Terra Galleria Photography

More on the National Parks Portfolio

In 2016, I described the National Parks Portfolio. If you haven’t done so, please be sure to read that article for context. This week, on the occasion of the 104th anniversary of the National Park Service, I am tracking the publication history of what is arguably the most important publication ever produced by the agency.

1916

After looking at many copies, I identified two printings of the 1916 National Parks Portfolio with distinct characteristics. All the booklets inside are entirely identical. The only difference is in the wrappers that serve as portfolio covers. One of them has a wrapper consisting of thin, dark, cardboard wrappers. The back cover features a seal with the lettering “NATIONAL PARK SERVICE – DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR” surrounding an eagle with wings outstretched in front of a mountain. The wrappers from the other printing are lighter cardboard covered by cloth on the outside, with no seal in the back.

My hypothesis is that the printing without the seal was the first printing, whereas the printing with the seal would have been made after the National Park Service (NPS) was officially established on August 25, 1916. National Parks Portfolio was issued as part of a campaign to establish the National Park Service, so it would have been odd to feature the seal of an agency not yet established. Stephen Mather or Robert Sterling Yard would have decided that since a new edition was coming in 1917, in late 1916, it was enough to keep the booklets the same and just add the seal to the wrapper to acknowledge the new agency.

However, curiously, that seal appears to have been used in print only in 1916. All subsequent printings of National Parks Portfolio, as well as all other early government-issued publications such as individual national park brochures, bear the seal of the Department of the Interior, generally a bison, but also sometimes an eagle profiled against the sky. The only other publication I have seen with that seal is the second edition of Glimpses of our National Park, a free booklet written by Robert Sterling Yard to provide an overview of the main national parks. It was issued in May 1916, therefore predating the establishment of the national park service, but since it had a total print run of 400,000, it is possible that my copy is of a printing issued after Aug 25, 1916. Although the seal is nowhere to be found in print after 1916, as documented in National Park Service Uniforms – Badges and Insignia 1894-1991, it was the basis for the badges worn by NPS rangers from 1920 to 1970 – after 1970, badges also became based on the Department of the Interior bison seal.

1917

The second edition of the National Parks Portfolio was one of the first publications of the National Park Service. The name of the agency was present on the front page of each of the booklets, and it is attributed to “Government printing office” instead of “Scribner Press”. One of the goals of the National Parks Portfolio was to make the national parks known to the people of the country, and therefore it was widely distributed free of charge. While Glimpses of our National Park continued to be distributed free of charge like today’s individual park brochures, the second edition of National Parks Portfolio cost 35 cents in the initial format with separate booklets, but was also offered as a hardcover bound book for 55 cents (one 1917 dollar is the equivalent of 20 dollars in 2020).

Besides the substitution of some photographs, the main change was the addition of a 10th 36-page booklet describing the new national parks established in 1916 and early 1917, as well as national monuments. Prior to the re-designation of Gateway Arch National Park, Hot Springs National Park was considered by many to be the black sheep among the national parks. We see here that Hot Springs, although not even yet designated as a national park, was given more prominence than Hawaii National Park consisting of modern-day Hawaii Volcanoes and Haleakala, Mt McKinley National Park renamed Denali National Park only in 1980, and Lassen Volcanic National Park.

1921 and beyond

The National Parks Portfolio would undergo four more editions, each issued only as a bound book with a major revision by Isabelle Story in 1928 for the 5th edition:
This revision was made necessary by the many changes that have occurred in the national park system during the past twelve years, and by the changing styles, which made obsolete many of the pictures with a human-interest note.

In […] 1916, only 356,097 people visited the national parks. Since then, however, the visiting list has steadily mounted higher and higher, until in the 1927 year 2,354,643 visitors saw the national parks.

Stephen Mather passed in 1930. In the 6th, and final edition of National Parks Portfolio, the new NPS director Horace Albright would pay homage to him, revealing the story behind the first edition:

To Stephen T. Mather, first Director of the National Park Service, is due the greater part of the successful development of the national park and monument system. The issuance of the first National Parks Porfolio in 1916 was his personal accomplishment. No Government funds were available for such a publication. Mr Mather, however, knew that some such book was necessary if the parks were to be made known to the people of the United States. He, therefore, interested seventeen western railroads in the project and with their contribution of forty-three thousand dollars had the National Park Portfolio prepared and published. A year later the government took over the publication of the Portfolio.

Here is the summary of the different editions, with a link to scan of each of them if you wish to compare them:

  • 1st (1916) 218 pages, free
  • 2nd (1917) 262 pages, $0.55
  • 3rd (1921) 266 pages, $1
  • 4th (1925) 270 pages, $1
  • 5th (1928) 270 pages, $1
  • 6th (1931) 274 pages, $1.5

Collecting Photography Books: A Primer

Revisiting my photography book collection has brought me much enjoyment during the lockdown. A dozen years ago, as the business of photography was good, I used the disposable income to start collecting. In this article, I summarize what I wished I knew back then, not only as a photographer and book collector but also from the perspective of a former art gallery owner and current publisher.

Why collect photography books?

The prevalent digital consumption of photographs cannot replace the viewing of photography in print. Seeing original prints at exhibits is irreplaceable, but there are only so many museums and galleries even in a major metropolitan area such as the San Francisco Bay Area. Photography books, defined as books where the message is primarily carried by photographs, are the most practical entry into a photographer’s work. Unlike magazines, they are physical objects of beauty, with superior production values such as materials, design, and printing. The sequencing, layout, and combination of images and text add layers of meaning and complexity beyond single photographs. Books from a lasting record of works of art. They can rise to the level of works of art themselves, but unlike the art in the museum or gallery, that is a piece of art that you can hold in your hand. The simplicity and materiality of the book provide an experience altogether distinct from electronic media. Book pass through ages. In our personal lives, they are often loaded with sentimental value. It can be argued that without books, there would be no modern civilization.

There are many approaches to photography book collecting that are equally valid. Two ends of the spectrum are to collect solely based on personal taste, ignoring any other external opinions, and to collect based solely on rarity, seeking vintage first editions in excellent condition. I took a middle road, seeing photography books as a vehicle to discover more about photography and deepen my knowledge of its significant artists. I was not trying to build an egg nest with the collection, because I wanted foremost to focus on contents and buy books according to interest rather than as an investment opportunity. However, there is no denying that the mercantile aspect of the hobby can be fun and educational, as it mobilizes quite a bit of knowledge: you have to do your research, budget and prioritize your acquisitions. It could be profitable: once I noticed that Mack was going to re-issue Masahisa Fukase’s Ravens, therefore ensuring my continued access to the work, I resold for $1,000 the copy of the Rat Hole Gallery edition bought for less than $100. Note, however, that monetization is always uncertain (the stock market is for that!), and there are indications that the book market is softer than it used to be. Unlike book dealers, even if they seek appreciation in value, collectors generally do not seek to monetize it. Like in all collecting the process can be more satisfying than the resulting ownership.

