The Photograph, 2nd Edition by Harald Mante (book review)

Read any book or blog that covers photographic composition and you will find the Rule of Thirds and perhaps the Golden Ratio covered as well, but rarely do photographers/authors go out of their way to explain how a picture is built up from its visual elements. Harald Mante does. In his book “The Photograph”, he starts with the visual element “point” and takes you through all elements that make up for an image.

Harald Mante’s book doesn’t read easy. It’s not a constant stream of thoughts, nor has it been created to please. It does contain a lot of images to show the issue at hand. Mante’s book starts with one-point compositions, i.e. images in which the eye is drawn to one particular point in the frame. From there on, spatial composition is discussed by taking the reader/pupil through two-point, three-point, line, shape, light quality and colour composition basics.

Each type of composition is illustrated not only by photos, but also and perhaps foremost by diagrams. This allows you to really understand what Mante is teaching you. And yes, at some point in the book, the Rule of Thirds is mentioned as is the Golden Ratio. Unfortunately for those who consider these two as the must-obey rules in composition, Mante shows there is much more to composition than just abiding to rules. When you’ve finished the book, you’ll understand why this is part of an academic education.

If you’ll learn one thing from The Photograph, it’s that photographic composition isn’t a photography thing. It’s a subject that has been at the core of visual art like drawing and painting. Without explicitly referring to them, the principles taught by Mante go back to the grand days of painting when Da Vinci, Rembrandt and Rubens were the “photographers” of their time.

That is why The Photograph doesn’t stop at spatial composition — which brought back to the basics can perhaps be summarised in rules like the Rule of Thirds after all — but also covers light-quality composition and the use of colour. Throughout the book, and even before it’s covered in full, the captions under Mante’s photos all refer to a light quality such as Contrast and Brightness, and to the colour balance of the image.

The last chapter of The Photograph lists a large number with photos containing line overlays to show exactly what the reader should be looking at in the photo in order to understand the compositional elements.

For those among you who don’t know who Harald Mante is: born in 1936, he is a German photographer, artist, and designer. Since 1960 Mante had a great influence on German colour photography. He was a second generation Bauhaus student and transformed the ideas of Bauhaus into photography. His text books on composition and colour design have set the standard.

The Photograph is a RockyNook publication published in December 2012 (ISBN 1937538060). It costs 40.00 EUR.