Book Recollection: Creative Bird Photography

I am pretty ashamed of myself right now.  Remember that goal of getting through my ever growing stack of reading material?  If not, I completely understand since I haven’t posted a book recollection since ..wait for it .. wait for it.. APRIL (link here).  Pretty pathetic, but there are some reasons for that and most of them result in just being too tired or busy to sink myself into anything with any intellectual depth.  As a result most of my night and travel reading has been running and health magazines that invade my mailbox once a month.  There are usually some interesting quick reads in the running journals but I am quickly coming to the conclusion that my health mags are worthless – give them three months and they will contradict every recommendation they gave you in the current month.  I’ll be ending those and my Guitar World subscription at the next renewal.

The bright spot in all of this is I have been turning a few pages in a real book every once in awhile.  Somewhat shocking I actually came to the index on one last week.  Which means it’s time for a new Book Recollection – WOOT!!  Today’s entry is about an offering from Bill Coster on Creative Bird Photography: Essential Tips and Techniques.  Pretty sure Linda picked it up for me – obviously she knows me pretty well.  This is a 160 large paper bound book printed on nice stock pages which make the numerous pictures stand out nice and crisp.  To be honest, it was more of an inspiration book than a volume of new information.  This isn’t Bill’s fault but I have read so many books and manuals on wildlife photography that it takes something revolutionary to really grab me.  However, if you like perusing some of the best bird photographs you will ever see.. then this book is for you!  This is where the inspiration comes from – nothing like seeing successful shots out in the field to get your juices flowing to go out there and try to get your own gallery shots.  When it comes to bird photography, Arthur Morris is clearly in the cream (can check out his work out here) Beware, that dude is a Shopaholic in case you have some angst on that (I DO NOT).  Based on the images in this book I am going to add Bill into this elite group as well – strange that I have never stumbled on his work before.  He also gets extra props because he started in the IT Industry before going full time into photography – his sweet spot back then were birds in flight which were pretty rare in the film days.  This led to his employment with one of the top natural history agencies in Britain.  Oh, did I mention he was raised in London?  This particular book was based on a series of articles he wrote for Birds Illustrated magazine – maybe I’ll replace my health subscription with a bird journal .. maybe even on the iPad.  He does an excellent job of giving the details (bird type, location and exposure information) for all the shots in the book.  Note he is a Canon user – let’s all let out a collective siiigggghhhh.

One thing that becomes very clear in the book is Bill has a lot of spare time and is very patient in the field.  He details all of the locations around the world he’s been able to shoot at (many of which I’ve added to my travel list) and continually mentions the multi-day outings just waiting for a bird to show up where he wants it to.  This is a huge advantage over holding down a full time job in the IT world.  I actually have a pretty big list of takeaways so clearly it was worth the read if you can call 160 pages in 5 months actually READING.  There are 38 unique birds (class and common name combined) within the covers (yes, I counted them) and I’m sure some of them you have never seen in person.  If you are new to bird photography or wondering why anyone would take up this pastime, then this book is for you.  If you want to judge how far you need to go before you can call yourself a real bird photographer, then this book is for you (answer a LONG ways for me) or if you just like looking at “purdy” pictures then … this book is for you.  If there is one negative on the book is that it just simply ends.  One moment you are learning about Tilt Shift photography, turn the page to see a couple full spread shots of bird flocks and next thing you know you are staring at the index.  No words of encouragement, no go out and win one for the Gipper speech (speaking of which Notre Dame is currently kicking the crap out of Michigan State) or thanks for spending your valuable time with me.  None of that, just the index.  This always gives me the sense that the book was rushed or the author became so bored or burdened with it that he was relieved just to make it to the page quota.  Maybe it is just me, but if ever write a book I’m going to take the time to properly polish up the ending.

