Although this winter wasn’t the best, winter is usually a great time to see and photograph eagles. This article gives some good information about winter eagle watching. There’s probably a good spot near you.
Wildlife photography can be challenging and getting close to wild animals is difficult most of the time. If animals like this Wild Turkey are not wary, they won’t last too long in the natural world. Getting close to them is hard; however, there is a group we can learn from: hunters. For some naturalists, the idea of hunting may not be very palatable but let’s explore this a little further. Both the wildlife photographer and the hunter are trying to get close enough for a “shot”. The main difference is the camera vs. the gun but the hunter has some advantages that some photographers overlook. Knowledge of the quarry, stalking/tracking skills, attention to the wind, camouflage, decoys, and calls are a few of the hunter’s tricks for getting close to animals. These skills can absolutely work for the wildlife photographer too.
I highly recommend checking out a show called Wild Photo Adventures. I’m not aware of any better example of the application of hunting skills to wildlife photography than the Season 2, Episode 4 show. If you’re interested in learning more about these techniques, you definitely need to watch this episode. You’ll learn more from seeing this demonstrated than I could ever write. This show is nothing short of inspirational. I’m gone…to buy myself a turkey call.
Although quite common in these parts, the Kestrel is one bird that has eluded my lens for a long time. It seems like every time you spot one on the roadside, it’s gone as soon as your foot touches the brake pedal. My friend Ozark Bill and I have joked about this happening to us over and over for several years. I finally found one tolerant enough to let me get a few images. As if it were still holding back a little, the best I could get was this over-the-shoulder glare.
I’m holding out for what I think would be the iconic shot of this species. Kestrels are known for hovering in place while hunting. I think the perfect shot would be to catch one in mid-hover. Of course I’d need to be close, even closer than this. Then the Kestrel should be facing east, bathed in beautiful morning light. A rainbow in the background would be nice. A pot of gold where the rainbow ends at my feet would be even better!
I have several photographic goals like getting the hovering Kestrel shot. I could probably buy the exact image I described, less the pot of gold, on one of the micro stock sites for a buck but it’s not about having the image, it’s all about making the image. As Chief Dan George said, I will “endeavor to persevere”.
I’ll take this small victory but you’re still on my list Mr. Kestrel.
Sometimes potential images present themselves to you in unusual ways. This image is a good example. I had been out making images of solitary birds. When I noticed that I had the opportunity to get close to this flock of blackbirds, my first thought was to try to figure out how to isolate an individual. Fortunately, I was able to stop and realize that the real subject was the flock itself. It was fun to watch them fly right, left, toward me, and away from me. I chose a long lens to show some detail on a few birds and let the rest go abstract. I panned along with the moving flock, shooting in continuous drive mode.
There is a principle in physics called inertia that describes how objects resist changing what they are already doing. I think this can happen to photographers too. Always be looking for an interesting subject and new ways to shoot it. Sometimes the true subject isn’t what you think it is at first.
Every year when winter sets in, we get some great avian visitors here in the Midwest U.S. These Trumpeter Swans are but one example. It’s a great time to get some cool bird photographs. First, you’ll need to figure out where to find them. There will be hotspots where these birds gather and there’s no better source for this information than local birdwatchers. Check with birding clubs, conservation agencies, or online resources like birding.com.
Once you find them, get ready to have some fun. This is the time to bolt on your longest lens, turn on your high speed continuous shooting mode, and take lots and lots of photos. Not every capture will be a prize winning photo but that’s OK. You want as many choices as you can collect in order to improve your chances of catching the definitive moment. Try to keep your shutter speed in the 1/1000 range or faster for flying birds and use AI Servo focus mode to help you stay focused on them. Be sure to take extra batteries and memory cards too because you’ll go through them much faster than in other kinds of shooting.
Back at home, don’t let yourself become overwhelmed with sorting through a large number of images. Use the rating feature in your software to narrow your choices by process of elimination. Promote your better images with a higher rating and weed out your mistakes with a lower one. You may need to look through the images several times but if you remain patient and objective, you’ll end up with a handful of your best photos to work up in post processing.
I hope I’ve inspired you to go out and give it a try. I have but one warning – it’s addictive. You may find yourself wishing winter lasted a little bit longer.
I saw this Green Heron stalking its prey at a nearby lake. The thing I liked about this image was the chance to make an environmental portrait. This stealthy bird is well hidden, perching on a downed branch among the foliage. A few moments later, it lunged for its meal. I really enjoy bird photography but it can take many hours of observation in the field to get an opportunity like this. Patience is key as is being ready to nail the composition, exposure, and focus at a moment’s notice. My tip for today is not novel and quite frankly may be boring to some of you. Read your camera’s manual and understand what each button and menu option does. Practice activating features and changing options that you’ll need in the field. It will pay off when opportunities present themselves.
Parks are great places to get close to wildlife. I met this fellow in Rocky Mountain National Park.
There were actually three of them. The other two crossed the road while this guy paused to check out the Rocky Mountain Traffic Jam that ensued at the sight of three wild coyotes. Because I had my rig ready, I got the shot. In these places with lots of human traffic, the wildlife becomes habituated to the presence of people. Now, I’m not going to give a speech on respecting wildlife or safety because common sense should prevail in everything. However, parks like this can give you great photographic opportunities that are very difficult to get in less traveled places. I like to keep my telephoto lens attached when I’m driving around these areas. You’ll likely need the reach if you happen upon a wild animal. Wildlife might not wait on you to change lenses but most landscapes and wildflowers I’ve met are much more patient.