The Art Of The Photograph, Essential Habits For Stronger Compositions – Book Review

June 30, 2015 ·

Michael Williams

The Art Of The Photograph, Essential Habits For Stronger Compositions
By Art Wolfe & Rob Sheppard, Photographs by Art Wolfe

Amphoto Books

www.amphotobooks.com

ISBN 978-0-7704-3316-1 $29.99

Art-of-the-Photograph_cover

In his foreward Dewitt Jones invites the reader to explore what he calls the three critical elements of the book, “the images, Rob’s text, and Art’s stories.” That brief synopsis explains quite well how this book is constructed. Art Wolfe’s images illustrate every point and topic in this 256 page softbound book. From the front to the rear cover, images collected by Wolfe from his travels across the globe have been carefully chosen to enhance Rob Sheppard’s thoughtful text. Art Wolfe adds his own insights in the first chapter, titled “Finding Inspiration,” but then clearly yields the penmanship to Sheppard in the subsequent nine chapters. Together these collaborators weave a well-documented series of instructional vignettes designed to guide the reader along the path toward making better photographs.

One of the first stops along this path is “Free Yourself To See” illustrated with this colorful fall image.

Paper birches, Superior National Forest, Minnesota
Paper birches, Superior National Forest, Minnesota

Rob Sheppard’s accompanying text makes the point that if a photographer limits themselves too much by a self definition of bird photographer, or landscape photographer, they will overly limit their subject matter and miss opportunities to truly see and appreciate all that they encounter.

As Art Wolfe states in his acknowledgements at the end of the book, The Art Of The Photograph began many years ago simply as “The Curriculum” and grew over time as he enhanced it with additional images. It led to a three-day workshop titled “Composing Effective Images,” and a one-day seminar titled “The Art of Composition.” Each image, or small collection of images, illustrates a particular concept such as “Orientation,” “Subject Placement,” “Simplicity,” or “Twilight.”

Cape of Good Hope, South Africa
Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

This image used to illustrate “Twilight” provides Sheppard a launching point to instruct the reader on the finer points of not packing up immediately after the sun sets, 20 to 30 second exposures, and the evils of auto white balance. “The short version? Don’t use it.”

The ninth chapter, “The 10 Deadly Sins Of Composition” is a wrap up of the ideas and concepts presented throughout the book. It begins with “Subject In The Middle” and concludes with “Lack Of Emotional Impact” illustrated with a technically fine but “Uninspired fall landscape, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington” and this beautiful image, “Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.”

rain137

Art Wolfe has undoubtedly committed each of the sins, as he is willing to show in the examples for number ten, but he has also clearly and repeatedly mastered each of the concepts shown throughout the book so that he is, as Dewitt Jones notes in his introduction, “one of the finest photographers of our time.”

The tenth and final chapter briefly discusses gear and workflow, but the overall theme in Sheppard’s text is worry less about the gear and more about actually shooting and finding your own path in photography. We all follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before us, but we make the path our own as we go along.

Gentoo penguin, Antarctica
Gentoo penguin, Antarctica

While stated early in the book, this seems a fitting close to this review; Wolfe writes,  “We all have unique experiences and points of view, yet none of us creates anything entirely original. Like all artists, we are inspired by other people’s work whether that of historical artists or the people around us today. The trick is to take what you can from the source and put your own slant on it.”

Highly Recommended

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Mike Williams, is a hobbyist photographer, sometimes art show participant, and works as the head librarian of the Central Library in downtown Indianapolis. A passionate technology explorer and early adopter his first digital camera was the Chinon ES-3000 in the mid 1990s. He and his wife Debbie enjoy traveling with their cameras as much as they can and hope to someday attend a Luminous Landscape workshop.

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