Travel Photography: A Selection of Books & Resources
Winter comes to the Colorado Front Range sometime in November. For me, it’s always sort of a sad time, because it means putting away my bike for the winter and finding something indoors to occupy my time. Two Novembers ago I went to the library and came home with a stack of photography books. I did this three or four times and by the time I was finished I had found a small list of photographers who really grabbed my attention. My photographs have improved noticeably and I’ve been having a lot more fun with my camera on tour ever since. Let me pass on a little of what I have learned during these past few winters reading in Colorado.
After perusing the classic photographers – Ansel Adams, Elliot Porter, and others, I came onto the following modern photographers: John Fielder, Galen Rowell, and Bryan Peterson. All three are practicing photographers. All three have published a variety of books. And all three have a huge amount of experience with lots to teach. Here’s my assessment of each.
John Fielder is Colorado’s dean of outdoor photography. I took John’s book, Along Colorado’s Continental Divide Trail, as a gift to a fellow geographer in Italy. It’s a wonderful story of hiking and photographing the Colorado Rockies, but more useful if you want to improve your photographic skills is his book, Photographing the Landscape (The Art of Seeing). Put this one on your coffee table and read it for his wonderful descriptions of the five "toppings" in good photography: color, form, moment, perspective, and view. I’ve spent my lifetime trying to understand landscape. This book put a lot into perspective for me, not the least of which was pointing out the differences among the "grand scenic" landscape, the "intimate" landscape, and the landscape in "microcosm". Buy John’s books at Westcliff Publishers or look into his photography workshops at John Fielder Photography.
Galen Rowell has been a regular contributor to Outdoor Photographer magazine for many years (if you don’t know this magazine you’ll want to look it up online at Outdoor Photographer or, better still, pick up a copy at the local newsstand) and is one of the premier landscape and adventure photographers around today. Rowell has published two collections of essays from Outdoor Photographer. The anecdotes and travel stories gathered together in these collections are entertaining and informative. The first, published in 1995, is Galen Rowell’s Vision: The Art of Adventure Photography and the second, which came out just last year (2001) is Galen Rowell’s Inner Game of Outdoor Photography. You’ll learn about equipment, strategy, commitment, Nepal, running with a camera, and more. Rowell is best known among outdoor people for his book about mountains, Mountain Light: In Search of the Dynamic Landscape, which is also a very worthwhile read. To buy Rowell’s books or take one of his workshops visit his web site at MountainLight.com.
(See the comment section below for news on the untimely death of Rowell and for his obituary).
Finally, there is Bryan Peterson, who is my favorite of the bunch. When I first began poring through those stacks of photography books, he caught my eye because not only was he a great photographer, but he could write about photography and capture the essence of the photographic process in that writing. When we’ll see more from him, I don’t know, but I hope it is sooner rather than later.
Peterson has written three books that you should try your best to find, even though one of them is out of print. The two still in print are Learning to See Creatively (How to Compose Great Photographs) and Understanding Exposure (How to Shoot Great Photographs). Bryan makes the best photos out of simple, everyday subjects. His other book is People in Focus (How to Photograph Anyone, Anywhere). For this one I suggest you contact your local bookstore or go to Powell’s Books and try their used book search function. If all else fails look for the book, Shoot (Everything you Ever Wanted to Know about 35 mm Photography), edited by Liz Harvey (Amphoto, 1993). It contains numerous essays by Peterson taken from his other works. Bryan Peterson teaches photo workshops on the web, in Italy, and, I think, in Hong Kong. Look him up at Brian Petersons’s Photo or at BetterPhoto.com
All these books address equipment and film as well as composition, exposure, strategy, and passion. This last is what distinguishes them, though. The passion these three individuals have for their life work comes across in their photographs and in their writing. What a pleasure it is to read and learn from them.
(A quick note to those of you who have made the step into the digital era. There is something for everyone in these books. Even digital photographers need to learn how to look, how to compose, and how to chase the light. So don’t hesitate to delve into this collection. You’ll learn loads and be a better photographer for it.)