Terra Galleria Photography

Treasured Lands: Photography Tips and the Book as Object

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I received the following question by email: “… I was wondering about the level of photography tips you offer in this book. I am primarily interested in learning some of your techniques (both while capturing the shot & post), and so that content to me is perhaps more important than the final photographs themselves (as I can always enjoy those through your website / Google+)…”

Photography tips

The photography tips in Treasured Lands are ideas and principles rather than technical details. With a few exceptions, such as exposure for the Milky Way which doesn’t vary much, I do not provide camera settings. I think their usefulness is greatly exaggerated since they vary with equipment and environment, not to mention that modern cameras will often deliver a usable image in automated modes.

The work of some photographers derives its distinction mostly from digital post-processing. I am not part of them. My post-processing can refine an image, but the work is essentially done in camera. Processing is always secondary to timing and composition. In the big picture of things, I do not think it is that important in my photography. Since the photography commentary in the book is a “big picture” view, I have entirely omitted post-processing. In the case of images captured on film, which make a large proportion of the book, the goal of that post-processing has been simply to match the transparency – a task not as trivial as it sounds since we are translating a transmissive medium into a reflective medium, but that would be irrelevant for readers.

One easily missed aspect of Treasured Lands is that if you read the book cover-to-cover, which I doubt anybody does, you could get a decent education in landscape photography. The notes are the sum of my experience, of which photography is part, so I’ve laced them with musings on a number of photography topics (see image below). In theory, it would be possible to learn quite a bit by reading the notes, possibly even more than by taking a workshop with me. However, the educational material is not readily found unlike in a technique book because the focus is not on photography how-to. Besides technical considerations picking up the best time of the day and of the year and getting there have also to be considered as part of what goes into a picture.

Part of the Index for Treasured Lands, showing the the “photography” entry

In a book with 500 images, if I had commented on the light, technique, and composition for each of them, this would have quickly become tedious, since a great deal of repetition would have taken place. My approach has been to elaborate on each idea only once. For instance, on page 30, under the “Hoh Rain Forest” entry, I define “soft light” and explain how to find it and why it is generally favorable for forest photography:

In the rest of the book, there are many other forest photographs. However, although “soft light” is occasionally mentioned, the explanations above are never repeated. Rather, the book builds upon them with additional considerations, for instance about on page 95, under the “Giant Forest” entry:

This succinct, but informative treatment fits in with the fact that Treasured Lands is several books in one.

The physical book

I do not agree that the “final photographs” are best enjoyed via the internet – anyways, how could they be final in electronic form, when their ultimate realization is the gallery wall and the printed page? If you are used to viewing photos on a computer screen, I think you will be surprised by the experience of leafing through the book.

First, there is the level of detail available in print. Until the next software update, terragalleria.com displays images at a size of 550 pixels. At 350 dpi, the printing resolution for Treasured Lands, this represents a printed size of 1.57 inches. For comparison, the thumbnails on the pages of photography notes in the book are 1.6 inches across. One reviewer has complained that those thumbnails are too small to represent a location, but in fact they offer the same amount of information as the web images! In the book, many images are printed full bleed. That is 12.25 inches across, about an order of magnitude larger than the thumbnails. There is a non-obvious way (for now) to view them on terragalleria.com at double the resolution, and those images are provided by default to Google+ followers, but the difference in resolution with the printed image is still consequential.

Second, although the photos on terragalleria.com can sometimes be sequenced with great care, you view them one after another. Treasured Lands embraces a design with multiple images per spread, in which the interplay between the images add to the individual strength of each of them. Although design was a collaborative process, many of the ideas have to be credited to the great art director Iain Morris.

Two of the spreads for Canyonlands National Park. Horizontal shadows echo each other on the two vertical images, and the Needles and the human figures of the Great Gallery do likewise on the panoramic images. Stars and moon contrast, while diagonals create a symmetry.

There are less easily quantified, but no less important differences that result in a different level of engagement with a book as opposed to a screen. Books are physical objects with weight and, yes, smell, that of the paper and of the ink. Speaking of which, there is quite a bit of ink: the weight of the dummy is 3,160g and the finished book is 3,295g which means that 135 grams of ink (4.7 oz or 2/3 cup) were used. You hold a book in your hands and turn the pages. The materiality of a well-printed book is a great part of the joy of reading and viewing. Books have been and remain vehicles for civilization. Some of my most prized possessions are books, especially if signed. I don’t think anybody would say the same of a PDF!

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