A series of columns on outdoor photography
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Photo Books: Inspiration & Information
When I buy photography books, the "most for the buck" is what I usually look for -- especially since lavishly-illustrated photo books tend to be expensive.
by Sharon Watson
Without inspiration, information has a hard time getting our attention, though. So, let’s start with a couple books that take your breath away.
THE CREATION* by Ernst Haas. The book of Genesis was Haas’ inspiration for this collection of photographs. So magnificent are Haas’ images of what was brought forth in nature, this book’s panoramic format was a necessity.
"What is the reason for all existence?" asks Haas, and each photo, full of the glow and mystery of existence, seems to repeat the question. "And God saw that it was good" may be as close to an answer as we can get. Haas’ vision tends toward closeups and semi-abstracts of animals, rocks, ocean waves, rivers, plants, mountains, deserts, clouds, and so on. Notes are included on when and where each photo was taken, equipment used, and on Haas’ photographic reflections in each situation.
MOUNTAIN LIGHT by Galen Rowell. Subtitled "In Search Of The Dynamic Landscape." Do your landscapes look "dead," stilted, static, overcontrolled? Rowell won’t snap the shutter until he sees the image with life in it, and he explains at length what he looks for.
With fresh insight, he discusses the philosophy, psychology, art, and science of photography, the necessary elements of a "remarkable" picture, how luck plays a unique role, how he became a photographer, how and why he pursues "light" above all else, what equipment and film he uses and why, and his "previsualization" techniques. Also included are unusually detailed notes on each photo. This intriguing book is available in an affordable large-format paperback.
My first photo books were THE JOY OF PHOTOGRAPHY and MORE JOY OF PHOTOGRAPHY by Eastman Kodak editors. They are packed with vital information on every aspect of photography stated in clear, simple terms. Included are plenty of inspirational as well as illustrative photos. Great books!
Also check out Kodak’s THE JOY OF PHOTOGRAPHING PEOPLE. Taking pictures of family and friends is what most of us do most of the time. We tell everyone to hold still and smile, look at the camera and we shoot, usually only one shot, maybe two. Wrong. There will always be a place for the picture with people just looking at the camera, but by and large you’ll be a lot happier with the picture with them doing something and NOT looking at the camera. You have to keep reminding folks to ignore you. It takes them quite a while to learn this. But just this alone will make more pleasing photos. Some of the chapter headings in this book are: The Message in Faces; Capturing Special Moments; Noticing Surroundings; Seeing Humor; Thinking Visually; Capturing a Mood; Studying Light; Composition; Filters for Special Effects; Large Groups; Self Portraits; Photojournalism; Sports; Vacation Trips; Albums.
Under "Interpretive Portraits" Kodak tells us, "A portrait can tell a story about its subject. The way a person is dressed or a photograph’s background can tell us where the person came from, perhaps, or what his or her world is like. Most often photographers choose to include a revealing prop to indicate the interests or talents of a subject."
If you’re especially intrigued with black and white photography, take a look at THE ART OF BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY by John Garrett. You must see through your lens differently when the film is black and white. Unless you shoot b&w a lot, you’ll tend to forget and see color. Color creates its own drama, but the same photo in b&w can be "muddy." You learn to detect tones and contrast more with b&w. The photo must havea quality to it that b&w film is perhaps better able to portray. Black and white tones should do justice to the subject matter. The drama of the photo must not depend on color, but on lights and darks, contrasts, shades of gray and black. It’s "a medium with its own powerful means of expression."
HOW I PHOTOGRAPH WILDLIFE AND NATURE by Leonard Lee Rue III. "America’s most published photographer/naturalist shares the secrets that lead to superior photographs." A candid, thorough report on how he does it, what he uses, where he goes, what he knows about animal behavior, and why he does it.
