pjhstudios blog

How to steal like an artist


I nodded my head all the way through Austin Kleon’s “How to steal like an artist.”

Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of previous ideas.

If there’s one takeaway for self-described non-creative people, it is that. Synthesize, combine, mash up what you already know, and then you’ll come away with something unique.

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Designing a Photograph – Bill Smith


Designing a Photograph: Visual Techniques for Making Your Photographs Work by Bill Smith takes a designer’s view of to a photograph. Visually, what makes something interesting or engaging, and apply it to a photograph. Smith makes the argument of knowing how to pay attention to groups of visuals. These visuals include:

  • Figure ground
  • selective focus
  • similar color
  • closure
  • continuation
  • similar size and shape
  • similar texture
  • object proximity

The book includes exercises for the reader to perform (shoot in bursts, look at a subject a variety of different ways). Later in the book, Smith details when black and white works better or if color is optimal. Consider contrast and tones and how light affects both.

Images do have f stop and lens information for those curious of technical details.

Designing feels dated, even for 2001, retaining sample images taken with Kodachrome. Kodachrome is dead, and even in 2001 was gasping its final breaths. Ignoring that, applying a designer’s eye to photography can help tremendously with composition and achieving the desired impact.

The Tao of Photography –


Tao of Photography: Seeing Beyond Seeing by Philippe L. Gross, S.I. Shapiro applies Zen concepts to photography, interspersed with quotes and anecdotes from photographers that were well known for their visionary approach to what they took pictures of. Each section contains principles, applications of the principles and suggested assignments one can do to apply the principles.

The biggest takeaways from the book are the principles of Great Understanding and Little Understanding. The former refers to the unconscious and receptive nature of self. In photography this applies to composition and feeling of the subject. Little Understanding focuses on the small and immediate, this being tools and equipment available to a photographer. You need both in photography. Often, photographers focus solely on gear and techniques that they forget to seek out something larger in their work.

One way to seek something larger, to filter out unnecessary details, is to constantly discriminate to see the most basic, essential aspects of a photographic vision. Discriminating is not the same as being critical. You actively choose what is needed, not why it’s not needed.

I’d definitely recommend this book to understand a different creative approach. The quotes from famous photographers and personal stories are insightful.