6 Must-Read Books for Wildlife Photography

Why do we read books?

"I read a lot, but from time to time, there are books that changed my life. Well, it’s not that the book itself changed my life; it’s that I was already ready to change, and needed to not feel alone." - Paulo Coelho

I always believe that we somehow already knew what we want to do with our life, but it's buried deep within us, and we needed that spark, such as a good book, to awaken us. 

And by reading books written by the others, I can avoid a mistake mentioned in Charles Munger's now famous Harvard commencement speech,

"My second prescription for misery is to learn everything you possibly can from your own personal experience, minimizing what you learn vicariously from the good and bad experience of others, living and dead. This prescription is a sure-shot producer of misery and second-rate achievement."

Found the above speech from some of the recent blogs by Derek Sivers. One of them caught my attention:

How to stop being rich and happy

Take a look. It's a sarcastic article which speaks truth about most of the people nowadays, including myself. Stop doing that! Those things will never make you happy. 

Ah. Happiness. If you ask people what are the two most important things in life, wise people will tell you:

Be healthy and happy.

What's being healthy? Exercise every day, balanced diet and sleep well?

Far from it. Several years ago I went to an intense 3-day Yoga camp. That experience alone would require another ebook. But anyways, the instructor mentioned that in yoga, being healthy not only refers to physical health, but it also requires mental, emotional and spiritual health.

Mind is a scary and powerful thing. Let me borrow a quote from Rocky Balboa to describe the mind, "It is a very mean and nasty place. It will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it." 

James Altucher described in details how one can have simple daily exercise to get healthy again physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

How to be the luckiest guy on the planet.

Basically, what he said was:

  1. Physical: Break a sweat for at least 10 mins a day. Sleep 8 hours. Eat healthy. Don't eat too much.
  2. Mental: Exercise your idea muscles. Think of 10 ideas everyday.
  3. Emotionally: ​Too much crappy people who want to bring you down. Cut them off forever in your life. Only surround yourself with people who you can learn from and give you positive energy.
  4. Spiritual: Be grateful for what you have.

I can't help but relate all these to wildlife photography.

Over the last few years, I kept going back to these six books in my bookshelf, and each time I learned something new. I put them into their corresponding categories and show you how they can help your photography physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Physical:

Physical health in photography refers to your photo techniques. Learn your craft of photography. Once in a while, you see the work of a photographer and it blows your mind. Six years ago, I came across the online portfolio of Chas Glatzer. I tried to hold tight on my chair from falling off when I saw his photos of red fox jumping, pouncing bear, and bison with frost walking in the mist next to the Yellowstone Geysers. Great works from masters can instantly elevate you to new height because they teach you what's possible out there.

​"Geez, is that even possible?" I asked myself as I browsed through his portfolio, stunned by the moment captured, the sharpness, the color accuracy, temperature, contrast, and the control of highlight and shadow. They were the closest thing to perfection. 

Then I asked, "If I use this technique on ​another scenario, would I create something new?" By asking myself these questions, I got to dream about new shots. I also spent most of my vacation time from work to learn from Chas for the next two years.

So what's the best book to learn the craft? I was lucky to have a good friend Carl who always feed me with the best info on the planet. One of the books he recommended, called "Concepts of Nature" by Andy Rouse, was so good that I still read it several times a week. ​Being able to see the light and learning to use the light to express yourself is critical. Two words about the book "Red Five". Get it and read it 100 times.


Mental: 

Altucher said that we should exercise our brains by writing out new ideas everyday, sometimes as many as 10 ideas on a topic. Just to push ourselves. Otherwise our brain would get rusty. Only very few books out there talk about techniques as deep as Andy Rouse's. But there are quite a few books where the photographers showcased their work (without telling the techniques). We can still learn through those photos. 

Federico Veronesi​ is a photographer I highly admire. He won the grand prize of Nature's Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International in 2011. I wish to meet him one day. Hopefully in Africa. His photos showed immense love and connection to the animals, and he had the best techniques I've ever seen. He has mastered it all. To me those are the best wildlife photos I've ever seen in the world. On second thought, after reading his book, I might just give up my plan to go to Africa.

The book "The Masters of Nature Photography" showcased the portfolios of some of the most famous photographers on the planet who had won the BBC photographer of the year. Just by reading the quotes by those photographers would worth the price. I had an adrenaline rush when I read the part where Nick Nichols used his photos to convince a country in Africa to build 13 national parks to protect their animals. Such is the power of photography. The minimalism and mystery of Vincent Munier's photos changed my perspective in photography. And Mangelsen's photo of the polar bear and Arctic fox in a wind sweeping Arctic Sea frozen Ice made my tears drop into the beauty of such scene. 

(In addition to the above two books, there are two other books that I like, but haven't read them in depth.)

Nick Brandt's trilogy "On this Earth", "A Shadow Falls", and "Across the ravaged land" is legendary. ​Nick Brandt's the world's premier photographer and his black and whites are second to none. And he uses a Pentax 67 medium format film camera and just two rather short focal length lenses! He was able to capture the souls of the animals in every one of his photos. I was trying to learn that. But to get close to animals with a beautiful habitat under dramatic cloudy and stormy sky and waiting for them to reveal their soul is challenging in most places except in Africa which still takes a lot of patience I heard, or maybe Falkland Islands and Antarctica where you can get really close to the animals without disturbing them. 

