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Book Review: Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity, and Personal Style by Alain Briot

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According to the author of Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity, and Personal Style, "the personality of the photographers must be present in the image for an artistic photograph to have value."  Alain Briot intends on teaching not only what that is, but exactly how to create it.

Briot examines an artistic side of creating a work of art that is seldom associated with photography. He also addresses the technical side of photography, which will give you the tools to not only create better photographs, but develop better images. This book is 369 pages and is divided into 17 chapters.

Chapter One, "About Composition," begins by explaining how the author approaches photography as an art form. This means that his style of photography is not a matter of record keeping; rather it is a form of expression. Here he examines interpreting reality as opposed to capturing it.

Chapter Two, "Learning to See Like a Camera," looks at some preconceptions that people have of photographic art. Common assumptions are that it is the camera, or Photoshop, or perhaps the filters that make the photograph look so good, when in reality it is the artist and the way they uses their tools as opposed to the tools that they use to make the image.

Chapter Three, "The Eye and the Camera," are two different tools and as such they see the world differently. In order to create an image using a camera that matches what the eye first saw, you have to understand what the differences are between the two. Only then will you be able to express within the image what you felt.

Chapter Four, "Composing with Light," begins with the essential elements. With the winemaker it is not the barrels, for the cook it is not the pots and pans, and so with the photographer it is not the camera. Rather it is the light that is one of the essential ingredients. This chapter brings about all of the things that you need to know about working with light as well as methods of predicting the light, measuring the light, and even creating the light.

Chapter Five, "Composing with Color," is another essential element to take into account when creating a photographic art form. In this chapter you will not only learn about the different parts of color, but the essential color systems, color balance, color correction, and how to use color to control your composition.

Chapter Six, "Composing in Black and White," is neither better nor worse than working with color. Rather it is just simply different. As opposed to working with the multiple elements of color, when working with black and white, you only work with one main element; lightness. Here you will learn to see the world without color.

Chapter Seven, "Important Elements of a Strong Composition," now gets into foundational aspects of composition. In this chapter, the author begins with a comprehensive checklist of pieces that need to be addressed to have a strong foundation. Next he looks at seven examples and how he used the information in the checklist create each composition.

Chapter Eight, "Finding Inspiration," is only one aspect of the creative process. This chapter looks at the four and examines in more detail the first one; inspiration. One cannot look at inspiration without looking at the muses that drive you. Through the use of examples you will gain a better understanding of inspiration.

Chapter Nine, "Exercising Creativity," is different than finding inspiration. Just as one can be inspired, yet not be creative, one can also be creative without inspiration. Creativity is actually the ability to focus on a vision that makes it of your own conception. This chapter is about unleashing creativeness, overcoming the fear of failure, moving out of your comfort zone, and breaking the rules.

Chapter 10, "Developing Your Vision," is learning how to see what is not there. Learning how to take something that is abstract and make it real. It is taking something from your mind and giving it a reality that others can understand.

Chapter 11, "Achieving Your Personal Style," is something that grows over time. It begins with your vision and grows more distinct as you become bolder and find new ways to express your vision in your art. It comes with a personal way of seeing and a coherence of style within your work. Once you learn the rules, you are then free to unlearn them in order to make new ones.

Chapter 12, "Just Say Yes," when people ask you if you manipulate your images. There is a certain portion of the public that believes that in order for a photograph to represent reality, it should be unaltered. While this is true for some forms such as journalistic photography, it is not the case for fine art. This chapter provides information on the best ways to deal with these misconceptions.

Chapter 13, "Of Audiences and Bestsellers," examines how to determine who your audience is. Many photographers believe that they are their own audience and so do not need to address this issue. That works only as so far as you don't show your work to others. The reality is that anyone who creates art wants to share. This chapter looks at aspects of sharing your work whether for pleasure or profit.

Chapter 14, "The Numbering Affair," is about limited edition prints. This is a marketing process to enhance the perceived value of a particular image. This is a manipulative practice that is discussed in some detail here beginning with the history of the practice, the problems, and the realities.

Chapter 15, "Technical and Creative Field Checklist for Fine Art Photography," defines how to go about having an organized plan when creating fine art photography. While planning and inspiration generally do not go hand-in-hand, when you have a preconceived notion of what you are wanting to do, your inspiration can move more freely and not become muddled in confusion.

Chapter 16, "Image Maladies," can take many forms such as technical issues as well as artistic issues. These include cropping, edges, oversaturation, color casts, lack of black, white, or gray points, clipping, contrast, density, and color space problems. This chapter addresses solutions for working with these problems.

Chapter 17, "Memories of What I Have Seen," is a personal discussion by the author about his take on photographic fine art, what it means to him, and his approach to creativity.

Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity, and Personal Style is a book about the creation of art using the medium of photography. While it contains some checklists for what constitutes good composition, it is not, by any stretch of the word, a set of rules for composition.

Rather, Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity, and Personal Style takes the view of composition more from the viewpoint of a classical artist in which you begin with a reality, and you create a vision from that reality. Just as you would never ask Monet if his painting was reality, you shouldn't expect to ask the photographer it either.

What I really like about Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity, and Personal Style is that provides inspiration in both the author's words as well as his wonderful images. It shows a vast landscape of what fine art photography is becoming. This is many ways a follow-up to his previous book Mastering Landscape Photography.

I think that this is a very important book and one that you must own if you plan on creating fine art photography. If you have your basic skills down and want to enhance them with more vision, creativity, and inspiration, then I very highly recommend Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity, and Personal Style.

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About T. Michael Testi

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