As we had been doing everyday, we were in the field and shooting to greet the sun. This morning we were in sea kayaks in a croc filled lagoon shooting. Out on the lagoon once the light had gone hard, we had a few moments to paddle around to enjoy the incredible beauty of where we were (I insist on that!). By staying in one place and simply doing a 360 turn of the kayak, I could see three, THREE species of Kingfisher! All new species for me and as a birder, this is nirvana! I simply can’t express verbally or in photographs the immense richness of Costa Rica’s wilderness! We slowly paddled in birding our way back while trying to get out of the increasing heat of the sun (I don’t think I’ve ever sweated so much in my life!). I do have to admit, having the croc there watching us as we disembarked from the kayaks was fun, some others in the party didn’t see the humor.
I had two D7100 bodies with me, one with the 28-300 and the other with the new 70-200VR3 (I really love that lens!), both on straps and both in seabags just in case a croc got me, we could save the cameras. We have priorities! With the kayaks all brought back to shore, covered to protect them from the white wash of the locals, we started to walk down the beach, back to where we parked the Rover. We were walking along and our truly amazing guide Gary (this kid really impressed me!) pointed to a pile of white, what look like deflated balloons in the disturbed bowl of sand. We were quite a distance from the surf and on the edge of the vegetation. Gary said, “This is a Black Sea Turtle nest and it looks like it just hatched last night.”
Just then Gary dropped to his knees and started digging like a dog going after a long, lost bone. The sand was flying and before we knew it he was down to his shoulder in the pit he had dug out with his hand. Then he said, “Found one!” and he pulled out a “baby” Black Sea Turtle. It had hatched and got stuck behind a root deep in the sand. Lana & Gary explained that this was pretty common which is why Gary started digging. The first, then second, third, fifth, tenth baby sea turtle was placed in our hands as Gary continued to find more and more stuck in the roots. When our hands were full, Lana said to take just a couple of steps and put the turtles on the sand. It was bright, hot in the sun and the water was a longs ways off but the baby turtles have to make the trek themselves to embed the beach in their senses so when it’s time for them to comeback and lay eggs, they can find the beach. Damn, Mother Nature is just so darn cool! How in the hell does this biology start in the first place?
That long distances in the hot sun though is not what the baby turtles are meant to do. They should have gone in the cool, protective cover of night. Knowing that the odds are that 1 out of 20 survive the first year and Gary had recovered nearly two dozen, we wanted them all to make it to the water. On this big, empty expanse of a beach, don’t think these humans making a fuse didn’t get some attention. Not from other folks as there are none on this deserted, gorgeous beach, but rather from those wanting to make a meal of the turtles. The magnificent Mangrove Black Hawks appeared out of nowhere when the first turtles were put on the sand. So in between bringing water to keep the turtles cool, we stood over them providing aerial assault protection. Now if them baby turtles would have stayed together and all gone at the same pace, things would have gone smoothly. One had a slightly injured front flipper and while it didn’t just go in circles, it didn’t make a straight line either to the water’s edge. Some went fast and some seem to be taking in all the sights and before we knew it, they were scattered about the beach. Then a scream went up as the aerial assault was launched!
With moves worthy of a Heismen Trophy winner, one of the group made a move foiling the hawk stoop on the baby turtle, ending up with with a talon of sand rather than an easy meal for its attempt. While mother nature is amazing there are times to us, it seems cruel. But that’s why so many eggs are laid, so many hatch because the odds of one turtle making it back are slim. Finally with what seemed like hours past, the turtles started to reach the water and safety. Smaller than the palm of your hand, it seems unbelievable they head out into the big expanse of the Pacific ocean without any hesitation. With our protecting duties comin to an end, I picked up the D7100 and started to shoot. The D7100 instantly grabbed focus, locked on and blasted away. I didn’t have to think about the camera, just the photograph…and protecting the baby turtles! I’d never seen such a thing in my life, doubt I will again and I was going to have at least one click of this miracle of life. To Lana and Gary from Luna Lodge, it’s just what they do because of their fulltime involvement with the environment and protecting of the rich biodiversity of Costa Rica. For our little posse though, this was a very special event, a wonder of nature none of us will ever forget!
