Brenda Tharp’s Photography Book…. A Prejudiced Review

The book’s title is Expressive Nature Photography  Design, Composition, and Color in Outdoor Imagery. The prejudice involved here is mine; I have read, used, and liked this book for quite some time.

I first heard Brenda speak at a seminar in the spring of 2018 in Salt Lake City. I have described in another blog post that the experience was “ like a light bulb over my head going on” . I have come to think of it as a defining moment, a game changer, a paradigm shift, whatever term you prefer to use.

After hearing her talk, I went home and ordered her book from Amazon. When it arrived, I sat down with it and read it thru cover to cover. I compared the information and techniques she wrote about to what I had been doing. I have since made a conscious effort to incorporate her advise and I have seen my photos improve more than significantly.

The writing in this book is clear, straightforward, and personal; Brenda speaks to you, not just about the content. And each of her topics is accompanied by her exquisite photos that make clear the point she is making. She illustrates her techniques with 250 photos. All the photos included in this review are hers.

The book is divided into a must read introduction, and eight chapters. In the introduction, Brenda challenges you to this; when you visit an iconic location, try not to take photos of the usual iconic spots. Refine your vision, look at places in your own personal point of view.

I have tried to give a synopsis of the highlights in each chapter. But there is so much information in each that you must obtain a copy and read the whole chapter to get the full effect of Brenda’s teachings.

The titles of the 8 chapters are:

1. The Heart Of Photography       

2. Celebrating Light

3. Creating Visual Flow

4. Seeing In Color

5. Interpreting The Landscape

6. The Narrative Image

7. Impressions Of Nature

8. Seeing In The Dark    

As you can see by the titles, this is not your basic photography book. You should have a good understanding of basic photography first and then use this book to take your skills to the next level. It is more about the emotion and passion of photography than which button to push.

1.  The Heart Of Photography

This chapter is about getting in touch with the natural world you are trying to capture in your images. It is about developing and refining your creative vision. You must learn to let the passion you feel for the natural world show thru in your images. Don’t show viewers just your photo but also your feelings at the time. This chapter concludes with a discussion on nurturing your creativity, even if you think you don’t have any. There is a side panel with advise on how to get thru the dry spells that we all have.

2.  Celebrating Light

You don’t have to be a photographer for very long to realize that the light is paramount. Brenda states that “ Light is the essential raw ingredient in all photography “. Many writers advocate only shooting during the Golden Hours, or the Magic Light time. Brenda presents a good argument for shooting anytime the light is right. This might be the light associated with storms clouds, fog, snow etc. One of the sub-headings in this chapter is called “ All Light Is Good Light “. She illustrates this with a photo of dogwood flowers backlit by a strong midday sun. Further on in the chapter she discusses the nature of light, the forms it exists in, and the different emotions of types of sunlight.  


She talks about clouds, one of my favorite photo elements. So much so I wrote a blog on clouds. To improve your photography, you must understand the light; this chapter will lead you to that goal.

Creating Visual Flow

3.  Creating Visual Flow

The opening line of this chapter sums up the next 50 pages explicitly: “ Composition, or the visual flow of a photograph, creates impact, draws attention, and engages the viewer “

Along with detailing all that is essential to the elements of composition, there are several side panels with exercises for you to do. She shows you how to experiment with composition. Brenda advocates pre-visualizing your scene; the first step to a great photograph is seeing it in your mind’s eye. This technique might seem stiff and forced at first but the more you do it, the more natural and automatic it will become for you.

She touches on subject placement, the rule of thirds, and creating tension and interest within your photo. Where this chapter helped me the most was the discussion on “ The Elements Of Design”. Lines, shape and form, texture, patterns etc. Her thoroughness was exemplified in talking about lines. Straight lines, curved lines, horizontal, vertical, oblique. She broke down each type and explained the energy it conveys, and the emotion associated with it. The same detail is present in all the other elements.

