Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity, and Personal Style
By Alain Briot
Rocky Nook Publishers
US $44.95, CAN $53.95
When I first saw the title, Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity, and Personal Style by Alain Briot, I got excited about reviewing this book. It is, to me, what photography is all about.
It seems that everyone these days has a camera. Even the cheaper point and shoot offerings are better cameras than their predecessors were just a few years ago. They’re easy to use and a lot of fun. Most people “play” photographer taking snapshots of their families and friends and anything else they feel like snapping. Memories. That’s what that’s all about. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
But more than a few of these “snappers” find their way into the deep abyss of photography as an art. They begin to look at their images as something more than just memories. There are form and function, color, shadows, and light. They begin to see the “art” in it, and in their own pictures. They strive to create better images, study the effects of shutter speeds verses aperture sizes and beyond. They begin to think like artists. That is the beauty of this new publication.
For people like us—those who seek to understand photography as an art—Alain Briot’s book can help show the way. It aids in bringing out the photographer in the photograph, thus creating images that are simply more than the sum of their parts. Briot understands the heart and soul of a photographer. He is, after all, an acclaimed photographer in his own right. He is the author of Mastering Landscape Photography, another successful and highly touted work from Rocky Nook Press. He is a teacher. He practices photography as a fine art. And he states, “The personality of the photographer must be present in the image for an artistic photograph to have value.”
This book is about the achievement of your personal style. It is divided into four aspects of the photographer as an artist, each one equal to the other in importance: Inspiration, Creativity, Vision, and Audience. In order to achieve the full potential of the artist in a photograph all of these elements must be present in the artist’s rendering. Leaving out just one of these factors can and will compromise the image.
In the section, The Differences Between What We See and What the Camera Sees, Briot dispels many erroneous suppositions about cameras and photography. Just having a great camera does not equal great images, and on the other side of that coin even a cheap camera can create great art when used properly at the right time, supporting his statement that “art is made by artists, not tools.”
Briot also examines the difference between art and science, showing us that the two are not mutually exclusive, but rather that they are both necessary to create the image within the mind of the artist. Understanding your equipment is as important as understanding the subject, the environment, the time of day, and even the temperature, not to mention the lighting/shadows. After all, this book is about creating art, not just images.
The section, Five Senses Into One, is one of the most revealing lessons in Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity, and Personal Style. Briot coerces the budding artist to be aware of the limitations of his tools in comparison with the human senses. We hear and feel the wind. We smell the rain and flowers. But to get those “senses” into a photograph takes planning and a love of the subject matter, as well as knowledge of the hardware (tools).
Color photography is not the only thing Briot teaches us about. There is an in depth section, Composing in Black and White, on black and white photography. Throughout the book there are included statements from various artists in may different fields. From his section on black and white there is this offering from Dominic Rouse: “Colour is everything, black and white is more.” In the context of this book this means that black and white is a modification from reality (color), which asks the viewer to seek their own meaning in the image without the “reality” of color. After reading this chapter it would not be a stretch to say that the reader will come away with a new understanding and appreciation of black and white photography.
While most of Briot’s book is dedicated to understanding art from the photographer’s point of view, there are many lessons included having to do with equipment, hardware, software, and the modernization of photography. This is an all-inclusive look into the inner workings of the working artist/photographer, including what one will encounter in the field, and even what one will encounter in shows where our work is hung for all to scrutinize/criticize. It is honest, intelligent, and very practical.
Briot is unapologetic about his art. He’s not creating “reality”. It is his vision, not ours. He does manipulate his pictures. He does adjust contrast and lighting. He’ll clone out aspects of a scene he deems ugly. He is NOT making pictures/reality. He is creating art. And that’s what’s so exciting about his view of this business we call “fine art photography.” You can do the same thing. No apologies. No excuses. Whether or not your art sells is a matter of finding the audience to which your vision appeals. Briot’s approach is to not compromise his vision. Take no prisoners.
For those of you budding “artists with cameras”: Get your copy ASAP, read and enjoy. And learn. Briot’s style, while serious, is anecdotal as well. His love of his world and appreciation of art are apparent in every page. This book will serve you to be a better photographer after you have read it. Even if you’re a professional photographer there are many different perspectives to be appreciated and lessons to glean. And if you are a snap-shooter and wondering how great images, many included in this book, are created, this could be the start of something big, and beautiful.