The new Insight Guide Travel Photography How to take striking images (ed. Tony Halliday) is an object lesson to other publishers and their editors in how to produce a great, readable, perusable instructional book.
For some bizarre reason such books are often the opposite of what you’d expect for a visual and exciting subject with very wide appeal. Example: the absolutely dreadful Canon Eos Digital Photography Photo Workshop by Serge Timacheff which does the nearly impossible – it combines poor picture selection, with poor picture quality, bad layout and impenetrable captions. Think that’s unusual? Don’t bother to buy this next one, just trust me: the Collins Complete Photography Course is as clunky as clunky gets and is so badly laid out that it is actually unreadable. A quick perusal of the photography section of any major book store will produce dozens more like these.
Why? There are two good reasons. First, publishers make the dire mistake of having these books created by photographers rather than good book editors, on the dubious principle that techies must know how to create a book on their specialist subject. Usually, they don’t. Second, photo selection is a skilled and highly creative business in which art comes way before educational purpose. If, like the Collins authors John Garrett and Graeme Harris, you work on the principle that images used must only illustrate the point being made (which sounds logical) you will end up with the equivalent of a restaurant which offers unpalatable ingredients rather than seductive dishes.
The Insight Guides are rightly famed for the brilliance of their imagery and the sharp layout of text and graphics all of which, in a great book, need to be offered in an integrated whole. It’s no accident that this new and impressive book is edited by someone who has two decades of experience producing great travel books. It’s evident from every page of this book that he has exactly the corpus of editorial experience and archive materials needed to avoid techie-dom, to side-step clunkiness and do what should be done with such a rich subject: produce a celebration of imagery, colour, visual excitement and… yes… wait for it.. it’s coming… instruction that you want to act on. Result: exactly what is needed by a market full of people like me, who wander the globe with their cameras wondering why their images are mediocre ; or, as frustrating, occasionally taking really good ones only to find they are unable to maintain that standard with any consistency.
The solution, more or less guaranteed; pay a modest £14.99 and take Tony Halliday and his team on holiday with you. He’ll chat to you about the boring stuff – light, composition and the camera; he’ll explain the Rule of Thirds and Golden Section in a visual way you’ll instantly understand; and he’ll take the classic subjects – mountains, seascapes, city lights, peoples and safari and the rest, and shake life back into them for you. The image to the left, of Mt Valier in the French Pyrenees by the editor himself, is the kind of thing he believes that more of us could take if we followed the principles and techniques outlined in his book.
One reason I think this book moves the genre way beyond the simply instructional is that it also combines some fascinating photographic travel history (and the appropriate images) with a truly classic archive of great shots by the known and less well known. It’s really good to know in whose footsteps we tread as we raise our cameras to take another image. It might just help make our own better and more memorable.
In ten years time you’ll be looking through this book and planning the next journey and the pictures thereof with pleasure. Your Canon and Collins books will linger only as a bad dream in which you threw them out of a train window in Peru to return them to the environment from which the paper wasted in making them should never have been wrested in the first place…
Cover price is £14.99; but it’s £8.89 on Amazon (or was when I checked).