The Photographers Vision: understanding and appreciating great photography, is a comprehensive overview of photography by Michael Freeman. If you’re interested in studying what makes a great photograph this is a wonderful place to start.

But I’m just a toy photographer!

I’m can hear you say : “But I’m just a toy photographer; I’m only doing this for fun!”  I understand your point, but I would counter that you should always do your best. Even if it’s your hobby and a stress reducer, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be pushing yourself to understand your craft.

By reading Freeman’s book you will get an excellent introduction on to how to look at photographs. When you really understand what you’re seeing, you have a better idea how to judge what you’re looking at. Freeman’s book begins with an overview of the foundations of photography. He takes us to the very beginning by asking the seemingly obvious: what is…or isn’t a photograph? When you know what you’re looking at, you can look at photographs critically. Not just other peoples photos, but also your own.

I really enjoyed his ‘start at the beginning’ approach. If you know what the six qualities that make a good photo, you have the foundations for examining your work and the work of others. You also have the tools to make your work the best it can be.

Qualities of a good photo

Here is a quick run down of the six qualities that make a good photo.

  1. Is the photo skillfully put together? Does the photographer have a grasp of the basics of photography and utilize them to capture his or her vision?
    2 Does the photo provoke a reaction in you? When you look at a photo do you feel an emotion? Do you feel a connection to the image?
    3 Does the photo offer you more than one layer of experience? Can it be read not only as the image is intended, but can it also be seen as an allegory, or relate in some way to a larger idea?
    4 Does the photograph have its context in photography? Does the photographer understand how his or her images relate to the photography that has preceded it as well as work that is being created around it?
    5 Does the photograph contain an idea? What idea is the photographer trying to convey?
    6 The photograph doesn’t imitate. While the photographer may be aware of similar work, he or she doesn’t imitate or copy other work. The photographer is creating work that is original and true to their own vision.

How to read a photo

The six qualities that make up a good photo are only the beginning of the process of evaluating a photograph. Freeman then poses 10 questions to ask yourself when reading photographs. These questions range from paying attention to your first impressions to asking yourself if the image works. I think its hard to evaluate whether a photo is successful. But when you break down this large and unwieldy question into ten smaller questions, it becomes easier to see why a photo is successful.

This surprisingly straightforward process gives you a concrete basis of evaluating photographs. Rather than thinking with your gut, or intuition, you can identify with confidence your opinion on your own work as well as on the work of others. By following a specific process for reading a photo you can take the emotional reaction out and look at a photo and judge it on its merits, not on personal taste.

We all want to be better photographers (otherwise you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog!). By developing a few basic skills, like how to read a photo, you can improve your photos and understand where there’s room for improvement. Within The Photographers Vision there are many examples of amazing photos that you can practice asking questions on.

Understanding purpose

Even if you’re taking photos of toys, it’s good to know what your goals are. Why are you taking photos? How will you use your photos? Who is your audience? The Photographers Vision takes a deep dive into the purpose of many famous photos. By asking these seemingly basic questions, so much can be learned about the work of other photographers as well as our own motivations. I like how Freeman uses some of the most amazing photos every published to illustrate his concepts. Each photo has a detailed caption to explain exactly how that photo illustrates a specific concept. Not only do you get a wonderful historical overview of amazing photos – but he also explains why they’ve been so influential.

I really enjoyed how Freeman broke down the different genres of photography into easy to understand concepts. Genres like: landscape, architecture, photojournalism and sport. Each genre is defined by its major attributes as well how it fits into the larger world of photography. He also asks: what is the photograph for? Creating work for the single print requires a different kind of mind set from creating work for a photo essay. Freeman lays out the differences in an easy to read and understandable language.

When I was finished with The Photographers Vision I had a better understanding of the difference between a Photo Essay and a Single Published Image. I also felt a twinge of nostalgia for the days when glossy magazines threw around money like it was candy to photographers. When color printing was new and far off places were glamorous simply for their novelty.

If you’re not used to thinking about the “Why?” of photography The Photographers Vision is a great place to start.

A blurry LEGO swamp monster hides in the bushes and watches the bathing beauty in the lake - taken with a LensBaby by Shelly Corbett

My attempt at creating an image with both drama and depth by focusing on the figure in the background. I intentionally wanted the foreground figure to be mysterious and a little menacing.

Photography skills

Freeman devotes the last third of The Photographers Vision to writing about specific photograph skills. If you’re looking for specific camera and photography skills you won’t find them here. This section focuses on the intangible aspects of photography. With subject headings like “holding back”, “perfect imperfect” and “assertive subject” you know that Freeman is talking about the intangibles of photography, rather than specific skills.

For example, his section on lighting is only a few short paragraphs long. Most photographers already know that lighting can make or break a photo so Freeman doesn’t waist time telling you how to capture light. He encourages the reader to think about lighting in creative ways through his words and several photographic examples. How you light you’re subject doesn’t have to be an after thought. It can be the main device driving the purpose of your photo.

This book really helped me to examine my photos with new insight. Not only do I want to tell compelling stories, but I want to tell these stories in visually interesting ways.

red classic lego spaceman kayaks across the still pond taken with a lensbaby by shelly corbett

I have a hard time embracing a blurry subject. Many of the examples I’m drawn to in the The Photographers Vision use blur to great effect. On first look at this image I rejected it for its blurry nature. I decided to use it anyway because I think there is something special about the water and the blur of the figure that conveys a wonderful sense of motion and life I might not get with an image that was perfectly focused.


If you enjoy thinking about photos I know you will enjoy this book as much as I did. If you don’t know where to begin when looking critically at photographs, The Photographers Vision is a great place to start.

Even after nearly 30 years as a photographer I enjoyed this book immensely. If got me thinking about my work and how I can continue to push it to new levels. I may only be a toy photographer, but I want to be the best toy photographer I can be.

By understanding and appreciating great photography, maybe I can create great (toy) photography too!


Now that I’ve finished Michael Freeman’s The Photographers Vision I’m looking for a new book to read. If you have any suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments.

If you like what we’re doing we invite you to support the blog by purchasing our book that celebrates our first year as a blog: A Year in the Life of Toy Photographers, 2017. The book is available for purchase as either an eBook or as a physical copy. All money will go to support and grow the blog. You have until March 31st to grab your copy!