Book Recollection: National Audobon Society Guide To Nature Photography

Ever start reading a book and come to the conclusion you might never actually finish it.  That is the exact situation I was in with today’s book recollection post.  Over three months ago I started reading National Audobon Society Guide to Nature Photography written by Tim Fitzharris.  Having perused the pictures in this particular book there was high expectations that the narrative would equal the stunning photos. And by stunning, I mean absolutely beautiful.  Turns out a number of Tim’s photos were actually scanned in from film with the added bonus of over 200 new digital photos (at least I think the new ones were all digital).  For those with access to the book, tops in my list was the image of a Marabou stork and African fish eagle fighting over a flamingo carcass.  That is now my benchmark for any photo session.  Another nice feature was he included the camera details for each of these shots providing some insights into how they were achieved.

As a quick background, this book was published by the National Audobon Society.  Interesting enough, their mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity.  It was first published in 1990with a revision in 2003.  This particular copy was a second printing 2011.  Supposedly this was updated for the digital age, but there are still missed references to the film days and the digital age has actually evolved a couple of levels since 2003 (for instance a gig card for a day’s shoot is looooong gone).  So what trumped all these great pictures?  The honest truth was the Tim’s writing style.  He deserves every credit he has ever received for his images, but his writing style tends to overplay the profession.   It is hard to identify exactly what it is about the narrative that annoyed me so much and therefore hard to really describe the issue here.  Instead, let me take a quote and let you form your own opinions.

“… No matter the result of your picture-taking efforts, the act itself serves as an example to family members, friends and even the larger community of a philosophy that marries abstraction with the elemental dictums of survival.”

Did you know the perfect line of system code (in Forth of course) eschews the very fiber that separates society from barbarianism and insure that humanity will always demonstrate the higher thought process once attributed only to the deities of religion?  I didn’t think you did .. ha.

You get my drift.  After about 10 pages of that I had to put it down before I witnessed the re-evolution of dinner, making the progression through the 207 pages quite difficult.  Eventually, the last page was turned.  Again, the pictures were quite impressive and there were some takeaways so it was not a waste by any means – although not a great return of tip per time read.  The scary thing is we already purchased a sister book from Tim focused on Landscape Photography.  We’ll just let that sit for awhile.

Hit the jump to see my takeaways.


