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Over the weekend I sat down with The Photographer’s Eye by Michael Freeman – one of numerous unread photography books that are piling up on my desk at the moment.
I’d had this book recommended to me by a number of Digital Photography School readers and thought that it was probably time that I checked it out for myself. I’m glad that I did.
The Photographer’s Eye is not a general digital photography book that covers all aspects of photography (like others we’ve reviewed) – instead it focuses upon the element of Composition. The subtitle of the book probably says it best – ‘The Photographer’s Eye – Composition and Design for Better Photos’.
At a first flick through (it’s easy to flick through as it’s a paperback) The Photographer’s Eye impressed me purely as a result of the images that it contained – Freeman certainly knows how to take a shot (he has a real focus upon travel photography in the images in this book) – but after taking in the images (I’m a sucker for visuals) I began to digest the words that accompanied them and was really impressed with the aim’s of this book. Freeman explains in his introduction:
“A great deal goes on in the process of making an exposure that is not at all obvious to someone else seeing the result later…. What I will attempt to do here is to show how photographers compose their images, according to their intentions, moods and abilities and how the many skills of organizing an image in the viewfinder can be improved and shared.”
Freeman goes on to talk about how the technology of digital photography is important (a tool) – but that it is actually the decisions that a photographer makes that are more important – this book is about those decisions.
One more quote from the intro:
“Most people using a camera for the first time try to master the controls but ignore the ideas. They photograph intuitively, liking or disliking what they see without stopping to think why, and framing the view in the same way. Anyone who does it well is a natural photographer. But knowing in advance why some compositions or certain combinations of colors seem to work better than others, better equips any photographer.”
1. The Image Frame (exploring frame dynamics, cropping, stitching and extending, filling the frame, horizon etc)
2. Design Basics (with sections on contrast, pattern and texture, balance, visual weight etc)
3. Graphic and Photographic Elements (covering horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines, curves, motion, focus, exposure and a lot more)
4. Composing with Light and Color (a shorter chapter on color – including a section on black and white)
5. Intent (a great chapter which made me stop and ponder my own internal motivations and intentions in taking images)
6. Process (covering the search for order, anticipation, juxtaposition and more)
When I first heard about this book I wondered how a topic like composition would take 190+ pages to cover – but the above six chapters do it really well and provide readers with lots of ideas, examples, theory and lessons. I particularly like that this book is not just about theory or compositional rules – but challenges the reader to look at their own intentions and processes. I particularly enjoyed chapter 5 on intent which I’d never given much consideration to previously.
The images in this book compliment the words very well. Not only do you get photos but also a variety of diagrams (including some helpful line diagrams) that illustrate what you’re seeing in the images by reducing them to lines and shapes. This gives the examples a lot more usefulness as they are effectively unpacked before you.
Some readers will be frustrated by a lack of technical information on the images use (there’s no EXIF data here) – but keep in mind that this isn’t a book on settings or exposure – but one on compositional elements.
This book is easy to read – although does go deeper and is a little heavier than other more entry level and general books that we’ve reviewed here previously. One friend described it has having a slightly more ‘text book’ feel to it.
I agree that it would make a good text for a photography course – but think it’s also accessible enough for most photographers wanting to improve this area of their photography.
My overall assessment of this book is that it’s a very worthwhile read. I give it a rating of 9 out of 10. While it won’t teach you how to use the different features of your camera (it’s a book about composition) – it is probably a book you need to read before (or at least while) you are mastering your camera. update: On further reading of the book over night I’ve decided to upgrade my rating from an 8 to a 9. I think I initially read and reviewed it on ‘one of those days’ and was a little harsh. Last night I read through it again and was really impressed with it and thought it deserved more than an 8.
I do suspect that there will be some readers of this book who will get a little frustrated by it. I know of a few of you who are incredibly intuitive in your photography and who shudder at the thought of anyone teaching them anything about composition (something that you find to be a very personal and subjective thing). I can see where you come from with this – but do think that the principles shared in this book are not written in a way that would squash creativity – but would instead help release it even further.
I recommend The Photographers Eye to you and would love to hear your thoughts on it as a resource if you’ve read it.
Buy The Photographer’s Eye at Amazon.
If you’ve got a digital photography book that you’d like to review here at Digital Photography School we’d love to hear from you. Simply drop us a note via our contact form with the details of the book you’d like to review.