Book reviews

How to 'be' a photographer

How do you 'be' a photographer? This question, posed by Laurie Young in his book Being a Photographer, isn't about the technical considerations of aperture and your intimate knowledge of ISO, but rather your intent every time that you pick up a camera. For whom are you taking photos and what is it in these photos that your viewers will appreciate? Being a Photographer by Laurie Young

The book starts with two questions:

  • If you take a photo and no one sees it, what was the point?
  • If you take a photo that’s ignored by everyone who sees it, what was the point?

They're good questions. You should ask yourself them now. Why do you take photos? Whom are you expecting to look at them? Every time that you pick up your camera, what are you intending to accomplish with it, because if you take a photo to which nobody pays any attention, isn't that a waste? If that's the case it falls on you as a photographer to ask yourself 'Why would anyone look at my images?' The point of the book is that you must have intent whenever you take a photo: what impact do you want your photo to have on someone when she or he looks at it?

These two initial questions are developed into two themes that run throughout the book: first, unless you pick up your camera with a posit, there is no point in picking it up at all; and second, that your intention does not have to be the same for every photo that you take and every viewer you try to engage. In fact, being able to identify your viewers and their different expectations is part of what helps you to 'be' a photographer.

Knowing this, however, is all very well. How do you put it into practice into to make you a better photographer? The book does this by building on these two questions, introducing a series of projects, with a different audience at the heart of each. It starts with you and progresses to your family, your friends, to strangers, and finally to people whom might pay you for your work. Each project is aimed at helping you take the right photos for each of these groups of people by focusing on your intent and their expectations.

Being a Photographer isn't a long read, but it is a valuable one. It forces you to consider the relationship between you and your photos' viewers, that's bridged by your photos. By helping you to identify for whom you are taking photos and what they want from them, it helps you to take better photos, and to 'be' a photographer. The book is available in hard copy format or as a digital download from Laurie's website, Wildfalcon. Laurie's worth following on Twitter, too, where he's @lry_photo.

Book review: The Canon 6D Experience

Screen Shot 2013-07-23 at 16.33.28 The Canon 6D Experience is part of Douglas J. Klostermann's series of e-book guides to Canon's and Nikon's dSLRs. There are ten Canon books and five Nikon books, ranging in price from $7.99 for guides to the oldest models of camera to $14.99 for the latest cameras. I've been taking a flick through it and seeing how it fits in with my use of my Canon 6D.

The best way to describe the Canon 6D Experience is as an augmented instruction manual. It doesn't just explain what a function is and how to operate it, but what effect or impact it will have on your photography. It shows you how to expose and re-compose your images, provides examples of different apertures and ISOs, and explains about metering. It covers a great many of the functions that I never use in my camera because I almost always shoot in Raw and almost never venture into liveview mode. Towards the end of the book it moves away from the camera itself and covers composition and discusses lenses.

Diagrams and pictures to explain metering

This, then, is perhaps where this book falls down, or falls between two stools. For someone new to dSLRs and still finding their way in photography, would they be starting out with a 6D? In the book's introduction it says: 'If you are relatively new to dSLR photography and are still in the process of learning all the controls of a dSLR and the exposure concepts of digital photography, you have perhaps ventured towards the proverbial deep end of the pool by choosing the advanced 6D!' Of course there will be some beginners who've gone straight for the 6D, but they're not the camera's intended market. This guide will suit them well, but I'm not sure how many will be needing it.

Not sure that we need a look at Raw vs JPEG for a 6D user?

For anyone who's comfortable with Canon cameras and is a competent photographer, a lot of the book's content is superfluous. It isn't that there isn't useful material in there, but that it's buried amongst the information we already know. Having a smaller, more dense publication that looks at the high level functions of the camera and compares it with other models might be more useful.

All of this leads me to think that if the books in this series that cover the lower specced models are written with the same attention to detail, they would be extremely valuable guides for people finding their way in dSLR photography.

On a very picky production level, I would have liked to have seen references to other chapters in the book numbered, or even hyper-linked. It is an ebook, after all. That would have made navigation a great deal easier.

