The Photographer’s Eye by Michael Freeman is a textbook, mostly, for the intangible aspects of art within photography. That is to say, concepts of shape and design, process and mental fortitude, as opposed to the coarse grain of technique. It’s a book whose focus is more on what must happen in the photographer’s mind, than what must happen with his hands. Though, I’m not sure that’s quite the take-away Freeman had in mind, since he later published a book called The Photographer’s Mind. I haven’t read that one.
The Photographer’s Eye is a dry book. In six tedious chapters, Freeman covers topics in the art of composition with the image frame, design ideology, the meaning and use of different graphic and photographic elements, considerations of light and color tone, and the photographer’s intention and process. Notably, and thankfully, absent is any discussion of what exposure is, or how to get totally sweet bokeh.
The absence of simple technique and technical considerations is largely what makes this book useful. The discussion of broader principles of design in relation to photography are a dose most freshmen photographers need, but seldom find stated so clearly, and unencumbered from learning what menus do what on their camera. So while it’s long and boring, it’s also a useful trainer in ways that few other books of its kind are.
Practically speaking, the book is broken up into six chapters of inconsistent length. Each chapter is further broken up into relevant subsections, each concluding with a number of images demonstrating the topic. Explanations are clear and thorough, if not a bit too wordy. It’s an easy enough book to read, but it’s definitely more for the ‘study’ minded. In other words, you’re probably not going to get through it sitting on a toilet.
The copy of the Photographer’s Eye that I read was from the Amazon Kindle store, which is where I ran into some problems. The first and most obvious issue in reading on the Kindle App was that some of the images were a ridiculously low resolution–Especially for a book about photography. Although there is support for viewing the image larger, the images themselves just weren’t big enough. Granted, that might be some kind of technical limitation from Amazon. Another issue, however, which seemed more like a stupid mistake than the quirky result of software limitations, was that a lot of the images were out of proper order. The explanation for an image might come three or four pages before the image is displayed in the text.
The Kindle related quirks didn’t ruin the book for me, but perhaps, had these ideas all been brand new to me it might have thrown me off track significantly.
As a professional photographer, I obviously found myself nodding and agreeing with much of what Freeman was saying. And I appreciate the way he wove all these concepts together. But at the same time, I take pause, because to some extent, a lot of what he is saying amounts to simply learning how to explain something you created, rather than how to create something you want. I come away with a subtle feeling that it’s mostly arbitrary.
All in all, as a study guide and a source of headier information about the art of photography, The Photographer’s Eye is a solid work. People interested in taking their appreciation of photography to the next level, or those who want a better understanding of the language of photography, would find this an excellent resource. Maybe get the print version though.