Book Review: 50 Paths to Creative Photography

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”—Buddha

50pathsMichael Freeman has probably written more books about photography than Ansel Adams and what makes his work different than some other photographer/writers is that he appeals to a wide range of people from the casual Happy Snapper to the serious photographer—the kind of people who read this blog. Yet, I must confess that this is the first of his books that I have read.

The book’s full title is 50 Paths to Creative Photography: Style & Technique and I like the way Freeman included the word “paths” indicating that there in not just one way but many ways of achieving photographic nirvana and more importantly as a path it is a journey where you will learn things along that way and his work delivers on this (unspoken) promise.

The book is unusual in some ways—there’s no photograph on its all-black cover, yet is typical for a British photography book in other ways. It’s lushly produced on high quality paper with  a dust jacket on a paperback book, something I hadn’t seen before. Reproduction quality throughout is simply beautiful. It has all the other hallmarks of UK photo books in that it contains travel images from third-world countries and the inevitable nude. In this case Jacob Aue Sobal’s tasteful image that appears to be an homage to Edward Weston’s’ 1937 “Nude – 237N.” This is another hallmark because, as you will see, not all of the photographs were made by the author, with many sourced from others. The others include the Trinity of 1970’s photographers who reinvented and reinvigorated color photography—Ernst Haas, Art Kane and Pete Turner—although except for Haas, I don’t think their best work is on display here. That may be because Freeman’s is not a traditional how to book.

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The book’s design appears aimed at the short attention span reader with many informative sidebars splashed around. Interestingly, much of the “meat” of the book seems wrapped in these sidebars whose design also makes them easy to read, making them stand out it two ways, solid content and good design. The “potatoes” may be found in the body text that sadly uses a tiny, serif font that I could read with my glasses but might be a challenge for readers who haven’t had their eyes checked in a while.

The 50 paths are really 50 chapters and in many ways the book reminds me of my favorite photo book, “Discover Yourself Through Photography, in which lessons are assigned by the author and designed to be followed through by the reader and I think that’s a great way to approach Freeman’s book as well. The author kicks it all with Path #1: There Are No Rules, in which he autopsies all the sacred cows of photography beginning with the ‘Rule of Thirds,’ why you should ignore it and where it came from. You may be surprised.

Other paths include, Make Color the Subject, Dig Into Your Repertoire, Push the Composition and Out of Place. All of which are accompanied by images that while occasionally they will make you sit up and say “Wow” more often than not will inspire you to think about your own photographs in some of the ways that each path—the text—is directing. The final chapter is called Creative Image Processing is focused on traditional darkroom techniques that if you’ve been paying attention for the other 49 paths, can easily be applied to modern digital photography.

Ultimately it’s the book’s message that will stick with you. I wouldn’t be surprised that if this book is a success (and I have no reason to doubt it won’t be) that there may be a sequel showing us that there are not just 50 paths but many more as well.

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Ilex Press
  • ISBN-10: 1781573476
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 0.8 x 10.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Price: $24.99 (Amazon Prime member)

Author: Joe Farace

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