It was our very first day at Luna Lodge, Costa Rica and we were in meetings about our shoots for the next two weeks. We were in the open dinning area overlooking the rainforest when Gary, our guide came up to use kind of excitedly. “They found a Two-toed Sloth and it’s really low!” The species (Two-toed being the harder to find) and being low were both the important part of the statement. “You want to photograph it?” It was on the list so we suited up with gear and headed out.
With the D7100, 70-200f4 & TC-20e3 in hand, we got in the Rover and headed down the canyon. In not too long of time, there we were right next to the Sloth. Man, what a cool animal! Not really much bigger than a watermelon, there is “sat.” It wasn’t going anywhere until nightfall so we could take our time to make the shot. There was a number of avenues through the forest to get the shot, I looked for the one bringing out the character of this unique critter. I had to shoot stills and video so I was busy. In my mind, the priority was the stills first, video second so that clicks were being made.
It was all going really well. In fact, despite the tremendous pressure I was putting on my self to produce, I was having fun. The one feature about the D7100 I enjoyed was the dynamic range. You’ll notice in this photo the highlights on the leaves in the background aren’t blown out, the camera held the detail, which made the shooting just a little easier. With the stills in the can (I shot everything on Lexar 64GB 600x SD cards), I moved to get the video. I needed to shoot both DX and Cropped video (New feature for a Nikon DX camera). So I moved over to capture some more forest for movement in the video since the sloth wasn’t moving, a hair! With it all set up, there I stood whispering with the rest of the group what I was doing.
The D7100 was on the Really Right Stuff Tripod / BH-55 just running away. I had set up so I was standing on the edge of a cliff with the tripod right in front of me. The group was at my three o’clock and the sloth at my ten o’clock. The filming was going great, really cool stuff being captured. I was standing there behind the tripod talking with the group when, all of a sudden….NO MORE MOOSE! The tripod was there and the D7100 was still running, but I had completely disappeared!
Without any warning, the edge of the cliff gave way and like an elevator ride, I went straight down into the tangles of the rainforest below! One moment I was looking at the gang and the next, I was staring at rock and dirt! I didn’t know what happen but all of a sudden, I heard a bunch of excited voices and hands grapping me. They got me up and back on top of the cliff without seeming too much problem and amazingly, I didn’t have a scratch on me. But I had injured my right wrist in the fall, fractured it (didn’t tell anyone until after we left Costa Rica). Everyone was pretty calm, making sure I was OK and then after a short time, looking at me, they all broke out in full blown laughter shaking the monkeys from the trees!
I didn’t get it until I looked where they were staring. They were all starin at my crotch! I looked down to see that my convertible pants had completely and fully, blown out from front to back leaving EVERYTHING hanging out! I mean everything! Well, I finished the video and we all got back in the Rover. All I had to do now was figure out how to get through this five star lodge and to my bungalow without embarrassing myself further. And there you have the glamorous life of a Nikon shooter on assignment for a new product launch on his first day….. and there’s more to come!
(Note: This photo was taken with D7100, 70-200f4, TC-20e3 and this is a Jpeg from the Raw file, no processing)
As photographers, we seek that great light. And many of the great photographs we enjoy, one of the first comments is, “great light!” And one of the first comments made when a photograph doesn’t measure up is, “bad light.” And yet, some of the historically most important photographs we treasure weren’t shot in the best light but rather, the best moment. I think that raises the question which is more important when you have to make the choice, great light or great moment? I pose this question because I think many sacrifice the great moment thinking they can only shoot in the great light. Here’s the funny thing about wildlife, sporting events, aviation, and whole bunch of life, they don’t read the same material we do and know to only perform in the great light. So what happens when great light takes a back seat? Will your photography suffer?
