Monday, April 26, 2010

Book Review - Learning to See Creatively

I was quite fortunate that just as I was starting the 10 part series on Great Photography Projects, Amphoto Books contacted me through Random House and asked if I would be willing to review one of their books. (see disclaimer at bottom)

Since I am a big fan of books, especially picture books, this was a no brainier.  I selected the book, ‘Learning to see Creatively’ which I thought would tie nicely in after the last series of those project articles.

Book title:  Learning to See Creatively – revised edition
Design, Color &; Composition in Photography
Author: Bryan Petterson
160 pages – soft cover
ISBN 0-8174-4181-6

The first task with any Photo book, especially one that discusses design and composition, is to determine if it has a good repertoire of excellent images. That is what I thought when I made my first scan through the pages. The images made me want to stop and check out the pages. This is what a good photo book should do.

My wife had the same feelings when she leafed through and commented how great the photos were.

I will briefly describe the focus of each chapter and what I think is the level of skill needed for the reader. At the end I will give a summary and my rating.

As the book’s author states “This is not a book about metering for the right exposure or setting the right f-stop and shutter speeds…. This is a book about ideas” but he does provide the lens and camera settings for each image taken.

Expanding Your Vision
This chapter examines how various lens categories such as; normal 50mm, wide-angle, full-frame fisheye, street zooms, telephoto and macro each affect how the subject and backgrounds interact at the various focal lengths.

There is no design formulae on when to use a lens, not sure there really is one, but the author does discuss when and where to use these variety of lens and provides examples why he selected a lens for his images.

Elements of Design
As the title indicates, this chapter deals with the compositional elements such as lines, shape, form, texture, pattern and colour to assist the photographer in creating striking images. While this is basic material, the author provides good images to help convey a compositional element.  Also as a benefit in this chapter and all the others the author uses several framing versions of the same subject to demonstrate how a design element in one of the variants of the subject makes image compositionally stronger.

This chapter discusses techniques, such as ensuring the Subject Fills the Frame, Rule of Thirds, Odd Number and Preference for 3, Horizon, The Right Third, Diagonals, Frame Within a Frame, Horizontal Format vs. Vertical.

It also examines that there may a better picture within a picture, working your subject and as always breaking the rules.

The Magic of Light
In some ways it is true that light is magic and the author shows us how the same scenes can go from ordinary to stunning by just waiting for the right light, not time of day, but the way the subject, foreground and background are lit.

Digital Photography
This is the only section that I had some difficulty with. First, as with most things electronic, certain information becomes very dated very quickly. I believe keeping the technical specs and comparisons to the weekly or monthly media format because in a book, in just a few years some of the comments may almost seem ludicrous. He also focuses on 4 very rudimentary digital editing but not in the traditional darkroom styles (dodging, burning, contrast).

The author has taken many great images almost exclusively with film and I believe this chapter would be better if he focused on the differences and similarities between the mediums, ie: Positive film behaves more like a digital camera, the merits of medium and large format cameras, HDR to exceed the dynamic range of even B&W film, sticking to increase actual file size. 

Career Considerations
This section is very limited in content.  Very basic and mainly limited to ensuring you can adapt to change and having a fresh portfolio to address trends.

Introduction and Index are also included.

The Digital and Career sections fall really short even for the most basic of needs.
Otherwise the book is very well written and have a good use of images to demonstrates key points.

The author does suggest 4 specific exercises to help you see differently with your camera and lens and for novices these would be good opportunities to explore.

Taking more photos is really the only method to get better.

Overall I enjoyed the book. The fact that the author uses 2 or more compositions of the same locations really helps to demonstrate the key element being discussed.

The photos are great and I would think that readers at any level would find some images that inspire you to try new approaches or subjects. 

Best Audience – novice, maybe progressing to DSLR type camera (as better control of shutter speed and aperture is needed to achieve the author’s results, who wants to improve the success rate with WOW images or is thinking about entering photography competitions and who has not already taken any photography design courses before.

My Rating   3.75 out of 5
While 2 chapters are weak, they are not really needed to cover the theme of book.

I enjoyed reading the book.

The list price is $25.95US and $32.0 CDN.  This book can be purchased new for under $18US on web sites and this is the price I use to factor the rating.

The rating is established for the targeted audience and is not meant for the more experienced photographers.

I have not received any monies or other favours, other than receiving this book, as a result of this review for either of the 2 companies or their affiliates.

The book is being donated to the Camera Club of Ottawa, of which I am a member.

Niels Henriksen

1 comment:

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