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Book Review: Composition: From Snapshots To Great Shots by Laurie Excell, John Batdorff, David Brommer, Rick Rickman, and Steve Simon

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Composition is one of primary elements that are necessary for taking a great picture. Composition is the arrangement of elements within the shot. It also provides a method for directing the eye of the viewer to the elements within the scene that you deem to be most important.

The goal of Composition: From Snapshots To Great Shots is to show you how to take the elements of color, shape, angles, and objects to create great images. It covers all features of composition including shutter speed, aperture, depth of field, and much, much, more. Composition: From Snapshots To Great Shots is 272 pages in length and is contained in 10 chapters.

Chapter 1, “Equipment,” begins with a discussion of the right equipment needed to create great photographs. Here you will learn about sensor size, cameras, lenses, teleconverters, filters, as well as other accessories like tripods, memory cards, batteries, and more. You will also learn about the author’s 10 basic camera settings.

Chapter 2, “Exposure Triangle,” consists of ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. The aim of this chapter is to show you the relationship to each other and how they work together. In this chapter, author and photographer Laurie Excell takes you through a couple of shots and explains how the settings affected the image. Then she steps you through the triangle and and subsequently each component and describes how they have an impact on the picture.

Chapter 3, “Light,” explains that without light there would be no photograph. Here you start off with a discussion of the quality and quantity of light and how it affects your images. Next you will learn about how the direction the light influences the look of your shot. Finally, you will see how exposure compensation can give you more creative control over your images.

Chapter 4, “Lines, Shapes, and Patterns,” are the things that make up the visual path into your image. The art of composition relies on the proper arrangement of elements to provide the proper impact you are trying to make. Here you will learn how to work with curves, various kinds of lines, patterns, framing, vertical or horizontal layouts, as well as layers.

Chapter 5, “Color,” is what can make for a very dynamic image. Through the use of the color wheel, you will see how to colors can be arranged. You will learn how color affects emotion, how black and white can affect an image, how colors can be used as patterns, and the significance of color within your image.

Chapter 6, “Spatial Relationships,” begins to tie all you have learned thus far into what you choose to include and exclude. These topics include the point of view within the image, the visual depth, scale, perspective, the environmental composition, where the horizon is, and where the subject is in the frame.

Chapter 7, “Black and White,” is as popular as ever in the digital age. In this chapter by John Batdorff you will see what you need to do to compose a good black and white image. This chapter talks about when to go to black and white, learning to see in a black and white world, how to approach the shot, his thought processes behind capturing a black and white image, the kind of settings he uses, a bit about post processing, and his gear.

Chapter 8, “Sports and Composition,” becomes a totally different animal as author Rick Rickman would say. It is also one of the most challenging to master because of the element of high speed. Here you will learn how to deal with the complexities, the speed, how to learn lessons from your mistakes, and what simple things make big differences.

Chapter 9, “Beyond the Rule of Thirds,” is by David Brommer and from his viewpoint he sees a problem that many people have is that they cut the scene in half. In this chapter he points out things that are not often spoken about when discussing composition, beginning with where composition originated, deconstruction and psychology of a composition, positive and negative space, and some thoughts on cropping and printing.

Chapter 10, “The Compositional Dance,” is where you move around and try to figure out the proper angle. Here Steve Simon discusses some strategies for finding your way to the best composition for any given shooting situation. He starts with the dance itself, then moves on to how to work the scene, how to change your vantage point, how to learn to be in the moment, finding your choices and limitations, learning how to have patience, reviewing your work so your experience will lead to intuition.

I really like the way Composition: From Snapshots To Great Shots is laid out. Beginning with chapter two, each chapter begins with an introduction. Then you have two sidebar spreads called “Pouring over the Picture” that feature an image and a discussion about the image. It includes the setting on how the picture was captured and dialog as well as arrows highlighting specific item within the shot.

It then goes in to the main material, but illustrates and highlights with many shots and descriptions. It is very easy to read and understand and really makes for a great book for beginners and those who may not be beginners to photography, but want to learn the fundamentals about the technical aspects of photography. For them I highly recommend this book.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.