Reviews

Sanctuary. Steve McCurry: The Temples of Angkor by Todd Henson

 Front cover of  Sanctuary. Steve McCurry: The Temples of Angkor

Front cover of Sanctuary. Steve McCurry: The Temples of Angkor

If you grew up reading National Geographic, as I did, then you may be familiar with Steve McCurry, or at least have seen some of his photography. Many of his images have graced the cover over the years.

In his book Sanctuary we have the opportunity to view a collection of McCurry’s photographs of the temples of Angkor, in Cambodia. Angkor Wat is likely the most famous of these temples, but the Angkor region is home to hundreds of temples, some of which may have been built from parts of previous temples.

 Pages 18-19. Buddhist monks among the temples.

Pages 18-19. Buddhist monks among the temples.

The book begins with a great essay by John Guy titled The Temples of Angkor. Guy provides some history of the region, its people, politics, culture and architecture. It’s interesting how the cultures and religions of the region changed over time and how this affected the character of the temples. There is evidence of animism, ancestral spirit worship, Hinduism, and Buddhism. The majority of the temples are Hindu. Today the region is visited by both tourists and Buddhist pilgrims.

 Pages 48-49. People worshiping and studying.

Pages 48-49. People worshiping and studying.

The photography covers a range of subjects. Many are of the temples, some showing the vastness of these structures, others showing people, often Buddhist monks, among the ruins. I’m really drawn to the color contrast of the orange Buddhist robes set against the grays and browns of the stonework.

Two sections of the book include detail shots of statues and carvings among the temples. These are printed on a textured cream toned paper, whereas the majority of the photographs are printed on a more standard white paper.

 Pages 34-35. Detail shots.

Pages 34-35. Detail shots.

 Pages 84-85. Detail shots.

Pages 84-85. Detail shots.

Further into the book we see more photographs of people than of the structures. There are people worshiping, washing, resting, learning, and just going about their daily activities. These images provide a small window into some of the current culture of that region.

 Pages 54-55. Portrait of a Buddhist monk.

Pages 54-55. Portrait of a Buddhist monk.

The version of the book I own is hardcover with 120 pages measuring approximately 7.5 x 10.5 inches. There is also a softcover edition. The book was published by Phaidon Press.

 Pages 108-109. Photos of people, vendors and tourists.

Pages 108-109. Photos of people, vendors and tourists.

I love these photographs and would enjoy seeing them in a larger format. But larger format books, especially from good publishers, tend to be costly. So this smaller format keeps the book far more affordable. I like that the book is printed in a landscape format allowing the largest photographs to take up a single page. I’m always a little disappointed when a photograph spans pages, with the seam running through the length of the photograph. I’m pleased that’s not the case with this book.

The links below are affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.

Go seek out a copy of Sanctuary if you enjoy Steve McCurry’s work or are interested in the people, culture and historical architecture of the Angkor region.


Photographs From The Edge by Art Wolfe with Rob Sheppard by Todd Henson

This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.

Photographs from the Edge tells some of the stories behind many of the photographs Art Wolfe has created over the years. The subtitle of the book is A Master Photographer’s Insights On Capturing An Extraordinary World.

I love this book, and find it a perfect complement to Earth is My Witness: The Photography of Art Wolfe. Earth is My Witness is focused primarily on the photographs. Photographs from the Edge focuses more on the stories behind the photographs.

The book is organized by decade, showing Art’s work from the early 1980’s to more recent work just prior to the book’s publication in 2016. It is a collection of stories about Art’s experiences. Each section has about one page of story, along with one or more photographs. Additionally, each contains a paragraph about the nature of the photograph, and another with a photo tip relevant to that photo or experience. This edition is a nice hardcover book measuring approximately 7.5 x 10.25 inches with 280 pages.

Below are some sample pages from the book.

  Photographs from the Edge  by Art Wolfe, pages 38-39, October 1990, Polar Bears, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada.

Photographs from the Edge by Art Wolfe, pages 38-39, October 1990, Polar Bears, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada.

Art says Polar Bears is a special image for him, depicting the bears coming together, communicating in a very gentle way, and with such a beautiful symmetry. This was the first time the image was used in a book.

  Photographs from the Edge  by Art Wolfe, pages 46-47, November 1992, Emperor Penguins, Weddell Sea, Antarctica.

Photographs from the Edge by Art Wolfe, pages 46-47, November 1992, Emperor Penguins, Weddell Sea, Antarctica.

To create Emperor Penguins Art lay on his belly, letting him fill the frame with the penguins, eliminating anything distracting from the frame. He said one of the difficult things about shooting penguins was their curiosity. One minute he’s looking through the lens shooting a group of penguins and the next the entire frame goes white as a penguin comes right up to him, standing in front of the camera.

  Photographs from the Edge  by Art Wolfe, pages 60-61, August 1994, Simbu Dancers, Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea.

Photographs from the Edge by Art Wolfe, pages 60-61, August 1994, Simbu Dancers, Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea.

For Simbu Dancers, Art tells how he approached these men who were preparing themselves for a celebration. He didn’t speak their language and was without an interpreter, but he boldly approached them and began arranging them into the abstract composition seen in the photo. He says it’s often best to be decisive. I suspect having the right kind of personality also helps.

  Photographs from the Edge  by Art Wolfe, pages 66-67, October 1995, Les Aiguilles and Lac Blanc, Savoy Alps, France.

Photographs from the Edge by Art Wolfe, pages 66-67, October 1995, Les Aiguilles and Lac Blanc, Savoy Alps, France.

Les Aiguilles and Lac Blanc is such a beautiful photograph with a nice symmetry between the mountains and their reflections. Art describes the miserable weather they had to endure to be in the right place at the right time to create this image. He also talks of using a graduated neutral density filter to balance the exposure between the reflection and the mountains.

