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John Shaw's Nature Photography Field Guide by John Shaw

The burning question in my mind as I look at a stunning photo in a calendar, postcard, or coffee-table book is “How did they do it?” There are just certain details about a photo that stand out and scream “professional”. Many photography guidebooks tend to fall into two camps: those are little more than glorified list of equipment you likely wouldn’t ever buy or be able to afford, and those that are a showcase for the photographer to expound on his experience and philosophy. This book, by well-known landscape and wildlife photographer John Shaw, will tell you exactly how he did it. In clear and concise prose, he explains in details his system for getting the exposure you want (as distinguished from simply determining the correct exposure). While this may not be earth-shattering or even entirely novel, its simplicity and ease of use will make you wonder why you didn’t think of it before. It obviously works beautifully for Shaw. For me, this was the single most useful thing I got out of the book.

The rest of the book is geared more toward the beginning photographer with extensive coverage of basic principles of exposure, lens selection, composition, flash photography, etc. There is a surprisingly large section on close-ups, usually not the most well expounded topic in a general photography book. There are some advices on field gear and locations that a veteran photographer may find useful. Shaw does cover enough gear (mostly Nikon) to keep an equipment junkie happy. In all, true to the book’s title as a “field guide”, the predominant theme is practicality, and you can actually put many of his suggestions to good use right away. Lastly, the book also has enough beautiful photos to be an impressive coffee table book.

I find Shaw’s prose to be efficient and direct, not condescending or ingratiating as how-to books tend to get. The book is logically organized and compartmental; you will not have to read cover to cover to benefit from it. If you’re interested in nature photography, this book would be a worthy addition to your shelf.

Originally posted March 21, 2003 on