In this article I’m going to review two photography eBooks aimed at the novice or beginner photographer. They are both very different in their approach to the same material, and both valuable in their own way depending on your needs. If you can answer “yes” to any or all of the points below, please read on as you may find one or both of these eBooks a great starting place for your photography learning journey.
Can you relate to any of the following?
- Did you recently buy a new DSLR?
- Do you wish you could get off AUTO but don’t know where to start?
- Do you want to understand the terminology in the manual but they’re simply Greek to you?
- You want to understand all the buttons and settings on your camera better?
- You want to have more control over how your images look?
I’m assuming you are nodding your head and agreed with at least one of the above, because you are still reading. The two books we’re going to take a look at are:
- Extremely Essential Camera Skills – by Rob and Lauren Lim of Photography Concentrate
- Photo Nuts and Bolts – by Neil Creek, and Digital Photography School book
Keep in mind this is not a comparison, one against the other, but rather a list of the strengths and shortcomings of each. My hope is to help you to determine which book might be best for you. In summary I’ll give suggestions based on your needs and learning style, on which book I’d recommend for you. I’m going to look at the following criteria for each book:
- user friendliness and experience
- technical details
- examples used
- practice exercises included
- other resources given
- next step, where do you go from the end of the book?
Extremely Essential Camera Skills
User friendliness – rating 5/5
On a scale of one to five for user experience, I’d rate this book a five! The tone of the book is inviting and it has a casual, encouraging feel. There are even little cartoon characters that give you messages of encouragement along the way. The design is nice, it’s well laid out, and easy to read and follow the information.
There are layperson explanations of photography jargon terms, and information is laid out in a logical progression. They’ve even included seven short videos to illustrate some of the basics, things which cause many students to have questions about, or get stuck. It’s also iPad and device friendly! All in all, and good experience for the reader.
Technical details – rating 4/5
I give Extremely Essential Camera Skills a four out of five for technical details. While it does a good job of explaining the basics of shutter speed, aperture and ISO in the simplest possible terms to understand, it doesn’t really go any deeper most of the time. A few things I felt it could explain better are:
- aperture as a fraction and why a large f-number represents a small opening
- minimum shutter speed for hand holding to avoid getting blurry images, this is mentioned but not in the shutter speed section and it’s not explained why you want to use the rule of thumb 1/focal-length
- the book refers to “steps” and “one stop” but could go into more detail on what a stop is exactly (double the light) and what EV means
- how the camera meter actually works and what middle grey is and why it’s important
So even though I think it could go into more detail in some areas, for the absolute beginner it gives just enough information to start to learn the controls and get off Auto. There are diagrams for settings with both Canon and Nikon, as well as “other” brands to make it easy to follow no matter what camera you own. It’s a good base if you just want to get some facts, in an easy to understand manner and use your camera with more confidence.
Examples – rating 5/5
The image examples and videos do a really good job of explaining the material in each lesson. There are several diagrams that illustrate complex concepts like exposure, and depth of field. The book shows what to look for on your camera settings and what it should look like in your view finder (when you look through the eye piece) as well. In beginner photography I find it is key to see cause and effect to really grasp what is happening. Extremely Essential Camera Skills does a good job demonstrating that how certain settings change the image and how the the resulting image looks.
Practice exercises – rating 4/5
There are eight exercises and seven “Pop Quizzes” in this eBook. The exercises are explained well, outlined step by step how to perform each one. There is value in each of them, to help you learn the lesson from each respective chapter. I only give this category a rating of four though, as there are several chapters without any exercise, just a Quiz, and I felt there was room for exercises after every chapter. Missing exercises were the sections on:
- depth of field
- camera settings
Other resources provided – rating 2/5
There is a glossary of terms provided at the end of the book, as well as links to a Flickr group for sharing images, their main Photography Concentrate website and Facebook page. Other than those links there is not a lot of other outside links offered for further learning (i.e. articles on the website), examples or research. Not sure this is all that important as it gives you what you need inside a neat package, but if you’re the type that wants more there isn’t much offered here.
A printable Field Guide is also provided, along with instructions on how to print and fold it. This is a really handy way to take a one page reference sheet with you, when you’re actually out doing photography.
Next step, where to next? – rating 3/5
Photography Concentrate does offer other eBooks but they aren’t really in line with the next step after this one. Their line up includes:
- Simple Wedding Photography
- Super Photo Editing Skills
- Backup or Die
- Awesome Album Design Skills
- How we did it: Lobster Island
So if you are inclined to try your hand at making albums or photo editing, then you might want to pick up one of the titles above. If you want to continue learning more about your camera and its settings read on to the second review below!
Overall rating 3.8 out of 5 for Extremely Essential Camera Skills. Keep reading to see which book is best for you, or maybe both.
User friendliness – rating 4/5
Like the first eBook this one is very well laid out, both in its actual page layout and design, and in the flow of information. Each chapter is arranged in a logical sequence with homework, resources and reader comments at the end of each section. The only reason I give it 4 and not 5 on user experience is the animated illustrations do not play on the iPad or iPhone. Perhaps there is another viewer for those devices that does take advantage of the moving diagrams, if you know of one and it works for you please tell me! Putting this information into the notes in the book introduction would be helpful.
