Let me start by stating this book review is long overdue. I finished this book in March, but the pace of life kept on moving while this task was set aside. In fact the following read, Mountain Light by Galen Rowell, has already been completed as well. Look for that review as soon as possible.
This book, Exploring North American Landscapes by Marc Muench, initially shocked me because its ½ biography and ½ workflow. Despite the title I wasn’t expecting the biography. However, after reading the biography it proved to be very valuable. That’s because it’s always nice to remember that even the pros benefit from hard work and exploration.
One of my favorite parts was the explanation between balancing subjective (inward) and technical (outward) . It’s the Art/Science debate you might be familiar with. Truth is a photographer needs both to make powerful images. Just different amounts at different times.
Marc dispels many “myths” about professional photographers. That pro’s don’t need to warm up. That they get it right on the first shot. That every image is prefect out of the camera. That photographers simply show up. Pro’s don’t bracket. One should never shoot into the sun. That Photoshop can fix anything. Every image needs a white and black point. The list goes on. He also highlights helpful actions such as pre-visualization, chasing light, revisiting locations, tinkering with tools, and finding unusual perspectives.
There are insights into the the workflow of a working professional. (Hint hint: workflow is always changing). Workflow is similar to the experience gained from shooting. It’s not a singular moment where one automatically knows everything. Rather it’s a journey. This is reassuring because my standard rule is that I have “my way” of doing things, but that is only until someone demonstrates a quicker way that is just as accurate. Then I have a new way that’s “my way.” This happens either through instruction or technological advances. There is no point in being tied to older, slower, outdated ways simply because one is comfortable with them.
The book begins to go in depth with in-the-field practices and the technical details involved in processing files. Some simpler processing topics are thoroughly covered for the reader to accomplish them. The rest provide a great primer for the reader to build upon with further research.
In fear of simply sharing the various extremely helpful included tips, they cover: live view, pictures of signs, adjustments in Photoshop, which color is easy to oversaturate, regions, etc.
For all this book gets right, there are a few things that could be improved. Firstly, some of the images within the workflow chapters are small. To the point that the referenced adjustments aren’t discernible. Larger images would have helped. Or blow up of sections showing portions of the images that most dramatically improved from the adjustment (p. 166, 188, & 189). Secondly, as is true for any book related to technology, it features some references that are now out-of-date. The Lightroom sliders on p. 163 are correct for the version of software referenced, but the names have since been updated. Both of these are very minor grievances.
After the Festivus paragraph, it’s only proper to hit three highlights. Marc reminds the reader on p. 143 that their workflow needs to be based on their personal values. There is no per-defined set of actions that a photographer must apply to every image. Each image requires individual attention. There are no shortcuts in this regard. Secondly, the reader is reminded that training never ends on p. 173. The more one studies (light, but also would apply to anything in life) the more confident they become. Lastly, the fact that experiences is the best teacher (p. 174 & 176). This is the grit that helps improve individuals above all else.
In conclusion, this book is relatable and inspirational. My copy was purchased used, and was well worth the money spent. Full of tips and truths that anyone interested in taking landscape photography seriously should read and re-read. This is the book that I wish Michael Frye had written. I’m happy this was read afterwards.