Rarely is a great photograph based on one single key ingredient.
A great picture is often a mixture of several ingredients such as beautiful light, the right moment, a particular expression, subject matter, timing, luck, being in the right place at the right time, mood, a specific combination of colour (or a wide range of tones in between black and white), personal vision AND composition.
Composition is like the foundation for a building. You need a good solid foundation to build your house on.
Good image design and a well-crafted composition, however, will not make for a great photograph in and of itself (just a like a foundation is not much of a house in and of itself) – so you will always need one or several of the other ingredients to make a great photograph.
Learning the skill of how to make an image, how to design your image by teaching yourself composition will lay the foundation for creating great and beautiful images.
Teaching yourself composition to the extent that it becomes second nature will leave you free to concentrate on the other ingredients that need to go into your image to make it great.
I therefore decided to compile a list of the top five books on photography composition on the market today.
The list has been compiled using a very complex and very secret algorithm that takes things like customer reviews, Amazon sales rank, star ratings and personal opinion into account. However I cannot reveal too much about my secret algorithm as otherwise I might have all the other top list makers calling me all the time for some insight.
The top five best books on photography composition are:
#01: ‘The Photographer’s Eye’ by Michael Freeman
Praise for The Photographer’s Eye:
“The best book I have read on composition. This should be on every photographer’s desk, well-studied, underlined, and highlighted. I can’t recommend this one highly enough.” – David duChemin
Let me start by saying that even though I write photo books for a living (including The Joy of Digital Photography), I don’t know Michael Freeman and have never communicated with him. That said, this is easily the best composition and design book that you’ll find — and that goes for professionals as well as hobbyists. This is the first book, in fact, that I can recall that covers these topics with such depth and clarity of thought. – Jeff Wignall
#02: ‘Learning To See Creatively’ by Bryan Peterson
Praise for Learnng To See Creatively:
This book is very easy to understand. There are many colorful photos with examples. As an amateur photographer who is looking to create photos this is THE book to have in your library! – Terri Bell
I bought this book to help me take better pictures. Wow… was I surprised. It has given me a whole new way to look at making pictures! – Shawn M. Herne
#03: ‘The Photograph’ by Harald Mante
Praise for The Photograph:
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)
One of the best books I’ve read related to composition… Explained in a clear language, theory is supported by very good photos… – Manuel Vazquez Muñoz
#04: ‘Take Your Photography to the Next Level’ by George Barr
Praise for Take Your Photography to the Next Level:
Wonderful book! The images and layout are excellent and the text is very readable. But most important, I feel as if the author is talking directly to me – simple, clear, friendly, and using the many images to illustrate the useful tips he is trying to convey. – Laurie
This is the perfect book for those who have technical competence but could use some help with their “eye. George does an excellent job of communicating his thought processes. It is not about camera control. It’s about capturing ones vision. It is a great read and I highly recommend it. – Mark Green
#05: ‘Creative Composition’ by Harold Davis
Praise for Creative Composition:
I have read dozens of books that attempt to deal with the very difficult subject of photograph composition. Many of them rely too heavily on the author telling the reader how to “look” at things differently. What this book does throughout is very different – it actually helped me “see” things with a much clearer eye. – Jeff R. Clow
I’m not a professional photographer, and don’t have that natural “eye” for photos, so I am always looking for books to at least help me technically get better photos. I really like this book because it is written in plain English and is very clear for those of us who aren’t seasoned professionals. – Barbara K. St John
I own each of the above five books and have found lots of inspiration in all of them. In fact these five books are all books that you’re likely to come back to again and again as your photography develops or when you’re just looking for a little bit of inspiration. Needless to say the photography in each of these books is breathtakingly beautiful.