The chapter goes on with a discussion on cropping the frame of your photo for effect, and filling the frame. The latter is exemplified by a beautiful photo of a cheetah filling almost the entire frame. The later part of the chapter includes sub-headings such as “Creating Impact With Contrast”, and “ Visual Depth “. The visual depth section has quite a number of excellent photos showing depth; each is accompanied by an explanation of how it was shot.

4.  Seeing In Color

This chapter is as it’s title suggests. The strengths, emotions, and interaction of the primary, secondary, and tertiary colors are addressed. Brenda discusses the considerations on how to use each color, and how to balance them in a composition. The discussion leads to her presenting a case for Black + White photography. She makes the argument that since the time of Ansel Adams, Black + White photography has been considered a fine art form. She supports that contention with 5 stunning B+W photographs.

5.  Interpreting The Landscape

This chapter is about “ The Grand Landscape “, those vast, far reaching, photos of great natural beauty. These photos are the ones of mountain ranges, desert expanses, rugged coastlines,etc. Brenda states “ the grand landscape may well be the most challenging, because so many things have to come together: an interesting location, great ( or at the very least good ) light, interesting elements in the foreground as well as in the middle and background, a balance of tonal content, and focus through out.”

She goes on to explain how to approach photographing large scenes. You are again challenged to look at a familiar, oft photographed, scene in a different view. To interpret the scene just a little differently, from your own perspective. Crucial to photographing grand landscapes is a knowledge of aperture and how it effects your photo. In particular,how it affects focus and depth of field. She offers 3 tips to attain focus throughout your photo; 1. raising your camera position a bit  2. use of the focus stacking technique  3. and use of a tilt shift lens. Besides the great explanations she gives next to each photo, there is also a side panel with 10 “ Pointers For Landscape Photographers “.

The seminar where I heard Brenda speak is where I first “really “ learned to shoot panoramic photos. My previous technique was making all my panoramic photos look like bumper stickers, wide and narrow. She talks in this chapter about her approach to panos. It is outlined in a step by step panel that in my book is heavily highlighted. I have used her technique now for 1 1/2 years and have created some of my favorite photos using her technique.

6.  The Narrative Image

The best photographs are more than just pretty pictures; they convey a story. This chapter is full of photos that do just that. In fact, there are so many and they tell the story so well, that there is not much need for text. The exception is the explanation that goes along with each image. But she does make the point that sometimes the action in a photo IS the story. For me, this is best exemplified by the photo of a baby grizzly bear cub begging it’s mother for a clam she had dug up. The eyes of the cub say it all for me. She goes on to explain how shutter speed can have an effect on the story. A fast shutter can freeze motion; a slow shutter can blur motion. There are some great examples of each at the end of this chapter.

7.  Impressions Of Nature

In this chapter you are encouraged to stretch your reality, to look at physical objects in a different form. This is abstract photography. The type of photos I usually take by accident. But it is an art form, I believe, to photograph real life so that it looks like it was painted. Brenda shares the techniques to blur, stretch, and isolate, creating unique photos. The chapter wraps up with discussions on panning techniques and multiple exposures in camera.

8.  Seeking In The Dark

The final chapter is devoted to astrophotography, the techniques for capturing images of the night sky. This is a very complete guide to this popular niche. Sub-headings include Composing With Starry Skies, Preparing the Camera For Night Photography, Photographing Stars As Points Of Light, Focusing And Depth Of Field In Night Photography, Photographing Star Trails, Landscapes With Moonlight And Stars, etc. And, as in the rest of the book, copious beautiful photos and accompanying panels explaining them.

This book, and several other of Brenda’s books, are available for purchase at Brenda’s website, You can also purchase them at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.

You can also sign up for her newsletter and receive her teachings, news of workshops, etc. in your in-box.

My final thoughts in this review is that the cost of the book is relatively inexpensive; the knowledge it contains is priceless.


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