(Issue 70, Spring 2015)
Insider’s Guide: How and where to photograph Birds in Southern Africa
By Isak Pretorius, (Jacana books, 140mm wide x 210mm tall, 380 pages)
The first thing the reader of any photography guidebook looks for is evidence of the author’s own skill behind the lens. Isak Pretorius, winner of the Bird Behaviour category in the prestigious 2013 BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards, provides this is in spades with a stunning selection of his own pictures. Perhaps as importantly, however, this comprehensive guide also features many dud pictures. Set beside more successful shots, they illustrate common pitfalls in composition and exposure, and illustrate how – through the handling of such variables as aperture, shutter speed and ISO – different scenes can produce significantly different results.
Make no mistake: this is an expert’s book, not one for the point-and-shoot holiday snapper. Nonetheless its friendly tone and excellent diagrams deal very effectively with simple questions the amateur photographer might be afraid to ask – for instance, why to stick with aperture priority mode and why always to shoot in RAW. The professional, meanwhile, will find it a goldmine of information and advice. Practical features include a comparative analysis of Canon and Nikon products and a chart illustrating optimal settings for every kind of field challenge, from ‘small and fast bird in flight’ to ‘bird portrait in low light’. Meanwhile the ‘Isak’s Tips’ boxes offer the author’s invaluable personal insights – such as how reflected light in sandy terrain helps illuminate a subject from below.
The relevance of this book extends well beyond southern Africa. Nonetheless, the final section on the region’s bird photography hotspots – from the Okavango to the Kruger Park – is an inspiring call to photographers to get out there. What’s more, the book’s handy guidebook format means you can take it with you. That’s provided you can squeeze it in among the lenses, converters, flash extenders, beanbags and gimbal heads it will tempt you to pack.
Reviewed by Mike Unwin