Customer Reviews: Composition: From Snapshots to Great Shots
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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.
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on January 5, 2012
I doubt I'll be able to finish reading this book. I'm up to page 42, and so far all I've been treated to is a list of professional equipment the author owns, and pictures with descriptions that tell me "my xyz lens lets me do this" and "my abc lens lets me do that" and so on. It's been very tedious reading, and I'm not getting much out of it.

I thought I was buying a book to teach me something about composition. But a book that teaches you something is aimed at YOU. This book reads like the author's CV or autobiography ("and then I took this picture, using my jkm lens and my fizzbar tripod, and then I took this picture with my...").

Sorry, Laurie, this book isn't supposed to be about you. It's supposed to be about you teaching me about composition. And, lest we quibble over what the word "composition" actually means, the back cover of the book defines it thus: "the creative arrangement of components in the shot, and the way the viewer's eye travels through the image."

I've read about 20% of the book, and have yet to read a anything about composing a shot. Glancing at the Table of Contents, it doesn't look like the good stuff starts until the second half of the book. I swear, if I have to read one more photo caption that begins, "My jkl lens allows me to..." I'm going to throw the book across the room and scream.

Ironically, composition has very little to do with your equipment. A great photographer can make a "creative arrangement of the components in the shot" with a cell phone camera. And maybe that's what the focus of this book should have been. Composition, not equipment.

This review is a work in progress. Assuming I don't give up in frustration and add the book to my pile of books to be sold, I may yet be able to discover why a book on composition needed five authors. And if I find a book that actually concentrates on composition, not equipment, I'll be sure to let you know what it is.
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on May 12, 2011
This book holds a very rare record. In my 53 years, I have only thrown two books in the bin after reading only a few chapters. This is one of them. If you're looking for a guide to photographic/artistic composition, then this really isn't for you. If you're looking for a book on general photography (which is what the title should be), there are better books out there.

The first chapter is nothing more than a brag-fest about the wonderful cameras the author owns that we mere mortals won't have a hope of buying. I started to add up the cost of the equipment he owns. I stopped counting at $30,000USD. Yes he takes nice nature photographs, and yes you need a rugged camera (or two), but you don't need to spend that kind of money to get a good setup. He makes no mention of the equipment that say, a wedding photographer, or a portrait photographer might need.

I skipped ahead looking for something on composition. Waaaaay into the book at Chapter 8, I started to find some reasonable information, but not a lot. He could have reduced this book to just 50 pages (from it's 250 page length) and honestly titled it "Composition". I read exactly three chapters (half of Ch. 1, Ch. 8, Ch. 9 and half of Ch. 10) then threw it in the bin.

In short - don't bother with this book. You can do much better. Buy a good art book and you'll learn about composition.
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on December 5, 2010
This is a great book with lots of useful easy to read and digest information for AMATEUR photographers. There is much less to gain from the book if you are an experienced photog but that is no reason to downgrade the rating for this book given its TARGET audience.

The chapters are well organized, the book is well written and I really like that the pictures are accompanied with relevant information about the shot including basic things like the shutter speed and aperture.

I would have loved to have had this book a few years ago when starting out my photography hobby. It would be a GREAT complement to the Scott Kelby series of books about Digital Photography:
Scott Kelby's Digital Photography Boxed Set, Volumes 1, 2, and 3, and Bryan Peterson's classic book on Aperture.

The book is compact enough that you can take it on a holiday with you to get inspiration on the road and see how to take better photos in various situations on your trip. Highly recommended for NEW photographers.
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on August 26, 2011
I bought this book based on a glowing review on the Digital Photography School web site. To be fair, it's a lovely book for those who need a tutorial on the general basics of DSLR photography. However, it did little more than piss me off.

I ordered a book on COMPOSITION, hoping for some inspiring, unique perspectives on rethinking composition. What I got was another book all about the basics of photography ... the same book that's been written five million times.

Not a single element regarding "composition" even appears until page 81. *sigh* ... the author takes many lovely photos, indeed. So, are we now in the "I", "me", "my", "mine" age whereupon everyone with a portfolio of good images has to have a book to explain the basics of photography?

Maybe I'm being a jerk here ... I'm sorry if that's the way it comes off. My bottom line on this product is this: if you're a beginner, you'll find all the adequate info you need to think like a photographer. If you're an intermediate to advanced photographer, save your money and buy a twelve pack of Dos Equis and a few limes. You'll just be putting another book on your shelf that's filled with redundant basics you already know. No offense intended, truly. This is a nice book, it's just not a palpable investment for the advanced photographer.

