Review: Light and Exposure for Digital Photographers

Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers by Harold Davis (published by O’Reilly) is a new book that teaches basic but important lessons: understanding light and how to capture it creatively with a digital camera. The author sums up the philosophy of the book in the introduction: “Today’s photographer is one part digital artist and one part photographer.” But he also warns that “it is fundamentally flawed to assume that incorrect exposures can be corrected in Photoshop.”

Read on to learn more about the book and find out how you can get a free copy.

Light and Exposure then proceeds to reintroduce the basics of exposure, the exposure “equation,” and how exposure can be used creatively. From there he devotes an entire chapter each to aperture, shutter speed, and ISO and noise. For $20, it’s the cheapest Digital Photography 101 course you’ll find. The topics are covered in depth and the author uses an approach grounded in understanding concepts rather than telling you exactly which buttons to push (which would be practically impossible since everyone’s camera is different).

I agree with the approach. Photography is part artistry but it is also part technical know-how. An artist who is also a master of his tools can create images that match his vision with precision and confidence. Reading about apertures and shutter speeds and exposure equations can sound daunting but Mr. Davis writes plainly and explains the concepts clearly.

The book is also filled with wonderful photographs, each with a caption that describes how it was made. One could skip the main text entirely and just browse through the photos reading about how each was created. Lens choice, ISO, aperture, and shutter speed are provided for each along with descriptions of the conditions and thoughts of the author as he was capturing the image.

The final chapter of the book is devoted to digital darkroom techniques. It is not a comprehensive tutorial in Photoshop by any means but it does cover the basics of RAW conversion, adjusting exposure and white balance, noise reduction, and some creative effects including HDR, cross-processing, and black and white conversions.

After reading it, I was struck by how similar it was to my copy of Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. They’re very similar books in many ways and there is a great deal of overlap in topics (and, let’s face it, cameras have been about shutter speed and aperture since the very beginning). Understanding Exposure is a great book and I still recommend it. However, it was originally written for film photographers and barely scratches the surface when it comes to digital. Light and Exposure is focused exclusively on digital and has a few more tips to share in that regard.

If you’ve already read and comprehend Understanding Exposure or have a very strong understanding of exposure, then you won’t get a lot from Light and Exposure. But if you shoot digital and want a good introduction to the all-important basics then I strongly recommend reading Light and Exposure for Digital Photographers.

Want a copy of the book? Leave a comment with a valid email address. One reader will be chosen at random on Wednesday (May 7) to receive my slightly used review copy.

This book was provided to Photodoto free of charge for review.

By John Watson

John Watson is the original founder of Photodoto. If you're interested in what John has been up to, you can browse his personal blog.


  1. I totally agree that PS can’t correct incorrect exposure. I have another very useful book on PS for digital photography (it helped me sell some photos, actually), but I’d like to get my hands on a book specifically about exposure.

    If I’m not lucky in the draw, I’m going to buy this book, anyway.

  2. great suggestion. I am currently reading the “Photographer’s eye”. I hope this is a good complement to it.

  3. Wow, seems quite an interesting reading, like most of your blog posts.
    Keep up the good job.
    Thank you

  4. Hi John – great review. I am certainly in the introductory phase of photography and could benefit from a slightly used book on light and exposure basics. Thanks for the offer and opportunity.

  5. Call me lazy, but I like to get the photo right in the camera as well. I do like PS for playing around but don’t want to spend precious time correcting my mistakes. Bryan Peterson was right when he said that it is much quicker to do it right in the camera. I am looking forward to reading this book, I enjoy Harold’s blog.

  6. I find there isn’t much selection out there for good Photography 101 books (aside from the Amphoto Books series). Hopefully O’Reilly will continue this trend and put out more foundation books. Thanks for your review!

  7. I was iffy on the book until you said the photos tell you how each shot was created. I absolutely love it when photography books give you the details on lighting, ISO and shutter seed.

  8. I learned a great deal about exposure from “Understanding Exposure”, however, I would love to read a different take as I’m sure I would learn something else that I didn’t know! Looking forward to reading this book :o)


  9. O’Reilly has a strong reputation in the IT community for publishing high quality books, especially in the books’ contents. Even without the glowing remarks above, I’d buy this one just because of the publisher name.

    The only drawback that I can see is that this book doesn’t follow O’Reilly’s tradition of using woodcut images of animals on the cover (like the ubiquitous “Camel Book” about Perl that is known partly for having an image of a camel on its cover).

  10. I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t fix exposure problems in Photoshop. I’d love a copy of the book. Thanks for this review.

  11. Thanks for this review – I’ve been flipping through photography books at the store but I’m never sure which ones are good – I’ll definitely take a better look at this one.

  12. understanding exposure was great, but i was kind of surprised that it only dealt with film (i had no idea its year of publication). so this sounds like a great book to pick up. thanks for the review!

  13. Thanks for this review. It is always good to hear about new resources. I am really new to photography and am still trying to figure it all out!

  14. I was in my local book shop looking for a book just like this on Sunday… nothing came close. Good review I really want a copy now.

  15. And the winner is… sharon (#5)! Sharon, the book is on the way. Thanks, everyone for participating.

    Next week I’ve got two copies of a new beautiful, hardcover photobook to give away.

  16. Thanks for posting this information. I am learning digital photography and am at a beginner level. Since I know nothing about PS yet (I am signed up for a class next month), I am forced to try and get the best photo with no help from PS. Lighting is so important to create the mood you are looking for. Thanks again for the info.

  17. Thanks for posting this review. I’m a fan of Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure, and it has helped me on my journey. It’s one of the first books I recommend to the readers on my site, but it’s nice to have a book that’s more geared to digital photography. Gotta go… Amazon’s calling me – LOL.

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