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Step up your photography skills with the Elements of Photography app

You have been using the excellent iPhone camera, but want more. You already have a DSLR or a point-and-shoot camera that spends all its time in the auto mode. You want better photos, but aren't sure where to begin. There's a universe of books, websites, e-books and apps to help you get started, so today I'm taking a look at a free iOS app called Elements of Photography.

The app is a nicely illustrated and well thought-out presentation that certainly covers the basics. The free version I'm reviewing here contains sections on focal length, shutter speed, aperture and ISO settings. It also has some hints on choosing the best type of camera for your use.

If you make a US $2.99 in-app purchase, you get a wealth of other material covering topics like composition, HDR photography, and metering. The in-app material also includes tips, a depth of field calculator, and other useful information.

I spent some time in the free chapters and found them well organized and full of good information. What the app lacks is videos or animations which can be much more helpful as a teaching aid for many people. The app could also use a search capability and definitions because photography contains so many technical terms that may not be familiar to a beginner. The app is interactive in a very minimal way. You can, for example, click on an image to see the effects of shutter speed or aperture. It's an excellent way to understand how the features of your camera interact to produce an image you are really proud of.

There are some nice alternatives, both paid and free. I like Photography 101, which is a comprehensive video-based app spiced with humor. I'm also a big fan of the numerous tutorials by French photographer Serge Ramelli, who has an excellent intro app called Understanding Photography Basics. The basic videos are free, but then there is a $5.99 in-app purchase that completes the series. Ramelli is a great teacher. I also liked Master your DSLR Camera, a $9.99 app that is very complete and might be the only tutorial app a beginner needs.

Elements of Photography is a worthwhile app, but lack of video or animations limits its effectiveness. The in-app purchase price is fair given the amount of material covered. Elements of Photography is a universal app that requires iOS 4.3 or greater and is optimized for the iPhone 5.

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