Watch the Birdie.
Bird photography is one of the true joys the hard core nature photographer can experience. Making bird photos is not just about making pictures of birds. It’s about watching and learning. It is also about getting to know individual birds. Not all Blue Jays, or are alike. Not all Barred Owls are alike. They differ in small physical markers, and also in personality. The goal of the photographer is to discover, and share the similarities and the differences.
Birds like any living critter, can be a difficult subject as they are not here to please us (the photographer), but to live their lives. The tend to move, and with those moves the light changes, and so does our finished image.
Most bird photographers, especially if they also consider themselves birders, hate photographing birds in contrasty light. They want the light to be even and minus any shadows. I love shadows. They add a hint of mystery to any image. Creating a photo of a bird, does not have to mean showing every glaring millimeter of their bodies.
There is a bit left to the imagination in the first picture that you see below of an immature male American Wigeon. I like the photo, but I admit that the flicker of light that catches its eye in the second photo, adds a little bit more life to the bird.
“If there is no mystery, then there is no poetry, the quality I value above all else in art” Georges Braque
“Mystery isn’t in the technique, it’s in each of us” Harry Callahan
Front light can be as flat and lifeless as extreme sidelight can be bothersome (to some). But when you live at northern latitudes, during winter that front light skims the surface of the land (or water) even at mid day. That makes for a rich crisp feeling as is the case with this Northern Pintail.
With today’s cameras and their ability to use high ISO settings, spectacular action pictures of birds can be seen daily on the internet. Does “small” action still count? A turn of the head, or a movement in a wing, or a single step in one direction or another, is indeed action. In fact, those small movements are often more impactful in still photography, than they are in real life. Either way, waiting on those key moments when a bird takes a step, is a study in patience and timing on the part of the photographer.
That is a Spotted Sandpiper you see below.
That leads us to truly still photographs.
Is the somewhat static full body portrait even worth pursuing anymore? Is a pretty picture that simply illustrates the beauty and overall appearance of a bird, worth the effort to trip the shutter in 2016? I think it is. Variety is not only the spice of life, but it is an educational tool, and sometimes a vehicle for art as well. Remember, my photographic philosophy states that wildlife subjects, especially birds, are the true artists anyway, we are merely a conduit for sharing that art.
This Ring-necked Pheasant shows off his colors, as he stands motionless in a field of frost. He is probably watching me as I capture his likeness in a picture.
Like any bird photographer, I love photographing subjects like owls, and eagles and Osprey and hawks. Like most photographers, I tried to pursue the less often seen hawks, but I was always willing to return to my great friends the Red-tailed hawks. They are so common around here that I could probably go out right now and find a Red-tailed Hawk within thirty minutes, if I so chose to.
The one thing about this species is that they are extremely varied in their markings and coloration. From one bird to the next, they tend to look different. Not really the case with Osprey or Bald Eagles. The two hawks below were a couple of favorites of mine. Not necessarily the portraits that I made, but the actual birds.
I remember this morning very well. I spent an hour or so with this little hawk and yes I did get some action shots. This is one Red-tailed Hawk that wants to make sure we know, he does in fact have a red tail. What a great morning.
My time was brief with this pretty bird but it was fruitful. I also secured some action photos with this bird and I was so close to it when it flew, that I clipped off both wings in my pictures. I dropped a lens cap out of my open car window, and the bird did not fly away. I began a coughing spree that would have scared a gang of bandits away, but my friend remained. Then suddenly for some reason I did not know (and my friend did not share), it took to the skies. That was 8 years ago but I remember every second, despite the fact that I have probably photographed a hundred Red-tailed Hawks in my photographic life.
That was a pretty day with a very pretty bird.
Well now, this post was never meant to be all about birds so what can I turn to, oh yes, icicles and the side of a building. I have shared before on these pages, the images of clean cold icicles, with sunstars, and a beautiful blue sky. These were made on the other side of the wooden shelter that the ice you see below was found. I’ve never ruled out a photographic subject or how I was going to photograph it. Every day, and every minute of the day, is a good time to make a different sort of picture. This picture isn’t a beautiful lone icicle, or a compelling abstract of shape and form. It’s just a picture of some icicles and wood. Every subject is fair game. Would you have bothered to take the time to create this image? Not every image needs to warrant exposure in National Geographic or Outdoor Photographer. Personal satisfaction should also be a goal.
I may be wrong, but I do not believe that I have previously shared any of the pictures below. I have however shared other images of barren trees and the colors of sunrise/sunset, and other pictures of the sunrise over the Mississippi River..
While new spring greenery, or colorful autumn leaves, make for great pictures of trees, I truly love winter and the opportunity to photograph the bare bones skeleton of a deciduous tree. Put a sunset in back of it, and I am a happy photographer. I will admit that I do not remember making this photo, but I like the contrast of the craggy, harsh, black, silhouette of those branches, with the wispy, colorful clouds.
I have shown many pictures of the Mississippi River at sunrise. Most include the river, the bluffs on the other side, and the rising sun. For the first picture below I totally ignored the river, and used sky, sun, bluffs, and fog as my subject.
The second picture is merely river ( really just tributaries), and the light of the rising sun. that’s all.
Every photo opportunity of any given subject, not only gives the photographer a myriad of ways to “shine the light” so to speak, on that subject, but it gives them the chance to create images of connecting subjects as well. In the end, you might wind up with a body of work that tells a more complete story, and possibly extends your vision as an artist.
One thing always leads to another.
Have a great day, Wayne