Book Review: National Geographic Photography Field Guide
Whether reading the National Geographic Photography Field Guide will benefit you depends on how much you already know about photography. If you are a professional photographer, don't bother with the book; if you're an advanced amateur, you'll probably find some info you didn't know, and it can be a good reference for things you've already learned; if you're a beginner or intermediate amateur, this is a great learning tool.
The book is written by Peter Burian, the former editor of Outdoor and Nature Photography magazine, and Robert Caputo, a 22-year veteran National Geographic writer and photographer. Also, the book is illustrated with scores of photos from the National Geographic files. So the knowledge base of this book is superb.
The first section of the book is "Essential Basics." If you already know what "SLR" stands for, that light is warmer in the morning than at noon, and what depth of field is, then "Essential Basics" gives you about 150 pages that you can skip. My estimate is that 95 percent of the people who are interested in this website already know the concepts in this section of the book. However, if you're just beginning to develop photography skills and knowledge, then this is an excellent primer. It includes diagrams of proper shooting posture, a tutorial on composition, charts of recommended filters for color and black and white photography, exposure compensations for difficult metering situations, and more.
The second section of the book is where the best content begins. It's divided into categories of photographic subjects and photography issues weather, landscapes, people, architecture, sports, evening light, etc. and offers specific advice about approaching each of them. The third section of the book details more extreme photography skills, such as working with wildlife, under water and in the air.
The main text in each section is somewhat generic; you can find the same information in other books. Most of the truly original material is found in "Tip" boxes that are scattered throughout the book. The tips cover topics that range from keeping your lenses clean in the field to getting child subjects to relax to keeping humidity away from your gear.
The most interesting and most informative parts of the books are the biographies of National Geographic photographers including David Doubilet, Michael Nichols and Annie Griffiths Belt. There can be a lot to learn from how other photographers grew into their profession, how they learned to work effectively, and how they philosophize about their art. Also, each photographer lists tips about the genre that he or she has perfected: Doubilet discusses underwater photography; Sam Abell, photojournalism; Chris Johns, wildlife.
Though there is plenty of good information in this book, it's not the type of book that you need to have in your bag. In other words, it's not really a field guide, it's more of a how-to reference.
The National Geographic Photography Field
Guide retails for $21.95 in the U.S. The Society has also
released a version for children, and has begun to publish a
series of photography field guides specific to landscapes, portraits,
etc. For more information, visit the Books
section of NationalGeographic.com.
© 2002 - 2008 Chris Nicholson