Wednesday, May 29, 2013

REVIEW: The Digital Photography Book: Part 1 (2nd Edition) by Scott Kelby

The first edition of The Digital Photography Book (review) is probably the most frequently purchased single product from this blog, and one that I’ve verbally recommended to thousands of people. The reason for this is simple – it’s short, simple and just gets to the damn point on a huge number of questions EVERY new photographer has. With The Digital Photography Book: Part 1 (2nd Edition), Scott has refreshed the original title to be relevant to 2013.

Controversy Explained

While all the books in The Digital Photography Series are extremely useful to the new photographer, there are some seasoned photographers, sticklers for details, and web trolls who seem to erupt at the very mention of these books (and often the name Scott Kelby). The reason for this is often because Scott uses the KISS principle in this book to make a large amount of information easy to digest for an audience of all abilities. When making generalizations there are often details that can cause Scott’s advice to be technically inaccurate for special circumstances and that stresses some people out.

The truth of the matter is that no small children will be harmed if you take ALL of the advice in these books, and as you grow in your photography journey you’ll begin to recognize a few cases where Scott gave you sound generalized advice to get started but the devil in the details suggests a better way. A good analogy would be if you were teaching to someone to drive an automatic transmission car you’d just tell them to put the car in drive, release the brake and drive straight. You wouldn’t bother them with when and how they’d use 2nd gear or whey they should manually downshift when passing on a hill. In this example a good instructor isn’t even going to talk about reverse just yet because you just need to know that to make the car you put it in drive and when you stop you put it in park – they don’t need to know that you can also put the car in 2nd and the car will move forward for a better start in slippery conditions. If you can follow this example and understand the necessity of providing only what’s needed for hundreds of photography topics that you’ll face in your first months as a photographer, then you’ll love this book!

But Scott Contradicts Himself…

Web trolls are always quick to point out that Scott Kelby sometimes contradicts himself, but with the information above think about this for a second. If you told your driving student to just put the car in drive and go that’s a great first step. It’s not really a contraction to later say you’ll get better performance on hills if you don’t use drive and you manually shift through the gears. What you are doing in the latter statement is giving the more advanced student additional information when they are ready to hear it.

Two common contradiction examples that seem to get peoples panties in a bunch are:

  1. Scott says “when you want as much as possible in focus…just choose the highest [f-stop]number your lens will allow” – This causes pitchforks to come out! Discussions of diffraction, lens sharpness, and much more factor into what f-stop will offer the sharpest image and some would say “the best result”, and they are all totally valid arguments/facts. However, the largest f-stop number WILL offer the greatest depth of field, so Scott is absolutely correct. He just leaves out the dissertation (which could be its own book) on what factors and tradeoffs come into play in getting the best image with a large depth of field.
  2. Scott says in the book “good glass makes a big difference” but in his videos he often says that you don’t need expenses lenses. In fact he even touts sub $500 lenses (like the nifty 50 for $200) as being all you need to get a great shot. Of course when you ask him what gear he owns, he has a huge selection of very expensive lenses (including a lens that cost nearly $9000 these days!). However, Scott’s reality matches his book advice and it is a fact – great photos are made with cheap lenses too! Great photographers will make great photos with cell phones, old cameras, etc… so again there’s no contradiction – just context is necessary to understand why the different statements come up.

There’s many other examples too, but I used these two because they are both common and they illustrate how people sometimes freak out by clinging to words out of context. It’s also a fact that if you are given a sentence to generalize subjects that chapters or even books have been written about, then a language lawyer is going to eat your lunch. Don’t be fooled by the foolishness – Scott has given a LOT of great advice that has made lots of photographers successful. Many of those photographers have gone off to make a lot of money with their skills, so there’s a reason why the books in this series are the #1 top-selling digital photography books ever!

What’s New

Canon users will notice that this edition has more Canon product images than the predecessor, but all of the information applies to most DSLR and even mirrorless systems. In fact, the biggest part of what’s new are mostly the images and product mentions have become relevant with today’s models.

This book is about 20 pages longer and features a new chapter entitled “Ten Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me” which is a chapter I think most seasoned photographers will relate with.

