Patience with birds

October 01, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

My brother and I went to photograph a beach. The sky was cloudless and the beach did not seem to hold promise for great photos during sunset. As we were walking to the beach we saw these black birds being very active in an area between where we parked and the beach. So we decided to stay where the action was, with the birds.

          We often think that birds are constantly on the go and they move fast, therefore we need to be fast too. But this shoot taught me the opposite. Yes, my camera needs to be fast (fast aperture, fast shutter speed, fast autofocus). But I need to be slow, very slow. Moving in closer to the birds scares them off. We were most successful when we stood still, letting the birds get used to us. These little creatures are small, so we have to get close to them to get acceptable resolution (so that we don't have to crop in so deeply, throwing away resolution in the process). You will be surprised how close you need to get to them to have them a decent size in the viewfinder; even with a 600mm lens. So how do we successfully get closer to them without spooking them?

As mentioned already, we need to move slowly. We found that moving a little bit and then standing still for a good amount of time before taking the next step closer worked pretty well. This requires a lot of patience. Next, I also tested the old adage to approach the birds walking slowly in a zigzag pattern rather than directly towards the birds. I felt that this worked good too. We would not move when the bird was on a perch. We waited and allowed the birds to dictate our movements. Once they naturally flew off, we would get a bit closer and wait again.

          These scrubs were at or below waist height. I also found that the birds were much more at ease when I crouched down and sat waiting lower down. We needed to do this anyway to get to the eye level of the birds. Yet, birds are birds. They come and go. It just requires a lot a patience waiting for them to come sit on the bush where we were at.

          Watching the birds very closely also paid off. We learned that they would use certain perches more than others. We positioned ourselves near the perches that had the most action. It is so tempting to have the camera pointing at one particular perch and then to only watch that perch. Yet when doing so, we don't notice that a bird is posing nicely on a different perch nearby. We need to stay alert and scan all the perches around us. Besides, a hundred images of birds on the same perch gets boring.

Next week we will look at a sequence of images of a bird flying off.


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