Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Learning to see creatively - book review

A friend recently told my wife that creativity is not something that could be learnt, it’s something that’s within you and that you are born with! (unfortunately, I was not around at that time). The ironic thing is that the statement was made about the book “Learning to See Creatively” by Bryan Peterson – the very book that has dispelled this misconception quite effectively. In his own words, the reason he first wrote the book was “to dispel the myth that the art of image making was for the chosen few”. After selling hundreds of thousand copies, the book being in existence for the past 20 years (original version was published in 1988) and going through so many reprints and revised editions, we can safely assume that he has been successful in doing this at least for those capable of grasping it.

Whilst I can admit that people are born with talent and creativity, to say that another person cannot “learn” to see creativity is very…. well…. silly! Do all those who are successful in art, fashion, design, etc inbuilt with talent only? Do they not go and “learn” their craft from schools, institutes and colleges? Even those who claim to have made it on their own talent are actually “self-taught” – they look at their idols and mentors, “learn” from their style and keep improving based on the feedback they get. This is true for any of the art forms out there. Yes there are people born creative – but the majority of the successful artists (be it art, photography, design, etc) have “learnt” to be creative. The fact is that in order to make a “creative” composition of a painting or photograph, you need to follow several rules (or you need to break the rules…. and to do that you need to know what the rules are…). These rules have been developed over centuries and even artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo have used these rules in their paintings – does that mean that “they” were not creative?

Well having got that out of the way, let’s get down to the review. For those who do not know who Bryan Peterson is (and if you are photographer you surely should know him) – he is a very successful photographer with a highly profitable image stock library, some of which have been sold for thousands of dollars on a repetitive basis. He has been photographing for over 30 years and has been teaching photography for over 20 years. He is also the author of several highly successful books including “Understanding Exposure”, which many consider to be the “bible” of photography (I have this book as well but it does not need a separate review – just a single sentence – “If you want to understand photography, just get Understanding Exposure”).

“Learning to see creatively” has the very laid back and easy to understand style that Bryan used in “Understanding Exposure”. He quickly puts us at ease that we CAN learn to see creatively and then explains how to do this by changing the way we see things around us and expanding our vision. He then discusses the elements of design (line, shape, form, texture, pattern and colour) in detail and then goes on to give the rules like the Golden section, rule of thirds, etc and explains how all these elements come together to make a creative composition. Photography is all about light and a separate chapter has been dedicated to show how light affects composition.

The book is an excellent read and I highly recommend it. Its easy to understand and you quickly grasp the essentials. Design and rules of composition can be highly technical (as shown in Michael Freeman’s book The Photographer’s Eye) but Bryan has kept it all simple so that any beginner or amateur photographer reading it is able to understand. He uses a lot of examples and his own images to illustrate the point. To me, Bryan is like the cool high school teacher who makes things very interesting without trying too hard, so you end up learning without really knowing it. 


  1. Wonderful review!

    What a coincidence though as I was just reading my 1988 copy just the other day.

  2. hi.. just dropping by here... have a nice day!

  3. might have to look that one up Riyazi, sounds like an interesting read.
    btw ... reckon you have plenty of creativity naturally anyway ;)

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