Thursday, October 7, 2010

Book Review: Science For The Curious Photographer


Science For The Curious Photographer
by Charles S. Johnson, Jr.


I like the overall look of this book. The use of a two-column format worked well for me, though as a digital book, it required more scrolling up-and-down which might be annoying to some. It is full of illustrations and diagrams to illustrate the author's point, all of which are very helpful.

I appreciated his use of "further reading" references at the end of each chapter, as well as his included quotes at the beginning of each chapter.

I was a little baffled by the included "appendixes" at the end of the book, as they seemed to be as long as some of the chapters themselves.


My first observation is, "What is NOT covered in this book?" I admit I hesitated at first to read it because I am notorious for being "technically challenged". Even the title was intimidating to me. In the end, this book really reinforced that quality in me, and I left off feeling a bit "dumb".

In essence, the author takes a camera and dissects it from stem to stern. He discusses both the history of photography itself and historical aspects of all the elements needed to create a photograph. He scientifically describes light, types of cameras, and the creation of camera lenses. Also covered are how camera filters work (neutral density, polarizing, and color filters) with a lengthy section on optics.

This brings me to my second observation - this book is extremely detailed. Every subject is approached from a scientific point of view. Even the chapter on art, which includes a discussion on compositional rules, comes across in that manner. Often the words used are out of the vocabulary of an amateur photographer. Eventually, they are defined, but only after wading through a lot of formulas first to locate them.

A constant reference is made to other chapters. This is both positive and negative for me. It provides a good way for people to move about in the book. However, it also becomes tedious.

Another positive is that the author is careful to include the workings of digital cameras in his explanations. He talks considerably about digital topics - pixels, sensor sizes, etc. - as well as film.


If you are of a scientific mind, then this book is for you. I can think of a couple photographers who will enjoy it. Absolutely every topic involves math equations of some sort. (This is where the diagrams are very helpful.) He covers any topic you'd ever need to know about in the design and creation of cameras and lenses. (I'm not sure how this will help you take better photographs, however.)

I liked the author's explanation on the shape of various lenses and how this affects the aberrations in a photograph.

There is a good description on the best equipment to use for macro photography. (However, if you "cut out" all the math, in the end this section seems short.)

The author also makes a valid point (which I totally agree with) about the danger of over-processing in the use of HDR photography.


If you are like myself, non-technical, then you will dislike this book (a fact the author himself acknowledges at the beginning). At times, I felt like I was swimming in too much information. The author is obviously very smart. It is not a book for the beginner. A lot of knowledge is needed to even begin reading.

Portions of the book could have been greatly simplified to appeal more to the amateur photographer. For this reason, this book only fits in with a very limited selection of people.

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Suzanne Williams Photography
Florida, USA

Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.

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