Practical Artistry: Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers
Publisher: O'Reilly Media
Final Release Date: April 2008
Pages: 176

You may be passionate about photography, and own a digital SLR with perhaps more advanced equipment as well. But do the photographs you take with this powerful equipment come out as well as you'd like?

With this fascinating and beautifully illustrated book, you learn how to apply the techniques and principles of classic photography so you can make great images with today's digital equipment. Harold Davis, author and renowned fine art photographer, puts the focus in Practical Artistry on light and exposure, two crucial concepts you need to understand and master if you are to truly capture the images you see.

Davis presents a generous number of his own images in each chapter, complete with technical information and an explanation of what he was trying to achieve. These striking photographs not only illustrate the lesson at hand, but also serve as inspiration for your own efforts. Browsing the photographs alone will tell you a lot.

Topics covered in this book include:

  • Camera, lenses, and equipment
  • Understanding exposure and measuring light
  • Relationship of aperture to shutter speed and ISO
  • Working with depth of field
  • Natural lighting, studio lighting, and the use of flash
  • Light and color temperature
  • Working with white balance
  • Photographing at dawn or dusk
  • Photography at night
  • Capturing motion
  • Telling a story with your image
  • Capturing people, places, and things
  • Setting up a digital workflow
  • RAW processing and double RAW processing
  • Adjusting exposure and reducing noise
  • Black & white photography
  • And much more
Concise and to the point, Practical Artistry clearly demonstrates that photography, essentially, is writing with light, and that the type of images you produce depend on the many choices you have for using that skill. Harold Davis gives you an array of choices in full living color.

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oreillyPractical Artistry: Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers

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Beautiful Providing a Decent Introducti

By Jeremy Hall

from Pleasant Grove, UT

About Me Designer, Photographer

Verified Reviewer


  • Easy to understand
  • Helpful examples


  • Not comprehensive enough

Best Uses

  • Beginner
  • Novice

Comments about oreilly Practical Artistry: Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers:

Perhaps one of the best statements of the book is found in the author's introduction: "In recent years, the art and craft of photography has changed beyond recognition. Today's photographer is one part digital artist and one part photographer."

Most budding photographers are looking for quick answers to creating stunning photos with their newly purchased dSLR. Davis does a decent job covering the basic topics you will see in many books targeting the beginning photographer. Light an exposure is photography at its core. The writing style provides easy to understand explanations of the topics, complimented with beautiful example photos that an beginning photographer would be both impressed by yet also feel like they could recreate.

The book as a whole succeeds in providing an approachable overview on a lot of topics, and for that I give it decent marks. I did feel the writing was lacking it keeping me hooked into the flow of the book. My tendency was to look at the photos and skim the written material if the headline caught my eye.



By FitzRobert

from Tucson, AZ

Verified Reviewer


  • Easy to understand


  • Not comprehensive enough
  • Too basic
  • Too many errors

Best Uses

  • Novice

Comments about oreilly Practical Artistry: Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers:

I must admit that I approached this book with some misgivings. Hundreds, if not thousands of books have been written on the subject of light and exposure. Some of them are excellent (the Time-Life series of photography books come to mind). This raised the question 'Why do we need another such book?' My hope for this book lay in the end of the title 'for Digital Photographers' and the fact that it is published by O'Reilly (the publisher of some of today's great technical texts). This book would be worth reading, I thought, if it covered the digital aspects of photography to a useful depth.

Before I get to the review, let me say the following about myself. I am an avid amateur photographer. I am faculty at a US college of medicine where I am a medical researcher and I teach microscopy and digital imaging.

1) This book is written by an amateur for less advanced amateurs. It has little to offer middle or advanced photographers.

2) I was very intrigued by the authors idea that "… this book is rich in pragmatic details. For example, you can find the exact lens and exposure settings I used for every photo in this book…. It's very reasonable to start with this book by finding a few photos that interest you, and discovering how they were made." I thought this was a wonderful idea. It is unfortunate that the book can't be used this way. Many of the pictures have obviously been extensively post-processed and no mention of this processing is made in most of the picture captions. Thus, the information presented will not permit replication of the results shown.

3) The book needs better editing. There are multiple examples of wrong page numbers or images being cited out of order.

4) In a book for beginners, I would have liked to see more side-by-side examples. For example, showing a lovely picture is fine, but if one is discussing depth-of-field it would be useful and informative to show the same composition with several depth-of-field examples. The same can be said for several shutter speeds to show the effect on the final image.

5) Many issues are treated so sparsely (i.e. the entire topic of Layers, Blending Modes and masking is covered in a small box on one page) that they are not useful. I would recommend either concentrating the book on fewer things at a greater depth or writing a longer book.
Lastly, the book contains many technical errors. This is particularly distressing since the book comes from O'Reilly. These errors will lead to confusion for the beginner since they do not know enough to ignore the obvious errors.

Taken together, I can't recommend this book.

