Book Review: Canon APPA 2014 Gold Awards

My second book review for 2015 is the new 2014 Canon APPA (Australian Professional Photography Awards) book. The 2014 Canon APPA book is different than many photography books in that it  contains the combined works of many photographers from  a photographic competition. Specifically, those photographers who scored a highly coveted Gold or Gold with Distinction award at the 2014 Australian Professional Photography Awards in Sydney. If you are unfamiliar with the APPA awards it is worth taking a moment and reading about them on the APPA website. In brief, these awards represent the very pinnacle of Australian photography. The competition is fierce and is regarded by many as one of the toughest in the world. The 2014 APPA Gold book represents those images that were professionally judged under controlled lighting conditions by AIPP Master and Grand Master Photographers to have reached the highest standards of excellence and creativity in their respective categories and genres.

AIPP-APPA-Gold-Book-20142014 is the first year that APPA have produced a Gold Award book with previous years seeing the creation of much larger volumes that also contained all of the Silver and Silver with Distinction Awards. Personally, I am very pleased to see the segregation of the Gold awards spun off into a new book as the previous iterations had become extremely large and unwieldy. There are only so many images the eye and brain can absorb in one sitting before it tires of looking at photographs. My feeling is that the new Gold Awards book has the balance just about perfect in this regard.

The book is divided up into the separate APPA categories with the Gold and Gold with Distinction Award winners being featured for each category in alphabetical order. By way of full disclosure I should say at this point that I won the 2014 Science, Environment and Nature photographer of the Year award at the 2014 APPA’s. Two of my photographs received Gold awards and are featured in this book in the Science, Environment and Nature Category. My review of this book is not based on the inclusion of these two photographs and I would feel the same way about this book regardless of their inclusion or exclusion.

Presentation: The 2014 Canon APPA Gold Awards book is hardbound in black linen with a smart, clean dust jacket that is simple and elegant. The paper is a medium weight semi-gloss lustre that works well for the broad genre of images included in the book. Although I personally prefer art papers to lustre papers it was a wise decision to choose a paper that conformed to the broad range of genres in this book. All of the included photographs are printed with a white paper border to help frame and contain the image and keep the eye from running off the page. The photographers name is included beneath each image, along with the category entered and the award won (Gold or Gold with Distinction). There is a simplicity to the presentation of the images in this book that resonants with me and I very much enjoyed the clean no fuss layout that leaves the emphasis squarely on the photographs.

Print Quality: When it comes to print quality the 2014 Canon APPA Gold awards book is the gold standard in print quality surpassing anything I have yet seen from an offset printer. Printed on the Canon Dreamlabo 5000 printer this book is the closest you are likely to ever get to the original fine art inkjet prints that were entered into the APPA awards. Put simply, the quality of the printing is superb and I believe this book is worth owning simply as a reference for how good book printing can look when it is  handled with care and attention to detail.

Conclusion: I considered giving this book five stars based on its print quality alone as a reference standard to other books, but in the end I felt somewhat conflicted giving a book five stars that includes two of my own photographs. I am therefore going to give it four stars and recommend that you strongly consider adding this book to your photographic library. I feel quite strongly that with the sheer breadth of subject that is presented in the book that there is quite literally something for just about every genre of photographer. Secondly, every one of the images in this book won a Gold or Gold with Distinction award at the 2014 APPA awards and represent the very pinnacle of Australian Professional Photography. Finally the print quality represents the current best it can be in book production. If you want to see where the standard lies and where the bar is set for professional photography in Australia then I recommend you purchase a copy of this book. Not only is it an excellent resource and reference to have on hand by which to evaluate your own work, but it is also contains a treasure trove of inspiration. The 2014 Canon APPA Gold Book is available for $75 AUD in strictly limited quantities from the AIPP**** You should own this book and consider it an important part of your photography library.

Book Review: Antarctica – The Global Warning by Sebastian Copeland

Antarctica – The Global Warning was released in back in 2006. The photographs are by Sebastian Copeland and there is a forward by Mikhail Gorbachev and a Preface by Leonardo DiCaprio. At the time of release it retailed for approximately $70.00 AUD here in Australia. It can now be found for significantly less than that if you shop around. You might want to read this review in full however before you part with your hard earned dollars on this book. I have actually been meaning to review this book for some time now, but before I begin I just want to say a few words about what Antarctica is actually like for those of you who have never been there.

