Archive for the ‘Birds’ Tag
The Little Things Make a Difference
The opening image isn’t perfect from a composition standpoint (I don’t like the dark line running right across this Wood Duck’s head or the contrast change running through his head) but the angle and position is pretty good. Good eye and head position compliment the upright pose of the bill, turned slightly towards the camera and the gap between the beak and the body looks natural.
Discussed below are a few of the things to avoid.
This first image is a non-starter, the top of the log cuts right through the head and bill.
The second image has the bottom line of the bill “merged” with the top line of the body – doesn’t appear natural and is a little disruptive.
The third image is better, there is separation between the bill and the body – but just a sliver. Again, this is a little distracting to the eye. The composition (in the opening photo) has more separation and a more upright head angle, producing the best overall image.
As your photography improves, you should begin looking for these types of details in the field – and understanding when to pull the trigger. It comes with practice and will naturally get better with the more images you take. You’ll notice things like eye contact and head angle – when the background is not working for you and when various elements are pleasingly separated.
Stay in Focus,
Bosque del Apache . . . a nature lovers “life list” kinda place
There are a few places that qualify as a “must do” location, but Bosque is definitely one of them. Located just south of Socorro New Mexico, Bosque is a managed wetlands area of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and migratory home to literally tens of thousands of geese, cranes and ducks. Comprising over 57,000 acres, the refuge is managed into areas of wet bottomlands, fields and natural landscape. Refuge roads and “loops” provide excellent access, with most photographic opportunities within 30 yards of where you park along side the road. Detailed site information can be accessed at Bosque del Apache NWR or the Friends of the Bosque del Apache websites.
There is plenty of wildlife to view and photograph during the morning and evening hours as the pictures above illustrate. In fact, the shot directly above of the Blue Goose isn’t one of my best but it does illustrate the opportunity. The Blue is trying to find a place to land in a “sea” of Snow Geese – yes, the whole shot is nothing but birds!
The best way to experience Bosque for the first time is to attend a photo workshop or nature tour. Like most visitors, your time on site will be limited to a few days and it would take a few days just to learn the basics of where to go and when. Workshop or tour leaders know the lay of the land and “when to be where”. I’ll be going to Bosque myself this year – but because I attended a fantastic workshop last year, I now have the basics down. Checkout my Bosque Workshop Review post from last December – I can highly recommend Rick and Juan’s session, great guys and they know where to go and will work hard for the best shots. Last time I checked there were still a few spots open for this years end of November and early December sessions. You can learn more about their workshops here.
The weather in Bosque can be unpredictable and varied. It’s not uncommon to see a daily range of temperatures between 20 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit – and at times MUCH colder! Last year was a little different it seems. There was a couple week stretch of below zero weather and during my week there we had 3 inches of snow on the ground – which certainly provided some unique photo opportunities. So the lesson here is to come prepared – checkout my Cold Weather Photography post from last year. I’ll be doing an update to cold weather photography in a few weeks with new lessons learned. But this post will give you the basics.
At minimum, I’d suggest 3 days at Bosque, with 5 days probably ideal. The main support area to Bosque is the little town of Socorro, NM which is about 30 minutes north of the refuge. Hotel space can fill up during the prime fall viewing period so plan to make reservations early. If you sign up for one of the workshops or tours, they will usually have rooms pre reserved for you.
If you can’t make it this year, mark your calendars now and save your pennies for 2013 – you won’t be disappointed!
Stay in focus,
I’m a fighter jet . . . yea . . . an F-16! Yea . . . that’s it . . . I’m a FALCON!
All kids dream big . . . don’t lose your inner child.
This male juvenile Wood Duck was preparing for takeoff. You could tell he was still a bit uneasy with flight (or at least the take-off part) as it took him 4 “false starts” before he made the leap into the air on his 5th try. And only a bit of his tail hit the water!
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,
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.