Books Discussed in this Article:

Over the last few months I’ve been trying to take a fresh look at my photography. As part of that, I’ve been spending more time looking at other photographer’s works as inspiration and to try to get a sense of how I want to change the mix of work I’m doing and try out new things.

These books have all stood out to me as really good books but beyond that, they were all books that led to insight and changes in my attitude and intentions within my own photography. I think all of them are worth your time, but I wanted to talk about each one a bit to help you understand why these stood above the other photography books I’ve read in the last year.

Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks

Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks

Buy on Amazon

When I started thinking about doing a personal project with a focus on the Wildlife Refuges, Luong was one of the inspirations with his work on the National Parks. His new book on them is Treasured Lands, which is both an astounding love letter to the parks and a great resource for those interested in knowing more about them or planning photo trips to them.

It is also chock full of stunningly good photography.

Each National Park has its own section. Within each park’s section Luong writes a short piece on the park, some ideas on visiting and which seasons are best for photographing there. He then includes photographs from the park, followed by descriptions of each photo with location and planning info for it.

It is a fascinating look into the parks, and also a guide to help photographers capture good images in them.

At over 450 pages, this is a large, heavy, wonderfully produced coffee table book full of great information and beautiful pictures. It’s definitely a book I keep going back to and studying parts of as I get interested in visiting different parks.

For myself as a photographer, what really stood out to me was how organized his images to describe each park, and the wide range of imagery and topics included. If you really want a book that shows off just how wide a set of subjects landscape photography covers, this is it.

Photographs from the Edge

Photographing from the Edge: A Master Photographer’s Insights on Capturing an Extraordinary World

Buy on Amazon

When I was re-entering photography after a long absence, back in the early days of Digital photography, I found myself really drawn towards landscape and wildlife work; later as I got serious about birdwatching, I also brought my photography to that interest.

One of the photographers that caught my interest early was Art Wolfe, but for some reason my interest in him faded and I didn’t follow his work closely.

That started to change again when I started watching his TV show Travels to the Edge, which does a nice job of showing the how of his creating his photography as well as helping explain why he takes the photos he does.

And in a similar vein, he brought out his latest book, Photographs from the Edge, along with photographer Rob Sheppard. This book is a bit over 275 pages in hardcover, and each photograph has a 2 page spread that shows the image matched with a mini essay that discusses the story of how the image was made along with technical information.

It’s a fascinating snapshot (ahem) into the mind of a photographer, having him explain the genesis of these shots and why he was attempting to make them. It’s also a great reminder that even the best photographer has days where things go wrong or the subjects refuse to cooperate….

This is a good mini-course into how Wolfe shoots images, and I found it an interesting read that helped me better understand how I could improve my own process of image making. If you’re curious about it, Wolfe did a talk at Google on the book and images that will give you a nice overview and look at some of the images.

Inner Game of Photography

The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography

Buy on Amazon

Galen Rowell. I find myself trying to explain how important Rowell was to the younger me photographer. His images helped shape my views of the epic landscape image. He wrote a column for Outdoor Photographer that was the reason I subscribed to the magazine. His work in Yosemite massively shaped my view of how to shoot in one of the parks I love. And when he and his wife died in a plane crash far too young, I was crushed.

It shouldn’t be a surprise then that I decided to try to understand how to move forward in my photography by going back to one of my key influences and revisiting his work. The book Inner Game of Outdoor Photography was originally published in 2001 and consists primarily of his columns from Outdoor Photography, perhaps updated somewhat. It’s broken down into four main parts: Visions, about creative and cognitive processes; Preparations, about gear and technique; Journeys, about places he visited and the issues and stories those trips brought forward; and Realizations, essays on thoughts and issues and causes he felt strongly about.

Some of the material is dated today, some of it irrelevant. I don’t think it matters, because what comes through is a person who cared greatly about many things, especially this planet we live on and the people we live with, and who was committed to putting his effort into those things he cared about. It’s also full of his photography, and as he was a strong user and evangelist for Velvia film, the saturation and vividness of his colors really stands out on viewing these for the first time in years. It makes me remember my Velvia days fondly (and I have been known to turn the Velvia mode on in my Fuji at times even today) and in some ways I think Rowell was one of the people who set the stage for our current online photographic environment where color and saturation are valued so strongly.

