I just finished reading William Neill’s latest book, Light on the Landscape. Published by Rocky Nook, the book is available in both hardbound and paperback editions. It is filled with many of Neill’s exciting images, with a strong emphasis on his specialty, intimate landscapes. As a coffee table book, it succeeds admirably for the variety and quality of the images it presents.
But that’s not the book’s real purpose, nor is it its principal value. For the photos are accompanied by selections from his many essays written for Outdoor Photographer. Each of these essays addresses a specific issue of photography. Sometimes the theme is a technique. For example, he notes his frequent choice of a 70-200mm zoom lens for landscape photography, so that he can abstract a portion of a larger scene.
At other times, he emphasizes how to approach photography, such as to exercise patience and persistence. As an illustration, he photographed a branch of dogwood blossoms with the rushing water of a river blurred in the background, a photo and a technique I particularly love. This photo required both a slow shutter speed and for the branches to be absolutely still so the blossoms would be razor sharp. To get his desired results, the photographic session might easily last an hour or more while waiting for the right conditions. At other times, patience might mean waiting for another season when weather conditions are more appropriate for the image he visualizes.
Other themes relate to design, such as the benefits of simplicity in composition or using high key to establish a mood compatible with his thematic emphasis.
Throughout the volume is his frequent advice, drawn from years of teaching, to always strive for improvement. He suggests that we should revisit our portfolios to identify emerging themes or to find neglected photos worth re-editing. He points to the value of writing about our photos to both aid our understanding of their meaning and share it with others. And he offers much compositional guidance, such as watching the spacing among the elements of images and refusing to accept the first viewpoint we encounter as the only or the best one.
I chose to read this book with deliberation, to approach each brief essay as a daily contemplative exercise. Neill’s gentle style invites thoughtfulness. When ingested in small bites, I found that I not only enjoyed the full scope of his messages but better digested what he had to share.
I plan to return to this book again and again, both for the delight of experiencing it and to more fully integrate his teaching into my own practice.
Thank you, William, for such a generous sharing of your wisdom from a lifetime in photography.