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Capturing the Light by Peter Watson


New York City, US
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Obregon Moderator Donor Ribbon. Awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Charter Member
Sun 23-Jul-06 10:13 AM

Here’s a book of beautiful landscape photographs that also provides useful instruction to the advanced photographer.

The general layout is to present a full size landscape photograph on the right side of the fold and opposite some considerations of the photographer about taking the photograph followed by an annotated thumbnail with Watson’s remarks about particular items with which he was concerned. Each photograph is also annotated with shooting data, including an element not usually encountered: waiting for the light.

And this is the main theme of the book: the landscape photographer should wait until the light is right. Waiting times varied from immediate to 5 days. Moreover, I suspect that if he hadn’t wanted not to appear facetious he might have said five years, since he recounts going back to the same spot many times over a period of years to get the right light. A second theme is the importance of spending the time to select just the right view.

Watson’s subjects are not the dramatic mountain landscapes of Art Wolfe. Instead they are far more subtle, showing textured fields and dappling sunlight and shadows. These pictures require lingering over for close examination. I would recommend that one not read the entire book at a single sitting but rather examine a few pictures and Watson’s related commentary at a time. (An unattainable ideal might even be to have one of these pictures hanging on the wall to live with.) Watson includes a few pictures that he considers less than perfect, and his thoughts on how they could have been improved.

Other then the reported camera settings there is little of a technical nature either as to exposure and focusing or equipment. The one exception is that Watson uses filters and tells you whether a polarizer was at full. The thumbnails show exactly where the dividing line was placed when using a graduated neutral density filter

Although the book is organized into chapters, I can’t say that this organization contributes to a comprehensive understanding. Instead each picture is its own little master class.

There are other books that use this same technique of analyzing a picture, like the excellent works of Tony Sweet. On the other hand, many of these books are just portfolios disguised as manuals. But I found Watson to be truly instructive as well as inspirational. Now, I only hope I can learn to be as patient as he is in capturing the light.

(As a side note, those looking for advanced landscape instruction but craving something with more intellectualizing and a less applied approach may be interested in “Landscape Within: Insights and Inspirations for Photographers” by David Ward.)