Chapter by Chapter Walkthrough

  1. Pro Tips for Getting Really Sharp Photos – Want sharp photos? This is practical advice on how to do that quickly. When I first read this book I was new to digital photography and modern day SLR’s, so I really appreciated the practical advice given here. It mirrors what I tell my students in my own classes.
  2. Shooting Flowers Like A Pro – Macro photographers are an interesting bunch so they’ll drive you insane if you ask them this question. Scott offers great advice for normal people on how to get shots of flowers and other basic small objects that don’t suck – without spending a small fortune.
  3. Shooting Weddings Like A Pro – Okay books bigger than the bible can be written on this subject, so don’t hang your shingle out as a pro wedding photographer after reading this chapter. However, you’ll have some practical advice on how to prepare yourself for helping out a friend by taking some photos for them IN ADDITION to their pro wedding photographer. This is a huge subject though so Scott digs into this and others in other volumes of this series as one chapter simply just scratches the surface.
  4. Shooting Landscapes Like A Pro – This helps you know what you need to get your shot of the Grand Canyon or other common landscape, but again it’s just the beginning. For some this may be all you need to know, but for those with a passion in this area you’ll want to read Scott’s other books and those of other accomplished landscape photographers.
  5. Shooting Sports Like A Pro – This basically gets you set up for what you need to know to get good shots of your kids sports and offers a reality check on what’s required to get the shots YOU wish you could get at these games. It’s also good basic advice in case you luck out and find yourself on the sidelines of a college or better game.
  6. Shooting People Like A Pro – You probably won’t get hired by Maxim to do their covers after reading this chapter, but your spouse will probably be a lot happier with the shots you take! This is good basic advice for those getting started.
  7. Avoiding Problems Like A Pro – Some simple advice that would most likely come up if you went on a shoot with any experienced photographer.
  8. Taking Advantage of Digital Like A Pro – This is great advice even for some experience photographers who have started their photography journey only reading in-depth books which lack practical advice.
  9. Taking Travel & City Life Shots Like A Pro – This is one of my favorite chapters because it’s something we all do and it’s what I think Scott does best. His practical advice is sure to help you improve your “luck” at travel photography.
  10. How to Print Like A Pro and Other Cool Stuff – I’ve got a whole Printing Series and Printing 101 eBook on this subject, but Scott’s advice here boils it down the basics very well. Consider it a primer on what is probably the most complex thing to dive in and master in the art of Photography.
  11. Ten Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me – This is the new chapter filled with some sound advice that honestly many seasoned amateurs would be wise to listen to. Some people get so obsessed with reading, classes, gear and “the facts” that they forget that photography is supposed to be fun and you just need to get out there and shoot!
  12. Photo Recipes to Help You Get “The Shot” – This is how Scott finishes all of the books in this series and he’s even going to do a Volume 5 that is purely Photo Recipes. These are just cool shots with a quick blurb about how to get this type of shot, but in the new book it will have more depth to show you how to actually do it (including lighting setups). Scott also has a fantastic video (part 2) that expands on what is show to help you get the shot – I highly recommend the video or Kelby Training if you’d rather learn by example.


As a seasoned photographer I enjoy these books because they are filled with tips that sometimes make me think – hum, I should try that. Even when I find myself starting to say “yeah, but…”, when I really think about my photography students I think – yeah, this advice is “enough info” for the beginner. Many of the haters forget what it’s like to be new to photography and being overwhelmed with information by everyone who claims to be an expert.

I believe so strongly in the value of this book, I think it’s a book that every photographer should buy with their first digital camera purchase (including seasoned film photographers moving to digital). I give it my highest recommendation of any product featured on this blog. It’s also a the longest recommendation of my “Which Books Should I Read?” list.

What to know something else funny? This book is super easy to digest so you probably could have read a quarter of the book in the time it took you to read this article. When I got it I just put it in the restroom (don’t laugh) and I’d read a few pages on each visit. In less than a week I finished it and we didn’t even have any beans to eat that week!

This is also great to have on your Kindle or favorite eBook reading device!

Where to order

Click here to order this book at Amazon in your favorite format. Scott has a bunch of best-selling books that are great on his Amazon page as well.

Other articles you may enjoy

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy these:

And for those who are screaming “What about <insert your favorite author here>”, you can see my thoughts on other books in the right hand column of this blog where I keep my book reviews. Here’s a few other great books from other authors that I think are worth reading IN ADDITION to this book:

There’s tons more too with new ones coming out all of the time. Again, consult my book reviews and Which books should I read? article for more info.


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Stanley Osei said...

Excellent review! This gives me a fair idea of what the book really discusses even though I've not purchased one yet. Great advice and hope to get a copy soon!

Stanley Osei said...

Excellent review! This gives me a fair idea of what the book really discusses even though I've not purchased one yet. Great advice and hope to get a copy soon!

Anonymous said...

Nice review! I would love to have a copy of this second edition!