Book Review: "Digital Photography Expert Techniques" by Ken Milburn

200702bc_milburncovdpet Reviewed By Ron Eggers

There are countless photography and digital imaging books on the market, and the list is growing all the time. While some do a good job at covering the topics they're supposed to, few provide as complete an overview of their subject as Ken Milburn's "Digital Photography Expert Techniques," published by O'Reilly.

It is comprehensive, informative and, just as important, very readable. It contains a lot of technical information, but it doesn't get bogged down in mind-numbing photographic formulas and incomprehensible computer jargon. The first time around, it's best to work through it one chapter after another as it's written. After that, it works as well as a reference book as it does an instructional text.

Released in October, 2006, this second edition of the 400-page volume, has been significantly revised to take into account the various changes in digital imaging since the first release in March of 2004. Milburn has set a series of very ambitious goals for the book. For the most part, he accomplished what he set out to do. The most important objective is to help photographers get organized. The book provides step-by-step instructions on how to do that, all the way from initially editing captured files to presenting optimized images to clients and archiving image libraries.

The entire book revolves around the digital imaging workflow. An effective digital imaging workflow can make all the difference in managing a productive, and profitable, image library. The 12 chapters take readers through the entire digital capture, optimization and output process, specifically working in Adobe Photoshop CS2. It starts with planning for a non-destructive workflow. The first chapter puts the entire book into perspective, explaining workflow concepts and some of the rationales involved in the process.

Planning is important, and the planning process starts before an image is ever captured. The starting point for Milburn is to make sure that the best picture possible is captured, which includes selecting the right equipment and effectively planning before doing any shooting.

As he points out, the book isn't really intended as a guide to camera equipment, but it does briefly cover such essentials as the types of digital cameras, resolution, flash and lighting options, metering techniques and steadying devices such as tripods and monopods. Some of the material in the early parts of the book is a little too basic for the intended serious-photographer audience, but those sections would be helpful for photographers who are interested in moving into the professional ranks.

The book shifts into high gear with the information about using CS2's Bridge application. Customizable workspaces and rapid image organizational techniques lay the groundwork for the rest of the workflow. The sections on working with Adobe Camera Raw are loaded with useful  information. The book also extols the values and advantages of Adobe's .DNG digital negative file format as a more generic, but still nondestructive, file format.

Milburn concedes that there are times when shooting JPEG, rather than RAW, is the right approach, though those times are very limited. He points out that, even when shooting JPEG, it's a bad idea to manipulate in that file format. Each time a JPEG file is opened and closed, it's recompressed with additional data loss. How many photographers have opened, worked on and saved JPEG files repeatedly, without thinking about the non-intended destructive consequences of doing that. It's much better to save the JPEG file as an uncompressed TIFF than to continue to degrade it. That's a simple little tip, but it can make a difference.

The heart of the book consists of the creative techniques such as using nondestructive adjustment to optimize images and create remarkable compositions. The copy takes you through the process of repairing specific types of image defects as well as different types of optimization techniques. For example, tools like the healing brush, the patch tool and the cloning tool are all explained in detail.

Some of the best material in the book is the information on using layers. Each of the types of layers in CS2 is defined and explained in detail. There's a specific emphasis on which ones don't directly impact digital content and which ones directly affect the digital content of images. There's also a quick look at all the new layer features found in CS2, like layer linking.

Even though Milburn primarily concentrates on nondestructive image manipulation, he doesn't ignore the more common destructive image manipulation, such as retouching, photo compositing for collages and montages. Things like portrait enhancement tips, architecture techniques and still life retouching are also covered. Productivity techniques throughout the book show how it's possible to do things like renaming, processing and applying adjustment layers to multiple sets of images.

A separate Appendix covers various workflow alternatives. Milburn takes a cursory look at programs like Capture One Pro, RAW Shooter, Apple Aperture, Adobe Lightroom and iView Media Pro. There's information about each of the programs, but it's very limited. The general workflow information would be applicable for any photographer taking lots of pictures, but this is not the right book if you're going to use one of those programs as the primary application in a RAW workflow. It's too CS2 specific.

Milburn does a good job of presenting the pros and cons of most processes that he covers. Images and illustrations accompany all the important tools and techniques. "Expert Techniques" is Safari Enabled, meaning that it's available online through the O'Reilly Network Safari Bookshelf.

There are several authors whose books I generally try to look at when they first come out or are revised. For some reason, Milburn hadn't been on that list. After taking a closer look at "Digital Photography Expert Techniques," that's an oversight I'm going to correct.

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Comments (1)

Rob McAninch:

"Each time a JPEG file is opened and closed, it's recompressed with additional data loss." To be clear, simply opening and closing a JPEG does not recompress the file. At least not in properly written software. If the file is saved rather than simply closed then recompression will occur (if the file has not been altered and the sofware is smart enough then it may simply close the file rather than recompressing it).

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