Derrick Story's Digital Photography Pocket Guide is meant to be a small, light reference book that you can easily carry around with your camera for those moments when you're trying to take a picture but you've forgotten what technique to use in a given instance. It is written in three chapters: the first chapter details the basic mechanics of your camera, the second explains how to use the features of the camera, and the third becomes more task oriented. The book is written for the amateur photographer who bought a simple digicam and wants to take more than just boring snapshots with it.

In the first chapter, the author details with diagrams all the buttons and dials that are likely to be on your camera. Of course, since this book isn't written for any one specific camera, he has to make generalisations about what buttons are present, and where. That's fine. He goes into a decent amount of detail about what things are likely to be on the front, back, top, bottom, and inside of the camera.

The second chapter lists all the controls, knobs, and features of the camera in alphabetical order, and explains what they do. Sorting them alphabetically makes it work well as a reference book, but can make it hard to read through in order as it tends to jump around subjects a lot. For example, the chapter starts with Aperture Priority Mode and goes into detail about depth of field and how to use this information to take a better portrait; portraiture is mentioned again in the Flash Modes section, explaining when to use fill flash. If you're a total newbie to photography, you might find this fascinating, but if you already have a basic understanding of how to use your camera, you'll probably find this chapter fairly dry.

The third chapter is where this book really shines. The information is now organized by what you are trying to accomplish, not by the feature you'd be using. The author provides great tips & tricks for a variety of photographic subjects such as taking outdoor portraits, capturing existing light portraits, taking interesting kid shots, taking pictures at weddings, and much, much more.

For the most part, the information in chapter three is accurate and useful. But there is one major error that I feel the need to correct. On page 83, the author begins his section on shooting architecture like a pro, where he explains that sometimes buildings will come out looking distorted because the camera is not parallel to the planes of the building. This is utter nonsense.

The real reason that straight lines in buildings come out looking bent or curved in a photograph is because the angle of the lens is too wide. If the angle is too wide, you'll get fisheye effects that distort everything. You don't normally notice this in portraiture because people's faces are soft & curvy to begin with, but when photographing buildings, you see curved lines where you expect straight ones, and it looks wrong. You can see the same effect experimentally by altering the Field of View (FOV) settings of some popular first person shooter video games such as HalfLife or Quake. By changing the FOV to 180 degrees, you see a very pronounced fisheye effect, and by decreasing the FOV in steps of 10, you can see the fisheye gradually subside. It doesn't matter what angle the camera is at relative to the subject of the photograph, only the angle (FOV) of the lens you're using.

The author's advice for eliminating this effect is to elevate yourself so that you can take a picture parallel to the plane of the building. That simply won't work, and it's rarely possible to elevate yourself in this way. The actual technique is to get far away, and then zoom in. By zooming in, you're reducing the FOV of your camera. Since the angle of your lens is now narrower, this means there will be less distortion in the resulting photograph.

Ironically, the author goes on to say that it is acceptable to zoom in on a small part of the building, which won't show the curvature because there is less of the building visible to show it. While it's true that zooming in will reduce the effect of the curvature, it's apparent that the author doesn't understand why this is true, and it leads him to give bad advice. If what he was saying is true, then it won't matter if you're zoomed in or not: if you can see the whole building, it'll be curved. This is simply not the case; Wikipedia has more information on this, see: Angle of view and Perspective projection distortion.

review by
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This book was just what I was looking for. As an amateur photographer with a point-and-shoot digital camera, I was interested in a concise book that would explain what each of the settings would be useful for. The Digital Photography Pocket Guide does exactly that, with side-by-side photographs with different settings. Then it goes on to detail what settings to use for different types of photos (landscapes, action, etc). For a primer on digital photography, this book does everything right.

One feature I would like to see in the next edition would be a summary in Chapter 1: 'What Is It' for a buyer's suggestion guide. For instance, 'for a webcam, these are the features to watch for', 'For a casual point-and-shoot camera, a minimum 3-megapixel camera that can use NiMH batteries and minimum x2 optical zoom', etc. It may be useful to have the profiling information handy on a single page when it comes time to actually buy the camera.

This book gets a well-deserved 9 out of 10. A resounding round of applause to Derrick Story.