Photography books have become highly collectible over the last two decades, thanks to a recent appreciation and recognition of that particular medium, and maybe nostalgia for physical objects. Some books can quickly become worth more than their list price. Once I understood that carefully chosen books can be resold for a profit if needed, I was less hesitant to spend serious money that way. There were years when I spent more on books than on photography gear. I sometimes bought multiple copies to resell as a way to finance the hobby, a trade of sorts. While that mercantile aspect of collecting should remain secondary to the love of the books, it is by far the easiest to explain and quantify, kind of like the technical mechanics of photographs, and that is why I will focus on it. The definition of a collectible is: worth more used than what it cost new.

The value cycle

The factors that make any given object collectible are scarcity and demand. Because of the need for quality reproductions, photo books cost much more to print than other books, and therefore they are more expensive. Higher prices result in demand often too small to justify a large print run. Except for some popular coffee-table books, a print run of a few thousand copies is considered large for a photography book. At the same time, although small, the demand often remains steady. Eventually, copies become scarce and valuable. The cycle for desirable books goes like that:
  1. Book is sold near list price upon release, as novelty is a major selling point.
  2. Once the novelty wears out, deep discounts (50% is not uncommon on Amazon) become available. In industry jargon, the book has gone from “frontlist” to “backlist”: in catalogs, it is no longer fully described, but merely listed.
  3. Copies are mostly sold out from the warehouse and large booksellers. At this point, they are available only via independent bookstores, and on Amazon via third-party sellers rather than Amazon itself. Prices start to rise back to list price.
  4. Book is collectible, with new copies offered for increasing multiples of the original list price, and used copies in excellent condition not too far behind.
Buying at stage 1 guarantees that you get a copy at list price but at that point, it is possible that the price will go down and the book will not become collectible. A book entering stage 3 is likely to reach stage 4, so for those collectors that focus on the “collectible” aspect, this may be the safest time to buy. If at that point you are still on the fence, if do not buy and later you find yourself wanting the title, it may no longer be affordable, or even available at all.

For maximum savings, the best time to buy the books is in stage 2. However, some coveted books never go to this stage and instead quickly sell out upon release and become collectible. This can go pretty fast. Despite its print run of 5,000, the first printing of Treasured Lands (2016) sold out in less than a month. Watching the pre-orders, I initiated a reprint before the book even hit the stores. Despite the book not checking most of the usual collectibility factors, in the few months between the fourth printing running out and the fifth printing’s availability, the price of a new copy rose to more than three times the list price, while damaged copies sold over the list price. Pre-publication copies of Alec Soth’s Broken Manual sold at art fairs such as Paris Photo. By the official publication date, not a single copy was available from the publisher. I passed on the limited edition available from the artist because it was priced in the high hundreds of dollars. Copies now start at $6,500.

Other books never leave stage 2, and their price keeps dropping over time, as there is no demand. My first book, Beautiful North America retails for a fraction of its list price. That book was not my best effort: I only provided images as required by the publisher. Given the target market of discount stores, their effort in editing, design nor printing quality wasn’t the greatest. I regret this book, and in that case, it would seem that the market’s assessment of its value is correct. However, there also are plenty of absolutely great books that never become collectible and can be bought at bargain prices.

Factors to look for

Authorship. Generally speaking, books that are a compilation of images by several photographers, especially if derived from stock libraries, lack an authorial voice and therefore are seldom considered works of art. That is the case of many coffee-table books. Exceptions include vernacular photography when curated in some clever way (as pioneered by Mandel and Sultan’s Evidence) and some exhibit catalogs.

In 1975, The New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape was a rare revolutionary exhibit. Even though published 35 years later, the exhibit survey was a much sought after record of it.

Significance/appeal of the artist and work. Work by artists without institutional art world recognition (exhibited in museums and galleries, reviewed in major publications) is less likely to be collectible and the same principle applies to their books. Some artists have such a reputation and manage so carefully their editions, that almost every one of their books becomes collectible. For a given artist, their earlier work or first breakthrough publication is often more sought after. If their career is, sometimes unfairly, defined by a publication, like Robert Frank by The Americans, it is no surprise that demand for that particular publication will be higher.

Although more than 50,000 copies were printed, after Robert Frank’s passing, demand for The Americans quickly drove used copies to more than five times the list price. Reprints have since then reappeared for the work, but not for the monumental catalog of the exhibit dedicated to the book.

Printing quality. Some older books, such as Brassai’s Paris de Nuit used to great effect the photogravure printing process to produce rich and sooty blacks. However, generally speaking, photographic printing quality made such great strides in the 1980s that most books published prior look mediocre compared to recent books. The newer books therefore provide more enjoyment even though they may not be as valuable as the older, rarer books. Some publishers are known for their uncompromising attention to printing quality. In a publisher’s output, not every book is of the same quality. Within their commitment to publishing most of William Eggleston’s work, Steidl’s Chromes volume set was exceptionally well printed, whereas the follow up Los Alamos is just very good. Word has gotten out, and the former is more sought after.

After finding a copy of the first edition of the Portfolios of Ansel Adams, I was disappointed by the printing quality compared to the modern version. After reviewing several, I found out that the big jump in quality occurred between the 1st edition (1977) and the second edition (1982). Their advertising on the cover page was justified.

Elaborate Productions. A lot more goes into book production than printing quality, and this can include special materials for casings, unusually large trims, of which the most well-known example is Helmut Newton’s Sumo, elaborate slipcases, fold-out pages, and unconventional types of binding. For books that exist both as hardcover and softcover, the former is always preferable.

A family-owned publisher like Nazraeli pays individual attention to every book, tailoring design, materials (such as the bamboo boards for Michael Kenna’s Hokkaido), slipcases, trims (Jeff Liao’s Habitat 7 is 24×12 inches, edition of 500) to fit each body of work and create a unique object.

Size of the print run. Everything being equal, the smaller the print run, the more valuable the book. Coffee-table books destined to the general public often have large print runs above 10,000. As a photography contributor to the two latest National Geographic books about national parks, I received a contract that stated a print run of 50,000 each. On the other hand, many publishers specializing in “artsy” photography books, especially in Europe, issue print runs in the hundreds. Being geared for the collector market, they often specify the edition size, a piece of information generally not available otherwise. Because of the cost of setting up offset presses and lack of other economies of scale, the smaller the print run, the higher the production costs per unit, and therefore the higher the retail price. In measurable terms such as page per dollar, those books can be an order of magnitude more expensive than mass-produced coffee-table books. Even though those editions are not limited in the sense that the publisher leaves to door open for a reprint, in practice, they rarely occur because demand is limited to collectors.

The copyright page of both those diminutive titles states that they are issued in an edition of 500.

Publisher. Books from some publishers (for example National Geographic) are hardly ever collectible, while almost everything that some other publishers put out is. This is simply because the later’s productions always check the four criteria mentioned above so they become known for publishing significant artists, in exquisitely crafted books of generally short print runs. This in turn generates prestige that attracts the best, a self-reinforcing loop. Steidl was the gold standard, with their art publishing program partly funded by some other aspects of their publishing enterprises, but while they remain a major force many contemporary photographers seem to have migrated to Mack. Non-profit publishing, a model that works well for photography books, is represented by museum or university presses, and associations such at Aperture and Radius. The later puts out books representing a great value given their production quality. The renewed interest in the photography book and the increased accessibility of publishing and printing resources has led to a profusion of very small publishers, whose work often surpasses that of more established ones. Some of the most prized books are artist books, sometimes made by hand.

Lodima Press, a small publisher created by a pair of fine art photographers, has used up to 600 line-screen whereas 175 line-screen (which requires 350 PPI) is standard – the Brett Weston portfolios, containing only about a dozen images each, retailed for $60 or more.

Limited editions. Sometimes, concurrently to a trade, unlimited edition, a limited, numbered edition of the same work is offered. Those books are certainly more valuable, but I normally pass on them because they can expensive, especially if the offering includes a print. I find them worth it when the limited edition is a different and more appealing presentation of the work.

Chris Killip’s Here Comes Everybody came in two editions. The trade edition looks like any other photo book. The limited edition (300 copies) is an elaborate production that resembles a photo album with tissue overlays and tipped-in plates, recreating the way the book originated.

First editions. Editions refer to a book being re-issued with substantial updates, a different presentation such as softcover vs. a hardcover, or a different publisher. They are more relevant to guidebooks or technology tutorials, but even art books are sometimes re-issued with additional images or commentary. Editions are often mentioned as part of the title. Printings refer to the book being re-issued in identical or near-identical form. They are indicated on the copyright page. If you don’t find a mention such as “2nd printing”, there may be a series of numbers on the copyright page such as “10 9 8 7 6 5 6 5 4 3 2”, with the last number representing the printing. Sometimes, only the year of the printing is indicated, and you need to research the printing history of the book to figure out which printing it is. Even if a book has a large total print run, the number of copies of the first edition and first printing (sometimes abbreviated as first edition) can be much smaller, which makes it valuable to collectors seeking rare books.

When Steidl reissued Henri Cartier-Bresson’s The Decisive Moment, I bought a copy to use for reading, as my 1952 first edition copy was literally falling apart. Despite the availability of the reprint, the value of such a tattered copy didn’t fall, while copies in excellent condition continued to command high prices.

Condition. Everything else being equal, in the collector world, a book’s condition is the most important factor in determining its value because even if an old book is not particularly rare, a copy in excellent condition is. From worst to best, the following terms are used: poor, fair/acceptable, good, very good, near fine, fine/like new, new. Most collectors consider that “good isn’t good enough”, and seek books in condition at least “very good”: minor signs of wear, but no tears and no markings. It is important to take good care of one’s books. The better the book is, the more likely one is to share it with others, so the more likely it will get worn out no matter how careful you are. For this reason, some collectors like to buy two copies of titles they are excited about, one to read, and the other to keep in pristine condition, under the publisher’s shrinkwrap.


Three printings of the same book (John Muir’s Our National Park) in fair, good and fine condition.

Removable elements. Some books were issued with a dust jacket. When buying used, a bit of research is necessary to figure out if that was the case, since dust jackets are often missing from used offerings. A first edition (later printing) copy of John Muir’s Our National Parks with a dust jacket is worth ten times more than one without. Because of the book’s size, the dust jacket for Edward Weston’s My Camera at Pt. Lobos is frequently damaged, so a dust jacket in excellent condition is particularly rare. To separate photographs from captions or commentary a separate booklet may be included, for instance when the book is printed full bleed like Sebastio Salgado’s major projects.

Quite a few Japanese books include belly bands. Easily lost or damaged, not mentioned by the publisher, they sometimes contribute to most a book’s value.

Signed copies. There is a saying that the difference between a poster and an art print is the artist’s signature. It is not entirely true, because the printing process matters a great deal. Still, an artist’s signature helps in conferring to a book the status of an art object. Some signatures are rarer than others, and this varies from book to book. The very social Ansel Adams signed many more books than Edward Weston. When My Camera at Pt. Lobos was published, Edward Weston was sick with Parkinson’s disease, so signed copies are extremely rare. The proper spot for a signature is normally the half-title page – the page where the only type is the title. Signatures can be obtained at lectures, gallery openings, and of course book signings. Pre-signed copies are sometimes available from the publisher or a gallery. Inscribed copies include, in addition to the signature, an inscription to a person. When the person is not of particular note, the inscription devaluates the signature, however, when they are, the inscription makes the book a valuable “association copy”.

I like my books personalized as a memento of a connection with the artist. A book just signed may have a higher resale value, but I plan to hold onto those.

What to collect?

If you buy books that you like, whether they appreciate doesn’t matter. With experience, you will be able to spot good books, well-made, and with inspired works in any genre, collectible or not. However, if you stick only to your present interests, you may be missing a lot of the vast world of photography. There are so many photography books out there that knowing where to start can be daunting. Anybody who studies literature reads through a list of classics. Photography has also its classics, representing a consensus of curators and critics.

In the 20th century, the history of the photography book was kind of hidden within the history of photography. Since the beginning of this century, its narrative as a full medium has emerged. In 2001, Andrew Roth published the first authoritative English-language study of photography books, The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century. Three years later, Martin Parr and Gerry Badger vastly expanded Roth’s survey with The Photobook: A History (Volume I), followed by Volume 2 (2006) and Volume 3 (2014). Those foundational works form an excellent introduction to photography books and feature a wealth of titles in an engaging format. Note, however, that their selected books share the authorial stance of an extended essay and a specific social/cultural theme, leaving out for example most of the American modernists, and omitting many genres. Three that interest me are landscape, including nature landscape (surveys: Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, Philip Hyde, Galen Rowell, 15 more classic color nature photography books), nude, and all photographer retrospective monographs. All those books about books except Parr/Badger Volume 3, have become collectible themselves. Unfortunately, they have also caused many of the books featured to rise in price and become quite expensive. It wouldn’t be the worse idea to buy Volume 3 now and see which of the books mentioned are still reasonably priced. The success of the Parr/Badger series has spawned several books surveying a particular region or country’s photography books.

