Book Review: Learning to See Creatively, Third Edition, Bryan Peterson (2015)

August 24th, 2015 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Useful for Beginners and Pros Alike

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free book for review through Blogging for Books.)

Originally published in 1988 and revised in 2003, the third edition of Bryan Peterson’s Learning to See Creatively is all-new, completely rewritten and re-illustrated, with a brand new section on Photoshop. This is my first Peterson book but, judging from some of the other reviews, he seems to be a well-known and respected photography author and instructor.

And it’s easy to see why: Learning to See Creatively is accessible and well-written, with a positive, can-do attitude and plenty of helpful illustrations and activities to help get those creative juices flowing. Peterson frequently includes photos of the same subject, taken from multiple angles and perspectives and with different composition and framing, to give the reader an idea of what works – and what works better. (His eight-photo spread of the Dutch windmill is my favorite use of this technique.) There’s a decided emphasis on personal vision with creative exercises to help you find your own.

The book’s divided into five sections, which you can either browse or read straight through. “Expanding Your Vision” challenges the reader to think about what you see – vs. what your camera sees. There’s also an excellent primer on choosing the right camera lens for the job. The “Elements of Design” introduces us to line, shape, form, texture, pattern, and color, exploring how they work in harmony – and how we can best coax them into working for us. “Composition” covers everything from the basics (horizontal vs. vertical orientation; the rule of thirds; contrast) to more advanced topics (working your subject; breaking the rules). Last but not least are the chapters on “The Magic of Light” (direction, color, overcast and rainy days) and “Photoshop.”

Peterson includes a fair amount of technical detail, including information on the camera and settings used to take each picture. While the more advanced stuff made my beginner’s head spin, I wouldn’t steer newbies clear of this book: the many lovely photos offer readers new and exciting ways of approaching photography. From portraits to landscapes to abstract macro artwork and tourist attractions that have been done to death, examples run the gamut and provide a wealth of inspiration.

Professionals might find some of Peterson’s views controversial (he’s pro-staging and pro-Photoshop – as long as it doesn’t make you lazy IRL), but being a beginner, I didn’t really see the big deal. Live and let live. Unless you’re a photojournalist, then staging becomes a little more problematic, methinks.

My only caveat: if you like what you see re: Photoshop, don’t begin and end with the last chapter. Definitely pick up a dedicated Photoshop guide (or two) in order to get the most of it.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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