Saturday, August 8, 2009

REVIEW: The Digital Photography Book - Volume 3

When you’re hot, you’re hot and right now there’s nobody in the Photography education world hotter than Scott Kelby. He’s releasing books faster than I can read them, but the good news is that they are almost all fantastic books! The best part is that his books will save you a ton of time by “getting to the point” so you aren’t buried in theory or bored by looking at someone’s photo album disguised as a reference book. The latest in his series of successful books is the all new Digital Photography Book – Volume 3, that picks up where Volume 2 left off. In fact, I’d go so far to say that this book rivals the first volume for its importance to the Photography newcomer as it is simply a fantastic (and thankfully short) read!

Background on this series

In case you aren’t familiar with this series (in which case you should pause from reading this and order your copies now), this series contains a TON of information in roughly 225 pages per edition. However, Scott is a master at making the most complex concepts trivial to understand, so each topic is one short page with a nice image and a brief paragraph that just tells it like it is. If you want to know how to do X, he’ll answer it in a paragraph that will work for 90% of the scenarios the average newcomer to intermediate photographer will encounter. As Scott says in Volume 1, “I’ll tell you like I’d tell a friend who was out in the field shooting with me (i.e., set your camera to x and take the picture).” He won’t bore you with theory or background, he’ll just tell you (or show you) how to get killer results. He’ll tell you what tripod to get, what lens you should get for a given scenario (Canon and Nikon), etc… When you buy these books, it’s as if you are buying Scott Kelby as a friend and asking him all every question you can imagine!

I love these books because I’ve seen first hand how much they’ve helped me as well as thousands of my friends, blog readers, etc… improve their photography drastically in a very short period of time! In fact, one of my friends (Rafael Goodman) was with me on a business trip and we started talking about Photography. Upon my recommendation, he ordered some gear (which he bought based on my Which DSLR should I buy? review) and picked up the V1 & V2 books for the flight home from his trip (where he proceeded to read them – twice!!!!). It what couldn’t have been more than a couple weeks, he shows me his first photo from his new DSLR :

WOW! That’s a great shot and killer processing for a guy that had been a point and shoot photographer with no significant photo editing skills just a couple weeks before! When I asked him how he did it – he said “I read Kelby’s books twice and got the camera you recommended, and I just did what Kelby said to do”. Of course, I felt a bit inferior at that point because this guy just blew away most of what I had taken up to that point – in his first shoot! He’s still taking awesome images like these today! Rafael obviously natural talent, but I think anyone can improve their photography drastically by reading these books which is why they are at the top of my list for my recommended books. Volume 3 is phenomenal, so despite your skill level I highly recommend you read it because you are guaranteed to walk away with a ton of useful tips and gadgets you’ll want to buy!

Chapter-by-Chapter Walkthrough

In this section I’ll do a quick review of each chapter to help you understand why I like this book so much. One note is that you’ll notice most chapters end with “Like A Pro”. Don’t confuse this as meaning this book is for pros – it’s not – it’s for beginners, but it just a series of topics that will help elevate the results you can achieve from your own camera.

A Word about the Introductions to each Chapter

If you are new to Scott Kelby books (then you should be reading other books first), you might be surprised at some of his introduction chapters. The important thing to remember here is that they are all intended to be comic relief and it isn’t necessary to read them. I read them because some are quite comical, like Chapter 2’s intro that reads:

Back in Volume 2, I showed you how, using just a simple, thin piece of plastic that fits easily into your wallet, you can complete and fully outfit a one-light-studio from scratch.

For the serious types, that’s a joke and that piece of plastic is your credit card. It’s subtle humor, but many will have you laughing out loud! However, if you’re the type who find that annoying, then I’ll warn you now to just skip the intros and get to the good stuff that happens later in each chapter. The only exception to this rule is at the begining of the book you shouldn’t miss the  “9 Things You’ll Wish You Had Known Before Reading This Book!”. It is like a book orientation and has important info like the book web site and more.

Chapter 1 – Using a Flash Like a Pro, Part 2

While it is kind of odd for a book to start off with a Part 2 chapter, it makes total sense here as this book is really like day 3 of hanging out with Scott and asking him questions. Most of the topics presented here are things you should eventually learn about, but it might have been too much to absorb in Volume 2. These books are great, but they do bombard you with a lot of info so it’s usually a good idea to read and experiment as you complete a chapter.

The cool thing about this chapter is that most of the advice Scott gives here are low cost solutions to help you improve your flash photography (which let’s face it, most of us need as much help as we can get!).

