“photo trekking”
April 8th, 2010

photo trekking

I’m not sure where I saw it, but somewhere along my cyber travels I stumbled across a mention of, at the time, a soon to be published photography book entitled “photo trekking“. Well, if you want me to buy your book, then that’s probably about as good a title as one could choose. I pre-ordered it from Amazon and then forgot about it – until it showed up on my doorstep about ten days ago.

I don’t personally know the author, photographer Nick Onken. It seems like he does a lot of advertising work as well as lifestyle stock. However, “photo trekking” is primarily a book about how to become a travel photographer, and at that it’s pretty good. There’s nothing exceptionally revelatory in it for anybody who has been doing this stuff for a while, but there is still a lot of inspiration in it. It’s full of photos from all over the world, and Nick has a unique style. Two words: lens flare. He clearly loves lens flare, and he does it very well. But he doesn’t overdo it.

The book is an easy read. It was a fitting companion for a sunny afternoon read on the back patio. One thing that I like a lot is that each photo gives a location, a bit of background information and the gear used. I often find photo books without locations to be frustrating. I want to know at least in what country a photo was shot. The gear part doesn’t really interest me, but I suspect that it’ll interest many. (He shoots Canon for those who desperately need to know.)

The photos in the book are mostly a mix of travel and lifestyle. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book with this combination. I’m not sure which is Nick’s true passion. Perhaps both. I imagine that his advertising/lifestyle work pays much better than travel, yet he’s clearly passionate about travel photography. After all, this is a book about becoming a travel photographer. He has also done work for at least one NGO.

There are a few confusing errors in the book, but they’re not overly distracting. (A couple lifetimes ago I worked on the editorial staff of a book publisher and then a magazine. I tend to notice things that I wish I didn’t.) For example, on page 46 he says, “I never download images onto the laptop hard drive, so I don’t slow down the drive and I keep my images safe.” However, then on page 79 he says, “At the end of the day I download everything onto my MacBook Pro, back up the data to an external hard drive, and mirror that to a third hard drive. This way I have the data on the MacBook and two backup copies, in case something happens to one of them.” Either he downloads to his laptop’s hard drive, or he doesn’t. However, at least to me, it makes no difference. I already have my workflow, and mine is like the first he describes. On the road I download to two external drives and not to my laptop’s hard drive.

On page 82, Nick writes, “One hard and fast rule for me is never to put the subject in the center, to create a slightly more cinematic feel.” The photo on that page supports that comment nicely. Unfortunately, both of the photos directly opposite it on page 83 are of dead-centered subjects. Naturally, there are no fast rules, and I’m sure that Nick would have accepted an edit that changed “…never to put…” to “…to avoid putting…”. Again, it doesn’t matter; we know the rule of thirds, and we know that, like all rules, it needs to be broken.

There are other small inconsistencies, like when a photo description doesn’t match the camera data: “I bumped my ISO to 1600 and used the glow of the lights to capture the scenario”, but the camera data lists the ISO as 400 (on page 71). It’s an irrelevant difference.

I point this stuff out only because some of you might also notice it and perhaps think that you’re not understanding something or misunderstanding something. It’s a little bit distracting to somebody who notices the inconsistencies, but they don’t alter the scope nor the goal of the book at all.

The chapters in the books are: The World of Travel Photography, Preparation, Shooting on Location, Tips for Taking Great Travel Photographs and After the Shoot. Nick covers all these topics well.

The editing could have been a bit tighter, but I think that most of you reading this review will enjoy this book. It has some great photos from some interesting locations. Anybody in the early stages of working as a travel photographer will likely find “photo trekking” to be particularly interesting. In any case, I can certainly recommend it.

Nick has a blog that I haven’t yet had time to properly explore, but it looks very polished. I’ve bookmarked it and intend to peruse it when I have some time. http://nickonken.com/blog/

5 Responses to ““photo trekking””

  1. Heber Vega says:

    Hi Jeffrey,

    Thanks for this review, I came across Nick’s website a month or two ago and also this book… since then I’ve been wondering about to buy this book or not.
    The blended of these two photographic styles in Nick’s work also called my attention, but then I found other photographers doing something similar as:
    Jeremy Cowart and Austin Mann to name a few.

    I’ve also contacted Nick for a 10.Q Interview… we’ll see.
    Thanks again,

    Heber.

    PS. Your interview is due tomorrow!

  2. Ed says:

    Jeffry,

    Good review. I bought the book at his launch party after seeing it in person. I would definitely agree with your review, and also noticed the inconsistencies. For the me though they don’t take away from what is a great example of how to prepare for travel photography. I actually like his style a lot, and Austin Mann’s, as Heber Vega pointed out the similarities of work if not style. I am coming from a “learner” standpoint and wanted to know better how to do this in my future travels. For now, street and urban photography keeps me going while stuck in NYC.

    Thanks,
    Ed

  3. Nice to know about the inconsistencies. I’ve had this in my Amazon cart for a while but haven’t made the actual purchase yet.

  4. Jeffrey Chapman says:

    Heber and Craig, here in the US the book is very reasonably priced (I think $17 from Amazon). For the two of you it would likely cost more, but I still think that you’d find it to be a good value. If you do get, let me know what you think.

    Ed, I agree. I was a little frustrated at the editor, but nothing distracted from Nick’s core message. I hope that he’ll do more books. I like these kinds of books much more than how-to books.

  5. I ordered it (plus a couple others) yesterday. Should have it next week.

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