The book is equipment-oriented, clearly told through a naturalist’s perspective, and available in paperback. Over 300 outstanding black & white photos, and some color, illustrate chapters on: Basics; Equipment; Scenics; Wildflowers; Insects; Reptiles; Birds; Animals; Zoo and Studio; Underwater; and Selling Photos. Rue gives us his all. Example: "In order to get my camera close to the ground without having to dig a hole for my chin, I use either a 90-degree right-angle viewfinder or take the head off my camera’s prism and use a straight prism. Using either device, I can actually rest my camera on the ground. If I want the camera to be 6 inches or so off the ground, I use one of my very small tabletop tripods. These little tripods also work well if I am photographing in shallow water.
"Particularly with turtles -- but I also do it with frogs, toads, and water snakes -- I like to get in the water and photograph the subject against the land. I like this perspective because others photograph these subjects from the land." (Send for his catalog of a unique line of photography products, books, and items for the outdoorsperson in general to: Leonard Rue Enterprises; 138 Millbrook Rd.; Blairstown, NJ 07825.)
CREATIVE 35mm PHOTOGRAPHY by David Kilpatrick, and, -- IN-CAMERA SPECIAL EFFECTS by Mike Stensvold are two books on techniques for more adventurous photographs. They include: utilizing shutter speed for effects; using various lenses for unique images; zooming and "panning" with moving objects; making double exposures; using colored flashes; off-camera flashes; making abstracts; extreme closeups; adding texture; using mirrors; unusual films... a lifetime supply of ideas!
WATERSHOTS: How To Take Better Photos On and Around the Water by Bruce C. Brown. Photos taken around glistening water is similar to photos taken on sandy beaches, in snow, and toward a bright sky. They’re difficult and often don’t turn out. This book will help you understand why, and what to do about it.
THE ART OF PHOTOGRAPHING NATURE by Martha Hill with Photographs by Art Wolfe. Despite all the useful information in this book, it is one of those that transcends the information and becomes pure inspiration (and instills not just a tiny bit of envy) -- because of the photographs by Art Wolfe. Some of the contents of the book include: Isolating the Subject; Defining Your Perspective; The Power of Color; The Elements of Design; Creative Options; In the Field with Art Wolfe; At the Light Table with Martha Hill; Sidelighting; Contrast; Diagonals; Lines; Patterns; Overcast Light; Creating Depth; Macro Lens; Eliminating Clutter...
And a bottom-line book that gives you the basics in a concise and easy-to-understand form is PHOTOGRAPHIC COMPOSITION by Tom Grill & Mark Scanlon. "...the intent has been to break down the broad topic of composition into smaller concepts that are more easily grasped. However, no photograph contains only a single compositional element... Indeed, the sign of a weak composition is the presence of elements that can be removed or altered without affecting the photograph’s message."
And one more incredible photographic adventure: THE AUDUBON SOCIETY GUIDE TO NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY by Tim Fitzharris. Everything on earth is yours to SEE and to CAPTURE in one instant, never to be the same again. We explore the world with a camera, and we explore ourselves in the process. Fitzharris attempts to help you see the earth’s soul, it’s living spirit through the knowledge of cameras, lenses, film, light, shutter speed, flash, hard work and patience. He gives advice for the beginner as well as the experienced, and his photos will get you motivated to get "out there!"
Go slow in learning new techniques. Practice one until you "get it" before going on to another. Don’t give up too quickly on a special effect or just a more effective way to get the shot you want. Eventually, you’ll know the techniques and styles that are just right for you, and you can abandon the others.
We are all artists. Our life becomes "a piece of work" in the end. Most will forget, but some will remember us and carry us with them and even pass on part of us to the next generation (our photos, our memoirs, our stories, how we helped, what we taught, who we loved or didn’t love, what we said.) Being an artist doesn’t mean you have to be famous or the best or even really really good or super different. We simply have to be willing to be on the path of improvement. Take that step -- one tiny step closer to the beauty within.
Hope I see you someday in Idaho’s forests, vast sage brush deserts, down in the creek bottoms, or maybe up in a tree! -- trying something new and perfecting old tricks learned from a good photo book.
* All titles mentioned are not necessarily in print and available. Check libraries as well as bookstores. Your library may be able to locate any title for you through their "Inter-Library Loan" system.