Books on photography span many topics and niches within the overall theme of photography. No single book covers every facet of photography and none (that I’ve seen) have tried. I did, however, find a book that covers all of the necessary essentials for photographers seeking to improve their skill set.

Complete Digital Photography
by Ben Long, 2005

Ben Long is a freelance writer based in San Francisco, writing articles for MacWEEK and MacWorld, among others. He also writes books in his spare time on digital photography, digital video, and the software tools used in these areas.

The book focuses on the realm of digital photography, addressing those of us currently involved with digital photography and those looking to become involved. Digital cameras have matured over the last several years, bringing with them professionals and amateurs alike. Good digital photography is within reach for many people, and this book helps to lay the foundation for several aspects of this hobby/profession. It is divided into four sections: technical foundation, equipment, photography techniques, and editing methods.

Technical Foundation – Learn what makes up a digital photo, including data storage and data representation. If you’ve ever wondered how a digital camera works, or what the difference between a CCD and CMOS sensor is, you’re in luck. This section also covers things like color theory and the history of photography, in case you’re interested in how photography came to be. You’ll also get a primer on basic photography topics such as focal lengths, shutter speeds, aperture, and ISO. Before moving on to the next section, you’ll learn how to evaluate image quality and spot artifacts inherent to digital photography.

Equipment – If you’re looking to buy your first digital camera or your next digital camera, you’ll learn what features to look for and various trade-offs between different types of cameras. In addition to the camera, digital photography requires a computer and editing software. Get the scoop on your various options.

Photography Techniques – Starting with the basics, you’ll get an explanation of what different camera settings do and how they affect your photos. Moving up to the essentials, learn how to effectively compose your shots and what tools you have to accomplish this. Then top it off with more advanced techniques such as motion, depth of field, tonal, and exposure controls. You’ll also learn about various types of special shooting techniques like macro, panorama, using filters, and working in extreme conditions.

Editing Methods – The largest of all four sections belongs to digital photo editing methods and tools. The book presents a good editing workflow that covers all the major editing tools you’ll need to finish off your images. The author uses Photoshop CS2 and Photoshop Elements 2 (trials included in CD-ROM) in his examples, while also providing you with the digital files so you can follow along with the tutorials. This section covers much more than just the basics of photo editing, and almost any photographer could benefit from reading this section to pick up some of the advanced topics.

The book is over 500 pages long and it’s packed with good information. When I picked this book up in late 2005, I started reading and I couldn’t stop. I finished the entire book (tutorials and all) in about a week — which means something when it comes to my reading habits. I usually take over a month just to read a magazine. I was captivated by this book and what it had to offer. I gained a better understanding of the basic photography techniques, and I picked up a ton of stuff on photo editing. I thought I had a pretty good understanding of how to edit a photo — I had no idea. To this day, I still go back and skim sections of the book to brush up on my skill set.

The biggest thing I’ve taken from this book is how to effectively create and use layer masks in conjunction with the other editing tools offered in Photoshop. I’ve said it before, but layers and layer masks are the most important tools you have for editing photos.

In all honesty, this book can prove useful for photographers at almost every level of experience. It is a comprehensive guide to digital photography, and it lays the foundations to build upon. The book was published in 2005, but it retains about 95% (or more) of its usefulness as the technology has progressed. It is written in such a way that is not completely dependent on the technology, and should prove to be a useful resource for years to come.

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Right now I feel like my post-processing skills leave a lot to be desired. Is this the first book you would recommend for post-processing images for a beginner? Or is there another Photoshop-specific book that you like better?

April 12, 2007 10:05 am

I’ve never purchased a Photoshop-specific book, but I know there are a ton of them out there. If you do get a Photoshop-specific book, just make sure it’s aimed at photography rather than graphic design or general usage tools (unless you want to learn how to do those types of things).

I really liked the editing tips in this one. He covers the basics very well, but he also gets into a lot of the advanced techniques specific to photographers. The other nice thing about the book is that it comes with a CD that has all the tutorial photos on it so you can do the editing yourself while you read the tutorial. Like I said in the review, the photo editing section is the largest (I think it’s about 220 pages out of the 500 total).

April 12, 2007 10:19 am

Thanks for pointing this book out. I’m just getting started with photography, having recently picked up a dSLR and a couple of lenses. I have a lot to learn and this book looks like exactly what I need. Thanks also for your blog. Getting ideas and pointers from people like you is a tremendous help.

April 13, 2007 10:55 am

No problem Robert. I was pretty much in the same spot you’re in just about a year ago. The book is a good one, and I’m going to try to get an interview with the author to pick his brain as a photographer. Thanks for reading, I’m glad you enjoy the content.

April 13, 2007 11:03 am

I ordered the book from amazon and it should arrive tomorrow. I really hope it is as good as you claim it is ;)

April 13, 2007 7:30 pm

That’s great news, I’m sure you’ll find it useful. You’re going to be busy for the next couple of weeks. You’ll have to let me know what you think of it after you give it a read. I made my Dad buy one last year and I haven’t heard any complaints from him yet.

April 13, 2007 7:53 pm

I got it today and i am already on page 160. That should tell you something about how I like it ;) It’s really a great read, even though some parts appear a bit date (since technology has come some way since 2005 again). But it is very interesting, with lots of useful tips.

April 14, 2007 3:46 pm

Sounds like you’re tearing it apart the same way I did. I’m glad you like it so far. It’s a pretty good deal for $25.

April 14, 2007 3:59 pm

The funny thing is that I didn’t even realize how fast I was going though the pages. And I was really reading them (apart from the “choosing a camera chapter”)

April 14, 2007 6:00 pm

Good review Brian. I’ll have to chase down a copy.
- Paul @

May 25, 2007 2:57 am

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