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Expert Advice for All Levels of Bird Photography

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A review by Bill Schmoker

Mastering Bird Photography: The Art, Craft, and Technique of Photographing Birds and Their Behavior by Marie Read

Rocky Nook, 2019

340 pages, softcover

ABA Sales / Buteo Books 14938

Given the explosive growth of digital bird photography in the last decade or so, there have been surprisingly few titles devoted to the topic despite the proliferation of birding books in the same time span. In her ambitious new Mastering Bird Photography: The Art, Craft, and Technique of Photographing Birds and Their Behavior, Marie Read has distilled decades of experience into a beautiful, well-organized reference on the topic. As more birders count their camera along with binoculars and scope as essential field gear, many begin by grabbing shots without much thought other than centering the bird as best they can and pushing the shutter, often using the camera’s auto mode. Shots obtained this way are great for ID reference, documentation, gripping off your buddies, etc. These are perfectly fine and fun reasons to employ photography in your bag of birding tricks (and I think it is important to remember that there’s no “right” way to do any art form as long as you enjoy yourself). There are bound to be some gems in the mix, but many bird photos taken without planning and technical consideration are disappointing or just so-so for a variety of reasons. There’s nothing wrong with continuing to push the easy button ad infinitum, but for those who want to step up their photography game this book presents a trove of practical advice for making wonderful images of birds and undoubtedly improving one’s percentage of winners from each day’s photographic haul.

The book’s 16 well-organized and illustrated chapters comprehensively cover nearly every consideration of bird photography. Included are treatments of suggested equipment, settings for said equipment, field craft, composition, editing, and ideas for using your photos once acquired and processed. I think the first chapter, “Getting Started in Bird Photography,” could stand by itself as a thorough article full of ideas for laying a solid foundation for pursuing this most difficult of photographic subjects. In fact, much of the solid advice in this chapter can apply to improving one’s birding skills in general.

Read’s chapter on “Equipment Essentials” has lots of good advice as well but veers slightly toward tricky ground. I love her opening statement that she considers “field craft, creative vision, and determination as contributing far more… than having the newest camera or biggest lens.” Read then states, and I fully agree, that photographers often want to talk about gear or get advice on what equipment to buy. The challenge here is that the landscape of camera models, lenses, tripods, and the like will inevitably evolve while the rest of the book’s information is essentially timeless. So I think the best parts of this chapter are the big ideas of what to look for in camera gear rather than the specific models given as examples.

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