shore bird photos up close & personal

by Lanny McDowell on June 17, 2009


Take a course in good water and air
, and in the eternal youth of Nature you may renew your own.  Go quietly, alone; no harm will befall you.
John Muir

Especially when someone looking at bird photography sees a lot of detail in the avian subject, feathers in sharp focus or a shiny glint in the bird’s eye, he or she wonders how it is accomplished.  Often the viewer concludes, “Oh, well, the big lens!”   “What kind of glass are you using?” is the more camera-savvy question.  Guess what?  It can be the humongous and fast prime lens on the oversized gimbled tripod … on a bright sunny day … bird posed at the edge of the nest … shot from the sturdy platform of the observation tower in the well-managed nature sanctuary.  Nothing wrong with that.  Do whatcha gotta do, I say.

Here’s what I go for, though.  What I seek out and what rings my avian art bell is:   first of all, it almost does not matter what the species is;  second, I want to be free to move around (partly because stalking your subject is so much fun ) ; and, thirdly, proximity is not only quite exciting, it gives the photographer a better chance to see if his focus is accurate.  Although I am almost always shooting in manual focus,  a higher ratio of good to bad autofocus (AF) shots can be obtained  when there is less interference from other objects in the shot, when the subject is more prominent and islolated in the frame.  The downside of shooting nearby birds with the 100-400mm Canon lens I use is that the focal length of a telephoto aimed at short range is pitifully short, so any movement of the subject toward or away from the camera requires practiced and frequent focus adjustment.  Shooting close-up may also reduce the amount of light entering the lens; and that reduces the ability of AF to work well and also decreases the chances of having adequate exposure available and the likelihood of shooting fast enough to capture an image without blurring.  While I happen to like bird photos with a bit of motion implied, if there is too little light reaching the camera sensor, it is out of my hands.

The following bird photos are not from Martha’s Vineyard, but come from my recent  shorebird and horseshoe crab research stint (see previous post 06/06/09) with GCA, or Global Conservation Alliance, on beaches along Delaware Bay, where the Semi-palmated Sandpipers were the species found in the greatest numbers and, apparently, made up the last of the really large flocks to set sail for tundra expanses.

I have to throw this one in,  a Carolina Chickadee,  just because … umm,  because we are talking about getting close :


These pictures too. Just back from the beaches, in the tidal marshlands, there is another set of denizens:







OK. Semi-palmated Sandpipers:












Somebody is doing the homework:







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These images and Avian Art fine art prints are available for purchase. Contact me or View my gallery.

Birds are cool!  Lanny

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{ 1 comment }


Soo 06.17.09 at 8:16 am

Lan: Not only great photos but some excellent information about photographing. Thanks

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