Steffen and Isa Synnatschke and Guy Tal have recently released new eBooks. This electronic publication format is becoming increasingly popular as photographers attempt to share what they know with a larger audience without the expense of traditional publishing and distribution of actual books. Tal and the Synnatschkes are good friends who I’ve encouraged to write and share what they have to offer as I believe their unique perspectives will resonate with many nature photographers. These new eBooks validate this conviction. Both offer new insights into what makes photography such a popular activity, and both provide photographers new avenues for exploration.
Guy Tal’s blog is widely followed for its insightful commentary on photography. There is almost an infectious passion in his words that makes readers want to take their own photography to a higher level. Tal is now bringing this enthusiasm to a series of eBooks that take a deeper look at the creative aspects that inform his own body of work. The first was entitled “Creative Landscape” and it took readers into the natural world to explore processes for extracting personal and original compositions. It was a combination of practical knowledge and spiritual attunement that is at the heart of the creative process. The new eBook, “Creative Processing Techniques,” provides a similar perspective, but this time applied to image processing in Photoshop.
The emphasis on creativity in this publication is obvious from this excerpt:
“Given the irregular and unpredictable nature of creative epiphanies, your processing workflow should not be linear or very strict, but rather one of continuous refinement until the desired result is achieved. While the process has a known beginning (the RAW file) and a desired outcome (the visualized image), the transition from one to the other may be the equivalent of navigating a complex maze of paths and creative choices. A non-linear, or iterative, approach is one that relies on progressive refinement and course correction; where goals are re-examined at every step and inform the next iteration in ways that may not be obvious from the start. For best results, we may sometimes need to take a step sideways or even backwards before moving forward.”
This book, appropriately and fortunately, is not another step-by-step guide to Photoshop workflow. Yes, it reviews many tools within Photoshop and Lightroom and explains, in very clear terms, how they work and can be applied to an image. Tal offers some good cases of the so-called “sideways” and “backward” steps that can be quite useful in image development as well as numerous, practical examples of how he applied a variety of other techniques to his own images. However, pixel-wizardry is not this book’s objective. There is a constant emphasis on using the digital darkroom to further the photographer’s creative intent and to encourage a personal interpretation of light. Once again, Tal’s own words are probably best:
“The digital studio offers boundless opportunity for creative expression, experimentation and infusing your work with your own style and vision. Seen in this light, it is much more than just a set of tools for adjusting or correcting pixels. Rather, it is the place where your thoughts and ideas take shape and manifest themselves visually in your creations.”
This combination of practical application of software with creative exploration of the light is very much in line with my own concept of how we should approach our images and their light. I consider myself reasonably facile with Photoshop, but I still learned new techniques in Tal’s book that I’ll use to process my images from here on. And while I read it front to back to glean these pearls, it was the message that image processing is an integral part of photographic creativity that resonated most strongly. Guy Tal’s ability to fuse practical skills and existential concepts into eminently readable prose helps us all become better photographers.
Steffen and Isa Synnatschke are perhaps the premier place-finders when it comes to the Colorado Plateau. From their home in Dresden, Germany, they scour many online resources to assemble bits of information on possible places to photograph during their semiannual trips to the United States. They explore continuously while they’re here and, based on my own time spent in their company, frequently walk right to the place they are looking to find. Wind Song, Sandstone Nebulae, Towers of Hasi Nagi, Lower Chamber, Sitting Ducks, Desert Mushroom, Momo’s Brain, and The Wing and a Prayer are examples of images from my website that owe their existence to the Synnatschkes and their irrepressible quest for new light. Their websites (linked above) show just how many places they’ve photographed and how dedicated they are to good light.
The iconic quality of many of the places discovered by the Synnatschkes makes these locations a natural draw for many photographers. If your vacation and picture-taking time is limited, photogenic subjects in the right light help insure you’ll come home with many good pictures. The Synnatschkes are particularly adept at sniffing out such sites. They have spent nearly a decade traveling and finding these places and are finally starting to share their secrets in the “Closer Look” eGuide series. They recently released their first book centered on the fascinating sandstone of Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.
This park has been one of their favorite locations over the years, and they have hiked and photographed here extensively. This is an extraordinary place with unusual sandstone everywhere you look. Their desire to explore and eye for composition have uncovered many places within the park whose photographic potential was previously unrecognized. The eGuide provides detailed information about these places: how to get there, GPS waypoints, and recommendations on the best time of day for exposure. If you’re planning to visit the Southwest and are interested in seeing or photographing some astonishing sandstone, Valley of Fire State Park should be on your itinerary and the Closer Look eGuide to it should be in your daypack.