Living Landscapes Todd Sisson Digital Photo School

Ask any landscape or travel photographer to list their top ten photography destinations, and I guarantee almost all of them will include New Zealand. New Zealand’s incredible scenery is well documented not only by nature and landscape photographers, but was also made famous by films like Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit. I know full well how lucky I am to live here!  Todd Sisson, along with his wife Sarah, is one of New Zealand’s most well-known and well-established landscape photographers, and even made the Top 100 Travel Photographers list for 2013. They are lucky enough to live in Otago, deep in the South Island and surrounded by some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world. They have carved out for themselves a reputation for creating unique images that capture the untouched beauty of the landscape.

Living Landscapes: A Guide To Stunning Landscape Photography is Todd and Sarah’s first ebook, and is published by Digital Photography School (DPS). There is a wealth of knowledge and skill to gain from them, and as they are no longer running landscape photography workshops in New Zealand, this ebook is the best way to learn from them (unless you have $5k to drop on one of Trey Ratcliff’s workshops, which they will be teaching on). As you can see below, Living Landscapes has a collection of Todd and Sarah’s most stunning landscape photos. 132 pages packed full of them!

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Todd’s style of writing and teaching is refreshing and easygoing. He keeps things interesting the whole way through without boring you with monotonous details, and even manages to squeeze some of his kiwi humour in there! The ebook is divided up into five main sections. After a brief introduction, Todd launches into an overview of a landscape photographer’s gear, or what he calls “tools of the trade”. This covers everything from camera bodies and sensors through to lenses, tripods, ball heads, and filters. He also discusses his own experiences and current perspectives on gear and what is or isn’t necessary today. From my own experience, I couldn’t agree more with his views. It’s refreshing to hear him challenging a lot of commonly held beliefs and myths around gear.

The second section is dedicated to the essential subject of craft. No photographic resource would be complete without it. This section breaks down the basic elements of exposure and many of the more technical aspects to photography, and specifically how they relate to shooting landscapes. It covers things like the histogram, the ‘exposure reciprocity triangle’, ISO, focusing, and the importance of getting it right in camera. This is especially important in today’s age of ‘fixing it in post’. He also discusses photographing high dynamic range (HDR) scenes, which is a very common challenge for landscape photographers. The section concludes with a couple of real-world scenarios where Todd walks through the decision making process with two of his images.

Section three of the ebook leaves the dry technical stuff behind and explores the creative side of landscape photography.  Todd breaks it down into subject, light, and composition.  Of course, finding great landscapes to photograph is easier when you live in New Zealand’s stunning South Island.  Even I get a little green, and I live in the North Island’s beautiful Mount Maunganui!  Great subjects, however, are able to be found anywhere. It just requires some research, and eye for a shot, and maybe a little wandering around or getting in your car.  On the flip-side, great light can be found anywhere! I often find myself staring out my window at my back yard watching it light up with a rich golden glow (and wonder why I’m inside, not out shooting that light).  Todd discussed shooting during sunrise and sunset, ‘golden hour’, and even during the less dramatic, often shunned daytime hours.  I would have liked to see him include photographing landscapes during twilight, or ‘blue hour’ also, but that’s an ebook all of its own.  Thirdly, Todd discusses composition, and breaks it further down into ‘dynamic’ and ‘static’ compositions.  This section is one of the real gems of this ebook and touches on everything from light and texture to foreground and background elements and using leading lines and what he refers to as “vision locking tonal control”.  Again, this section is concluded with a practical scenario, this time a tutorial on how to put your newly acquired creative skills into practice.

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Many photographers, especially novices, shy away from the post-production side of photography, either finding it intimidating or due to being sold the outdated myth that digital image manipulation is bad or even “wrong”.  Todd dives into this subject in the fourth section.  Personally, this is one of my favourite parts of the photographic process.  Todd includes history and ethics of the post-production debate in the discussion, which is helpful to debunk some of the myths and keep things in perspective.  He then spends the rest of the section discussing Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom and when and how he uses them.  His process seems relatively simple, but remarkably effective, as his images can attest to.  He outlines the essentials of post-production, then walks through the editing process for three of his images.  I found this section useful and interesting, but the very obvious omission was the complete lack of discussion of his exposure blending process, especially considering that he referred to bracketing multiple exposures on a more than one occasion.  I would have like to have seen his take on this process, partly due to the prolific use of exposure blending and tonemapping HDR software and its resulting reputation.

Finally, section five is a wealth of advice and tips about many different aspects of photographing landscapes from shooting water, mountains, and forests through to sunsets, sunrises, panoramas, and even shooting in black and white.  It encourages you to think differently about subjects and styles, and has challenged some of the ruts I often find myself in.

This ebook is an extremely valuable resource that almost any landscape photographer would benefit from, whether the casual novice with a point and shoot camera to the established pro and everyone in between.  I can’t recommend it highly enough, and I look forward to Todd and Sarah’s next offering.  You can grab it for $29.95, or buy it together with Loving Landscapes and save.  It will help your photography way more than $30 worth of gear.  It comes with Digital Photography School’s standard 60-day money back guarantee, so you have nothing to lose. Hit the link to read more:

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