One of the larger segments of the photographic book market is the “Photographer’s Guide” segment, numerous authors and publishers have, over the years, covered any number of photographic destinations. Michael Frye’s little ::amazon(“1930238002″,”Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite”):: is my favorite of the genre. It’s small, well-produced, and reflects the author’s deep knowledge of Yosemite National Park and surrounding areas.
Size is a surprisingly crucial factor. For my tastes, many books in this genre try a little too hard to be encyclopedic, which on the face of it seems like a great idea. But that size often seems to come at the cost of emphasis (and, perhaps, production values.) Frye’s book focuses on “only” thirty-seven locations, a palette one could easily spend months of solid shooting on before getting bored. Most of the locations are very accessible, making them suitable for a wider range of photographers. For each location a small sidebar accompanying the text provides directions and suggestions for seasons, times of day, conditions and techniques for shooting, which makes browsing for, say, a sunrise location in November a simple task. A seasonal guide near the back of the book provides another way to navigate the wealth of information contained here. By way of contrast, another book I have in this genre (for another location) spends hundreds of pages describing over 200 locations, but often neglects to give any information at all about how the light plays over that location. Frye gets it right here, providing detailed information about dozens of excellent locations.
Production values are very good, the best I’ve seen in a book of this type. Well-reproduced color images both enhance Frye’s descriptions and serve in many cases as a quick navigational aide. (It’s saddening, but only a little surprising to me how often “photographer’s guides” fall down on the photo reproductions, reflecting the unfortunate realities of the economics of color book printing.) Maps of the locations are simple, graphic and legible. The book design is varied and engaging, packing a lot of information onto each page while still being easy to navigate and digest. The only real omission here is the lack of an index, something I hope will be corrected should there ever be a new edition of the book.
There is a reasonable amount of well-chosen supplementary information as well. A handful of sidebars provide simple introductions to a few Yosemite-relevant topics intermediate photographers might not have had exposure to (e.g., photographing rainbows, neutral density graduated filters). Appendices include sunrise/sunset times, full moon dates through 2010 (perhaps we can expect a new edition soon?), and some useful information about photographic resources within the valley.
Of course, books such as Frye’s ::amazon(“1930238002″,”Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite”):: are best thought of as the starting point for planning or thinking out where to photograph–there is always a need in landscape photography for a certain amount of serendipitous wandering and exploration. But there is an important place for planning and research as well, and Photographer’s Guide-style books, particularly ones as well-written as Frye’s book here, can be an excellent tool for that, even for experienced photographers; I never travel to Yosemite without my well-worn copy. At under ten dollars, it’s a steal.
Postscript: this had recently been out of print, but is apparently returning to stores as we speak. My timing on this review was accidental, I’d just dug up a copy for a friend.