My verdict, then? At $14.99 I can't really recommend the Canon 6D Experience; I just don't think it offers enough to kind of photographer who'd be using this camera. (Unless you really have thrown yourself in at the deep end.) If you're newer to photography and have a Nikon D5200 or a Canon 700D, for example, do check out the other books!

The Canon 6D Experience, by Douglas J. Klostermann, published by full stop and available for download from Dojoklo.

Review: The Long Exposure eBook

Long exposure photography is about capturing space and silence, like visually holding your breath; it is about capturing the beauty and calmness of a scene... And it's really good fun to boot!

The new book by Ireland-based David Cleland is a fantastic introduction to the process of capturing long exposure photographs. It documents the simple steps he employs every time he embarks on a long exposure photo shoot.


The e-book covers everything from the equipment you will need right through to post- production processing in Adobe’s brilliant Lightroom 4. This guide has been written with the beginner to the long exposure process in mind; however, the enthusiast and professional alike may find something of relevance also. The know-how in this book will enable you to capture stunning long exposure images on even the simplest of camera set-ups.

More info? Head to David's website - and dont' forget to keep an eye on his Twitter, while you're at it!

Book review: The Rough Guide to Digital Photography

Rough Guide cover

I can’t remember how many different Rough Guides I’ve thumbed through when I’ve been on my travels; they’ve saved me from near-disaster when stranded in northern Spain and helped me to find half-way decent vegetarian food in not-especially-vegetarian-friendly places, not to mention pointing out places where I really must go and get photographs. Clear, comprehensive, and honest, they’re as essential to travel as a passport. So what about a Rough Guides foray into territory beyond travel, The Rough Guide to Digital Photography, by Sophie Goldsworthy? Does it live up to the Rough Guide reputation?

I shan’t take us all around the houses. Yes. It is a worthy addition to the Rough Guides family. But remember, this is a Rough Guide to photography, not a book for advanced amateurs. It’s a serious exposition of the basics, not a deep and meaningful about studio lighting.

It starts with what to look for in a camera and ends with a resources section covering more books, websites, retailers, galleries, and clubs and societies for when you want to learn more and expand. In between it looks at kit (from lenses to external hard drives), exposure, composition, types of photography, post-processing, and even includes phone apps and the film revival.

Goldsworthy’s style is accessible and comprehensive. It’s not just that she knows what she’s talking about when it comes to explaining ISO or running through the basic tools in editing suites, but that she’s able to articulate it as well. Too often you read something that has been written by someone who obviously knows their onions, but can’t explain anything, even if their life depended on it.

You expect there to be plenty of photographs in a book about photography – although believe me, I’ve seen a few where there just are not enough – and this book doesn’t disappoint. However, it doesn’t only include pictures that are great examples of effective leading lines or super colour composition, it has a fair number of comparison photos, too. This is what your photograph will look like if you don’t use a graduated filter, and here’s what it’ll look like with one. Being able to see the effect of a fill flash makes such a difference when you’re learning about it.

There are plenty of quick tip boxes scattered throughout the book, as well as equipment pointers and short expositions on pertinent questions. I’m a Photographer Not a Terrorist gets a look in and cross-processing is explained. Granted the chapter exploring online resources and communities will be out-of-date in a year or so (hell, it was probably out-of-date the moment it came off of the press, things move so fast), but that can’t be helped and when you look at the book as a whole, it really doesn’t matter, either.

Just like a travel Rough Guide, it’s the perfect start to someone’s photographic adventure. It tells you what you need to know so that you get out there and enjoy exploring and discovering for yourself. If you know anyone who’s looking for a good grounding and wants to make the most out of their camera, start here.

The Rough Guide to Digital Photography, by Sophie Goldsworthy. Published by Rough Guides and available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Book review: Northerners


It’s easy to stereotype the north of England into men in flat caps, women with their hair in curlers – just like Hilda Ogden – pints of bitter, pies, and incessant rain. But it’s a whole lot more than that, and this is something that Sefton Samuels has been capturing through his lens for over forty years. In his Northerners: Portrait of a no-nonsense people he takes you well beyond the cliches, showing you humour, poverty, graft, and talent.