Antarctica is miraculous. It is a continent of stark and beautiful desolation and I feel very privileged to have now visited and led expeditions to this incredible continent numerous times over the last few years. No where else on earth have I experienced such a sense of wonder as what I have felt in Antarctica and no where else is the landscape so other worldly. There is a variation to the weather, light and landscape in Antarctica that is in my experience completely unique. Mother Nature is a mad scientist and Antarctica is surely her greatest creation.

I have seen and experienced Antarctica at it’s most sunlit, brilliant and dazzling. I have also experienced violent storms, catabatic winds, snowstorms and some of mother Nature’s wildest weather. I have experienced dark, moody and overcast skies, racing clouds, sunlit mountains and glistening blue glaciers, the gentlest of snowfall and the strongest of blizzards. The weather and conditions in Antarctica are as varied as anywhere on earth and every visit offers a new experience in this regard.

It is this varied weather and Antarctica’s ability to both dazzle with brilliance and glow with purity that I found so obviously missing in Sebastian Copeland’s – ‘Antarctica The Global Warning’ photography book. This omission might not have bothered me so much (if at all) if it were not for the title of this book; the connotation of which is undeniable. This is, in its most basic form, a book intended to fuel the global warming debate. I do not wish to enter into this debate in this review; suffice to say that in my experience global warming is undeniable (I have witnessed its effects every year in both Antarctica and the Arctic). The problem I have with Antarctica The Global Warning book is that it it only shows one face of Antarctica in an attempt to skew the viewers impression of what Antarctica actually looks like and that makes it only a half truth.AntarcticaglobalwarningI feel there was an opportunity (and even a responsibility) in this book that has been missed by Sebastian Copeland. The opportunity existed to show Antarctica not only at its most mysterious, dark and ominous, but also in its brilliance and purity. Sebastian could have shown the ‘real’ Antarctica and the global warming message would have been even stronger. Yes, Antarctica can look like the dark images portrayed in this book. But it can also look brilliantly dazzling and incredibly pristine and pure. Indeed, it is often the most brilliant weather that truly portrays the rate of melt underway. I feel somewhat at odds saying this as a photographer who seeks out dark, moody and evocative landscapes in my own photography. Ultimately however, Sebastian’s book is not intended as a book of fine art photographs; it is intended to deliver a message and the images it uses to do so are only partially representative of the true Antarctica.

By far the majority of people who will read this book will have never visited Antarctica and will never do so in their lifetime. There is therfore an obligation in my view to present a more balanced viewpoint on what Antarctica is truly like when the intended purpose of the book is to highlight global warming.

It is hard to get past the message Antarctica The Global Warning is intended to deliver and I feel that is largely due to my own significant experiences in Antarctica. Had I never visited the continent I may well feel differently about the photographs in this book and their intended message. This leads me to believe that I and others who have visited Antarctica are not the intended audience for this book.

Print Quality: From the dust jacket I was disappointed with the print quality in Antarctica The Gobal Warning. There is clear evidence of banding, crushed and muddy blacks, blown highlights and poor tonal gradation. The photographs themselves are highly stylised with what I feel has been overly heavy-handed post production treatment (particularly in the 3/4 tones) and heavy vignetting. Many of the photographs are quite soft and exhibit excessive grain and noise; which, would appear to be a combination of over processing and poor quality offset printing. I am giving Sebastian the benefit of the doubt that these were not technical errors during capture. Overall, I was bitterly disappointed with the print quality in this book.

I personally have a strong preference for images that are printed with a white border around them to help contain and frame the photograph. Many of the images in Antarctica The Global Warning are full page, full bleed and appear awkwardly cropped to fit the page size.  I find this approach detracts significantly from the photographs and the photographers vision. This approach leaves me feeling short changed as if the photographer or publisher decided it was more important to have a full bleed photograph than it was to respect the images naturally preferred crop. There are examples to numerous to document where important elements in images are arbitrarily cropped at the edge of the page which leaves the image experience incomplete.

