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Designing a Photograph: Visual Techniques for Making your Photographs Work Paperback – May 1, 2001

3.8 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Bill Smith is an advertising/fine-art photographer with an impressive roster of big-name clients. He lives in Freehold, New Jersey.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Amphoto Books; Revised edition (May 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0817437789
  • ISBN-13: 978-0817437787
  • Product Dimensions: 11 x 8.5 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,447,547 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Conrad J. Obregon VINE VOICE on January 25, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If there were a "Truth in Book Titling Law", Bill Smith would have received a maximum sentence. This book does not teach you what its title purports.
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.
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Format: Paperback
Designing a Photograph isn't going to spoon feed you information and teach you technical skills. The emphasis of the book is to teach you how to see when you're photographing. The idea is to explain the different aspects of a photograph to you, visually show you with an example, and then have you explore using a "visual exercise" (a shooting assignment). One previous reviewer was unsatisfied with the book, claiming "We apparently must figure out the results for ourselves." Well that is the whole idea of the book. You will never learn how if someone always tells you what to do and you never learn the process. As a photographer myself who has worked for other photographers, I learned much by listening to their advice and watching how they worked. I truly learned by using what I heard and saw and keeping that it mind while I was shooting on my own.
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.
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Format: Paperback
I briefly browsed the book in local book store. I found a lot of catchy phrases and ordered one from Amazon. Now I really regret that I did. I found that most of the photographs the author used in the book didn't really bear much relationship with the concepts he was trying to convey. It is like his words and images are seperate. Instead, the author was basically trying to self critique, or rather, self appreciate his own images. Maybe I am missing something, but more often I fail to observe the important elements the author was trying to bring my attention to. I have to say, most of the images in the book are quite uninteresting and boring, just like several other reviewers have pointed out. Maybe they are perfect brochure type of images, they just didn't inspire me. When I see some nice photographs, often my reaction is, wow! how did they do it and how can I shoot something like that. I found none of that in this book. I bought quite a few books on photography, this one so far is the only one I am disappointed with.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The first edition of this book is one of my two favorites on compositional matters, the other being Michael Freeman's Image. The first edition stands out among all other books on composition and design in that Smith presents composing from the point of view of Gestalt visualization, presented theoretically by Richard Zakia in Perception and Photography and its update, Perception and Imaging.

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.
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