You get to look at ordinary people doing ordinary things: kids making their own fun as they jump from stairwells onto piles of mattresses; street-sweepers, cobblers, and even rag-and-bone men going about their business; bingo halls on a Friday night; football terraces on a Saturday afternoon; and even a day at Chester races.

But there are also portraits of people who would have brought colour and excitement to their lives, too. There’s a chisel-jawed George Best, Morrissey showing his best side, a resplendent Daniel Barenboim conducting the Halle, and a contemplative Harold Wilson smoking his pipe.

Samuels has been called the photographic equivelent of Ken Loach. And whilst maybe that’s true, there’s something of L.S. Lowry about his work, too. It’s simple, it captures the moment, and it’s unmistakeably northern. Whatever this ‘northern’ thing is meant to mean, Samuels has it going on in his pictures, just as Lowry had it in his paintings. So perhaps it’s incredibly fitting that Lowry described Samuels as his favourite photographer.

Samuels’ photographs show you a life that was in many ways slow to change, but when change did come, it was swift and brutal: riots in Moss Side and Toxteth in 1981; the miners’ strike of the early 80s; and the aftermath of the Manchester city centre bombing in 1996.

My favourite images probably come from the Deep Trouble series, which depict the pitmen of Bold Colliery, St Helens. The pictures illuminated only by the miners’ lamps convey perfectly the dark claustrophobia of working deep underground, peril constantly on their shoulders. Whilst they’re very beautiful pictures, there’s also something very matter-of-fact about them, too. No-nonsense, I suppose.

Yes, this is a portrait of Northerners, told with honesty and with love. Love even for Everton, Moss Side, and Toxteth. Samuels is, after all, himself from the North. Looking through it, you get a feeling for these people, for what makes them tick, for their environment, for their lives. But I think that I’ll give the final word to my dad, though, as he’s one of these fabled northerners – Manchester born and bred – so he knows what he’s looking at here: ‘Yes. That’ll do it.’

Northerners: Portrait of a no-nonsense people, by Sefton Samuels. Published by the Ebury Press and available from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Book review: The Focus series from Lark

Lark Foudn Faces

Ooh, I’ve just been flicking through a series of photobooks that I’ve found, well, delightful, I suppose. (I’m trying not to sound too much like a Jane Austen character describing afternoon tea taken with her newest female confidante.) Anyway. They’re the Focus series, published by Lark. They picked some themes, they got involved with some photo-sharing communities, and then they produced some books. Simple.

The result? Five themed photobooks: found faces, letters, love, passages, and reflections. I honestly couldn’t choose which book I like best. Letters makes me want to pick up my camera and race off into my little corner of east London, hunting down random qs and sleeping zs. My soft-spot for reflections is well known, so that’s an easy score with me. And as for found faces – pictures of mundane, or not so mundane objects, that mysteriously look like faces, from surprised eggs in an egg poacher to miserable looking handbags – it just makes me smile. Yes, even when I look at the grumpy ones.

As the images have been drawn from photo-sharing communities, they come from all over the world and have different attitudes and perspectives. You’re not confronted with one photographer’s quest to shoot the perfect door, or an exploration of images of love from someone who’s disgustingly smitten. There’s variety – and inspiration – in many different forms.

What’s more, these books are worlds away from pretension. There aren’t acres of text from the photographers, explaining what they were attempting to convey through the photo, how it made them feel to shoot the images, and what they went on to have for lunch afterwards. They’re just collections of images bound by a common theme and presented with the photographers’ names, the images’ titles, and where they were taken.

Okay, so occasionally there is a sentence or two of blurb to add some context, but nothing gushing. Something like this: ‘This image was shot in a place called Graffiti Alley. The entire alley is a painter’s canvas, and it changes on a daily basis.’ The focus (ahem) really is on the pictures.

The Focus series are cute and quirky and bursting with gorgeous images. They make super presents; even if the recipient isn’t a photographer she or he would have to be a pretty miserable sod to not appreciate the fun images. And if you’re looking for a bit of inspiration for a photo project of your own, you’d do well to take a look.

They’re all available on Amazon, and they’re all under £10 (or US$15); go and peruse.