Chapter 2 – Using Your Studio Like a Pro

Okay, so the beginner isn’t going to have a studio and this might not be something you are even interested in. However, take the 10 minutes it takes to read this chapter because there are some concepts (i.e., gray card, flash sync black bar, etc…) that you’ll face even if you never own a studio. If you do have a studio, then there’s some really good stuff in here that you’ll appreciate – especially if you are just getting started (and there’s credit left on your credit card <g>).

Chapter 3 – The Truth About Lenses

This is probably a topic which should have been in Volume 1, because my highly popular Which lens should I buy? article has proven that people are still very confused about lenses. This chapter is way better than my article because it does dive a little into the “why” and “how”, but it also shows pictures and makes recommendations. I’d consider it a good intro for my article and a solid piece of advice for any newcomer (despite “Pro” being in the title").

I was a little disappointed with some of his recommendations in the “Scott’s Gear Finder” sections because sometimes they didn’t make a lot of sense. For example, for the wide angle recommendation, a 24mm prime lens is a fine lens, but users with a cropped sensor aren’t going to get very wide results with that lens. In fact, Scott even alludes to the fact that zooms are better, so why he didn’t recommend them is very odd to me. A Canon shooter with a cropped sensor is going to be much better off with a 10-22mm and a Nikon cropped sensor shooter will want the 12-24mm.

That quibble aside, this is a great chapter with lots of great advice that you shouldn’t miss (and will likely find yourself referencing again in the future).

Chapter 4 – Shooting Products Like a Pro

This chapter is a series of tricks of the trade that you’ll read and say “yeah, that makes total sense”. Of course, you probably weren’t doing it before, so that’s why this chapter is so useful. Now you may say that “product” photography isn’t important to you, but you’ll inevitably find this chapter useful when you are taking picture of the Thanksgiving table or your kids first trophy. Add these concepts to your mental rolodex because you’ll find yourself using them one day!

Chapter 5 – Shooting Outdoors Like a Pro

This chapter could also be named “How to Shoot Travel Pictures That Don’t Suck”, because the tips in here are rock solid to help you accomplish just that. Seriously, how many times have you seen your pictures after a great vacation to a Photographers paradise (Hawaii, Dublin, Paris, etc…) where you thought the shots didn’t look as good as it did in real life. The tips here will help you help you to get results that make your images look BETTER than it did in real life, so study this chapter carefully!

Chapter 6 – Shooting People Like a Pro

This is all basic advice which is useful, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’ll be posting some reviews that go in depth on this subject which might be more useful, and Bryan Peterson’s Beyond Portraiture is always a good place to start. Consider this chapter a basic essentials to go with the great advice in the previous two books on a subject for which millions of trees have died as Photographers try to explain their tricks of the trade.

Chapter 7 – Shooting Sports Like a Pro

While most of us will never get a chance to shoot beyond the stands for pro sports, most parents will find themselves at the sidelines of their kids soccer, football, basketball, etc… game where the tips here will come in useful. In addition, when you do get to go to those cool sports events, its nice to get great images to add to your sports photo collection. There’s sound advice in this chapter that is like chapter 6 where it just touches the tip of the iceberg. However, it can be exciting to capture the energy of a sport shoot so that when you go through those 500 shots you took during little Johnny’s soccer championship game, there’s something worth framing on the wall.

Chapter 8 – Pro Tips or Getting Better Photos

I’d call these basic tips for scenarios where you’ve probably tried and failed to get a good shot (i.e., concerts, nightscapes, home interiors, etc…). There’s lots of good stuff here both for your photography as well as your post processing. The most important tip is on page 188 though, as most beginners are very hard on themselves. The reality is that all pros (who aren’t lying to you) shoot a lot of shots during a shoot, but may only come away with a handful of keepers. You (the public) don’t see those shots with his camera strap in the frame, or the wrong exposure – instead, you just see the masterpiece shot and think – why don’t my shots look like that. The reality is that nobodies perfect, so it takes a ton of practice to get great shots. Since conditions always change, lessons learned on Shoot A may not apply to Shoot B, so it’s good to see Scott put in writing what everyone knows – 10 keepers out of 240 isn’t a bad day!

Chapter 9 – Avoiding Problems Like a Pro

This chapter is choc full of VERY good advice – especially on page 204 where he mentions “Don’t let the Small Screen Fool You!” as I’ve noticed this has become a bigger problem with today’s higher megapixel cameras and their super high-res displays. With so many pixels packed into such a small space, every shot looks good – but when you get it home on your huge display you see that it was super blurry! Don’t forget to zoom in and check your images before walking away from memorable locations (i.e., The Eiffel Tower, Graduation, Baptism etc…) to make sure that your intended subject isn’t super blurry!

