Digital Nature Photography –
From Capture to Output
By Joe and Mary Ann McDonald, Rick Holt
Reviewed by Jim Stuard
These days I find myself doing more and more reading on my computer. I had my new glasses made for just that purpose; the age-defining step of getting bifocals not withstanding. When Fly Fish Ohio got the book Digital Nature Photography – From Capture to Output for review I thought this would be a great opportunity to use the new spectacles and also see the state-of-the-art in computer-based reading. It doesn’t hurt that this computer book features some of the finest in digital nature photography! The ‘book’ arrives in a fairly flimsy CD case, but the disk has a very professional look to it. A $30 dollar disc, of any sort, should arrive in a more durable DVD-type case. The entire book is essentially one large Adobe Acrobat file, encoded as a Portable Document Format (,pdf). I wasn't especially surprised, this isn’t my first e-book. In fact, the first thing I learned not to do with digital books was to read them by opening the file on the CD. The latency between your CD drive and your screen is far too great to make for an enjoyable reading experience, especially with the large images present in this book. Just navigate in your computer to the CD drive and explore it. Copy the entire book to your hard drive and you’ll enjoy the most efficient and cleanest way to enjoy the work. It still may not be “lickety-split” fast on some older systems, but it’s far better than reading from your CD drive. If you don’t have the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Reader, get it here Some older versions of Acrobat Reader won’t let you use or view features present in the latest Acrobat files.
As to the book itself, it is a flat-out great resource for digital photographers that are just cutting their teeth in digital nature photography or are making the transition from film to digital. Seasoned professionals have less a reason to apply. This e-book could reside on a pro’s computer for reference, but they probably know most of what’s covered. I like the book’s flow of easy, simple steps that take you through the entire process of setting yourself up as a digital nature photographer. The material covers everything from choosing equipment, lenses, etc. to composition, exposure and image editing. The authors state, in the accompanying press release, that this book isn’t a Photoshop how-to, but they do offer their take on using that program for nature photographs. The work is very detailed and informative. I especially liked the simple explanation of digital image capture and shooting formats at the beginning of the book. The “matter of fact” methodology of the McDonalds is great!
You may be wondering "What does this book have to do with fly fishing?" If all you do is take a disposable camera fishing with you, then the answer is "not much.". On the other hand, many anglers are taking everything from high performance waterproof point-and-shoot cameras to completely tricked out digital SLR cameras to the water these days. Most of the point-and-shoot units have features that are also on the prosumer SLR's such as manual white balance, exposure and spot metering. This book can help demystify some of the jargon and myths surrounding outdoor photography. In a sense, it helps ensure that you're going to get great pictures of that trip of a lifetime!
Now to my one major gripe, the .pdf lay-out. Essentially the electronic file is set-up to look the same way as a paper version of the book. In my personal opinion, it should have been laid out for its final medium, the reader’s laptop or desktop screen. Most people don’t pay attention to the way they read something, but if they did they would find that they read a two column article or from the bottom of the left column to the top of the next column on the right. That’s simple and clean - until you do it on a computer. Now you have to try to manipulate the mouse (or worse, touchpad on a laptop) to drag the screen up to the top so you can read the start of the next part of the text.
Let me provide an example of digital how-to presented correctly and in a very readable digital format. Here is a piece from Popular Woodworking magazine’s online efforts. It's from their ‘I Can Do That’ manual. It’s well presented and the art direction is done such that the images are sized such that they don’t delay your ability to scroll through the book. The text is designed to be read on a monitor, not a printed page, so it’s in smaller chunks. This is digital publishing done right.
Digital Nature Photography suffers from it’s insistence on looking like a printed page. The big images in this book are breathtaking, but they’re far too big for rapid panning during reading. A hypertext link from a modest thumbnail image to a full resolution version would speed things up. I have a very fast custom-built computer and I experienced serious redrawing lag while reading the book. Redraw lag is where the image is so data intensive that it slows one’s ability to move around easily in a document. This is unacceptable. Future editions of Digital Nature Photography should address this issue, especially as the author is addressing a DIGITAL world in a DIGITAL medium. The copy, too needs attention. If you zoom the page so you can easily read from the bottom of the left column to the upper beginning of the right column, the text is uselessly small on anything less than a 20” home monitor.
Speed bumps are to be expected in the transition from paper to digital books. This isn’t a reason to forego buying this wonderful resource, but it is annoying. Digital Nature Photography is recommended. Digital Nature Photography - From Capture to Output’ can be purchased for $29.95, which includes postage/handling from McDonald Wildlife Photography, Inc., 73 Loht Road, McClure, Pa. 17841, (717) 543-6423 or they can be contacted from their website at www.hoothollow.com.
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