Book Notes: The Photographer’s Eye, by Michael Freeman

The photographers eyeBack in the day, I used to shoot a lot of photos. And by back in the day, I mean the time when film was the only medium. I had a couple of Olympus OM-1 cameras, and several lenses. I used to carry a camera with me when I walked around New York City, where I lived at the time, and mostly shot black and white photos, with Tri-X Pan and a 50mm lens.

I’ve been wanting to get back into shooting photos for a while. In the early digital days, good cameras were too expensive. I’ve been using my iPhone to take pictures for years, but I wanted something better. I bought an Olympus OM-D E-M10 (Amazon.com, Amazon UK).

After I got the camera, I received a recommendation from a photographer on Twitter to read The Photographer’s Eye, by Michael Freeman. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) This isn’t a book that will teach you how to use your camera; it assumes that you already know the mechanical aspects of the device. It discusses composition; how photographs should be laid out, how you should frame your pictures.

The book looks at the basic concepts of design, and how they apply to the picture frame. He discusses using color, and how colors combine and contrast. He looks at shapes and lines, and how they can be either boring or interesting in pictures you shoot. In short, he explains how to make your photos interesting, and not mere snapshots.

I used to go to photo exhibits a lot, both in New York and Paris. I’ve always found photography to be interesting as an art form. Reading this book, I realized why many of the photos I’ve seen in such contexts work as they do. Some parts of the book were not surprising to me: the way you use focus and depth of field to highlight parts of a photo, or the way that contrasts in light or specific framings can be interesting. But this book is a reminder of what makes good photos.

Freeman doesn’t present a series of rules; at one point he even explains that no system can help you make good photos. But he looks at many of the basic ideas that have developed over time as photographers have worked with the limitations of the frame, and of light.

After you’ve finished this book, a follow-up book called The Photographer’s Eye: A Graphic Guide (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) shows these principles in action, with diagrams illustrating how they work in a series of photos by the author.

If you’re interested in taking pictures, and want to go beyond mere snapshots and records of your travels, this book will get you started, and it may even change the way you look through your viewfinder (or at your LCD display).

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