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The Art of Photography: An Approach to Personal Expression

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This is a newly revised edition of the classic book The Art of Photography (first published in 1994), which has often been described as the most readable, understandable, and comprehensive textbook on photography. In his accessible style, Barnbaum presents how-to techniques for both traditional and digital approaches. Yet he goes well beyond the technical as he delves deeply into the philosophical, expressive, and creative aspects of photography. This book is geared toward every level of photographer who seeks to make a personal statement through their chosen medium.

Bruce Barnbaum is recognized as one of the world’s finest photographers as well as an elite instructor. This newest incarnation of his book, which has evolved over the past 35 years, will prove to be an invaluable photographic reference for years to come. This is truly the resource of choice for the thinking photographer.

Filled with over 100 beautiful photographs, as well as numerous charts, graphs, and tables.

364 pages, Paperback

First published May 1, 1994

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Bruce Barnbaum

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 54 reviews
Profile Image for Mike.
71 reviews5 followers
February 5, 2011
It's a bit up and down this book. I'd give it 6 stars (if I could) for the first 100 and last 50 pages, and two for everything inbetween. Excellent insightful writing on the "why" of photography in the good bits, especially the parts on capturing your emotional response to a scene rather than a realistic picture of the scene. Now I know why I just can't take decent photos of some things, I'm just not interested in them enough to have any emotional response.

The middle chapters are concerened entirely with the Zone System, film delveloping and printing, and framing techniques. Other than as an historical aside, I found them of little use as a solely digital photographer. I skimmed over 150 pages before getting back to the creative stuff. I'd already read through Ansel Adams' "The Negative" and "The Print", so I felt no need to go through another lesson in picking developing fluids.

I also found a lot of his photos were not to my tastes at all, especailly the abstracts, but that's not really the point of the book.

I'm still going to give it 5 stars because it's one of the best photography books I've ever read on the artistic side of photography. If you actually shoot and develop film, it would be perfect!
Profile Image for Michael Scott.
725 reviews131 followers
May 11, 2013
I don't really know where to start this review. Bruce Barnbaum's The Art of Photography is a book about art, design, self-expression, and creativity. It's also about photography, from the technical aspects (both film and digital) to a discussion about photography myths. Overall, I learned much and found this book wonderful! Must-read if you are starting to dabble in creative processes and/or are interested in photography. (For the former aspect, I will recommend it to all Ph.D. students under my guidance.)

In eighteen chapters, the book covers much ground. It first discusses photography as communication (Chapter 1); followed by the elements of composition (increasingly technical, from the general discussion about composition in Chapter 2, to the presentation of light and color in Chapters 5 and 6, respectively). Then, the book explains the core of photographic technique, with filters and the zone system (exposure) explained carefully in Chapters 7 through 9; Chapter 9, on the extended zone system, explains how to work in a high dynamic range with visible results and dispels the myth of only 10 zones being available to the film photographer. Chapter 10 presents the printing process; it's rather technical. Chapter 11 introduces digital photography as a complement to its film counterpart. Chapter 12 closes the circle of technical aspects of photography---after visualization, exposure, development, and printing---, with presentation (dry mounting and correcting mistakes in the mounted picture). After a summary of the most common faults of thinking about photography (Chapter 13), Chapters 14 through 18 present a debate about artistic integrity, meaning and limitations of photography as an art, and creativity and personal philosophy.

I enjoyed very much the analysis of many things creative and technical regarding (film) photography. Having started from digital, I can finally understand some of the things that differentiate the two approaches, and also some of the unifying themes (like the zone system vs channel histograms).

The discussion about art was, for me, exquisite. The formulation of a vision for each photograph is a concept that is novel for me, but following various fields of artistic interest and merging visualization with perfect execution are ideas that resonate with me. The explanations and discussions about these matters were cogent and delightful, even when I did not agree with the tone or even the argument.

I was very impressed with the discussion about the professional limit imposed on creativity by obtuse editors, curators, and reviewers. Simply, these categories of professionals may severely limit the art (and published expression) of artists to "what sells" or to what each artist has come to be known for. To alleviate this problem, Bruce suggests a broadening of the portfolio, either from the start, or whenever allowed by the publisher's wishes; this approach could match the natural expressive and technical development of the artist.

I found the part on creativity refreshing, if a bit trivial. It's perseverance and a few related traits that, in the view of Bruce Barnbaum, enable creativity. No recipe (that's normal), but luck and hard work and knowing what one wants (this also contradicts with Chapter 17's take on intuition).

