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The Art of Photography: An Approach to Personal Expression Paperback – December 8, 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 242 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Bruce Barnbaum, of Granite Falls, WA, entered photography as a hobbyist in the 1960s, and after four decades, it is still his hobby. It has also been his life's work for the past 30 years.

Bruce's educational background includes Bachelor's and Master's degrees in mathematics from UCLA. After working for several years as a mathematical analyst and computer programmer for missile guidance systems, he abruptly left the field and turned to photography.

Bruce has authored several books, some of which have become classics. The Art of Photography was first published in 1994 and remained in print until 2007. Bruce has been self-publishing the book ever since, but with limited distribution (until now).

Bruce is a frequent contributor to several photography magazines. His series "The Master Printing Class" is featured in each issue of Photo Techniques, and his articles are published regularly in LensWork. Through his workshops, articles, lectures, books, and innovative photography, Bruce has become a well-known and highly-respected photographer, educator, and pioneer.

Bruce is recognized as one of the finest darkroom printers on this planet, both for his exceptional black and white work, as well as for his color imagery. He understands light to an extent rarely found, and combines this understanding with a mastery of composition, applying his knowledge to an extraordinarily wide range of subject matter. His work is represented by more than ten galleries throughout the United States and Canada, and is in the collections of museums and private collectors worldwide.

Bruce has been an active environmental advocate for more than three decades, both independently and through his involvement and leadership with organizations such as the Sierra Club, the National Audubon Society, the Stillaguamish Citizens' Alliance, 1000 Friends of Washington, and the North Cascades Conservation Council.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 364 pages
  • Publisher: Rocky Nook; 1 edition (December 8, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933952687
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933952680
  • Product Dimensions: 10 x 0.8 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (242 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25,822 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Z. Cheng on December 5, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For someone who had no previous formal education in art of any sort including photography, this is the best book I came across. I was looking for a book that is not too advanced to understand about artistic compositions, but not too shallow that it simply tell you to apply "higher contrast is better", "the rule of the third", "the golden ratio" etc. without enough explanation. I actually came across some books like that which left me even more confused about compositions. Most of the time, I just blindly apply whatever I learned of composition.

But this book is totally different. It starts talking about the philosophy of how photography is connected personally to the photographer. Then it gives a detail analysis of all the elements of composition with great examples and with a language that even an amateur can understand. Best of all, the author did a great job at interconnecting all the elements to help the reader understand the importance of applying a combination of elements instead of focusing on just one of two of the elements. It is like putting all the puzzles together to solve a great mistery.

If you want to find a book that will teach you composition and connect yourself to your photography, this is the book.
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Format: Paperback
Here's a case where Amazon's star rating sytem doesn't work very well. As described below, for a very small number of photographers this book will prove useful. For the vast majority of photographers it will not.

I've long been an admirer of the work of Bruce Barnbaum. An original Barnbaum print hangs on my wall. A copy of his book of photographs, "Visual Symphony" graces my coffee table. Several years ago I purchased a used copy of the original, but then out of print, "The Art of Photography" at an outrageous price. I have to confess that much of the book was unread because it dealt with film photography, and I had long since made the switch to digital.

Now "The Art of Photography" has been reissued in a revised form, supposedly updated for the digital age. The book attempts to cover all of photography from visualization to hanging the print on the wall. There are even chapters that discuss ideas like innovation and old saws like truth in photography. There are references to digital photography, but a great deal of the book is devoted to Barnbaum's take on the zone system for film photography, including processing film to increase (or decrease) the range of light captured on the negative. There is a tip of the hat to digital photography, including the importance of the camera's histogram to capture exposure, and reference to high dynamic range photography to increase the range of light for digital captures but the heart of the book is film. The book is illustrated with Barnbaum's photographs, mostly in black-and-white, and they are drop-dead beautiful. If you like Ansel Adams you will love Bruce Barnbaum's images.

I suppose these images alone may justify the updating.
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I suggest you read this quote first:

"Whether I like or dislike the subject matter, I will not attempt to produce meaningful work with it if I am not moved by it. At best, I could produce a good but meaningless composition, much like a grammatically perfect speech that says nothing".

If you agree with this, then you will enjoy reading The Art of Photography from first pages. If not, then just go to the HOW part and you won't be disapointed either.

In a nutshell, Bruce Barnbaum first explains what the principle "Subject matter is a subject that matters" is all about. Then he teaches you how to express yourself "grammatically" correct.

So many photography books describe such thing as composition, for instance, as some illusive matter that can only be explained in abstract terms or very basic rules and cannot be taught consistently. "You need to have a vision... You've got to learn how to see in black&white..." Stuff like that reads okey until you come across a book like The Art of Photography.

This book is so concrete and practical that every paragraph teaches you something useful (I mean, really teaches you, not just tells you how important it is). It's the only book of all those I've read so far that clearly states what Composition is, what elements it consists of, and what roles each of the elements plays. The critical thing for me is that the author really guides you through this labyrinth: you can feel that his goal is to bring you to the point where you'll be able to feel comfortable in this labyrinth and navigate there alone. After reading The Art of Photography you won't miss those "Why Photographs Work" books because you will be able to see it yourself.

The book is both very fundamental and simple (not simplified!
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Format: Paperback
Books about photography can be placed across a very wide spectrum. Some focus almost entirely on the mechanics of capturing and producing images in a pleasing but essentially documentary fashion. Others approach the making of photographs from a largely aesthetic point of view emphasizing the physiology of human vision, emotion, creativity, and the artistic elements of light, color, composition, style, and social discrimination. A few attempt the difficult task of trying to cover all the bases, usually coming up short due to limited time and space, or by fostering exceedingly narrow points of view.

In this book, Bruce Barnbaum covers a great deal of territory, including theory, mechanics, philosophy, psychology, and the expression of a strong personal viewpoint along with over 100 images illustrating specific points, all wrapped in a nicely produced square format with a fairly elegant feel for a paperback. For the photographer who is a serious student of the art and craft of imaging it's a wealth of information, and certainly an excellent learning tool and reference piece. It is not, however, without limitations.

First is the fact that the views expressed are quite narrow in perspective. There's no question that the author is exceedingly bright, highly experienced, and duly lauded within the tight-knit community of well-known fine-art photographers. But photography as a medium deserves freedom from too much pigeonholing. The strong emphasis in this piece is on artistically created large-format black & white images processed in a wet darkroom and delivered in the form of silver prints.
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