Review of The Handbook of Bird Photography

No matter what camera gear you’re using and how experienced you are, luck plays a big part in nature photography. There’s no subject for which this is truer than birds. As a bird photographer myself, I was intrigued when I picked up The Handbook of Bird Photography by Markus Varesvuo, Jari Peltomäki, and Bence Máté.

The book begins with some very important advice for anyone interested in bird photography – learn about your subjects! Throughout my experience as a bird photographer, I have also learned this to be essential. The book discusses some basics in the beginning such as where to find birds, what birds are in specific habitats, and characteristic bird behaviors. Knowing where to look and what behaviors to look for will allow photographers to get stunning photos. Though the book mainly discusses birds from Finland and other Northeastern European countries, some bird behaviors are universal. A good example is herons; when a heron is bent towards the water, with its neck in the shape of an S, and it is slowly leaning forward there will come a moment when the bird freezes. That means it’s about to make a go for a fish, whether you’re in Finland or the United States. Knowing about this behavior in herons makes it much easier to get action photos like this one.

Van Saun Park 2013 171

Some birds are harder to get to know than others because they are only around in certain seasons or weather. To many bird photographers, heavy rain, thick snow, or even a severe thunderstorm means no bird photography. However, there are separate sections in the book devoted to photography in the different seasons and in different kinds of weather. For example, snow can add to a bird photograph. We’ve all seen a photo of a bird sitting in a bush in winter, with snow and plump red berries on the branches. But what about birds in flight? Something I never really noticed, but which The Handbook of Bird Photography so nicely points out, is that snow really reflects light well, and that greatly enhances images of flying birds, because the reflecting light illuminates the bird’s underside. Cold weather provides other possible photo enhancements other than even lighting. Human breath steams in cold weather, and so does the breath of birds. This is an interesting way to use backlighting, which is normally not desired in bird photography. Get in position where the bird will be backlit, and preferably against a dark background, and the birds steaming breath should be spectacularly illuminated by the backlighting, and visible against the dark background. Clearly, a lot of weather that bird photographers usually see as a hindrance can offer amazing and unique photo ops!

The Handbook of Bird Photography by Markus Varesvuo, Jari Peltomäki, and Bence Máté was a very useful, helpful book to read, full of good photography tips and stunning photos, and I would recommend it for bird photographers of any experience.



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