Take Better Bird Photos

the handbook of bird photographyWhat’s a birder to do, once we’ve checked off all the easily seen local birds? I, for one, can’t afford endless trips to exotic places. I don’t have time to chase rarities (which is why I missed the Red-necked Rail at Bosque last month). And I don’t keep year lists, or county lists (or even state lists).

How do you maintain your interest in species you see trip after trip? I turned to photography. There’s always the possibility of a better photo—a different pose, interesting behavior, surreal lighting. The more I practice, the better I get, although I have a long way to go before my photos are gracing the cover of National Geographic!

Now there’s a new resource for bird photographers. Simply titled The Handbook of Bird Photography,  I’d classify this book as a “must have” for anyone serious about improving their photo skills.

the handbook of bird photography - bence mateThree award-winning photographers collaborated on this stunning volume: Markus Varesvuo, Jari Peltomäki, and Bence Máté. As you might guess from the names, they are all Scandinavian. As the Introduction explains, each of these incredible photographers has a different background, perspective, and working style. Markus and Jari use Canon cameras; Bence prefers Nikon. Bence works with flash while Markus shoots under natural light.

The text is easy to follow, and the illustrations are both breath-taking and informative. As I read, I kept thinking, “I could do that!” They cover the basics—equipment, aperture, speed, focus, ISO, and more—but they don’t stop there. I learned about my camera’s advanced settings (I’m a Nikon fan), and which ones to use under which circumstances.

The Handbook of Bird Photography - OwlThere are numerous chapters on composition, all inspiring. Living so far north, they are used to working under varying seasonal conditions, and provide some extremely useful pointers for dealing with snow and cold. They even have sections on how to find birds, choosing locations, how to work from a blind (and how to build your own), and remote photography. I particularly appreciated the up-to-date chapter on “Promoting and Selling your Images.”

True, most of the examples cited pertain to Norway or Finland, but the principles are universal. In addition, they have traveled extensively, and include entire chapters of their work from trips to Japan, Greece, Hungary, Costa Rica, Brazil, and even our (almost) local Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico.

At first I considered the price tag to be a bit steep—the publisher (Rocky Nook) lists the soft-cover book at $49.95, Amazon has it at $31.95. Then I read all 358 pages. I was so impressed with the hundreds of large color photos and concise yet comprehensive advice, I now think it’s a bargain!
Burrowing Owl photo by Bence Máté, Gray Owl photo by Jari Peltomäki; both excerpted from The Handbook of Bird Photography.

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