Nick Onken’s New Travel Photography Book, “Photo Trekking”

I discovered Nick’s work a couple of years ago. Surfin’ from link to link, I stumbled upon his opening page and the image there of a woman with some amazing flare engulfing her. I immediately liked that shot, so I took some time to look around his site. simply wonderful imagery. Easy to get view, with a sensibility that was so accessible that I bookmarked it immediately.

Every one of my workshop students know his name as it is one of the dozen or so that I through out as being totally involved with making great pictures with light. Nope… not tons of strobes, as Nick seems to use a lot of natural light, and bounced ambient with great success, but light that wraps and flares and seems so integral to the communication ability of the image.

Yeah… I’m a fan. Heh.

So when I heard that he was coming out with a book of travel photographs, I emailed a congratulatory note to him. I mentioned that I would love to review the book when it came out and he emailed back that an advanced copy was on its way. Even cooler!

I gotta tell you that if you are interested in travel photography, or photography of people in environments, you must get this book. It is available now on Pre-Order at Amazon, and at a price that is simply irresistible. Man, those Amazon folks make the pre-orders really attractive with a huge discount.

Before I continue with the review, I would like to thank everyone for the great response to the workshops. Santa Cruz is nearly filled, and West Palm Beach is filling nicely. I do have some openings in New Orleans and Omaha, so if you know anyone who is interested in a workshop this year – one that actually teaches a ton of stuff you will use – send them on over to Learn To Light for more information.

A few important links That you may have missed:
A Sense of Urgency: Are You Demanding More of Yourself and Branding Your Photography Business, A Realistic View right here at LE.
Heather Morton has two great pieces in a row on Branding and the issues of working in another city. In Canada they call it the “Tall Poppy Syndrome” – refer to it as the “Out of Town Expert… on steroids”. My buddy Kirk Tuck has a post on building the perfect camera for himself… ah that it were that easy, and Seth always has something great to say. This point of “Looking Successful” is something to think about.

On the personal front, we are all moved in to the new studio, the office is setup and everything has been taken from the boxes and carefully arranged (LOL) in my work space. I am antsy to get in there and start shooting some food and still life soon. Probably after this weekend in Houston. I will do a walk around with a video soon so you can get an idea of how the studio lays out and what the work flow there looks like.

Please don’t hesitate to offer an article idea or to ask questions regarding any aspect of Lighting Essentials focus. We are ready and able to answer most questions you have as an emerging photographer.

Well, take the jump on to Nick Onken’s new book, Photo Trekking.


Photo Trekking is a different sort of travel photography book. From the outset you notice the landscape layout and the large, oversize images. Mmmm… big pictures! I like that! The printing is very nice, and for a photobook, that is really important.

But it is the content that is mixed with the images that set this book apart from a lot of other travel photography books that I have seen. Content that is real, easy to follow, and conversational… as if Nick were standing there telling you about traveling all over the world shooting known and exotic locations.

The table of contents shows how in depth the book really is: From Preparation to Tips to what to do After the Shoot, the information is delivered in easy to understand bites that don’t necessarily have to be done in order. Each chapter stands on its own. And that means you can read it any way you want. If you want to start with the Tips for Taking Great Travel Photographs chapter, go right ahead… it is self contained and full of great tips, tricks and professional working methods that are sure to increase the quality of your travel photography.

Nick starts by giving a real world evaluation of travel photography today. He cautions the unprepared and slowly guides the beginner through a potentially challenging maze of potential roadblocks. Traveling around the world, with bags and bags of camera gear is part art, part alchemy and a whole hell of a lot of planning. At every turn Nick takes the lead and tells the novice how to prepare and be ready.

This information is well stated and laid out through out the book as it relates to the different chapters, and I found that refreshing. Sometimes we need to be told a few times how something works, and keeping the challenges mixed with the fun of the imagery reinforces the serious side of such a fun lifestyle.

Nick Onken loves to make photographs.

And that truth is on every page, from setup shots and tests for his book, to once in a lifetime moments that are captured with his unique style, the imagery simply rocks. The larger size landscape images make such a great presentation.

Preparation is a fantastic chapter. Nearly all you need to know about preparing yourself, your gear and your mind’s eye to get the most out of a photo shoot on the road. Much of this advice is practical for the shooter who simply stays near home, but it is even more important for the ‘Trekker’ who may find it a bit difficult to get a sync cord in the middle of a Tibetan village in a snow storm. Funny how a $6 piece of gear can take the whole shoot with it when it goes.

Onken stresses the vision of the photographer. How to nurture it, press it, push it and develop it into a style that is unique to your shoot plans. Planning Your Images in Advance (heh, LE Workshop students… you have heard a bit of that before) and delivering them when the moment presents itself is one of the most important take-aways for the photographer who bought the book with hope of increasing the quality of their work.

The Tips Section is the one that will become dog-eared first in most folk’s books. From time honored suggestions of rules of thirds, through color and juxtaposition to the use of lens flare, there are some eye opening ideas and images that reflect the concepts.

Whether you are a newbie to digital photography or a long time pro, there will be something for you in this chapter. Nick presents it tightly, with examples and challenges for you to consider. One of the things a lot of photographers will like is the little personal commentary throughout the book giving the reader a glimpse into what he was thinking and doing at the time the image was taken. This insight is remarkable.

As a photographer as well as a designer, I must give kudos to the design team on this book. Beautifully arranged, with just the amount of white space and ‘air’. All of that leads to a more enjoyable read, for sure.

In the final chapter, Nick goes into detail on marketing travel photography, the creation of web sites, email campaigns and portfolio design. He uses his own portfolio and bound books to show how photographers can begin to market their travel work to ad agencies, NGO’s and magazines. Well presented and concise, the information is rock solid and easy to manage.

All in all I found the book to be an excellent addition to my collection. If it has a drawback it is that it makes you want to run off to the wilds of Argentina or Africa or… well, you get the picture. While some of us may have to settle for that cool road that goes from Sacramento to Mariposa (49), or a trip up the Eastern seaboard on the smallest two lane we can find, others will be inspired to pack it all in, grab their gear and go. Just go.

I recommend this book to any and all photographers who are interested in photographing people, developing a style, working on location or simply wanting to get a creative kick in the ass. Nick Onken’s “Photo Trekking” will deliver.

I would be remiss if I didn’t direct you to Nick’s new website – www.nickonken.com and his not to be missed blog at www.nickonken.com/shoptalk. Two sites that will inspire you as well as entertain.

Thanks for dropping by. You can follow me on TwitterNick too – and I hope you tell your friends about Lighting Essentials.

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About 

I am in love with light.

Also known as Don Giannatti, photography has been the focus of my life for most of my adult years. I have written three books for Amherst Media (available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble: keyword 'don giannatti'. Lighting Essentials is my flagship blog and ezine with a slightly different slant than most photography related blogs. If you are interested in becoming a better photographer, check out www.project52.org. Thanks for visiting.

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