February 25, 2008

Birds in Love

Photo and Article by Scott Bourne (Click here to see a larger version of the image.)

Photographing wildlife takes patience, practice and knowledge of your subject. In this case, I was also a little lucky.

I went to central Florida in February – near Palm Beach to photograph the many birds that migrate through and mate in that area.

On this occasion, I found this Great blue heron couple (Ardea herodias) displaying some great courtship behavior in a swamp.

To make this shot I had to know the following things…

a) Where the birds where likely to be
b) What time of day they were likely to be there
c) What time of year they began courtship

Studying ANY subject, wildlife or not, will help improve your odds of getting a great shot.

As with ALL wildlife, I set up with the sun directly at my back. There wasn’t much light because the sun had just come up, but there was enough to get a good image.

The birds were high up on top of a tree so I shot from a step ladder to minimize my upward angle. (I always carry a small portable, light, step ladder with me in the field for just such an occasion.)

I made the shot using a Canon 1D MK II N with a 6oo mm F/4 IS lens, mounted on a Wimberley Head, affixed to a Gitzo 1325 tripod. The effective focal length (EFL) of the lens was 840mm due to the crop factor caused by the less than full-sized sensor on the 1D MK II N.

I made about 10 images in a span of about 30 seconds before they took off together. This is my favorite, although it’s not perfect. The small tree branch that intrudes from the bottom bothers me, but there was no way to position myself so it wasn’t in the shot, and I decided I didn’t want to remove it via Photoshop. Why? The image still stands strong on its own. And only other photographers notice the branch. Everyone else enjoys the courtship of the birds.

Not that it matters much, because if I went back there today, the conditions might be totally different, calling for a different exposure, but the exposure used here was 1/500th of a second at f/8, ISO 250.

This post sponsored by the Digital SLR Store

Join the conversation! 14 Comments

  1. Scott, is the sky overexposed? It should be blue, right?

  2. Nice photo. The background sky looks almost like a studio shot with white/grey background.

  3. Actually Luiz the sky was blue but the birds were framed tightly in front of a large cloud. So no – the sky isn’t over-exposed. I thought it made for a nice – high-key background that clearly focused attention on the birds.

  4. AMAZING shot Scott. I can’t believe you got this heart shape. Must have been a split second. I’ve not seen this on your Avian Stock site so it must be relatively new. Thanks for sharing it and how you made it. Maybe someday I’ll get a shot 1/10th that good.

  5. You haul around a tripod w/Wimberley AND a ladder?!

    I don’t mean to get personal but, do you need the ladder to “see over” the top of the tripod at full extension or do you somehow use the ladder to get the tripod higher as well. (The 1325 is a big tripod and if you are shorter than 6′, then a step up would certainly be handy.)

    Sorry, the comment piqued my interest.

    – dave

  6. Hi Dave – nowadays – my assistant does most of the hauling :) I use the ladder because even though I am 6’1″, there are times – like this one where the birds are at 10 feet – that I want to even up the angle.

  7. Scott, thanks for the explanation! I´m really liking the total interaction!

  8. great shot …
    wish we had birds like that down here … would have been nice to practice on ’em …
    so for now … i’ll stick with the doves …

  9. It is a beautiful shot. I would have to agree about the branch though. But, like you said most people won’t notice it.

  10. Scott, I was wondering how far away from the birds you were. I guess with a 600mm you were quite a distance. I like to do a lot of nature photography, but have only a 135mm lense so most of the time I can’t get close enough to birds or a lot of other animals that are very timid.

  11. Hi Scott Little – they were far enough away that I needed every bit of the 600 to get this shot. There are places where a 135 mm lens will work – zoos and wildlife parks are a good place to start.

  12. I have a 200 mm lens that I find great at my local Audobon Sanctuary. They wild life there tends to be far more used to humans and human interaction.

    Many birds will even eat seed right out of your hand. This can lend itself to setting up a shot.

  13. Scott, was this Green Cay Wetlands, or Wakodahatchee?

    Both places are great to shoot.

  14. Very good eye Dan – Green Cay – a bit off the beaten path tho. I agree – two of my favorite places to shoot in the world. Wako is actually my very favorite. I’d give my eye teeth to have that in my backyard! But it’s a long trek from San Francisco :)

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