Review: The Photographer’s Vision, by Michael Freeman

The Photographer’s Vision: Understanding and Appreciating Great Photography, by Michael Freeman

By now, Michael Freeman’s probably written about as many words as he’s made photos, and like the images, his words are generally keepers. The Photographer’s Vision: Understanding and Appreciating Great Photography follows in the footsteps of his earlier works The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos and The Photographer’s Mind: Creative Thinking for Better Digital Photos, presenting sound practical advice with history, theory, and philosophy. However, this is much less a how-to than his previous books; in this case, the author is as apt to indulge the when and why of good photography as he is to deal with the how.

The subject matter is presented in three sections. The first of these is “A Momentary Art,” which makes a cogent case for what makes a good photograph, and also lays out a theoretical framework within which the rest of the conversation can unfold. With that done, the second section, “Understanding Purpose,” takes up several genres of, and approaches to, photography. To tie the whole of it together, the third section “Photographers’ Skills,” explores the skills brought to bear by a photographer when making a photo. The technique here has less to do with settings than with things like the element of surprise, and realizing that your photos need not be technically perfect to have an impact. In the early going, the book reads like a collection of essays. However, like one of those photo mosaics that reveals a series of small photographs up close, but which reveals a different, bigger, picture when one steps back from it, the reader begins to realize at some point that each of these thematic bullet points contributes to, and reinforces, a larger point.

If we view this as the third book in a trilogy that started with The Photographer’s Eye, this would be the capstone. In effect, it recaps all that came before, not just in this book but the two preceding, and brings the trilogy full circle. What Freeman seems to be saying throughout the book is that by learning to read others’ photos we can learn, in essence, to “read” the scene before we’ve even framed the photo. Visual literacy, in other words, isn’t just something to apply to others’ work, but to our own as well; it aids us in understanding why photos work (or fail to), and allows us to apply that understanding to our own photography. Being able to “read” a photo by Erwitt or Hoepker is only a first step, and assists the photographer in forming a visual vocabulary and syntax with which he or she may then begin to “write” and express a unique story, whether via an individual photo or a photo essay.

If you’re looking for technique, it’s entirely possible you’ll be disappointed in, if not put off by, this book. Of course, if it’s technique you’re after, there’s no shortage of options from the same author, and from what I’ve read of him thus far, you’d be in good hands with any of them. If, on the other hand, you’ve had your fill of technique, or you’ve come to realize that what’s missing in your images has less to do with settings than with soul, this would be a good antidote to your photographic doldrums.

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Reminder: Help Portrait, 12/10/11

From Help-Portrait Los Angeles

Received the following press release from Help-Portrait, which I’m reproducing verbatim. If your photo charity/portrait charity has an upcoming event and you’d like to get the word out, please contact me at — PB





Nashville, Tn –October 27, 2011— This December 10, photographers around the world will gather for the third annual Help-Portrait event. In 2009, Help-Portrait began as an idea that transformed into a movement in just three months.  The idea behind Help-Portrait is simple: 1. Find someone in need 2. Take their portrait 3. Print their portrait and 4. Deliver their portrait. In the last two years, more than 101,000 portraits have been given by 10,000 photographers and 12,000 volunteers. Help-Portrait is now a global movement in more than 1,000 locations in 54 countries.

This year, Help-Portrait founder Jeremy Cowart announced new elements to make Help-Portrait a more hands-on experience for those being photographed.  From the beginning of the Help-Portrait movement nearly three years ago, photographers and volunteers have embraced the Help-Portrait ethos: that is giving, not taking photos. However, this year Help-Portrait is encouraging the photographers to share the photos of those subjects who want to tell their story to a wider audience.

“As the founder of this movement, I felt it was best to not show the photos,” shares Cowart.  “I didn’t want this movement to be about photography. But I underestimated our community – they all instantly caught on to the spirit of Help-Portrait. But now I’m realizing just how much we’ve kept the world from seeing and experiencing what we get to see each year. Now I want to let everyone in our little secret by sharing the photos of those who want to tell their stories to the world.”

Another addition to this year’s event will involve a personalized element. Those photographed will have the opportunity to draw and write on their photos to tell their stories. This provides an avenue for their voice to be heard. See the examples of the photos taken at a recent Help-Portrait event with Cowart at the Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row in Los Angeles.

“We believe that the portraits will transform into works of art that reflect their subject,” states Cowart who saw this first hand last week in LA.

In  addition, the Help-Portrait team is encouraging photographers to hand the cameras  over to the subjects and do their own shooting through the lens giving  them a unique opportunity to be behind the camera. It’s never been about  the photographer or his skills or what he has to offer. It’s always  been about connecting with and giving back to the subject.  For more  information on Help-Portrait visit, .

