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




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