The Bastards Book of Photography

An open-source guide to working with light by Dan Nguyen

About the Bastards Book of Photography

Learn to light it up. Manually

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What’s New
6/24/2012 – Added a few more examples to the Exposure and Exposure w/ Program mode chapters.
6/21/2012 – a rough first draft with most of the framework in place. Didn’t have the chance to find all the photos I needed for it. Copy is pretty loose and un-proofread. Also, I have no idea if it works in IE.

This is a book about low-maintenance photography.

I don’t assume that you have a great camera, dedicated lighting equipment, assistants, models, Photoshop, or even much time or passion (yet) to dedicate to photography.

This book just consists of the advice I’d give to help someone starting out: practical, but not intimidating. You don’t have to be born knowing you want to be a photographer, you just need curiosity and a willingness to learn and practice.

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A “flash” mob by the Moncler clothing label at Grand Central

The path

The route we’ll take is to learn how to move past depending on your camera’s automatic mode and onto operating its manual settings.

Another way to phrase it is: Learn how to take photos without using your camera’s flash.

This isn’t out of a stubborn conceit for doing things the “old-fashioned” way. It doesn’t matter how advanced camera phones get or how much a single button-tap captures; photography will always be profoundly affected by how you, the button pusher, is able to thoughtfully adjust to light and motion and subject.

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This book doesn’t focus a lot on the science or technical details (e.g. I describe aperture as “a hole that light passes through”). I plan on adding more lessons and topics but the goal is to simplify the concepts and explain as much through visual examples.

Interested? Then jump to the table of contents. Or read on for more information about this book, including my inspiration for it, how to copy it, and where to leave feedback.

Teaching and learning

I’d been wanting to put together a basic photography guide for awhile. What finally got me to do it was when I was helping a friend start a clothing line ( by doing the principal photography. I realized afterwards that he’d benefit from learning how to do some of the routine photography himself.

It’s a long slog trying to explain photography through words so I wanted to make a convenient manual. And it doesn’t make sense these days with the Internet to just teach only one person. So, that’s how this book exists.

This was also a learning opportunity for me. I’m always looking for ways to present well-covered material in a different way. Making this photo guide gave me a chance to refine my writing and design skills, as well as practice some content-related programming methods.

It took about two weeks, off-and-on, to gather the material (including old photos of mine) and write the copy for this book. There’s obviously a lot of gaps so it’s a work in progress.

About the photography

The photos here span about 5 years, from when I bought my first DSLR to photos I took the day before hitting the “publish” button on this book. Almost all of the photos take place in New York and I regret not having a more diverse portfolio. I’ve also not taken enough time to post-process and touch them up, partly from habit of abiding to photojournalistic tenets and partly from just not being picky enough.

I’ve typically allowed my photos to be freely used for just about any personal and non-commercial purpose. Most of them have links to a Flickr page where you can find high-res versions.

If you’re interested in commercial uses or prints, feel free to contact me.

Send this book around

This book and its source code is freely distributable under a Creative Commons non-commercial attribution license (CC BY-NC 3.0). You can view the Github repo, though virtually all of the magic comes from the excellent Octopress and Jekyll projects.

Note: Just because I’m freely distributing my work doesn’t mean that I don’t value it. On the contrary, I like it enough that I think it can help others. If you’ve found the content useful – or even just used a photo as wallpaper – a link back, tweet, or email is always appreciated.

Watermarks have always offended my personal aesthetic and so I’ve avoided implementing them or any other restrictive measures on my work. I don’t understand the mindset that would steal work (though I’d be secretly flattered), since creating it has always been the rewarding part for me. If you’re that kind of person, well, just try reading the book first – it’s free, damn it – and if I’ve done it right, you can produce and share your own work and vision, and we’ll all be better off in every way for it.

Technical details

This book would’ve just been a long sloppy blog post if it weren’t for the great Octopress platform (a “blogging framework for hackers”, powered by Jekyll). It’s been so fun to use that I’m going to move the Ruby book and future projects to it.

This site is hosted on Amazon S3 but the source code is available on Github.

The cameras I shoot with are the Canon 5D Mark II, the Canon S90/S100 compacts, and the Sony NEX-7.

I use Adobe Photoshop to do post-processing but have recently moved to Adobe Lightroom.

I host most of my photos on Flickr with a Pro account.

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The New York Public Library

About the Bastards Books

The Bastards Books focus on the practical with the hope that once you’ve learned the basics and the motions, you’ll move onto the impractical work of creativity and exploration on your own.

The first Bastards Book focused on the Ruby programming language – and is still in rough draft form. The Bastards Book of Photography is the second in the series.

Why “Bastards”?

From the About page of the Bastards Book of Ruby:

Mostly because it alliterates with “book.” But I like that it emphasizes how I don’t think of this as a legitimate programming book. It moves quickly past the theory in favor of getting to the “fun stuff,” but only to encourage the reader to invest time in going deeper.

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Just another sunset over the Hudson River


Thank you to Tom Preston-Warner for Jekyll and Brandon Mathis for his work on Octopress and of course to Github for enabling a community of coders.

I’ve also learned a lot from colleagues in the journalism world, in particular two former Bee photographers, Kevin German (now at the fantastic Luceo Images) and Andy Alfaro.

About me

My name is Dan Nguyen and I’m a journalist in Manhattan. You can follow me at @dancow on Twitter.


Please feel free to contact me by email or by Twitter: @dancow

You can also follow @bastardsbook on Twitter, Facebook and the blog at for updates.

Or leave comments at the bottom of this page.

Go to the Table of Contents

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