Book Recollection: The Art of Bird Photography

Bird Photography by Arthur Morris
Today I bring you the first recollection of the young year.  Truth be told, I have been trying to get through this featured book for at least two years.  It has been all across North America as it is the book I would grab as my reading material on our cross country birding trips.  For some reason I kept getting sidetracked and would only get a few pages further regardless of how many days we were gone.  Luck would have it, I was able to FINALLY get through it while our recent trip to Texas – had a lot of driving time which gives plenty of opportunities to turn the pages … when Linda is driving, of course.  Do not make the assumption that the struggle to get through this book had anything to do with the quality – it is a worthwhile read, not overly technical beyond some detailed sections of exposure rules of thumb.  Even if you do not like reading, this book has some stunning photographs in it – absolutely stunning!  I find the better I get at photography, the more appreciative I get of the works from others.  Arthur Morris is a top notch photographer – add in the fact those pictures were done in film format is even more amazing.  I laughed to myself as he routinely mentions the thousands of film pictures he would take on a shoot – damn expensive in those days and huge separation along with glass costs between the professionals and amateurs like myself.

As a whole it did end up being a pretty quick read once I could dedicate myself to the task.  He reaffirmed a number of my hardened principles and gave me some things to think about and likely try.  At the end there is mention of a volume two available on CD that had the digital elements added to it – will probably pick that up some time too.  As a summary, I wouldn’t hesitate to take a gander at this book (may check out the CD instead for the digital aspects).  The shots are worth the time alone and will likely give you few more angles/options/poses to look for when you are out in the field.

In case you are wonder, this book appears to have been published back in 1998 with a large paperback version (the version I have) that came out in 2003.  Not sure if I ordered it special or got lucky when I ordered it, but my copy is officially signed by Arthur – nice little touch.  Hit the jump to see my takeaways.


  • Signature Style – Bird, its perch and a solid color background – less is more
  • 650 bird species breed in North America with over 200 others visit (8-9,000 in the world)
  • Bird photography is often disappointing and experience often frustrating – not sure I believe this unless the whole purpose of your photography is to sell the product where the real joy is just experiencing wildlife in their native habitats – kids, put down your game controllers and go out an experience nature
  • Photographing nesting landbirds can only harm the birds – I agree up close, but do not have a problem at safe distances – respect the family unit especially with some species when spooked might abandon their offspring whether for a short or long term, either is a tragedy
  • Agrees with me that if a bird looks up at you while approaching you are NOT harassing wildlife
  • Arthur is suspect of all vertical full frame songbird shots – especially if disheveled, perched odd or bulging eyes which are signs it is frightened from being caught in a net and forced to pose – He recounts a professional photographer he knew that swung an unfledged Grosbeak chick about his head several times before putting the dizzy bird on a clean perch
  • Recounted the DDT effect on eggs – this I am willing to debate based on the number of human lives the banning of that product cost us
  • He works in aperture priority mode and rarely ever in manual mode – interesting, I read this a lot, but confused as to why I would not want to control the speed – the camera doesn’t know what effect you want.
  • We definitely differ on the rear camera shutter button – he is not a fan .. I am a definite fan
  • Focus 1/3 into large flocks to get maximum sharpness
  • Arthur prefers evaluated metering
  • Noticed he had Willet pictures from Estero Lagoon Ft, Myers – does EVERYONE know about this spot (I have the exact same picture from there)
  • He brackets rarely, but noted he does it when shooting a rare bird – good idea – I will have to remember that
  • Prefers direct front light on subjects – have your shadow point directly at it
  • Recommends taking shots when the bird is looking directly down the barrel of the glass – I find birds looks incredibly weird or downright frightening when taken head on – I agree it is striking, but not sure is a good way.
  • I didn’t know that the word silhouette came from Etienee de Silhoutte who cut likenesses of his friends out of black paper as gifts
  • Looks like Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island is an awesome place to take picture – near Ft Myers where I have been and think my brother Ron has the pleasure of taking pictures there
  • If you accidentally point your long glass at the sun and come away seeing a lot of purple – you probably already damaged your eyes
  • Implies that many photographers consider black backgrounds objectionable – apparently no one told my favorite photographer  (Joel Sartore) that
  • Indicates that birds are not frightened (or traumatized) by flash
  • You can pretty much skip chapter 5 – Film Choice
  • Based on his shots, pretty sure I got a Marbled Godwit while I as in Texas over the New Year!
  • Recommends the Gitzo 1548 carbon fiber tripod and Wimberley head
  • Preaches my golden rule – bird out of the middle of the frame and more space in front of the subject
  • Tall birds are best handled in vertical format – ironically completely opposite of what another photographer I read indicated – I agree with Arthur
  • If you need to cut a bird in the frame, do it just behind its legs
  • The shorter the glass, the more important it is to get low to subject
  • Take a few shots as you approach a bird so it can get used to the shutter sound
  • “When photographing dead or dying birds, I try to make the images a tribute to both the beauty of the bird and to the fragility of its life” – putting this quote here mainly for my brother
  • He has no ethical problems with judicious use of bird call recordings but be sure the location you are at does not have rules against it (including state and federal laws)
  • In one of his picture captions he mentioned that he has a plastic owl on an antenna pole he displays to get aggressive raptor reactions
  • Egrets will take a drink immediately after downing a fish
  • The back has a nice collection of North American birding hot spots which includes what you will likely find there and the best time to go – very handy and even includes Little Estero Lagoon for the one or two of you that may not know where this secret birding spot is.
  • There is a reference to an updated version of this book on CD format which has the digital photography updates




