The Passionate Photographer By Steve Simon

By Steve Simon
New Riders Press, $44.99 (264p)
ISBN-10: 0321719891 / ISBN-13: 978-0321719898

Steve Simon's captivating book, The Passionate Photographer aims to help photographers - especially advanced amateurs - address two important dilemmas: 'Why aren't my pictures as good as I want them to be?' and the immediate follow-up, 'What can I do about it?'

As a seasoned photojournalist, Simon has deep knowledge of photographic technique, and as a veteran teacher and podcaster he is adept at explaining its facets. He structures the book as 10 steps toward becoming a more powerful photographer. Looking at the image-making process holistically, he visits each aspect of image-making, from inspiration and planning, to capture, editing, and sharing. For each step, Simon describes his own muses and his hard-won best practices for success. And along the way, he addresses both the art and the craft of creating a gripping photo.

For Simon, effective technique is not just about understanding exposure, or even composition, but rather about telling a clear story with visually striking and emotionally gripping frames. Arguing that effective storytellers stay focused, engaged, and tenacious, he provides a roadmap for finding inspiration and remaining productive. In addition to promoting persistence and clear intent, Simon values being open and attentive to the unfolding world in front of the lens. Some of his advice, from good autofocus tricks to descriptions of how to warm-up prior to an important shoot, is designed to allow the photographer to respond quickly when they see possible photos. 

Simon uses images from his broad and eye-catching body of work to illustrate his instructive anecdotes and accumulated wisdom.

To illustrate his instructive anecdotes and his accumulated wisdom, Simon pulls on images from his broad and eye-catching body of work, notably his post 9/11 series and his photos from Africa. Unlike many current technique books on the market, Simon includes a generous array of important images taken by other pros, from Bill Owens’s documentary work on American suburbia to Jim Brandenburg’s Zen-like nature photography.

Simon has a good instinct for interesting details, especially ones that will grab the attention of his target audience. His text is full of sharp quotes from luminaries in the field, as well as references to the specific gear they or he used for a shoot. He is also skilled at demystifying the magic behind a striking frame, such as his shot of kids heading across the fields in a downpour (below). He walks the reader through the culling and cropping process, and illuminates the thoughtful and rigorous approach to editing behind the vivid and singular image.

Simon walks the reader through the culling and cropping process, and illuminates the thoughtful and rigorous approach to editing behind images such as his shot of kids heading across the fields in a downpour.

For Simon, it is a picture’s 'content that counts the most', and he is most interested in examining story-driven genres of photography, from street to documentary to photojournalism. Given Simon’s background and biases, the book is ill-suited for studio shooters or fine-art photographers more intent on purely formal experimentation. But for readers looking for a tip-driven, well-illustrated book to help them find their voice and improve their ability to capture a telling moment, The Passionate Photographer is well worth a look.

The Passionate Photographer is available on as a paperback and kindle e-book version.

Adam Koplan is head of the Performance Department at the Dreamyard Project which brings arts programs to NYC schools. He is also Artistic Director of The Flying Carpet Theatre Co.
Follow him on Twitter @FlyingCarpetNYC

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by or any affiliated companies.


Total comments: 15
By mhvszn (May 24, 2012)

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By Kananga (Feb 20, 2012)

I bought this book last week and have not been able to put it down. It's great to see such a wide range of tips and advice, and also the reassurance that some of the advice listed I was already doing so I know that with certain aspects I was already on the right track and figuring things out for myself. This book has certainly helped my confidence. The improvement in technique and content will come with time.

I would recommend this book for anyone who wants to take better pictures. (In every sense of the word).

By Morderator (Dec 13, 2011)

aammaazziinngg! :)

By Passionphoto (Dec 9, 2011)

thanks for the kind comments...I held nothing back and I'm excited that this book is helping photographers in all genres push past obstacles, get outside comfort zones and re-ignite passions. You are inspiring me.

By JAMiletti (Dec 8, 2011)

This book has instilled in me a renewed passion for photography. Steve Simon offers invaluable guidance based on his lifelong passion, experience, technical acumen, and vast accumulation of lessons-learned in his photography career. His ten-steps to become a great photographer make perfect sense and are a source of inspiration to achieve higher levels of proficiency and artistic achievement. His book captures the passion for photography in a language that is easy to understand and resonates with photographers—independent of their skill level. Every page is full of golden nuggets of wisdom that stimulate an aspiration to reach a higher level of accomplishment—to become a great photographer. This book is a true gem that I will treasure as a source of great inspiration!

1 upvote
Bob Baron
By Bob Baron (Dec 6, 2011)

Superb photographer, excellent teacher, invaluable book.

By mantra (Dec 6, 2011)

a good idea for a gift

also i'm looking for a good book for black white photography (shoot and post production)

1 upvote
By Tubed_Jazz (Dec 6, 2011)

I've heard him a lot on photography podcasts. Intelligent but understated, he gives a nice balance to these shows.

I imagine he's not your usual pro photographer - not even your usual photojournalist. I'd love to get a copy of this book if it's released in Aus.


By PixelMover (Dec 6, 2011)

My wife just gave me this book a few days ago as an early Christmas present.
I believe it i is a 'must read' for anyone who wants to improve their photography.

It took me several days to read it. Not only because it is a hefty volume, but because I realised very early on in the book that you need to do more than 'just' read to get the most out of it; I read it with my iPad on my lap and every photographer, every essay, every name I came across, I looked up online. In this way the book becomes so much more than just the sum of its pages.

If it is not on your Christmas list now, go and add it. It is inspiring, eye-opening and very educational. But also a really good read.
And if you apply what you've read, it'll keep you taking pictures till next year's Christmas.


By zkz5 (Dec 6, 2011)

What kind of photos do you like to take? Do you agree with the review that those into street photography and photojournalism would get more out of it than studio or art photographers?

By PixelMover (Dec 7, 2011)

Actually I mostly did/do 'boring' studio work, product shots, interiors. But the thing about this book is that it coaxes you out of your 'stagnant' way of looking at things and makes you reconsider your attitude towards your photography. If you base your review purely on flat content, yes, it appears to be more suited to street/press shooters. But most of the points he makes are universal. See it as reading an amzazing book on Indian cuisine when you normally only cook classic French. It's bound to give you a few eye-openers, inspiration and may even get you to try something completely different. And the chapters on editing/culling your work apply to anyone. He's pretty much talked me out of my 'fear' of street photogrpahy and I'm having my first 'go' at that later today.

By PixelMover (Dec 7, 2011)

What I'm trying to say is basically, the last time a book on photography inspired me this much was when I read Joe McNally's "The Moment it Clicks". Again, a book that 'caters' to the opposite end of the photogrpahy spectrum. But it got me using small flashes creatively in the studio (alongside the big ones) and outside.And again it was msotly reading about his view on things that inspired me to look at my own work differently and as a result improved my work. I'm very sure this book will do the same.

Hope that helps :)

By zkz5 (Dec 8, 2011)

Yes, definitely helps, thanks!

By beespeckled (Dec 6, 2011)

I just requested that my library order it, keeping my fingers crossed that they will.

david yaugo
By david yaugo (Dec 6, 2011)

he was just recently on Twit Photo. it was a pretty good episode.

Total comments: 15