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Designing a Photograph: Visual Techniques for Making your Photographs Work Paperback – May 1, 2001
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Once a photographer has learned how to manipulate the controls on his camera for proper exposure and focus, he wants to know how to capture the world around him with a camera in a way that will convey it to others in the way that he comprehends it in his mind. This process requires the photographer first to see in his mind's eye what it is he wants to photograph, be it object, relationship or emotion. Next the photographer arranges the elements onto film or charge coupled device. Most people can learn how to make an exposure that people will recognize as part of the world. The quality of previsualization (to use the great photographer Ansel Adams' word) and composition is what makes the difference between a snapshot and art.
The title of this book suggests that it will help you improve the quality of your photography. However, most of the language in this book is vague generalities that defy the reader to extract a useful lesson.
Oh, there are some almost useful sections. The chapter "Look before You See" suggests a number of photographic exercises that could be useful. For example Smith advises that you shot a roll of film on a single subject. "Vary the camera angle, the lens, the distance from the subject, and the focus...." But then what. It would appear that we will automatically extract something from what is on film that will help us learn. But he doesn't tell us how varying the camera angle will effect the photograph. We apparently must figure out the results ourselves. Without a little more guidance, we could well end up with 36 shots of nothing satisfactory.Read more ›
For those interested in photography, the Applied Design section gives you a glimpse of what's involved in being a professional photographer. When you work in photography for a living, not everything you shoot is what you would choose to shoot for yourself. Many of the photographs are from jobs, especially in this section. They are there to illustrate a point. If you find them boring, I suggest you avoid photography as a career because you would most likely not enjoy it. It's not all as glamourous as most people believe.
In short, if you are looking for a book to give you rules to follow like a Kodak guide to taking better pictures, this is not for you. It is not a technical guide that will teach you how to operate your camera. There are plenty of books out there to do that. The focus of this book is to teach you the process of designing a photograph and to learn to see on your own.
The value of this second edition to me is to supplement the first edition with the new photographs. I don't think the second edition stands well on its own.
What the first edition did much better is mainly in the captions to the photographs. In the first edition, Smith discussed at length the visual aspects and structure that were present in each photo to explain how these aspects caused the eye to move throughout the frame. The captions in the second edition are much less devoted to the structure of the image and more like so many others' books in talking more about how he came upon the opportunity to take the image.
The text in the first edition is also more deeply written, while that of the second repeats the first, or cuts some good material.
I have spent several years, intermittently, finding what has been written about composition in photography and other two-dimensional visual arts, and my conclusion to date is rather grim. Using various databases, I have found several dozen books going back to the late 19th century. In general, the best writing on composition is out of print by many years.
I have not been able to find any U.S. art program that teaches composition or design as a stand alone subject; it is almost always blended into drawing classes as exercises and critiques. I'd like to hear that I am wrong about this.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book is recommended reading for professional photographers studying to become certified by Professional Photographers of America - PPA.Published on August 22, 2010 by ajader
This book is a good visual tool. It lacked slightly on the actual technique side. Not enough detail for the actual design of a photo. Was able to work around that however.Published on July 3, 2007 by P. A. Anderson
For such a small book (page-wise), it conveys an enormous amount of information. Each page contains a photo with a textual description of the design philosophy behind it. Read morePublished on May 8, 2007 by A. Bromage
I have first bought this book in 1986 and, I believe, I have learned a substantial lesson from it throughout the years. Read morePublished on April 18, 2007 by Firestarter
There is some useful information about composition and design in the first section, but the bulk of this book is full of generalities and common sense information that won't be of... Read morePublished on March 13, 2005 by Robert Ellis
This is an excellent resource for photographic design. In these days of digital photography, people are just clicking away and often don't think about the design of their photos. Read morePublished on June 8, 2004 by T. Hooper
I've read dozens of books on photography and this one has to be the worst one. Why? As a aspiring photographer, I wanted to improve my compositional skill. Read morePublished on June 2, 2004 by Chris Wong
Real nice advice, and easy to read. Some things are a little simple an I knew already, but that is no reason to down grade the book. Read morePublished on February 24, 2004