Inside: I like photographing people; Things I’ve learned; Bad pics, good pics, great pics; Tips and tricks; Goals
You know how I get when I find something I like to do that I’m marginally good at. I get swept up for a while. Before I get into it, though, I gave up on Huntley Meadows this morning. I did drive there while running an errand, but the parking lot was crowded and I really didn’t have a lot of time.
So I went home — damn! I forgot to get stamps. While at the Post Office. For the love of…
Anyway, I went home. I decided I’ll just go into my backyard to see what I can see. Well, it’s the backyard of the apartment complex, which is technically a park. It’s a stream.
Point is, right in “my” backyard right near the tennis courts — between the courts and the stream, I saw 7 bird species that I’ve never seen before in my life. Birders apparently call them Life Birds.
I took photos even though there was no hope of getting good pics with a 70-300mm lens, max. aperture 5.6. No tripod, overcast day. These are horrible and cropped to focus in on the subject. I just wanted to have something to identify. I bought the Audubon Birds app for the iPad/iPhone. I saw a/an:
- Carolina Chickadee
- Pileated Woodpecker
- Something small with a thin pointy beak
- American Tree Sparrow
- Brown-headed Cowbird (male and female)
- Downy Woodpecker
I also saw a Canadian Goose aquatic boxing match.
WHILE YOU’RE WATCHING THEM, THEY’RE WATCHING YOU
Some birds are incredibly smart. Smarter than dogs, even. Some species remember individual human faces. Well, crows do. But I’m pretty sure that others are full of surprises, too.
But birds watch you when you walk by. They certainly pay attention when you linger and when you point giant, shiny eyes at them. That can also mean that they’ll learn that you’re not a threat.
I stood for about 45 minutes this morning and wandered, stood, sat for about an hour today around that spot. We’ll see if patience pays off.
ALWAYS REMEMBER TO TURN AROUND
While you’re focusing on one thing, there’s usually bird/animal/human things going on around and behind you. Gotta be quick, though. I’m not.
The other morning when I was in photography heaven, a group of about 40 kids on a field trip came down the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows. They were loud. And adorable.
One of them, a cute little girl, said, “Um, mister.” Then she pointed at goose poop that I was standing very near or in.
I said, “Ew.”
A little boy looked at me and said in what can only be described as an “outside voice”, “I hope you get to take some good pictures!”
What a sweetheart, huh.
Such a diverse group of kids, too. Being kids and asking child-like questions.
“Is poison ivy a plant?”
“No, it’s just poison.”
While you’re cursing yourself for missing that photo of a Great Blue Heron flying by, there’s a Green Heron standing on a beaver dam 6 ft. in front of you. And a Redwing Blackbird on a Cattail stalk 6 ft. behind you.
TRY BIRD CALLS
That worked with cardinals today. I used the Audubon app to play Cardinal songs and one of them came out into the open for a bit. I could hear echoing calls from the trees all around me.
HAVE A GOAL
I think this is the most important thing I’ve learned. Have a goal … and then be prepared to fail miserably. Then be prepared for completely unexpected opportunities. It happens every time.
My current goal is to get birds in flight.
You have to get lucky to get a lot of your best shots. Well, you have to be good enough to take advantage of opportunities. To capitalize on luck.
Okay, maybe this is the most important technical thing. The light has to be abundant, yet diffused. I’ve taken pics of birds that miraculously landed 10 ft. from me only to end up with a mediocre pic. A little washed out and not crisp.
Only when I went in the morning did I have enough light to get professional-grade photos, in my mind. Of course, it would be easier…
If you have expensive equipment. You should see some of the rigs out there. The real birders. 400 or 500mm lenses, carbon fiber tripods, ultra flashes with large diffusers.
The most powerful lens I have maxes out at 300mm. Although, I’d love a more powerful lens, I can’t bring myself — or I straight up refuse — to pay between $2,000 and $13,000 (for 500mm 2.8) to get one.
So if you’re out there with consumer-level equipment like myself (as opposed to advanced or pro), you’re really going to have to have patience, luck, light and a lot of not-quite photos that can only be massaged so much.
I like taking pictures of people. I prefer it to photographing anything else. Although, I have to say that birds don’t fret about not having enough makeup on. Birds don’t care whether or not you post their photos on the internet.
But maybe my bird photos will encourage some people to come forward and volunteer.
I want to get pro-quality photos of more colorful birds. Blue jays, Cardinals, Goldfinches, Hummingbirds. Colorful birds are wily. They’re shy and usually make sure to keep distance and elevation. I may have to rent a super lens.
Here are two photos taken under nearly the same circumstance. The only difference was the time of day (and therefore different light quality).
Here are some recent “good day” shots.