I’m not giving you a reason to shoot in bad light. I am giving you a reason to get out when others might say the light sucks looking for that great moment. This Wood Stork is such an example. It’s becoming that time of year in the south, the birds and the bees thing and it’s when critters do there thing whenever they want. To get it on film, you gotta be out there with them. Joe McNally quotes a photographer, a quote now used by many in it’s short form that might help. In a nutshell, you want an interesting photograph, stand in front of something interesting. In that quote, light is not mentioned. In this example the Wood Stork in not so good light but for showing off the glow in its black feathers, it’s great light. If you know that than being at the rookery when the light is great for that one great moment rather than the overall photograph might be worth while. But then while there for that shine in the black you get it in a moment of passion, well then the great moment grows. The something interesting being rather just some primary feathers is a leading lines up to a bigger moment. Ya, we should seek the great light with the great moments there is no doubt, the reason we get up early and stay out late. But in those hours in between, I want to encourage you to not hang up your cameras but rather, look for just the great moments. Photography is this funny thing, it happens whenever you’re behind the camera. It’s just the images when end up sharing are from the great moments.
God bless Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets because they get more photographers into wildlife photographers than anything else! Being found in just about every nook and cranny of North America, who hasn’t photographed these graceful but dirt common subjects? I don’t think I have 1mil photos of the Great Egret, but I might be wrong. So when you’re confronted with taking picture 1mil and one, what do you do? Well, I tend to get really picky and push things a little. What’s pushing it? In the top photo, not a thing! I have a Great Egret in a nice little shaft of light, it goes with the other thousands like that which I have in my files.But this lone egret won’t be alone for long.
Now, I’m not a “raise the ISO” when the light levels drop kinda shooter. So to answer the 1mil challenge, I use the old fashion approach, watch for peak of action and shoot. Shooting with the D4 with 600VR2 with TC-20e3, I focused on the single egret waiting for the mate to comeback. The small shaft of light is slowly fading when the mate returns. He (I assume it’s him) shows up with a twig, makes the presentation and the displaying begins. I simply watch with my finger half way depressing the shutter release so I can shot in a heartbeat. When the wings spread, I watch the head and when it stops its travel, I go click. Na, not some amazing photo but rather, a way to meet the challenge of 1mil and push you photography forward. I’m constantly looking for a way to meet the challenge and of course, win. It’s what pushes my photography.
Light is the element we all have in common and what we seek in our photos to distinguish them from the next. Is there a place you can go and know that light will be good, like a guarantee? I think there are many one are the sands of Fort DeSoto prior to sunrise. When the sun has yet to kiss the heavens, the little light that is present bounces off the sand which does such a great job at filling in the slight shadow. That is, if you’re down on the sand at their level.
Lying on the sand with the D4 with 600VR2 in a panning plate, we can take advantage of the light with our subjects. Now we get down low to not minimize but BLOW AWAY the background! With the very soft light and soft pastel colors, I big part of the photographic challenge is accomplished, but it’s not everything!
The top photo is your basic shot and while the light and being down low make it a nice shot, we can do much better. Plying the clock, we give the birds in this case the Willets, time to get use to our presence and with that comes more poses. These poses can have attitude in them that along with the light bring a little uncommon to the common. I like that. Then when you wait for after they take their nap and the wake up, you have the opportunity to get an even more uncommon pose. In this case, after waking and preening, the Willet scratched its head. You can see how shallow the DOF is at f/5.6 but that’s perfect because just what I want sharp is sharp. There is something special about greeting dawn’s first light and often, you’ll see it in your photographs if you go looking for it.
