Kaufman Field Guides
HomeThe KFG SeriesThe Illustrationsabout Kenn KaufmanEssential LinksNews

About the Illustrations in the Kaufman Field Guides

Field guides to birds (the best-studied category of field guides) had been illustrated in the past either with paintings and drawings, or with photographs. Each approach has its limitations. Even the very best artists have to struggle to try to get the appearance of each bird exactly right, and even a subtle error can make an illustration less than useful. On the other hand, photographs are often very misleading. The effects of light and shadow and reflections, the bird's temporary position, twigs or leaves obscuring key marks, even a momentary disarrangement of the feathers can make a single photo misrepresent the bird.

The first Kaufman Guide, Birds of North America, introduced a totally new method of illustration. All of the images in the book started out as photographs, but then all were extensively edited by Kenn Kaufman, using digital photo-editing software. This process made it possible to clean up shadows and reflections, correct colors and sizes, and ensure that all important field marks were visible in each image. The results were hailed as producing the most accurate and lifelike illustrations ever published.

The example below shows the original photo of a Great Shearwater in flight compared to the digitally edited version. Shearwaters are seabirds, and photographic conditions at sea are often very difficult, with harsh light and reflections and the motion of the boat all adding to the challenge. With digital editing, the markings of the bird become much easier to see in the final version. The photo is by Rick and Nora Bowers of Bowers Photo; digital editing by Kenn Kaufman.

comparison of images. Photo by Rick and Nora Bowers / Bowers Photo