Book Review: Living Landscapes by Todd & Sarah Sisson

Living landscapes - titleThere’s an abundance of books about landscape photography on the market. Most recently, Todd and Sarah Sisson added a new eBook to this large pool of resources by releasing “Living Landscapes – A Guide To Stunning Landscape Photography“. It is Todd and Sarah’s first book, and has been published by Digital Photography School (DPS). Now, how is Living Landscapes different from its competitors? And is this new book worth buying?

Todd and Sarah Sisson live in New Zealand and landscape photography has been the focus of their business since 2007. In Living Landscapes they showcase some of their work and by just browsing through the pages you’ll notice that Todd and Sarah know their subject extremely well. The 132 pages of the book are loaded with gorgeous images and – as so often with books on landscape photography – you might just keep Living Landscapes on your coffee table.

Todd and Sarah start off with defining their subject and explaining why landscape photography is different. In the next chapter, they go over a list of equipment, covering camera bodies, lenses, tripods, ballheads, filters and flashcards. Then, in the third chapter, Todd and Sarah give detailed instructions on the “crafts” of landscape photography (aperture, shutter speed, color, focusing, you name it). So far, there’s nothing that you wouldn’t find in other books about the topic as well. However, what makes Living Landscapes special is the fresh writing style and the many real-world examples that make the book an enjoyable and instructive read. What I liked most in this first part of the book are insights like how we’re usually unaware of how much our brains influence our visual perception of the world around us. I’ve literally shot hundreds of landscape images without noticing some branches of trees or other stuff creeping into my picture from one side of the frame. And once you realize how much your brain lets you see a rose-tinted version of the landscape while you’re in the field, you might develop a better awareness and improve your image results.

Living landscapes - page example

The layout of the book is clean and the example images are awesome.

The fourth chapter explores the creative side of landscape photography. Here you’ll learn about lighting and composition. Todd and Sarah break composition down into “dynamic” and “static” landscape and that’s actually where I learned the most. The authors define a dynamic landscape image as “one that in some way conveys the energy and scale of the natural world” whereas its static counterpart “respect[s] the two-dimensional nature of the medium resulting in a flatter, more traditional composition”. According to Todd and Sarah’s definition, dynamic landscape images combine these elements:

  • Interesting perspective
  • Visually interesting foreground elements
  • Visually interesting mid-ground and background elements
  • Vivid color or incredible light
  • Vision-locking tonal control
  • Suggestion of movement
  • Leading or converging lines

The fourth chapter also answers questions like “Can dynamic landscape images be black and white?” or “Are all good landscape images ‘dynamic’?” I was surprised when I heard Todd complaining about the fact that there’s no Wikipedia entry about “dynamic landscape photography”, although the terminology has been used since the 1980s. It should at least be mentioned in the article about Galen Rowell who popularized the term in his late years. Any volunteers around?

The fifth and second-last chapter of the book covers post-production. Here it becomes most obvious that Living Landscapes is targeted at landscape photography beginners. Although the authors do a great job of explaining the most common techniques, they chose to only showcase global and local adjustments on a very basic level. It doesn’t bother me that Todd and Sarah don’t cover Photoshop editing techniques as I’m doing most of my post-production work in Lightroom as well. However, some short sections about HDR and things like focus stacking (yes, that’s not only useful in macro work) would have been great.

In their last chapter, Todd and Sarah offer the reader what they call “specialist landscape advice”. Here you’ll learn about how to shoot sunsets and sunrises, mountains, water, forests, etc. And again, every subsection is illustrated very well with lots of example shots.

Overall, Living Landscapes is one of the best books for beginning landscape photographers on the market. The authors’ writing style is refreshing and the many beautiful landscape images combined with excellent advice make it well worth the price of $29.99. You can download it at

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Living Landscapes – A Guide To Stunning Landscape Photography
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Flickr photo "The Bridge"
Story Behind The Shot: The Bridge (August 2013)

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