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
In 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.