Author: Lee Varis

Publisher: Course Technology Cengage Learning

Review by Conrad J. Obregon

Once the setting of aperture, shutter speed and ISO to get an exposure is learned by a photographer, a major problem of exposure is getting the larger range of light seen by the human eye to fit into the more limited range of light seen by a camera, so that the details the eye sees in shadow and bright areas appears as something more than the black and white shown in the image created by the camera. This was the problem that Ansel Adams tried to conquer in the development of the zone system. Many digital photographers are happy just to keep the camera’s histogram to the right and manipulate the sliders in software to recover as much data as possible. In Mastering Exposure and the Zone System for Digital Photographers, Lee Varis offers his somewhat unusual update to the problem.

After a few brief words about workflow and Lightroom software, Varis offers his interpretation of some of Adams’ theory, using a black to white tonal scale. Next he discusses camera tonal calibration so that the photographer can set exposure compensation before taking a single image, and then calibrating Lightroom for accurate colors. In the next chapter he presents several images, some in color and others in black-and-white, with his considerations in selecting his exposure. He follows this with a chapter on post-processing, with a heavy emphasis on using LAB color to create pictures that I would characterize as having a lot of visual “pop”. There is a chapter on High Dynamic Range (HDR) processing which he refers to as the fine art of cheating, and then he finishes with some speculation on what direction photographic technology will take.

Varis is not for beginners. He assumes the reader will know the relationship between shutter speed, aperture and ISO. He assumes the reader will understand what all of the sliders and buttons in Lightroom and Photoshop do. He even assumes the reader will understand the LAB color space, although I confess that I have found understanding this space difficult (and to my way of thinking, not very useful.) The chapter on HDR covers the facilities in Photoshop and Photomatix Pro in a cursory fashion that will not help most people to understand the use of either software, but which Varis uses as a springboard to further application of LAB color.

The way that Varis is not for beginners is typically shown in his discussion of color calibration. The author almost glosses over the fact that each digital camera, even within the same model line, varies slightly in the accuracy of the color it captures, and indeed, there are some colors that it are beyond the capability of many cameras to capture accurately. To compensate for that Adobe in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw provides a color calibration facility. Bit even the profiles provided by Adobe reflect only certain averages for cameras and are not usually accurate for the individual camera. To come as close as possible as the actual color of subjects, Varis recommends calibrating the processing software to the individual camera. (Indeed, for certain uses such as product photography it may even be necessary to calibrate the camera for the individual shoot. That’s why manufacturers like X-rite sell color charts to aid in accurate calibration.)

Most photographers are happy enough with the profiles provided by Adobe, if they even care about calibrating their camera. But for those who do care for a greater degree of accuracy Varis provides instruction in the proper way to color calibrate an individual camera.

Ultimately all of this calibration only moves the image to a few parts of a stop greater range and many photographers may not think it worth the effort. Add to that that Varis occasionally offers unusual advice like setting the contrast slider in Lightroom to zero to start with rather than Adobe’s default setting of 50 and readers may wonder about his advice.

Still there is an audience for this work. The skilled photographer who is not satisfied with the standard RGB color space and is interested in exploring some new techniques which may or may not prove helpful may wish to explore this book.


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  1. […] Mastering Exposure and the Zone System for Digital Photographers Author: Lee Varis Publisher: Course Technology Cengage Learning Review by Conrad J. Obregon Once the setting of […] […]

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