As a photographer with a science background, I’ve always been on the lookout for a good book on the science behind photography. Although Ansel Adams got pretty technical in his excellent books, they left me wanting to know more about how cameras, lenses, and sensors work.
So, I started searching for the right book, and immediately found the comprehensive works of Rudolf Kingslake. But, his books turned out to be a little too technical for me.
Just when I thought my search for the perfect book had ended in failure, I ran into Charles Johnson and discovered his wonderful book, Science for the Curious Photographer. I’ve already read it twice, and I must say it’s the perfect book for anyone who wants to understand how their camera works.
Here’s an overview of some of the stuff you’ll learn in this 185-page book:
- The history of photography, and how the first camera was created
- Why cameras need lenses and how those lenses work
- How teleconverters and extension tubes work to get higher magnification
- How neutral density, polarizing, and infrared filters work
- The limits of human vision (and what this means for your photos)
- Introduction to color theory and colorspaces
- How digital image sensors work, and how to determine their dynamic range
- How to read MTF charts, which are useful for showing the quality of a lens
- What makes a “good” image and how images are perceived by the human mind
- And, much more!
Who this book is for
You’ll get the most out of this book if you already have a pretty good background in science and math. I should warn you: this book does contain a lot of math equations!
But, Charles writes clearly (which is pretty rare for scientists), so that makes the math a little easier to digest. He also uses a lot of good graphs and diagrams to help explain complex concepts.
The book is meant as an introduction to the science of photography, so if you’re really looking for an in-depth discussion of lens design or any of the other topics, then consider this book your starting point. One of the things I love about this book is the recommended reading list at the end of each chapter that tells you where to go for more information on any of the discussed topics.
Read a sample from the book!
To get a better feel for what you’ll learn in Science for the Curious Photographer, check out these two articles that the author wrote last year at the Luminous Landscape:
- The Quest for Good Photographs and How the Brain Perceives Images
- Understanding What Makes a Good Image and Learning How to Use That Knowledge
These two articles actually make up one of the chapters from the book.