Wake Audubon was contacted by Maggie Yates from Rocky Nook Inc. to see if anyone from the group was interested in reviewing a new book on bird photography, suitably called “The Handbook of Bird Photography” by Markus Varesvuo, Jari Peltomaki and Bence Mate. Ms. Yates sought someone with an interest in both birding and bird photography, so Gerry Luginbuhl suggested that I review this book. I shopped around to see if someone with more photography skills than those that I possess was interested in reviewing this book, but I found no takers. Once Ms. Yates sent me a free copy, and now that I have read this book, I am glad that I had the opportunity.
The purported goal of this book is to provide practical general tips for photographing birds with an emphasis on specific tips associated with photographing specific classes of birds, such as waterfowl, birds of prey (including eagles, hawks and owls) and fast flying, small passerines. Irrespective of the practical recommendations provided in this book, these three photographers have included a set of amazing photographs. The evidence is in and their techniques are clearly quite successful. The interesting poses, the exceptional clarity and the well-planned composition were all quite impressive. Unfortunately for me, the equipment that these photographers use to achieve these results runs in the 10s of thousands of dollars, an investment that is difficult to justify unless you are trying to make it a profession. It was, however, interesting to see how wide a variety of lenses were used successfully to take photographs with quite different perspectives. Bird photography often focuses on huge and extremely costly telephoto lenses but in this book they demonstrated very effective and engaging use of wide-angle lenses. Many of the photos shown in this book were taken in blinds and this is a technique that has permitted these photographers to achieve some awesome pictures. I did find it quite encouraging that they were also successful with using a car as a blind, a technique that I have also used successfully. Living and birding in North Carolina, it was a bit challenging for me to relate to the snowy conditions highlighted by some of their owl photographs.
In conclusion, I believe that this book deserves a look, if for no other reason than it has some spectacular photographs of birds. It provides good advice concerning strategies for successful bird photography. This advice extends to suggestions for specific locations around the world, advice about what the camera settings should be employed to achieve certain effects, and it describes useful strategies to employ to achieve certain kinds of photographs. The authors of this book clearly know their trade and have been successful in it. The book also succeeds both as a visual feast and as an instruction manual. One cannot learn to be a photographer from this book, but it certainly provides insights that will make you a better bird photographer.