The BetterPhoto Guide to Exposure (A Book by Sean Arbabi)


We photographers are easily misunderstood.  Outsiders have a lot of misconceptions about our work.  It is believed that our photographs are exclusively the products of planned compositions and a good eye.  While that may be the case, our work is really defined and judged by exposure.  Exposure is the single most important aspect of what we do.  It is also the most difficult aspect to master.  In his latest book, ‘The BetterPhoto Guide to Exposure’, Sean Arbabi aims to share his wealth of knowledge on the topic.


The book is only concerned with exposure and anything that would affect exposure.  Other aspects of photography, such as composition or equipment, are not within the scope of this book and are not covered.  The guide is divided into eight chapters, each focusing on a piece of puzzle covering such topics as Lighting, Metering and so on.  Arbabi includes nine assignments, little mini projects you can attempt with your own camera in order to better understand the topic at hand.  Additionally, you will find a compulsory photographic examples, a number of side-bar tips, a complete index and a list of resources.

The Guide is what I like to call a How & Why book.  Many books, even popular ones, are written with the belief that the why will confuse the reader.  I would disagree.  The science and theory behind a technique is important to being able to adapt your skills.  Arbabi must share my opinion.  This book explains a lot of the science behind such techniques, but Arbabi does not get long winded, nor does he make assumptions as to your skill.  Exposure, as you know, is the sum of a number of things:  lighting, aperture, shutter speed, ISO – it’s a lot to think about.  Arbabi breaks each component down with simple language and excellent examples from his own portfolio.

This guide is really written for a novice photographer who is comfortable with their camera.  Arbabi does not spend time on such topics as composition.  And you won’t find him discussing how to change settings on your camera.  In fact, every aspect of the book remains completely on topic with only one small exception:  A sub-chapter at the end of the book about organizing cataloging your digital files.  It’s interesting to get into the author’s mind with respect to workflow, but I question its purpose in this book.  The chapter seems out of place in a book about exposure.

For beginners and novices, the guide is an excellent resource.  As I mentioned above, Arbabi doesn’t saddle the reader with composition advice or the like.  So you will be able to focus on getting great exposure.  Arbabi’s simple approach and explanations will leave you with few questions and a clear understanding of the techniques discussed.

Meanwhile, more experienced photographers should already understand most of the concepts discussed throughout the book.  For these photographers, the book would only serve as a source of mental refreshment or reference.  Though I will admit that there were at least a few items that were not previously part of my own knowledge.

For everyone, Chapter 6, titled ‘Difficult Exposures’, is going to be the most useful chapter of the book.  In the book’s introduction, Arbabi mentions the way you approach exposure will change depending on the situation and a number of variables.  The key to understaning such a complicated aspect of photography is best learned through experience, practice and example.  The ‘Difficult Exposures’ chapter explores a number of scenarios in which achieving a technically perfect may not be possible.  But as Arbabi points out, there is a lot of potential in an exposure that isn’t technically perfect, and he shares his tips and ideas in this chapter.  Reading how he handles specific situations and seeing the resulting photos is an excellent way to learn.

Final Thoughts

If you’re relatively new to photography, this is a book that I would highly recommend adding to your personal library.  Your work will benefit greatly from the wisdom and tips that can be garnered from The BetterPhoto Guide to Exposure.  The book will also be beneficial to intermediate photographers, especially that last chapter about difficult exposures.  But advanced photographers may find this book a little too elementary and of little value.

At a Glance

The Desirable

  • Great and pertinent examples illustrating techniques and possible solutions.
  • Several photo comparisons clearly illustrating the benefit of filters or adjustments.
  • Well designed assignments that allow you to practice new-found techniques.

The Undesirable

  • The resource list is a nice touch, but it nearly devoid of web links. Edit:  As the author so kindly pointed out, the resource list has weblinks included for nearly all of the resources listed.  I guess as a webmaster with 13 years experience, I am still expect to see the “http://www” in front (some servers don’t render pages without this).  My apologies for this oversight.
  • The last chapter about cataloging doesn’t seem to fit the theme of the book.

[Rating:4.5/5] (recommended for beginner and intermediate photographers)

Availability:, Barnes & Noble, Borders


About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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