Thursday, September 6, 2012

Photographing Birds.
Who doesn't like birds? There is something magical about them. Many are cute and others are majestic. 
I have spent a lot of time either watching or attempting to photograph birds and there are many challenges. For the amateur photographer, there are some things to consider.

1.  Blur: This is probably the biggest problem - stopping the action. With moving subjects, you need to be sure your camera is set on "S" or "T" or shutter priority. Also, there is an "Auto" setting on some cameras that display an icon of someone appearing to run. This setting assumes you are shooting something moving and will adjust the camera to maximize a quick shutter. Potential blur can be caused by two main things: degree of movement and focal length. 
  • Degree of movement: The faster things are moving in your frame, the greater the need for a high or quick shutter speed. If you pan with a moving object like a bird gliding, you solve part of the problem. However, if their wings are flapping, the blur problem is an issue again.
  • Focal length: The higher the focal length (the more you have zoomed out) the greater the probability camera shake will cause blur. Think of it this way; Hold a pencil as steady as you can while your hand is resting on a table. Now, try to do the same thing with your arm extended. The more your arm is extended, the more the pencil wiggles ... right? It is the same thing with our camera ... the longer the zoom, the greater the wiggle effect will show up as blur. This is something you don't notice while you are shooting but the results will show up on your print.
In the above picture the shutter had to stop the actions of the seagull's moving wings.

2. The Moment: This is the most artistic challenge - the moment you have captured. It just can't be a bird, it has to be a bird doing something interesting or looking interesting. With the seagull picture, he was coming into landing, wings out, and his head cocked. Interesting to me. In the second picture, this duck was attempting to save the life if its chicks. She did this by distracting an intrusive dog by pretending to be injured - flying down the canal dipping her wings in the water with each stroke. In this case, camera blur caused by low shutter speed (I didn't have time to set up properly) however the result worked, at least for me. Now the picture needs an explanation but it works.

This image my be more pleasing and one not needing an explanation. I studied the behaviour of the heron for a while noting how he moves around. What stood out for me was their landing; their wings become their air brakes and their landing gear is extended for the landing. This was the moment I wanted to capture.
3. Context: WIth moving birds, this can be a real challenge. The bird needs to be in a setting that focuses attention on it. With the eagle image, I had many where the background was distracting and or unpleasant. I had to admit that it took 2 hours of shooting before I captured both the bird in an interesting position and the background was complementary and not distracting. So, shoot a lot and pay attention to where the best shots may be captured.
When I found the oyster catcher, the bird was in an interesting context - sitting on the rocks - and in an interesting position - on one leg and looking at me from side to side. The problem was the background - the coast of Vancouver was intrusive. The solution, get low and shoot up. It worked, I think. With the heron picture above, it was the the grey sky that I was able to wash out and accentuate the bird.

So, best of luck with your bird pictures. I hope these tips have been helpful. Do comment if you have questions.

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