Author: Ralph A. Clevenger
Publisher: New Riders Press
Review by Conrad J. Obregon
It always seems strange to me that one of the best ways that we can find to keep in touch with the natural world is by using a high tech tool like a digital camera and a computer. Yet I find, as I wander about the woods, mountains and shores, more and more people are there with their cameras, and more and more people are interested in the nature images that I capture. Given this, I was quite eager to see what an instructor from Brooks Institute could offer to help me make better images.
Photographing Nature: A photo workshop from Brooks Institute’s top nature photography instructor is divided into sections with titles intended to evoke a smile like Play Nice, You Need More Stuff? and Wet Belly Photography. The author tries to keep the same light tone throughout the book. You can’t always tell from the title what a chapter is about so you must read on to learn that An Ounce of Prevention is about photographing in zoos. After an introduction most chapters include the same subheadings: equipment, lighting, questions and answers, and assignments to try. (The assignments are very basic but they can be effective.) Useful tips are sprinkled throughout the book that a more experienced nature photographer may not have encountered. On the other hand, there is no exposure or basic photographic theory so the book presumably is not aimed at the beginner. Instead, a great deal of the instruction advises you of things like the fact that the range of light that the human eye can see exceeds that of the camera. You might think this would lead to a discussion of how to select the range of light for an image, or the use of the cameras histogram, but thats somewhere else in the book.
This little disconnect is illustrative of the major problem with the book. Instruction manuals (and all books, probably) need to have a certain rhetoric to make sense. Concepts need to be presented in a certain order, so that the reader can build upon earlier concepts, and also as an aid to remembrance. The rhetoric doesn’t have to be traditional, like going from a description of the camera to exposure to focus and so on, but it has to have some logic. Ansel Adams approached photography in his book Examples: the Making of 40 Photographs by organizing the chapters around individual pictures and the decision processes he used to move the image from an idea to a print. Unfortunately, Clevenger meanders.
For example the only discussion of light metering occurs in a chapter on either landscapes or wide angle lenses (I wasn’t sure of which at first) although metering is essential to all photography. The section on using filters to protect lenses is in the chapter on composition. Bubble levels are in the creativity chapter.
The meandering also seems to apply to his selection of audience. If you are not talking to beginners, the chapter on post processing should cover something more than the most basic fundamentals, if its going to be included at all.
Im not certain at what level of photographer this book is aimed. Photographers beyond the beginner stage may find a little useful information. Beginners will not find enough.