Learning To See Creatively, 3rd Edition by Bryan Peterson

Bryan Peterson’s books have long been the first learning step of any new photographer – and for good reason. Friendly, informative, inspiring, but very easy-to-digest, pick any book he’s written on the subject of photography and you’ll find a gem. With this Third Edition of the popular Learning To See Creatively series, he’s made very smart changes that make this a must read for any one looking to understand how to create images with interest. In short, it’s one of the best books out there on the subject of photography because it tackles, in a highly effective manner, the ‘soft’ non-technical side of the art.

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The book breaks down as follows: Expanding Your Vision; Elements of Design; Composition; The Magic of Light; Photoshop. Within those categories, the topics of line, shape, form, texture, pattern color, filling the frame, horizontal vs. vertical rule of thirds, frame within a frame, breaking the rules, picture in picture, contrast, exploring the color and direction of light, and even rainy days are discussed. The Photoshop section is necessarily brief (the emphasis here is on capture) but also extremely useful.

Where this book excels and differs from previous versions is that Peterson takes a location and then shoots it several times – each time making more effective compositions. Because we get a large picture and then several ways to shoot it, we’re given the tools to start to break down locations into effective shots. With other books on composition, readers are mostly given finished shots and a lot of congratulatory “this is how you do a rule of thirds shot effectively.” That’s easily shown but not so easily replicated without a big picture pullback. But with Learning To See Creatively 3, we get 6-7 shots of the same place, each clearly demonstrating how the photographer needed to choose position, angle, lens, and thought process to take boring/mediocre images and make them creative and interesting.

What this solves is one of the biggest hurdles to creative images: not having a master photographer actually explain their thought process and how to utilize a location effectively. Peterson aims to encourage photographers to develop an artistic eye so they never have to ask, “Why didn’t I see that?” when seeing others exploit the same exact place in such a superior manner.

In addition to the great example images showing different perspectives on the same subject, creativity building exercises are included in each chapter. The exercises are not about the technology and readers do not need the latest and greatest in camera technology to follow them. As noted in the book, there has not been a camera invented that searches out unique and interesting subject matter or that alerts photographers to other compelling compositions that lie in wait next to the one you are currently shooting (nor one that recognizes a ‘decisive moment’ when it happens!).

Of course, this is no magic bullet and Peterson is quick to remind that there is no isnta-recipe for great compositions; rather, a thorough understanding of lens choice, point of view, elements of design, and, of course, the final arrangement are need for those great compositions. But at the same time, what this book gives is the breadth of knowledge needed in order to expand horizons and build skills toward creative photography. Photography as an art is about learning in steps but one of the hardest talents to acquire is vision. With Learning To See Creatively, we have one of the best educational resources available toward mastering that topic. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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