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Book Review: Visual Poetry: A Creative Guide For Making Engaging Digital Photographs by Chris Orwig

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As written in Visual Poetry, a great photograph has the potential to transcend verbal and written language. The question becomes how do you create these photographs? What are the important aspects of a great photograph? Why do some photographs take on a life of their own, while others lay flat?

Over the years as an instructor and photographer, Chris Orwig has taught many students and in doing so he has seen many soar and others fade away. What is the difference? It is the ones with the passion, the ones that make do with where they are, the equipment that they have, and the situation that they are in are the ones who can create the most.

Visual Poetry is written for that type of person. The person who craves to learn, grow, expand their knowledge, and create their own opportunities. The approach is a workshop style and like a workshop, it can be taken over and over again and each time you will come out with a little more knowledge and more inspiration. Throughout the book there are guest speakers that add different voices to the sections. Visual Poetry is 312 pages and divided into 12 chapters and 3 parts.

Part I: Getting Started

Chapter 1. "Poetry and Photography" is both about conveying a feeling within a limited space. What a writer says in 20,000 words a poet says in 20 and photographer does in an 8 x 10 space. It is all about doing more with less but yet still telling the story. It is about learning how to grasp the moment.

Chapter 2. "Creativity and Photography" shows that the creation of a great photograph is more than following a series of steps. It is about creativity. Here you will examine what it means to be creative, how to become creative, but most of all, it was written to inspire you to become creative.

Chapter 3. "Learning to See" is a vital part of photographic creativity. It is what allows you to instinctively compose and frame your picture. Seeing is an ability that one has to practice, work at, and exercise regularly if it is to grow. You have to learn to observe, listen, be mindful of your surroundings, and learn to notice the lines, shapes, and colors that surround you.

Chapter 4. "Camera Creativity and Technique" is as important today as it was when the first photographs were created – in fact, maybe even more so. Photography is a craft that is dependent on taking risks. You have to think of yourself as an inventor that is building on what has come before. This chapter examines the creativity of risk taking.

Part II: Let the Adventure Begin

Chapter 5. "Portraits," are about capturing the essence of an individual. It is an art that has been practiced for thousands of years and the attempts have been as diverse as the subject matter. There is a story to a portrait, a stillness, and substance. Here you will learn how to look around the subject but still keep the eyes in focus.

Chapter 6. "Kids and Families" are a great reason to buy a camera and getting more out of taking better photographs of families is what this chapter is about. You will gain insight into different ways to capture the moments. Sometimes it is as simple as waiting.

Chapter 7. "Wedding Bells" bring up the emotion of celebration and deep inside they are part of the fabric of who we are. They are also the perfect time for photography and they provide the gift of lasting memories. Here you will see how wedding photography tells the story of a moment in time that can last a lifetime.

Chapter 8. "Travel" photography, whether simple or elaborate, is all about capturing the experience. When you travel to some place for the first time, you exercise your ability to see. You travel in order to be surprised. Here you will examine how to capture iconic moments that sum up your experiences without resorting to the postcard image.

Chapter 9. "Action and the Great Outdoors,x" while being two distinct areas, are also well connected. You have the landscape which can be all encompassing and then you have the story. This can be the rock climber, the cyclist, or simply the sunrise on the Pacific coast. You must keep in mind that you need to capture the essence of both the place and the moment. You must invest yourself.

Chapter 10. "Found Objects and Subjects" do not happen if you are just drifting along. You must seek, look, listen, and delve into the mysteries of life. You have to loosen your grip on what feels like home and see what is around you. Here you will explore about how to find the unusual perspective on things.

Part II: What's Next

Chapter 11. "Camera Gear" to a photographer is like light to a moth. It draws you in. But the key to remember is that it is not the camera that makes the photographer any more than it is the pots and pans that make the chef. Sure, in some situations you need the correct equipment – don’t go photographing the grizzly with a 50mm portrait lens, but if you spend the time making better pictures with the gear that you have, you will become a better photographer.

Chapter 12. "The Path to Becoming a Professional," is a difficult task. The market is constantly changing, it is oversaturated, and the path is littered with broken dreams. The level of your lack of success depends on who you are. But isn't that the point? If you are easily dissuaded, then you will fail, but if you believe…

Visual Poetry is a wonderful adventure. It is not a book about quick fixes, but rather it is a book about life, exploring, and seeing. I have tried to capture my take on each of these chapters. I have reviewed a number of the author's videos before, and he has a natural ability to teach.

Keep in mind there are no "steps" to creating a visual story and the fact that we could be in the same place at the same time, and each have a different take, a different story, on the same event. The main part of each of these chapters is of the experience of the author. They could very easily be the instructor at a workshop, a lecture hall, or in front of the fireplace with a bunch of friends explaining the topic at hand. It is all very conversational.

In Part II, after the main discussion, there is a workshop assignment. The first part, "Survey," includes links to websites that tie into the discussion that you are to survey for inspiration as well as for examination of differing techniques and styles. The second part of the workshop is the "Shoot" where you are to try to accomplish a goal with your camera. The third part is "Share" where you are to learn different ways to share your images and results.

After each chapter throughout the book are guest speakers. The questions are primarily the same, but the answers are very different. The speakers include Douglas Kirkland, Joyce Tenneson, Steve McCurry, Chase Jarvis, and John Paul Caponigro and many more. Also the photographs throughout the book are wonderful.

Visual Poetry is a book that I thoroughly enjoyed. It is one I will return to reinforce a topic, reread a chapter, or just when in need of some inspiration. It is a part of Peachpit's "Voices that Matter" series, and I couldn't agree more. I think that this book will be a classic, and is one that I highly recommend.

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About T. Michael Testi

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