Wildlife photography is just like Christmas morning quite often. You find that great subject and just like a kid on Christmas morning you just start wrippin and in the end, you have just the one present. The problem is the leftover pile of paper you have to clean up afterwards. The problem though for the wildlife photographer, all that wrippin really kills the great photo as you dig through all those images you have to delete afterwards! I understand all to well the excitement of seeing that gorgeous subject that you’ve never photographed it before and you just start clicking. I seen that happen with every subject on the plant by excited photographers and that’s just damn cool! That excitement will take you photography a long ways down the road! The problem with it though is it instills really bad photographic habits! Be vary, vary picky. Go into what I call sniper mode, get the one shot!
The top photograph is the first picture I took when we came up to this Spoonbill at Fort DeSoto. It was early morning so one knows that as the day gets older, the light gets harder. So wanting to take advantage of what you think is the best light, you shoot a lot trying to get the shot. What you have to do is take a deep breath and think the PHOTOGRAPH through. I’m much happier with the one clean shot then a thousand shots showing I can push a button (that you have to edit through later). In this case, the foreground and background are nasty. NASTY! The tide is out so lots of muck is coming through in the photo taking away from the beauty of the Spoonbill. Shooting with the D4 with 600VR2 with TC-20e3 and knowing the tide was coming in, waiting made sense to make the better photo. I’ll let the rising tide not only remove the busy foreground and background, but give me a reflection to work with. At the same time, the harder light will increase the contrast making those elements disappear even more. Finally, staying longer, the Spoonbill got use to my presence so would come closer. Yes, knowing all of this takes times in the field shooting. And learning not to astro blast through you excitement was learned easier when we shot film not digital because throwing away all those rolls of film really brings the point home. But I’m going to encourage you to be vary, vary picky!
I really have a thing for shorebirds and one of my favorite places to go to fulfill this love affair are the beaches of SW FL. Lying on the sands this morning shooting, it reminded me of just how sweet this pursuit really is. It really is easy to do. You grab yourself a panning plate, attach a D4 with 600VR2 and let the birds comes to you! I might be making it sound over simplistic, but that’s really all I do. If for no other reason, once I’m laying down flat on the sand, I simply don’t wanna move. It feels soooo good!/p>
Why go down flat? This Red Knot is a good example, it’s all about the background. I want this smaller, plain (winter plumage) lookin bird kinda just blends in when you shoot down on it from eyelevel. One of the goals of our photography is to make the uncommon out of the common. A simple way to accomplish this is simply getting down on their level and making them pop by removing the background. Then you add to this with a great color, in this case being careful to get only the blue in the background. Then you finish it off with gesture. Is this planned? In every way. Does the plan fall through? In every way. That’s the very nature of wildlife photography and why I love it so!
I’m often asked what is my “favorite” image. I’m incredibly fortunate that life has presented an amazing number of grand opportunities permitting me to have a number of favorite images. With the Bison image I posted yesterday, I had a couple of folks asking if it was my favorite winter shot. That had me thinking what I might consider my favorites for big game in winter. I couldn’t find just one and even three doesn’t quite cover it but it gets me close. This first photo was taken at -10 up in the Yukon territory with a D1H and 400f2.8 AFS. I’m looking down slope and the background for this Dall Sheep ram is a lake. It was snowing, cold and gorgeous and that probably makes it one of my favorite photographs more than the photograph itself. That was a great week!
It wasn’t nearly that cold when we were up in the Arctic with Polar Bears. In fact, it was bloody warm, so warm you see the Beaufort Sea and not pack ice! And that’s what I was thinking about when I saw this male walking the beach. It was like it was lost, couldn’t figure out which way to turn and was all alone. Of course I was projecting all of these feelings onto this poor male. We watched it stroll until we could see it no more except the lonely flock of gulls that followed it. To this day, for me it reminds me of the fate of this majestic northern traveler. This was a real simple D2xs / 70-200 shot.
