Friday, June 7, 2013

Review: The Handbook of Bird Photography


The Handbook of Bird Photography by Markus Varesuvo, Jari Peltomake, and Bruce Mate. Rockynook Publishing (2013).

Where to begin? This is a serious book, filled with images that range in quality between stunning and unbelievable, almost all of birds of course. It covers most aspects of bird photography in a number of chapters, with an uncomplicated layout. It offers tips that would be valuable from beginners (i.e. using water as part of the composition of bird photos) to highly-advanced photographers (i.e. blind construction and remote-control setups). That said, a beginner who just got their first SLR might find some of this a bit intimidating. Neither a pro or a con, it should be mentioned that this book is somewhat Eurocentric. Most photographs that appear in this book from the New World are from the tropics, although many species pictured throughout are somewhat familiar. Although Europeans will likely be glad to read tips on where and when to find Lichtenstein's Sandgrouse on Norway's Varagner Peninsula, those of us in North America are probably not as interested.

The pros: The images, to put it simply, are practically flawless. This book could work just as well as a coffee table book or an instruction guide, and perhaps that is why it is laid out the way it is. It's an eye-popping publication, and leafing through the book I never get a sense that the photographers get overzealous with post-processing. You will find all kinds of tidbits of information you wouldn't necessarily expect, such as "Most good birding spots are normally teeming with birders, increasing the risk of conflicting interests between the groups." That's keeping it real right there.

Photographing birds at nest sites is a sensitive topic to both birders and many photographers alike. Fortunately, I can applaud the authors for making clear the negative effects a bird photographer can have at a nest site ("No photo is more important than the birds' lives", for example).

Overall, the book is very thorough in the ground it covers and avoids the trap of coming off as being choked with overly technical jargon. I certainly don't consider myself an advanced photographer of any sort (more like a birder who has carried a camera for a few years), and there is little in here that I can't grasp. Some will appreciate the small stories that accompany certain photographs to lend a bit of a human element to it.

The cons: Aside from the precautionary words given about photographing birds at/near nests, the authors otherwise seem to be quite aggressive in their tactics to secure shots, and endorse some pretty stupid stuff. There is actually a picture of a photographer clearing an "overgrown" grouse lek with a scythe (wtf?!). Unless you are trimming back vegetation on an extremely small scale (i.e. at a feeding station or backyard setup with no nest nearby), I really can't get behind something like this. They are also big on baiting raptors, which isn't exactly applauded by many folk.

Although much of the advice given is helpful to beginners, a lot of advice is given in a manner that suggests we all have a lot of time and money to invest in this pursuit. Beginner and intermediate photographers would probably appreciate advice on more economical gear that still has quality; this book is not a very good source for that information, and thus does not seem absolutely complete. Not many brand names are mentioned in here very often aside from Canon and Nikon.

There is also very little mentioned about post-processing, something that many photographers could find useful. One chapter deals with composing and cropping images once they have been uploaded to your computer (certainly good information), but that's about the extent of it.

With a US suggested price of $49.95, I think this certainly a "niche" book, even in the growing field of bird photography. It's certainly above my price range, but I have no doubt many wildlife photographers out there could afford this. I don't think I could recommend it to people like me (birders who are into photography), as it is a bit excessive, but photographers beginning to focus on birds or those looking to really dive deep into bird photography could learn a thing or three...just take it from the Number 7 birder in the nation, watch what you feed birds, be aware of how your actions affect them, and for god's sake leave the habitat "improvements" to the biologists.

This review was done for the Ventura Audubon Society, who generously provided the review copy.

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