Review: Understanding Exposure CD-ROM
|Requirements:||Macintosh II or greater|
|System 7.x or higher|
|4 MB of RAM|
|13-inch, 256-color monitor|
|CD-ROM drive (double speed or faster)|
|Publisher:||DiAMAR Interactive Corporation (206) 340-5975|
|Price:||$52.98 for each CD-ROM and accompanying book|
|$44.98 CD-ROM only|
Among the games and informational software available on computer store shelves and in catalogues, lurk the instructional or educationally 'pro-active' programs. These items are often placed in the category of 'edutainment' or some such hybrid section which still defies an entirely comfortable niche. This situation aptly indicates the uncertainty with which the software buyer approaches investing their hard-earned pay for an item which may often have dubious 'cost-to-benefit' prospects. Let's face it, it's easy to be tempted, and potentially disappointed, by a CD which targets a hobby or avocation which lurks in the background waiting to satisfy those hours of our lives not claimed by our daily vocations.
Well, there they were: golfing, gardening, cooking, home improvement, body building and even how to do magic. My attention was caught by two CDs dealing with photography. I had a few ulterior motives for purchasing these programs. I am a camera artist by avocation and a photography instructor by vocation. My interest in another photographer's creative imagery was supplemented by my primary interest in the possibility of incorporating the instructional CDs into a course I teach. I felt I was in an ideal position to evaluate the effectiveness of the programs for student use...so I launched the first CD — Understanding Exposure — How To Shoot Great Photographs authored by Bryan Peterson and published by DiAMAR Interactive Corp. Mr. Peterson is an award-winning photographer who specializes in available-light color photographs.
The initial screen offers individual pathways into "Getting Started," "Interactive Theatre," "Workshops," "Photolab," and the "Gallery." These sections branch out into further subcategories. An initial alarm went off when I attempted to follow the online manual in the "Getting Started" section. The on-screen action sped along at a pace that was too fast to follow without two or three repetitions. Future explorations of the product would prove that the promised use of underlined text (HyperCard fashion) linking to supplemental information would be limited to less than five terms or concepts for the entire production. Additionally, this portion of the CD contained a narrated QuickTime movie introducing the work and biography of Mr. Peterson. It is difficult not to take this as being the equivalent of a television infomercial of the sort that even the most addicted TV couch potato would blast with the remote control.
My feelings began to warm to the production when I turned to the "Interactive Theater." The user is to be forewarned that 30 to 60 minutes are necessary to properly complete the exploration of each of three topic areas: coverage of what Bryan Peterson calls the "Photographic Triangle" (Aperture, Shutter Speed and Film Speed or Type), a second section dealing with the "Quality of Light" and its effect on camera imagery, and finally an introduction to "Special Techniques." A patient and methodical trip through this material left me with a double-edged conclusion.
The material was handled with expertise and insight. The explanations of depth of field, lens types, lighting conditions, exposure times and the full gamut of camera 'technics' were handled in a straightforward and informative manner. Both amateur and professional alike would benefit from the 'course' of study. Valuable encouragement and advice range from directions on using your camera as an artistic tool, as opposed to a 'point-and-click' device, to matching your 'software' (film) and 'hardware' (camera equipment) to achieve your desired goal - the perfect photograph. At various stages of the explanations a variety of images are offered to illustrate the techniques and principles under discussion. The studies and lengthy exercises suggested on the CDs may appear to take the intuitive fun out of photography. In fact, any professional knows that one has to master the 'rules' in order to develop the instincts necessary to frame the right shot without hesitation. Being shown a lesson as simple as: "The Sky is Your Friend," delighted this seasoned photographer and contributed to my positive feelings about the production. One of the most potentially intriguing and valuable exercise suggestions involved exploring the seasonal effects on the color of light by taking pictures once a week for one year of the same subject at different times of the day under all weather conditions. Talk about dedication! But the results are invaluable. The "Workshop" and "Photolab" sections, serving as reinforcements of lessons learned in the "Interactive Theater," are more fully developed and with some minimal interaction record individual lessons you have decided to focus on. Exposure variations ('Bracketing'), filters and multiple exposures are among the effects demonstrated. I did discover a delightful image among Peterson's excellent examples of macro, or closeup, photography. You get so used to seeing friends' pictures of flowers and bugs as full frame closeups that it was a real treasure to see the his detail image of the automobile junkyard—as slick as any abstract expressionist painting! Good stuff!
