Book Review - The Art of Photographing Nature by Martha Hill & Art Wolfe / by Todd Henson

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See my review of the updated edition of this book, titled: The New Art of Photographing Nature.

As Martha Hill states in the introduction, this is a book about seeing. It’s about learning how to see a scene, to interpret a scene, to capture that scene in a photograph. And not just a photograph, but a great photograph. It’s about learning the elements that contribute to strong compositions, and how the different choices affect the final image. The book is broken into topics, and for each topic a selection of similar photographs by Art Wolfe are shown. Art Wolfe describes his thoughts about creating the images, and Martha Hill talks about the artistic merit of the photos. Martha Hill was the picture editor of Audubon magazine for 14 years, and Art Wolfe has been photographing and publishing his images for most of his life. His work has been seen in countless publications, including his own books.

I found this book a very effective way of learning about composition in nature photography. I loved the sections that contain multiple similar images and discuss the merits of each. In many cases there is no one best image, but images better suited for one use or another. I also enjoyed the differing perspectives of Art Wolfe and Martha Hill. Art is the artist and Martha is the editor. Each discusses the photos from their unique perspective, and both perspectives have great value. How much value you get from each discussion will depend on your purpose for your own photography.

The Art of Photographing Nature consists of 9 chapters:

  1. Isolating the Subject
  2. Composing the Picture
  3. Defining Your Perspective
  4. The Power of Color
  5. The Elements of Design
  6. Reading the Light
  7. Creative Options
  8. In the Field with Art Wolfe
  9. At the Light Table with Martha Hill

The sample pages are from chapter 6, Reading the Light, and demonstrate how the different times of the day can affect the quality and character of the light, and thus affect the final photograph. None of the images are necessarily better than the others, but each has a different mood based on the different lighting. The book strives to make you aware of what elements you can use to bring to life the photograph you visualize.

As with so many of my photography books, I keep returning to this one. It’s great to pick a section and re-read it, restudy the photographs. I like to constantly refresh myself on these topics, always hoping to learn something new or further reinforce a subject. Over time I learn and mature as a photographer and I see and appreciate scenes and subjects in new ways, and returning to books like this I’m able to pick up new subtleties I might have missed the first time through.

The topics covered in The Art of Photographing Nature are timeless and just as relevant whether using digital or film gear. If you’re someone who learns from example you might benefit from this book. I continue to find it immensely useful.

The edition of the book I own is from 1993. This edition appears to be out of print and only available used, but I have since purchased a new updated edition published in 2013. See my review of this new edition, titled: The New Art of Photographing Nature: An Updated Guide to Composing Stunning Images of Animals, Nature, and Landscapes.

New edition:
Original edition: