They all demonstrate, in a very real and artistic way, how the principles of light and exposure are applied.

Light and exposure, these are the main things the author focuses on in this book. Why, that is practically what photography is all about, technically. Get your lighting and exposure right and you get a good handle in capturing images.

But of course, the author writes, “It’s worth remembering that cameras, lenses, and software don’t take photos. People do. Your eye, your heart and your spirit will have far more impact on the photos you take than the hardware or software you use.”

This is a great book. I agree with photojournalist Rick Smolan when he said that if you could buy only one book, this is the book to have. Its photos are inspiring, its instructions very uplifting.

By the way, if you’re in California on July 27, 2008, you can catch Harold Davis at a Book Passage event at 1 Ferry Building, #42 San Francisco, CA. He will be presenting images of the Golden Gate, and answer questions from the audience. A book signing session follows.

Practical Artistry: Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers by Harold Davis, O’Reilly, First Edition January 2008, 9″ x 10″, 176 pages, US $29.99, CAN $29.99.



1 Understanding Exposure
What Is an Exposure?
The Exposure Equation
Working with Exposure Modes
Measuring Light
Intentional Over and Underexposure

2 Working with Aperture
Aperture and Depth of Field
Selective Focus and Bokeh
Aperture and Narrative
When Aperture Doesn’t Matter
Macro Photography and Aperture

3 Selecting Shutter Speed
It’s All about Time
Shutter Speed and Camera Shake
Shutter Speed and Subject Motion
Creative Use of Motion

4 ISO and Noise
Understanding Light Sensitivity
When to Boost ISO
Using Noise Creatively

5 Using Light
Creative Exposure
Finding the Best Light
Light and Color Temperature
Working with White Balance
Front Lighting
Side Lighting
Back Lighting
Overcast Lighting
Night Photography
Using Flash
A Studio of Your Own

6 Digital Darkroom
RAW Conversion
Adjusting Exposure
Adjusting White Balance
Noise Reduction
Multi-RAW Processing
Cross Processing
Black and White


[Site: O’Reilly]

Published by Chris Malinao

Chris teaches Lightroom as workflow software to photography students at the FPPF, Federation of Philippine Photographers Foundation. He also teaches smartphone photography.