For reviews of new titles, blogs are your best bet. Some of my favorites include 5B4, PhotoBook Journal, Collector Daily, and Photo Eye. To see what titles caught the attention of the blogosphere in a given year, refer to an initiative called the “photobook meta-list” that attempts to aggregate many “best of the year” lists. The first photobook meta-list was created by Marc Feustel in 2011. I subsequently maintained the meta-list (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017). Since 2015, Viory Schellekens has been compiling another meta-list, and discovering that hers was more meticulous and informative than mine, I decided to pass the baton. Here are the links to Viory’s lists: 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019. In the winter of 2016, Source Magazine used the methodology of the meta-list to create a list of the greatest photobooks of all time.

Where to find books?

Amazon offers discounts on new titles and free shipping, but their packaging is often inadequate, frequently resulting in bumped corners and other damage. They sell photobooks as commodities, unlike the bookstores specializing in photography books such as Photo-Eye in Santa Fe or Dashwood Books in NYC. Those stores are run by people who know and love the medium, and are often able to procure hard to find books, foreign titles or signed copies. If a title sells fast via other channels, the publisher may not send copies to Amazon at all, since of all bookstores, Amazon terms are the most unfavorable to publishers. As a result, if you placed a pre-order or order on Amazon for that “hot” title, by the time you realize that it will not be fulfilled, the title may already have entered collectible territory.

If you are knowledgeable, you can sometimes find bargains browsing used bookstores, and also make trades. However, the better the selection, the better the owner will be aware of the value of their books. In the San Francisco Bay Area, Moe’s Books in Berkeley has the best selection. Such places are particularly valuable because you get to see in person many books. Their number has been declining, as the market has been moving away from brick-and-mortar towards online.

Although not specializing in photography books, used bookstore networks such as Abebooks, Alibris, and Biblio give access to reliable professional used booksellers, especially those affiliated with the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, whose meticulous descriptions can be relied upon. The best way to mobilize those vast resources is to use the bookstore meta search engine Bookfinder.com. I try to buy books directly from artists when possible in order to obtain a signature. It also helps them financially, since a book sold through retail earns the author only 5-10% of the list price. If you really get bitten by the photography book bug, you may want to travel attend some of the fairs and festivals dedicated to the medium that takes place annually. Collecting photography books is a great hobby that I highly recommend provided that you don’t plan to move too often.

Mount Baldy Insomnia

Mount Baldy, officially named Mount San Antonio, is the most well-known mountain in Southern California. The 10,068-foot peak, named for its treeless top, is the highest point in the Los Angeles area. It can be seen from anywhere in the city, forming a spectacular backdrop in winter when it is snow-covered and requires mountaineering skills. The peak is usually clear of snow from late May to October.

It takes only half an hour to drive Mount Baldy Road from the freeway in the city of Upland to the start of Falls Road at Manker Flat, an indication of how close to the city such a big mountain is. From there, the two main routes climb 3,900 feet to the summit. The Baldy Bowl Trail (4.5 miles one-way) ascends steeply the southwest side of the mountain amidst tall trees and towering slopes, passing about midway the Sierra Club Ski Hut where a small stream runs. To follow the Devil’s Backbone Trail from Manker Flat, you first hike 3.5 miles (1,550 elevation gain) up a dirt road to Baldy Notch. From there, the trail follows an airy and exposed ridge for 3.5 miles (2,350 feet elevation gain) to the summit. As a shortcut resulting in the shortest route to the top, you could ride to Baldy Notch on the Mount Baldy ski lift that starts up the road a quarter of mile past Manker Flat. Combining the two routes results in the challenging 11.3-mile Mount Baldy Loop. Hiking clockwise let you descend via the more gradual Devil’s Backbone.

In order to beat the heat and crowds of summer, as well as catch the first light high up on the mountain, I started at 2:30am. Since I preferred to hike in the dark the least interesting section of the trail, which is the road to Baldy Notch, and to greet the sunrise at a location with open views, I hiked the loop counter-clockwise, which placed me on the Devil’s Backbone at dawn. I passed a tent at the start of the ridge, in which backpackers were still sleeping. I suppose seeing the ski resort only at night was not too much of a loss. Later in the day, there can be a line of hikers, but in the early morning, I rejoiced at having such a popular trail to myself. Not too many insomniacs. Reaching into alpine elevations, and punctuated only by sparse twisted ancient trees, it offered superb views.

The Mount Baldy hike starts by following paved Falls Road for 0.6 miles up (275 elevation gain). When the pavement ends and the road turns sharply to the right, a dirt path to the left leads to the base of San Antonio Falls, a 150-foot tall multi-tier waterfall with year-round flow. In the summer, many yuccas bloomed on the surrounding slopes. I timed my arrival for the late afternoon, when the waterfall, which is south-facing, got in the shade. Since it is such a short hike, I had to wait patiently for a window of time when its base was clear of families.

The nuts and bolts of making a photo book: reviewing the Treasured Lands printing

Once an author/photographer has sent images and text files to his publisher, the book-making work is usually over. However, even after a publisher has sent files to the printer, they still have to ensure that the book is produced to their standards. The best way to do so is to send a representative to the printing plant to approve the book pages right as they come out of the press. Clearly, in the spring of 2020, the pandemic precluded that option. The only possibility left was to approve various printouts sent (at a high cost) via Fedex international packages.

The 2019 printing was a second edition, which meant that there were substantial changes. By contrast, the 2020 printing to be released this month differs from the previous one by only six new pages and some minor text corrections. Yet, there were six rounds of printouts to review. When you order a book from Blurb or similar print-on-demand providers that use digital printers, since you print a small number of books at the same time, any errors are of little consequence. However, to reach the level of quality and cost-effectiveness necessary to make a photo book commercially viable, it is necessary to use offset presses. With those, the setup costs dictate substantial print runs. You don’t want to be printing thousands of books with a flaw, hence the importance of the approval process.

It is not often the case that a publisher gives a window into this process. If you are curious about what is involved behind the scenes in printing a photo book, and what are the components of such a book, check out the videos below, where I have documented four of those rounds, straight from my home to yours.

Dummy, proofs, bluelines (YouTube link)

Dust jacket proofs (YouTube link)

Endpapers, F&Gs, signatures (YouTube link)

Dust jacket running sheets (YouTube link)

Treasured Lands honored in 2020 International Book Awards

The second edition of Treasured Lands is the award winner in the “Photography” category of the 2020 International Book Awards. Here is the complete list of winners. I am honored to be listed alongside Pope Francis, winner for the categories “Children’s Religious” and “Religion: Christian Inspirational”.