Bighorn Sheep are just cool! They live such a simplistic, complicated life and depending on when you find them, it’s one or the other. This winter scene was definitely the simplistic when just walking the slope and munching was all that mattered. This big curl ram was fun to watch as he went wherever he wanted to and the younger rams just parted. He was a real easy shot to make as he walked on past us up on the slope. He would stop only long enough to see what the rest of the herd was up to. This is a D3, 200-400VR2 click. And like I said, this aren’t like killer images of a lifetime, just favorites from my winter travels that have great memories.
Life does get in the way of life so we have 1 opening in our Grizzly Bear Adventure in 2013. Now this isn’t your normal, run of the mill grizzly bear shoot. I’m not even saying where I’m taking folks as it’s not a place photographers normally get to venture to. It’s rather unique, it a locale where you’re just as likely to see and photograph wolves as your are griz. For me, watching these two top predators use the same area is fascinating as all get out and photographically makes for some unique opportunities.
Don’t snooze and let this opportunity pass you by! The beauty of the locale, you really don’t need more than a 200-400 lens, a big appetite (great food) and the desire to see wild, unspoiled Alaska. Click on the big box to the right if you need more info or just call Sharon (who is going as well) @ 760.924.8632 to join us!
Having Alvin around has been great fun! Hummers tend to have some personality but Alvin has the extra little bit that just makes you laugh at his antics! I’ve had lots of opportunity to photograph him (know it’s a him from the gorget) over the last couple of months and have enjoyed how he seems to have put smiles on many. That’s just cool! At the same time, folks keep asking how’d I get his portrait? It really is no great secret, nothing magical but it is a whole segment on my Beginning Wildlife Photography course we just filmed. Here’s the recipe, it’s pretty much right out of the Moose Playbook.
The gear set up is basic backyard formula, D4, 300f4 AFS & Pocket Wizard III set up on a tripod perhaps 4′ from Alvin. More importantly is the biological setup, something you won’t be able to see until the class is online. Alvin’s perch is a piece of Manzanita that’s in a Justin Clamp on a light stand 18″ from his feeder (and I mean HIS!) and that is 30 yards or so from the background. All I do is when is wait for the light and shoot. There is no more to it than that, sort of. Getting to this point though takes a little more which is why we made a class out it but when it comes to Alvin’s portrait, that’s everything.
That’s how my good friend, a biologist in the Rockies started his email to me yesterday. We call fall that because it’s in the fall that big game, moose, elk, deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep and bears (though they are not big game) grow out with their gorgeous, new winter coats. It’s also the season when I think about getting out in the forests and photograph these majestic critters. For most big game, this is the season of love, what most normal folks call the rut. This annual ritual of life is a fascinating right of passage to watch. You see the classic battle of the big boys going at it. And then the younger, faster males shoot in while the big boys are fighter and mate and get out before the big boys know what happened. Then the big boys get all sexually frustrated and do things I’m not going to mention on this family blog. And the next day when the sun comes up, it starts all over again. It is an amazing, fascinating, ancient call of biology that is just a great show!
When it comes to photography, it’s a slam dunk! Really!! All you need is a lens in the 200 to 400 range, my favorite choice is the 200-400VR2 and this fall I can’t wait to take the D4 out with its 6 stop range. Why? I like the dramatic light, a spot light on the critter surrounded by darkness. While I like it, I don’t always get it but at least this fall when it is served up to me, I’m ready. But generally, fall presents the best light for wildlife photographers, especially in October. If you do your homework now, looking for where the big game are gathering in open areas, you can easily get great shots using just a 70-200 lens. All these photos here where taken with just a 70-200!
Now you might be looking for some big racks in a blog post about fall big game. Well, I thought I would give the moms a little call out today. Typically ignored, when mom has a kid in tow, they make for a great subject. One of these photos was taken in the spring. You know which one? And while I have your eye, I want to call your attention to something on NPR today, part of the reason of my friend’s email yesterday. It’s something we’ve been talking about for years and now more science is showing what we thought was happening actually is. It directly effects big game and our photography!
