445 of 458 people found the following review helpful
The Best Single Volume on Design and Composition in Photography
, June 14, 2007
This review is from: The Photographer's Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos (Paperback)
This is the best single volume on visual design and composition in years. Painters need a book this good. Freeman's earlier book from the 1980s, "Image," had long held the status, IMHO, of being the best single volume. His new book surpasses the older one by a significant margin.
Freeman is one of very few photographers, or artists of any ilk, who can articulate their art-related thoughts in concrete, accurate, analytical ways, and not in the jargon of so much of what is written about art that lacks any actual content. Not only is he an outstandingly gifted photographer, with dozens of books to his credit, but one who has mastered the grammar of images and is one of the few who can describe how and why visual phenomena work.
This is the most complete volume on this subject out there in terms of numbers of topics introduced and discussed at a reasonable length. It is also the most effective melding of the insights of current Gestalt perception theory with traditional design elements/principles in print. The first 60% of the book deals with the more concrete aspects of designing an image.
The last two chapters marry the other part of composing that is harder to articulate well: the message in a image, or the photographer's intent. Only in this book has an author attempted to define major categories of intent in making an image. And then categorizes the physical and mental aspects of how a photographer goes after, constructs, or recognizes an image - the process.
Throughout the discussions he introduces those aspects of digital imaging that a photographer can use to influence a picture's design. Perhaps the most powerful development is that digital in-camera and post processing technologies allow the photographer to apply to color images all those image control aspects formerly available only in the wet chemistry darkroom to monochrome images, as well as many more.
Make no mistake.... This is a book for readers. One cannot get all of this book's benefit from the illustrations alone, in the manner of so many "how-to" art and photography books these days that have pictures, but little text. But this is the book to which thoughtful photographers will return over and over for many years.
The only way it can be significantly better would be to have twice as many pages. It would make a wonderful textbook for any studio art, photography, art history, or art appreciation course in high school or college/university.
5 May 2009, update. The number of reviews, number of responses to reviews, and other sources of information indicate that this book is a certifiable best-seller among photography books. The response to this book indicates that there is a large market for information about the structure of images and for effective writing on that difficult, intangible interplay between design and content, or of structure and expression/message.
My hope is that Freeman and other capable author/photographers will publish books delving further into the composition problem. To date, the in-print situation is grim. This one, Mante's, and Hoffmann's books are about the only ones yet in English that deal with composing photographs at higher than the most elementary levels. Together these three books comprise quite a strong presentation at the intermediate level of image structure and of various approaches to imparting meaning and expression in one's images.
There is more, though, that can be said. To date there is no thorough look at the role of similarity and proportion in causing a viewer's eye to move through an image. That is to say, which characteristics among, shape, size, tone, color, direction, etc., assume priority in one's eye in which combinations, and how does proportionality, or violations thereof, work?
To date, this reviewer cannot find any published research that updates Alfred Yarbis's ground breaking insights into eye movement in images from the 1950s and 1960s. His work is quoted to this day as the definitive study in this field. His results seem to imply that many artists' assertions about the role of "leading lines" may be nothing but bunk.
Do light tones and bright colors really appear to project toward a viewer and darks recede? A Russian scientist has a considerable argument that, in fact, darks are what appears to "project" and lights recede. His work is not available in English.
Is the success or failure of an image still articulable only at the level of intangibles? At this point in the history of the arts and contributions from visual psychology and brain studies, one should be able to make specific assertions about structure and its role in the success or failure of carrying the artist's expression or meaning.
Unfortunately, there are very few artists or photographers who also write who can focus clearly enough on these nitty-gritty issues to make statements that have actual meaning. An inordinate percentage of writing about the arts still reduces to hand waving and ranting: always has, always will, it seems.
It is one of Freeman's gifts that he can write analytically and be a very successful, versatile artist. This book's success indicates that the demand is there for hard-hitting information on images. Three authors does not amount to much of a supply.
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