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The Photographer's Mind: Creative Thinking for Better Digital Photos Paperback – September 28, 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 69 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Selected Images from The Photographer's Mind

Bathed in light: composition, pose and lighting all move in the same direction--up towards the sun.

A hidden landscape: inside a conch shell, but with none of the clues to suggest what it might be.
A moment: the culmination of seven minutes and almost forty frames.

Another Moment . . .: but an uncertain one.

Amazon Exclusive: A Letter from Michael Freeman on The Photographer's Mind

Dear Amazon Readers,

Well, I’ve written and photographed many books, and I was a little shocked when last month the 150th one appeared. A third of these are about photography, and you might think that’s rather too many for one person to write. I mean, don’t I have anything better to do? Valid question, but I like books--no, more than that, I have a strong belief in them--and as my work involves a lot of travelling, I have a great deal of time to think and write when I’m on the road. In fact, I’ve always spent a little more than half of each year travelling, and usually on long trips. Five or six weeks at a time is my ideal, though it’s sometimes longer by necessity. This isn’t packaged tourism, of course, and many of the places I’m in are a little quieter and more remote than you might expect. Perfect for thinking about writing, and this writing is also about what I’m doing--shooting.

Two and a half years ago I published The Photographer’s Eye, a book which at its core is about composition. This evolved from a much earlier book, long out of print. It always seemed to me that the word "technique" was usually being applied to the wrong things in photography. Technique was taken to mean twiddling knobs and working the controls, not to mention the arcana of imaging software. All very well, but what about the result? You could train yourself to fit a flash unit to the camera faster than a weapons expert could change magazines on a Kalashnikov, or learn to despise anyone who doesn’t use Smart Objects in Photoshop, but if the image is boring at the end of it, what was the point?

The techniques that always engaged me (and to be frank, most of the other professionals I know) have to do with image making, regardless of camera model or Photoshop version. My background is editorial assignment photography, usually features, so the pressure is always on to make the shot interesting. It’s quite often about storytelling, and if I’m trying to tell a part of that story clearly, I might (for instance) need to find a viewpoint and framing that relates one thing in the frame to another. Or, can I find a composition and scale that somehow encapsulates the mood and essence of the scene? Or, did another photographer I know already shoot this in a particular way, and how can I be different and better?

Composition isn’t about the Rule of Thirds (spare me, please!) and getting the framing perfect. There is no perfect. But neither is it vague and happy-feely. There are real techniques that involve knowing what the frame shape is doing to you, how the eye and mind tend to respond to visual stimuli, and how to create the right balance between surprise and comfort simply by the proportion you allocate to elements In the frame. And because these techniques involve choice of subject and being certain of what you’re trying to achieve (for instance, make the scene lush and lovable, or shock the pants off the audience), composition reaches much, much further than placing points and lines in a rectangle.

Well, if I go on much more, this will begin to be a book! And there already is one . . . it’s the sequel to The Photographer’s Eye, and it’s called The Photographer’s Mind. It exists because there was much more that I wanted to say than I was able to in Eye.

There’s even a little bit more that I couldn’t fit into this, either. One thing I touch on in the book is the deep effect of frame shape, and in particular a new trend towards wider. 16:9 is rapidly gaining ground as a "natural" format (aspect ratio, actually) because of HDTV, and a few cameras offer this framing. And of course, its shape alone has an effect on composing that is noticeably different from 3:2 and 4:3. Here are four examples, each illustrating a different effect:

Pushes the attention outwards to left and right--gives a panoramic feeling.
Squeezes top and bottom--less foreground, less sky.
Encourages the "two-shot"--one object left vs. one object right.
Strengthens any left-right movement that the scene may already have.