There is a wealth of relevant references, especially in what concerns great photographers---I picked the names of Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus, Eugene Atget, Bill Brandt, Alvarez Bravo, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Imogen Cunningham, Walker Evans, Ernst Haas, Yousuf Karsh, Andre Kertesz, Josef Koudelka, Mary Ellen Mark, Sebastiano Salgado, Joseph Sudek, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Brett Weston, Edward Weston, and Minor White.

There are very few things I did not like in this book. Perhaps, at least in the beginning, the tone---Bruce talks disparagingly of beginners, people adhering to rules of composition, technically adept people, pretty much everyone who does not take what Bruce considers to be a pure approach; yet, in Chapter 17, Bruce becomes human and admits than lack of control over the visualization of the image can be useful. Another slightly negative aspect was the treatment of digital photography, rather limited and in general considered less good; again, the view expressed in this book varies, depending on the subject to photograph, so perhaps digital is not so bad. Last, but not least, the conviction of the author that great photography is always the result of respectful, caring, and in general feelings about the subject of the photograph was unsubstantiated; simplistically, I believe a good, artsy photography could be produced not only by luck by an amateur, especially with the great advances of technology.
Profile Image for Gowrishankar Subramanian.
8 reviews1 follower
April 7, 2015
I thought of writing review for this book when I finish the initial chapters on "art side" of photography. I decided then to wait till my initial gush of excitement cool off.

Now that I have almost finished all the chapters relevant to me, it's only apt to say that this one is a classic! Bruce's advice on "photographic seeing" is the most valuable one any budding amateur can get. Chapters on composition, tones, contrast and color are worth a reread.

Had to skip lot of content on developing and printing techniques.

Highly recommended for serious aspirants. Good luck with your shots.
Profile Image for Justin Price.
2 reviews1 follower
December 18, 2012
Shifts your thinking when it coming to photography. Some aspects of the book are hard to grasp, but worth re-reading. Help me understand technically why I like some photos and not others.
631 reviews2 followers
August 11, 2017
This is probably one of the best books I've read on Photography. His insights into individual creative expression are unlike any I've ever heard - even in grad school! Read it. You won't be able to put it down.
Profile Image for Nicholas Doyle.
10 reviews2 followers
March 20, 2018
A painfully dry and boring textbook on photography. I read as much as I could and had to give up.
Profile Image for Radosław Magiera.
474 reviews10 followers
May 21, 2022
Podręczników fotografii, cokolwiek by to miało znaczyć, miałem już w rękach wiele. Niektóre z nich nawet przeczytałem; częściej fragmentarycznie, rzadziej w całości. Przyczyna jest oczywista – jako podręczniki zwykle powielają te same informacje, do znudzenia, a nawet do bólu. Kiedy w lokalnym konkursie fotograficznym wygrałem książkę Bruce’a Barnbauma Kanon fotografii. W poszukiwaniu indywidualnego stylu i przeczytałem na okładce, iż jest to „najbardziej literacki, przystępny i przekrojowy podręcznik poświęcony fotografii”, ale jednak podręcznik, od razu powędrował na dół stosu zaległych lektur czekających na moje zmiłowanie, gdzie odleżał ładnych kilka miesięcy. Jedyną podręcznikową książką o fotografii, którą dobrze wspominam, jest Książka o fotografowaniu Andrzeja A. Mroczka, właśnie dlatego, że nie jest to stricte podręcznik, a po prostu przypominająca rozmowę z mistrzem książka o fotografowaniu.

W końcu, jakiś czas temu, przyszła kolej i na dzieło Barnbauma. Autor jest z wykształcenia matematykiem, z przekonania obrońcą natury, a z hobby i profesji znanym, uznanym i docenianym fotografem amerykańskim, instruktorem fotografii oraz pisarzem. Kanon nie jest jego pierwszą książką, która odniosła sukces, a lista jego wiktorii na niwie foto jest zbyt długa, by się nią tutaj zajmować. Będąc przekonanym, iż poziom merytoryczny będzie wysoki, w końcu to jednak najwyższa liga światowa, ale nie przekonany, iż lektura będzie ciekawa, otworzyłem książkę.

Od razu zauważyłem jedno i wyraźnie to podkreślam; nie jest to książka dla absolutnie początkujących, o ile nie ma być tylko interesującą lekturą, ale i służyć ku nauce. Jeśli nie masz w małym paluszku absolutnych podstaw, jeśli nie do końca wiesz, do czego służy przysłona i migawka, co to czułość i głębia ostrości oraz co je ze sobą łączy, uzupełnij te braki zanim zaczniesz czytać. To jednak tylko taka dygresja – wróćmy do meritum.

