Book Review: The Photographer’s Eye by Michael Freeman
Michael Freeman is a popular author amongst photographers. He has written a myriad of books on photography related topics: lighting, exposure, composition, etc. As the title implies, The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos is concerned with the subject of composition. This is a vast subject. Composition encompasses everything involved in the graphic (or visual) representation of the scene in the image. And everything means everything.
The usefulness for video of being familiar with (or, even better, being adept in) pictorial and still photo composition was discussed in some detail in the review of Pictorial Composition (Composition in Art) by Henry Rankin Poore. Michael Freeman’s book is a good complement to Pictorial Composition. The latter is a classic text; somewhat formal and theoretic; focused on the image itself and exploring the result. The Photographer’s Eye is more based into practice. It covers a lot of topics and also discusses the process of shooting with a mindset grounded in composition.
One of the strengths of this book is that it makes the reader aware of many compositional elements, some of which are not readily apparent. Even if it doesn’t usually go in depth, implanting the notion of these into the mind of the reader will inevitably lead to some useful thoughts. This is also good inspiration material. The Photographer’s Eye is one of these books that make you feel ideas sweep in your head. Both through concepts and specific examples.
The book covers pretty much anything connected to composition. It starts with the frame as a compositional device and touches upon formal balance and tension (there is more on this topic in Pictorial Composition). Then it goes into details on various compositional elements: content, lines and shapes, motion, rhythm, light, color, depth. Also discussed are the pure photographic elements in their connection to composition: optics and perspective, focus, exposure. The last third of the book delves into intent and process. More specifically: exploring locations, hunting the perfect image, reaction, anticipation, organizing subject matter, repertoire. All of these are useful skills for video; mostly for run & gun and documentaries, but also for improvisation. The topic of intent, style and process is expanded and further developed in a follow-up book called The Photographer’s Mind.
The Photographer’s Eye is richly illustrated. Many of the photos are editorial/documentary material and thus fall into the “telling a story with pictures” department. This makes them highly relevant to video shooting. If you can tell a story with a sequence of pictures, or – better yet – with a single picture, then you can surely do it with moving pictures. Another interesting side is presented by the more graphically oriented product photography illustrations. Cinematography books don’t usually explore the purely graphic side of composition as they are focused mainly on the practical aspects of framing. But graphic knowledge expands one’s visual arsenal and deepens the understanding of shapes and lines. This helps to see beauty in unexpected ways.