  Photographs from the Edge  by Art Wolfe, pages 82-83, January 2001, Spiritual Journey, Ganges River, Uttar Pradesh, India.

Photographs from the Edge by Art Wolfe, pages 82-83, January 2001, Spiritual Journey, Ganges River, Uttar Pradesh, India.

I love the feeling of Spiritual Journey, a lone figure in their white washed boat, paddling towards the sunrise. Art was able to visualize this shot the night before he created it. Then, the next morning, he had this person pose in the boat while they waited for sunrise. But they needed to pull the boat onto mud to keep it still. The shutter speed was far too slow to have captured this image if the boat were floating on the moving river.

  Photographs from the Edge  by Art Wolfe, pages 246-247, January 2014, Blue Courtyard, Jodphur, Rajasthan, India.

Photographs from the Edge by Art Wolfe, pages 246-247, January 2014, Blue Courtyard, Jodphur, Rajasthan, India.

With some of the previous photos Art was able to arrange subjects to create a composition he had visualized. With Blue Courtyard he took advantage of serendipity to create a beautiful image of a woman and child using a frame-within-a-frame effect. He’d been walking down a road in a rural community when he came upon this scene. He says he often has time when working on projects to get out and explore the local areas. Such was the case with this photograph.

You can see the range of subject matter from the sample images. Art has photographed wildlife of every form all over the world. He loves interacting with, learning from, and photographing people of all cultures, especially those still keeping traditions alive. And while in all these locations he seeks out and captures beautiful landscapes.

Photographs from the Edge is a perfect book for anyone who appreciates Art Wolfe’s work and is interested in the stories behind the photographs.


My First Impression of the Lensbaby Velvet 56 by Todd Henson

The Lensbaby Velvet 56 f/1.6 Lens

Such a beautiful lens! That was my first impression.

I’ve always been curious about the Lensbaby line of lenses and often thought about purchasing one. This year I finally did, choosing the Lensbaby Velvet 56. This particular lens creates a soft, glowing look to photographs. When you stop down the lens all the way (close the aperture to its smallest setting) you will minimize the softness. But as you open the aperture the lens begins to add a really nice soft, ethereal effect which gets softer the wider the aperture.

A red rose photographed with the Lensbaby Velvet 56 using a smaller aperture to lessen the soft, ethereal look.

The lens has a maximum aperture of f/1.6, which allows it to create some very nice bokeh (the beautiful out of focus areas). I’ve included several pairs of sample photographs in this post, one created with a more open aperture than the other to better show some of the effects you can create. Click on any of the photographs to see a larger version.

A red rose photographed with the Lensbaby Velvet 56 using a larger aperture to increase the soft, ethereal look.

As can be seen in some of these photos the Lensbaby Velvet 56 is also useful for shooting macro. It has a minimum focusing distance of 5”, letting you get fairly close to your subject. And you can always use extension tubes if you want to get even closer.

A red rose photographed with the Lensbaby Velvet 56 using a very large aperture to really increase the soft, ethereal look.

I will say it can be a challenge learning to use this lens. It is a fully manual lens. There is no autofocus. You manually change the aperture on the lens (as used to be the case for all lenses, back in the day). And there are no electronic contacts on the lens so the camera doesn’t know what aperture you’ve set.

A pair of pink dianthus photographed with the Lensbaby Velvet 56 using a smaller aperture.

A pair of pink dianthus photographed with the Lensbaby Velvet 56 using a larger aperture.

I have found, at least with the Nikon D500, that I can often use the lens with the camera in Aperture priority mode. The camera doesn’t know the aperture the lens is set to but it can usually meter through the lens, choosing a shutter speed to match the aperture. However, sometimes this fails and I need to switch to Manual mode, setting both the aperture and shutter speed myself. This seems to happen most often in low light situations.

A group of gomphrena flowers photographed with the Lensbaby Velvet 56 using a small aperture to create a sharper image.

A group of gomphrena flowers photographed with the Lensbaby Velvet 56 using a large aperture to create a softer image.

As mentioned there is no autofocus with this lens. You must focus manually. This is not as easy with today’s digital cameras as it was with some of the nice focusing screens in the older film cameras. But as with all things you will get better at this the more you practice, so keep trying. It’s well worth the effort.

A blue balloon flower photographed with the Lensbaby Velvet 56 using a small aperture.

A blue balloon flower photographed with the Lensbaby Velvet 56 using a large aperture.

Some of the effect this lens creates might be possible through software in post-production. And you may be able to replicate some using props, such as tulle or other fabric held over the lens. But it’s very convenient and enjoyable creating these effects with so little effort using just the lens. Not to mention how much more reproducible the effects will be.

A large aperture on the Lensbaby Velvet 56 created a soft glow around this yellow maple leaf.

I will share more photographs created with Lensbaby Velvet 56 in future posts. And I look forward to working more with the lens, exploring what I might be able to create with it. I have some ideas, but no clue yet how they might work out, if at all. That’s part of the fun using a new lens of this sort.

A small aperture on the Lensbaby Velvet 56 allowed me to keep most of this red hibiscus bud in focus.

Have you ever used the Lensbaby Velvet 56 or its longer focal length sibling, the Lensbaby Velvet 85? If so let me know what you thought of it in the comments below.

Pistils of a red hibiscus flower, using a small enough aperture on the Lensbaby Velvet 56 to keep the tips of the pistils in clear focus.

Using a wider aperture on the Lensbaby Velvet 56 created a soft glow to the pistils of this red hibiscus flower.

If you purchase a Lensbaby Velvet lens be sure to get the correct version for your camera’s mount. They make them for Nikon, Canon, Sony, and several other brands, as well.

The resources below contain affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.