“The New Art of Photographing Nature,”by Art Wolfe, with Martha Hill and Tim Grey.Publisher: Amphoto Books (2013).
Suppose you could be the proverbial fly-on-the-wall.And then, suppose that wall was part of a room which holds two people at the very top of their game, who are just sitting around like friends do, discussing their craft.That, more or less, is the format for this updated version (first edition published two decades ago!) of Art Wolfe’s definitive text on what he does and how he does it: Wolfe gives us the photographer’s take on his 250 included images while friend and colleague Martha Hill offers her complementary (and sometimes counterpoint) perspective as the former long-time photo editor at Audubon magazine. It’s he said-she said by two consummate professionals, made even better in this updated edition by the inclusion of useful tips from überdigitaltechie Tom Grey.
For those of you unfamiliar with Art Wolfe, he is the renaissance man of photography: he teaches seminars; he writes books; he has starred in the PBS television series Art Wolfe’s Travels to the Edge; he speaks before large corporate gatherings; and oh yes, he also happens to be one of the world’s premier photographers specializing in imagery of the great outdoors and its inhabitants.
With all that going for him, you’d certainly be within your rights to conjecture that someone with all those achievements probably needs a space as large as Madison Square Garden to contain his ego. Fear not: though clearly at the top of his craft, Wolfe is humble enough to admit that, even for him, not every shot is a winner.Sure, he shows us a healthy selection of the sorts of stunning shots that have made Art Wolfe…well, Art Wolfe! But, in many cases he also shows us the close-but-not-quite versions of those same images and explains to us the critical (though sometimes subtle) differences between them.
“People sometimes imagine that great photographs are composed in a flash of inspiration, arriving in the world fully formed,” Wolfe writes.“While that can happen, most of the time we fumble towards a great shot, refining the composition with each exposure.”
While the natural world is both Wolfe’s passion and the focus of this book, the lessons to be learned here can be applied to virtually any branch of photography: composition, perspective, use of color, elements of design, types of lighting and creative decision making are all major topics that Wolfe has both mastered and illustrated here with some of the world’s finest nature photos.
That alone is worth the price of admission, but for photographers aspiring to get their work published the concurrent commentary on Wolfe’s pictures from a highly experienced photo editor is sheds light of a different variety on those images.As we read Martha Hill’s contributions we are reminded that while taking impactful photographs is challenging enough, getting those pictures “seen” requires an additional and even rarer tool: the ability to view a three dimensional scene in the viewfinder and imagine how to translate it to the two-dimensional printed page or monitor screen with greatest impact.
When Wolfe and Hill wrote the original version of this tome back in 1993, of course, concepts like post-processing, compositing panoramas, shooting RAW and HDR imaging weren’t on anyone’s radar.Thus, the addition of brief but solid information on these and other subjects from digital educator and guru Tim Grey make this a book that’s even more relevant to a 2013 audience.
The New Art of Photographing Nature: come for the pictures, but stay for the invaluable information, insight and inspiration.
reviewed by phh
“Creative Nature & Outdoor Photography” by Brenda Tharp.Publisher: Amphoto Books (2010).
Are great artists made, or are they born? Ah, the age-old existential question.I an artist’s vision bestowed at birth or learned in school? The answer, of course, is that Vasily Kandinsky, Ernest Hemingway, Yo Yo Ma, Ansel Adams and even Michael Jordan were lucky enough to have that special “something” in their genetic cocktail that set them apart from virtually everybody else.But most of us are not, and will not become, superstars.The best we can hope for is to constantly learn, hone and evolve our chosen endeavour and, while we may never make it into anyone’s Hall of Fame, if we combine a never-ending thirst for knowledge with boundless passion, we can aspire to being better craftsmen each new day than we were the day before.
or those who are serious about the outdoors and capturing it photographically, Brenda Tharp’s updated version of her 2003 tome covering all facets of outdoor shooting is, quite simply, the next best thing to getting an infusion of Galen Rowell’s DNA.In fact, my advice to any aspiring future writers of books on nature photography: fergedaboudit. It’s “game over” for anyone thinking they might have anything to add to the conversation since “Creative Nature & Outdoor Photography” really is that good and thorough.
Tharp starts off her book on that tricky subject I alluded to earlier, “Learning to See.”Fortunately, she doesn’t dwell on this…in fact, the section’s only four pages long! But even in this highly abbreviated chapter her zeal for the book’s subject matter is obvious, as in this chapter-ending statement: “Look at the day with awe and wonder; it’s a present for us to appreciate and share.”
From there, it’s a non-stop exploration of the countless tips, techniques and insights that, cumulatively, have made Brenda Tharp a master of shooting the natural world around us.And, the best part is that is that every one of its 10 chapters (which include such endlessly fascinating subjects as “Light: The Essential Element,” “Visual Design,” “Artistic Interpretations” and “Creating Visual Depth”) is generously illustrated with Tharp’s eye-stopping images.Hats off to Lauren Monchik, the book’s designer, who had the good sense to recognize that images which illustrate such immense ideas as “nature” and “the outdoors” need to be seen B I G, and thus we are treated to many full-page and even double-trucked reproductions of Tharp’s work.Not only do these images serve to illustrate the related ideas in the accompanying text, they are also flat-out inspirational.
harp’s writing style is straightforward and concise.She patiently explains both the hows and the whys of top-shelf nature imagery, as in this discussion of “The Direction of Light”: “Top light from the sun often has extreme contrast, puts shadows in the wrong places, and is the least flattering of all the possible light directions.Front light, when light is hitting the front of your subject, can be similarly boring.Without dimension, the photograph is flat, and so is your viewer’s response.” And, since light is the juice that fuels outdoor photography, she very correctly points out what separates the amateurs from the pros: “Those who learn to work with light will make infinitely better photographs.” From these basic yet insightful concepts Tharp drills down through her bag of shooting tricks, revealing the multitudinous ways anything from a vast mountain range to the tiniest, most delicate flower can be shot for ultimate impact by employing both hardware (different lenses, filters and close-up attachments) and headware (using scale, proportion, balance and dominance, for example, for maximum effect).
For the photographer whose heart lies outside the boundaries of our urban-dominated existence, Brenda Tharp’s “Creative Nature & Outdoor Photography” will soothe your soul with its luscious imagery while simultaneously motivating you to grab your gear and head for the hills.