Sharon & I are having a blast with the Kelby Training crew, Adam & Brandon here in our home and office filming my latest class, Beginning Wildlife Photography. The guys are from FL of course, so just being up in the Sierra and right now has them big eyed and clicking a ton of iPhone photos. Then we introduce the to our birds and squirrels (my Stellar Jay kid who flies into the office to say hi really got them!) and they really go gaga! I was hillerious watching Brandon try to photograph Alvin, our Allen’s Hummer with his iPhone. We finished our first day last night at 21:30 filming a segment with our Northern Flying Squirrels. This is one of our juvenal Hairy Woodpeckers posing for the camera during the class. This photo taken with a Nikon 300f4AFS, the main lens for the class. They are do back shortly to start our 2nd day and can’t wait. Had a bear the day before they arrived and hoping one comes by today. I want to see how their iPhones does with it! Oh ya, they say the class should be posted in the next 60days! mtc
I just think these are the coolest birds, the Turkey Vulture. I am often asked what one critter have I not photographed that I want to. Obviously I’ve photographed the Turkey Vulture but never on a nest. I day a paper presented on these misunderstood birds long ago and say some cool images of their nest life and have always wanted to spend a season at a nest ever since. Where most look at birds like the Robin to signal the coming of spring, I look to the TV migrating up the Eastern Sierra. The one factoid I love about TVs is, they use more calories to perch then they do to fly. That’s pretty darn cool!
Then there is that red head, I just love it! It has a very specific biological reason, it’s all about cleanliness. Vultures stick their heads in places where heads shouldn’t go, into gooey, gory, parts of dead things eating stuff that smell alone would knock us off. Because of that, they have no feathers on their heads so they can keep clean easier. That’s cool evolution! North America has three in vultures, the Turkey, Black and California Condor. Other then the condor, vultures tend to be ignored even though they are not only cool, but an important part of our wild heritage. Some populations in North America have suffered some server decline in the last decade. If you have the opportunity, give them a little of your time. You might just find them like me, pretty darn cool! Photos taken with D4 w/600VR.
There is just something about the critters of the north, those that eek out survival around or above the arctic circle. The vast majority of the critters of the north are physically larger, what’s often referred to as the Northern Effect. This is part of their strategy for survival as well as a means of having more body area making the most of their limited daylight. But lastly, the vast majority of the critters of the north don’t see humans much, they don’t know they should be scared of us so they are very cooperative. I like that!
This is a Red Fox pop that we photographed for a couple of days. The family den site was back in the trees so we didn’t always have great light but on the days we shot the den, it was overcast which worked best for lighting. This particular Red Fox family had a red phase mom and a dark phase dad so the pups are what are called Cross (the biologists, crazy namers they are). Now laying down on the ground to get the background to totally blur really seemed to intrigue this one pup, it started at me for what seemed like hours and I didn’t mind for a second. This photo was taken with a F5, 800f5.6 EDIF on Agfa RSX 100.
The Arctic Hare is so big I tend to look for a saddle to take one for a ride. They have such an attitude about them, probably because they know they can kick the crap out of us. But while they are diurnal, seeing them at dusk is kinda common when it’s an up year. Those years, I would tend to seek them out because just love their hair do. They are molting out of their all white winter coat to their summer gray coat. Just the ears intrigue me to no end. This photo was taken with the same gear as the fox.
And why are these critters on my mind? I’m busy making the plans for our K&M Adventure Churchill (we have two openings), talking to old friends and hearing about the critters up at Churchill. One year we had a Polar Bear with 3 cubs that I ended up petting the mom and holding one of the cubs, a very fond memory. So I just couldn’t help and stop, look at some images from my last trip up there and day dreaming. Hope you can join us, you’ll come back with the same kind of memories and even better, photograph!
