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on May 4, 2012 in Wildlife Photography

Making the Uncommon of the Common

One of the goals of wildlife photography is to make the uncommon photo of the common. Whenever you do that, you have a winning photograph, it’s that simple. Or is it? Capturing the uncommon can encompass many techniques either separately or in combination which makes it a challenge. So here’s a photo of a Short-billed Dowitcher taken as most do, standing up at your tripod, shooting down on the shorebird. I did this for a long time, most still do and while you get an OK photo, you can do much better relatively easily.

What’s the issue in the top photo? The angle of view takes in a whole bunch of background so the Knot does not stand out. We want our subject to smack the viewer right between the eyes, period! So by taking the lens off the tripod and going down to the level of the shorebird, we make the uncommon of the common by making the background disappear. This means we are lying on the sand, not a low tripod angle but flat on the ground! Now when I first mentioned this days ago, a whole bunch of folks wondered about the wisdom of putting a $10k lens in the sand. Now if you watch my KelbyTraining Shorebird class, you’ll see I’m using a Panning Plate that is in a freezbee. It works great and by using the techniques I go through in the Shorebird Class, there’re never an issue. So this is the beginning to make the uncommon from the common.


The next way to make it more uncommon is to have more then one bird in the photo. This takes everything I mentioned above plus something I find photographers have less and less of, patience. In wildlife photography, the “great” image doesn’t came by constantly chasing it. It might every so often but if you want consistent results, you need to park and let the critters come to you (something we’ll cover in Short Lens Wildlife Photography Course). Laying down on the sand, you loose a lot of maneuverability so have to find a place where the birds like to frequent. That just takes a little time watching. Then you lie there and wait and watch. When you see a pair or more starting to head your way, you get ready to shoot. The first thing you MUST understand that because you are lying down, DOF is zip no matter what f/stop you pick! You’re shooting with long glass and you’re really close to the subjects so there is NO WAY you can get the background bird sharp. This means you have to think creatively in your composition. Here are two examples of what I think works in this scenario. So to make the uncommon from the common with these Red Knots took no more then lying down in the sand flat and waiting. These are things in everyone’s budget. And before you say you don’t have a 600mm, you only have a 400mm…not a problem, just slide closer in the sand! When you’re lying flat, birds come real close because now, you’re no longer a tall monster but a beached seal.