Recommended Photo Books

Each summer I try (emphasis on “try”) to carve out time to catch up on my photography reading. By that I mean actual hold-in-your-hands, turn-the-pages kinds of photo books that have been sent to me for review. Over the course of the next few months I’ll report to you about some books that I think you should know about.

Fifty From Freeman

First up is noted photographer and author Michael Freeman, who has been publishing really excellent instructional books for the past three decades. The latest two books to appear on my doorstep are Freeman’s “Fifty Paths to Creative Photography” and “Black & White Photography: The Timeless Art of Monochrome.”

Freeman is an accomplished photographer himself, with more than 40 stories for Smithsonian Magazine to his credit, for example. What has always impressed me about Freeman is that he is also a fine teacher. His 60 books on photography have sold more than four million copies worldwide and have been translated into 27 languages.

In “Fifty Paths” (Ilex Press paperback, 224 pages, $24.99), Freeman brilliantly lays out 50 conceptual approaches to photography, taking a page or two on each and using his photography to illustrate his points. I suppose it could be categorized as light fare, in that it is easy reading and organized so that you can bite off small or large chunks, as time allows. But this work is not light, by any means, in terms of distilling Freeman’s experience and suggestions into a readable work from which anyone could benefit.

In the very first chapter, called “There Are No Rules”, Freeman sets the stage by giving us a dose of his philosophy. If you strictly follow rules your work will be b-o-r-i-n-g, he says. The 49 following chapters are each devoted to a theme, illustrated by Freeman’s work. He covers such topics as Zen & Photography, Shock, Comedy, Push the Composition, Don’t Show Everything, Fall in Love With a Lens, and Processing, all offered with keen observations and helpful tips and suggestions. I keep a copy in my study lounge to refer to from time to time. It really is a keeper.

Shooting Monochrome

“Black & White Photography: The Timeless Art of Monochrome” (Ilex Press paperback, 192 pages, $24.99) is an entirely different book from “Fifty Paths.” By focusing exclusively on B&W, Freeman takes us into far greater depths as he explores this timeless art. Freeman takes us through a bit of history to ground us in the work of the masters of 20th century B&W, so that we gain an appreciation of the tradition and techniques of the likes of Ansel Adams, Edward Curtis and Edward Weston.

B&W Photography is a comprehensive reference guide for anyone interested in this form of our art. I lecture frequently on B&W photography and find that interest in it is growing. But B&W is far more difficult than color photography, as I have written about before. That makes books like this one by Freeman valuable and a ready reference.

Freeman covers topics that include his processing workflow, using hue to control contrast, how to handle skin tones, thinking in B&W, high- and low-key imagery, HDR, and adding old processing effects. Lots here for all skill levels. While I found the book to be a great read, I did not find Freeman’s choice of images to consistently showcase his best work. However, that is a minor quibble given the wealth of information here.

A Final Recommendation

I am almost done with an excellently written non-fiction work about the iconic photographer Edward Curtis who documented Native American culture over a 30-year period at the turn of the century. “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher” by Timothy Egan (Mariner Books, 325 pages, Approximately $10.00 on Amazon) is a rip-roaring description of Curtis’ life. Egan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times author, makes Curtis’ life come alive. For those of us who admire Curtis’ work, prepare yourself for new insights, techniques and observations by this iconic photographer. Curtis was a firebrand, a self-promoter and, above all, a consummate chronicler of Native American life. If you are interested in stories about true American characters, Egan’s book is one you might want to read.

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