Celebrity  photographer Jeremy Cowart formed Help-Portrait, a non-profit  organization, in 2009 as he contemplated using his skills and expertise  to give back to those who may not have the opportunity for a  professional photo.  The idea is that a photographer has the unique  ability to help someone smile, laugh and return their dignity.  It is a  movement, a shift in photography.  The rapid growth of this organization  is a perfect example of Social Media use for good as the community  shares ideas and stories through the channels of Twitter, Facebook,  YouTube and blogging. Help-Portrait has partnered in the past with  corporations including Ritz & Wolf Camera & Image, creativeLIVE,  Chick-fil-A and Flosites, which created Help-Portrait’s website and  online community.

From  Bangalore, India to Ghana, Africa, the language of Help-Portrait crosses cultural and socio-economic barriers. Even Hollywood has gotten  in the act. In 2010, A-list actors Zachary Levi and Yvette Nicole Brown  volunteered at a Help-Portrait event in Los Angeles and participated in a  live webcast. The online live stream of the main event day from the  creativeLIVE studio in Seattle featured hosts including Help-Portrait founder  Jeremy Cowart, another high-profile photographer Chase Jarvis and Help-Portrait volunteer staff member Annie Downs.

Cowart began full-time photography in 2005 and has traveled to six continents with his talent.  He’s photographed Imogen Heap, Sting, Taylor Swift, Britney Spears, Carrie Underwood and more. He’s also worked with entertainment clients ABC, E!, Fox, A&E, FX, The Style Network, CMT and others.

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Twitter @help_portrait

POSTSCRIPT: H-P has also released the following video for the 2011 event:

Buy Now or Wait?

Don't miss photos waiting for the "right" camera.

There’s a phenomenon that happens every year around this time, as sure as the leaves changing, that certain chill in the air, and the freakin’ Christmas stuff on the shelves before we’ve even come down from the Halloween sugar buzz. Ahem. Where were we?

Oh, yeah, photography. Let’s try that again.

A few times a year, the camera manufacturers get around to announcing their new gear. While these announcements often coincide with major trade shows like Photokina and the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), some announcements, like recent announcements from Sony, RED, Nikon and Canon, have a logic all their own. They also, as it happens, spawn an illogic all their own.

Go anywhere online that photo guys* congregate, and you’ll find some variation on the following: “Should I buy the [as-yet-unannounced] D800, the [also as-yet-unannounced] D4, or the D7000?” God love ‘em, they could just buy a flippin’ camera and get down to making photos already, but the possibility of a newer, shinier one has them just beside themselves. What if they buy a camera that exists, and the newer camera is… well, all like, new and stuff? It might be incrementally better!

Some of these same people will decide, on the basis of the same partial specs or even just a leaked name that suggests something might be replaced or upgraded, that the company in question has lost their touch, if not their collective mind. There aren’t even any test images, to say nothing of a real, live, functioning camera. On the basis of a handful of rumors, this must be the worst camera the company has ever made, and that forthwith they are going to sell all of their gear and buy a Sigma body and lenses.**

Let me take the Captain Obvious uniform out of mothballs again. If you have good options at your disposal already, why not take advantage of them? If the best camera is the one you’ve got, it stands to reason you can’t make photos with something you don’t own. Will the next camera have more bells and whistles? Undoubtedly, yes. Can you take photos with a camera that hasn’t come out yet? Do you really need me to answer that question for you?

Every generation of photographers, for as long as there’ve been photographers, had fewer gear options open to them than you do right at this second. What they had in common was that they learned to do uncommon things with their equipment, sometimes despite its flaws, and sometimes because of them. While it’s possible to take any piece of equipment to the limits of its capabilities, it helps to make sure that it’s the limitations of the gear, and not your own limitations, holding you back. Be honest with yourself, and be as willing to look in the mirror as in your camera bag. Before you complain, are you already using what you’ve got to the best of its, and your, abilities? If you wait for the “right” camera, you will always be frustrated.

But that’s just my $.02 worth. Tell me, what do you think?

*This is not a somehow sexist observation. Women don’t obsess over gear; they generally figure out what they need, get it, and use it, whereas if someone’s spending as much time bitching over their kit as using it, you can bet they could work up a respectable beard on a few days’ notice. Just saying.

**Lest you think I’m kidding, Ken Rockwell actually did this (minus the Sigma body and lenses bit) with the Fuji X100, declaring it unworthy to be a poor man’s poor man’s Leica prior to its release. Once the camera was out, his tune changed so radically that there was rampant speculation that Fuji had gifted him with one of the cameras.