Archive for April, 2012|Monthly archive page
That’ll teach ya to steal my fish!!
We’re always starving for light when shooting birds, especially action shots – but consider the potential for interaction before you drive down to a wide open aperture. As I started shooting more than a single eagle, I increased my aperture to ensure I had enough depth of field to capture the two birds. Not wanting to lower my shutter speed for an action shot, I increased my ISO to compensate (Don’t be afraid to shoot at higher ISO’s – it’s a better alternative that an underexposed or blurry shot).
Learn to always have a feel for what your depth of field should be – pay attention to your subjects and adjust accordingly. It takes some time to build this thought process into “muscle memory” – but it’s worth it. Try this online Depth of Field Calculator to help gain a better understanding of the impacts of distance, lens size and aperture. There are also some good iPhone and Android apps that allow you to take your calculations out into the field with you.
Stay in focus,
Now let’s make some pictures!
If you’re new to photography (or bird photography in general) this will be an evolutionary process. Take your time and have fun with it. Here are some tips and considerations to get you started.
In Part Two of the series, we worked on setting up and planning for attractive backgrounds – but you still have to pay attention. In the shot of the Black Capped Chickadee above, the distant background provided a nice creamy blur – but it’s not perfect. The brown blur over the bird’s head wants to draw your attention away from the bird. Always actively look at your background as you’re composing the shot, a step or two to the right would have improved this shot tremendously.
Most, but not all, birds will begin to get comfortable with you in their space. To aide in this, sitting (or standing) still and generally being quiet is needed. Limit sudden movements by being more deliberate and slow when you do move – it will ease the bird’s tension. Also, sitting in the same spot frequently and for good blocks of time will help the birds adjust to you. I regularly sit within 12-15 feet feet of my closest bird setup with no issues (except be aware of the minimum focusing distance of your lens. This determines how close you can be and still achieve focus). Oh, and one more thing – don’t think you can hide. Trust me, the birds know you’re there!
Needless to say, you want great light for your shots. When you were setting up your backyard birding area, you paid attention to morning and afternoon sweet spots as well as accounted for the movement of the sun over the spring and summer months – so you’re all set. Well, not completely. Consider one more technique as the last piece to the perfect shot – fill flash.
Now, this isn’t a requirement (you can make great shots without it) but it helps you deal with some of the inevitable shadow areas that can appear on the bird, especially around the eyes, face and breast. In the Bluebird shot above (and many of my other backyard shots) I use fill flash along with an inexpensive adapter called a better beamer to help my light throw farther. When you’re ready, brush up on fill flash and take your shots to the next level.
Pay attention to the coloring on certain birds to ensure you time your shot correctly. Similar to many ducks, some birds have an iridescent quality to them that varies depending on their angle to the light. What appears to be almost totally black at one angle, can look quite colorful at a slightly different angle. The Tree Swallow above is a good example. Almost dark black over his eye but the same color behind his eye (at a slightly different angle to the sun) is amazing. Pay attention to the light and learn the coloring traits of your birds.
Don’t endanger your birds for the sake of a picture. When birds are very young, it can be safe (in nesting boxes only) to approach and take close-ups – but keep the following in mind:
- Mom and dad will fly off – but will return when you leave
- Be quick about it, do not leave the box open for any length of time due to temperature considerations
- Do not move the box around
- Do not move or disturb the actual nest
- Do not approach the box after the first week or so. As the birds get older, you could force them into fledging (trying to fly off) too soon and endanger their life.
For birds that are naturally nesting in trees and other places, don’t even approach, you could alert predators to their location (where as properly setup nesting boxes are protected) or damage the nest by moving branches or other obstructions around.
Have fun with this new aspect to your photography – it’s a very rewarding experience!
Stay in focus,
Kick Me! I’ll Kick Ya Back – Get Out Of My Pond!
Another lesson in always being ready for the action. The Coot on the left was being mercilessly chased by the other for about five minutes – you knew something had to give. Sure enough, the “chasee” turned around and proceeded to kick the snot out of the “chaser” – and those are some serious feet to get kicked with!
I almost left this pond, but decided to hang around just in case. It’s a good thing I was prepared, this brawl was over in about 15 seconds!
Stay in focus,
No, REALLY . . . It Was THIS BIG!!
Courtship and mating season are an awesome time for wildlife photographers, I love the shows that are put on! Many species are at their most colorful and you can always count on a fight breaking out early on.
Males can suffer in many ways, loosing a fight is just one of them. I’ve seen many male Cormorants (like the ones above) put on the most detailed courtship dance . . . to a female that could care less, or wose yet – to one that was “already married”!
It’s spring, and love is in the air!
Yea, You’d Better Run!!!!
One of the neat benefits about nature photography is the opportunity to observe the creatures you’re seeking to capture. We can spend so much time around our subjects that we learn a tremendous amount about their behavior through the long hours of observation. Over time, I’ve learned (and enjoyed) the courtship rituals of many birds and water fowl. I can usually tell when a fight is going to breakout – or when I fish has been spied by a heron.
In addition to just being plain down right fascinating, you can use this behavioral information to your advantage. I’d been watching a mating pair of Canada Geese as I saw another one looking for a place to land. I knew if he landed too close to the others that he was going to get run off. I prepared for the opportunity and was easily able to get a nice series of shots.
Waiting around for the perfect shot can either be boring or educational – your choice!
Stay in focus,
Happy Birds Make Happy Photographers!
A photo friendly habitat makes the job much easier – and it doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. The basic setup below contains all the elements needed for the birds (food, water and cover) and I added a few low cost perching options for my (and the bird’s benefit). Keeping an eye open after some spring thunder storms can usually turn up broken branches and chopped up trees. I used one chopped stump that I found and several branches to make up different perching options for my feathered friends.
In order to be “portable” with my displays and able to change my perches out, I use a potting bucket filled with stones as my base. It keeps everything nice and orderly, mobile and fairly easy to make changes.
Here are a few more photo friendly environment tips to keep in mind:
- Pay attention to your backgrounds. The farther away you can keep them and minimize drastic color changes, the better you’ll be. It will help deliver a nice creamy background.
- Shoot tight. As you can see in my setup – distractions abound. Shooting tightly allows you to place bird feeders near by (to interest your subjects and encourage them to hang out on your perch) without having these “hand of man” items ruin your shot.
- Don’t forget the sun location – both now and next month. As the sun moves through the season, it’s position will shift slightly – making a flexible shooting environment a must.
In part three, we’ll get to the meat of it – making some great bird shots! Stay tuned.
If you missed part one, you can find it here.