Book review: Thomas Struth Photographs 1978-2010


Thomas Struth is one of Europe’s most exhibited and collected photographers. I got myself pretty excited about reviewing this offering from the Monacelli Press that showcases several of his series of work: cityscapes, family portraits, images of science and technology, museum photos, and nature pictures. There are also some essays examining Struth’s work. This is one hefty book. Does it live up to its weight?

I have a soft-spot for cityscapes and architectural photography. Why? I don’t know why. Why do I prefer lemon ice cream to vanilla and why don’t I like chocolate at all? But Struth’s cityscapes left me cold. What was I looking at? What was he trying to convey with his perfectly centred images of tower blocks? I’m really not sure. Nothing in these pictures, to me, conveyed the sense of place, the interaction of the people who live and work there, any feeling of vibrancy. They were just images of tower blocks. (Albeit one of them is in Pyongyang, which I thought was impressive.)

These empty and cold cityscapes did form an interesting juxtaposition with his images of museums and places of worship. These photos are full, busy. They depict school groups looking bored in the Louvre and people eating their lunch on the steps outside the Duomo in Milan. It’s not how you expect to see these places photographed, and that in itself is thought-provoking.

The images of science and technology are interesting, but they are not exactly anything that I’d be rushing to hang on my wall. In some instances they make good documentations of places or things, but that isn’t what I expect from fine art photography. It just a bit too, well, mundane, for me.

Struth’s famed for his family portraits and I was hoping that they would elevate my enjoyment of the book. Supposedly, he uses them to explore underlying social dynamics. Maybe I was missing something, but they looked pretty much like family portraits to my eye. I couldn’t detect whatever statement it was that Struth was trying to make.

So did the essays clarify anything for me? I thought that I was going to drown in the gushing hyperbole that one of them was spewing forth like an over-active geyser. They somehow managed to leave me feeling somehow inferior for not appreciating Struth’s work. That probably wasn’t the aim, but it was the outcome.

As a book, it’s a beautiful presentation of Struth’s work. If you like his photography, you’ll relish it. But what if Struth’s photography doesn’t set your heart racing and you struggle to connect with it? It’s one of those books that you’ll feel that you ought to like, but just can’t bring yourself to. It’s one of what my brother – who’s a musician – and I refer to as our ‘innocent pains’. My brother has Bach. It seems as if I now have Thomas Struth to add to Die Zauberflöte.

Thomas Struth Photographs 1978-2010. Published by The Monacelli Press and available from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Book review: Haunted Houses

Haunted Houses

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the deserted villages that lie scattered across the British countryside, and how I thought that they could make beautiful photo subjects, a slightly different take on urban decay. Following on from that, someone mentioned to me that I might want to take a look at Corinne May Botz’s book Haunted Houses. Now, I don’t usually go in for the mystical or spiritual, so I wasn’t entirely sure what I was letting myself in for, but I shall admit to being pleasantly surprised.

Whilst the theme that unites all the pictures in the book is that they are of haunted houses, and there are ghost stories interspersed amongst the images, that’s as far as the spookiness factor goes. Nothing is shot so as to convey eeriness or document strange goings-on. What you have, really, is a book of sumptuous photographs taken at over 80 houses, some abandoned, some inhabited, across the United States.

Botz sets the scene with some gorgeous landscapes and some lovely architectural shots, but where the book really comes alive is when she focuses on interiors, and pays attention to the little details. You get to see books scattered by bedsides, paint peeling on staircases, tables set for supper. For a book about something that supposed to be other-worldly, it has a very human element to it.

My personal favourite is the corner of a four-poster bed canopy reflected in a dressing table mirror, but then I’ve said before how much of a sucker I am for photos that use reflections. Still, page after page, I found myself appreciating Botz’s use of light and shadow in her photos.

Yes, I can see how some people would dismiss the book as some gushing hybrid of a luscious interiors’ magazine and a millionaire’s estate agent’s brochure. True. But don’t overlook it. For the right person, this book is perfect on their coffee table.