Some criticize those awards because they offer so many separate categories to enter. True, International Book Awards isn’t in the same league as the National Book Award. Yet, even with 92 categories, since there were more than 2,000 entries in the 2020 edition, to win you have to beat out 95% of your fellow entrants. With the following in hand, I also am running out of good award competitions to enter:

Winner of 2017 Independent Publisher “IPPY” Award for Best Coffee-Table Book.
Winner of 2017 IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award for Best Arts/Photography Book.
2016 Nautilus Award Winner, Silver in category Photography/Art.
Winner of 2017 National Indie Excellence Awards for Best Photography Book.
Winner of PubWest Design Awards 2017 for Best Photography Book.
Foreword INDIES Book of the Year 2017: Nature Gold Winner.
Foreword INDIES Book of the Year 2017: Travel Silver Winner.
Grand Prize Winner of 2020 Next Generation Indie Book Awards for best non-fiction book.
Winner of 2020 Next Geneneration Indie Book Awards for best Coffee Table/Photo Book.
2020 International Book Awards: Winner in the category Photography.

Question: Do you count those as 8 awards or 10 awards? If you don’t see poll question below, click here.

Inside my General Purpose Camera bag: What I carry, Why, and How

Vision is better, but it can be an elusive topic to discuss or teach. On the other hand, talking shop is sure fun, and without gear, there are no photographs. In this post, I’m going to show you the gear inside my camera bag, why I selected it, and how it is organized.

This is the bag I carry for most of my outdoor photography outings as of summer 2020. I prefer to leave permanently all the accessories inside, rather than risk not having them in time of need. The weight of the bag, with all pictured equipment (including the 4 pictured lenses) is about 10.5 kg (23.5 lbs) and I break it down below by categories of equipment. Most of the time, add 2.1 kg (4.5 lbs) for camera support, plus any additional hiking/outdoor gear, food and water, for a total weight in the 13.5-18 kg (30-40 lbs) range.

F-stop Satori Bag

I’ve been using the F-stop Satori as my main camera bag since 2014. Back then, at 62 liters, it was the largest bag they made. It is now discontinued and falls between their current Tilopa (50 liters) and Sukha (70 liters) models. Before the Satori, I tried the Tilopa. While my photo gear fit, I found it too cramped to also carry outdoor gear for a day-long hike. Desert hikes require 2 or 3 quarts of water alone. F-stop was gracious enough to authorize an exchange. In the current line, the Sukha would be my choice. If the top and front pockets are not loaded, the Satori barely meets U.S. airline requirements for carry-on, but I don’t know about the Sukha. F-stop bags had two novel features, since then much copied: they open on the side you wear, and you can easily swap different internal carrying units (ICU) to configure the bag. I almost always use the largest ICU, the X-large. Non-photo items like food, water, extra layers of clothing, go in the top and front pocket. Multiple attachment points and straps on each side and on the front are for carrying tripod(s), umbrella, hiking poles, and sometimes camping gear. At about 1,950 grams without ICU, it is not exactly a lightweight bag, but the weight is acceptable given its carrying comfort and versatility.

ICU

I’ve configured the ICU so that I can carry two camera bodies with lens attached, including the largest I use (the 100-400) and this leaves room for three more lenses in addition to the two attached to the cameras. In doing so, I have prioritized quick operation, such as not having to change lenses or reverse hoods, over the capacity to carry the maximum of gear. The bag is heavy enough as is! While traveling by air, I can still cram a lot of equipment to carry-on. Here is what always goes inside the ICU (7,250 grams with 24 TSE):
  • Two Sony A7R4 cameras, with Arca-compatible L-plate and neoprene straps. I switched from Canon to Sony in 2015 for image quality, innovation, and mirrorless. I prefer to use two bodies to minimize lens changes, because Sony mirrorless cameras are very susceptible to sensor dust and lack effective dust removal. Also, my A7R2s were capricious, and I’ve had on more than one occasion a camera go on strike for a few days without notice. Carrying a second body provides peace of mind.
  • Sony 24-105mm f/4, hood. My bread-and-butter lens, versatile and sharp, is used for more than half of my images, and I suppose in a pinch I could limit myself to just this lens. The 70-105mm range is much more useful to me than a faster lens, which is also heavier. The only drawback is excessive vignetting at 24mm (Review).
  • Sony 16-35mm f/2.8, hood. Very sharp up to 24mm, it is wide and fast enough for night astro-landscape photography and accepts filters unlike the wider zooms.
  • Sony 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6, hood and Arca-compatible replacement foot – tripod color greatly helps in windy conditions. Sharp over the entire focal range. Again, the 400mm reach is much more useful to me than a faster lens.
  • Sony 1.4x teleconverter for the 100-400. Worth carrying despite infrequent use because it is so small.
  • 4-inch square ND filters: 10 f-stop ND (Lee) and 4 f-stop (Hitech). Mostly for long exposures of water. The Lee Big Stopper has a cold color cast, but that is easily neutralized in processing.
  • Lee 4-inch square filter holder, with 77mm and 82mm adapter rings for using the above.
  • Extra rear lens cap and body cap.
Additional specialty lenses can include:
  • Canon 24mm TSE f/3.5 lens with Metabones adapter (pictured). I almost always carry it both for its ability to preserve the parallelism of parallel lines by shift (perspective correction in processing degrades image quality and alters composition) and to extend the apparent depth of field by tilt.
  • Venus Laowa 15mm/f2 This manual focus/aperture lens is the best compromise for astro-landscape photography. Sharp, almost as fast and much smaller/lighter than the Sigma 14/1.8, reasonable coma.
  • Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8. Extremely sharp, light and small, AF.
  • Voigtlander Apo-Lanthar Macro 65mm/f2. The sharpest lens in the Sony system, even edging the 55mm f/1.8. Macro up to 0.5x makes it a better choice for nature photography. Shot wide-open, it produces shallow depth of field with sharp in-focus areas. Focus and aperture are manual, but all electronic aids are available unlike with Venus lenses. My main reservation is that the solid all-metal construction makes it quite heavy.

Back flap

The F-stop bag flap pockets are rather small, they have just enough room for filters and SD cards (180 grams):
  • Extra 64MB memory cards. Unlike Lexar, the Sony cards have a low failure rate. My main cards are the Tough G series, which are the fastest cards. I also carry M series, which are slower, but rarely need to use them on trips of less than a week. For me 64MB is a compromise between not having to manage too many cards and not having too many eggs in the same basket. With shooting split between two cameras, it lasts me a week.
  • Firecrest ultra slim 77mm polarizing filter to minimize vignetting on the Sony 24-105.
  • Hoya Pro1 77mm polarizing filter (for the 100-400 and TSE lenses)
  • Hoya Pro1 82mm polarizing filter (for the 17-35). I store all filters in plastic B&W filter boxes.