Wydanie, choć prezentuje się elegancko, jest w bardzo nieporęcznym formacie, w dodatku czcionka jest mała, co nie ułatwia lektury, zwłaszcza poza fotelem. O czytaniu w pociągu, nie mówiąc o autobusie, zapomnijcie. Na leżąco też są z tym kłopoty. To minusy dotyczące nośnika. Teraz o tłumaczeniu. Największy (i na szczęście jedyny) mój żal do tłumacza, to… Tytuł. Kanon fotografii to w moim odczuciu nie to samo co Sztuka fotografii, a W poszukiwaniu indywidualnego stylu to nie to samo co Dochodzenie do osobistej ekspresji. Wiem, moje brzmi może nie tak ładnie, można to zrobić lepiej, ale czyż tytuł nie powinien być w zgodzie z treścią? A niestety wydźwięk książki jest taki, iż nie należy szukać własnego stylu, co grozi określonymi konsekwencjami, ale starać się przez swą sztukę pokazać to, co się czuje. Styl sam się pojawi. Drugie ogólne przesłanie jest takie, że na ma, tak jak chyba w każdej innej dziedzinie sztuki, żadnego kanonu. Są pewne reguły, ale tylko po to, by je świadomie łamać, jeśli mamy przekonanie, iż jest to celowe. Polski tytuł, w przeciwieństwie do oryginału, jest niejako tych tez zaprzeczeniem. Ta niezgodność tytułu oryginalnego i polskiego, jak się później okazało przekładająca się na wspomnianą rozbieżność z treścią i przesłaniem książki, też na pewno wpłynęła na niechęć, z jaką zabierałem się do lektury. Na szczęście ta niechęć bardzo szybko się ulotniła.

Nieczęsto się okazuje, by górnolotne sformułowania z okładek odpowiadały prawdzie. Bruce Barnbaum jednak jest i literacki, i przystępny, i przekrojowy. Być może jego ścisły umysł nadał jego sztuce fotograficznej i książce to coś, czym tchną dzieła Leonarda. Finezję i subtelność z nienaruszalnym szkieletem konkretnej wiedzy. Świadomość względności, absolutu i granicy między nimi. Gdy pisze o technice, jest prosty, klarowny i przypomina styl wykładu uzdolnionego pedagogicznie matematyka lub fizyka. Gdy opowiada o sztuce, jego proza staje się poezją. Widać, że nie tylko wie, o czym pisze, ale i potrafi pisać o tym, co czuje.
Jak już napisałem, Kanon fotografii nie omawia żadnych kanonów. Jeśli już o jakichś wspomina, to tylko po to, by zachęcić do ich łamania. Otwiera jednak oczy czytelnika na wiele aspektów, do których bystry obserwator uzbrojony w odpowiednią wiedzę i mający duszę artysty mógłby dojść sam po pewnym czasie i przy odrobinie szczęścia. Niewielu z nas jednak ma równą jak autor wiedzę, dziesiątki lat na zbieranie doświadczeń i równie wrażliwą artystyczną duszę. Jest to więc szansa by pójść na skróty w pozytywnym tego słowa znaczeniu. Nie kopiować kolejne triki czy kompozycje, ale poznać najbardziej wartościowe elementy wiedzy fotograficznej – przemyślenia mistrza na głębsze tematy, które stanowią o różnicy między sztuką a kiczem.

Oczywiście w książce znajdziemy też i wiedzę bardziej konkretną. Choćby system strefowy objaśniony w sposób perfekcyjny – pełny i przystępny jednocześnie, czego dotąd spotkać mi się nie zdarzyło. Ciekawe wiadomości z optyki mogą zainteresować nie tylko fotografów, a bezkompromisowy sposób w jaki autor rozprawił się z mitem „obrazu bez obróbki” szczególnie mi przypadł do gustu, tym bardziej, iż ten bezsensowny zwrot ma wciąż zbyt wielu zwolenników i pojawia się coraz częściej już nawet w regulaminach konkursów. Takich „legend fotograficznych”, funkcjonujących na podobieństwo legend miejskich (urban legend), jest zresztą dużo więcej, jak choćby ta o celowości noszenia na stałe na obiektywie filtru (najczęściej UV) i podatni na plotki czytelnicy dzięki lekturze Kanonu mogą się od nich uwolnić, gdyż autor zawsze pisze dlaczego. Dlaczego uważa tak, dlaczego nie robi inaczej.

