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Most would say that digital photography has been around for ten years; Stephen Johnson would say that we are still in the Stone Age.

Book Review: Stephen Johnson on Digital Photography By Stephen Johnson

Digital photography is one of the fastest growing segments of the consumer electronics market and the number of books written on the subject is enormous. The number of good books written that encompass the whole that is digital photography is small, the number of great ones smaller still. This is a great book.

If asked, most would say that digital photography has been around for five to ten years and is maturing rapidly. Stephen Johnson would say that we are still in the Stone Age. He would say that we have figured out how to make some tools and that we are only now figuring out what to do with them.

Johnson wrote the book he would like to read and it shows. It is a stunning book that brings together the vastness of the topic into a single handbook. It has some truly magnificent landscape images that show the artistic talent of the author.

While there are many books that show us tricks to perform tasks or give us guidance on how to create something, especially in Photoshop. This is not one of them. This book is a compendium about the process of photography, not about the tools.

Yes, he does discuss equipment and computers as well as the software used to manipulate images such as Photoshop, but as he said in an online podcast with Sara Peyton, he was not out to write another "how to do it in Photoshop" book. He was out to write a book that brought together those items that have been missing in most of the books on the market today.

It is the technical aspects that most books deal with that frustrate the author, as well as the lack of discussion into the aesthetics and the heart behind the image. This has always been my personal viewpoint. I can perform step one, step two, step three and so on. Where I want to go is into the mind of the artist and see with their eyes. This is what allows me to learn and grow. This is one of the appealing aspects of this book and what sets it apart from many on the market.

In the parlance of an all-encompassing book, Stephen Johnson on Digital Photography is more of a Bible than anything else. It begins with the history of digital photography. This is something that the author feels is often overlooked, but nonetheless important to the understanding of the digital landscape.  He then takes us through the process and workflow of the digital image artist. He then finishes with thoughts about the importance of honesty and ethics in the digital world.

This topic of ethics is clearly important to the author and I share that interest. In this day and age, it is too easy to change images to perform the task of manipulation. While, from an artistic standpoint, there is nothing wrong with this, the artist must be honest with their audience and let them know that something has been changed. As well, the viewer of an image must be skeptical that this may not be reality. I like one of Stephen's guide lines for the ethics of digital images. The basic tenant is that as long as you do not add something to the image or take something away from the image.

Stephen Johnson is an internationally recognized digital pioneer who specializes in landscape photography. He has taught photography since 1977, both at the college level as well as in his own workshop programs. He is a consultant for clients such as Kodak, Epson, Foveon and Hewlett-Packard as well as with Adobe on the development of Photoshop. In 2003 he was inducted into the Photoshop hall of fame.

It is hard task to try to describe the evolutions of digital photography, entwine it with an explanation of the technology, and describe the building of a digital process, but Johnson does it with the same master's touch he brings to his photographic images.

While he includes how-to segments on controlling the digital image, scanning, printing and archiving he does it with the eye of a teacher. He provides the right balance for the beginner who wants to move to the next level as well as for the journeyman who wants to make the transition from film to a frontier.

About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.

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