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4.7 out of 5 stars
Digital Wildlife Photography
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 2012
This is the third in a continuing series of books on digital nature photography by two of the most highly skilled and prolific photographers in the world. Through these books John and Barbara Gerlach share their techniques and insights with anyone who wants to improve his or her skills in the field of nature photography. I had the pleasure of reviewing their first two books on Amazon. The first, "Digital Nature Photography: The Art and the Science," is a superb digital nature photography foundations book. Indeed, it complements the present book in many respects. The second, "Digital Landscape Photography", is a classic presentation of the techniques required for obtaining outstanding landscape images with digital equipment. The present book is yet another brilliant work that provides critical information for successful digital wildlife photography. The Gerlachs are on an amazing roll with "Digital Close-up and Macro Photography" as their next project, and I would not be surprised if "Digital Flash Photography" followed.

This book is packed with so much information that I can only focus on a few key points, many of which are illustrated with superb photographs and accompanying shooting details. First, a common theme throughout the book as well as the two previous books is that correct exposure for a RAW file is obtained by setting the RGB histogram (color channel histogram) so as to expose to the right without clipping. This is a fundamental principle for any type of digital nature photography, whether it be wildlife, landscape, or macro.

Second, to stop wildlife action and obtain sharp images, one needs a fast enough shutter speed, and one must consider how fast the subject is moving, how far away it is, and the angle at which it is moving (p. 51). The photographs in the book illustrate different possible shutter speeds for different wildlife situations. The Gerlachs generally try to use 1/250s or higher for still subjects and 1/500s to 1/1000s or faster for moving subjects.

Third, Canon's Evaluative metering mode and Nikon's Matrix metering mode normally get you close to the ideal exposure and are "the most technically and operationally sophisticated metering modes in the history of photography." (p. 61). The Gerlachs use these metering modes exclusively.

Fourth, the Gerlachs have different preferences about exposure modes. Both use manual exposure mode a great deal and perhaps a majority of the time. However, Barbara favors aperture priority when the light is changing, whereas John favors shutter priority some of the time, generally starting with 1/320s, which freezes the movement of most animals and minimizes the problem of camera shake on a tripod. This is coupled with the Auto ISO feature on the camera in order to deal with dim light.

Fifth, the Gerlachs use a single autofocus point that coincides with the exact spot where they want the sharpest focus to be, almost always the eyes of an animal or bird. This may be the center focusing point in the viewfinder. In some cases, however, other focusing point options may also work.

Sixth, they use back-button focusing and keep the camera set to continuous focus to allow the camera to instantly change the focus as the subject distance changes. This is a technique that they promoted in their earlier books and one that they have been using for years. It is indispensable in the case of landscape photography, and it also greatly simplifies the focusing problem in the case of wildlife photography. Other focusing options nevertheless can be used in specific circumstances.

Seventh, in bright sun the native ISO is normally adequate for wildlife that is still or slowly moving. For wildlife action in bright sun ISO 400 is desirable. In overcast light, start at ISO 400 but don't be afraid to use ISO 800 if you need extra shutter speed or depth of field. In dim light conditions including before sunrise and after sunset, use ISO 800 or higher and use noise software to reduce any noise in the image.

Eighth, the desired aperture may depend on the shutter speed you need since a wider aperture (shooting wide open at the fastest f-stop in the limit) permits faster shutter speeds. The desired aperture also may depend on the depth of field you want, large or shallow or something in between. With respect to the best aperture for image quality, the Gerlachs' view is that "the quality difference between f-stops is quite minimal, so don't be overly concerned about it." (p. 108)

To keep this review manageable, I have focused on the first five chapters of the book. In addition, the book contains superb discussions of "The Crucial Role of Light," "Composition," "Electronic Flash," and "Getting Close to Wildlife." These chapters should be read carefully by anyone aspiring to pursue wildlife photography. Indeed, I would argue that the book should be thoroughly read and re-read and should accompany anyone embarking on a wildlife workshop.

In summary, I believe that the last statement that I made in my review of the Gerlachs' book on "Digital Landcape Photography," applies to their new book on "Digital Wildlife Photography": "The Gerlachs are to be congratulated for producing such an important book that I believe will become a classic in photography."

