Book Recollection: Simply Beautiful Photographs

May appears to be the month of photography books based on the last two book recollections and (wait for it…) this post as well.  However, unlike the previous two, today’s offering is less on food for the left side of  brain and more on providing inspiration for the right hemisphere.  What better way to do that then to review the creative work of National Geographic, the premier photography body that has been wowing us since it was founded in 1888.  By the way, I had no idea that National Geographic is one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations.  It was also founded to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge.  There, come for the witty banter and leave with real knowledge, it’s like going to see Piranha 3D and learning that outboard motors can be used to fend off prehistoric flesh eating fish.  Speaking of photography (and my friends say my segues suck), Annie Griffiths brings us Simply Beautiful Photographs.  This book is a collection of images from the National Geographic Image Collection  (holding images back to the 1800s by the way), that fits Annie’s 6 key photographic components – Light, Composition, Moment, Time, Pallet and Wonder).  Annie takes us through each of these areas and provides an eloquent introduction into the nuances of the area proceeded by numerous examples of photographs that visually demonstrates that chapter’s topic.  In fact, so many images that this book tops in at 1.5 inches thick which sadly again doesn’t put a dent into the reading pile because… yeah, another gift for Linda (I was expecting Rapture to save me from my reading commitment, but apparently I’ve been a bad boy or just maybe that predictor was bat shit crazy).  Speaking of crazy, how about the crazy pictures in this collection (I try, I really really do).

As I was going through this collection, I tried to look at each picture individually and assess their impact on me.  At first I was keeping two sets of markers, one for images that had a positive effect on me and ones that I thought were total crap (per my wife’s favorite saying).  After awhile I decided that I was not qualified to make the call on what was a bad picture so from that point forward just focused on the shots that impressed me.  By my definition, this was an image that caught my attention through an interesting visual, a creative composition or success in conditions I know that are difficult to photograph based on my less than stellar attempts.  After reaching the back cover, I had marked 29 Wildlife and 17 Landscape images that I thought stood out among the rest.  I also marked 6 images that I had put in the “you’re kidding” category (might have been more, but again, stopped that marking).  I decided to challenge myself and select my top five Wildlife and top five Landscape images.  This turned out to be an extremely difficult task and made me appreciate what judges must go through for photography competitions.  After the second pass I was down to 31 images with 19 left after a third pass.  I probably spent another hour getting down to 10.

Hit the jump to see my top five list of Wildlife shots and the top five Landscape images

For those who happen to have access to the book:

Wildlife top 5:

  • Pg 166/7 – Jim Brandenburg – Tundra Swans (quite majestic in flight and composition)
  • Pg 238/9 – Ian Nichols – Silverback enjoys a leaf (an animal in the act of appreciating nature)
  • Pg 288/9 – Michael Nichols – Northern Spotted Owl (that picture is just darn sharp and leaps out at you)
  • Pg 460/1 – Joel Sartore – Tail feathers of a Greenbul (amazing detail)
  • Pg 468/9 – Jef Meul – Ladybugs quenching their thirst (probably the top picture out of the entire book)

Landscape top 5:

  • Pg 107 – Phil Schermeister – El Capitan in Yosemite National Park (very nice reflection in the water)
  • Pg 152/3 – Michael Nichols (also has one in the wildlife top 5) – Elephant with the rainbow – (one of those decisive moments and technically could be considered wildlife again, but the rainbow makes the picture)
  • Pg 176 – Harry Ogloff – Mount Kidd reflection (probably the 2nd favorite off all the images)
  • Pg 274/5 – Annie Griffiths – A man standing at the edge of Victoria Falls (having been to Niagara I can only imagine what that must have felt like)
  • Pg 398/9 – Peter Essick – Trees reflected in a pool of water at Oulanka National Park (it actually takes a bit to figure out the picture which makes it very intriguing)

I am glad Joel Sartore ended up on the list.  I am a big fan of his and his collective work in the wildlife arena is humbling to say the least.  He actually has a book in my reading pile so you will be hearing more about him in the not to distant future.

