Books I've read: Michael Clark's 'Exposed - Inside the Life and Images of a Pro Photographer'


It may seem odd to a review a book from a photographer who operates in the same genre of photography as I do (outdoor and adventure sports) But I do think you should learn from the best and, if I’m going to emulate anyone’s approach to photography, I’m happy if it’s Michael. Everything he’s done (that I’m aware of), from his business approach and the quality of his photography to his approach to marketing, I’ve admired greatly.

Michael Clark is one of the world’s top adventure sports photographers. With a client list that includes Nikon, Nike, National Geographic and Red Bull, he is well qualified in the photo industry and his willingness to share his knowledge, business practices and experience through his blog, newsletters and books has been a great source of inspiration for me since I started my business.

Michael is the author of two previous books; ‘Adventure Photography: Capturing the World of Outdoor Sports’ and ‘Adobe Photoshop Lightroom: A Photographer’s Workflow’. I’ve read both books many times and I learnt from Michael’s Lightroom book greatly when I adapted his photography workflow last year to manage my own photos. As a result, I’ve been looking forward to his new book ‘Exposed: Inside the Life and Images of a Pro Photographer’ since he announced it back in January.

Here is a summary of ‘Exposed’, in Michael’s own words;

The idea behind this book is to strip some of the glamour off this profession and share a wide range of stories and experiences to give the reader a very clear view of what it is like to be a working professional photographer—and what it takes to create top-notch images”.

Has Michael achieved his objectives? Read on to see what I think;

Idea 1 – “Strip off some of the glamour off this profession…”

Check. At first glance, adventure sports photography certainly does seem glamorous (and I know it’s not). What Michael is very good at is getting past this and outlining the great effort and pre-planning involved in;

a.) Getting the assignment, by tirelessly marketing yourself and your work. Either getting yourself chosen off the back of existing work or, something he is passionate about, using personal projects to keep yourself fresh and creative and ahead of the pack; and using that as a means to gain new clients;

b.) Planning out what you’re going to shoot, where and what with – e.g. by researching your subject in depth, being creative in your thinking and knowing your equipment technically, inside-out. In general, being prepared so you can get the most out of the shoot even if things don’t always go to plan (two of Michael’s tips – have a shot list and a plan A, B and even C);

c.) Choosing, carrying and setting up all the equipment needed – which for a lot of photographers would be deemed ‘lightweight’ but most surely isn’t in an adventure sports setting where you’re often trying to move fast through uneven terrain.

Emphasising this hard work is the not-so-glamorous locations Michael has found himself in pursuit of quality images. Being wet, tired and sore miles from anywhere in Patagonia (right up my street that one), hanging off a cliff on a badly cut rope in South Dakota (I’ll pass on that one, thanks) or squeezed in the entrance to a men’s bathroom in New Mexico taking portrait shots of free divers just out of the water (actually, nicely creative).

Idea 2 – “Share a wide range of stories and experiences…”

Check. Michael has included four ‘On Assignment’ chapters in the book;

a.) The Wenger Patagonia Expedition Race (top-end adventure racing) b.) Men’s Fitness (California search and rescue) c.) Red Bull Air Force (Utah base jumping) d.) The Eddie Aiku (Hawaii surfing).

In each of these chapters, he explains the assignment in depth and details key things he considered to get the final image. As well as this, throughout the other ten chapters of the book (whose topics range from ‘Some days are better than others’ to ‘Keeping the fires stoked’), Michael includes plenty of other anecdotes and explains what was going through his mind as he prepared for a shoot.

I’ll admit the highlight story for me isn’t about adventure sports but of his State Street Global Advisers shoot of professional golfer, Camilo Villegas. A brief glimpse of the pressures involved in photographing for high-end advertising firms and being told by an Art Director, “You’ve got 10 shots. That’s it“*.

Idea 3 – “Give the reader a very clear view … what it takes to create top-notch images.”

Check again. Each of the 16 main images Michael has chosen for the book has a background story on how he came to be in a position to make the image, information on what gear and thought processes he used to get the shot and a ton of technical Lightroom information demonstrating how he moved the image from in-camera to final post-production. (I suppose there’s a small risk here that the extensive Lightroom slider adjustments information may cause some people to switch off slightly. I love the practice of photo processing but, having read the book more than once already, it’s these parts I’m finding I’m not immediately re-reading – as the values you end up choosing are so individual to your own photographs. I do think the information is very valuable though and essential to the book).

To sum up my review, I think Michael has achieved his objectives and I really like ‘Exposed’. It’s got lots of great information and pictures in it and it’s a good read. I’m sure Michael will admit that it is unusual for a photographer to open up and share as much information about their images as he has (he freely admits an instance in the book where he made a mistake). I’m glad though he was this honest and has also chosen in his career to educate others. I for one have learned a lot from Michael’s books – both from a business operating side and of post-processing – and this is another one I will be regularly dipping in and out of for reference in the future.

Be warned the book can be very technical, mostly from a Lightroom perspective. The included DVD has a Lightroom and Photoshop primer but I suggest reading Michael’s Lightroom book (or another Lightroom teaching book) first. If you do and you find you’re as interested in the mechanics of post-processing a photo as much as making one, then this book is an additional purchase I’m sure you’ll treasure. The only other thing I would add is you sometimes have to jump back pages to read about other things on the same assignment/topic. Which can be touch frustrating but isn’t a big issue and doesn’t take away from what I’d still class is an excellent book.

*Text excerpt and image from Exposed: Inside the Life and Images of a Pro Photographer by Michael Clark. Copyright © 2012. Used with permission of Pearson Education, Inc. and New Riders.