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Two books for Wildlife Photographers


New York City, US
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Wed 24-Mar-04 02:18 AM

Master Guide for Wildlife Photographers by Bill Silliker
Moose Peterson's Guide to Wildlife Photography: Conventional and Digital Techniques by B. Moose Peterson

Two books have come out that deal with wildlife photography at two different levels that compliment each other nicely.

The late Bill Silliker, who wrote the "Master Guide for Wildlife Photographers", was famous for his pictures of moose and loons. In fact he loved to be called the Mooseman. The Mooseman's last book is an introduction to wildlife photography, aimed primarily at the beginning and intermediate photographer, although there are a few discussions that may cause the advanced wildlife photographer to reconsider his techniques.

The book, written in simple, direct, clear style, describes the fundamentals to be applied to get good wildlife pictures. After the required discussion of equipment (Silliker prefers 35mm single-lens reflex cameras, long telephotos, autofocus and sturdy tripods), he spends a quarter of the book discussing metering and focussing techniques for wildlife in clear, comprehensive language. The length of this discussion surprised me, but it is all relevant. He then goes on to consider how to get close enough to animals to get pictures with impact, and composition. I was delighted by his no-nonsense approach. Stories about his own exploits are told only when essential to make a point. There is no excess verbiage here.

My only complaint about the book is that I wanted a little more. (Having read the author's magazine columns, I knew that he was a thoughtful photographer.) For example, he believes that the limited depth of field of telephoto lenses is something that a photographer has to live with and he suggests ways to compensate for the fact. I would have liked to hear some further discussion of the role that faster ISO media can play in getting greater depth of field, or the fact that for a particular image size and aperture depth of field will always be the same, regardless of lens length. But, of course, that would have been a different book.

Silliker also does not dwell upon the use of digital imagery, although he acknowledges it and suggests several other books for the reader who wants to pursue that direction.

If you are just getting into wildlife photography, you won't find a better guide than this. The more advanced photographer may find his thinking stimulated by some of the discussions, but will probably want to explore other works to develop his skills. There are many such works aimed at more advanced photographers, but I would certainly recommend the work of Art Morris and Art Wolfe, both of whom have turned wildlife photography into an art (pun intended but very true.)

Moose Petersons's "Guide to Wildlife Photography: Conventional and Digital Techniques" is aimed at photographers with a little more experience who wants to apply these processes to taking wildlife photographs. Peterson, a famous wildlife photographer, expresses his opinions on what it takes to get good and great wildlife pictures.

The first third of the book is dedicated to explaining what equipment is necessary for taking wildlife pictures. It is clear that the author considers a camera capable of accepting a wide variety of lenses, and some really long (and expensive) lenses, essential for this purpose.

The next chapter of the book is devoted to techniques he considers necessary to make a picture "pop", i.e., attract a viewer's attention. He discusses lighting, color, exposure and backgrounds. The third section of the book talks about getting close to wildlife subjects and the fourth chapter looks at ten pictures of birds and describes the circumstances surrounding their taking, and the fifth chapter does the same with pictures of mammals.

I imagine that reading this book would be much like sitting around with Moose in a bull session and talking about wildlife photography, with all the advantages and disadvantages that might include. For a written work this book needed a good editor, not only to correct grammatical errors and typos, but also to correct all the repetitions, contradictory advice and non-sequiturs. Also, notwithstanding statements to the contrary, Peterson is clearly biased in favor of digital photography with Nikon cameras. For example, the title suggests that the book is applicable to both digital and film, but Moose spends 8 pages laying out why he believes digital photography is better than film, He also spends a page describing why he prefers a particular Nikon lens over others, even though the features on which he bases his preference are only available from Nikon. On the other hand, in discussing the advantages of digital he makes no mention of the use of the histogram, a feature that several other wildlife photographers consider to be the most important benefit of digital cameras.

At the same time some of the material is presented in greater detail than by any other current author. The twenty-nine pages devoted to getting close to the quarry are the most thorough I've seen. While the chapters on the author's pictures may contain a lot of details that will be of little use to most folks, they do convey the importance of planning and patience in wildlife photography.

If you are looking for a book that will teach you fundamentals, like the nature of exposure, you might want to look at something else, besides Silliker, like John Shaw's "Nature Photography Field Guide". But if you are an experienced photographer, looking to glean a few tips about wildlife photography that you may not have heard before, and willing to put up with a rough and ready but expert photographer, you will probably enjoy a visit with Moose.