I have attempted over numerous sittings with this book to come to a different conclusion; but ultimately I feel Antarctica the Global Warning is a propaganda piece likely intended for those who will never visit or experience the true nature of this miraculous continent. I do not believe photographers are the intended audience for this book or more care and attention would have been paid to the print quality, layout, cropping and selection of photographs. I feel this book is a missed opportunity and that to me is the most disappointing aspect to this book.

Overall Review – * Give it a miss. There are better books on this subject you should consider adding to your library first

Book Review: La Nuit du Cerf – Night of the Deer by Vincent Munier

Photography book reviews are something I have been meaning to sink my teeth into for the last few years – I just frankly haven’t had the time to really make a start. Actually, that isn’t quite true, I did an informal review of my good friend Daniel Bergmann’s latest book Iceland Landscapes (now sold out) when it was released back in 2011 and I look forward to reviewing his next book when it is released hopefully later this year.

Like turning the wheel on a motor vehicle, it is much easier to do so once you have a little forward momentum and this new book review is going to be my momentum to kick start a series of book reviews over the coming months. Before I begin however, I want to get something off my chest. In my view, far too few photographers these days collect, read, study and treasure photographic books. Even fewer collect photographic prints, but thats a story (ok, a rant) for another post. In the era of the social media jpeg the quality photographic book is unfortunately slipping by the wayside. And that is a real shame as there is whole generation of photographers out there missing out on a wonderful learning tool.

Reading and studying photographic books can be one of the best ways to actually improve your own photography. And I am not necessarily talking about books on photographic technique. Studying the work of photographers you admire and respect will give you wonderful insight into your own image making and I promise it will improve your photography. As photographers, it is important that we spend time looking at the work of those in our profession who we admire and respect. Sitting down with a photographic book is a fantastic way to do this and something I try and do as often as I can. This is a habit I picked up when I was studying photography in my late teens. My teachers made a point of recommending a great many photographic books over the course of my studies so as to expose me to as much quality photography as I could consume (they also recommended attending galleries and shows on a frequent basis). I believe it has stood me in good stead in my own image making and if you are not currently reading and collecting photography books I recommend you make a start.

I plan to review quite a few books over the course of the coming months and years and am going to give them a rating based on my overall impressions of the photographic content, the presentation and finally the print quality. I am going to sum up each book with a rating out of five stars.

  1. * Give it a miss. There are better books on this subject you should consider adding to your library
  2. ** Consider buying this book if the subject matter appeals to you.
  3. *** Nice to own. A quality publication that should have a home in any serious photography library.
  4. **** You should own this book and consider it an important part of your photography library.
  5. ***** Must own. No photography library is complete without this book

I want to kick off my first book review for 2015 with a book from one of my favourite contemporary wildlife photographers – Vincent Munier. If you are not familiar with Vincent’s photography then you owe it to yourself to take some time out of your day and get to know his work. Vincent is a master of wildlife photography and his most recent book La Nuit du Cerf or Night of the Deer is going to be the subject of this review.demo

La Nuit du Cerf (and I will call it by its French name from here on) is a collection of photographs of wild deer from the darkest reaches of the French forests photographed at night. But it is much more than just a collection of wonderfully evocative wildlife photographs. The book is also accompanied by an audio CD that includes sounds of the deer and forest recorded by Marc Namblard during the time Vincent spent making the photographs. This is an unusual addition to a photography book but is one that in my opinion greatly enhances the experience of the book. The audio tracks are actually also available as a free download if you purchase the book along with a short (but very well filmed) video of some of the making of the photographs. The video is available on You Tube.

In the deep of the autumnal night, the deer shows up.

Dark shadows and pale moonlight, unreal atmospheres and surprising fuzziness bring to light the admired silhouette of the animal. Like in mysterious tales, the subtle and original pictures by French photographer Vincent Munier transport us into the heart of the deepest forest.

His photographs are accompanied by a CD of nature sounds, collected by Marc Namblard to offer the reader the thrill of a night approach and the power and energy of the rut season.

French writer and ecologist Yves Paccalet is the author of the prelude.

