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on 6 April 2008
First, the disclaimer: I translated this book from the German 2001 and 2007 editions of "Das Foto." So errors of translation are mine. I did so for my own edification. I encouraged the publisher to find a way to get this information into English, because I thought the content of this book should be available to the English readership. As it turned out, the publisher eventually asked to use my translation. I was paid for my work, but do not receive royalties from sales.

Now some history on Harald Mante's books. The last time his books were available in English was in the 1970s, when Van Nostrand Reinhold published his "Photo Design" and "Color Design," the first covering the design elements and contrasts in B&W and the second covering the color contrasts and their effects when incorporating the design elements. These books are classics of long standing among people interested in analytical presentations of these subjects. Over the years he has written several other instructional books, but until now, none had made it into English.

This is the second truly outstanding book on the subject to appear in less than a year, the first being Michael Freeman's "The Photographer's Eye," on which I have a review elsewhere. The bottom line is that my strongest recommendation is to own both of these books. Together they constitute the strongest, most thorough presentation of composition/design up to the intermediate level available anywhere in print in English. No other books in English deal with this material in the depth, breadth, and level of these two books.

Now to review Mante's book. Mante was taught and presents his material in the tradition of the teachings of such Bauhaus masters as Vassily Kandinsky. Aspects of his presentation, adapted to photography, remind one of Kandinsky's landmark book, "Point and Line to Plane."

Whereas Freeman starts in a more traditional photographic writer's manner with a consideration of the implications of different viewing frames, Mante assumes the 36mm x 24mm frame and starts right into the grammar of visual structure with the point: 26 pages about the point. How one point works within the 35mm film frame, then two and more, and then the visual implications. Then 26 pages on lines. Shapes are next, in fewer pages, but with equal thoroughness.

He moves from the basic design elements to what I have translated as "universal contrasts:" figure-ground, tonal contrast, and representation of space. Then to the seven most acknowledged color contrasts in the manner of J. Itten, adapted to photographing.

Several sections of the last, long, chapter look into techniques the photographer can use to achieve a desired effect on viewers by adjusting the ratio of objective representation vs. subjective interpretation, another topic in Kandinsky's writings. The last two sections deal with two of Mante's favorite teaching tools, photographic sequences and series. A number of his students' images in sequences or series have been published and exhibited.

The over 600 photographs illustrating his text are signature Mante, emphasizing very strong visual design. Many of them are published in his several fine art monographs and have been exhibited throughout the world. He also supports his presentation with over 160 diagrams.

Digression: One measure of the value of this book may be that it does not mention the "Rule of Thirds" anywhere. Mante does use the Europeans' preferred 5/8ths and 3/8ths divisions. It turns out that if one graphs both of these ratios, as well as the other guideline of dropping a perpendicular from a corner to the opposing diagonal, all three points cluster in a small area.

This book contains no information on the camera, lens, shutter speed, aperture, or photographer's intent for any illustration. Mastery of one's equipment and knowledge of what it does is assumed. The presentation and topics are not elementary - basic to intermediate level, yes; elementary, no.

This book is all about the image. No other book attacks the composition/design problem in so straight forward and analytical a manner. Armed with the information in this book, a photographer or artist will better understand the structure and dynamics of the image in the viewfinder or what is evolving on the canvas and will be better equipped to analyze the resulting print, drawing, or painting. In fact, knowing the information in this book will allow anyone interested in images to understand them better; their structure, dynamics, psychological effects, and, therefore, their message. Photographic and artistic practitioners, teachers, students, historians, arts administrators, and viewers will find value and increased satisfaction and pleasure in making and viewing images.
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on 28 November 2010
I am a relative newcomer to photography having started in the digital age. I bought this book to improve my composition and I think in time it will do that.

At first it seems a little daunting, as I can imagine this being a course text. However, once I started working through it I could see the points that the author was trying to illustrate. The author has reduced it to a number of sections about different compositional elements. These include, points, lines, shapes and colour. Each has a number of photographs to represent the points being made and which are referred to in the text, and often additional diagrams to further illustrate these points.

My main problems came with the sections relating to colour as there seemed to be a lot in this and relatively little page room devoted to it compared to elements such as lines and points and it seems to be a more complicated theory to grasp. That said, I am starting to look for some of these compositional elements when composing photos and when editing them so some of the text must have made an impression! Whether my photography improves as a result only time and some objective criticism will tell.

The only reason I did not give this 5 stars is that I think that in some cases the text refers to the wrong diagram and that some of the text below the photos could have been a little more descriptive and helpful.
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on 25 April 2008
This may seem to be a mutual back-scratching club, as I'm following a review by Tom campbell, who also reviewed my own book, The Photographer's Eye. Nevertheless, I'm compelled to say that this is the welcome return of one of the classics of composition in photography. And excellently updated and revised, too. Mante methodically and sympathetically presents an exhaustive account of the formal elements, from points and lines, through colour, to purely photographic forms such as time sequences. His painter's training allows a refreshing and rare cross-discipline analysis. An essential read for anyone with an interest in design in photography (and any photographer SHOULD have just such an interest).

Michael Freeman (author of The Photographer's Eye, among others)
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