2 thoughts on “Book Recollection: The Art of Bird Photography”

  1. Hey, very cool, another excellent book review! I thought for a minute you were reviewing “The Handbook of Bird Photography” that my daughter got me for Christmas (oops, may have let slip a future present concept).

    Estero Lagoon is apparently the secret place that everyone knows about!! I run across it all the time. I was not able to get there in December when I was down in Fort Myers, which was a shame.

    That Grosbeak chick story is shocking! I can’t believe someone would do that. When you say, “rear camera shutter button” I’m sure you are referring to the back button focus, which I agree is awesome. My daughter’s boyfriend, a photographer, was really surprised I had heard of it much less use it when he suggested it.

    Marbled Godwits are occasionally spotted at Emiquon, but I haven’t seen one myself.

    “When photographing dead or dying birds, I try to make the images a tribute to both the beauty of the bird and to the fragility of its life” — Right, I’m mainly trying to get a +1 in my bird count while I still can. “E’s not dead, e’s resting!” and “Let’s not argue about ‘oo killed ‘oo” and all that. 🙂

    A plastic owl on an antenna pole?? Can you imagine if I brought one of those on a birding outing of a bird club? I’d end up on that antenna pole.

    Yes, I’ve taken pictures at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. Wish I could go back.

    I do consciously focus 1/3 into large flocks, actually, since depth of field is asymmetrical, as I know you know, so the sharpness 1/3 in front of the focus point is the same as 2/3 behind it.

    I think bracketing the aperture is more important that bracketing the exposure, in line with what you said a few posts back about getting both Brown Pelicans in focus in a shot. I often regret not stopping down more when I can, and perched pelicans don’t move much anyway so the shutter speed can go down. One thing I have found is that when I’m taking a picture of a bird on the ground I have serious focus problems because the camera often focuses on the gravel or grass right in front of the bird. So I now have a habit of stopping down to about F8 in those situations if I’m in the sunlight.

    Thanks again for the book review! I really like these.



  2. Wow, this comment is almost as long as my post – thank you! You have a handbook for bird photography!?!? needless to say I need to check that out. Your daughter has good taste in gifts. You are correct, I am talking about back button focus (thanks for reminding me what the industry term was). I am exclusively back button focus, but contrasting that, Linda absolutely HATES it. I have tried and tried to explain to her why it is sooo much better but she is having nothing of it – those stubborn artists, I tell ya’.

    I think you would be okay with the plastic owl if you just tell them that you learned it from Arthur – I’m sure they would understand … not!

    I’ve been processing a lot o pictures as of late (finally whittling that queue down a bit) and I completely agree with you. In the future I must be more careful about my aperture on close subjects. I have example after example of shots where the whole subject isn’t in focus (unfortunately way past the time I can do anything about it). I need to add that rule to a card that I look at before every shoot along with the memory job about the 1/3rd focus rule.

    I must say, the post to comment time was impressive!


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