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Once in a generation there is that artist who comes along and takes their field to a new and different level.

Book Review: The Making of Landscape Photographs by Charlie Waite

Every once in a generation there is that artist who comes along and takes their field to a new and different level, and leaves us all better off for it. Often it is subtle and hard to define but being in the presence of their work makes us marvel at their insight.

In the early part of the 20th century, one such person was Ansel Adams. He was able to take the field of photography and not only create the definition of the art, but to carve out a path in our collective psyche of what the natural beauty of the American landscape can be. He showed us Yosemite, Big Sur, and Half-dome. And he did it in black and white.

I have seen a lot of landscape photographers. Some good, some not so much. In my opinion, Charlie Waite has defined the art of landscape photography much in the way that Ansel Adams did in the early part of the 20th century. My favorites are his color images, but his black and white is superb as well.

As a photographer, I am always trying to improve my craft. My first love is landscape or outdoor photography. As such, I have been drawn to books that feature this genre. As with anything else, if you want to improve, the best way is to emulate those who define the craft. In other words to do your best you must try to learn from the best. 

One of the best books I have found is The Making of Landscape Photographs by Charlie Waite. The book is worth the price of admission just for the photos it contains. But it goes much further than being just a picture book. It is an exploration into the creation of a photo, of an image, and of a moment. This book contains a wide assortment of some of Waite's best work and best insights in to what created that work.

He talks about how each picture came about — what went into preparing for taking the picture as well as what equipment was used. He describes the light and the land and he adds points to watch while trying to emulate his images. 

There are many duplicate images in which one was a near-miss and the one that was perfect. Many times you must be in the right place at the right time and even then you may only have a five-second window to get the right shot. The sun comes out, the sun hides, the light changes and then the shot is gone.

Granted, this book was published in 1991, well before the digital age in camera technology but the process is the same process. An image that is well planned for film will be well planned for digital media.

For example, the cover picture highlights a section called “Right Time, Right Place” and a chapter called “The Revealing Winter.” It is from a location west of Celano, Abruzzi in Italy. Waite says, “In the very middle of the winter at the end of the afternoon, I can feel myself still being invited into this picture. It makes you want to walk into it, doesn’t it?”

To me, the picture almost looks like a painting rather than real life. It looks like an artist’s image of what they want us to see. In a real way, that is exactly what it is. What is phenomenal about Charlie Waite is he has a vision in his mind that he is able to convey on film accurately into my mind.

In another section, “Color in its Place,” we are able to view a shed near Vaison-La-Romaine in Provence, France. The spectacular color contrasts between the blue sky and lines of lavender in the field. The sun’s light on the face of the shed and the two trees bracketing the shed makes it a perfect form of composition.

What makes this photo so important, although you would not find this out in this particular volume, is what makes landscape photography important as an art. This picture was created in 1986, almost 30 years ago. When Charlie returned to this location in the early part of the twenty-first century, the shack and the trees were gone. You are no longer allowed a vision of this reality except through the eyes of Charlie Waite.

If you consider yourself a lover of art or a photographer of any form, you should study this book, as it will give you new insights into what makes a great landscape photograph. If you just love the beauty of an image, you will be, like me, the owner of a well-worn book.

You can also buy copies of his prints at Charlie Waite's webpage.

About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.

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