Top critical review
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on April 22, 2011
This is a short, rudimentary book on composition, yet ironically, is poorly suited to beginners. There are a number of serious flaws with this book, almost all of which are related to some form of bad organization/editing. For a book that can be read easily in within one evening, it's puzzling why there are *five* different authors--and this chaos really shows. The majority of this book is written by Excell, but the last 4 chapters are basically random, disconnected topics that were just stitched into this book as if it was just filler material. Those chapters are not connected to the main text, can overlap in content, and are often just poorly written in their own right.
The first six chapters written by Excell are by far the best in the book. The photos are excellent, and I enjoyed almost every one of them, although there was very little *instructive* value that was offered. You can see that Excell is an intuitive and gifted photographer, although (at least in this book), she is not skilled in articulating the knowledge she has. The writing strongly lacks organization.
These organization problems are obvious in a number of ways. Strangely, the first two chapters are not about composition at all. Chapter 1 describes equipment, and chapter 2 attempts to describe the basic principles of photographic exposure (iso/shutter/aperture). This is a bit odd in a book about composition, but I suppose the intent was to give background information for novices. Unfortunately, it does a very poor job at this.
Even if you did want to present these topics, why would you start with equipment before the fundamental concept of exposure? This first chapter has very thin coverage of the really important aspects of equipment selection, and some parts almost read more like it's either a Nikon advertisement, or a showy display of the impressive equipment Excell uses. There's a short description of accessories and camera settings, which was really too shallow to be useful. If you already know about equipment, this might be mildly interesting just to "see what the pros use", but if you don't, you're not going to get much out of this chapter.
The exposure chapter was poorly written. As with many chapters in this book, there are frequently references to topics that are either only described later in the book (often with no real detail), or sometimes not at all. There are really important subjects that Excell just touches on that are often just casually mentioned, but beginners would have no idea about what those things mean, and would be left with big gaps in understanding from the text. Look elsewhere if you want to learn about exposure (try Bryan Peterson's excellent books).
The next several chapters cover "core" compositional topics. The depth of coverage is again lacking here, although the photographs continue to be great. What I found really troubling about these chapters, though, was that frequently, there will be photos to accompany a particular topic, but the text accompanying the photo have *nothing* to do with the topic being discussed.
I'll give an example. On page 96, the topic is "frame within a frame", and there is a great shot which illustrates the concept, but is captioned with the text: "With no...tripod and...a fairly small aperture for increased depth of field, I braced myself using proper hand-holding techniques to shoot at a slow shutter speed". Huh? If you just read that without seeing the section it was part of, you wouldn't know that this was about frame within a frame at all. "Proper hand-holding techniques" is, of course, not described anywhere. This happens a lot. Sometimes the topic is about X, but the caption of a picture might talk about high ISO.
The chapter on colour is among the worst I've read. It's such a shame, because again, the photos are great. The first page shows a nice photo of a frog, but is annotated with some random and superficial points about aperture and depth of field (in a chapter on colour??), and then some oddly placed facts about green and orange being secondary colours. I have no idea what you are supposed to learn from that. Next it goes to a page about black and white, and then goes back to colour, showing a colour wheel but with no real information to describe what it means or why it's important. It then goes back alternately between black and white and colour with no real purpose.
If the book were to stop here, I might give this a three star review on the photos alone. I would caution it is not a good instructional book (although it attempts to), but it's still worth a casual glance through if you already know what you're doing. However, the remaining chapters by "guest authors" are just horrible.
There is a chapter about black and white that is less than 50% really about black and white. The photos are still good, but the topics are random. Why would you see coverage about tripods, cable releases, GND filters, image stabilization, ISO, shooting modes, and others in a chapter about black and white? This is what I mean by bad organization. This jammed into the book with no connection to the rest of the writing. As with Excell's chapters, the coverage is superficial, and beginners would derive little value from this.
The writing remains bad for other guest authors, but even more disappointing, the photos start to look increasingly random and sometimes just outright bad. You really start to feel how disconnected these chapters are, and it becomes increasingly hard to stomach. There is a photo on page 217 about "humour" (which isn't even a compositional topic), and there's a horrible straight-flash picture of the rear ends of two dogs. Awful.
Overall, this was really a random read. Despite the title, this is not really a book about composition (although it does have topics that have some shallow coverage of compositional topics). Since it's clear this book is for beginners, I'd say you can do far better with other books on exposure, composition, or any other topics that are touched in passing in this book. Not recommend.