The Photographer's Eye by Michael Freeman - Review

The Photographer’s Eye by Michael Freeman – Review


The-Photographers-Eye-1Over 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.

Rating: 8…no make that a 9 out of 10 (updated)

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.”

The book is divided into 6 Chapters:

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.

Other Books by Michael Freeman

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Franziska February 22, 2013 12:05 am

    I agree with your opinion on Michael Freeman's book! I love reading it and learn a little more about myself and my photos.

  • Adam Figueira September 26, 2012 10:48 pm

    I actually am using this book as a text for my high school Digital Photography course. Most of my students have very limited access to equipment, and our school doesn't have the funding to provide much. We have one DSLR to pass around, but in a class of 20 kids that only goes so far, and I have two classes that size. I chose to use this book after considering many others because it teaches the kids to think like a photographer and take better photos even if the only camera they have is their cell phone.

  • ccting August 28, 2011 04:41 pm

    Well, i have this book. Compared to others, I think this book really worth to buy.

  • Daniel O'Byrne November 19, 2010 02:39 am

    One of the finest books on the topic! A** from me

  • The Devine Mrs L October 19, 2010 04:14 am

    My daughter gave me this book on my birthday for inspiration in my new hobby. Design is not a new subject for me, I have a degree from Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. After 28 years in the Fashion business I retired, but with my creative juices still flowing, I explored both writing and photography. Long story short, after reading this book I have never looked at an image in the same way as before. Mr Freeman both inspires and challenges the novice to improve their eye. Thank you to Micheal Freeman and to you.

  • george September 4, 2010 08:32 pm

    i have this book and several more from this author. i am a long time film photography enthusiast but i went into serious digital photography only last year transitioning with point-and-shoot for about 2-3 years before getting a dslr. with my p&s i was an auto shooter but now with the dslr i have gone deeper into digital photography. the first book that i bought to orient myself was michael freeman's 101 tips which introduced me to things with digital that we didn't care much about using film, (e.g.: sensor and scene dynamic range, stitching panoramas, post-processing, etc). i like this author's approach and concisely covering major topics without sounding tutorial. i am one person who doesn't want to be told what to do (like probably many in this field) so i like the way the concepts were presented allowing the reader to struggle a little on the interpretation. this forced me to read and reread his books several times (i'm still doing it after a year) and slowly comprehending things better with each pass. this way make things really stick to your mind after applying a few things in the field.

  • Luis October 30, 2009 03:19 am

    I own this book as well as Learning to See Creatively. All I can say is that both books helped my photography so much, that I dont consider myself a newbie anymore. I loved every word and every image in them.

  • gerdez September 28, 2009 05:04 am

    I commented in 2007 on this book... now it's 2009 and I finished reading it. I had a lot of great expectations of this book. But it was that boring for me (2 years of sporadic reading). The writing style is chaotic (my mother tongue is not English, that's true) and it seems to me that he is trying to touch a lot of topics but he fails on elaborating them. Didn't like it. Maybe it's just me. Maybe in 5 years I reopen it and find it's gem. But not one single sentence of it rings in my head. The best chapter, BTW is Intent. No final statement (something to wrap things up) in the book, so that was a disappointment again. It all felt impresonal.

  • DanR August 5, 2009 10:51 pm

    I just came across this review from a link from the Top 23 Books page. The description of this books makes we wonder if it is an updated version of one of his earlier books, "Image: Designing Effective Pictures", which came out in 1988 (yes, more than 20 years ago). Has anyone seen both?

  • nilo December 19, 2008 12:56 am

    I have read half of this book so far and I am impressed. The line diagrams in the images that illustrate what you’re seeing in terms of shapes, forms etc accompanied by author's explanation are truly helpful.

    There is one caveat though that does not apply to those they speak and read english fluently. The author uses a not easy vocabulary and syntax along the book that requires a certain level of familiarity with english language. Being a non US or UK citizen I found myself seeking for the dictionary for the first time or even go 2 and 3 times over a paragraph.

    Probably you won't notice it if your native language is the english one. To have a better idea it is considerably more difficult than Peterson's syntax.

    But still, it is a great book. Highly recommended!!

  • TBasco November 9, 2008 01:58 am

    i think this one's on my wish(shot)list :) i'm one of those intuitive persons and i get confused by technical jargon (but i am trying and trying not to hate my lack of technical aptitude) so i think this book will help validate a lot of what is natural at the same time give some less intimidating basic stuff. thank you for the review.

  • Elwyn Garaza August 27, 2008 02:10 pm

    Hello, I have read and purchased enough books on photography to know that this book is what I have been looking for. I will agree with gerdez in the choice of this book plus Understanding Exposure. If I had to do it all again, I would choose these two, with the addition of George Barr's book "Take Your Photography to the Next Level" and then Barry Haynes' book Photoshop Artistry. Seeing as the technical aspect of each camera is covered in various degrees in many other books, this book deals with the intangible aspects of designing photographs and seeing what makes a great photograph. Shooting enough will allow the technical aspects to become second nature, but 'seeing the shot' is something that seems to requiring simply doing it and growing. This book introduces the mind and educates the eye to see order where chaos may have been waiting for someone to simply see its composition, that before this book would be less apparent. This book deals with what Ansel Adams calls the most "the most important component of any camera" that 12 inches behind it.

