Author: Niall Benvie
Publisher: Photographers’ Institute Press
Review by Conrad J. Obregon
Its been almost ten years since Niall Benvie released a book. Ive always thought of him as the thinking persons outdoor photographer, more concerned with vision than technique. Now, at last, he has written a book for the digital age, Outdoor Photography Masterclass.
The book takes a strange form, as if it were a three-day long workshop. (Occasionally it seemed as if it might have been taken from a transcript of such a workshop.) Each of the chapters is on a different subject, often unrelated, from simple matters, like using the histogram to determine the right exposure, to esoteric subjects, like whether nature photography is art. There is no consistent development of a single theme other than the broad subject of outdoor photography. Many of the chapters, which may have been derived from articles, are more thought provoking about the nature of photography than they are about technique, although some, like the article on what Benvie calls the field studio (a method of shooting in the field with artificial backgrounds and lighting), are about technique in the service of vision.
The skill levels to which these subjects will appeal varies. The chapter on the development module in Lightroom is so elementary that it will at most simply be a refresher for those just getting into the software. The chapter entitled How shall we critique outdoor photography may be useful and thought provoking for the more advanced outdoor photographer.
Benvie is a bit of an iconoclast, suggesting, for example, that in the age of fast, low noise ISOs there is less need for tripods. He also appears to be almost distant from some technical aspects of post processing as when he states that the contact sheet facility once found in Photoshop is no longer available (its available for Photoshop CS5 as a downloadable optional plug-in) or when he fails to make the distinction between input and output sharpening, so brilliantly articulated in Lightroom.
Although the book is nicely illustrated, many of the screen shots of Photoshop and Lightroom screens are so small as to be almost useless, and often the accompanying description is too cursory.
Yet despite my criticisms, for the outdoor photographer who has gone beyond the fundamentals, many of the articles will prove provocative enough to make the reader reexamine the way he or she is working and perhaps even try some changes in their photographic process.
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