Veteran photographer Marc Muench is both a philosopher and visual artist. In his first chapter in Exploring North American Landscapes: Visions and Lessons in Digital Photography, he writes, “…an original image is the product of a recipe containing the subject, composition, light, and most importantly, the photographer. There is more to it than just composition and light. .. it is never quite so fulfilling as learning something new and creating an image that reveals it.”
As a landscape photographer, Muench is guided by, “A photographer only records. An artistic photographer reveals.” In his book , the author reveals not only his vision of photography, but also how to “see” the shots and the technical lessons one needs to be able to capture them.
Muench divides his book into two parts: Explorations and Visions, the more philosophical portion, and The Lessons, the technical aspects of the art of photography. Throughout, he offers his dramatically beautiful landscape photos that make the reader want to keep reading to learn how to take equally beautiful photos. As a traveler, those gorgeous photos also makes me want to visit many of the places Muench has photographed. Even if I weren’t interested in learning the author’s techniques (and I am), I could spend hours studying his photographs.
One of the things that’s entirely charming about Muench’s book is that he doesn’t just tell you what he did or how to do it. He’s a storyteller and crafts tales of how he came to take particular photos and what happened during the shoot that puts you right there with him, on that mountaintop, in the cave, or trekking across the desert sand. Because both his grandfather and father were landscape photographers, he shares some of their colorful stories too. And he does it all with a storyteller’s eye for painting the reader a picture. “The bonfire continued to rage as it spread to the driftwood adjacent to the towering sandstone walls. From the banks of the Colorado river to the sandstone cliffs, 100 feet away, flames flew high in celebration of my father’s twelfth birthday…. As the ancient summer rains and winter snow melt made their way down the pine-covered slopes, the waters carved amazing shapes into the red sandstone…”
Muench is also a traveler that many of us who enjoy shooting can relate to. About taking the road less traveled, he writes, “I really don’t think photography is the only reason I go, but rather it is the glue that binds all the experiences together. “
Through his colorful storytelling, he sprinkles valuable lessons like how he sets up so that his camera is in the perfect position for the shot he wants. Or how to catch the light just right., shoot into the sun, or stitch together images.
Chapter six, the last in his first section of the book, is simply a gallery of images from two of his favorite places: the sierra Nevada and Santa Barbara County. The images, which are beautiful in themselves. Are dramatically printed on black paper, which really makes the photographs jump off the page.
Muench’s second half of the book, the more technical portion, is served up in an equally enjoyable manner. Again, the author’s storytelling ability comes out, even when discussing highly technical aspects of photography. He doesn’t just say, “Do this or do that.” He tells readers what he does in a way that humanizes the information and makes it more approachable.
He covers areas such as making the exposure using tools like the histogram, and shooting in difficult conditions like backlit, low light, and white or snowy conditions. His chapter on workflow encompasses logging images into organized databases; selecting images to process/edit; and post-processing issues like converting RAW images to TIFF or JPEG.
His last four chapters more into even more technical post production areas, using Adobe Camera Raw (or Lightroom), including setting the range, using sliders on the camera, deciphering a scene’s dynamic range, calibrations, masking, color, and manual hyper digital reflexes. For me, it’s a little complex, but for photographers dedicated to learning this level of post production, it’s terrific.
Real bottom line: With Exploring North American Landscapes, photographer Marc Muench has created a sophisticated, yet accessible book for improving your landscape photography. His easy, storytelling style makes the book enjoyable to read and readers can take as much or as little technical information as they desire. Just looking at his beautiful photographs will make you want to aspire to be a better photographer. — BH