Book Notes: The Photographer’s Eye, by Michael Freeman

The photographers eyeBack in the day, I used to shoot a lot of photos. And by back in the day, I mean the time when film was the only medium. I had a couple of Olympus OM-1 cameras, and several lenses. I used to carry a camera with me when I walked around New York City, where I lived at the time, and mostly shot black and white photos, with Tri-X Pan and a 50mm lens.

I’ve been wanting to get back into shooting photos for a while. In the early digital days, good cameras were too expensive. I’ve been using my iPhone to take pictures for years, but I wanted something better. I bought an Olympus OM-D E-M10 (Amazon.com, Amazon UK).

After I got the camera, I received a recommendation from a photographer on Twitter to read The Photographer’s Eye, by Michael Freeman. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) This isn’t a book that will teach you how to use your camera; it assumes that you already know the mechanical aspects of the device. It discusses composition; how photographs should be laid out, how you should frame your pictures.

The book looks at the basic concepts of design, and how they apply to the picture frame. He discusses using color, and how colors combine and contrast. He looks at shapes and lines, and how they can be either boring or interesting in pictures you shoot. In short, he explains how to make your photos interesting, and not mere snapshots.

I used to go to photo exhibits a lot, both in New York and Paris. I’ve always found photography to be interesting as an art form. Reading this book, I realized why many of the photos I’ve seen in such contexts work as they do. Some parts of the book were not surprising to me: the way you use focus and depth of field to highlight parts of a photo, or the way that contrasts in light or specific framings can be interesting. But this book is a reminder of what makes good photos.

Freeman doesn’t present a series of rules; at one point he even explains that no system can help you make good photos. But he looks at many of the basic ideas that have developed over time as photographers have worked with the limitations of the frame, and of light.

After you’ve finished this book, a follow-up book called The Photographer’s Eye: A Graphic Guide (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) shows these principles in action, with diagrams illustrating how they work in a series of photos by the author.

If you’re interested in taking pictures, and want to go beyond mere snapshots and records of your travels, this book will get you started, and it may even change the way you look through your viewfinder (or at your LCD display).

Help Me Choose Photo Editing Software

Back in the day, I used to shoot a lot of photos. And by back in the day, I mean the day when film was the only medium. I had a couple of Olympus OM-1 cameras, and several lenses. I used to carry a camera with me when I walked around New York City, where I lived at the time, and mostly shot black and white photos, with Tri-X Pan, with a 50mm lens.

I’ve been wanting to get back into shooting photos for a while. In the early digital days, good cameras were too expensive. I’ve been using my iPhone to take pictures for years, but I wanted something better. I bought an Olympus OM-D E-M10 (Amazon.com, Amazon UK).

Olympus em10

I chose this camera in part because of nostalgia; it looks pretty much like the OM-1, though it’s a bit smaller. I also wanted a camera with a viewfinder; I hate looking at a screen – which is hard to do in sunlight – and prefer the more visceral feel of looking through the camera. And it shoots RAW, has an easy-to-use manual mode, and the “pancake” lens is very compact.

So, now, I need to decide on which software to use. I’ve started with Apple’s Photos, which is, for the most part, a tool for organizing pictures. There are some interesting editing features, but it’s not enough, especially because I want to shoot RAW. I could use some advice. So far, I see the following options:

  • Adobe Lightroom. It has lots of features, and seems to be the Microsoft Office of photography (both in its feature-richness, and the fact that it’s the de facto standard). I’ve downloaded the demo version, and have started fiddling with it, but I hate Adobe interfaces.
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements. I’ve tried the demo, but it seems to be too limited for what I want.
  • Affinity Photo. This new app is getting good reviews, but there’s no demo to try it out. (The developer told me on Twitter that there will be a demo available in a few weeks, but I think any app at this price should have one at launch.)
  • Pixelmator. This isn’t robust enough, and I can’t use it with RAW images.

The main advantage of using Lightroom is the fact that there are so many tutorials and books explaining how to work with it. As the de facto standard, it’s relatively easy to find information about it. But I hate subscription-based apps. Given my use of it – I don’t plan to shoot thousands of photos – it seems pretty expensive. (You can buy Lightroom, but it costs the same as a one-year subscription. Presumably, Adobe is moving to a subscription-only model.)

Am I missing anything? Am I condemned to paying Adobe a subscription fee and using Lightroom? Any comments would be welcome. (Also, your comments will help others who chance upon this article when pondering the same question.)

If you want to see some of what I’ve done so far, I’ve posted a few of my photos here, and I also set up a Flickr account to share the best pictures I take.

Update: Thanks for all the comments. I’ve been fiddling with Lightroom, and it does seem like a good solution. I’ve got 30 days to try it out; if I get to the end of that period, and can’t live without it, I’ll start a subscription.