Thursday, October 09, 2008

Book Review: Take Your Best Shot By Tim Grey

Written by T. Michael Testi

As with a lot of books, Take Your Best Shot is one that has been years in the making. While working with the nature photographer George Lepp, Tim Grey started a quarterly newsletter called "Digital Darkroom Quarterly." Over time he kept getting questions via email asking questions on digital photography, and many times these questions were the same or similar questions. So instead of just responding to these questions, in 2001, he started the Digital Darkroom Questions (DDQ) email newsletter. To this day, these questions still go strong. Tim Grey's latest book, Take Your Best Shot, was developed from these questions. The book is 252 pages in length and is divided into 10 chapters.

Chapter 1, "Digital Fundamentals," begins with question topics that will help give you a strong foundation in digital photography and help shorten your learning curve. The goal here is that even if you have the basics down, by reviewing some of these topics you will even pick up a point or two. Topics covered here include the debate between film and digital, dynamic range, ISO, resolution, RAW capture, and lens problems such as chromatic aberration.

Chapter 2, "Digital Cameras and Tools," examines the wild and wonderful world of ever expanding digital technology. In the days of film cameras, things did not change that frequently, but with the advent of digital, things don't stay the same for very long. Now you have many choices that constantly change. Here you will learn about the differences in camera choices, cleaning sensors, memory cards, lenses, and even about some specialty accessories like Lensbabies lenses.

Chapter 3, "Digital Capture," is really a new technology in the grand order of things, and so we are all still trying to define the rules. While there are a lot of similarities between this technology and film, there are also a lot of differences. This can lead to frustration. In this chapter the author attempts to remove those frustrations by examining some of these new rules. This includes comparing RAW to JPG, why to shoot RAW, setting color temperature, when to change ISO, what color space should you use on your DSLR, and how to interpret the histogram on your image.

Chapter 4, "Digital Darkroom," is a place that you will likely spend a lot of time if you are serious about digital photography. The digital darkroom needs equipment much like the traditional darkroom, but it is dry and performed in open spaces (and it does not have that chemical smell). To build a system, there are also a lot of questions to be answered such as Windows vs. Mac, storage and backup, do you need Photoshop? Do you need Lightroom? As well as many more topics examined. Here you will get a good feel for what you might need.

Chapter 5, "Color Management," examines why there are two kinds of photographers with regard to color management; those who are frustrated with it, and those who ignore it. Topics here try to look at how to manage color. Questions answered here are about profiling camera, calibrating monitors, color spaces, how to use print preview in Photoshop, as well as color management in Photoshop.

Chapter 6, "Optimizing in Photoshop," will help you overcome the learning curve that one generally finds when learning Photoshop. In this chapter the author examines many of the common questions that people have when working with Photoshop. These include working with RAW files, Curves and Levels, Cloning and Healing, Adjustment Layers, Selections, and working with Gradient Effects on an Adjusted area.

Chapter 7, "Creative Effects," looks at some of the more advanced techniques that many use with Photoshop. As you become better, you tend to want to emulate more of what they see others do. It is not always easy to figure out how these techniques can be accomplished. Here you will learn about creating Black and White images, using Photoshop filters, adding Vignettes and edge effects, as well as reproducing classic darkroom effects.

Chapter 8, "Image Problem-Solving," takes on the adage of "I'll just fix it in Photoshop." While it is always better to "fix it in the photo," once the shot has been taken, and you are not in the field, short of going back out, you do have to fix it in Photoshop. Here you will see how to fix things like overexposed skies, removing color casts, fix motion blur, reduce haze, and clean up noise in an image.

Chapter 9, "Printing," examines what it takes to get the best image on paper. Yes there are other ways to display your work; there is just something fundamental about viewing a print. Again, each new technology brings out new questions. Here you will learn about the different types of printers, inks, sending images out to be printed, as well as other topics relating to generating a hard copy image.

Chapter 10, "Digital Sharing," provides the options for those who like to share their images. In this chapter there is a discussion on the problems that can arise with sharing your images online, as well as how to sell them online, creating slideshows, and how to use the Lightroom Web Module.

Like his DDQ, Take Your Best Shot provides a wealth of information for novices through the advanced hobbyist photographer. Many, many of the questions are ones that either are not readily available without searching through a ton of books, or when they are answered, do not provide as complete an answer as presented here.

Some of the things that make me really like Take Your Best Shot is its conversational tone. Tim Grey presents each question as it was asked to him and from there he puts forward his answer. Occasionally there is a "Pet Peeve Alert" in which he pulls out his soapbox and makes his feelings known on something that he objects to, and occasionally there is a "Let's Settle This Already" segment where he discusses a particular topic in more depth.

I have been a fan and regular reader of his DDQ's for a couple of years now, and have always found them informational, entertaining, and I always look forward to that little tidbit that I didn't know. It is for this reason that I think that Take Your Best Shot is a great book for anyone from novice to advanced amateur as well as anyone making the move from film to digital. I very highly recommend Take Your Best Shot.


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