Klasę prawdziwego mistrza widać też w jego stosunku do innych Wielkich. Bruce często powołuje się na osiągnięcia innych tytanów fotografii oraz podkreśla ich dokonania, choć i potrafi wytknąć błędy nawet samemu Anselowi Adamsowi. Robi to jednak w taki sposób, iż jeszcze bardziej podkreśla szacunek jakim go darzy jako niedoścignionego w swej manierze artystycznej perfekcjonistę. Jednocześnie, podobnie jak wspomniany nasz rodzimy wirtuoz, czyli Andrzej Mroczek, ilustruje tekst tylko swoimi fotografiami. Jest to uzasadnione, gdyż tylko o nich wie wszystko; od technik, których użył, aż do najgłębszych odczuć, które doprowadziły do powstania tak pięknych i poruszających obrazów. A fotografie Barnbauma, których na szczęście w książce jest mnóstwo, są niesamowite. Choć przyznam, że kilka mi się nie podobało, a kilka innych nie do końca mnie przekonało, to obejrzenie pozostałych naprawdę było dla mnie dużym przeżyciem i na pewno niejednokrotnie będę się w nie jeszcze wpatrywał, że nie wspomnę o kilkunastu, a może kilkudziesięciu, w których zaiste widać tchnienie geniuszu.

Jeśli więc szukacie książki, która nauczy absolutnych podstaw lub poda na tacy zestaw algorytmów pozwalających obrobionymi w określony sposób fotkami zadziwić „znajomych” z sieci, to nie jest to raczej lektura dla Was. Jeśli natomiast chcecie czegoś, co da Wam wiedzę, przyniesie niezaprzeczalne przeżycia porównywalne z wizytą w najlepszej galerii sztuki w dodatku w towarzystwie mądrego przewodnika, który zadziwi Was wiedzą o fotografii, świecie i dziełach, które stworzył, jeśli pragniecie zajrzeć w siebie i spróbować rozwinąć zdolność zrozumienia, a potem ukazania własnego ja, to jest to rzecz, po którą warto sięgnąć.

Polecam absolutnie i z pełnym przekonaniem

recenzja pierwotnie opublikowana na blogu klub-aa.blogspot.com dokąd zapraszam na wymianę wrażeń z lektury i nie tylko
Profile Image for Leigh.
1,284 reviews22 followers
February 11, 2011
The images are beautiful. The text is almost useless. Biased towards b&w film photographers, much of the advice is pedantic and too artsy, even for sophisticated digital users. I mean, really. Who uses the Zone System anymore? There is some reference to histograms and other digital tools but the book remains primarily a reference tool for the darkroom artist.

I'm giving it three stars only because film photographers will find this a must have and like I said, the images are beautiful The rest of us will find something more relevant to modern photography.
120 reviews1 follower
August 24, 2011
This is not the type of book that I think one can sit down and read through. It is almost like a text or a reference that you would keep on your shelf and turn to from time to time for technical guidance and perhaps some inspiration. There is a big section on film and darkroom techniques that I skipped over. Worth having for sure.
Profile Image for Matthias Kühle.
16 reviews1 follower
September 30, 2020
Eines der besten Bücher über Fotografie, die ich, neben denen von Ansel Adams, jemals gelesen habe. Darin findet jeder, Anfänger oder Profi, ein unschätzbares Wissen.
May 7, 2020
Very nice book! The author focuses on few important aspects of photography. There are chapters about motivation, composition, analog and digital photography techniques, creativity and the relation of photography to other types of art. At the end the author also gives few suggestions how to improve and think about photography.

Personally, I liked the most the chapters about what the author considers to be the motivation and the drive for making photography and what makes each photograph important, worth taking and looking at. I think this was the most special part about this book as I did not read much about that in the other books about photography that I read.

On the downside, the chapters in the middle, about analog and digital photography techniques, seemed a bit long and probably for some, including me for analog photography techniques, outdated. I think the second author's book (Essence of Photography) focuses more on the motivation and what makes photographs great and cuts out the very technical details.