The reviewer has participated twice in the Gerlachs' Fall Color Workshop held in the Michigan Upper Peninsula and also has a keen interest in wildlife photography. He fully expects this book to improve his skills in this field.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 22, 2013
Many years ago a friend who was going on safari in Africa asked to borrow a camera and long lens. I told her that getting good pictures would require some instruction but she insisted that she could pick it up as she went along. She returned from Africa in tears because the gear had actually proved a hindrance to her enjoyment of the trip. Although it didn't exist at the time, I wish I could have forced her to spend time with this book before leaving.

The Gerlachs cover the full range of wildlife photography in this volume. They start out describing the equipment that one needs including camera bodies and lenses (and although they don't say it, one can infer that the best lenses for wildlife photography are long and expensive.) As far as usage goes, the authors explain exposure strategies; focusing techniques; the essentials of a quality image and the role of light; composition; electronic flash; and getting close to wildlife.

Note that they cover exposure strategies. The authors don't just discuss the essentials of a good exposure, but rather the kinds of combinations of shutter, aperture, and ISO (media sensitivity) the photographer needs for different types of subjects and conditions. As they do throughout the book, they consider the possibilities but then tell the reader their favorites (and sometimes each has a different favorite.) I sometimes question their favorite techniques, but I should also reveal that in a review of another book by the pair, I questioned the use of something called "rear button focus" for which they publicly took me to task. I relented, tried the technique, and now wonder how I could have ever photographed wildlife any other way!

I found the chapter on electronic flash particularly useful. Although this is a tool the newest wildlife photographer may wait to try, inevitably the number of situations where flash will help will lead him or her to give it a go. I was particularly interested in the use of multiple flashes. Unfortunately, this was not covered in as much detail as I would have liked, but as the authors say, the use of flash would be a book in itself. Let's hope they publish it soon.

I also felt that the chapter on getting close to nature (what I call field craft) could have contained more. For example, there was little mention of patient waiting, that is, figuring out when and where animals like birds will appear, getting there before them, and then just sitting quietly and patiently awaiting their arrival, without any need for blinds. Once again, I suppose that's for another book.

The book is profusely illustrated with the photographers' images, although I judged many one-third of a stop overexposed. That may be due to the printing or the aesthetics of the photographers. In any event, it doesn't detract from the authors' skills as photographers or the usefulness of the images.

More experienced wildlife photographers may not learn a lot that's new, although they should be able to pick up a few tips that will make the reading worthwhile. Those new to wildlife photography will benefit far more, although I would not recommend waiting until one is on the plane for Africa. The techniques discussed here need to be practiced and developed well before that critical opportunity.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2013
I own several books on wildlife photography, but this is by far the best I have ever seen. This book not only covers the technical aspects of photography, but gives real life examples of some of the problems photographers face, and the steps to take to minimize or completely eliminate those problems. The book is written in such a way that it is easy to understand and invites you to turn the page and read more. Most books tell you how to set your camera to perform in a certain way, but "Digital Wildlife Photography" goes beyond that by explaining why and when those functions should best be used. I highly recommend this book to all levels of photographers.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2013
This is a great book. I learned much. At the same time, I don't know why all photo books have to start at the beginning. Gerlachs have written several other books, so would be nice to not always have to start at the beginning. This book did add new stuff and it was helpful. I always learn from their books.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2013
I started to use some of the techniques suggested in the book right away and I was very happy with the results. I think the book is well written. The authors make you feel like you are in thier class. The book was very informative and inspirational.
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on April 28, 2013
I love books!
As my ever expanding library attests, I love collecting books about my interests. I mostly buy used books, but every once in a while a book comes out that I have to buy new, because I can’t wait for it to hit the recycle bins.

John and Barbara Gerlach ([...]) are nature photographers and I had the pleasure of spending a week with them on their Fall Workshop in the UP of Michigan a couple of years ago. The Gerlach’s are natural born teachers and their personal, friendly styles made them instantly likable. They have had several books published which are ‘must haves’ for me. John is the main writer and his conversational writing style resonates with me. In their latest book, Digital Wildlife Photography, John tackles every topic a nature photographer needs to know. He has the knowledge and ability to explain both basic and advanced topics in easy to understand language. I’ve heard these topics explained by many professional photographers over the years and by far, John’s explanations condense and crystallize the topic’s essence the best I’ve ever heard or read. While the book focuses on nature subjects, the information is just as valid for any other subject matter. The 200+ page book covers topics applicable to any DSLR camera system, but with an emphasis on Canon and Nikon. The fact that John shoots Canon and Barbara shoots Nikon is very useful in their books, and during their workshops as they are very knowledgeable on the two most popular camera systems. Barbara is also the computer guru behind their post processing wizardry.

