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Friday, 19 May 2017


I think Light, Gesture & Color by Jay Maisel would be a good choice. Simple, straight forward and great images. Not new blood but a relatively new book by one of the masters.

[Thanks for this reminder Wayne. I intended to talk about Jay in the post when I wrote it, and just forgot. Fixed now, thanks to you. --Mike]

Rather than newer, I would certainly recommend another that is older. Ansel Adams' "Examples The making of 40 photographs" is a treatise on 40 of his photographs from conception (or first seeing the image) through to the printing of these images. Some of it is irrelevant to digital but I still like the concept and they are a nice collection of landscape, posed portrait, candid portrait and still life photos he made over the years.

This topic might better be explored through video, where real time experiences can be visualized. I recall one of Fred Picker's video trilogy that covers Photographing with Fred (the other 2 on Techniques and Printing), where he takes the viewer on assignment and offers rationale for his field decisions and later presentation. This series is out of production, but there are many other similar resources. LuLa, for example, has a site link to many useful videos (for a nominal annual fee). I've seen others that record workshop segments where teachers and students discuss issues in real time.

Seeing is probably one of those things where each person has to find the model best suited to their personality or the way they process the world, and since many beginning shooters have little idea of how their own eyes and minds process the visual world, let alone in a photographic context, they may have to look at many models. Not a bad thing, as chores go, as even people who don't see the way we do can stretch our perceptions and insights and give us ideas.

To get even more grizzled than Mike's recommendations, there are the venerable Notebooks of Edward Weston and Ansel Adams' Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs. For me, Stephen Shore's The Nature of Photographs and Robert Adams' Why People Photograph are essential examinations of how and why the medium works and how to talk about these things, and I'd love to see them rethought for the digital era, especially Shore.

Some people can get a lot out of looking at photographers' contact sheets. I'm a big fan of William Klein's video series Contacts. Magnum Contacts offers similar joys and insights in book form.

Yes, these are all old school film shooters, but that's what I know. Don't get me started on painters! But that reminds me of how much I learned from Lawrence Weschler's bio of Robert Irwin, Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees.

Scott Kelby's guides to Digital Photography are very much "stand by your side and tell you to try this". They're a good way to work with an experienced photographer, without, actually working with one. lol

The Austrian artist, Oskar Kokoschka, ran summer courses which he called 'Schule des Sehens', School of Seeing. (My wife was the youngest painter to be accepted). We often have to relearn how to see, really see, what is in front of us. Good photographers help us to do that.

"Photography for the Joy of It" by Freeman Patterson. 1977, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 166 pages.

Equal parts technical, artistic and philosophical advice for new photographers. The section called "Learning to See" (a third of the book) includes the chapters: Discipline; Properties of Light; Directions of Light; Exposure; Symbols and Design; and, Point of Focus and Depth of Field. Short and pithy, the book illustrates its points with many wonderful photographs of course.

I checked and there are more recent editions updated to include advice for digital photographers.

For those who live in or near Germany: Harald Mante still offers workshops. They are not expensive and well worth the money. I attended one some years ago and can attest that he's an inspiring teacher and a fine guy.

Best, Thomas

The most useful books for nuts and bolts photography (gear and how to use it) I've seen have been those by John Shaw. Although aimed at nature photographers, the books are so much more than that.

Ansel Adams' "Examples -- The Making of 40 Photographs" comes to mind. Particularly if the teacher/student are technically inclined. I still find it a useful source of inspiration and technical information.

Annie and Jay's books are excellent.

Larry Fink's On Composition and Improvisation from Aperture is also a great companion. Very simple lessons, one per page, but potent if given some consideration.

Well, this isn't a "book", but if you find these words useful it's a "resource":

I say to students that we're going to take pictures of things which don't exist ..then I send them off to take pictures of, for instance, Unity, Joy, Conflict, Imbalance, and so on ..so they have to think what they want to convey with each picture, and not just deliver simply a reproduction of what's in front of their lens.

