Decisive Moments: Creating Iconic Imagery” by Scott Linstead ($30 from Bouquin Publishing)
By assuming the Cartier-Bresson “decisive moments” mantle and implying that his own images are ‘iconic,’ the Canadian wildlife photographer Scott Linstead may alienate some readers of his new book who might think him, well, presumptuous.
But then they open the book.
Inside, they’re met with page after stunning page of once-in-a-lifetime wildlife imagery that Linstead is able to produce on a seemingly daily basis. Most of us never witness an osprey sweeping down to pluck a writhing trout from the surface of an idyllic river. Linstead has witnessed it, and caught it in beautiful photographs time after time.
Traveling the world to find appealing backgrounds and situations to capture definitive representations of photogenic creatures from raptors to rodents, Linstead has packed “Decisive Moments” with animal and insect portraits that are clinically fascinating for the detail, color, texture, and body language they showcase. His refined eye for lighting, composition, and backgrounds raises the images from the clinical to something artistic. Each is a gem—which is not to imply they’re stiff, posed or too obviously staged.
Based outside Montreal, Linstead (33) is a specialist in stop action photography. Animal body language is often the real subject of his pictures —always true, descriptive and revealing. This mid-flight or mid-leap aspect adds a dimension that is lacking in most wildlife work. He shows animal motion in crystalline detail and with a visceral immediacy. His owls-in-flight are some of the best anywhere.
The book is equal parts studio and location work, and Linstead is the rare photographer who masters both. His lighting is always subtle and appropriate on multiple levels. His backgrounds, upon which he lavishes as much care as his subjects, are never cluttered or distracting, and always complementary. Even those constructed on his kitchen table look natural.
In his text, Linstead, who started professional life as an aerospace engineer, delivers insights into the wide variety of technical challenges he faces in producing his, ok, iconic images. In clear and engaging language, he writes of subject handling (for studio and location work), lighting, background selection, and tips for working with the infrared trip wires and other specialized equipment (including software) needed to realize his visions. (He first previsualizes almost all his images, and then devises a plan to make them real.)
He also writes about shooting for stock, about which he says, “The power of cuteness [in this industry] should never be underestimated.” While it’s great to show a raptor with captured prey, that prey (unusually dead) must be as attractive as the owl, osprey, or eagle that’s holding it. Eye contact with the corpse is a must. The most beautiful shot ever of a Snowy Owl won’t sell, if the mouse in its talons is headless.
Linstead also tackles some of the thornier issues of wildlife photography, and speaks forthrightly about the controversial subject of live baiting (ie. attracting birds of prey with live bait, usually store-bought mice), and about the often adversarial roles of conservationist and photographer.
Is there a wildlife lover —or better, a wildlife photographer—on your holiday list?