Fundamentals of Photography by Tom Ang

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Tom Ang’s Fundamentals of Photography is aptly subtitled “the essential handbook for both digital and film cameras.” As a very amateur photographer, I was fascinated by the technical explanations for photography: how cameras work, how light is best captured, and how to process photographs appealingly. While I will never again photograph using film cameras, I was likewise fascinated to learn the technical aspects of film photography. For, just as Tom Ang seamlessly wove both film and digital photography together throughout his handbook, understanding how film photography works should be seamlessly tied to understanding the tools available to a digital photographer. I am convinced that understanding film technology (of which I was woefully ignorant) will help me in my digital processes.

Fundamentals of Photography is a dense book, full of technical terms, explanations, and diagrams. As such, it was challenging to read it cover to cover. Besides, it was a new book at the library, so I had a three-week time limit, which made it all the more challenging. I would have loved to study it over the course of an entire semester in school or maybe during my lifetime – for there are so many details within it that were unfamiliar to me. Despite the difficulty, reading it was incredibly rewarding.

Previously, I thought of photography primarily as a fine art: capturing images for aesthetic pleasure. I reviewed a coffee table book a few months ago that helped me see photography as such. That was helpful in helping me think about photography aesthetically. But now, having stumbled through Tom Ang’s handbook, I realize that photography is also a complicated science: using lighting and tools to your advantage to capture the most aesthetically pleasing image for an infinite number of needs.

The book is organized by basic principles:

  1. What is photography?
  2. Fundamentals of Light
  3. The Camera
  4. Capturing Light
  5. Using the Lens
  6. Manipulating Light
  7. Working with Color
  8. Processing the Image
  9. Digitizing the Image
  10. Outputting the Image
  11. References (tools in Photoshop; troubleshooting with film, etc.)

As I read each chapter, I wanted to experiment with various things – not to mention purchase a new camera after chapter 3, purchase $1,000 of lens after chapter 5, and scan all of my film after chapter 9. I even (briefly) wanted to learn how to develop film after reading about darkroom work  (however, if I had to do all the work to process my photographs, I’d not be interested in photography at all!).

I started a photoblog a few months ago, and although I had started to neglect it, I did want to dedicate more time to my photography in the New Year. Now, however, I realize how inferior my photographs are, for I failed to use many of the basic developing processes that Photoshop has to over, let alone to capture the images in proper lighting and with an appealing composition. (To be honest, I now feel rather embarrassed that my poor photographs are on the web!)

One reviewer on Amazon suggested that there is too much emphasis on film photography in Fundamentals of Photography. There is a fair amount of detail about film in Fundamentals of Photography, and I’d suggest that understanding how film works is integral to understanding how digital processing works. I had a lot to learn, and I still do, but I’m grateful I read this book.

I saw a review of this book on Epic Edits, one of the photography sites I follow. Although I didn’t win a copy of Fundamentals of Photography in the giveaway, I was delighted to see it was a new book in my local library. I found Fundamentals of Photography to be a powerful technical reference for an amateur photographer and I’d recommend it for anyone else interested in photography as a science and art.

Are you an amateur photographer? Where do you post your photographs? Do you get constructive criticism? How to best find yourself improving your talent? What photography books have helped you?

Other reviews:

If you have reviewed Fundamentals of Photography, leave a link in the comments and I’ll post it here.

Reviewed on January 20, 2009

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I have The Digital Photographer’s Handbook by Tom Ang, and I really like it. It has different sections that show techniques for capturing pictures in different situations.

    Also, I took a photography class in college where we had to develop our own film, and I found it much more stressful than fun. You put in all sorts of work to take your pictures, but with one simple mistake with chemicals or time they can be totally destroyed. Give me digital photos any day 🙂

  • Kim, that also sounds like a good book! I have to say, my desire to use a darkroom lasted about 2 minutes; I agree, it would make it a lot less fun. I love the Undo button in Photoshop! Easy to make mistakes, but easy to fix them!

    Ladytink, this book probably isn’t for you, then; this is for hardcore amateur photographers!

  • Rebecca, I just looked at that photo blog of yours and the pictures are gorgeous. I’m not photographer, so I’m sure my eye is as amateur as they come, but I think they are really good. Some of them blew me away.

  • Amanda, aww, thanks! I felt rather proud of some of them.

    But the more I realize what is out there to aid the photographer, the more I realize I have “a long way to go.” Isn’t that kind of like all “hobbies” and “talents” we try to build up?

    I do appreciate the kind words. Thanks again.

  • I can remember studying a level photography at a college in London where we learnt so much about taking meaningful pictures and also about the workings of cameras and so on, it was one of the happiest times of my life and then from that I continued to have a fabulous career in photography so it can be fulfilling on so many levels

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