Haunted Houses, by Corinne May Botz. Published by The Monacelli Press and available from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Book review: 365 Photography Days


‘All I want,’ I moaned to a friend ‘is to be a sent a book to review about which I can be positive.’ I know that there are good books out there, you see, but none of them had made its way into my review pile recently. But it seems as if someone, somewhere, was listening to my plaintive calls, for I was sent what is a rather beautiful coffee-table photography book for review. (Whilst I seem to have someone’s ear, perhaps I should put in calls for world peace and an end to oppression, too?)

It’s 365 Photography Days, by Phil Gould. It charts Gould’s year-long around-the-world trip that he decided to take after escaping with his life from a plane crash in Alaska. He mapped out just where he would like to go, and being a photographer, set himself the challenge of capturing a defining image for each day of the journey. From South Africa, to South America, to North America, to Australasia, and back to South Africa (often via London) he gave himself the opportunity to get some fabulous shots. He didn’t disappoint, either.

Day 314: Zebra at the waterhole, Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa.

For me, the best shots were certainly his wildlife ones, whether chipmunks, cheetahs, or kangaroos. It seems to be where he’s most comfortable practising his craft. However, that doesn’t mean his portraits or architectural photos aren’t worth looking at. They definitely are, and even more so when viewed in the context of such a remarkable travelogue. Even the photo of the toilet roll holder in his bathroom, the day that he had food poisoning and couldn’t go anywhere, contributes to the vast horizon that he experienced.

This is a coffee-table book, and the photos are given centre stage accordingly. Still, there is also the requisite degree of commentary along with a photographic tip for each image. It’s the photos that tell the story, though, just as Gould intended.

For anyone who states travel or photography as their interests, I could recommend this book as a gift. Do take a look.

365 Photography Days, by Phil Gould. Published by Book Guild Publishing and available from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Book review: How to Photograph Nudes Like a Professional

How to Photograph Nudes

Photographing people without any clothes on. It’s pretty popular. (Mmhmm, people really are interested in getting it right; Try Nude Photography is one of Photocritic’s most popular articles.) It takes lots of different forms and if you’re good at it, there’s money to be made from it. But, like many things, it can be hard to get right, which is why Ashley Karyl, a photographer with 25 years’ experience taking pictures of people wearing nothing, has published his book How to Photograph Nudes Like a Professional.

Wanna know what I thought of it? Sure? Okay then!

Technical, practical, and philosophical

At 328 pages, this book contains masses of information. It covers the technical: cameras, lenses, lighting, editing, and retouching. The merits of colour or black and white are compared. The superiority of digital over film is debated. It tells you everything you need to know about lighting a shoot with candles. And it gives you lots of post-processing information.

It looks at the practical: finding and working with models, comparing shooting on location with in a studio, makeup and hair, and printing. You get anecdotes about the models Karyl’s worked with as well as guidance to find the right model for the job. There are some very helpful tips for shooting on location. You’re reminded not to interfere with the makeup artists and hair stylists because they’re professionals, too.

It even gets philosophical and talks about photography as a medium and a profession. Some of his advice here doesn’t relate to the photography world alone, it is sound for anyone who works as a freelancer. (Yes, it reminded me when I was working past midnight that I ought to be in bed, or at least not working.)

And all of this is backed up by Karyl’s experience in the business.

Personal but not so practical?

It is aimed at amateurs who are on the verge of turning professional or professionals at the beginnings of their careers, but in many respects it reads much like Karyl’s autobiography. Karyl talks you through how he came to nude photography, how it has changed over the years, the people and the projects he’s worked on, and what he has experienced and learned through this. It’s full of anecdotes and observations which give the book a personal feel. In fact, he prefers to think of it as being a conversation with him because he didn’t want to write a step-by-step guide.

Unfortunately for me, this is where I think that the book falls down. It contains so much information that its largely unstructured and unsystematic form makes it unwieldy. A step-by-step guide might not be what he wanted to create, but his information still needs to be accessible to the reader. Karyl is a photographer, not a writer, and it shows. He has a great deal to relate and would have benefited from the guidance of a ruthless editor to help him express it all. Ironic, really, considering that he covers editing ones photos so extensively.

