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Portraits of British Columbia Birds

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A review by Bertie Gregory

Birds of British Columbia: A Photographic Journey, by Glenn Bartley

Heritage House, 2013

156 pages, $35.95—hardcover

ABA Sales / Buteo Books 14194

When I open a book by one of North America’s leading wildlife photographers, I expect to find two things: first and most obviously, spectacular natural history imagery that is both technically and aesthetically pleasing; and second, detailed, descriptive, and fascinating captioning. For the most part, Glenn Bartley’s new album of bird portraits satisfies both criteria.

In images and words, Bartley, who lives in the province’s capital, Victoria, takes us on a journey through the wilds of British Columbia, from the wave-battered Pacific coast to the isolated northern forests. Given the incredible diversity this vast province harbors, one would almost expect some inconsistency in the quality of a book presenting well more than 100 species, but Bartley maintains an extremely high standard throughout, from the opening spread’s Barred Owl, flying towards the camera in stunningly golden light, to the very last page’s male Common Goldeneye, showing off to unseen but no doubt dazzled females.

Turning the pages to look at each flying, calling, or feasting bird frozen beautifully in time, the enchanted reader can easily forget the tremendous effort put into each and every one of the photographer’s shots. This particularly struck me as I paused to inspect the immaculate detail visible in the breast plumage of a Northern Pintail landing at high speed. Similar immense sharpness is on show throughout the book, cast in beautiful light and often displaying even more beautiful behavior. This really is 156 pages of glorious bird photography.

BINbuttonI applaud the author for including discussions of his approach and technique as a photographer, matters all too often unmentioned in similar books. Some natural history photographers narrow-mindedly assume that they are publishing only for wildlife enthusiasts and wildlife photographers; they miss out on the larger audience of non-wildlife photographers. This is where this book differs: The chapter “Notes from the Field” offers uniquely valuable insights into why Bartley takes images of the natural world and the challenges he has overcome to get “The Shot.” It is fascinating to read about pre-visualization as a crucial step towards the finished photograph.

My only criticism is the book’s lack of variation in technique. As any well-read wildlife photographer knows, the author’s specialty is tightly framed birds on a pleasing perch against single-shade backgrounds. Bartley has thoroughly mastered this technique, but in reading British Columbia I was often left wishing for wider-angle habitat shots to accompany his stunning portraits. That craving is satisfied on those few occasions where a wider view is presented: The images of a Bald Eagle perched among the mossy branches of a coastal forest and of a White-tailed Ptarmigan looking out over an endless valley are stunning examples of an approach that might have been used to greater effect in the book.

That criticism notwithstanding, this is a fine documentary of British Columbia’s bird life, executed with technical near-perfection. As the well-known birder, author, and conservationist Dick Cannings so aptly writes on the front cover, ‘The extraordinary images in this book are a testament to both the amazing diversity of birds in British Columbia and the sheer talent of Glenn Bartley as a nature photographer.”

My congratulations and thanks go to Bartley for inspiring me and the many other wildlife enthusiasts and photographers who will have the pleasure of opening this fine book about one of North America’s richest natural sites.

Screenshot 2013-11-25 12.23.57

A nineteen-year-old wildlife photographer and filmmaker, Bertie Gregory has published in magazines worldwide. 2012’s Youth Outdoor Photographer of the Year, Gregory studies zoology at Bristol University, and has spent the past two summers guiding bear-watching and whale-watching boats off British Columbia’s Vancouver Island.

Recommended citation:

Gregory, B. 2013. Portraits of British Columbia Birds [a review of Birds of British Columbia, by Glenn Bartley]. Birding 45(6):66.

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