Friday, March 25, 2005

Can YOU see creatively?

I finished reading "Learning to See Creatively" by Bryan Peterson a few weeks ago. This was quite an incredible book. In terms of the absolute content covered, I would put this book just a hair behind "Understanding Exposure". However, taking into account that I already knew a lot of the ideas covered in that one, I would say that this book was probably a little more helpful to me. So what did it cover?

Bryan starts out with a discussion of the broad categories of lenses (standard, macro, wide, zoom). Not a lot of new material for the intermediate or advanced photographer. However, more so than reading what he says about each category, it's really worth looking at his photos of how he used each one in creative ways. My favorite example from this section was a shot of a mountain where, rather than focusing on the mountain as most people would do, he picks his primary subject to be some wildflowers in the field in front of the mountain, and then leaves the mountain itself to be an out of focus (but still very recognizable) background. His macro shots in this section are also wonderful.

Next, Bryan goes onto covering the 6 elements of creative design: Line, Shape, Form, Texture, Pattern, and Color. Although this only comprises a little more than 1/4 of the book, I really felt that the ideas in this part were the real meat of the material. Very interesting reading his thoughts on how to use each element alone, as well as with each other. He talks about the different types of moods evoked by different lines (curve vs diagonal vs zig zig), and how you can often improve the composition by simply rotating the camera to change the angle of the lines. He discusses how the different elements are affected by different angles of lighting. How to use contrasting object to interrupt a repeating pattern. How to use opposing colors together. Tons of other stuff here too. This section was just too valuable to pass up.

In the next section, Bryan continues on with an amazing discussion of different techniques of composition. He reiterates the often heard mantra of getting in closer (no...CLOSER!!), as well as the popular Rule of Thirds. Another interesting idea here was his mention of the "Right Third", and how often a picture can look even better when flipped so the subject is in the right third of the picture rather than the left. He discusses taking landscape shots without including the horizon. Frame within a frame (his idea is that every picture has yet another interesting picture hidden within it). Bryan also covers the highly controversial topic of "Working your Subject". In Bryan's opinion, repositioning and trading out items in a scene is definitely acceptable if it gives you a better composition. Despite some people opinion that you don't get the true picture, Bryan suggests "the real truth of a photograph is in its ability to evoke emotion". Finally, after establishing all of these compositional "rules", he finishes out the section with a discussion of how to break all of the rules when necessary.

Next up is a quick discussion of using light, although this section is really just an abbreviated form of his discussion of light in Understanding Exposure. After that is a brief discussion of digital photography, and how Bryan uses tools like photoshop to achieve creative results. Bryan finishes out the book with a couple of pages on choosing your career path in photography.

As with Understanding Exposure, this book is definitely filled with wonderful idea...however, they all pale in comparison to the wonderful photographs that Bryan has chosen to demonstrate each idea. With careful observation, you can learn a ton from this book without reading a single word of the text simply by looking at the pictures.

In summary. I definitely recommend that everyone pick up a copy of this book. This book is every bit as good as Understanding Exposure. In fact, the only way you can go wrong in picking one of these books over the other is by not picking up a copy of each.

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