Technical Details – rating 4/5
Photo Nuts and Bolts picks up where Extreme Essential Camera Settings leaves off in terms of technical details. It goes into a lot more depth explaining complex things including lens optics and the physics behind photography. In fact it explained aperture and the f-number so well that I have adopted the same method for explaining it to my beginner photography students. If you are a person that likes to know the” how and why” behind how things work, you will really get into this book.
There were a few things I felt it could explain a bit more detail however, including:
- EV could be explained better
- panning is mentioned, an example and exercise given, but it is not explained how to do it
- settings shown are for Canon only, would be good to show Nikon also as a minimum
- ISO is explained for what it is well, but not how to set it and why to choose higher or lower ISO
Overall though this ebook gets you thinking about lenses and other mechanics of photography in a way that helps your brain make sense of them. There are also some really inventive exercises to demonstrate that, see below for more.
Examples – rating 4/5
For the most part the example diagrams and images are very well done and appropriate illustrations of the lessons. If you are viewing on your computer and the moving diagrams work for you, they are really quite helpful to understanding complex concepts including how the shutter works, and lens refraction. There are a couple of the image examples I actually disagree with, but that may come down to shooting and teaching style so I’ll let you be the judge on that point. Overall the illustrations and examples are very appropriate and well thought out.
Practice exercises – rating 4/5
There are certainly an abundance of homework or practice assignments in the Photo Nuts and Bolts ebook, 39 in total to be exact. For some of the chapters the author, Neil Creek, got really inventive including telling you how to build a “camera obscura” or a “pinhole” camera. In the chapters on the main camera settings there are good exercises to help you learn how they work, and how the adjustments you make affect the image. The only reason I rated it a four out of five, is that I felt some of the exercises could have had more explanation on how to do them, such as starting camera settings.
Other resources provided – rating 5/5
As I mentioned earlier, at the end of each section is the homework assignments and links to outside resources. I clicked on many of them and found some things I wasn’t aware of that were also very helpful in adding to information on the topic at hand. There is also a glossary of terms and instructions on how to read the diagrams provided in the book. Similarly to the first book above, Photo Nuts and Bolts also includes a printable field guide with starting exposures to help you in various settings.
Sometimes it helps to read the same information explained a few different ways, by different teachers, so that it sinks in and becomes second nature. This book is very good at providing other resources and sources of information. It is my belief that smart teachers share information from other teachers, or writers, and aren’t threatened by doing so. As a beginner in photography I suggest becoming really good at being a sponge and absorbing all the information from as many sources as possible.
Next step, where to next? – rating 5/5
This book is the first in a series of three by this author, Neil Creek, each a progression of the last one as you move through your photography learning stages. The next two books are:
- Photo Nuts and Shots – take your photography to the next level creatively and learn about light, composition, planning and execution of images that grab your viewers
- Photo Nuts and Post – goes into the world of post processing your images and covers things like: why process, workflow, different tools available, common problems and output
In addition to those two titles, this book is produced by Digital Photography School and is one of 14 ebooks they offer. You can see the entire library of Digital Photography School eBooks here! They even have a special if you want to buy all 14 and continue your learning and save money at the same time. Check it out!
Overall rating 4.3 out of 5 for Photo Nuts and Bolts. Keep reading to see which book is best for you, or maybe both.
Summary and recommendations
Both books come with a 60 day money back guarantee. If you don’t feel you’ve received value or improved your photography skills, they will refund 100% of your money. So it’s risk free to try either or both.
I found there were some points in each book that I disagreed with, or would have presented differently myself, but that’s the beauty of learning from different teachers. You can pick up something, or learn a technique three different ways from three different instructors. None is wrong, they’re just different, and I celebrate their differences from my own. There’s an old saying in photography:
How many photographers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? 100 – one to actually do it, and 99 to say “I could have done that!”
Okay so having rated each book on the various criteria you probably want to know which one you should get, right? In a nutshell this is what I’d recommend:
- you are someone who wants to cut to the chase
- you want to get the information in a simple, easy to understand format
- you want to get going faster and actually apply the knowledge, not read an ebook forever
- you are visual and like to see video demonstrations to help you understand things better
Get Photo Nuts and Bolts if:
- you are detail oriented and like to know how and why things do what they do
- you are interested in more of the physics behind photography and how lens and light work
- you want more resources and outside sources of information for continued learning
- you want a series of eBooks that will lead you through several stages of photography learning not just one
- you want more ideas for practice exercises to help you learn by doing
Get them both if:
- you enjoy learning from different sources and instructors (each have their own teaching and writing style)
- you want a quick start guide to get going, and then one with more technical detail
- you are building a library of photography books and resources and just want to take it all in (be a sponge)
I hope you found these reviews helpful. If you are an amateur, or novice photographer who is just beginning I suggest you take a look at them. If they are a bit too beginner for you, look for my new class “4 Steps to Better Photography” a self paced online class, coming soon!
HINT: eBooks also make great stocking stuffers – think ahead for the photography enthusiasts in your life!