- Paperback: 194 pages
- Publisher: Focal Press; 1 edition (September 28, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0240815173
- ISBN-13: 978-0240815176
- Product Dimensions: 9.9 x 9.4 x 0.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #115,307 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Photographer's Mind: Creative Thinking for Better Digital Photos Paperback – September 28, 2010
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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?
- More or less
- Fairly well, and I’m getting better all the time
- Of course! What a nerve to ask!
- Trent Parke
- Irving Penn
- Ansel Adams
- A year’s invitations to opening nights at the photo gallery of your choice
- A coffee-table book on grand American landscapes
- The latest Ukrainian software to do something amazing to your image
- Fire hydrant
- Detail of a wall
- Gas station
- 50 plus
- An 85mm ƒ1.4
- A 105mm Macro
- A lens that bends, swings or tilts
- Interesting contrast between elements
- Rule of Thirds
- Getting it all inside the frame
- It’s more important to get it sharp, because you can fix the composition later
- Anything unusual
- Sunset and sunrise
- Frontal and crisp
- The camera is irrelevant
- He understood exactly how the camera works
- 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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Top Customer Reviews
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. In PM, he moves on to considerations the photographer should make of a photograph's presentational context: what is right in one context may be less effective in another, which may require a whole other "look." He does National Geographic's commentaries on photographing more than one better in his initial chapter on the "layers of subject." Freeman examines this topic in more textual depth and with more illustrations than NG does among most of their books and photographers' commentaries put together. Other topics look at beauty, clarity versus ambiguity, and ending with hiding in plain sight, the visual delay.
The second part of PM, "Style," is not really a continuation of the first several chapters in PE on the nuts and bolts of compositions, but on using those techniques to create a particular style of image. Yes, that's right, a style for potentially each separate image, as opposed to a "photographer's style." Why this approach? Well, digital photography has democratized the act of photographing to the extent that it is a universal activity. It now may be easier to notice who does not photograph or video than who does. It is, therefore, ever more difficult for a photographer to stand out over the long haul based on a "style," but more necessary for one to have mastered the old and the new to meet the need or intention of the moment, assignment, or project. Those who have invested the most in mastering composing and manipulating new technologies to individualize the effects of each image will win and be noticed. Training and mastery count here; this is not the stuff of the "I'm OK, you're OK" art training that prevails today. "Getting closer" eventually becomes a prescription for boring photos, if that is as far as one takes creating stronger images, despite what Capa said.
In the "Style" section, one highlight is the finest, most detailed, comprehensive essay on classical, static, and asymmetric balance I have seen anywhere, especially paired with the one on "opposition." I was stunned with how he managed to apply the musical harmonic measures covered in Bouleau's book to practical photographing in the essay on harmonics - not something I had figured out how to use in quick photographing. He wraps up this section with essays on the main range of styles in contemporary photography defined into four categories. This grouping covers the lens-timing-lighting aspects of composition inherent in the debates and conflicts between modernist and post-modernist adherents who may to greater or lesser degrees operate from behind a manifesto or within a philosophy.
The third section returns to the "process" by which, at least, this photographer solves creative, compositional problems at the time of shooting. In PE, he looked at reactive shooting in depth. He returns to that for a while in the essay on "interactive composition," wherein he examines his own reactions to changes in a situation and his reactions to them. The final set of topics he considers in this section is to define and analyze an image's "look." This concept, with the infinitude of hyper-precise digital processing techniques, is now a much more evident characteristic of one image or a collection of images. Freeman categorizes and examines in detail the stylistic components of what can be manipulated to achieve a certain "look" in a manner that was not feasible to any similar degree with film.
Freeman, among all photographers and painters, is almost alone in his ability to articulate in precise, meaningful ways his thoughts on composing and, in particular, how he manages the task. There is no art critical jargon and hand waving here. Each page is packed with information, often presented in novel ways and using differing emphases. Beyond using text, pages of captioned illustrations, and some of the best instructive diagrams I've seen anywhere to make his argument, he also summarizes or restates a topic or isolates a specific point in boxes - a sort of Power Point presentation within the book, and gives the reader tiny boxes with lists of web search terms pertaining to the subject at hand.
As a first entry in the literature of advanced topics in composition/design, this is a most worthy contribution, on its own merits and for opening a new level of discourse. Both Freeman and his publisher, ILEX, are to be commended for taking the risk to publish this level of material, not aimed at the beginning amateur market, where the publishing numbers are. PE is a best seller by any reasonable measure, and PM is a worthy next step for those who are hungry for objective, well-stated assistance in improving their photography, or, in fact, their image-making in any medium.
Bravo, Freeman and ILEX. May risk in this arena continue to be worth taking. We want more writing on this level and quality.
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.
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. Freeman describes how images fall into different kinds of categories (or "templates" as he calls them), and by analyzing your own pictures, you may find which styles you are most attracted to. This can help you in the process of "hunting" for new images when you are in the field. There was also a particularly interesting segment on "Interactive Composition", which contained a series of photos from one of Freeman's shoots that illustrated the process of creating a photograph. The book ends with some essays describing different "looks" your photograph can have, and how they are achieved (a number of these topics are really about post-processing). These were interesting, but not remarkable.
I almost came away hating this book, and was close to the point of putting this book down and not finishing it because of how awful it starts off. However, I was pleasantly surprised with how the book finished off. I think you could skip the first chapter entirely, most of the second. Instead, read from half way through the second chapter, through to the end, and focus on the photographs and example text rather than the main text. If you do that, I think you'll have a much better experience with this book than you would otherwise.