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Composition, From Snap Shot to Great Shots is part of a series published by Peachpit Press geared towards beginner to intermediate photographers. It’s a great way to start your education if you want to learn to take better photos.
First a few words about the author, Laurie Excell. Although her name may not sound familiar, chances are you saw her images in various outdoor photography magazines. She is a wildlife and nature photographer, an instructor and she also leads wildlife photography adventures in North America.
This book is not only about composition The first two chapters of Composition From Snapshots to Great Shots are titled “Equipment” and “Exposure Triangle”. With plenty of images to illustrate each point, the author covers the most basic aspects of photography in a very practical way. Laurie’s writing style is straightforward and you don’t have to be a techie to understand it. Which most new photographers will appreciate!
Learning composition techniques would not do much good if you don’t understand the most important element in photography: Light! Chapter 3 will go over the basics of quality and quantity of light, its direction and how to achieve the desired effect using exposure compensation with the knowledge you acquired in the previous chapter.
My favorite chapter is the fourth one titled “Lines, Shapes and Patterns”. That’s probably because I am especially drawn to those visual elements in my photography and I enjoy teaching about them. Here again, the author chose a clever selection of images to illustrate how those visual elements come together to bring the viewer into the frame and how different lines and shapes will have a different impact.
Another strong element to consider in composition is color. Chapter 5 is all about colors (including B&W and shades of gray) and the emotion they convey in any given image.
Finally chapter 6 delves into spatial relationships, from point of view to visual depth, scale and perspective, again with plenty of images to explain each concept. Have you even wondered whether your horizon line should be high or low? Why not in the middle? Rules can be broken, it’s all about personal preference and the emotion you want to convey through your image.
An interesting aspect of this book is the additional material written by four guest authors, each with a specific field of expertise in photography. I find it a nice bonus and I think there is something for everyone in the last four chapters.
Photographer John Batdorff wrote a chapter titled “Black and White Photography” where he shares tips on how to see in B&W and walks you through his thought and work process. My favorite tip: “Learn to embrace nasty weather”. John Batdorff creates stunning B&W images and you can too!
“Sports and Composition” by Rick Rickman taught me a lot as this is an area I am not familiar with. Rick refers to sport photography as “Potential Compositional Anarchy”. Rick shares valuable tips from covering Olympic events to telling a story while on a road trip with a minor league baseball team. He stresses the importance keeping things simple in a very engaging style.
“Beyond the Rule of Thirds” by David Brommer delivers a wealth of in-depth information. If you ever wondered about positive and negative space, this is the chapter to read! Favorite quote: “A good compositional sense is hardwired into each of us.”
Last but not least, in “The Compositional Dance”, Steve Simon will give you strategies to help you make good composition decisions in any given situation. He ends the chapter with a very encouraging statement for any new photographer: “As your experience and confidence grow, many of these ideas and concepts get infused into your unconscious process and help you make good aesthetic picture-making decisions on instinct.”
Each chapter also presents a list of assignment suggestions by each author.
The goal of this book is to help you move beyond the simple act of taking a picture, to making a picture. I received daily emails from new photographers asking for book suggestions, this one will definitely be added to my list. I would also urge you to check out the work of each of the five authors for inspiration!
Composition, From Snap Shot to Great Shots retails for $24.99. Discounted prices are often available through Amazon.com. This book can also be purchased in a digital format.