Review: The Joy of Digital Photography

While browsing the library for a good book on photography, I stumbled upon The Joy of Digital Photography. It was one of the newest books the library had on digital photography, so I figured it was worth a try.

The Joy of Digital Photography can be divided into 3 main sections; general orientation & the basics of photography, composition & design, and finally digital editing. The first few chapters cover the basics of photography. The book starts off with the obligatory “digital camera orientation” chapter, explaining about megapixel count, resolution, different types of digital cameras, and various camera accessories like tripods, monopods, external flashes and bags. The next few sections address the basics of photography; exposure, depth of field, shutter speed, aperture, ISO and white balance.

After the basics of photography, the focus of the book shifts to design and composition. Some of the design basics include horizon placement within the photo, how to frame the image, and how to add depth to an image.  An entire chapter is dedicated to light, explaining how the direction and quality of light will affect images. The next two chapters cover two broad photographic subjects; people (weddings, children, groups, sports, travel, etc.)  and nature (mainly landscapes, animals and weather).

Finally, the last chapters focus on the digital aspect of digital photography. Two chapters explain the basics on digital photo editing (cropping, leveling, sharpening, cleaning up scanned images). The final chapter focuses on how to set up your digital darkroom; discussing computer options, organizing your digital library, what to look for in a scanner, and how to decide on photo paper.

As a whole, I really liked this book. I found it to be accessible to those just starting out in digital photography, while still being relevant to those with some digital photography experience. One thing that I really liked was that the author made no assumptions about the reader or the gear they might be using. While Tom Ang’s How to Photograph Absolutely Everything covered a broad range of photographic subjects,  Ang assumes the reader is using a simple point and shoot digital camera. The recommended camera settings for various subjects are generally given in terms of which semi-automatic camera scene mode to use, with little explanation of why one setting was chosen over another. If the reader has a more advanced camera, or hopes to delve into anything beyond automatic or a pre-selected camera scene mode, they are pretty much on their own. With The Joy of Digital Photography, there is perhaps a slightly smaller range of photographic subjects covered, but the depth of information on design, composition and digital editing more than makes up for that. Overall, I think this is an excellent digital photgraphy reference book; it covers a full spectrum of topics without confusing new photographers or speaking down to more experienced photographers.

Review: How to Photograph Absolutely Everything

In preparation for Faith’s June wedding, and in a general attempt to improve my photographic skill, I decided to start borrowing books on photography from the library. With a title like How to Photograph Absolutely Everything, I figured Tom Ang’s book was a decent place to start.

For a new photographer, this book is extremely helpful. It gives tips on a broad variety of photographic subjects; pointers for weddings, portraits, children, vacation photos, and more. At the beginning of each section, Ang also gives some suggestions for camera settings to capture a given subject type. What’s more, the book is filled with large, full color photos to reinforce the tips.

However, if you’re anything other than a new photographer, this book might not be as helpful. It becomes clear rather quickly that this book is geared towards users with little experience, as the suggested camera settings at the beginning of each new section are often as simple as “use landscape mode on your camera.” As far as content goes, it gives a few pointers for each topic, but due to the broad nature of the book, lacks depth on any given subject. And while the book seems aimed at the newer, less experienced photographer, it doesn’t really cover the basics of photography.

What I would have loved to have seen was something a bit more informative as far as settings go. Perhaps including the EXIF data on sample pictures, so the reader has a better starting point. Or ignore the “camera mode” and stick to suggestions for aperture, shutter, focal length and sensitivity.

Overall, I think this book would make a lovely coffee table book, as the photos are quite lovely, and make up the bulk of the book. I might recommend it to a new digital photographer, or a film photographer just making the switch to digital. If you’re looking for a general reference book that is more inspiration than reference, this is probably the book for you. However, if you want more in depth information on any given subject matter, I’d keep looking.

Review: Memoirs of a Geisha

Memoirs of a Geisha is the story of Chiyo, a young girl who lives in a small fishing village called Yoroido in 1930’s Japan. There she lives with her older sister Satsu, her elderly father and her terminally ill mother. Her father is unable to care for both his girls and his wife, and so gives both daughters to Mr. Tanaka. Mr. Tanaka promptly takes the girls to Kyoto, where Chiyo is sold to an okiya (geisha house) in Gion, where she is to be trained as a geisha. At the okiya she meets Mrs. Nitta (“Mother”) and Granny, mistresses of the okiya, a fellow trainee whom Chiyo nicknames “Pumpkin”, and Hatsumomo, the resident geisha and sole source of income for the okiya.

