Writing with Light

Visual Flow – Mastering the Art of Composition

I picked up an eBook last week that I had been meaning to read for some time now, Visual Flow – Mastering the Art of Composition by Ian Plant (with George Stocking).

Have you ever returned from a photo shoot, downloaded your images and thought to yourself  “these are ok but there’s still something missing.” Is it the composition? Is the scene too busy? Is it unbalanced? Now before I get deep into the ebook let me take a minute and introduce you to the author.

Ian Plant is a professional nature and landscape photographer; teacher, workshop leader and author who is a frequent contributor to publications such as Outdoor Photographer and Popular Photography. If you’re not yet familiar with Ian and his work then the best thing that I can recommend is that you get familiar with it. His photographs are masterpieces and a study in the art of (dare I say) composition.  Ian is also the author/photographer of 8 print books including “Chesapeake: Bay of Light which received critical acclaim from the Washington Post among others.


Visual Flow takes you through critical and fundamental elements to consider and put into practise so that you compose your image in such a way as to tell the viewer a story. The story you’re seeing.  As Ian puts it in his introduction “A snapshot shows the world what your camera sees, but when you create a composition, you show the world what you see.”

“You had me at Hello”

Yup…I was hooked right at the introduction. Who would have thought that this 287-page ebook on composition would turn out to grab my attention…and keep it throughout the length of the book. Ian’s rich writing style and text complimented by the incredible photographs from both himself and George Stocking make this ebook an indispensable tool to add to your learning arsenal.

Let me give you an example from early on the book…”Visual flow…. is my way of conceptualizing photographic composition.” “Not unlike the flow of a swift-moving stream, you want the viewer’s eye to get trapped in the ‘visual flow’ of your images, swept along deep into composition.” “Your goal as a photographer is to engage the viewer’s eye, commanding their attention, leading them deeper and deeper into the scene before them.”

These excerpts are of course complimented by the photos that go along with them which act as the imagery to reinforce and substantiate the text.

The depth of information imparted in this book is incredible. Ian doesn’t just ramble off different compositional rules and techniques but gets to the heart of why an image works, how to make an image work and how you go about getting there. He discuss techniques employed in paintings by the masters…  Van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Da Vinci, to illustrate that compositional elements that have been used for centuries in the visual arts are also relevant today in the photographic arts. He also discusses concepts that originate in the musical arts such as “counterpoint” and how that relates to photography today. I was amazed and enlightened. I learned more from “Visual Flow” then I have in a long time.

Don’t get me wrong this book isn’t all about concepts and theories it’s also a practical guide on how to execute on these concepts. Ian goes through different compositional elements including abstract and physical elements. He discusses how to use shapes (curves, diagonal lines, circles, triangles, etc) to create a compelling image. How do you create visual mass and use negative space to your advantage? That’s covered.

You’ve heard about the rule of thirds? So have I. But do you know where and how it originated? When should you use and when shouldn’t you. Ian discusses this in-depth and provides insight that I, for one, found fascinating.

Interspersed throughout the book are image studies where Ian explains the different compositional elements of the image and why it works.

This is one of the most comprehensive books that I’ve read on “mastering” composition. I’ll be honest at $24.95 it’s one of the more expensive books that I’ve reviewed. Is it worth it? I’d have to say a resounding…YES. You can click here to purchase the ebook or if you want to give it a test run first you can also download a free trial.

If you haven’t visited Ian’s Dreamscapes site then I suggest you do. Aside from his wonderful site and blog you’ll also find some wonderful video tutorials in his store.

21 responses

  1. Excellent review of what sounds like an excellent book. You’ve captured my attention.


    August 22, 2013 at 10:10 am

  2. Thanks for the review. I’ve read Michael Freeman’s book “The Photographers eye”. This one sounds pretty good.


    August 22, 2013 at 10:59 am

  3. Great review Edith.


    August 22, 2013 at 11:48 am

  4. Edith, you should see my library of photography books…a girl just can’t have to many☺ This sounds like a great one.


    August 22, 2013 at 11:52 am

  5. Thanks so much for this excellent review! I’m definitely going to check it out. 😀


    August 22, 2013 at 5:00 pm

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this here, Edith.
    I’m off to check it out!


    August 22, 2013 at 6:49 pm

  7. Excellent review, Edith. Looks like a very informative book.


    August 23, 2013 at 8:30 am

  8. Thanks Edith – that’s a fascinating review. I’ve just signed up to Ian’s newsletter. That first quote from the book starting: with “a snapshot…” is a brilliant way of describing the Art of Seeing.


    August 26, 2013 at 9:26 am

    • Thanks so much Andy. I’m glad you liked it. I think you’ll enjoy Ian’s newsletter and his work.


      August 26, 2013 at 9:52 am

  9. Pingback: Have You Been Naughty or Nice? | Edith Levy Photography

  10. Pingback: The Visual Flow Companion | Edith Levy Photography

  11. Thanks for the review!


    December 18, 2013 at 9:41 am

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