Capture the Magic
Train Your Eye, Improve Your Photographic Composition
Publisher: Rocky Nook
Final Release Date: November 2013
Pages: 188

This book uses a structured approach to teach the art of creating interesting, well-composed images. It provides solutions to problems that often get in the way of producing great photographs and emphasizes the importance of training the eye to exclude the extraneous. Examples of strong images are juxtaposed against flawed images, illustrating how to create a successful composition. Topics covered include light and shadow, lens choice, framing, negative space, and many more.

In this book, author Jack Dykinga encourages us to look at photography as a way to communicate. Dykinga says, "Photography is a marvelous language that crosses linguistic borders as a universal, powerful, and direct communication. As photographers, we see something we find interesting and simply want to share it." Readers will learn new ways to create interesting and powerful compositions that communicate their intended messages.

Filled with beautiful color images throughout, the book is sure to inspire, teach, and motivate photographers of all levels.

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oreillyCapture the Magic

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Excellent for color landscape photograph

By BruceinAK

from Alaska

About Me Photographer

Verified Reviewer


  • Accurate
  • Concise
  • Easy to understand
  • Helpful examples
  • Well-written


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    Comments about oreilly Capture the Magic:

    Pros: Beautiful photographs by the author, insightful analysis of why the photographs work

    Cons: the technical aspects of the image making, especially the steps required in a photo editing package are not described even when they are critical to the success of the photograph

    Conflict of interest: The publisher provided a free copy of this book for review

    Jack Dykinga is one of the foremost contemporary landscape photographers in the US, who is perhaps best know for his color photographs of the Southwest US. I have several of his photography books in my personal library, including "Large Format Nature Photography." I mention all of this because I have found that if you don't like a particular photographer's work, you won't likely be interested in a book that basically describes how the work was created. So now that you know my bias, what about Dykinga's book, "Capture the Magic"?

    The book is divided into 17 chapters, of which the last two, "My Equipment" and "Technical Information" are more like appendices. The first 15 chapters consist of collections of photographs with brief discussions. In some cases, an individual photograph is the basis of the discussion. In other cases, two or three photographs are presented as Dykinga takes you though his thought process while he was in the field making the photographs. Sometimes, the first photograph is the less successful, because of composition or light. In other cases, it simply speaks to a different purpose. Personally, I think that these discussions built around different images of basically the same place are among the most successful from a pedagogical standpoint.

    The chapters themselves have two different approaches. "Design", "Lines", "Near/Far", and "Negative Space" cover traditional issues in composition. Other chapters speak more to an approach to photography. For example, "Working the Situation" and "Experimenting" encourage the reader to go beyond taking the first photograph that comes to mind and then walking off to the next big composition. The chapter "Return" struck a particularly strong resonance for me, because I have found returning to the same place many times through different weather and seasons to be rich source of inspiration.

    A difficult decision in a book about photographic composition is whether to limit the discussion of a photograph's motivation to particular chapters or to discuss it for each photograph. In that respect, the discussion in chapters "Decisions" and "Feeling/Voice" could have been applied to any of the photographs in the book. Sometimes, Dykinga does speak to his motivation or the feelings he was trying to evoke in making the photographs in the other chapters. I wish that he had done it more consistently because that, I think, is at the heart of all photographic decisions. The ideas in these two chapters then would have been spread throughout the book.

    My one serious complaint with "Capture the Magic" is that it is limited to the act of making a straightforward photograph, even though many of the photographs in the book are actually composites of multiple, overlapping photographs. Note that the composite photographs are not limited to the panoramic format. Composite photographs would not succeed if the technique were flawed. It seems unlikely to me that the target audience for a book such as this would be familiar with the required field and digital darkroom techniques. A chapter covering these would be a welcome addition to the next addition of "Capture the Magic" or to a web site hosted by Rocky Nook and Dykinga for purchasers of the book.

    I don't own a lot of basic photography books, but I'm glad to have come across Dykinga's "Capture the Magic." I always enjoy his photography, and this book is a good overview that also illustrates his recent relatively transition from large format film to 35 mm digital photography. Having made the same transition even more recently, I found this book interesting as more than a book on photographic composition. I recommend it to anyone who aspires to make better landscape photographs.

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