At first Chiyo wishes for nothing more than to escape the okiya, find her sister Satsu (who was sold to a brothel), and return to her family in Yoroido. After a failed escape attempt results in a broken arm, she is met with more bad news; her sister escaped without her, and both of her parents have passed away. With no place for her but the Nitta okiya, her lot in life becomes a lifetime of servitude as a maid; Mother refuses to invest more money in Chiyo’s training, seeing her now as a bad investment.

A chance encounter with the wealthy and kind Chairman gives Chiyo hope; she sees the encounter as a sign that she wasn’t meant to become a geisha as a goal unto itself, but as a means toward the Chairman. The rest of the novel follows Chiyo through her eventual geisha training, her debut and early life as a geisha, the closing of the geisha districts due to World War II, her life during World War II, and the post-war re-opening of the geisha districts, with her ultimate goal always being the Chairman.

Despite being a work of fiction, Memoirs of a Geisha was a well researched and relatively detailed novel. In fact, the author, Arthur Golden, was sued in 2001 for breach of contract and defamation of character after publicly acknowledging Mineko Iwasaki, a retired geisha he interviewed for background information while writing the novel. Apparently Iwasaki had agreed to speak with Golden, and violate the geisha “code of silence”, only if the interview was kept confidential.

Of course, part of the reason he was sued also has to do with some artistic liberties he took. The most controversial liberty was with “mizuage”, the coming of age ceremony where the transition from maiko (apprentice geisha) to full fledged geisha is made. In Memoirs of a Geisha it is a portrayed as a financial arrangement, where the maiko’s virginity is auctioned off to the highest bidder. As Memoirs of a Geisha was based heavily on the life of Mineko Iwasaki, and parallels her career as a geisha, readers would incorrectly assume that Iwasaki had prostituted herself as a young woman.

I found some aspects of the novel lacking, however. For instance, Chiyo’s lifetime dream of being with the Chairman is a little creepy, if you think about it. She spends her entire life plotting to be with a man that she met for maybe 15 minutes, when she was 12? That goes a little beyond infatuation, if you ask me. About halfway through, the novel begins to lose some steam; from World War II on, the story seems a bit more bland and distant. I’m not sure if that was supposed to be an intentional reflection of life after World War II, or if the author started losing interest and was simply trying to wrap up the story.

Overall, I think Memoirs of a Geisha is a decent novel, despite some flaws. While it does take liberties with aspects of the life of geisha, it IS a novel; I would recommend Iwasaki’s autobiography, published as Geisha, A Life in the US and Geisha of Gion in the UK for those interested in a more accurate version.

Review: Rich Dad, Poor Dad

It’s been a while since I actually finished this book, but I figured I should get my review up before I finish reading my current book. Rich Dad, Poor Dad is not a book I would have chosen on my own, although the premise seems intriguing; do the rich really have some insider knowledge that the rest of the world doesn’t, thereby furthering the economic divide between the rich and the poor? Trust me, a book on finances and money would almost never be voluntary reading for me – I only read this at the strong recommendation of a friend, who had it and offered to lend it to me.

If you’re looking for a how-to book that will teach you the tricks of the rich, this is not the book for you. If you’re looking for a book that will introduce financial literacy through childhood experiences, this is more your speed. Most of the lessons are simple, like don’t spend more than you earn. Some of the more thought provoking points, though, involved how one defines concepts like wealth, assets, liabilities and financial independence.

Overall, I was somewhat disappointed in this book, mostly because it wasn’t what I expected. What financial advice there is comes in the form of anecdotes, which seem ill-suited for a book on money. I understand the use of anecdotes to make the topic more approachable, but in this case it seems to have been the worst of both worlds; the stories were so dry as to not hold my interest, and most of the advice distilled from the stories was overly simplified. Basically, the book gets you motivated to make money work for you, without really giving you a direction.