Returning to read Rowell’s writing and studying his pictures took me back to my early formative days and I think it started helping me get back in touch with what really got me interested in landscape photography in the first place. It’s helped me reach back and touch what really got me started again, which is helping me better understand how to see where I am today and move forward and grow as a photographer again.

The Soul of the Camera

The Soul of the Camera

Buy on Amazon

One of the things that’s bothered me about photography on the internet is how much of it looks alike. This is especially true of sunset photography, where I long ago stopped enjoying beautiful color in the evening skies because, well, because there are 9 million other pictures that all look basically the same and after looking at I don’t know how many, I simply don’t need to see another one.

That beautiful color should be making something beautiful, but so many of the images simply assume the color itself makes the image. At some point, no, it really doesn’t. It just makes you part of a really large group of people that don’t really differentiate from each other.

That thought is part of how I ended up in my photographic funk, because one day I came to the realization that so much of my photography looked like all of my other work. I was out in the refuges one trip, and I found myself not taking shots, and realized I was thinking to myself not to bother because I already had that shot.

And what do you do when you realize you’ve gotten bored with your own photography?

That’s been what I’ve been grappling with the last few months, and one of the inspirations I’ve used to try to push pack this malaise is David duChemin. In the last few months I’ve taken the Creativelive class The Outdoor Enthusiasts Guide to Photography and Motion by Ian Shive, because one of the things I’ve started experimenting with is both video and sound capture as resources to include in my work; I also went back to a very early class offered by Creativelive that duChemin did talking about his philosophy of Vision-Driven Photography and rewatched it.

Those two videos started showing me a way forward, giving me some hints (and techniques) to diversify my work in ways that interested me.

I’ve been reading duChemin’s books for a number of years and recommend all of them, as well as his video podcast Vision is Better. duChemin also founded the publishing house Craft and Vision, which has a large number of books about various photographic subjects.

And all of this brings me to his latest book, The Soul of the Camera. duChemin’s philosophy about photography is that we should be putting our thought and energy less into the technology of photography and more into the artistic and compositional aspects. His books emphasize this and his essays talk about ways to learn about composition and discuss the things you can to to learn to think in terms of impact in an image. Soul of the Camera is in many ways his most personal book on the topic and works to create a way for you to build a mindset towards thinking about creating images the way he thinks about it.

DuChemin himself explains it this way:

Many Photographers want nothing more than to make “better photographs” and I think this book honors that desire. But many photographers have never stopped to ask what it means for their photographs to be “better”.

This book is a series of short essays on the topics of the art and craft of photography, covering subjects like “The Discovery of Vision”, “Patience”, “Improvisation”, “The Role of Audience”, “A (Changing) eye for Beauty”, and “Discipline”. The essays are short and each one creates a thinking point for a photography to ponder and interpret how it might be integrated into their photographic vision. duChemin uses his own photography to illustrate the essays, and studying them is an interesting exercise in understanding how he thinks his way to the photographs he considers successful, and what inside the frame makes them so.

I found the book fascinating and thought provoking. I think if you’ve read some of his previous books, especially Within the Frame and Visionmongers, that the ideas he’s pushing here will feel familiar — in fact, much of what he writes about can be found within that Creativelive class he taught back in 2010 — but in this book I think he’s really refined and sharpened his idea of how to explain and present these concepts, and I read a confidence in his teaching in this book where in previous books and in the class he knew what he wanted to explain but wasn’t always sure how best to explain it.

If your photography feels stale or repetitive, or like me you feel like you’re simply moving with the crowd instead of standing above it, I think Soul of the Camera is a worthwhile read. It’ll give you some ideas of how to change how you think about creating images, but it’s a framework to build on, not a set of recipes or some easy to implement formula. Most of it is up to you, but if you’re looking for hints of what to try and explore, this is the book for you.