The other one is Vincent Munier's Arctique. You can learn some mind blowing composition in his shots. A true master of mystery.

Bobcat at sunset, Yellowstone. 1dx, 600mm, 2x, f/8, 1/800s, iso 1600.


Emotional:

Soul searching is important in anyone's photography endeavor. What made you fall in love with wildlife photography in the beginning? What is the language of photograph so that we can express our feeling to the viewers? How to tell story? How to move people? David Duchemin takes you to a journey deep into your soul to find out what and how in his book "Within the frame".

Simplicity, mystery, and beauty, are the 3 key elements for the success of a landscape photograph, according to David Ward. I think his ideas are universal to all photography. And his book, which I read many times, inspired me to write the recent blog posts "5 critical elements for wildlife photography", which I just recently had it professionally edited, added my #5 element, and will be released as a bonus ebook for anyone buying my upcoming Falkland adventure book. You can pre-order the books here: http://tinmanlee.wpengine.com/falkland/

Spiritual:

I still remember the impact when I saw the photos and words by Michio Hoshino at the Museum of the North in Fairbanks, Alaska in 2013. I just stood there for half an hour without moving a bit. His photos showed such a deep love for the wild animals that one had to spend sometime to really look deep into the photos and think. 

​To continue on the topics of How to stop being rich and happy, many people spent their whole life pursuing materialistic pleasure and status. They are always looking for the next finer thing in life to show off because that's what the society taught (manipulated) them. At the end, no one really cares except some of your shallow friends. Life is not a quest for pleasures and ego-boosting. You already have enough. We have to constantly remind ourselves what's the most valuable thing in our life. In this book, Michio Hoshino wrote down his thoughts in several essays to dig deep in the meaning of life. To learn how to connect with nature, this is a must-read.


My love of reading wildlife photography books dated back to 15 years ago. I would spend most evenings in the local Barnes and Nobles, procrastinating on the school assignment that's due while sipping latte and reading just one more page of my three favorite books. They were the classics, before the time of Kindle. I read these three books again and again for 10 years before I took wildlife photography seriously. I haven't read them for quite many years, but if you are interested, you should check them out too.

Tim Fitzharris has some of the most beautiful photos I've ever seen. At that time I thought I needed a Pentax 645 (which he used) to create such stunning photos. Now I know camera doesn't make an image.

Ask any bird photographers and they will likely tell you that the "Art of Bird Photography" by Arthur Morris was the book that got them into bird photography. I forgot how many times I have read it and recited the camera settings for each photo. I went to Florida a few times to look for Roseate Spoonbills, snail kite and crested caracara when I first started bird photography.

Before I read the book by Moose Peterson, I didn't know Moose is a name, such as Bear Grylls and Tin Man Lee. Moose's book got me hooked on many animal species including the San Joaquin Kit Fox. If I've not read his book, I would never have gotten the photo of the kit fox with leave 14 years later.

Just like any babies, the endangered San Joaquin Kit Fox was very curious and playful. After waiting many hours each day near the den, I caught a moment when this new-born pup was carrying a leave to his den. His expression was like a kid being caught of his mischief. Central Valley, CA.

I had a discussion with a good friend recently, about the benefits of looking at others works. He's a successful commercial photographer. "When I first started as a student majoring in photography, my teachers kept telling me my works reminded them of a famous photography." At first my friend didn't care. But eventually he took a look at that famous photographer's photos. Afterwards, he went back to his studio to take photos.

"It drove me crazy because my brain went blank," he said. All of a sudden he lost his own voice. Every time when he clicked the shutter, he thought of that photographer's style. "It took me 6 months to finally let go of that photographer's images in my brain so that I could photograph again."

"But if we don't read, we would not know what's the best techniques or technology out there," I said. ​

Indeed it's dangerous to inadvertently fall into this trap. We saw works of photographers we admired. Then we tried to imitate them. We ended up losing our own voice.

Just like social media. If we post a photos and a lot of people liked it and gave positive comments, does it mean its a good photo? Or it just happens that the animal subject looks cute and that certain message of conservation or anti-trophy-hunting triggered the viewers emotion but it had nothing to do with the art of our photos? And are the viewers just being nice? We have to critique our work with brutal honest. Look at each negative comment with attention and open mind but trust our gut feeling and self confidence to tell whether those are constructive or not.

We need to have a good filter. Learn what's the best out there, but never lose ourselves. If the idea can help us, we can adopt it to improve upon our photography. But don't blindly follow. At the end, we take photos to please ourselves.

So to summarize, the 6 books I read again and again are Andy Rouse's "Concept of Nature", DuChemin's "Within the Frame", "Masters of Nature Photography", Veronesi's "Light and Dust", David Ward's "Beyond Landscape" and "Hoshino's Alaska".

What about you? What's your favorite wildlife photography book?


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2 Comments

  1. Tin Man Lee on June 21, 2016 at 6:01 pm

    testing

  2. Krishna Prasad Kotti on August 3, 2017 at 4:42 pm

    I am beginner Photographer. I love your images they are stunning and amazing.
    I have been searching all over to read some good books
    Thank you so much for this Info.
    I will try to get all the book and read them

    Camera lucida and Chased by Light are some other which I like

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