Book Recollection: Decisive Moments

Ummm … as he hangs his head and kicks pebbles to the side.. I’m going to go with my third Book Recollection in a row.  My year long book reading goal is in peril and the chances for actually completing that goal is bleak at best.  My plan of action at the moment is to try and get as many out of the way as possible in order to give me the best chance of success next year.  To be honest, my reading pile grew over the year which cut a little bit into the progress meter but those were all good additions and absolutely no disappointment there.  Today’s recollection is actually a short book created by Scott Linstead called Decisive Moments: Creating Iconic Imagery.  For starters, if you are interested in wildlife photography and do not know who Scott is, you need to drop whatever you are doing  (errr make that finish reading this fabulous blog) and then make haste to your internet browser or local bookstore.  I’ve been following Scott’s work for awhile now ever since encountering his work in some wildlife photo collections.  His shots have a tendency to make one’s own wildlife efforts small and amateurish.. which if you already consider yourself an amateur (like me) then it basically stands as a high water mark for your own development.  I tend to use the word “favorite” a little too often, but in this specific instance I can, without hesitation, say this is one of my FAVORITE wildlife photography books.  In fact, I tend to use a number of his creative viewpoints when composing my own shots – again.. no where close to his abilities, but without a destination we are just taking trampling grass.

So I’ll start with a few small things that bothered me about the book so I can leave you with the numerous positives.  The first annoying thing is the page numbering.  It took me forever to figure out what page I was on when referring back to the photo descriptions.  I was probably 4 pages from then end when I noticed a faint marking near the bottom of one of the pages which basically looked like this #|#.  Not all pages have this due to the size of the images, but wow, that was hard to find.  Secondly, the book is not created that solidly.  I was actually concerned while flipping through the pages that one was going to work its way out.  I blame this on the publisher that chose to bind the book with elongated threading.  This is one of those books that could be thumbed through quite frequently just to appreciate the images, but due to the binding it will probably sit closed a lot more than it should.  And lastly, it was a slight disappointment to learn that a number of the shots in the gallery book were done through baiting.  When it comes to wildlife pictures, I tend to look at it in specific facets – how well the mechanics are (is it in focus, is the depth of field appropriate, graininess), what kind of setting was it captured in (chasing the light, fighting the shadows, movement compensation) and composition (is the subject appealing, do the other elements in the picture deter or strengthen the image) and then degree of luck (being in the right place at the right time).  Scott’s work almost always nails every one of those facets but knowing the shots were slightly contrived, he is giving himself an edge.  To his credit, he openly admits it noting that a contrived setup can be even harder than waiting for something to happen.  By the end of the book I was a convert in the sense I accept the baiting as a component of his art.  He is able to access a situation, plan out an approach and execute…. and besides, this is really just throwing stones in the Lightroom glass house.

In this book Scott takes some of his iconic shots and gives the reader the story behind it.  Thumbing his noses at magicians throughout, he not only tells his motivation for the shot but describes how the magic happened whether it be expertly placed trip sensors or building a fake habitat in order to control the shot.  If I ever get to meet him, my first question will be what effect his flashes have on his subjects.  As he points out, he is setting up the triggers incognito, but there are definitely off camera flashes that drive the lighting in the shot – lighting that could be quite a surprise to an unsuspecting mother returning to her offspring.  It will be awhile before I venture into the tripwire and baiting arena, but until then I’ll feast on the multitude of great shots – especially his birds of prey shots which can make your heart skip a beat as they leap off the page at you.  I do need to thank my wife for acquiring this book for me.  Want to know another reason this is one of my FAVORITE books?   Well, then check this little feature out:

That’s right baby, my wonderful wife managed to get it signed to me by Scott himself!

Hit the jump to read my takeaways!

My Takeaways:

  • A great picture is one that interests individuals outside of the picture’s demographics
  • Scott uses a Phototrap to capture many of his shots
  • Anthropomophism – The inclination to interpret human characteristics in animals or inanimate objects .. maybe this is why I want to shoot the clown fish everytime I see it
  • Recommends not using continuous focus on subjects coming right at you (better for subjects moving across your field of vision) since the focus dampens system sensitivity to account for that type of movement
  • I feel a little sorry for all the mice sacrificed for these shots
  • He uses a 500mm as a foundation for his work  (Linda, I need to stop by the camera shop on the way home toni…. denied)
  • He, of course, has the osprey shot I have been trying to get for years now – apparently I need to book a flight to Finland to get the best opportunity
  • “The power of the cuteness factor should never be underestimated” – all I can think of when reading that is Puss N Boots – like me, he looks for the cute or quirky poses
  • He has been the subject of many angry tirades from overnight conservationists.  It also looks like live baiting owls in Southern Quebec is hotly contested – the author has chosen not to go that route (in that region) for now on to avoid this confrontation
  • He enlists local pet stores as sources for his picture subjects as well as professional animal handlers
  • “There remains the impression that an image one does not suffer to obtain is somehow of lesser value than the one that was relatively easily obtained” – this is probably my reasoning behind the slight disappointment when finding out trip wires were used.  I am not so sure to believe the easier one is getting treated unfairly as much as I believe the shot taken without all these tools should get a little more credit – semantics, of course, but don’t you agree?
  • I did now know the roadrunner bird has an inclination to avoid flying at all costs – this must piss off the penguin
  • The Pond at Elephant’s Head near Tucson is apparently a nice place to capture images of bats

Oh.. did remember one other strange aspect of this book … it just literally ends.  One moment you are looking at a deer and reading a description of the inspiration and the detail behind making the shot and the next thing you are looking at is two blank pages at the end of the book.  There was no summary or anything to indicate the fun was over.  I remember turning the page and going “Hmmm”  Maybe he had thousands of Yellowstone pictures to get to … if that was the case, then clearly we understand the urgency.

By the way, did I mentioned the book was signed!  I did …. oh never mind hehehehe

4 thoughts on “Book Recollection: Decisive Moments”

  1. Very interesting! If you leave mice out for a trap you might find snakes showing up, which would make even more awesome shots of birds of prey in action. Maybe Linda could go around baiting and re-baiting the traps.



    1. I think you have just officially crossed the Linda line as she has initiated the dreaded Ron Embargo. The terms are not yet fully understood but I am sure it involves a ban from the premise and some restrictions on contact in and out the household. Such a shame being so close to Christmas and all, but luckily I got the birthday present off before she saw your comment. As far as duration of the ban goes, that could be tricky. She is still emotionally impacted from a incident in the convertible that happened over two years ago (apparently a hawk flying over the open top with a snake in its claws can touch a sensitive nerve).. and that was away from the house .. you are suggesting that we entice the snakes to come closer to the house…. very bad … very bad man.

      Now between you and I, this sounds like a great idea – I could see a full time National Geographic job if we could pull that off… Imagine a hawk.. wait .. make that an eagle snatching up a garter snake… wait.. a giant black rat snake in the middle of it snarfing down a mouse — now that is a Decisive Moment (especially from Linda’s point of view)

      sorry about the ban, but thanks for sharing a great idea!


  2. Well, there goes my Christmas gift idea for Linda:

    Now I’ll have to find something else.

    Thinking about the concept more, though, perhaps this is the perfect intersection between your mole trapping and photographic interests. But I’m not suggesting anything. Nothing at all, really. Nada.



    1. Holy crap that’s perfect! ummm maybe perfect for putting Linda into permanent therapy but add a little convertible model under it and we’re good to go – however, I’ll let you be the one who stands next to her when she opens it!!


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