If you are not familiar with the style of Vincent’s wildlife imagery this book might seem like quite a shock to you on first reading. You will not find perfectly sharp photographs, highly saturated colours, super clean backgrounds or any of those traits that seem to dominate the plethora of banal wildlife imagery on the web today. What you will find instead is highly evocative imagery that is rich in emotion, feeling and drama. The photographs are powerful because they pose questions and leave us wanting more. They provide us a glimpse into the deepest recesses of the forest at night where wild deer still play and roam. The photographs are successful because of what Vincent has chosen to exclude, rather than what he has included. We are left with a sense of the deer in the forest at night, like ghosts and fleeting spirits we never really get a good look at them and that is real magic to the photographs in this book. There is mystery and drama here that tells a story and that story is not just about the deer, but it is about the environment in which these animals exist – the dark forest, the cold morning mist and the low fog are all working together to tell the story. It is a mystical world, hidden from the eye of the average person that is so well conveyed in the photographs in this book.

Photography is very much a subtractive process in my view. When framing an image in the viewfinder what we choose to exclude is often more important than what we include and it is this skill that Vincent employs so artfully in La Nuit du Cerf. What I particularly enjoy is what is left to to the imagination in these photographs. Everything is there to set the stage for a great photograph. Low mist, fog, dramatic cloud and light, are all in abundance, but it is the choice of framing and shutter speed that bring the image to life and paint the subject in such a mysterious shroud. This is artful and soulful wildlife photography executed by a master craftsman.

Many of the photographs are monochromatic in nature (although they are still clearly colour photographs) but it is important to note that although they are desaturated I am not left feeling as though there has been a deliberate attempt to win me over with post production. What we are looking at here is the natural muted palette of nature expertly crafted by a master.

Presentation – In terms of presentation La Nuit du Cerf leaves very little wanting. Hardbound on wonderfully heavy paper the presentation is excellent. The muted choice of colour for the cover is complimentary to the photographs and the entire book feels like a carefully considered package.

Personally, I dislike full bleed images in photography books as I prefer a white border around the images to help frame them and keep my eye from running off the page. I know some photographers like to include a few full bleed images to help break up a book but I personally feel this detracts from the photographs and works against the flow of a book. I was very pleased to see no full bleed photographs in this book. All of the photographs are framed by the white of the paper and this works well to contain the imagery from page to page. I particularly enjoyed the layout of this book and the use of small photographs on some of the pages to create a more intimate feeling. In an era where big is often seen as better it is nice to see the use of small images employed to help draw the viewer into this mystical world. I also appreciated the regular use of an empty page on the left hand side that allows the mind to take a slight pause and focus on just one photograph on the right hand side of the page. This is clever design that lets the eye really take in and enjoy each photograph without feeling overwhelmed.

The inside cover of the book contains a small envelope with the additional Compact Disc. As noted above, the audio tracks are also provided as downloadable FLAC lossless files when you purchase the book online.

Print Quality – It is hard to review the print quality in La Nuit du Cerf as many of the photographs are very dark in nature and on first impression you could be forgiven for feeling there should be more detail in some of the shadows. However, it is the use of solid blacks that really enhance many of the photographs and help convey their feeling so successfully. My feeling is that the print quality is best judged in the subtle tonalities of fog and mist in many of the images; the feeling and drama of which is well conveyed.

I feel somewhat spoiled in my experience with print quality. As a photographer who regularly makes and sells fine art prints I have a pretty good grasp of just how good modern day fine art inkjet prints can be. To date I have not yet seen an offset printing process that can match that of a finely crafted inkjet print. My feeling is that the print quality in La Nuit du Cerf is about as good as offset can achieve with current technology and in that respect it is very good.

Conclusion – Quite honestly, this book epitomises just about everything I love and enjoy about wildlife photography. Available in two versions via Kobalann Online Store, La Nuit du Cerf can be purchased for 50 Euro plus shipping in standard edition (as review here) or for 800 Euro as a limited edition (30 copies only) in a presentation box with a fine art print.

I highly recommend you consider adding La Nuit du Cerf to your collection of photography books. If you are not yet collecting books on Nature photography then this would make an excellent start and provide you many hours of enjoyment. Highly recommended.

Overall Review – **** You should own this book and consider it an important part of your photography library.