Book Review

New Handbook Gives Unique View on Bird Photography

Handbook of Bird Photography cover The Handbook of Bird Photography [Click here to buy from]
by Markus Varesvuo, Jari Peltomäki, and Bence Máté
Publisher: Rocky Nook, Inc. © 2013

Written by three internationally acclaimed bird photographers, this handbook ends with the statement -- and in a sense begins with the premise that -- “Every good image has a story that touches the viewer's imagination. The story is not created by pressing the shutter release, it stems from the photographer's own, individual and unique vision.”

Unlike most bird or nature photography books I've read, The Handbook of Bird Photography doesn't just focus on equipment. Yes, there are chapters on digital cameras, lenses, light sources, tripods, and accessories. But the book begins with the birds rather than the cameras; and that's key to what makes this book so useful. The first section is devoted to “Learning About Your Subject.” Without a thorough knowledge of birds and their behavior, no bird photographer will ever express that unique vision.

“Studying bird behavior, . . . and bird songs and calls, by spending time in the field observing and learning why and when birds do what they do, yields a wealth of information that cannot be found in books,” says the opening chapter. They add that observing birds is also fun.

Author Bence Máté includes a chapter on the importance of camera angles, illustrated with photos demonstrating some dramatic angles that obviously took a great deal of skill, patience and experience to capture. He points out that capturing a moment in a bird's life as seen through the eyes of another bird provides a dynamic image far more interesting than a snapshot by an external observer. “Viewers are instinctively drawn to an image that is taken from an unusual angle,” he points out, “and that makes them wonder how the image was taken in the first place.”

Other chapters that especially drew my interest included one on using water as an element in a bird photo, a good chapter on motion blur, and one on how to use weather to your advantage. “A good image is made with good light,” says the subtitle of the chapter on light, which provides tips on everything from moonlight to lightning. The authors are European. Varesvuo and Peltomäki are from Finland, and Máté is from Hungary; so their examples are largely from Europe. Their advice, however, is universal. While the chapter on “Photographing at Migration Flyways,” talks about European flyways and species, the advice applies equally to the Atlantic Flyway. When Varesvuo talks about wetlands being a good place for bird photography during migration seasons, he could just as well be talking about Delaware.

Whether you're just starting out in bird photography, or trying to improve your skills, this is an important book to own. It's a book of very useful information, guidance, and ideas. And then there's the photography. This volume is more than worth its price for the gorgeous photography on almost every page. Even though it is not a "coffee table book," you'll probably want to leave it lying around both for its beauty and its utility.