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Book Review: The Photograph: Composition And Color Design By Harald Mante

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After you deal with the technical aspects, the crucial elements that determine the quality and strength of an image are the organization of the elements and their content. It is these elements that make up the art of the photograph. Creative photography is built upon the mastery of these elements.

In The Photograph: Composition and Color Design, Harald Mante, a distinguished teacher of the photographic arts in Germany, explores the principles of line, shape, color, contrast, and design. His goal is to explore composition and design at a much greater depth than is available in most books to date. The Photograph is an oversized book with 280 full color pages and is divided into six chapters.

“The Point” refers to a means of organization in which the relation to the image plane is small or relatively small. A point is static and maintains its location. In this chapter you will explore various arrangements involving the point within an image. These points may be defined by an object, a color, a shape, or even multiple points, but they all draw you in. You will explore the point’s simplicity, arrangement, repetition, texture, pattern, and more.

“The Line” is a method organizing an image in an active arrangement. By using lines, you actively draw the viewer’s eye through the image, clearly creating movement. Here you will study how forces acting on a line force the eye to something in the image. You will study the properties of a line – how horizontal and vertical lines work differently in an image, and how diagonal, irregular, oblique, and groups of lines affect images.

“The Shape” is the design element by which areas of tone and color are bounded within or are allowed to cover the entire image. Described here are rectangles and squares, circles, ovals, triangles, as well as variants of irregular shapes. Also included are the contrasts of shapes.

“Universal Contrasts” are almost always present in a picture. These are the differentiations of light and dark, or of monochrome and colors. They give rise to the special effects within a picture. They are the differences between the figure and the ground, and the variations of space, and can be caused by the natural environment or the use of focal lengths.

“Color Contrasts” are, on the other hand, introduced into an image for effect. They can form from brightness, hue, or from complementary or contrasting colors. Much of the time, color reaction is based on one’s own feelings or sensations. You will explore the primary and secondary color effects, the third order colors, complementary and contrasting colors, cold/warm contrasts, actual and apparent colors, and simultaneous contrasts.

“Using the Tools” puts everything together within artistic design. The quality of design can only emphasize a picture’s content by presenting it well. Achieving expressiveness in an image requires creative and conceptual thinking. In this chapter you will work with color harmony, static and dynamic composition, imaginary and partial shapes, un-sharpness, and how to see them differently. You will also learn about sequences and series, and how they affect a vision.

The Photograph is different from the start in that the author does not speak of the traditional topics of composition such as the rule of thirds and other standard elements. Rather, he takes concepts like points and shapes and colors, and through the use of a massive amount of personal images (over 600 according to the publisher), explores them in depth.

The text in the book is very technically oriented. For those who pursue the aspects as they are taught, this will provide great insight into the creation of images that go beyond the ordinary.

If you are a serious photographer, then The Photograph: Composition and Color Design is a must-have book. While one could gain insight from this book just from reading the topics and viewing the images, one could also enjoy this book as one would a coffee table book since the images are so good.

This is not really a beginner’s book. It is a book for the intermediate to advanced photographer. If you want your photographs to be the best they can be, you should study The Photograph: Composition and Color Design.

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About T. Michael Testi

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