What Kind of Photographer Are You?
A Photo Personality Quiz

Do you know how to read a histogram?
  1. More or less
  2. Fairly well, and I’m getting better all the time
  3. Of course! What a nerve to ask!
Which of the following photographers do you most admire?
  1. Trent Parke
  2. Irving Penn
  3. Ansel Adams
  4. Myself
If we were going to give you a free gift (which we’re not. so don’t build your hopes up), which of the following would you prefer?
  1. A year’s invitations to opening nights at the photo gallery of your choice
  2. A coffee-table book on grand American landscapes
  3. The latest Ukrainian software to do something amazing to your image
Which of the following have you photographed the most in the last year?
  1. People
  2. Landscape
  3. Fire hydrant
  4. Detail of a wall
  5. Gas station
How many times in the last week have you visited online photo forums?
  1. 0-10
  2. 10-50
  3. 50 plus
Imagining you didn’t already have these, which would you prefer as your next lens?
  1. An 85mm ƒ1.4
  2. A 105mm Macro
  3. A lens that bends, swings or tilts
Good composition is . . .
  1. Interesting contrast between elements
  2. Rule of Thirds
  3. Getting it all inside the frame
  4. It’s more important to get it sharp, because you can fix the composition later
What is your favorite kind of lighting?
  1. Anything unusual
  2. Backlighting
  3. Sunset and sunrise
  4. Frontal and crisp
  5. Flash
Helmut Newton was holding a DSLR and said, “It’s all automatic. All I have to do is press the button.” He then pointed to his head and said, “It’s all in here.” Did he mean . . .
  1. The camera is irrelevant
  2. He understood exactly how the camera works
  3. This camera is a miracle of modern engineering

How did you score? Add up the numbers for each answer you checked . . .

Either you have a passion for shooting, or you cheated because you guessed that a low score would be best. Even if the latter, at least you wanted to look like a photographer rather than a techno-geek, so you won’t be disappointed to find that this new book is completely about thinking and shooting pictures, with not a piece of a camera kit or a computer screen anywhere in sight!

What a balanced, reasonable and moderate individual you are! The alternative would be that you couldn’t really make up your mind, but that can’t be true, can it? Anyway, I really envy you for steering clear of extremes. Guess what . . . you’ll find an equally balanced view of the range of photographic expression and style in this book!

You just might need a little more excitement in your photographic life. Moreover, you’ll go pasty-faced from sitting in front of the computer screen. Recommendation: close it down, spend an hour reading this book, then go out with the camera and take at least two photographs of a kind you’ve never tried before.

Funny how this book seems to be good for everyone, isn’t it? Admittedly, you’ll still need the camera manual. But please don’t write to me saying how unfair and opinionated the test was, because that’s what these quizzes are all about!


"In this volume, Freeman contemplates what makes a photo gripping, appealing, or beautiful, breaking subject matter, lighting, and composition into component parts and defining and discussing each. Filled with examples at each step, the elements of a photo are organized into three sections - intent, style, and process - with examples of the transformations possible using digital technology surveyed in the final section. This is a superb guide, thought provoking and useful for photographers at all levels."--SciTechBookNews

"In Freeman's follow-up to his popular Photographer's Eye and Photographer's Eye Field Guide, he generously shares experience he has gained as a professional photographer to improve the quality of the digital pictures nearly everyone is now creating. The content is streamlined into three chapters, on intent, style, and process, that tackle both the practical and the intangible aspects of photography more thoughtfully than many similar books. Freeman is as adept at explaining composition as he is at discussing the problem of cliché or the philosophy of the sublime. Suitable for all who are serious about improving their photos."--Library Journal

"The Photographer's Mind is Michael Freeman's follow up to his best-selling book, The Photographer's Eye. Containing more than 400 images with schematic illustrations showing how and why they work, the book is targeted at serious amateurs, intermediate as well as professional photographers."--Photography Blog

"Freeman's latest offering reaffirms his place as a skilled photographer and deep thinker with much to impart about the variety of mental processes at play when viewing an image."--DPReview.com


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 194 pages
  • Publisher: Focal Press; 1 edition (September 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0240815173
  • ISBN-13: 978-0240815176
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 0.7 x 9.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #145,708 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By T. Campbell on October 10, 2010
Format: Paperback
This is the first book in English to look at topics in photographic composition and visual design in a practical manner from an advanced standpoint. It is the current approach for digital photographers to Ansel Adams's concept of "previsualization."

It is difficult to overstate the importance of this book to the literature on the composition/design (c/d) problem, not only in photography, but also in the drawing/painting arts. For the first time a potential text is available that provides the basis for a spiral curriculum in practical imaging, starting from the elementary writing that dominates the topic, through the intermediate level of Freeman's earlier "Photographer's Eye" (PE), and Mante's and Hoffmann's books, now to "The Photographer's Mind" (PM) at the advanced level. Throughout the text, actually a number of essays, Freeman weaves insights from the standard and highly regarded theoreticians, such as Arnheim and Gombrich, to the more current insights from visual psychology and brain studies on visualization, to art history and other writing on the c/d problem.

