Michael Freeman’s The Photographer’s Eye is something of a personal photography bible of mine. I’ve done two full page to page reads in about as many years, and I regularly flick through for nuggets of wisdom and inspiration. So this review will be enthusiastic, inevitably. It’s not like this is a confidential book by an unknown photographer. Chances are if you google « good books on photo composition » you’ll be pointed to The Photographer’s Eye within the first few links. Still, I think one more review may be useful, if only to give a perspective on how the contents of this excellent book have influenced this particular photographer.
The first thing I should stress about this book is that it really is aimed at the serious photographer. What I mean by that is that the contents are fairly advanced in terms of concepts, and while I find them wonderfully explained and illustrated, I’d say a full half of the book just went way over my head on my first read. That first read took about a month, by the way. On the second read (a couple of weeks reading, and with one more year’s experience as a photographer) I began to grasp some of the stuff that had eluded me the first time. And I know a third read in a while will yield yet more insight. So if you enjoy not thinking too much about what or how you’re shooting, and you’re happy with the results, maybe this isn’t the book for you. If on the other hand you feel frustrated with composition issues in your photography, and are willing to invest time and brain energy to get a better understanding of the issues then you could probably do much worse than fork out the $20 or thereabouts that this book costs.
The second thing that’s worth noting is that Freeman’s approach here is never to tell you what to do or how to do it. The conceptual framework is to help the reader become aware of what to look for and how to absorb a scene in order for said reader to figure out how to get the best shot (or shots) out of it. That’s really important because you shouldn’t expect recipes out of Freeman’s book, you should expect insight into how you view the world and how to best translate that in a still picture that is to your taste (or at least aligned with your intent), not the author’s.
The book is roughly segmented into six sections:
- The Image Frame: This is really about how the frame affects the contents and how placement should help you to determine the best options for framing.
- Design Basics: This is essentially about design in general and in particular the importance of various forms of contrast and balance on design. This is especially rich and eye-opening as it goes well beyond the usual notions of contrast and balance as seen by photographers.
- Graphic and Photographic Elements: A chapter on the importance of graphic elements, especially various flavours of lines in composition, and it’s articulation with the photographic tools such as exposure, focus and blur.
- Composing with Light and Colour: Here Freeman looks into the importance of color and color relationship, and also on the approach to black & white in composition.
- Intent: This in a sense is where all the tools covered before are put together to get to a particular result (and not necessarily a pretty picture). It’s all about a purpose.
- Process: The book ends on a practical note with a chapter on method to achieve one’s intent in photography.
One last note: this book has been released as an ipad app recently, and it’s getting excellent reviews because a whole interactive layer seems to have been added on top. I haven’t used the app, so I can’t vouch for it, but you might want to look into that as an alternative.