Masterclass in Photography by Michael and Julien Busselle

Note: I occasionally accept review copies from the publisher. Posts written from review copies are labeled. All opinions are my own. Posts may contain affiliate links. I may receive compensation for any purchased items.

With the advent of digital cameras, any person can take a photograph. Now we must ask, What makes that person a photographer? In Masterclass in Photography, we find some guidance as to the essential elements in a photograph and how to produce an appealing photograph. As a very amateur photographer myself, I find Michael and Julien Busselle’s Masterclass in Photography to be just the guide I need to find inspiration and images around me. It is a lovely coffee-table book that I will refer to again and again.

Using their own images as a starting point, the father-son team analyzes the significant building blocks of photographs such as the following:

  • shape, patterns, and texture
  • composition, framing, and perspective
  • light and shadows
  • color versus monochrome

Masterclass in Photography by Michael and Julien BusselleIn more than 300 lovely color pages, Michael and Julien take us on a journey toward understanding using their own extensive portfolio of photographs, as well as overviews of well-known photographers such as Ansel Adams, Annie Leibovitz, and Michael Fatali. They are good “professors” not because they tell the reader what is good and what is bad, but because they help the reader determine what makes the images appealing.

For example, after reading about pattern and texture, I found myself finding images as I drove down the road. For weeks, I noticed fences and bricks everywhere I went. I love the fact that I’m noticing patterns in the world around me. It was like the first time I put on glasses: I walked out of my fifth grade classroom and suddenly the building in front of me had individual bricks; the tree had individual leaves. After reading parts of this book I found myself noticing the individual aspects of the world around me. (I wish I could post some of the inspiring photographs from their book, but, obviously, they are copyrighted.)

In Masterclass in Photography, for each of Michael and Julien’s photographs, the photographer identifies the situation and approach and the other identifies what they like or dislike about the shot. Their self-analysis helped me realize the questions I should be asking about my own photography: not everything I take is significant. Similarly, photography is a matter of preference. I didn’t necessarily enjoy all of their photographs and approaches; I need to take photographs I enjoy and not worry too much what others think of them, although other people’s feedback may help, just as they gave each other feedback. Masterclass in Photography is light on text. It is about photography, and their photographs take center stage.

Since Michael and Julien have been working most of their careers with film, this book contains chapters and information about film choice and development. My copy was published in 2003, just as digital was becoming standard. (Sadly, I believe it is out of print, but visit here to buy it used for less than $2 from an Amazon marketplace seller.) At first I decided that the film developing sections were not applicable to me, who will never use a film camera again, but I changed my mind. I realized that it is important to know where we came from in photography. I think it’s important to know how it “used” to be done so I know where we are going. For example, I should know what it means to “overexpose” my photograph so I know what I can do when I go to process my photograph digitally.

Michael and Julien do dedicate a chapter to digital photography, conceding that digital imaging is a “powerful tool”:

[Digital imaging] not only allows [those who use it] to exploit the possibilities of the medium to the full but also frees them from many of the more mundane aspects of image making to concentrate on the true skill of photography—namely the ability to see, capture, and realize striking images. (page 296)

To me, that is what Masterclass in Photography helps me to do: it helps me to see that photography is not simply pressing the button. Photography is seeing an image and learning how to capture it in an appealing way.

I intend to keep Masterclass in Photography in my living room, within my daily sight, so I can refer to it and reread it whenever I feel in need of inspiration and direction in my search for images around me. I’d recommend it to other amateur photographers.

Are you interested in photography? Who are your favorite photographers? I am looking for more inspiring images and photography books.

Reviewed on June 6, 2008

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • Well, I suppose I could say that I have a deep interest in photography. That’s actually what I got my degree in! I don’t think film photography will ever go away, especially as an art form. I’m going to go and jot some of my favorite titles down for you. Are you more interested in how-to or coffee table books?

  • @Natasha @ Maw Books:

    Wow, that’s great! I’d love to hear your favorites. I don’t know which I prefer–at this point, both. This particular book was the first I’ve really picked up. It was a great blend of “how to” find the image and “coffee table” book pictures. I guess I’d be interested in who your favorite photographers are, to begin with, and any inspiring “how to” find the pictures books.

    I don’t think I’ll ever use film again because it is a different medium and digital is so much easier (and cheaper in the long run). But I think digital photography is just as much an art form as film, just different. That said, I realize many of the digital pictures that are taken wouldn’t classify as “art” and I know mine are certainly a long way away from it…

  • Rebecca, I don’t want you to think I left you high and dry I just hadn’t the opportunity to sit down with my books and give you some recommendations. Some of my favorite photographers are Phil Borges, Ansel Adams, Paul Strand, Steve McCurry, Mary Ellen Mark, Anne Geddes (more along the persuasion of her photos from her book Pure not her baby photos), Randy Dana (love this guy!).

    As far as how-to books, it’s really hard to give a general recommendation as there are so many subsets of study within photography. There’s alternative processes, Polaroid, 35 mm, medium format, large format (my area of study during my senior year of school), digital, computer processes, etc, etc, etc. A couple of books on how to discover your creativity that I can think of off the top of my head are The Artists Way by Julia Cameron, and Photographic Possibilities by Robert Hirsch.

  • Found your site after a google search for Masterclass In Photography – to see if it was still in print! I felt I had to respond to your kind words, Thankyou! I went digital in 2006, Dad passed away the same year – I now take pictures only occasionally and spend my time running a small holding and living the good life with my partner and son, Thanks again for putting a smile on my face,
    Very Best Wishes,
    Julien Busselle.

  • Thanks for sharing. There’s always more to learn no matter if you’re an amateur or a veteran photographer. I think that’s why so many photographers get stale – they stop learning.

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}