BOOK REVIEW

Creative Landscape Photography
by Niall Benvie
pub. David & Charles, 2001
Hardback, 160 pages, 19.99
ISBN 0 7153 1153-0

How often have your photographs of scenery and landscapes ended up with burnt out skies, clouds or sun? Well help is at hand with Niall Benvie's comprehensive book on landscape photography, though it should be pointed out that this is a volume for those beyond the happy snapping, point-and-shoot phase of photography.

Benvie lays down his book's remit from the outset; saying that readers should want to go one step further and 'create' landscape photographs by deliberate 'intent' rather than by accepting 'reactive' compositions. He also stretches 'landscapes' to include urban environments, but since all pictures in book were taken on 35mm film rather than with large formats almost everything should be possible for the average 35mm SLR camera owner.

Lurking in the subtext of Benvie's words is a quite philosophical approach to photography. For example, in the Exposure section he doesn't over-emphasise 'correct exposure' but rather: 'let's talk instead about 'good' exposure - the one that looks best to you.' As every dab-hand with a camera knows TTL, incident or reflective exposure readings can provide very different results. One very interesting idea Benvie suggests as an alternative to the usual grey-scale exposure card is using a piece of man-made fleece of the same tonal value because a test card can develop a glare in sunlight. Brilliant idea!

The book's chapters interweave technical matters with titles that will hopefully encourage technophobes to read. So in the compositional 'Orchestrating Space' chapter there are words on Hyperfocal Distance, and in the 'Darkness' chapter our old friend Reciprocity Failure pops up as a consequence of low light shooting.

In the chapter on 'The Intimate Landscape' the author attempts to show how the photographer can order the chaos of nature. We are talking here about making compositions out of mosses and barks, ice crystals and water sufaces.

At times Benvie's content includes philosophical items such as reflecting on Bill McKibben's 1997 statement [outraging many in the photographic world] when McKibben suggested that since there were already so many photographs of large animal species from which picture editors could choose that photographers should leave the animal kingdom in peace. Benvie suggests there is a legitimate case for different interpretations of these shots. He also reflects on working at the 'edge' - in terms of at the edge of the physical world, and also working at the edge of photographic approach.

The last chapters in the book deal with more technical aspects of equipment - The Toolkit - leaving till last ideas about formats and camera types, film stocks, filters and lighting gear. And, of course, what can be done through Digital Finishing.

Finally, as an Appendix, the author asks that rhetorical question: 'You really want to do this for a living?' in which he briefly runs through the in's an out's of a photographic career. Also included are a bibliography, and a list of website addresses of photographic suppliers, information sources, and photographers.

Bottom line...
A very useful and informative book for anyone wanting to develop their photographic skills, particularly those who want to excel at landscape imaging.

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