Some of us are old enough to remember that subscribing to the snooty National Geographic used to be no easy thing. We had to find someone who was already a subscriber – or “member” of the National Geographic Society of Washington DC – to nominate us.
Once we had paid our money we had to wait weeks for a passing ship from America to deliver our magazine, but it always seemed worth the wait. No other publication compared with it for the sheer brilliance of its photos. This was the era of Kodachrome – when we first subscribed it was Kodachrome 16ASA.
Kodachrome transparencies reproduced on true white, glossy paper, gave a brilliant, richly saturated image. We thought of it as essentially American – a little brighter and a little richer than the dull world we lived in.
These days for about $20 any Tom, Dick or Harriet can get a twelve month subscription for the National Geographic on iPad or Android tablet. What’s more the electronic version is interactive – touch the screen here and there for additional information, zooming in, playing videos and so on. And the fondly remembered visual richness is still there.
In fact our pal A reckons that the saturation is a bit over the top, but we argue that that is the National Geographic style that we know and love. The current crop of talented photographers may be shooting digital but it looks as though the publishers have instructed them to set their DSLRs to higher saturation and sharpness than the default.
National Geographic Society is no longer a haughty club, it is now a veritable online shop, and not surprisingly there is an emphasis on photography. The discrete photography section of the society’s web site (tinyurl.com/5t8p79) sells books, posters and videos. Every day there is a new and stunning Photo of the day. And it also has some useful giveaways.
You must sign up for the freebies, which means you will get regular new product emails, but it’s worth putting up with a small invasion of privacy to get the goodies. In particular two pdf booklets: Ultimate field guide to photography and Guide to photography: Photography basics.
These little e-books are for beginners to download and read on a pad, tablet or computer. The authors make the assumption that readers don’t know a lot about camera technology and the basics of good photography but would like to learn.
The Ultimate field guide… is largely about camera technology and Guide to photography… is about light, framing and composition.
If you know someone just getting started in photography you could help them by downloading and printing the two booklets. There is some misleading information about lens focal lengths in the Ultimate field guide… but otherwise they are the best beginners’ manuals that no money can buy.