Main Compartment Side

On the left of the ICU, there is a bit of space meant for a water bladder. Instead, I use it to store emergency/weather outdoor gear that stays there permanently (600 grams).
  • Generic first aid kit (REI), to which I have added: toilet paper, foil survival blanket, water purification pills, various medical pills, blister treatment.
  • Emergency kit in a small (RSS) neoprene pouch: Mini multi-tool (Gerber Dime, 12 tools), loud whistle, lighter, navigation-grade compass, flashlight with spare battery (outputting 132 lumens, the Titanium Innovations CA1-TI is very bright for its size and weight).
  • Ultralight shell jacket: Berghaus Hyper 100 is the lightest waterproof/breathable 3-layer hooded jacket made, it weighs an incredible 125 grams and packs very small. On a sunny summer day, although wise, it always felt overkill to pack my other mountaineering-grade jacket. Now I don’t have to think about it, as I always leave it in the bag. Tip: if you buy one, order a size up your normal size.
  • Storm Jacket camera cover. I use it mainly when leaving the camera out for a night time-lapse, against condensation or unexpected rain. Its 80 grams puts in perspective the weight of the jacket.

Main compartment top

The X-Large ICU takes most of the main compartment, so there is not much room left there. I store the following camera accessories (300g):
  • Accessory kit in ziplock: lens cleaner fluid, extra microfiber cloth, quarter, allen wrench, square Arca plate, gaffer tape (similar to duct tape, but removable) wrapped around pen, rubber band, white balance spectrally neutral card, CR2025 battery, emergency camera battery.
  • Giottos large rocket air blaster: useful not only for cleaning sensor and lenses, but also getting water droplets out of the front element. Worth the bulk, as the smaller sizes do not deliver a blast strong enough.
  • Sony wireless remote commander: connect by Bluetooth so no need for cable, more reliable than IR and works from a reasonable distance. It stays paired so it is ready to use. Thankfully, A7R4s have a built-in intervalometer.
There is enough room left to add a complete (folded) spherical panoramic head.

Lid pocket

I carry food and small pieces of clothing (like hat and gloves) in the lid. I use its pocket for general-purpose equipment (205 grams) and batteries (160 grams).
  • Goal Zero Lighthouse Micro Charge. A most versatile small piece of equipment, it serves as a flashlight or lantern with adjustable light levels, and a phone charger (More details).
  • Rechargeable headlamp. There are quite a few lights in my kit since when heading out in the afternoon, I invariably seem to come back after dark. Besides hurting myself, my biggest risk is to get lost at night.
  • Short micro-USB and Apple mobile cables (in Ziplock).
  • Sharpie and pen.
  • Microfiber cloth. It is useful to have more than one, as in rainy weather they quickly get saturated with water after wiping lenses.
  • 2 camera batteries. Sony OEM batteries are 2-3 times more expensive than third party batteries but alleviate compatibility concerns and warning messages.
  • Photo IDs, cash, credit card in ziplock.
This bag represents my standard kit, typically for working on land in a national park or monument without overnight backpacking, when the main purpose of the trip is photography. I use a simplified kit for international travel, family trips, backpacking, or some long hikes. If there is interest, I will show it in a future article. On the occasions when I pull out my large format camera, such as when a new national park is established, I’ve stuck with the same gear bag for more than twenty years, except that I now use a different 35mm system.

Guide to Giant Sequoia National Monument: Northern Unit

Because it is wedged between areas of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, the northern unit of Giant Sequoia National Monument, is more traveled than the southern unit. When driving highway 180 (Kings Canyon Scenic Byway) between Grant Grove and Cedar Grove, or the Generals Highway between Grant Grove and Sequoia National Park, many visitors don’t realize that they are not in Kings Canyon National Park but rather in Giant Sequoia National Monument. However, relatively few venture outside of the highways. Apart from the road linking the Princess Campground on Hwy 180 to the Quail Flat Campground on the Generals Highway via Hume Lake, roads are unpaved. They are closed in the winter and spring, generally from late November to June. Many National Forest campgrounds are available, and so are basic travel amenities in small communities within the monument, including gas, food, and lodging. You could also stay in the nearby national park lodges and campgrounds.

Converse Basin Grove

The Converse Basin Grove was reputed to be the finest and largest sequoia grove in the world. However, only a dozen of the giants survived the late 19th century historic logging period. One of them is the Boole Tree. Because it has the largest diameter (36 ft) of any living giant sequoia, it was once considered to be the largest tree in the world. By volume, it is the 6th largest and has the distinction of being the largest tree in a national forest. Ironically, it was named not for a general or president, but rather for Franklin Boole, the lumber supervisor who oversaw the cutting down of the rest of the grove. Was he a deserving choice? There are tales that he specifically spared the tree so that it would be named after him, but the most plausible explanation for the tree’s survival is that harvesting a tree that large was not economically practical because of the breakage in falling. Unlike redwoods, sequoia trees are brittle. Those magnificent trees often end up as toothpicks and fence posts. Why the tree was named after Boole still remains a mystery.

I was excited to see a photograph on Wikipedia depicting the Boole Tree towering above smaller trees and prominently isolated against the backdrop of the High Sierra, unlike any other significant sequoia tree I know. Hiking counter-clockwise, I found the tree on a spur trail after a mile (450 feet elevation gain) on the interesting 2.5-mile Boole Tree Loop Trail punctuated by numerous large stumps, burned trees, and wildflowers. The rest of the loop provides views of the Kings River gorge and the High Sierra.

The grove, once cut to the ground except for the Boole Tree, has recovered remarkably well, but as a result, I was disappointed to find that the giant, located in an east-facing bowl, is surrounded by tall century-old second-growth that obscure distant views of the entire tree. This left only the distorted view from the base, from where I could barely make up the characteristic tip of the tree, a thick, leafless snag. On visits to the tree on two different days, I didn’t see anyone on the trail. The experience was more personal than around the well-known sequoias in the nearby national parks where railings are necessary to protect the trees. I squeezed into a burn scar, getting inside the tree. Afterward, with nobody around to disturb, I sent out my drone in the air, from which the tip of the tree and the High Sierra came into view, but the base of the tree was obscured.

On the way to the trailhead, the 2.5-mile FS 13S55 unpaved road (about 5 miles north of Grant Grove Village on Hwy 180) passes aptly named Stump Meadow. The boneyard of sequoia stumps provided a vivid reminder of the industrial-scale destruction that took place in the Converse Basin Grove. Shortly before, another unpaved road branching out of Hwy 180 leads in 2 miles to the 1-mile round-trip trail to the Chicago Stump, named so because the tree, once the second-largest in the Converse Basin Grove, was sawed into sections and reassembled at the Chicago World’s Fair. It now has the distinction of being the largest tree ever cut down.

Indian Basin

Princess Campground is the nicest and most easily accessible campground nearby. It borders a large, beautiful meadow, and includes the trailhead for the Indian Basin Trail (1-mile loop) where you can see more giant stumps.