On the other hand, the potential problem with instructional media programs is that the program is often quickly outdated by advances in time and technology. Photography is a good example. Many photographers (read 'picture takers') have opted for entirely automatic cameras with no option of controlling aperture or shutter speed. Even the nuances of light metering discussed by Mr. Peterson are not possible with such equipment. A great number of cameras purchased in the recent past have been of the semi-automatic sort, with the choice of having control over one of either aperture or shutter speed. The move toward total automation, as evidenced by the new "Automatic Photo System" cameras, is matched only by the increasing interest in digital cameras. The possibility of the total manipulation of a digital photographic image through the use of your computer and applications such as Adobe's Photoshop or PhotoDeluxe applications will tend to convert the new visual paparazzi to a world without conventional film or the usual photographic and darkroom processes.
The Understanding Exposure CD is not set up to allow one to stop a section 'mid-stream' and return to that page at a later more convenient date. You have to restart the "Interactive Theatre," and other sections, from the beginning. Fortunately, this problem is rectified in the second CD, Learning to See Creatively, through the use of 'Bookmarks'. Both CDs use the professional capabilities of DIRECTOR (©Macromedia) processes but do not really push the interactive potential of this authoring application to the fullest extent. I chose to purchase both CDs with the complementary books (advertised as a $22.50 value). Personally I found that I appreciated the books to a greater extent than the computer media. The book images, of a higher quality of reproduction than their digitalized counterparts, and the accompanying text allowed for a more leisurely absorption of the valuable lessons and theories dealt with by Peterson. I almost felt that I should have paid the CD price for the book and the lower price for the computer disk.
The "Gallery" section, of Understanding Exposure, contains over 400 photographs with accompanying documentation of exposure settings. The prowess of Bryan Peterson, as a color photographer, is well evidenced in these photographs and in those contained in the second CD dealing with design composition and visual creativity. The core of the Learning to See Creatively CD are the over 450 Peterson photographs in the categories of Scenery, People, Closeups, and Landscapes used to illustrate principles of composition, design elements, perception and technical effects. As previously mentioned, there is a better interactive interface on this production. The involvement on this CD is more engaging as one tries to second guess the "Before and After" photographic illustrations of compositional and creative choices and has a greater degree of exploratory latitude in the "Photolabs."
As with any artistic media such as painting, drawing or sculpture, history proves that true aficionados will return to conventional processes, equipment and techniques. After grasping the ease with which Peterson manages his material, I wish that he had created a similar product for those of us who, realizing that the artistic and creative battles have moved away from 'painting versus photography' to 'photography versus digital imaging', have returned to a love for straight black and white photography. Dramatic creativity can still be evidenced in black and white photographers who chose to follow in the image traditions of, for example, a "Yosemite National Park" by Ansel Adams or a "New York at Night" by Bernice Abbott.
This material is valuable enough to be included in the library of any avid photographer. Indeed, I shall be using both CDs as instructional resources for my photography course. An alternative option may be to purchase the book Photography by Bruce Warren (West Publishing Company, 1993), now considered to be an excellent textbook for serious photographic instruction. For those wishing a course in the technical issues handled in Peterson's Understanding Exposure, I would suggest that you check out the freeware computer application called Autofocus V1.5 (January 95) by Randy Ayling, an easy download from:
This HyperCard program is almost as technically deep as Peterson's presentation (although without the photographic illustrations) and deals with the semi-automatic camera crowd. The same URL will allow you to download another valuable photographic shareware application called Photomatica, a useful database tool which assists you in keeping track of your photographs and negatives.
|Understanding Exposure and Learning to See Creatively CD-ROM Review is © 1996 by Robert C. Madill, firstname.lastname@example.org|