For every book, I like to point out the one chapter that is the must read if you do nothing else (or for you cheapos – the chapter to read when you are in Barnes and Noble), and this is definitely that chapter for this book. There’s tons of great info throughout this book, but this is the one that you’ll thank yourself for reading at some point.

Chapter 10 – Yet Even More Photo Recipes to Help You Get “The Shot”

Each of the Digital Photography Book’s contains a chapter like this at the end, but this book has probably the most depth and volume of information of any of the 3 books. Even still, I find myself frustrated wanting to know more, and thankfully in this book Scott had the foresight to think of that by offering additional images and setup information elsewhere in the book or on the web for the shots presented in this chapter. In fact, I like this chapter so much I’d love to see Scott and Peachtree Press take on the challenge of doing an entire book like this where shots are given a chapter instead of a page and they are covered from pre-capture through post processing (think 7-Point-System style). I think it would be a great hit and a great addition to the Kelby book franchise!

Gear Summary

Scott mentions a lot of gear in this book and I can’t say there’s anything he mentions that I’d disagree with. In fact, I already have the Bogen/Manfrotto Justin Spring Clamp with Flash Shoe and two Canon 580EX II flashes (or Nikon Speedlight SB-900 for Nikon shooters) which have served me well.

Here’s a quick list of some of my favorite gadgets mentioned in the book that immediately went on my wish list:

Canon Compact Battery Pack CP-E4 (or Nikon SD-9 Battery Pack for the SB-900 Speedlight for Nikon Shooters)

Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lens (or Nikkor AF 10.5mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lens for Nikon Shooters)

Elinchrom BXRi 500/500 To-Go 2 Monolight Kit with 17" Elinchrom beauty dish

Epson P-7000 Multimedia Photo Viewer

ExpoImaging ExpoDisc

Gitzo G-065 monitor platform

Kata KT E-702 Elements Cover

Lastolite 24x24 inch Ezybox

Lastolite HiLite Illuminated Background

Lastolite Studio Cubelite (product shooting tent)

Lastolite Trilite triflector

Lensbaby Composer

Manfrotto by Bogen Imaging 131DD Tripod Accessory Arm for Four Heads

Manfrotto Lightweight 6'2" Nano stand

PocketWizard MiniTT1 Radio Slave Transmitter

Ray Flash

Westcott TD5 Spiderlite kit

I won’t be running out and grabbing these right away, but I definitely hope to get a few here and there as my finances (and wife <g>) will allow.

Get All Three Digital Photography Books

The Digital Photography Book and The Digital Photography Book - Volume 2 have been on my Which Books Should I Read? list since they came out, so it should come as no surprise that The Digital Photograph Book – Volume 3 is immediately added to that list. I recommend getting all three in this nice hard cover case as you’ll find yourself going back to read or reference these books over and over (or at least you should be if you are smart).


In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I love this book just as much as the first two editions. It is a short and simple read, but with lots of great recommendations that will make an immediate impact on your photography if you follow the easy to understand advice.

Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate
Value: Excellent (worth 10 times as much for what you learn)
Recommendation: After you read Volumes 1 & 2, you should read this book. Read the others first though.

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The opinions provided are of Ron Martinsen alone and do not reflect the view of any other entity


Neil Enns said...

I'm not sure what his recommendation reasons are for the Epson P-7000, but as a field backup device it's way overpriced. Instead, grab a Hyperdrive Colorspace UDMA. Their 160GB model is $359. Or you can buy the shell only for $249 and get whatever drive you like from a place like Newegg.


Just A Guy With A Camera said...

I'm working my way through volume 3 having just finished volume 1 and 2. You really do need to read them in sequence to get the most out of them. I love the chapter intros. One thing that does disappoint me in this volume is there seems to be a lot less prices listed for the gear he says he uses (I understand prices change but it's a good idea to know what something costs when you're reading about it instead of having to put the book down and look the price up). I also don't like all of the "To see the final shot visit my web site" and "To see a video, visit my web site". Granted you can't show the video in the book but you could show the final version on another page or a small version of it on the same page. I know I may sound pretty negative about the book but that's not really the case. I only wish I had it before taking 200 product shots for eBay (Gotta support that photography habit, you know).

Steve said...

I enjoyed the book a lot. I read it online at

While great, this book seemed more basic than 1 and 2. If you have re-read and implemented all that you learned from 1 and 2, vol. 3 doesn't offer that much.

But for a beginner it is pretty great.

Also, what I liked about books 1 and 2 are that Kelby was very budget conscious. In book 3 some of his pages read more like advertisements. At one point he recommends a $1,500 studio strobe kit (which isn't a bad deal for what you get), but doesn't offer any other options.

If new to photography this book is a 10, if not, go check it out at the library.

But I am glad I read it.