Kings River Gorge

On the way to Cedar Grove, after a precipitous drop, Hwy 180 follows the dramatic gorge of the Kings River, arguably the deepest river cut canyon in the country. My favorite views within the gorge are looking east, just before the road descends to the river near Boyden Caverns. Although often labeled “Kings Canyon National Park”, they are from the national monument and no national parklands are visible from there. The developed marble cave can be visited on a 1-hour tour. No tripods are permitted, and the formations are backlit, making photography a challenge. Past the bridge, the road continues at river level, offering many views of the tumbling river that I find impressive when it is swollen by spring runoff. Three miles before Kings Canyon National Park, south-facing 80-foot Grizzly Falls lies a short stroll from a picnic area. It is reached by the sun from late morning to mid-afternoon.

Buck Rock Lookout

The lookout building, perched atop a granite dome and accessed via a series of vertiginous stairs totalling 172 steps was constructed in 1923. It is historically significant as one of the three surviving early live-in cabs, but is still a working fire lookout, normally open to the public June-October during the “business hours” of 10:30 am to 5:00 pm – as of this writing, no visits are permited because of the coronavirus. Outside of those hours, parts of the staircase are open, or you can just stand on a nearby rock. To minimize disturbance to the fire looker, please refrain from flying drones outside of the business hours, or at close proximity to the lookout! The location of fire lookouts is selected for great 360 degree views over the region, and Buck Rock Lookout indeed offers a superb view of the Great Western Divide. Only the Needles Lookout rivaled it in the area, but it was lost to fire. Drive 8 miles on Generals Highway from Hwy 180, turn left on the Big Meadow Road (FS 14S1), turn left onto FS13S04 which becomes quite rough for a passenger car on the last 1.5 miles, and walk past the gate 300 yards. Continuing on the Big Meadow Road at the fork leads to the meadow of the same name.

Guide to Giant Sequoia National Monument: Southern Unit

Giant sequoias grow only along a narrow band on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada in California and I clustered in about 65 to 75 groves, depending on how you count them. Three groves grow in Yosemite National Park. The vast majority of them are located within a 70 mile long stretch centered around Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. However, the national parks aren’t the only places to find giant sequoias. They are also found on National Forest lands. Unlike the national parks, that are primarily for preservation, National Forest are “lands of many uses”. While in recent times sequoias have been left standing, the other conifers around them have been logged, and sometimes clearcut. Giant Sequoia National Monument was designated in 2000 to protect no less than 33 sequoia groves by stopping the deforestation around them. As expected, the groves in Giant Sequoia National Monument are not as pristine as those in the national parks, however, the individual trees are just as impressive, and much less crowded.

The monument is divided into two units separated by Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The northern unit is in the Hume Lake Ranger District. The larger southern unit, in the Western Divide Ranger District, is mostly visited via a well-maintained loop from Springville to California Hot Springs via highway 190 and the Western Divide Highway (M107) along which most facilities and attractions are located, including most of the hikes to old-growth sequoia groves in the monument. This article is about the southern unit. The next one is about the northern unit.


(click on map to enlarge)

Belknap Complex

Located just outside the town of Camp Nelson, the small but popular Belknap Campground is the only drive-in campground located within a sequoia grove. Its location is made even more scenic by two creeks. Making a right turn at the entrance, I passed two bridges that lead to a trail linking quaint cabins that lent a sense of scale to the giant sequoias growing next to them.

Right past a cabin next to an interesting footbridge made of a giant fallen tree, and just along the property fence of the next cabin (#22), an overgrown trail starts. It took me quite a while to find that start, and the USFS description said:

Should you loose the trail, proceed up-slope to the top of the ridge (about 1/2 mile, but it will seem like 5 or 10) where you will meet the fairly well maintained COY FLAT – BEAR RIDGE TRAIL (31E31)… If you are still on the trail…
However, once on the hill, I found the trail fairly easy to follow, although very steep in places, climbing 1.2 miles to a ridge where it joins the Bear Creek Trail that starts next to the Coy Flat Campground. On the way, the trail passes a few large sequoias, but the best is yet to come. Going up (east), the Bear Creek Trail leads in another 1.5 miles (elevation gain from Belknap Campground: 2,200 feet) to the upper McIntyre Grove. Because of a continuous logging activity since the late 19th century, there are not too many unlogged groves in Sequoia National Monument. The hard-to-access, hillside location may have helped save the upper McIntyre Grove from the saw and dynamite. Even if the sequoias themselves have not been cut down, I prefer to see them surrounded by old-growth. Hillside groves are generally more open, affording a more clear view of the trees. In addition, the upper McIntyre Grove features many densely clustered, unusually large sequoias. All of this results in what is arguably the most scenic sequoia grove outside of a national park, at least among the trail-accessible ones. I had timed my arrival for the late afternoon, knowing that the best time to photograph the trees would occur right after sunset, when the light would become even. When the sun was still out, I photographed backlit so that the shape of the trees would not be broken by distracting bright spots, and as a bonus, was able to position the camera for a sun star. Afterward, I moved to the west side of the trees. The hillside faces the west, and receives the glow occurring after the sunset. The soft light brought out the tree’s texture and color. In both cases, I used the shift of the Canon 24mm TSE lens to keep the trees parallel, and made sure to include trees at different distances to provide a sense of scale, as well as depth.

Since there was some effort to get there, I stayed out a few hours afterward to also make night photographs, using a flashlight to illuminate the giants. The two trees seen between the twin trees add much depth and interest to the image. Since it was not possible to light up well both foreground and background trees from the same viewpoint, I combined two exposures using the cave photography technique I previously described. To exaggerate the perspective, maximize the size of the opening between the twin trees, and include the stary sky, I used the widest angle lens I carried (16-35mm) and placed the camera just a few feet from the base of the twin trees. Even though it was a June week-end, I didn’t see any other hiker on this outing.

Trail of 100 Giants

By contrast, the Trail of 100 Giants is the most popular attraction in the monument, as it is short (1.5 mile loop), almost flat, and meanders amongst a lot of seriously big trees in Long Meadow Grove – although not quite a hundred. You can park either at the adjacent Redwood Meadow Campground, or a picnic area. The later was filled up with cars by 9am. Although the sequoias are impressive, with many trunks on the ground, stumps, gathered wood, and sparse undergrowth, the grove sometimes reminded me of a lumber yard. The interpretive signs were even written from a forestry perspective. However, a meadow with a flowing creek provided a respite from the less-than-pristine environment. While the experience there cannot compare to, let say the Upper McIntyre grove, the Trail of 100 Giants has a high reward/effort ratio. It makes it possible to see a large number of amazing trees on a trail easily accessible to families with strollers or people with mobility limitations, since it is entirely paved, except for one section. That section was also paved, but had been obliterated when a huge double sequoia tree toppled over in 2011, an event captured on video. The area with the downed trees was closed for safety reasons, but when I visited, it had re-opened and you could go around the trees on a user trail.