As with their previous books, the prose is accompanied by their stunning photographs. The photo captions also include the pertinent data of how the image was captured, a point that I really appreciate.

The Gerlach’s offer several one day seminars on nature photography, and several multiple day workshops at interesting locations each year. Even if you are fortunate enough to join the Gerlach’s and learn first live, their new book Digital Wildlife Photography will be a great reference book in your library.
I hereby bestow:

the View From The Mountain 4 Star **** Seal of Approval!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 2013
This is a book with a bit of an identity crisis. In essence a great guide that will serve as an introduction to photographing wildlife in their natural habitat.

Yet a real beginner will probably not be going out on safari or tracking wild animals armed with an iPhone or a point and shoot pocket camera. So it must beg the question was it really necessary for this book to spend an inordinate amount of time and space on real "newbie" things such as selecting a camera? At this level one should be looking more at the fine tuning of one's equipment, where often a lens or even a part of a support system can cost as much as a beginner's camera or even a good used car. That is before one looks at the costs of travel to these fine places. Of course, you don't have to have a top-of-the-line camera and all the toys to take a good wildlife photograph, but it sure can help.

Once one's equipment is in order the authors turn their attention to "exposure strategies" and once again there is a hell of a lot of material here that every beginner's guide would have covered ad infinitum, but the only saving grace is that you can see how it is relevant and how it impacts on wildlife photography compared to, for example, taking pictures of skyscrapers and landscapes that can have their own challenges and special needs. Looking at focussing is, if you pardon the pun, a lot more focussed and it does raise a lot of interesting, thought provoking matters that can help transform the quality of your photographs in all areas.

Similar chapters looking at the importance of light, the necessity of composition and the aid of flash really draw you in and concentrate on important matters. These chapters have a totally different feel to those complained about previously: it is almost as if there have been two books poorly mashed into one. Fortunately the "key chapters", backed up by (as you would expect) some stunning photographs showing you what could be possible with a lot of luck, plenty of practice and some willing models acts as the saviour for this book. It might be worth it for a couple of good chapters alone, even if you ignore the filler.

The price of the book is a bit of a moot point, particularly in line with the criticisms raised, although if you view the investment as costing less than an hour of a professional's time it still could be a good deal. A whole-hearted recommendation is not possible and, to be fair, if you are really and truly a new beginner who has a large "toy budget" and is shortly off on safari then this book IS for you. If you aim to wave about an iPhone or pocket camera at passing lions, tigers and giraffes then don't bother with this book as you will be frustrated by what you can't achieve. If in doubt, check the book out as for this reviewer just a couple of chapters were enough to justify the price, even though one hates the idea of waste.
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on April 12, 2013
This latest book by John and Barbara Gerlach is their best yet. Delivery of the material is done in a genuine and homespun way which makes one think he/she is participating in one of the Gerlach seminars. There is the usual discussion of equipment recommended for wildlife photography. More importantly, is the discussion of the various settings that many of us probably don't use, i.e., manual exposure, back-button focusing, and auto ISO, to name a few.This is presented in a clear and concise manner. The photographs they share in the book are outstanding and make you want to get out in the field right now. The book is easy to read and offers inspiration even to the beginner. If the Gerlachs could apply the same style and passion to fiction they might be able to challenge David Baldacci or James Patterson. This modestly priced book is well worth the investment.
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on August 25, 2013
I have taken several workshops with John and Barbara in Michigan that focused on nature, close-up and landscape photography, so some of the techniques in this book are already familiar subjects. Other topics specific to wildlife photography were new. I have enjoyed this book just as much as their previous title Nature Photography. The Gerlachs are superb teachers, both in person and through their written works. They convey the necessary information in a lively informative style, and the photography throughout the book is well-chosen and inspirational. I anticipate using it as a reference text many times in the future. I hope it won't be too long before they publish other books, and plan to buy each one!
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 31, 2013
I just finished reading this book. As a professional wildlife photographer I thought the book was okay, but it seemed to be geared to photographers that have very high end cameras. That is, many times they suggest using high ISO's, even in bright sunshine...which is acceptable for the pro cameras, but you would definitely ruin your image with too much noise if you were using most other cameras. I personally liked Martin Pruss's African Safari Wildlife Photography much better.
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