Review: Photography for the Joy of It, by Freeman Patterson

Photography for the Joy of It, by Freeman Patterson

The copy of Freeman Patterson’s Photography for the Joy of It that’s sitting next to me is from 1977. As I write this, the book is out of print (though you can find used copies of the original edition and two subsequent reprints at the Amazon links below). It’s a shame, because even though it shows its age in places, this is one photography book I wish I’d picked up when I was first starting out.

The title isn’t just some marketing gimmick, a takeoff on the “Joy of…” (cooking, bicycle riding, chinchillas) titles that are so popular. Patterson clearly takes joy in his craft, and that joy is palpable both in his words and in his photos. Some of his photos stop you in their tracks for their creativity (be prepared for a lot of “What is that?” moments), but a lot of his advice does the same. Patterson lays out the rules clearly and concisely, but goes out of his way to affirm that they’re just rules, and that it’s okay to break them if it’ll make a better photo.

Too often, the books I’ve read on photography — especially when they’re targeted at novice photographers, as this one is — are weighted heavily, or entirely, toward gear and the minutiae of technique. You’ll find some of that — just enough of it, as it happens — but this book’s saving grace is that there’s plenty of philosophy and insight on design principles, the use of symbolism, and quite a bit else that you won’t find in a more typical introduction to photography… which is exactly why it’s such a good introduction, or even a good refresher on the off chance that you need one.

For as much experience as I’ve picked up along the way (which is by no means exhaustive, but still, it’s there), I was still able to learn quite a bit from this book; for instance, the section on Selective Focus would’ve been worth the price of the book by itself (it goes far beyond depth of field). And there’s plenty here to act as reminders or a call to mindfulness, which we all need from time to time as well, even in something as simple as Patterson’s injunction that “The most important thing you can do with your camera and lenses is to use them.”

Remember last week, when I said it’s all been done? Patterson’s work, for me, is a reminder that while it’s all been done, it’s still worth doing anyway. It’s good to have something to aspire to, a signpost or two on the road ahead that let us know we’re headed in the right direction. It’s also a reminder that we have a chance for us to “pay it forward,” giving a helping hand to those behind us on the road just as those ahead have done for us. If you are, or you know, a photographer who’s just embarking on their path, give this book some serious thought. Yes, photography takes dedication, discipline, and lots of practice, but Patterson reminds us time and again of all the joy it gives in return.


Visit Freeman Patterson’s website here:

There’s also a great Freeman Patterson interview here, courtesy of BermanGraphics:

Finally, if you purchase either the 1999 edition or the 2007 edition of Photography for the Joy of It through these Amazon affiliate links, you help keep The First 10,000 going. Thanks!