Light on the Landscape
Light on the Landscape by William Neill is a book I’ve been meaning to get to for a while now. It kept cropping up in conversation with other photographers and slowly crept into my consciousness until this Christmas when miraculously it appeared underneath the Christmas Tree. I must have mentioned it within earshot of my partner’s phone! Anyway, this is the first in a series go book reviews I hope to write this year. I think one a month would work. I’ll be avoiding the obvious, so you won’t find “The Americans” here, but talking about books I love.
Hands up, I was not aware of Neill’s photography until I picked this book up in a book store. My loss, because he is a formidable landscape photographer who is equally at home with macro photography. All of us can find something to learn in these pages!
Inside Light on the Landscape
The photography itself is sumptuous, beautifully printed and laid out, but the thing that makes this book special is that it is written with the intention of passing knowledge on, arranged as as series of creative suggestions. Some lightly technical, some to do with approach and much to do with the creative process.
Landscape photography is defined by the relationship of the light to the landscape, hence the title Light on the Landscape. There is much to learn about natural light, try photographing the same location for several days and study the difference. As an extreme example I once photographed some offices in strong winter sunshine in the hour before a thunderstorm and the light was transformational, the pictures perhaps more dramatic than the owners expected!
In terms of technique, Neill prefers a simple, deliberate approach. The gear heads amongst you will be horrified, but we’ve all missed shots through fretting about the camera or the lens, filters, tripod etc. There are lessons here in composition, working with natural light, high key photography, depth and focus.
There are interesting reflections on most of the big questions – Getting out of a Rut, Improving the portfolio, Making a difference (Environmental photography) and much more detailed chapters on using contrast, creating blur in camera, designing the frame and even balancing family time and making art. Landscape photography is a lonely occupation requiring early mornings and lengthy spells at the computer. Many are the relationships that have been strained by this. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book!
Most of the photography is of America, Neill lives in California and benefits from the enormity of the landscape and the accessibility of the wilderness. This will be galling for UK based photographers, not so much for those operating in Europe. The wonderful thing about the book is there is not one single recognisable location. What I mean by this is that the photographs have been created not to record a time and place but to record a relationship with the subject. As a result, each photograph is unique and repays reflection.
This is a book to read and reflect upon, although some basic technique is discussed, time reflecting on our working methods is never wasted and there are some valuable tips here accumulated from a 40 year career. Light on the Landscape is more than a coffee table book, it’s an example of that rare thing, writing about photography that bears repeated reading. For those of us in the UK, in lockdown, there is valuable advice about finding rewarding subjects close to home. Light on the Landscape is Highly recommended.
Further reading for Light on the Landscape
If you’re a Landscape Photographer, I have a couple of kit related links for you!
DxO Photolab – my favoured raw processor for landscape photography
Hoodman HoodLoupe – it took me a long tome to discover this piece of kit and I kicked myself once I had..