And despite it already being 328 pages, the book could do with more pictures. There are barren wastelands of pages with no images. It’s a book about photography, after all.

And finally

So what do I think overall? I want to like this book. I want the gems of information and the anecdotes to sparkle. I want an editor to take to it with a scalpel so it can live up to its potential. And I want more pictures.

How to Photograph Nudes Like a Professional, by Ashley Karyl. Available for download at at $29.

Book review: 99 Ways to Make Money From Your Photos


If you’re a half-decent amateur photographer, making a few extra pennies on the side from your photos is always gratifying. It might not be enough for a holiday in the Maldives, but it’ll buy you a few sundowners on the beach when you get there. Have you considered all the different ways that you could make money from your pictures, though? Apparently, there are at least 99…

99 Ways to Make Money From Your Photos has been produced by the editors of Photopreneur. The title is fairly self-explanatory, but what did I think?

What did I like about it?

Well, most importantly for a book trying to give you ideas for making money from your pictures, some of its suggestions were things that I’d forgotten you could do, never considered, or even heard of. How about bartering your pictures or photographic services? Turning your pictures into colouring books for kiddies, anyone? What about helping people looking for love online present better images of themselves? Yep, some of these ideas were pretty original.

However, it also started in the obvious place—selling pictures to stock houses—and explaining the difference between royalty free and rights managed sales, which is fundamental, I think.

I also appreciated that each idea was laid out so clearly, with a summary box, a series of tips, and a getting started box. The book gives you practical advice and points out things you really ought to consider before taking on a project. It also allows you to judge if the elbow grease that you’ll have to plough into an enterprise will justify its overall return by rating the difficulty, earning potential, and competition for each idea. That’s all rather neat.

What didn’t quite do it for me

A great gift, but probably not a book you'd buy for yourself

There’s a bit of a difference between selling the odd photo that you take in your spare time, and embarking on a career as a professional photographer. This book doesn’t draw that distinction, and mixes up quirky small-time stuff, like selling on Etsy, with serious photographic challenge, for example becoming a forensic photographer. For me, making it a bit clearer for whom each idea is intended would improve the book’s usability.

Obviously, 99 ways to make money is far more enticing than 45 ways to make money from your photos. However, I thought that some of the ideas were scraping the barrel. I wasn’t convinced that using doctors’ surgeries, local cafes and restaurants, and hair-dressing salons as potential sales venues for your photos warranted three individual entries. How about combining taking school photos with dance school photos? What about one entry for the different types of stock photos? The title might not be quite so exciting, but the book will be easier to navigate.

The final thing that I found very odd: for a book about photos, it doesn’t contain a single one, save for the front cover image. Curious.

So what do I really think?

I think it’s a great book to buy as a gift for someone you know who takes great pictures and could make some money from them. It has creative ideas and is honest about how much you can expect to make turning your photos into greetings cards. But at £21.87 (US$34.95), I’m not sure I could justify it for myself.

99 Ways to Make Money From Your Photos, by the editors of Photopreneur. Published by New Media Entertainment Ltd and available in lots of places that sell books.

Book review: Photo Trekking by Nick Onken

Fantastic photos - but Ella Bowker finds that she'd prefer it was a proper cofee-table book, rather than a half-way house between how-to guide and photographer's portfolio

As a semi-prominent photography blogger and photo writer, I occasionally am sent books to review. It’s pretty exciting, actually, because it gives me a great insight into what’s happening in the photography publishing world, and hey – it’s always a great idea to keep an eye on the competition. The problem is that I’m frequently not the target audience of these books: I’m an advanced photographer; I love to write for all photography audiences, but if my ongoing photography course for newbies project has taught me anything, it’s that photography looks very different through other people’s eyes.

So, this time, I decided to ask a friend of mine – the always lovely Ella Bowker takes a closer look at Photo Trekking: A Traveling Photographer’s Guide to Capturing Moments Around the World, by Nick Onken.