(1 of 1 customers found this review helpful)


Good on the art of exposure in nature pictures, but not comprehensive

By Roger

from Undisclosed

Comments about oreilly Practical Artistry: Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers:

This book is well illustrated with the author's own pictures, each being clearly relevant to the topic in the main text. It's easy to find a heading such as "Intentional Over and Underexposure", find a picture you like, and read about how the author took that picture, and why he made those choices. It covers the ground of shutter speed, aperture and ISO sensitivity comprehensively, highlighting the artistic benefits of each choice. It's less comprehensive on lighting, and uses quite a narrow range of images as examples.

Photography has been around for a long time, and readers might ask whether "digital" photography has changed enough to need new books. This volume covers familiar ground about apertures and shutter speeds, which is largely comparable to traditional film photography, but there are some changes, and this book does bring them out clearly. You can choose the ISO sensitivity for each image (balancing performance with noise interference), that you can see the image on the camera's LCD and learn from that to take another straight away, and that you can edit or even combine the images later in software, gaining flexibility from RAW format data.

The book studiously avoids hardware-specific issues, but does address questions like the position of your flash (front lighting is not subtle), the available range of apertures (many compact cameras have a narrow range, around f/8) and the physical size of the image sensor (smaller sensors are more vulnerable to noise, but have a greater depth of field). Where he does mention hardware, it's usually digital SLRs camera from Nikon or Canon.

This is very much about exposure. The aperture lets you control depth of field, to tell a story, direct attention, or just to have good bokeh. The shutter speed lets you avoid camera shake, freeze the subject's movement or accentuate it. The ISO sensitivity lets you improve colour quality, create artistic effects with noise, or just balance the exposure. The light meter built in to your camera will often not expose the image you really want, so spot metering and intentional exposure adjustments are well covered. Reasons for making each of the choices are discussed, particularly in terms of the artistic or story-telling effect.

Lighting is covered more briefly, with pages about flash, direction of lighting, sunlight at different times of day, white balance, and using a minimal studio. However, each of those topics is breezed over, by comparison to the exposure. At least one factor of the shutter speed goes completely un-mentioned; that at high speeds, the shutter is really a slit in a curtain moving gradually across the sensor, which could result in the same part of a fast moving subject smearing across the whole frame.

There is a section on the "digital darkroom", which wisely steers clear of being a tutorial on Adobe Photoshop. The author recommends capturing RAW files, but doesn't fully explain their strengths (they are higher resolution than JPEGs, typically being 12 bits per colour channel instead of 8, and contain exactly what was captured by the sensor and so can be reprocessed later without making things any worse than the processing done in the camera). The mathematical side seems to daunt him, in the apparent backwardness of white balance adjustments, and earlier, the relationship between aperture F-stops and the total amount of light, which is explained somewhat shakily.

The example images are clear and closely involved with the text. However, they do focus on the author's preferred topics; landscapes of mountains or bridges, flowers, and macro shots of water droplets. Almost every point in the text is illustrated, and the descriptions are really good at bringing out how the choices were made. However, there are many other styles of picture, and particularly many other issues with lighting, that are not covered.

The narrative flows well, partly because of the personal and friendly style. The print quality of the book is good, which is important, although the white space is all around the pictures and not around the body text, and unfortunately several key features of large pictures are hidden by the book spine. While the early topics of the book are covered in great detail, the later ones, (mainly about lighting) are skimmed more briefly.

In summary, the book is good on the artistic consequences of exposure in pictures of nature. It's fun to read, and really helps in making those choices an intermediate photographer might not have understood. But it's not truly comprehensive, either in its examples or in addressing its own title.


This stunning book deals precisely with Light and Exposure.

By Sally Brown

from Undisclosed

Comments about oreilly Practical Artistry: Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers:

Light and exposure are the most important elements in successful photography, and this stunning book deals precisely with them; in explanation, in text, and most of all in the photos. Exposure is made up of three elements: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, and the author explains each one in detail and more importantly, how they interact in a photograph, starting at the beginning level so that everyone can move ahead in the book. He also wants to demonstrate the extremes of what can be accomplished using the same elements of exposure in more unusual ways.

Later on in this book he turns his attention to light, more specifically how the direction from which light is coming affects the photo, and then what to do with flash, low light situations, and noise. Again the explanations are clear and helpful.

However, Harold Davis primarily teaches from his photos, each of which demonstrates a different situation and correspondingly different settings. They are carefully chosen. Apparently his goal is to expand your thinking, and he certainly succeeds. It is not that he expects you to imitate his macro photos, for example, but he wants you to know that you can. You don't have to stay on first base.

The greatest value of this book comes from studying the photos and the lengthy detailed explanations he gives about his intent in a given photograph and how he went about deciding what settings to use. He describes the settings he tried and the variations he used before he came up with the photos that he chose for this book. We the readers are able to get into his mindset and see his thought processes at work, and these are the features that make this book so outstanding. This is a book to be studied, not just read.

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