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 Amazon.com 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