When I started out in photography and got my first digital DSLR camera, I was on the hunt for subject to shoot that wouldn’t laugh back at me as I stumbled around with the buttons. Since I was in Florida, there were these exotic birds everywhere. They didn’t seem to mind me lurking around and testing out the new camera. For two years, I mainly photographed birds. After a while I was all birded out. This was about the time that I went into magazine photography and had every type of subject thrown at me.
Now that I’m teaching classes and on the road six days a week, I like to try and keep a bank of places on the list to go photograph. Some of my students are bird folks, when this comes up I try and pick places that we will see a few to keep everyone interested. The rookery in Venice, Florida is such a place. It is world renown for it’s birding activity and you can get great photos with affordable lenses such as a 70mm-300mm lens. I did a post on this venue a while back, here’s the links: Revisited: Venice Rookery – Venice, Florida – March 2014 and Revisited: Venice Bird Rookery – Venice, Florida. Every time I go, I try to focus on something different to keep it fresh. For example, in the second post listed above, I was able to get a photo of a Great Blue Heron feeding the family and capture the fish as he was….ugh…well, you’ll see. I have shown this photo in gallery viewings and it was well received. Some of this has to do with luck. Being in the right place at the right time has quite a bit to do with it. It doesn’t matter if you have a $10,000 camera if it’s not pointed in the right direction!
As I mentioned, I like to try and shoot something different when I revisit a venue. This keeps a your photographer’s eye sharp as to see what one might have missed the first time. In the back part of the rookery there is a mobile home park with a small pond. I saw these ducks were taking off into the water. I just laughed at myself when the two of them were swimming in a straight line, now I see where the expression comes from!
I have a few of these from years past where the egret is bring a stick back to the nest. This is more of a photography challenge than just photographing the bird. Most folks don’t like to shoot subjects like this during the day. In fact when we arrived, the outer bank was lined with so much expensive glass we could have started our own Ferrari dealership. By the time I took this photo, it was almost noon and most of the photographers were gone as the “good light” was gone. Well, I ain’t getting up no 4:00 a.m. for a bird…or any subject for that matter! Since the egret was facing the full sun, I knew I was going to have to purposely underexpose over what the meter was telling me to keep his detail in tact. This is one advantage of shooting manual as I can change the shutter speed on the fly while looking through the viewfinder. I ended up darkening the scene by one stop. Since this is also a RAW file, I was able to rescue any pixels that might have been on the edge.
Again, I have a few thousand of these laying around the archive, but we’re there so why not. Since these guys are gray and not white, this makes it real easy to photograph. The setting that I came to use was ISO 400, f/5.6 at 1/2000. One general rule is to shoot over your focal length. What does this mean? I was shooting with a Nikon 70mm-300mm lens. Most of the time I was at the 300mm end. Since my camera has a “crop sensor” meaning not, full frame, I have a 1.5 multiplier. At 300mm what I’m actually seeing is the view of what a 450mm lens would give me on a full frame sensor. Any shake from the camera or my hands would have degraded the photo. The minimum shutter speed that I would want to shoot at and not get any camera shake would be 1/500. For any of you who have a “bridge” or “super zoom” camera, this is really important to understand. Some of these super zoom cameras have the equivalent of 1200mm! These types of cameras have a smaller sensor than an APC sensor so their multiplier is at about 2. This means that if your zoomed all the way out to 1200mm then the shutter speed better be up around 1/2500 of a second or a blurry shot may be the result.
Since I have photographed so many birds, I try and be choosy on the birds that I do photograph. I really like any of the raptors such as hawks, ospreys and eagles. I looked over and saw a hawk in a dead tree overlooking the situation, I abandoned the heron and egrets and made my way over to where he was. He looked quite majestic sitting up there, probably looking for a mouse for lunch. I had to be mindful of his belly feathers as they are a lighter color. I purposely underexposed from what the meter told me in the camera just to be sure that I had all of his feather details. Checking the blinkies and histogram it said I was safe.
This was the crown jewel in my mind. As I was photographing him I could see that he was fidgeting around. I decided to stand there with the camera up to my eye and had the setting and focus dialed in. All I had to do was wait, and wait. I stood there for about 15 minutes. Finally, he saw something off in the bushes so when he started to leave, I pressed the shutter button and the camera cranked out 10fps. I would have done a cartwheel if I knew I wouldn’t have landed on my face. Even the underside of the hawk is lit. Do you know why? Look at how bright the tree is. The top of the tree being in full sun acted as my reflector and did the heavy lifting for me.
Photographing in full daylight isn’t a bad thing as long as you see which way the light is coming from and use it to your advantage. With a cloudless day, that means that your shutter speed can be higher and you have the power of action stopping on your side. This is something that would be harder to do when its overcast. If you decide to go looking for birds or other wildlife, just take into consideration what their color is and when using longer lenses, be sure to shoot faster than your focal length. When all of this lines up, your sure to get a real keeper.
Until next time…
Keep Your Glass Clean