I am giving 5 starts, because the book was really great in the chapters about the motivation, how to look at photography and the art in general, something really unique, that I think needs to be read by somebody really interested in photography.
Profile Image for CURTIS NUGENT.
98 reviews
July 21, 2017
Reading this book is not a small task. I feel many "modern" (read "digital") photographers would get bored with a large portion of this book. A large part of this book is dedicated to the Zone System and different methods of development to include compensating development. Some of these methods will be unknown to digital-only photographers. Luckily, for me, I still shoot a lot of film and was able to follow much of the explanations. However, this book is not for beginners.
The last chapters discuss how to find your own personal style of photography. These chapters are worth the price of the book. Barnbaum dispenses wise thoughts to his photographic disciples here.
There were a few times that Barnbaum stepped up on his political soapbox to expound on his environmental views. While very brief, I found them out of place in a book on photography. Overall, a good read for serious photographers, perhaps too complex for amateurs.
33 reviews
March 14, 2021
This book had a lot of great information & photos. However, I read it cover to cover and probably should have used it more like a text book in small bits and pieces. Some sections were totally geared towards very technical film techniques and I probably should have skipped them. Many points were repeated in the book, so missing non-applicable settings would be fine. The book had a lot of value but would be better read as a reference book picking what interests you.
Profile Image for Danial Kalbasi.
45 reviews6 followers
August 3, 2019
This book is timeliness, at least the majority part of it. That's probably the one reason lots of people love this book.

The book is long and it can get slow pace at certain points, especially in traditional photography chapters. But I highly recommend you to not skip these chapters completely. The author points out interesting facts which are still useful to know about.
Profile Image for Zhelana.
524 reviews2 followers
October 21, 2021
This book took me over a year to read, and I'm not at all sure why. it was really repetitive. Also, it seemed unsure whether it wanted to be about analog or digital photography, which meant skipping large sections because I don't even own an analog camera anymore. Anyway, there was some good information, but the book could have been half as long and it would have been better.
October 25, 2017

One of the best books on photography I’ve ever read. Chapters about zone system/negative development/printing are pure brilliant. Highly recommend to anyone, no matter are you using film or not.
48 reviews1 follower
August 14, 2018
Superb, very informative, very good examples, not pretentious but does elaborate around the art and not doing it by the book. Gave me lots of insights into how I can improve. Would recommend to new and experienced photographers. Will continue to use it as a reference guide too.
Profile Image for Andrew Rose.
9 reviews
September 30, 2021
One of the best books I’ve ever read on the subject of creativity and craft in photography. Barnbaum deftly explains the intricacies of light and compositional choices in a way that provides both the novice and more experienced photographer with page after page of helpful, original insights.
Profile Image for Kate Cornfoot.
237 reviews3 followers
March 23, 2017
Holy moley. What a book! This is the best book on the art of photography I've read. Ever. It was originally published in 1994 - so the book is largely oriented around film photography - but it is completely relevant for digital photography. Perhaps even more than modern books that are devoted entirely to digital. I feel like I learned more, and of a much higher quality, in reading this book than I've learned in countless other books/classes/articles.
Profile Image for Gleb.
7 reviews
October 9, 2018
This book invokes Martin Luther King Jr at least twice in different chapters to make a point about playing to one’s strengths.
Profile Image for Brett.
113 reviews
August 7, 2019
(4.5) For full transparency, I only skimmed the centre chapters focused on film development, and the print. If they become more pertinent to my focus I will revisit them.
Profile Image for Jan.
147 reviews2 followers
May 12, 2020
A great book about photography. I really enjoyed Barnbaum's style of writing, his humble voice throughout the book made it feel like a caring uncle passing on his knowledge.
23 reviews1 follower
November 9, 2020
Parts on the zone system and developing and printing are extremely useful
Profile Image for Finz.
70 reviews1 follower
September 30, 2022
nice pictures in , the analog part is not of interrest to me , guess a book for the real pros
October 7, 2018
By far the best book on photography as an art, that I came across so far. Readable and understandable, with some priceless advises to photographers of any skill level (although technical proficiency will certainly facilitate fulfilling your potential as an artist).
While I don't necessarily agree with certain Bruce's views (e.g. his very firm stance against the composition rules, while he obviously uses "rules", or better said "good composition practices" in majority of his photographs), it doesn't take anything away from the fact that this is an amazing book that will help make almost anyone who reads it a better photographer.
Profile Image for Kai Pak.
20 reviews
January 7, 2013
Those who chide this book for not having the right technical material or being outdated and too focused on B&W photography are missing the point. This book has little to do with technique and everything to do with Barnbaum's artistic philosophy and what makes good photography--not merely what are the steps to capture a competent image.

I'm at the beginning of my journey of becoming a more serious photographer and found the information contained in this book to be truly insightful. I'm at the point in experience where I still struggle with technical details; but that kind of information is relatively plentiful. The Interwebs and libraries are abound in material describing techniques. Being able to get inside the head of a photographer who has mastered the medium as an artform is unique. Doesn't matter if you're focused on digital or traditional print, I think what Barnbaum has to say here transcends all of that.
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