Tag Archives: birds

4 Simple Facts About Bird Photography Explained

A white ibis runs for the shoreline in a crashing wave.  He appears to have received the business end of a large wave and in his panic forgot he can fly. No doubt from a birds point of view the act of trying to find lunch in the crashing surf is a frustrating experience. I’m positive it’s almost as frustrating as actually getting that perfect bird picture.

If your one of those people who wish to hone their skill of photographing live birds, then this list may just help you.

1.  Equipment Matters-

 Equipment is at least 50% of your chance in getting a great action shot with birds. The Iphone will fail you as bad as most of the point and clicks on the market. Why?   The lens. A wide-angle lens is great for portraits, landscapes, and the weekend BBQ. But birds are small, and small means that you need some form of telescoping lens to get the bird nice and close. Unless your subject is a large Canadian goose looking for a handout, you’re going to scare your quarry before you get the shot. Your best bet is a DSLR and a nice telescoping lens that will close the distance between your subject and you.

Ibis in the Surf - Bird
Ibis in the Surf

2.  Fast Shutter Speed-  

One of the advantages of a DSLR is the ability to adjust the shutter speed of your camera. This changes the length of time your camera has its shutter open, thus allowing light into the camera. The quicker the speed, the better chance of capturing non-blurry action shots. Birds tend to be very quick. As a person who’s experienced being chased by a full size turkey, I can personally attest to how quick they are.   Notice in the ibis picture that the water from the surf seems to freeze mid-air. That’s what a quick shutter speed will give you.  How fast? The real answer is “as fast as your light conditions allow you to without underexposing the picture.”

3.  Aim for the Eye-

Remember that telescoping lens?   You don’t just pick up your camera, aim it at the poor creature and start shooting. Well you CAN, but your just wasting your time. No, a good picture takes a good deal of forethought. Once I have my camera set at an acceptable shutter speed. The very next thing I do is aim for the eye.   A focused eye is almost always a good start to an excellent picture. But, an out of focused eye is always a bad picture. Humans are rather finicky about faces. We have to see the eyes. Even animal faces are susceptible to this psychological need of ours. If you don’t get the eyes, you don’t get the picture.

 

4.  Prepare for Failure-

Yeah, patience is definitely needed. Remember that for every great photograph of a beautiful bird, especially an action shot, there are at least 200 pictures of out of focused blurs, wing flaps, moved heads, blurry feet, and tail feathers. You’re taking the picture of a living-breathing animal. This animal does not care that you are taking a picture. They do not listen to your directions to stay still. They are quick, they are small and they are almost always in movement. If you get one good picture out of an afternoon of bird watching then you’ve had a great day!

Remember that the most important thing about photographing any animals in the wild is to respect nature. Respect your subject and while you may not get that epic shot on the first try, there will be always a chance for a second, third, or even 100th try.

 

 

The Making of “Peahen”

As an artist I love color, but as a photographer I am more inclined to rest with black and white images. There is one problem with this contradiction. What do I do as a photographic artist when faced with an image that belongs in color?

Birds are an excellent example of this issue. Some birds, like a mockingbird or a sparrow only really consist of browns and greys. While they are quite beautiful in their own right, yet as a flashing example of color they fall, for the lack of a better word, flat.

Therefore, black and white photography can help with those images by concentrating on the various non-color related details such as the texture of their feathers and the shapes of their bodies.

Peahen
Peahen

However, certain subjects such as a peahen artistically require color.   The various pigments and light reflecting qualities of their feathers just scream for a more color oriented focus than a simple black and white focus will deliver.

This carefully considered contrast between the elegant black and white and the strikingly beautiful color image of this peahen was forefront in my mind upon its creation. Therefore I rested with a colored technique that highlights the colorful aspects of the bird yet also maintains that certain elegance and style that a black and white photograph would produce.

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A Fact About Mockingbirds That’ll Keep You Up at Night.

The Mockingbird Waits is the latest addition to the gallery. This is a close up portrait of a Northern Mockingbird taking a relaxing break from his springtime song and hunt for bugs. In this case, this bird sits on a dead stump waiting to hear the illustrious call of a mate nearby.

While this bird lives in Texas year round, they become more active and appear more and more as the weather turns from the chilly ice-cold Texas winters to the blazing heat of the summers.

They get the name mockingbird because of their ability to mimic other sounds around them. They sing their own unique songs, mimic other birds, or even imitate sound making devices such as whistles and musical instruments.

In fact they carry out this task of mimicry so well, the only way to tell it’s not real and just a mockingbird is that they tend to sing their imitation in songs of three bursts.

Unfortunately, they not only sing during day but also on some moonlit nights. It’s during these all night concerts that people discover just how stubborn this little bird is.

While in college on the night before a final exam, I had one of these small singers decide to sit in a tree outside my window and exclaim its joy to the world at 2 am. This lasted for an hour before I took drastic measures. Only after attacking the tree with a baseball bat to make loud noises and shake the branches did I prevail in silencing its repertoire and scaring it away.

I was lucky.  These birds are very territorial and have The Mockingbird Waitsno qualms about attacking larger animals that wander into its perceived territory. In fact, I know of at least one person who received a broken ankle and another who broke his leg trying to escape the clutches of these relentless little winged terrors. They will sometimes attack eagles or hawks by dive bombing them and pecking at them until they leave the territory. They have no fear.

My office is now on the edge of a Mockingbird family’s territory. Recently, I was privy to the continuous call of a young mockingbird chick to its mother. It is clear that the mother bird was attempting to teach the youngster to hunt, with loud protests of displeasure from the young chick.

However, the youngster was having none of that nonsense and proceeded to squawk continuously for 4 hours before the mother finally gave up and fed the darling. After three hours, I began looking for any reason to be in another place than that office.

I thought about taking some pictures but they perched in a tree by the door. I didn’t wish to scare the mother away thus leaving me with an abandoned hungry chick. Thank heaven for earplugs.

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On Display: The Peacocks of Greenhill School

I recently spent a morning at Greenhill School in Addison, Texas to take pictures of the elegant peacocks that live on their campus.  These peacocks have run free on the campus for many generations.  While the official mascot of Greenhill is the hornet, the campus treats the peacocks as unofficial mascots of the school.

Tail Cascade
Tail Cascade

The springtime weather makes photographic opportunities with the peacocks a rather tenuous situation.  If the wind is howling in from the plains the peacocks have a hard time displaying their train feathers.  Yet they are in the middle of mating season and the hens are walking about.   In fact, it is quite surprising how loud a peacock call is.

I visited the campus on a windy day, concerned that the peacocks would not display their tail feathers.   Luckily, the peacock that I managed to find was cruising around in between two buildings and was fairly protected from the wind.  The peahens continued walking about and fortunately a class change poured hundreds of students into their area.  The students are very respectful of the peacocks and they receive constant  human interaction, but peacocks still like to avoid contact when possible.

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The class change resulted in the hens walking right by a peacock. When he saw the peahens, he let out a cry and started doing the mating dance that peacocks are so famous for. Contrary to popular belief, peacocks don’t just stand still when they are displaying.  There is dancing, shaking, shimmering, head movement and a 360 degree slow turn involved with the full extension of his feathers.

The results of the dance speak for themselves.

In Full Glory
In Full Glory