  • Recommends Ruby Beach on Olympic National Park’s Pacific Coast – holy ground for photographers.
  • Homemade Beanbag Tripods –  1 gallon freezer bag and a couple of pounds of dried beans or sunflower seeds
  • Recommends tripods with snaps – disagree, the snaps tend to scare the wildlife
  • Comments on the fact bad weather shooting requires an assistant to hold an umbrella – which Linda and I affectionately refer to as the Umbrella Bitch
  • Recommends a Plamp for micro photography to stabilize plants – attach to a screwdriver in the ground .. not to tripod
  • August – Recommends Mount Rainier National Park
  • September – Recommends Yellowstone and the Tetons
  • Histogram – if pushed to the left – increase exposure one or two stops to shift to middle
  • Metering – recommends the evaluate/matrix mode as the default (avoid average metering mode and center-weighted)
  • Spot Metering- useful when shooting wildlife to insure proper exposure of head/eye region
  • Shutter priority has little use for nature photographers (Aperture Mode is the best mode for all subjects – not sure I agree with this since we now predominantly shoot on Manual
  • For birds and animals early or late in the day, shoot with the sun behind you (front light)
  • Hyperfocal distance – 1/3 of the way into the picture
  • Maximizing depth of field for landscapes – smallest aperture, focus on closest foreground element and then refocus slightly beyond
  • VR can extend exposure times by an additional two to three stops
  • Has a nice chart of action stopping shutter speed for different types of animals
  • The filter debate continues – he keeps a polarizing filter on his lens most of the time
  • Fill Flash – if not available automatically, set the flash ISO to double or quadruple the actual ISO speed
  • Colors – Red more attractive than yellow, difference more attention than conformity, jagged more striking than curved, light more attractive than dark
  • Red – signal for food, warmth, danger and death – needs to support or represent the center of interest – red is most attractive color to humans
  • Interesting fact – the human eye does not have the concept of out of focus blur (depth of field)
  • Uses peanut butter to draw subjects towards camera
  • Using bait of any kind in a National Park is NOT allowed
  • Coastal habitats – most productive photography occurs at low tide
  • Need to see if our cameras have instant touch manual override – to fine tune features sharpness
  • Stop the lens down if you want to compensate for focusing errors – yeah, I do this every once in awhile when struggling to get focus
  • 1/500 shutter speed on a hummingbird puts the wings in motion
  • Blue herons flip their fish so they can be swallowed head first
  • Wildlife – position camera at level of head
  • Good composition – animals looking back over their shoulder
  • Sunrise/sunset landscape shots – position camera to North or South
  • Top four North America reflective water locations – Grand Tetons from Schwabacher Landing, Mount Rainier from Reflection Lakes, Mount Rundle from Vermillion Lakes and Maroon Bells from Maroon Lake
  • Shadow pool reflection shots – keep camera  low (kneeling)
  • Hummingbirds sip human equivalent of 20 gallons of nectar – once accustomed to feeder can move it around to get the bet angle to shoot.  Quote – ‘Have fun with your Hummer!”
  • Position your tripod at or below bloom level
  • Apparently missed a revision edit – mentions “may be difficult to notice until the film is developed”
  • Framing two blooms is usually a mistake – splits center of interest
  • Suggests that one gigabyte per day of flash card capacity is enough per day – this is behind the times – we carry multiple 16G cards each day of a shoot – oh, and recommends archiving your collection to DVDs – good luck on that
  • Resolution – monitor:90 pixels/inch  inkjet printers: 225 pixels/inch  books:300 pixels/inch
  • The sharpening tool in Photoshop is apparently called Unsharp Mask
  • viewing an image at 50% magnification is good indicator of detail that will be available if printed for a book

Time to take a break from photography books and get some of those self-help books that have been staring at me off the read list.

Happy shutters everyone!

2 thoughts on “Book Recollection: National Audobon Society Guide To Nature Photography”

  1. Nice summary. Wonder where you got the book… 8^(

    I agree with the Mt. Rainier recommendations–it’s a beautiful area! I’ll have to send some Nikon D5000 pictures we took from there this July. I’m trying to remember why the Reflection Lakes were not good at that time–I think they were still partially covered in snow or something (as I mentioned before, the Paradise Inn we stayed at on Mt. Rainier had a 132″ snow base in early July, and the waterfalls were roaring!).

    I agree that Aperture Priority trumps Shutter Priority, and on the importance of fill flash for animals. I also have no problem with your comment regarding the Forth computer language.



    1. I hold no ill feelings toward the individual person who gave this book to me.. unless that person gets back into photography and ends up beating us at say a local fair or something. I forgot you were just at Mt. Rainier. You need to keep that a secret from Linda. If she hears that the waterfalls were nice we’ll be packing our bags immediately. Our last three waterfall shoots have been quite disappointing even though we have had record rainfalls in and around the area this year. On that topic, I will mention that Linda is one of the few people I know that is on the Shutter Priority trumps Aperture Priority side. It does make since from her perspective since her specialty is flowing water silks which relies on controlling the shutter. As a wildlife photographer I am still not completely convinced Aperture is better than Shutter in the since I usually worry about the shutter speed to appropriately capture birds in flight (now birds on a stick are a different story, but difficult to switch back and forth when the bird identifies my movement). Forcing the shutter in the 1000 to 1500 range allows me to freeze the bird in flight (my personal preference) and quite frankly helps take out any jiggle from hand holding.

      … and you are welcome for the Forth reference. Of course, not many people know a certain someone (umm you!) built their own computer from scratch and used Forth as their OS. Any chance you still have that laying around or did the Nomogracult make you destroy it as heresy .. just kidding.

      Thanks for the comment – pretty impressed this one came in only 2 hours after post!


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