    With other books, one gets rote answers to which lens is used for what purpose, etc. With the information received from this book, if digested, you could almost choose any photographic equipment and do something magical with it. Or choose your equipment more intelligently.

    This wonderful book puts meaning behind the choices you make in fashioning a photograph or capturing a moment. I'm glad you reconsidered and gave it a 9 of 10.

  • Laura S. August 19, 2008 08:16 am


    I recently came across this website and wow what a plethora of great information. I was particularly happy to read about aperture as I am having a great deal of trouble with this. Maybe it's that I am putting too much technical pressure on myself.... I just can't seem to grasp it. I have added The Photographer's Eye to my ongoing list of books to read as well. This is a great site!!!

  • Peter April 11, 2008 12:19 am

    I recently bought The Photographer's Eye, and am very impressed with it. I certainly think your upgrade to 9/10 is nearer the mark.

    You refer to those who "shudder at the thought of anyone teaching them anything about composition", and I'm sure there are some. However, I didn't feel the Freeman book is setting out to *teach* me, but rather offering me opportunities to learn, which is different, and very welcome! Now it's up to me...

  • Darren November 3, 2007 08:08 am

    Jim - no need to make a donation. If you do want to support us somehow just buy something from one of the links that points to Amazon as we make a small commission from purchases which we put back into improving the site (design, prizes etc). Other than that - spread the word and we'll be happy :-)

  • Jim Esten November 3, 2007 12:42 am

    I appreciate the additional comments. Based on what I've read here and the opinions I see on Amazon, this book is now on my Christmas list.

    This site rocks. Darren, I've gotten a lot of useful information from here. I went looking for a donation link and couldn't find one. I believe in supporting freeware and web sites which are helpful to me. It's cool that you give so freely of your time and knowledge, but some of us would likely send you a few bucks given the means, like an unobtrusive Paypal link on the home page.


  • Gayle November 2, 2007 10:51 pm

    Thanks Darren for the info, I think I will order this book to.

  • Darren November 2, 2007 08:29 am

    Matthew and Jim - you're probably right. Perhaps I should have given it something a little higher - but I don't like to hype things up too much and do like to leave room in my ratings. I've just had another flick through the book over night and perhaps an 8.5 or even 9 would have been better..... Hmmmmm

  • Jim Esten November 2, 2007 06:02 am

    Darren, expanding on the previous astute comment "So, 8/10 would correspond to a B-. Yet your review seems overall to be more positive than that. I’m in the process of reading it as well, and I think I’d give it something more in the “A” range.", are there any books of similar theme you would recommend more highly?


  • James November 2, 2007 04:49 am

    Maybe it's on a university scale, so 8/10 is an A-.

  • Matthwe Miller November 2, 2007 02:36 am

    So, 8/10 would correspond to a B-. Yet your review seems overall to be more positive than that. I'm in the process of reading it as well, and I think I'd give it something more in the "A" range.

    I've read and enjoyed several of the author's other books (the one on color is particularly good), and this shares some traits with those (as well as many of the same example photographs). Make sure to read the photo captions, because a lot of the good information is there rather than in the main text. On the other hand, there's a welcome improvement in the editing from those books published by Lark -- fewer obvious typographical errors or weird layout choices.

    My main complaint is that there isn't enough by way of practical exercises. If this is to be a textbook, it would be well served by an accompanying "workbook".

  • Dennyboy November 2, 2007 02:02 am

    trying hard to improve my photography, its not the camera/processing that makes a good photo its "seeing the shot" have ordered the book on the strength of your review. I would categorise my pix as snaps mainly and this might help me improve.

  • Art Derfall November 2, 2007 01:05 am

    I'll have to compare Michael Freeman's book with the excellent LEARN TO SEE CREATIVELY by Bryan Peterson. The chapters include:

    Expanding Your Vision
    Elements of Design
    The Magic of Light

    The photos and text are written from his viewpoint of the thought process prior to taking the picture. novices and experienced photographers will find the book informative.

    It's worth a look and a review.

  • Os Sutrisno November 1, 2007 02:18 pm

    Thanks for the tip!

    I've been looking for a book on composition!

  • gerdez November 1, 2007 05:30 am

    I bought this book along with Understanting Exposure in offer from Amazon. I'm only at the second chapter as I don't have much spare time to read, and at first I read Understanding Exposure. I think this book, The Photographer's Eye was a great choice for me, as I don't have any photography courses/ schools... and composition is a thing you have to learn, I guess... no matter you are a photographer a digital or traditioanal artist. I think there are some rules that dominate the world of composition and why would you try to discover them by yourself? Anyhow, I'm very happy I bought this book and not some other "how to get your DIGITAL camera working" book. Because composition is a must, whether you are a digital or film photographer, a designer, a painter... it's the same.

  • Martin Hughes November 1, 2007 02:05 am

    Composition is something that seems to me a rather overlooked subject in many photography books. Beginners, amateurs and professionals alike have their own opinions and thoughts, but I agree that it's fantastic to hear and see ideas we may not have already considered.

    I buy many photography books and magazines almost exclusively to examine the composition. I look around - as I'm sure many of us do - waiting for something that stands out as a possible photo. I compose some well, others not so. I look to other photographers for their ideas on composition and don't think I'll ever stop. If I did, I'd consider my eyes closed.

    Thanks for the review. I may have to seek out this book and give it a look.