I saw it on a table at a museum bookstore.  A black paperback book, not too big.  The title popped, with silver letters:  “Read This If You Want To Take Great Photographs,” by Henry Carroll. This book had to be read–there was no doubt in my mind. It promised greatness.

I took the book home and breezed through it in an afternoon. A perfect resource for the new or lesser experienced photographer, it is well organized and covers photography basics in a very succinct and entertaining style. The book consists of talking points on the ABC’s of photography and what makes a great photograph together with photographs of well-known photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and Robert Capa.  (If you don’t know some of the great names in photography, this is a good opportunity to be introduced to them.)

I wish I had had such a book when I was just starting out. It would have quickly put me light years ahead in my learning process. Having said that, I actually enjoyed the book as an experienced photographer. I like to refresh my understanding of photography basics from time to time, and I never know when I might learn something new. Of course there were pages I flipped through rather quickly, but I was intrigued by Mr. Carroll’s commentary and I loved looking at the photographs. I particularly enjoyed his section on “Seeing,” which contained his observation that “Average photographers imitate beauty.  Great photographers create their own.”

Five subjects are covered in the book: composition, exposure, light, lenses, and seeing.  Each page under each subject covers just one concept. The most important point on each page is printed black and bold. Most concepts are illustrated with a photograph.

Carroll discusses the obvious and the less than obvious. For example, he reflects on the primal need for order, and the simple beauty of symmetry (obvious). He also observes that symmetry isn’t a case of composing an image like an ink blot, but in creating an overall sense of harmony and balance. He notes that the little things that draw our attention to a photograph may affect symmetry but not upset the feeling of balance (not so obvious). An excellent photo by Alkan Hassan illustrates his point.

This book should appeal to different types of readers, like those with lots of time who read cover to cover and those who prefer to read one or two concepts at a time. For those who don’t like to read at all, you can look at the descriptive sentence bolded in the middle of the page and check out the photograph opposite.  Or, you can just look at photographs.

I was inspired by the author’s choice of photographs, which is exactly what was intended, according to Mr. Carroll’s introduction in the book. Mr. Carroll’s premise is that by looking at the photographs of inspirational photographers, past and present, you will understand their ideas and techniques and learn how to put them into practice. 

I like the book because it is fundamental, with no extra fluff, and does just what it says it will do. It explains how to get great photographs. If you are interested in learning more about Henry Carroll, he does have a website: www.henrycarroll.co.uk. He has another somewhat similar book I have yet to read: “Read This If You Want To Take Great Photographs of People”.  It is next on my list.