This is not yet-another comprehensive how-to survey of photographic technique. Instead I explore some of the underlying physical principles that help build a firm foundation of basic understanding, useful for whatever techniques one chooses to master. But more than just practical, I portray physics as part of the study of nature. And so as a born nature-boy, I believe (and try to make the case to the reader) that photons (for example) are fascinating, in and of themselves.
My approach to photography as an art is partly personal. I have my own take on things, that is not so much controversial as sideways to what most others stress. As such, I use my own photography for most of the examples. My goal is not to provide a broad and balanced survey of art photography, but rather to point to some artistic concerns that I believe are interesting and helpful for thinking in a fundamental way about where photography fits in as an art in this modern digital age.
For these three separate tracks-—the physics, the art, and the actual practice of being a photographer-—I treat each as valuable and interesting in and of itself and as needing no further justification. But I also hope that I show how each can serve as a point of departure for a deeper and more practical understanding of the others.
And so The Physics and Art of Photography has five basic goals:
To ask basic questions about how photography fits in as an art, and about the nature of art itself.
To ask basic questions about the nature of physics as part of the study of the natural world, and about the nature of science itself.
To gain some practical knowledge that will allow the reader to more easily learn technical aspects of photography, as they are needed.
To gain some practical knowledge that will help the reader more easily learn to be a better photographer.
To expose the reader to a set of interesting photographic processes and tools that are not usually covered in a beginning photography course.
I assume no specific prior knowledge apart from the basic skills required to graduate from high school. If you have little experience with photography, it is my goal that The Physics and Art of Photography will help form a useful foundation from which to learn about photography in whatever way that works best for you. If you are a seasoned pro, but looking to set off in a new direction, then I still hope that you will find much in The Physics and Art of Photography that is fresh and inspiring, and it is my goal that these books will help to open new possibilities. Although written at a beginning undergraduate level, the topics are chosen for their role in a more general discussion of the relation between science and art that is of interest to readers of all backgrounds and levels of expertise.
The first volume, Geometry and the Nature of Light focuses on the physics of light and the optics of lenses, but also includes extended discussions of topics less commonly covered in a beginning text, including symmetry in art and physics, different physical processes of the scattering of light, photograms (photographic shadow prints) and the nature of shadows, elements of 2-dimensional design, pinhole photography and the view camera.
The second volume, Energy and Color, considers color in terms of the spectrum of light, how it interacts with the subject, and how the camera's light detector interacts with the image focused upon it. But of equal concern is the only partially-understood and sometimes unexpected ways in which the human eye/brain interprets this spectral stimulus as color. The volume covers basic photographic subjects such as shutter, aperture, ISO, metering and exposure value, but also—-given their relations to the larger themes of the book—-less familiar topics such as the Jones-Condit equation, Lambertian versus isotropic reflections, reflection and response curves, and the opponent-process model of color perception.
A central theme of all three volumes is the connection between the physical interaction of light and matter on the one hand, and the artistry of the photographic processes and their results on the other. These concerns reach their conclusion in the third volume, Detectors and the Meaning of Digital. It focuses on the physics and chemistry of photographic light-sensitive materials, as well as the human retina. It also considers the fundamental nature of digital photography and its relationship to the analog photography that preceded it. The final volume includes discussions of the meaning of the characteristic curve in silver gelatin photography, the nature of several alternative photographic processes, and a step-by-step comparison of digital and traditional film techniques. It finishes with a consideration of the image, the object and the process in relation to the artistic meaning of digital photography, and how it might connect to an art photography that emphasizes the physicality of nature.