PM is a very worthy extension of PE, taking analysis of the structural components of an image done in PE to the next level - the photographer's intent, or the purpose of an image and how to define that and use the work flow of digital photographing to achieve a desired reaction from or convey a message to viewers. The material in PE needs by now to be second nature, done without conscious deliberation for the most part.

PM starts where PE left off, but in inverted order. The fifth chapter in PE on "Intent" is now an entire first section in PM. Freeman examined different kinds of "intent" in PE as contrasting pairs, starting from the most basic, conventional versus challenging.
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Format: Paperback
As some reviewers have noted, Freeman has written a lot of books. Okay: all thinly disguised envy to one side, this much is true, but hardly anyone has put out a book like this. Once you're done digesting the differences between P,A,Tv and M modes that every other book out there is going to put you through. Once you've gotten your fill of photography manuals that always seem to be more about Photoshop than photography, BUY THIS and read it again and again. This is not a how to do, it's more of a how to BE and how to SEE. This book along with Freeman's "The Photographer's Eye" should be on the shelf of every dedicated professional and amateur out there. As photographer's we're all chasing "the defining moment," and no modern photographer out there other than DuChemin ["Within the Frame"] who's actually writing books understands this impulse and its importance and the road to get there better than Freeman.

Sure, if you don't buy this book, you won't regret it because you'll never know what you missed. And if you never take your camera off AUTO there's a lot of other things you won't regret because you won't know what you missed. But the tragic fact is that you will have missed nearly everything. Don't continue to wake up in the middle of the night, screaming "OhmyGod! My entire portfolio is filled with high resolution snapshots!" Buy this book and it will repay you in ways you can't yet imagine.
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Format: Paperback
Like other books I've read from Freeman, I was really hoping to like this book, but came away disappointed. I did enjoy this book more than Freeman's other books, but for the first 2/3 of the book, I thought it was mostly a disaster. Things got noticeably better towards the end, and I came away with the overall impression that this book would have been far better with stronger editing and removing a good portion of the first two chapters.

As with other Freeman books, the text is really dry and uninspired. The writing has a very academic style and often crosses the line into boredom. The first two chapters on "Intent" and "Style" were mostly really tiresome to read and contained very little instructive value. These chapters contained a collection of short, but meandering and pointless essays that contained random tidbits of art history, cultural trivia, personal anecdotes, etc. At times, I wondered whether or not this was even a book about photography. I didn't find any of the information here actionable or instructive.

Things get better past the middle of the book. There was a section on "Leading the Eye" and "Opposition" that were interesting, and Freeman discusses techniques used in painting that also can work in photography. From there, the real highlight of the book were the example photographs and accompanying text. There are some really good insights here into elements of a strong photograph. The main text that preceded the examples continued to provide very little value, though. If these chapters were rewritten to contain more images and commentary on those images, it would have had much more instructive value.

The final chapter on "Process" was thought-provoking.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I have been involved with drawing, painting, designing, etc., and of course with photography, for nearly all my life, and have (I guess) naturally sort of taught myself how to "see" something beforehand. Thus, I find myself wanting to heap tons of praise onto Michael Freeman for what he has done here with this book to "help" photographers or would be photographers with "what you (can) see is what you (will) get".

Seeing beforehand, thinking through, if you will is an amazing helpful and constructive process. I have used it for years in all aspects of my career in the arts/publishing/design industry. Here Freeman walks you through numerous aspects of photo composition that need to be practiced beforehand in order to get the photographs you want, not the ones that you almost got! Everything here is good advice, there are no wrong turns or "wasted suggestions", straight and to the point. Accompanying all of his suggestions and advice, Freeman gives myriad examples of before and after possibilities and results that (should) make it crystal clear to the inexperienced what he/she needs to do to make (it) a better photograph. Remember, the world of Digital is not the same world as conventional, and Freeman points these things out and up for you clearly and succinctly.

Well written in clearly articulated English, I cannot imagine that anyone would not be able to maneuver through this truly great book and NOT come out a BETTER photographer.

This volume is certainly one of the best and most clearly written (therefore helpful) books to aid photographers or "would-be's" that I have seen. I heartily recommend it to both experienced and non-experienced photographers. Unlike many "help" books, this one will not just sit uselessly on your shelves!
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