Take it away, Ella…  


I recently came back from a long weekend in Italy with my family (check out the pictures on Flickr!). I schlepped along a collection of books to entertain me on the plane, and I’d like to tell you about one of them: Photo Trekking: A Traveling Photographer’s Guide to Capturing Moments Around the World, by Nick Onken ( or "> Travelling with a travel photographer’s book seemed highly appropriate. It’s not as if one needs much inspiration to take beautiful photos in the Tuscan hills, but perhaps this book would be able to help me take even better photos. Flicking through the glossy pages of exotic photographs, I noticed that he’d taken some shots not all that far from where I was staying, too. How exciting!

Uhm, so who is it for?

Unfortunately, I found the subtitle of this book to be a tiny bit misleading. It turns out this book isn’t aimed at the general travel photographer – those of us who take fairly good photos above the standard of the usual holiday snaps and want to do it a bit better. Instead, it is aimed at amateur photographers who wish to spread their wings and give professional travel photography a go.

Fantastic photos - but Ella Bowker finds that she'd prefer it was a proper cofee-table book, rather than a half-way house between how-to guide and photographer's portfolio

Call it a bugbear of mine, but it really bothers me when writers haven’t fully identified their audience. Or rather: Onken has identified a very specific audience here, but delivers a book which goes too far in some areas, and not far enough in others. Now, I’ll be perfectly honest: I’m not nearly good enough a photographer to aspire to do it in a professional capacity. To be entirely honest, I don’t think that I’d want to even if I were. Having said that, the premise of the book piqued my interest, and I threw myself at it in an attempt to learn about the life of a professional travel photographer and where exactly I’d need to start in the unlikely event that I did decide to pursue this as a career.

Perhaps I wasn’t the designated audience for his book, or may be I was slightly disappointed to discover that the content wasn’t actually what I thought it would be. Either way, I finished it and was left feeling that Onken hadn’t quite delivered what the book’s covers seemed to promise. Don’t get me wrong, the book shared some very useful information, such as what the different markets for travel photographs are,how to make initial contact with them, and how best to promote yourself and your work. However, all the while I had this feeling that the book didn’t go far enough. It was scratching at the surface of life as a travel photographer and not telling you enough of what you needed to know.

What’s it got?

The book is divided into five chapters: the world of travel photography, preparation, shooting on location, tips for taking great travel photographs, and after the shoot. Onken takes you through planning your shoot to ensure that it evokes the right feel for the client and includes anything that is a ‘must see’ for that location. The ‘How to budget for a travel shoot’ section was interesting, and discusses everything from airport transfers to local guides. But when it came to issues such as local etiquette and cultural nuances, coverage was rather thin. There was one more thing which struck me as odd: I’d have thought that if someone is seriously considering a career in travel photography, the chapter looking at photography tips is likely to be well below their level of expertise.

Each chapter, with the exception of thetips for taking great travel photographs chapter, contains at least one ‘Traveler’s Journal’ which gives the back-story to a series of photos taken in locations ranging from The City of God in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Kyoto in Japan. These sections worked well to communicate the human element of Onken’s photographs and his experiences in order to take them. If each chapter had been built around these journal entries, they might have achieved the degree of depth that this book needs.

I do feel that more could have been said about the grueling travel schedule and exhausting days of a travel photographer; the shots that made the cut and those that didn’t could have been examined; and the outcomes of that particular trip could have been looked at, too. Yes, it would have been a very different approach to the book, but one that I think could have worked.

Onken’s book feels more as if it were an exercise to get his photos on to people’s coffee tables. In order to do so, he settled on the niche audience of wannabe travel photographers. But there’s nothing wrong with a photo book for a photo book’s sake; Onken is clearly a talented photographer – but it just seems a bit curious to have them presented in a setting like this book.

It’s a cursed shame, really – there aren’t any books out there that covers this section of the market all that well, and after reading this book, I can’t but conclude that, well, there still aren’t any. But if there was one, I’d buy it.

Photo Trekking: A Traveling Photographer’s Guide to Capturing Moments Around the World by Nick Onken. Published by Amphoto Books, New York, available from all sorts of lovely book shops everywhere.

About the guest writer of this post

Ella is an avid amateur photographer based in London. Her Flickr stream is a documentation of her process of becoming a better photographer. She wrote Teaching Photography to a 5-year-old and Taking photos for the future for

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