I spent a LOT of time researching this book before I bought it. Not just this book but many others, discarding them all eventually and deciding on this one. I spend a lot of time reading reviews online, in places like Amazon but also other photography sites. Sadly the book went long unread after I got it, as we had our first serious earthquake in Sept last year, and all my books ended up on the floor of the lounge in a huge pile. And then again in Feb this year after finally shelving everything we had another massive quake.
Image on Front Cover
Eventually I sat down to see what I had paid for, and I was pleasantly surprised. The quality of the book is pleasing, its a soft cover reference book, and the cover is sturdy. The paper used for printing is a reasonable weight with a pleasant gloss. The photos are all good sizes, usually not more than 3 to a page, and the text is slightly larger than usual, and nicely spaced out and easy to read.
One of my pet peeves with photography reference books is having poor quality images present, and too small images. Poor quality has no excuse, and small is just cheap, in my opinion. So I was pleased to see many excellent and good sized images used to both showcase the photographers talent, and demonstrate the techniques they are discussing.
What I particularly like about this book is that it is NOT about the gear. Yes there is a chapter featuring gear, its impossible not to, but I like how RLH assumes if you have picked up his book you are not a complete beginner. There are some useful beginner tips, but its more about how the gear works in the circumstances, and how to choose and use the kit best suited to you. I like his down to earth approach to “having the gear is good but using it is better” and he offers tips on how to travel with camera gear, keeping it clean and dry and safe.
The Chapters are clearly defined in the Table of Contents, and I think he tackles a very large subject and breaks it down to very relevant and useful points. Its easy to navigate to a specific part of the book, and a particular point in its favour, each section is clearly defined and discrete so you can dip in an easily refresh a particular area without having to search through several areas of the book to cover it off.
The images are used well to illustrate the point of discussion, and I also like how he adds a relevant note to each image, in relation to what its being used to illustrate. He often mentions the use of filters, but more importantly *why* he used it in that particular image.
What I enjoy most about this book, is that it genuinely aims to teach you. Many reference books are really just a showpony to feature the photographers work on a subject, and the text is often not particularly educational or substantial. This book was both, and while it covered off topics I already knew, it did so in a way that drew my attention to why you need to use a filter on a bright sunshine day, why knowing the direction and angle of the light is important, how there are different kinds of light.
To put it simply, this book made me think, and I have learnt a great deal from it. There are many useful tips scattered through the text, sometimes highlighted as such, and sometimes just something I didn’t know or hadn’t considered. It will be different for each reader based on their experience.
And experience is one of the key underlying themes in this book. RLH explains his background, how he started out in geology, used cameras as a tool and they gradually became his passion taking him all over the world. He explains how the cameras he learnt on (which were film) structured the way he worked and shot, which has largely carried over to digital. So for him it is about putting in the right preparation, having the right gear, being in the right place at the right time for the light you want, having researched the area or the subject well so you can factor in critical information in the image you want. Its about the best light and a good composition and not cutting corners and fixing it on the computer later.
This is an attitude I am learning to appreciate, I am still struggling with the preparation side of things, but a book like this makes it a lot easier. And yes, sometimes the right shot just falls into your lap (like a baby seal flopping down right next to you on a beach).
For someone looking for real and helpful guidance in landscape, plant/flower and animal/bird photography then I highly recommend this book. The author has a good clear voice and style, the book will teach and make you think about how you approach these kinds of shoots. Its a very generous book, sharing much in the way of insight and experience that the author has obviously spent many years learning the hard way. I for one greatly appreciate it. It is a book that can be read cover to cover or dipped into to refresh a particular subject very easily.
RATING out of 10
Quality of Physical Book – 8
Quality of Images – 8
Usefulness of Text – 9
Relationship of Images to Text – 7
Level of “You must do it this way” – Very Low
Educational Value – 10
Value for Money – I paid $65 NZ for this book – my limit is usually $50
OVERALL RATING 9/10
In a topic that could fill a swimming pool with reference books, I recommend this is the first one you should buy and measure all the others against it. It is a quality product, filled with relevant images, informative and engaging writing by a leader in his field, who also happens be a talented educator and writer.