A while ago, Alister Benn, one of the renowed landscape photographers nowadays and a great guy, sent me a copy of his ebook, “Seeing the Unseen” giving me the great honour to review it. It’s been a while, but here it is. Alister, sorry for being so late. I’ve never reviewed anything until now, so forgive me if you feel I’m beating the air.
The book starts wonderfully with a preface written by Alister, then continues with some sensitive foreword writing by Guy Tal. The introduction sets the scene for what’s next. Alister makes you ponder about the magic that happens at night with some beautiful storytelling about light and time. But by the end of the introduction you are brought back with the feet on the ground and ready to embrace all the information. And you find plenty of valuable info on all of its 95 pages.
The first chapter talks about the available night light, a term that I like very much. You learn about the main sources of night light, the blue hour, the effects of light pollution and the creative endeavours that light painting can offer. Alister also explains here the blue hour and the moon phases giving you good advices on what type of night images to shoot according to each phase and even at what time of the night. How cool is that?
“The Science of Preparation” is the second chapter and it speaks about the importance of knowing the place you’re shooting, the moments when it gets dark, the moon phases, the weather and the tides. Free apps like “The Photographer’s Ephemeris” and weather websites are always in handy when taking photos at night. Did you know that heat radiating into the atmosphere at night creates turbulence bending the light from the stars? A good thing to keep in mind when shooting into the mountains.
Once in the field, it’s time to evaluate the scene. “Getting Started” helps you with this critical phase that can make or break your night shot. Understanding how much light is available and the luminosity of the subjects are things to remember in this chapter. And Alister gives you the solution in order to clearly evaluate the scene. Focusing in the dark or the 500 rule are other valuable subjects covered.
The next chapter is a 101 crash course on exposure and variables one has to take into consideration for night photography. When considering exposure at night, it’s always between technical and creative choices. Alister will show you why.
The dynamic range is something discussed quite often in landscape photography. This next chapter explains the challenges of extending dynamic range during the night and some creative methods to achieve this. I wish things were a bit more technical here showing us the exact steps into achieving an extended dynamic range in the processing phase. But I realize this would require a separate ebook as the methods are quite advanced and possibly harder to understand. I personally use various ways for blending multiple exposures and I know it’s not something easy to achieve if you want natural results.
Composition is one of the critical aspects of photography in general, if not the most important. It’s the thing we have the most liberty to work with, yet it takes a trained eye to see graphical, to see lines and diagonals and the connection between all the elements in the scene, to abstract in order to find balance and to extract the aesthetic from the apparent chaos. In the chapter related to composition, Alister walks us through the ways of seeing in the dark and various technical aspects to consider when composing a scene at night. He also presents us some considerations of the main actors at night, the stars and the moon. Polaris has never been easier to understand for me.
“In the Field” shows us case studies from Alister’s portfolio grouped by the type of available light during the night: blue hour, dark nights and bright nights. Each of these situations can be captured using a single exposure or multiple exposures and Alister covers each of them. A nice bonus here is that we’re not presented only with the field techniques, but also with one very neat method used in the processing phase, that of stacking star trails.
The last chapter of the book focuses on equipment. Night photography doesn’t require anything special to achieve good images, except maybe for a camera body with good high iso capabilities. A programmable cable release is something I need and Alister explains its importance.
The only super minor drawback of this ebook is the fact that the text is white on a dark background. It’s understandable, as the night images are seen far better on dark backgrounds than white ones, but it makes a bit harder for me to read it and also to print it. I usually prefer the feeling of a real book and I print all of my ebooks. But that’s just me.
“Seeing the Unseen” is for the beginner and the more experienced photographers alike, explaining basic principles on landscape photography as well as more advanced ones covering landscape photography at night. It might just be the most comprehensive and complete guide for landscape photographers wanting to explore the beautiful realm of available night light. I highly recommend it. And I think the price is more than fair for the quality information you get. More than that, until October 1st you have a 25% discount with the following code: ALINEW1. Click the image below to go to Alister’s website and to find out more about this great ebook.