In summary, I thought this collection was very effective in kick starting the creative juices.  As a bonus, Annie actually provided a print of the cover that we could frame.  Unfortunately, I’d rather have one of the other images, but it’s the thought that counts.  Besides, any book that references Leonard Cohen is tops in my list.  Ironically, she also used the word rapture which is quite fitting for this month’s blog. Annie also put 10 of her own images in the book that seemed a little self serving, but she did make my top 10 and probably had the 11th or 12th image too.  As a balance, she also had the buffalo shot which hit my T.C. list.

Oh, what the hell.

  • I actually think my lonely road picture has the same feeling as the one Annie placed on page 385.
  • I prefer the Luxor shot from the back parking lot when the moon crosses near the top of the pyramid
  • Was not moved by the Lilly Pad shot on page 112
  • I’ve seen a lot better long exposure night shots than the lighted eel stalking shot on page 299
  • Really?, is your fuzzy buffalo on page 300 really worthy in this collection Annie
  • The Colosseum shot on page 337 could use some definite help
  • What gives with the fuzzy out of focus parrots on page 351 – they are stunning for their bright contrasting colors – why mute it by pushing the shutter speed too long

The Takeaways:

  • Photos are evidence we have lived and traveled and experienced and loved
  • The photograph was patented in 1841 by William Henry Talbot (called it calotype from the Greek words for beautiful impression)
  • Reality is the canvas and Light is the brush
  • Sir John Herschel coined the term photography in 1839 based on the Greek words to draw with light
  • A Photographer’s goal is to try to fill the frame with elements that contribute to the whole picture – leaving out anything that distracts
  • The decisive moment – the exact instant when all elements come together
  • Phi – the divine triangle balanced proportion – the concept everything in nature can be broken down to a 1:1.618 proportion (forms the basis for the Greek Parthenon and the Mona Lisa)
  • A photographic moment – the precise instant when visual elements come together to make a photograph compelling
  • I new that movies had a framerate of 24 frames/sec but didn’t know our brain must process images at 50 to 60 per second (means we stare at a blank screen for about half the movie)
  • Augute and Louis-Jean Lumiere patented Autochrome in 1903 providing the first viable technique for color photos (actually used colored starch in glass plate film emulsion to filter light – don’t worry, I had to read that about 4 times in a row
  • Albert Szent-Gyorgyi: Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought
  • After a photographer captures a beautiful moment, there is a an immediate haunting fear that technology has failed or that the photographer himself has failed.  I can tell you by experience there are no truer words when it comes to photography.  I always dread something may have went wrong or I screwed up the decisive moment – I am blaming this on my career in IT where technology has the incredible knack of biting you in the ass.  The best thing is to keep a positive outlook and take the moments of failure in stride while on your photographic journey – besides, it makes the perfect shot even more exciting.
  • The best things about wondrous photographs is that they inspire us to keep looking
  • Comments on the sadness of the rapid loss of innocence in the photographic world by the general public – their awareness of what can be done with today’s technology makes them skeptical about the truth of great images.  As a confession, I fall into this category mainly due to my interest in computer graphics and the numerous times the marketing and new outlets have tried to deceive the public.  Take for example Java One Deception (search for Java One on that page)
  • Gilbert Keith Chesterton: There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not go through the intellect.  I actually paused and thought about this for some time and after some inner dialog promised myself to let myself just enjoy a moment or scene without putting any critical thought into it.  I have a tendency to over analyze or pick it apart which often causes me to miss the beauty in the moment.  I also plan to put this up in a sign in my office cubicle as a constant reminder.
  • Danzae Pace: I think the world really boils down to two types of people – those who see shapes in cloud formations and those who just see clouds
  • Color is really no more than the reflection of white light (I’ll add the contrast to that as to the opposite of what light waves are absorbed)

It’ s been fun!

2 thoughts on “Book Recollection: Simply Beautiful Photographs”

  1. Cool–nice review! I like the quotations.

    The universal rule of photography: You can’t go wrong with clown pictures.



    1. I am not sure I should even dignify such a statement. My only hope is you meant to type “You can’t go wrong using The Beast to pummel a clown to death and take excellent pictures afterwards to mark the special occasion.” Any other interpretation may result in a lifetime ban from this site and neither of us want that do we?


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