The real value of Rich Dad, Poor Dad, however, was not in the financial advice, but in the inspiration and motivation it provided. Before reading this book, I’d never really thought of how to make my money work for me, beyond a simple savings account. I’d never thought about investments, or whether a house was an asset or a liability. What this book did, was make me think about money in a new way, and motivate me to start planning financially for my future.

Review: Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows

If you’d asked me a few years ago if I thought I’d be reading a children’s book about wizards and witches at a magical boarding school, I’d probably have laughed at you. (Although The Worst Witch was great, back in the day.) It’s been a few days since I finished reading Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows, and I’m still not completely sure how I feel about it. Out of respect of those who haven’t finished reading it, I’ll try not to give away any major plot points.

Overall, I’d say Deathly Hallows was a good book, although there were a few things I didn’t care for. For starters, the pacing and intensity. There seem to be only two levels of intensity, either mundane or OMG!DeathEaters!, with little segue between the two. While I have no problem with the dramatic, intense moments, you can’t have the entire book run at fever pitch, because then the readers get burned out.

A second point is the way some character’s deaths were handled. Now, I’m not talking about character death in general; I knew and fully expected loads of character death, since this is the big magical showdown between good and evil. But when a fairly central character dies, I was expecting a little more than just a passing “oh, so-and-so died.”

Predictability was also an issue. I realize this is supposed to be a children’s series, and so maybe Rowling didn’t want to confuse young readers with all sorts of dramatic plot twists, but I felt the ending was fairly predictable. Who would win, who would live, who would die, who would end up together; maybe there was a little meandering on the way, but I saw the final outcome a mile away. And while I was right about certain character’s allegiances, the only somewhat surprising thing for me was the REASON behind those allegiances.

And finally, one of the biggest beefs for me, was how contrived the plot was in places. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it deus ex machina, but it was close. Like when one of the horcruxes is destroyed, and Hermione explains the heretofore unmentioned magical phenomenon that can ALSO destroy horcruxes. Wow! Lucky thing that, eh? And the existence and behavior of the Deathly Hallows themselves.

All things considered, I would say Deathly Hallows is a decent finale to the Harry Potter series. It ends the series neatly, gives us a peak into the future, but leaves room for more. Whether or not Rowling will give us more is debatable, but there is certainly room for more history and interludes, should she choose to write them.

Review: Sex God

I suppose I should start by saying that this isn’t even a book I purchased for myself, as religious non-fiction doesn’t tend to be my genre of choice. I picked this up for Matt a few months ago, and after he finished it, twice over, he asked me to read it so that we could discuss it. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from a book named “Sex God,” but I figured it couldn’t be bad – the author is Rob Bell, pastor at Mars Hill, which is the church I attend (irregularly). I enjoy his sermons, and hoped his writing style would be similar.

To start off, the title is a bit misleading; attention grabbing, but just slightly misleading. The focus of the book, as the full title suggests, is the connections between sexuality and spirituality. The definition of “sexuality” isn’t the conventional one, though; Bell’s definition of sexuality is a bit broader, more like the connection with others that we are all in search of. Not what I was expecting, but it was interesting. Rather than sexuality, I would say this book is more about personal relationships, marriage and love, and how they relate to and are paralleled in our relationship with God. The book also manages to be religious, without being terribly preachy; most points and messages are delivered via anecdotes and short stories, including pop culture references.

While the book wasn’t what I was expecting, it was a good read. I found it insightful, and thought provoking. My only real beef with the book is that it doesn’t seem to focus on any one topic, which is likely due to the anecdotal, slightly meandering style of writing. You’ll start at one point, and sort of wander around a bit, and eventually come full circle; while there are some thought provoking points made, I just wish that he could have gone into more depth. My other minor quibble is how he does his footnotes. All of his footnotes are at the back of the book; you’ll read a passage, see the number for the footnote, flip to the back of the book, and find out exactly which passage of the Bible he’s referencing. That’s it. Not even the text of the passage, just the book, chapter and verse number. If I had to flip all the way to the back of the book, I want it to be for more than just 2 words. Shorter footnotes, like references to Bible verses, could have easily been placed at the bottom of the page, or even in-line with the text. All in all, though, I would definitely consider this to be a worthwhile read.