If you're going to call a book "Composition", then by God, make it a book that explains, addresses, involves, illustrates, challenges, and rethinks composition ... Don't sell me another book about aperture settings versus shutter speed, ISO sensitivity and light quality and quantity.
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VINE VOICEon September 21, 2011
Let me start with the positive. This book is excellent in that it provides many photographic examples of the concepts discussed. Not just generally, but specifically. It seems that every paragraph or two there's a photo illustrating the point being made. I have read dozens of photography books, and I don't think any of them come even close to this one in that regard. So kudos are definitely deserved!

However, I was disappointed with the book overall. Which is not to say it is horrible. It's not. It's fine. But only fine, not great.

The biggest problem with the book is that I can't really tell who the intended audience is. The information is so basic and thin that it has to be intended for beginners. But then why does he start with a chapter on the gear he uses? He doesn't really describe the thought process that should go into gear selection; he just tells you what he uses. What good is that for a beginner? It comes across as no better than showing off. For a more advanced person, this might be helpful. But the rest of the book is much too basic.

I guess I think this book might be useful for someone who is not a complete beginner. If this is your third, fourth, or fifth book on photography, it might be useful. It can reinforce things you've learned elsewhere, and actually helps by providing so many examples. But true beginners should hold off on this, and more experienced persons should probably pass.

BTW, the chapters written by David Brommer and Steve Simon are excellent. I would read other books written by them! And, as to Simon, I have.)
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on March 5, 2011
Learning discipline of composition gives you freedom to be creative. If you wanted to design sports cars, you would not want to be burdened by inventing the wheel, the internal combustion engine and ackermann steering every time. Probably 90% of what goes into each photo is routine and rule driven, and it is the remaining 10% that makes it really special. Do a bad job on the 90% and that tiny 10% bit is worthless and lost forever.

Most contemporary books have a difficult time teaching composition, and this one is no exception. The problem seems to stem from the authors not believing in the discipline in the first place. The book reminds you frequently that rules of composition are just a suggestion and are meant to be broken. It is a bit like learning carpentry where the instructor hands you a hammer and nail and then tells you everyone uses nail guns, or learning math and being told everyone uses a calculator. I believe they have lost sight of that 90% part they set out to teach.

The first chapter is more about this authors pro level equipment than composition. Yet the discussions on composition are so basic, that only the raw beginner would gain anything from it. The beginner would be better advised to master a single lens, at a single focal length, and explore the limits of composition with this alone. The order of chapters is almost backwards. Using focal length properly in composition is a more advanced technique, while negative space and working a subject are most fundamental. The tutorials seem good, though I skipped them.

The pictures are pretty good compared to others I have read, but illustrations are needed to convey this subject, of which there are very few. More before and after photos, comparing how a photo is improved by application of the rule in question, would be very helpful.

I have heard "composition" referred to as a technical skill, along with exposure and operating the camera. If so, why does composition seem such a difficult subject to teach, while these others seem so simple?
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on December 24, 2010
This is a very good book on composition. It is well written and illustrated with multiple to the point examples. Its takes the reader from the very basic concepts of photography to more advanced concept all in a logical, easy to understand language. I found the book hard to put down once I started and I feel that this is because the authors great writing style.

Update 2 weeks after having the book:
The material read has sunk into my mind and I find that I am using the techniques for composition more and more even when I am not thinking about them. The book has fullfilled its mission to improve the skills of the photographer. I feel that the book has opened my mind to seeing the world in a different way allowing better composition.
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on June 22, 2012
Somewhat disjointed thought flow in places, but I could live with that. Some good pointers, especially for beginning and intermediate skill levels. Some of the information was a repetition of information found in other From Snapshots... books.

The photography was excellent. The points being discussed were called out in the photos, making the information much clearer.

The biggest issue, in my opinion, is the horrible formatting, especially on Kindle readers running on tablets and PCs. Page breaks caused captions to appear on one page and the photograph on the next. The caption text was larger - yes, larger - than the body text. This is a book for visually sophisticated users. The least the publishers could do is ensure that such amateurish page layout is corrected before publication.

While I realize that the book may have been published from a content management system, this sort of 'default formatting' can be addressed with proper post-production review and correction. Also, there were missing pages. Errors such as this seriously detract from the value of this book. I can only hope the hardcopy is much better.
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on May 21, 2013
I'm a beginner in digital SLR photography and this book has been most helpful for me. It gives easy to follow explanations to the various techniques and then assigns photography assignments to practice these skills. The skills and techniques the author discusses are supported with photos which really help clarify what is being discussed. It starts off with the fundamentals to understanding photography and carries you through more advance skills and techniques. A good instructional book for beginners. The book arrived quickly and I highly recommend it.
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