It’s Portrait Time!
Here in the Sierras, nesting is now in full force with most species just now setting down on eggs. I realize we’re behind some areas and a head of others but here at home, it’s time for portraits. What do I mean by that? The majority of bird species, the female with her dual plumage does most of the daytime nest tending. The males, the brighter colored of the two is either standing guard or bringing food into the female. Either case, they tend to be T’d up on a perch dying for their portrait to be taken.
The first thing you need to do is find the nest. That often requires some bin time, sitting, watching and learning. The males will often have one perch they favor and that’s what you need to find. Once it’s found, you kinda wanna figure out their routine. Not that you can set your watch by it, by you wanna limit your time with a camera to safeguard the nest. No photograph is worth sacrificing the welfare of a subject! With all of this, look at the light and background. With the Raven above, it was real simple. Nice lighting and clean background. With this American Kestrel, great background but not so nice light. This is a great example where flash fill was needed.
This perch the male California Gnatcatcher used after it left the nest, not before. I kinda like those better because the pressure to take in food and being careful of predators is not so intense so the critters are more “relaxed” in the frame. The last thing you can do is keep the bird off nest! This is also my favorite kind of light for taking portraits, that’s overcast. Overcast not only is this giant softbox but means cooler temps which works best for the nest. Heat stress kills and kills fast!
But using overcast light, you either need to introduce flash for color (Captured has a whole chapter on this) or have a reflector to bounce in light. In the Gnatcatcher photo, the sand/shrubs did a great job reflecting light into this bird so small, it weight less then a nickle. The Upland Sandpiper, a favorite bird of mine, the white side of the Suburban acted as the reflector and did a killer job! Now how long can you stick around and take these portraits? I don’t know about anyone else, but I get bored pretty fast because once you set up and make the clicks, not a whole lot will change. I do take the time to watch the routine so I have an idea for when the eggs hatch or the kids fledge, otherwise I make the great portrait and move on so I don’t effect the adults. With subjects normally always on the move, it’s nice that at least for a short time each year, they will hold still for a portrait.
Photos captured by D3x, D2xs, D1, D3, 600AFS / 600VR w/1.4 or 1.7x on Lexar digital film