Well, that’s it boys and girls.  Hope you enjoyed the discussion and find some value in the Takeaways that can be found after the jump.  Until next time, happy shooting


  • Started out in the IT Industry – definitely a plus in my book
  • The main focus of the book is creating good images of the birds living their complex and fascinating lives
  • Concurs that most of the time you are shooting at maximum aperture to give maximum shutter – I agree!
  • He recommends setting the ISO at a constant 400 and then work the other variables around it – this is exactly what my custom mode (U1 on my D7000) is set at
  • Step down one full stop for white birds
  • Recommends the blinkies
  • If conflicted, always keep the highlights (right side of graph) over the shadows (left side) in the histogram of graph – actually strive for maximum to the right but without loss in order to capture maximum amount of data for post (RAW) processing
  • Claims Nikons run at full frame (full sensor) or 1.5x for cropped – will have to verify this – as a wildlife photographer, I’m just fine with the extra magnification of the crop sensor.  Note, what I didn’t know is that the 1.5 applies to both sides so the magnification is really 1.5 x 1.5
  • Same magnification rules apply to Teleconverters – so my 1.4 is really 1.4 x 1.4 = 1.96 .  Sweet when you combine that with my 200-400 which is the current Beast configuration
  • Oddly enough he prefers the clip tripods over the twist one – I prefer the twists since they are quieter in the field – nothing like “click click click” while trying to set up for a nervous bird
  • Recommends the Wimberley tripod head – will be looking into this – my current tripod head (Benro Ball) just isn’t sturdy enough for the Beat configuration
  • Recommends the Better Beamer for targeted flash in the field
  • Recommends the Thinktank Airport Acceleration bag since it conforms to airline dimensions and easy to carry on the back – Unfortunately, I have a number of bags at the moment and fear becoming another Linda and her dog crates
  • Standard practice is to convert a RAW into 16bit TIF and then convert it to 8bit once the modifications are made – publishers apparently prefer 8bit – he only keeps the 8bit to cut down on storage
  • He thinks before he presses the shutter – I have lost too many shots doing this so I shoot, then think, recompose and then shoot again – that way I have at least something to show for my effort (plus I have Photoshop hehehe)
  • Mentions my biggest issue to work on – overlooking the foreground objects thanks to concentrating too much on the subject – I have numerous less than stellar shots to thank for this oversight
  • Shooting at eye level to the bird adds impact to the shot – must keep this in mind (and wear clothes I don’t care about out in the field!)
  • Rules of thirds doesn’t apply as much when shooting portrait format
  • If you have more space below a birds reflection than above the bird’s head, the shot doesn’t look right
  • This is the second author that has complained about shadows on the far wing of birds in flight – honestly, I don’t see the issue since it really gives the picture depth.. but then again I am not  professional
  • Shooting Locations:
    Venice Rookery – Florida: World famous location for breeding waterbirds – birds more accustomed to humans and thus more approachable – they also have Great White Egrets
    Merrit Island National Wildlife Refuge – Florida: have the Roseate Spoonbills and Herons
    Estero Lagoon – Florida: turns out this is a lagoon near Fort Meyers which is where my parents happen to have a condo – time to plan a visit
    Klamath National Wildlife Refuge – border of California and Oregon: has the American Avocet
    Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge – Delaware: has flocks of Snow Geese
    Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge – New Mexico: best place for dawn and dusk photography – 30,000 Snow Geese winter regularly there – also location of the fire mist shots!
    Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge – New Jersey – bordering the Atlantic Ocean: home to large numbers of Black Brant Geese during the Winter months
  • Prefers to have more sensors active when taking birds in flight – I am still using the center sensor but may experiment with turning a few more on
  • He points out he spends a lot more time watching bird behavior as a photographer than as a bird watcher – I totally agree since the behavior patterns lead to better shots
  • Suggests shots of birds flying away rarely works – kinda of have to agree with him, but sometimes the it does work out for me if nothing else to give another view of the plumage and coloring to help identify it back in post processing
  • Albatrosses mate for life and perform some of the most enchanting courtship displays
  • Awesome Shots”
    Really like the Common Kestrels shot on page 79 – has a male passing a recently captured rodent to his mate
    The Emperor Penguins parents looking down at their offspring on page 89 is quite the impact shot
    The Puffin headshot with all the fish in its beak on page 95 is stunning
    The Reddish Egret on page 105 belongs in any gallery
    Loving the Northern Goshawk drinking from a log in the water on page 106
    Once again taunted by an awesome shot of Osprey on page 118 – this time it was a female defending her nest from another by flipping up and displaying a lethal set of talons – I have to get my shot of the Osprey soon or I’m going to go crazy
    He actually closes with a shot that looks very close to our orange sky shots down at Banner Marsh
  • Seems like every photographer I read about has an owl shot with a rodent in its beak … apparently need to get one of those myself somehow
  • When photographing on ice make sure the histogram goes as far right as possible to compensate for the 18 percent gray cameras believe the world consists of
  • I need to find me a Roseate Spoonbill – those birds look cool
  • The author came out of the film era – which means he lived at a time when the professionals were distanced from the amateurs by the cost of film development – case in point when he was using his telephoto he “took a few rolls of film to make sure that I had stopped the head movement in at least a few of the shots – good lord, when I was a kid if I wasted multiple rolls of film on a single shot my parents would have had a heart attack
  • The Brown Pelicans in Florida are the easiest diving birds to photograph
  • Calls out location and patience as the two key elements in photographing birds – I’ll agree with location, but since this is a part time thing for me, waiting around for something to happen isn’t an option
  • A good image is often a combination of both skill and luck… for some reason this brings up a certain sunflower/bee picture that keeps haunting me
  • I need to add a Steller’s Eider to me wish list – they have a very unique coloring
  • Best line in the whole book: “On the other side of the fence are those who seem to believe that any traditional composition is no longer worthy of consideration, and that anything ‘new’ must be good just because it is different – a surprising number of who hold such views seem to pop up as judges in photo competitions.”  – how true, how true
  • Recommends
  • Slow pan – set aperture to f11 to reduce the effect of any small specks of dust on the sensor that show up badly at small apertures – small apertures of f22 or f32 show up all dust specks on your sensor

