The decision to review the recently published National Geographic Ultimate Field Guide to Travel Photography (National Geographic Photography Field Guides) in The Well-read Naturalist was not one made lightly. After all, WRN is explicitly dedicated to books pertaining directly to the study of natural history in all its myriad forms. Would a book providing advice and instruction in how to be a better photographer, particularly as understood from the perspective of a traveler, or a photojournalist assigned to document the sights to be seen and experiences to be had in a specific geographic place, be of use or interest to naturalists? However after having read it and discovering that the information, advice, and inspiration it provided began almost immediately to influence my own field photographic work on natural history subjects for the better, I could not but help to record my impressions of the book here for the benefit of all.
Written by National Geographic Traveler’s senior editor Scott S. Stuckey and with considerable contributions from fifteen of that publication’s finest photographers, the National Geographic Ultimate Field Guide to Travel Photography begins with something all too many books on photographic subjects for a widely diverse audience neglect – a brief but effective overview of the important concepts and skills needed to understand and employ the techniques that will be presented later in the book. Such a beginning may seem redundant to some; however to the beginner still working to master many of the elementary concept of good photographic practice such an overview is both helpful as well as instructive, and to the more experienced photographer, who may have worked him or herself into a personal technique rut, it is a reminder not to neglect a different way of capturing an image that might be outside of an established comfort zone. To this reviewer, it spoke clearly of the author’s commitment to the idea that the book’s primary purpose was as a vehicle for instruction; that he genuinely wanted to help all who read it to improve their respective photography skills.
As might be expected from an institution that has become world famous for its ability to convey unforgettable stories using both words and pictures, immediately following the overview of the “core concepts,” Mr. Stuckey and his collaborators address the importance of narrative in any collection of photographs. This perhaps may be the single most overlooked idea among amateur photographers who think most commonly in terms of the individual subject in each individual photograph but fail to connect the subject to its background (and vice versa) or to develop a connection between a group of photographs. While the emphasis is placed squarely on, and the examples given drawn from, travel photography, its applicability of the information presented to most every aspect of nature or landscape photography is astonishing.
Following these two topics, the book advances into more specific areas, beginning with the importance of, quest for, and discovery of authentic photographic subjects, to how to photograph in the challenging lighting conditions of cities (the parallels of which to natural environments, especially canyons and forests, are easily drawn and wholly appropriate), rural and countryside photographic subjects, and concluding the section with a chapter exclusively dedicated to nature-oriented subjects. Each of these chapters is not only a didactic presentation, but is also liberally interwoven with the advice and experiences of the fifteen photographers whose expertise Mr. Stuckey drew upon for the creation of the book.
Ultimately concluding in a similar vein to that in which it began, with advice on (this time) more advanced technical and work-flow topics such as image management and a two page series of notes titled “Useful Information” (and indeed it is), the National Geographic Ultimate Field Guide to Travel Photography well proves itself to be far more than well worth the time spent reading it. The information and advice it contains is so well presented and immediately applicable to most everyone who uses a camera out-of-doors or on “on the road” that it should be considered as a “must read” for all concerned. Furthermore, the inspiration it is capable of providing goes well beyond the objective sum of the techniques its author presents in its pages. The encouragement to see every photograph as a puzzle to be solved, to view everyday scenes in their potential to be organized into a image that conveys not only momentary visual pleasure but an entire story, is a significant element of the mind of a great photographer. For this more than perhaps all else, the reader of this book will profoundly thank Mr. Stuckey, National Geographic, and all who contributed to it with each improvement they notice in their own future photographic work.
Author: Scott S. Stuckey
Publisher: National Geographic
Format: paperback; 160 pages
In accordance with Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR Part 255, it is disclosed that the copy of the book read in order to produce this review was provided gratis to the reviewer by the publisher.