Photographic Composition: The Essential Book

The Art of Photograhy, Art Wolfe and Rob Sheppard.

The Art of Photograph, Art Wolfe and Rob Sheppard.

Art Wolfe is a world class photographer, and it shows in The Art of the Photograph. There are a lot of books on photographic composition (I own several, and I’ve looked through a lot more in various libraries), but this is far and away the best introduction to photographic composition I have come across. If you aren’t an experienced professional photographer, this book is an absolute must read. (I am assuming professionals already know this stuff.)

Composition is one of the most important artistic decisions in creating a photograph, and this book will do more than any other book I know to help to start you down the road to better compositions.

Photo © Art Wolfe

Photo © Art Wolfe. Chamonix Needles & Lac Blanc, France.

The Art of the Photograph begins with a chapter on what inspires you. How many books start off by asking if you have created a place to live that inspires you photographically? For years Art has been turning his yard into a place of photographic inspiration. I was so taken by the thought that I went out and planted a garden that would inspire me to take pictures.

Photo © Art Wolfe

Photo © Art Wolfe. “Pyramids of salt reflect the pink hues of predawn light rising above the Salar de Uyuni in the Altiplano of central Bolivia. The salt flat is one of the largest in the world and a remnant of an ancient lake.”

Art Wolfe and co-author Rob Sheppard move on to cover all the important issues in composition, the subject, constructing an image, the elements of design (lines, shapes, form, texture), creative solutions, and a lot more. Lavishly illustrated with how own beautiful images, this book is head and shoulders above the other introductions to composition I have read.

Photo © Art Wolfe.

Photo © Art Wolfe. “Standing in a doorway this Kayapo toddler has a compelling, intriguing stare for one so young. Like adults, children are painted with purplish black genipapo and red urucu, symbolizing vitality.”

You would be doing yourself a huge favor to read, reread, and absorb the principles in this book, and especially if you go out, camera in hand, and practice.

In the words of Dewitt Jones (a world class photographer for National Geographic), “The Art of the Photograph takes photography apart and then puts it back together again. Amateur photographers often struggle with the beautiful imagery in publications like National Geographic, assuming it is beyond what the average photographer can do. This book breaks it down, connecting beautiful pictures with easy-to-understand ideas about how to maser your own photography, to create images that celebrate your experience with the world. . . . Study it, enjoy it, experience it. It will go a long way toward helping you become a better photographer.” (The Art of the Photograph, Foreword, page 8.)

Photo © Art Wolfe.

Photo © Art Wolfe. “Within 32 hours of heading that Sicily’s Mt. Etna was erupting, I was hiking up the volcano. At the summit car-sized blocks of red-hot magma were hurled 150 meters (500 feet) above. More surprising still was the level of sound. It was as if I were standing behind a 747 with its engines at full throttle. As twilight descended, this timed exposure recorded the fiery exploding magma.”


Order The Art of the Photograph at my photography store (which is powered by with Amazon’s great prices, convenience, and service).

No single book on composition can cover everything, which is why I recommend the superb three book set on advanced compositional techniques by Michael Freeman.

This is one in a series of articles that will guide you to the best of all things photographic. The rest are here: Buyer’s Guide: Recommendations For The Best Photography Equipment, Software, Books, Magazines, DVDs, Online Photo Labs and More.

Photo © Art Wolfe

Photo © Art Wolfe. “Over the years I have had great opportunities to photograph many cultures throughout the world many of which were featured in my book, Tribes. In compiling images for this mosaic print, I’ve brought together my favorite tribal images including peoples of the Amazonian jungles, the South American Andes and the deserts of Africa. In all cases, I’ve chosen photos with people fully engaged, looking straight into the camera lens. The variety of adornment is very stunning and by arranging them in this manner I believe I’ve created a very compelling and abstract image.”