Big thanks to Linda for taking the cover shot for me!

4 thoughts on “Book Recollection: Creative Bird Photography”

  1. Ah, the sunflower and bee picture!! What a sweet reminder.

    The second-to-last bullet leaves me hanging. Recommends what??

    Why convert a RAW into 16bit TIF at all? Why not edit completely in RAW and convert it to 8-bit at the end? And 8-bit is all you get in publishing? I don’t know enough about this business.

    What’s “the blinkies”?

    Thanks for the book review!



  2. I find it amazing that every time I mention the line “luck shot” the sunflower/bee shot comes to mind. That should probably tell you something (ha).

    I like to leave my readers longing for more – teasers if you will to ponder and drive curiosity to check back and what’s new or corrected (in truth it was a mistake but embellishment is the 4 component of exposure when it comes to photography)

    I find that the RAW editing capabilities are limited to common photo manipulation (vibrance, exposure, clarity, de-noise etc) and not good at what I call more traditional shopping (background removal, content aware healing, no-circle cloning, duplication, making portraits of cats appealing etc.) and that is typically done in Photoshop which tends to prefer the TIFF format. I’ve heard and read a number of times now that publishers want 8 Bit since the format/sizes they are dealing will don’t call out the need for the extra depth — plus easier to transfer etc. Never really followed up on that much but I usually send 16 bits when I’m getting prints made – they probably convert them but no reason to start out less than I need to

    Blinkies? you do not know blinkies? wow, that’s like Digital SLR 101 (okay maybe more like a 201 if you have to spend the first semester learning the different between the scene modes and manual). There is a option on your Nikon (and assuredly on the Canon) that will make blown out areas blink on the rear LCD – this makes it very easy to see if you blew an exposure and in essence lost detail in the image – now sometimes this is required if you are fighting dark foregrounds and light backgrounds, but it is a handy device to have on if you don’t want to keep bouncing back an forth to the histogram – I’ll always verify the histogram, but if the screen is blinking like a white christmas tree I’ll change the settings and re-shoot first.


  3. Interesting information about the limits of editing RAW images (although portraits of cats are always appealing–perhaps nothing happens when you try this??). And that blinkies thing–how strangely newfangled. Never heard of it. And who looks at the LCD screen when taking a picture, much less at histograms? I figured it was probably a technique of blinking your eyes very quickly before taking the shot so you don’t have to blink in the final compositional stage before you trip the shutter. (Yes, trip the shutter.)



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