The thing called time..it is SO important in the formula of a single image and in your photography overall. In my travels the last two months, I’ve come across more photographers who either never considered spending a great amount of time with one subject in one place or “have that photo” so move on in a heartbeat. My style of photography has never been to chase the subject. I prefer instead for the subject to come to me. In this way, we use time to get into the flow of life, see subtle changes that can make or break a photograph and quite often, capture the photograph. When I hear a photographer that is bored or has done something before so they’re not going to do it again, I have to scratch my head. With a camera in your hand, how can you be bored or think an image will ever be the same, again?
Here’s an example of what sticking about for just 45min did for photographing Bison calves. As normal, we were up and out early on our K&M Adv SD to where we’d left the heard the night before. Early light just works its own magic we are all well aware of. And with Bison, once you’re parked and you stand next to your vehicle, they will just walk right up to you (and as the signs say, Bison can be dangerous). On this morning, the light was great at first but then the cloud cover started to form which, as you can see in the middle image, softened the light to the point where backlit was great because you had the rim lighting but with really soft shadows. Then the light went flat to the point it had no real character. Shooting with the D4 & 200-400VR2, the trick with all three of these lighting patterns was to look for character in the subject that the light worked with. The only way I know of making that happen is time and while I’ve shot Bison for decades, I never have enough time with them and never get the image I have in my mind. Light and subject are always changing, the trick is being in the right place at the right time with the right subject with the right light with the right gear. No wonder I keep going back to the same place. That’s a lot of luck to make just one photo!
Here’s the deal, backgrounds are everything! No matter the subject matter, the background not only sets the stage for the subject but also tells the rest of the story. How simple or complicated a story is up to you since it is your photograph. Here’s an example of what I mean. You basic Pronghorn doe in the Blackhills last week during our K&M Adventures. Shot with the D4 and 200-400VR2 shooting out the window of the van (BTW, love the D4!). The gray sky, generally not a good background for critters visually wraps around the prong enveloping it rather then making it pop. Not good.
With the same focal length, subject to camera distance and exposure, look at the difference just moving 15′ can make in the background and to the point, the subject! The eyes are sooooo important. Look at how the darker background makes the darker eyes pop. Logically, you’d think the lighter background would make the darker eyes pop but such is not the case. That is in part because the background is so far behind the subject, it’s is out of focus so sharpness rather then color makes them pop. Want or need to learn more about this stuff, here ya go That’s why we came up and are offering the Short Lens Wildlife Photography Course. 760.924.8632, call today!
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.
So we arrive at North Beach lagoon at Fort DeSoto to see nothing, zero, nada bird but a lonely GBH way off in the distance. For the start of our 2nd day of our K&M Adventure FL, I was a bit nervous. I mean, the idea is to be shooting cool subjects. Well, I really didn’t pause, walked right over to the beach. And at first, didn’t see much but then after a couple of minutes, the birds started to appear at the wave line and we never looked back! It was a killer morning, I filled 2009 images from two and a half hours of shooting and like you see above, they don’t suck! I love shorebirds! You’ve got here are Willet, Marbled Godwit, American Oystercatcher and Ruddy Turnstone.
I started out with my rig on the tripod but as soon as I got to the shoreline, I knew I had to get down. Here’s the deal, while shooting from a tripod is just fine, the angle of attack to me is too steep, it includes way too much background which is sand. Yes, sand is where they live but it doesn’t really aid in visually making them pop. So I wanna get down on their level. While this really restricts your movement, when you watch their biology, you can find places to get down and make the shot. If you want to learn the entire technique, head to Kelby Training. The whole thing is about backgrounds, my favorite pet peeve.
And if you’re not shy, like asking questions and want to learn from guys who have been doing this stuff for a combined 60yrs, come along on a K&M Adventure. We have an opening next month in South Dakota, a couple this fall and two next winter in Grand Canyon. For more info or to register, call 760.204.1506. Now, back to the sand, there are more birds to photograph!