Then I tell them to say - not silently or just in their mind, but to actually say quietly but audibly - what they're going to take a picture of ..and then to look around the viewfinder, or the little screen on the back, and get rid of everything which is not what they've just said ..by changing their position, for example, or by zooming in, or walking closer, or tilting the camera ..so that they take a photo of exactly what they said they would.

I take some pics, while they do, but I make mistakes: taking a picture of someone against the sun, so that what I get is just a silhouette, for instance ..and afterwards, they can criticise my faults, but I'm not - and no-one else is - criticising their pictures.

In the time-worn phrase: I hope that helps.

The Aperture workshop series is good and reasonably priced. I particularly liked the Todd Hido one and there are others by Mary Ellen Mark, Larry Fink, Alex and Rebecca Norris Webb.

Freeman Patterson was a big influence on me when I first started in photography. His " Photography and the Art of Seeing" is a good primer on learning how to see and find images in places you may have not thought to look. I recall an exercise where you must choose a small area, of which you are quite familiar (like a small backyard), and push yourself to shoot a whole roll of film. Freeman also taught for a few days at the photography school I attended, which was a real thrill. His first series of books (which include Photography and the Art of Seeing) have also been revised for the digital age.

Mountain Light

Mike, regarding your interesting suggestion: "Rather than "talented students don't need the teacher, except as an enabler and path-clearer," mightn't it be closer to the mark to say that those with talent never lose their ability to be students—or to find new teachers?"

Hmmm... I'd say not. Or, actually, I'd say that we might actually be referencing two different types of people. There are people who are genuinely "talented students". That is, they have a talent for learning from others. They ask incisive, timely questions. They have formidable associative memories. And, yes, they never lose their nose for finding teachers in whatever subject they're studying.

In my case, I think I was actually thinking of the "student who's talented". That is, someone who just has an intuitive natural gift for some undertaking, in our case photography. They may be very sharp students keen at learning tips from their teachers and peers. But they can make a dozen more interesting frames from any scene in one minute than anyone else around them...including their "teacher", without anyone's tutelege. When asked how they did it they can only shrug.

I'll bet that you can recall classmates who qualified in either of these two categories. I sure can. Personally, I learned the most from the "talented students" who taught me how to learn. The "students who were talented" were usually fascinating to watch but worthless for my education.

Back to the topic, this is why Molly Bang's book (hey, thanks for the Kindle link!) is so darn good. It provides foundational stepping-stones to visual awareness that talented and skilled people continuously, but intuitively, apply.

Michael Freeman's books "The Photographers Eye" and "The Photographers Mind" might be what you are looking for. Thoroughly recommended.

From the original question poser -- thank you all for these suggestions. The generosity of TOP's brain trust/readership is a special thing.

My favorite author is Andrew S. Gibson. He started off writing for Craft & Vision, David duChemin's publishing label, and now publishes his own photography ebooks. You could almost say he's an apprentice of David! David's ebooks are also every bit as good as his print books.

My new favourite is a close second to On Being A Photographer by Hurn and Jay. "Image Makers Image Takers" by Anne-Celine Jaeger is excellent. Its is a string of interviews but is great is her straight forward questioning and hence straight answers. Really good.

I have read how-to books by Ansel Adams, Robert Freeman, Stephen Shore, Harald Mantle and even David Duchemin, but the best one so far is this:

Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb on Street Photography and the Poetic Image

There's (mostly) great or at least interesting photos; and the text is captivating. I tend to prefer the straight writing by Alex but Rebecca's descriptions with her pseudo-poetic viewpoint (which I'd usuall dismiss) is quite peculiar and offers a nice counterpoint to the interpretation of a scene.

No mention of techniques if I recall correctly. Which is per se instructive, as a reminder that to do good photography you don't really need the latest camera or learn esoteric photoshopping.


Ansel Adams claimed (paraphrasing his words) a dozen keepers in a year's period of photographing made him happy.

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