Book Review: Understanding Shutter Speed

Understanding Shutter Speed When I first looked at Understanding Shutter Speed by Bryan Peterson on Amazon I wondered how shutter speed, only one of the components of an exposure, made up a book. In fact, there are some organizational problems that are caused by choosing this particular slice as a wedge into the topic of photography. A good editor might well have wondered what the final chapter on “Composition” is doing at all in this particular book.

The great strength here is idea generation. It’s hard not to look at the illustrations in this book and say, “Hey why don’t I try that?” The caption information is explicit enough so that you can recreate the ideas shown for yourself, or use them as a jumping off point. As an idea book, Understanding Shutter Speed is well worth its price.

Personally, I find the text (as opposed to the photos and photo captions) problematic. Peterson seems out of his depth when it comes to digital. He really seems to think that from a noise viewpoint you are better off underexposing by two stops and adjusting in RAW as opposed to boosting the ISO and exposing properly (he’s wrong). His discussion of ISO using a metaphor of hundreds of carpenters struck me as simply silly and without much point.

Even if this kind of vague metaphor is your cup of tea, Peterson misses the whole arena of creative shutter speed fun that is possible with Photoshop and Camera RAW. (As an example, consider this flower photo that combines petals in slow circular motion with fixed interiors.)

This book is an intellectual muddle, and does not cover the creative possibilities of digital (as opposed to film photography). I realize that the deficits of this book sound quite serious (and they are). But leaving the intellectual muddle out of it, and sticking to pre-digital era photography, this is a book you’ll want to own as an absolutely glorious idea generator.

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