The Needles

The Needles are a cluster of massive sheer granite formations. I first visited them in 1993 for some excellent rock climbing. However, everybody without fear of heights could walk to the top by scaling a series of dizzying staircases. The reward was to reach a working fire lookout with a 360-degrees view. Unfortunately, the lookout was destroyed by fire in 2011 and staircases were removed in 2019. There are still views stretching to Mt Whitney along the approach hike (5 miles round-trip, 500 feet elevation gain). To get to the trailhead, turn east on unpaved Forest Route 21S05 a mile south of Quaking Aspen Campground, and continue for 2.5 miles.

Dome Rock

For a more easily accessible view of the valley, from which you can also see the Needles, you can walk 0.25 miles to Dome Rock after driving the short Forest Route 21S05 starting 3.5 miles south of Quaking Aspen Campground. The top of the rock is flat, so the best views and foreground elements are at the edge of the rock, but you have to be careful because there is a sheer drop and also some may be rock climbing just below.

Kern River

This tumbling mountain stream originating near Mount Whitney marks the eastern boundary of Giant Sequoia National Monument. Where route M-99 crosses the river, you’ll find a large parking area with a boat ramp, a good view of the river from the pedestrian bridge that leads to a river-level trail. Half a mile up M-99, South Creek forms a waterfall.

Read part 2: Northern Unit

Treasured Lands wins Indie Book Awards: best non-fiction book of 2020

I am honored that the second edition of Treasured Lands has won not only the category “Coffee Table Book/Photography” in the 2020 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, but also the non-fiction Grand Prize, which means it was named best indie non-fiction book of 2020. More details are in the press release (shorter published version). Here is the citation from a judge:
An unbelievably, richly gorgeous tome 25 years in the making, Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks is an unforgettable deep-dive of a journey across the astonishingly varied landscapes of the U.S., every page suffused with reverence for the beauty and majesty of the natural world. Breathtaking photographs paired with detailed information (such as noteworthy geography and hiking routes) make this a showstopping visual treat for the eyes, both for armchair travelers and those who hope to visit in person one day.

The Next Generation Indie Book Awards aims to be the “Sundance” for indie books – small presses, larger independent publishers, university presses, e-book publishers, and self-published authors. It is the largest such international awards program with over 70 categories, evenly split between fiction and non-fiction. Unlike other award programs, they accept books with a copyright date spanning three years, which makes it very competitive. The 2020 edition received thousands of entries from 38 countries and all 50 U.S. states. By far the most well-known honoree was, unfortunately posthumously, Kobe Bryan, a finalist for two books meant to inspire underprivileged children through sports. Organized by the Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group, the program is not-for-profit and offers genuine prizes and recognition.

The awards ceremony is normally held as a gala, and was originally planned to take place at Chicago’s Newberry Library, to coincide with the American Library Association Annual Conference, but this year was, what else, a virtual edition. Grand Prize Winners are invited to deliver an acceptance speech. You can see it in the context of the virtual awards ceremony by fast-forwarding to the 1:10:20 mark in the Facebook Recording or below:

When the first printing of Treasured Lands came out in 2016, I submitted to seven award programs, and won six. The miss was the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, so even just winning a category award would have been gratifying. I’d like to believe that the improvements I made to the second edition helped. Persistence definitively did!

On the Outdoor Photographer Cover

I am honored that the July 2020 issue of Outdoor Photographer includes not only as the opener my 32-page article “10 Unique National Parks”, but also features my image on the cover. Read my musings on cover images, as well as comments on the image.

Outdoor Photographer is the gold standard of magazines dedicated to nature and travel photography, and I’ve been a reader since the late 1990s, still remembering fondly the Galen Rowell columns from that time. Getting a cover shot is pretty hard. Over the last twenty years, I have licensed more than 5,000 images, yet I have only a few dozen covers to my credit. Not counting smaller contributions, that is my third full-length article in Outdoor Photographer (OP) or the fourth if you count a profile. The previous times I had submitted candidates for the cover without success. Is there something lacking with my photography? Not necessarily.

Covers and Type

Obviously, there is only one cover photo for a publication that may include a lot of interior photos. A cover image also has to work well with type. For instance, OP’s editor-in-chief Wes Pitts once wrote to me:

For covers, we’re looking for something that has space at the top for the OP logo and isn’t too busy on the left hand side where the main blurbs are typically placed. We also like them to be colorful and not too dark.

The flipside of those considerations is that cover photos are not necessarily the best photos. When paging through magazines, I often found stronger images inside. They would just not work well as a cover. I was pleased to see this observation corroborated by none other than Annie Leibowitz. In At Work, she reminisces not letting Cornell Capa use a nude pregnant portrait of Demi Moore for an exhibition at the International Center of Photography. She didn’t think that cover image for Vanity Fair was a “good photograph per se”, elaborating:

It’s a magazine cover … There are different criteria for magazine covers. They’re simple. The addition of type doesn’t destroy them. Sometimes they even need type.

Book covers are subject to fewer constraints than magazine covers. Type is often restricted to the title and author’s names, and can be chosen and placed to complement the photograph. Yet, during the design phase of Treasured Lands, of the hundreds of images in the book, we felt that only a handful were suitable for the cover. And then, there is no denying that the type diminishes the image. When in a recent conversation, I told Jack Dykinga that the cover image of Stone Canyons of the Colorado Plateau was my favorite of his, he replied that the publisher thought highly enough of the image to print the book cover without any type, a rarity. How many books in your library share that characteristic?

The observant reader may have noticed that one element of clutter that is not present in the OP cover is the barcode. That is the quarantine edition. Due to concerns with delivery and printing, OP has elected to temporarily switch over to electronic delivery. While it is personally disappointing to me that there is no printed copy of this particular issue, and maybe to readers that the issue will not be available on the newsstands, some trees were saved, and electrons being cheap, subscribers get to enjoy a 32-page page article with generous double-spreads, while printed issues have only 64 pages. The article can be read on OP’s website.

Trillium Falls

I was pleased that rather than an icon, OP chose an image of a lesser-known spot, Trillium Falls, in Redwood National and State Parks, itself in the bottom half of national parks per visitation. Nowadays, even lesser-known spots are abundantly documented, and you’ll find plenty of photos on the Internet. What you will not find, however, is my composition. Since the image was photographed almost 20 years ago, it was a bit of challenge to remember how I worked the scene, but surprisingly, looking at other photos helped jog memories. Most of them are made from the footbridge that provides a straightforward view of Trillium Falls. From that high and distant vantage point, the perspective must have appeared static, so I tried to do more, which meant walking down to place the tripod right into the creek. Besides leading lines and sense of height, the close foreground helps create depth in the photograph via a strong perspective with the stream shrinking from the width of the image in the foreground to a small ribbon in the background. In other photos, the fallen log in the streambed is quite distracting, but my viewpoint transforms it into an intriguing shape. When faced with an already pleasing subject, ask yourself what more can you do!