As some of you know by now, Kath & I fly off to Las Vegas in a few days to get married!
When we return in early November, there will be 3 ageing cars and two houses to get ready for the winter so this will be my last post for a little while (except for a few wedding & holiday snaps perhaps).
I suppose this post should be on wedding photography but instead I’m going to jump in now with one of the most difficult genres of photography, that of Birds and particularly Birds in Flight.
Imagine being frightened, all day every day. That, I think, is how a bird must feel. One false move and it’s Goodnight Vienna. If they are too cautious then they’ll miss lunch; but if they are too incautious then they’ll die.
You have to be aware of, and take into consideration, how stressed a bird is and how much more stress you put them under by being in their space, pointing something at them.
I am not a great, or even a very good, bird photographer but I’m learning, as we all must do every day.
I always wanted to take a really good photograph of a woodpecker. I’d see them in parks & woods and follow them around, hopefully pointing my camera in their general direction. The “accidental photographer” method. I have now an A2 print of the woodpecker photograph hanging on the wall by thinking about what I wanted and how to achieve it.
When I moved to Lapland I realised that there were lots of woodpeckers around – lots of wooden houses and trees – but they, and the other birds, had a huge amount of uninhabited space to choose from. We have a population density of only around 3 people per sq km. So how to avoid being an accidental bird photographer, and make sure I got some acceptable images, the closer the better?
Food is the answer, of course.
Most of our Great Spotted woodpeckers overwinter here, where we can have snow on the ground for 5 months with temperatures falling to -30c. I learnt that the woodpeckers prepare for this by harvesting seeds from fir-cones, which they then secrete into cracks in the tree-bark, high above the ground, for winter supplies. Hmm – this wasn’t very helpful to me.
But could I encourage them to take easier food that was available outside their comfort zone?
Woodpeckers cling onto vertical surfaces, brace themselves with their tails, and drill into the tree or whatever with their powerful beaks to uncover insects and larvae that are under the surface. I used a tree branch planted vertically in the ground and drilled several half-inch holes, sloping downwards, in it. I stuffed the holes with peanuts and waited. It was the start of winter, so the blue- & great tits soon flocked to the nuts, plus the fat-balls and seed. Eventually, a woodpecker arrived! 12 feet from the window, frantically digging nut out of the holes I’d drilled. He was very nervous and only stayed a minute or so in those early days, but he started coming every day and staying for a little longer.
I tried a couple of shots through the window – they were ok-ish but I knew that I had to get the bird there and have the window open for a proper result.
It was impossible to shoot with the window open in the winter. Nothing would come to the feeder plus it was very cold, plus the heat from the log burner rushed out through the open window causing a heat shimmer in front of the lens. I didn’t think the woodpecker would stay around after the snow had gone – their natural place is deep in the woods – but he did and brought Mrs Woodpecker along too!
They stayed around for a few weeks, during the nesting season, and have got used to the window being open – they just squawk at me - and I now have dozens of images of them feeding just a couple of yards from me.
The Whooper Swans were another success this year, an accidental success. They are one of the last migratory birds to leave in the autumn, and one of the first to return in April/May. They’re a beautiful bird with a huge booming call that carries for a couple of kilometres. They hate being near humans and usually congregate on the far side of our river, maybe 200 yards away and too far to photograph. But this spring (2017) the river was still frozen when they started to arrive, with just a couple of open channels, mainly on my side of the river. With care, I could just get close enough to photograph them for a few days until the channels got wider. I saw a couple performing their mating dance on a number of days, and was amazed at how quickly they could get airborne. Just half a dozen strides along the ice or in the water and they were away ….
So that’s my recent experiences with birds. One carefully planned over many months and the other just a stroke of luck over a couple of days. What about you?
Birds feed mainly first thing in the morning, as a celebration of surviving another night, and in the evening to stock up on calories for the night ahead. During the breeding season, though, they will feed constantly given the chance.
The larger birds (particularly ducks, swans and other water birds) will, whenever possible, take off & land into the wind – they are heavy and it gives them more lift.
It’s one of the few genres of photography where bright sunlight can be better as it gives texture to the feathers. It’s also a genre that needs a decent telephoto lens – something on the long side of 200mm. I use a 100-400mm at the long end and birds can still be pretty small in the image.
It’s also one of the genres where, if I get a half decent image, I’ll keep it even if it will only print small ie A4 or less.
Try not to take photos of birds flying away from you – it usually means you were stood in the wrong place.
Set your camera to the highest iso you can use – most decent dslrs should be ok upto 1600 or 3200 if you don’t underexpose.
Shutter speed minimum 800th second or faster and an aperture that will give you some DoF maybe f8, depending on the light.
Set the drive to your equivalent of Canon’s AI Servo and, if you’re in the right place at the right time (good sunshine & a breeze behind you) you’ll get something.
The trouble is, if you do get something then you’ll likely catch the “Birds in Flight” bug and this will cost you a considerable amount of money!! Serious glass, a rock-steady tripod and a gimbal head are all useful and expensive.
Nature & wildlife photography are an area of photography where your equipment is almost as important as your ability.
I am a good photographer but I have never invested enough money in the necessary gear for BiF photography, hence I can’t compete in that market.
But I enjoy extending myself and my gear to the limit so I get the odd decent shot – I’m probably an “accidental BiF photographer” as it’s something I enjoy but have no expectations of earning anything from it!
You’ll have realised by now that I don’t put many photographs in my blog posts – it’s too easy to skim through a page of photos and if you, the reader, don’t see something that immediately catches your eye then you might just move on. I prefer the hard slog of writing words that someone will read and, hopefully, put into practice.
Having said all that, here are a couple of bird photos that I’m pleased with, and which will print to A2.