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Book Bag: Focus In Photography Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

28 November 2016

If John Neel's Focus in Photography sounds like it might be a little more philosophical than nuts and bolts tutorialish, that may be because Neel has given a lot of thought to the subject.

He's also spent a lot of time exploring the many facets of focusing an image so you get the nuts and bolts along with the philosophy behind them, too.

That makes this one of the more surprisingly delightful photography reads we've enjoyed recently.

We like Neel's consideration of the larger issues (why you might shoot a panorama and the different kinds of panorama you might shoot, for example) as well as the technical details (down to software recommendations) of subjects like focus stacking.

It isn't easy to marry those two discussions but Neel manages to do it very smoothly. He provides a general understanding of the concepts before he shows you how to use the gear to apply them in practice. You actually have the feeling of having learned something.

You might wonder how he can pack all that in just 176 pages. Well, they're very well-designed pages. The illustrations are large and helpful with intelligent captions and the text starts out simply before gradually digging deeper into the subject.

Section. Each chapter starts with a nice spread.

Chapters cover Light, Bokeh, Optics & Equipment, Close-up, Focus Stacking, Panoramas and Software. Each one ends with a gallery of example images.

In the course of those chapters, you'll read clear explanations of what focus is, the properties of light, pinholes, image circles, flare, chromatic aberration, distortion, circles of confusion, hyperfocal distance, filters, bokeh, faking bokeh, defocusing, focal length, tilt-shift lenses, freelensing, lens reverals, image stacking and image stitching.

Chapter. Chapters include text and illustration, including helpful graphics and diagrams.

We've bothered you with a (partial) list because we'll bet there are a few concepts there you may not be entirely comfortable discussing. But you will be after reading Neel's text.

The last chapter was among our favorites because it shows off some of our favorite but little-known software tools for working on an image. Those include Alien Skin's Exposure X and Piccure+. And what Neel says about them captures what we love about them in a nutshell.

Gallery. Each section ends with a gallery of example images.

Neel pushes his own photography beyond the mimetic form of the art. That's really an advantage here because his images emphasize the manipulations he describes.

Focus, after all, is the pursuit of clarity using a single plane of sharpness. There is something impossible about it that rewards both innovative ways to achieve it and out-of-the-box thinking about the unfocused areas of an image.

Well, there you go. See what happens when you read a nuts-and-bolts book with a philosophical, um, focus?

Focus In Photography by John Neel, published by Ilex Press, 176 pages, $24.99 (or $15.46 at

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