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Rob Townsend's OCA Learning Log

Book: Read This If You Want To Take Great Photographs

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I’ve taken to reading a few more books on photography (not photobooks) recently, having reconnected with my long-neglected Kindle. They range from simple how-to guides on particular topics (light, black & white) to examinations of genres (street photography) to more general musings and insights into what it means to be a photographer. This is probably the simplest and shortest book I’ve read on photography but in a way one of the very best.

Read This If You Want To Take Great Photographs

Read This If You Want To Take Great Photographs

You have to admire the audacity of someone who titles a book “Read This If You Want To Take Great Photographs” [1] but that’s exactly what Henry Carroll did. It’s just a great no-nonsense, plain-speaking guide to photography. Over the years I’ve read more ‘photography for beginners’ books than I care to remember and so I wasn’t even sure why I downloaded it when it was recommended by Amazon. Probably just the audacity thing.

The book deconstructs the basics of photography in an amazingly simple way. Short chapters, one photo to illustrate each concept, plain English. Where it impressed me most is that it goes beyond the usual ‘basics’ – exposure triangle, composition, light – and moves into more creative (artistic?) ideas yet addresses them in the same jargon-free way.

For example, it has chapters on ‘seeing’ that get beyond the technicalities and into the area of photography that fascinates me most – what people see and how they capture it.

Highlights

Here are a few choice quotes that I highlighted as I read:-

“If you want to take great pictures, ones that really stand out from the crowd, you need to stop looking and start seeing.”

“See with your eyes, not the camera.”

“It’s far better to capture the right moment with the wrong settings than the wrong moment with the right settings.”

“Average photographers imitate beauty. Great photographers create their own.”

“The magic of photography, the bit that can’t quite be explained, is you.”

Summary

Did I learn anything new in reading this book? No, not really. But it’s the best articulation of the fundamentals of good photography that I’ve ever read.

  • It’s the book I wish I’d read when I first got into photography
  • It’s a book that I’ll go back to now and again just to strip away all the accumulated nonsense in my brain and remind myself of the basics
  • It’s the book I’ll recommend to anyone expressing an interest in getting started

  1. Carroll, H. (2014) Read this if you want to take great photographs. London: Laurence King
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