While I always pride myself on my versatility of subject as a photographer, I cannot deny that more time, film, and eventually digital resources were devoted to our avian friends than anything else. Birds are worth watching and studying even if you don’t make pictures. Adding photos to the equation gives you memories that will always be there.
I initially considered myself a stock photographer when the subject was birds, and eventually went on to add a little art to those pictures. Bird art prints sell very well. In my final year or so of bird photography, it was all about spending time with my feathered friends. I suppose you could say, that I finished the bird part of my photography career, as the ultimate hobbyist. I’m okay with that.
Today’s samples are stock oriented although sometimes the subjects give you art whether or not that’s what you’re looking for.
Most of the bird photos you see below fall into the category I used to call, “stock only”. Especially the Trumpeter Swan pictures showed the long Ostrich like neck. Endangered birds like these swans were banded so you knew who they were, and could be identified from a long distance. Most of these pictures show how dabbling waterfowl, especially those with long white necks, have foliage stains on their necks and faces.
Common Loons were popular with editors, whether they were a part of a story or not.
All of the images above were made within a few minutes of one another at Crex Meadows Wildlife Area in far northwest Wisconsin.
The thought processes and the disciplines used to create stock images was often, but not always, different than what was employed to make “intentional” art.
If I had to choose a favorite type of bird photography it would in fact be waterfowl. The simplicity of the finished picture is natural art. The wave patterns along with the colors that reflect in the water make for a certain rhythm to the finished image. Also, water birds can be spectacular.
This pair of first winter male Common Goldeneyes made for crisp subjects in the silvery world of this winter waterway.
Ring-billed Gulls are pretty ordinary subjects but with enough wing flapping, and a silvery backdrop, they made for a good picture.
This immature male Red-breasted Merganser gave me over an hour to get to know him as he preened at the shoreline. Eventually he did what water birds do and went for a swim.
One of my favorite birds in early spring is the Horned Grebe. You always find plenty of good examples of both winter and breeding plumage birds. Sometimes you get both in one shot. Those sorts of shots make for good selling stock pictures. They visually tell the story of the species, as well as the season.
In the final few years I made pictures, birds once again were an important factor. I am happy to mention however, that flowers, insects, sunrises, abstracts, mammals and herps were among my subjects in my final three years. I felt that was fitting. Just the same, in the end there were more birds than anything else. I am okay with that.
These final pictures are not among my absolute best, but I’ll keep them anyway.
Who goes out to make bird pictures, at least in North America, without making a few pix of male Red-winged Blackbirds. I wonder how many I have made in my life?
Common Grackles are well……common in these parts in spring and summer. Just another black bird. Well, not really. Look close when the sun hits them just so. I will admit that this subject had some colors working for it even in the shade, but they really blossomed in the sun. I can hear a Grackle squawking right now as I write this.
Baby birds are always interesting and fortunately I did manage to photograph a few in the final two years. This fledgling Chipping Sparrow was in my back yard. I (very) quickly took a few quick snapshots (with my 105 lens and tripod), and went back in the house. Three or four minutes later mom or dad returned with a little food. Within ten minutes the baby had flown away. Life goes on.
It took me twenty years of bird photography to get my first usable images of a Belted Kingfisher. After that I usually had one bird a year allow me that privilege. I was even more excited to have the second to last bird I ever photographed be a Kingfisher.
With the incredible high resolution sensors on today’s cameras, and especially with the ability to run ISO speeds into the stratosphere, and still maintain low noise levels, I am seeing Kingfisher diving shots that are tack sharp. That was only possible in the past, with high speed electronic flash.
The first really big birds that I made good pictures of, were Sandhill Cranes. I couldn’t be happier that the final birds that graced my camera, were a mated pair of Sandhill Cranes. The pictures are pretty ordinary, but in a stock photography sort of way, and in keeping with this post, they are perfect.
Bird photography is both fun and rewarding. While many birders become photographers, it is possible ( like me ) to be a photographer first. You will be lacking in bird knowledge, but you will be ahead when it comes to visual acuity and photographic knowledge. I began just photographing whatever birds I found, and then learning about them later. You will be shocked how quickly you become a birder of sorts yourself.
Bird photography takes patience and persistence. I began the journey as a very persistent photographer, but not a very patient one. That patience was learned with time.
It pays to remember that bird photographs need composing just as much as a landscape image or anything else. Whether your finished picture is a crop ( very normal ), or a finished image at the time of clicking the shutter, try to remember that the whole image matters, not just the bird. The subject of your focus, in this case the bird, is merely a portion of an entire image. The swan pictures in today’s post, are kind of an example of just making pictures of a bird, and accepting anything else just as it falls. That’s why I called them stock photos only, although in reality, the whole picture matters in stock photography too.
Most of my years in bird photographer, were spent with my camera set to aperture priority. Depth of field is a part of your finished composition, and therefore very important. Of course my eye was always on my shutter speed so I could adjust when necessary. I actually performed my first bird photography before aperture priority, or any form of auto exposure even existed. It’s not the worst idea in the world to begin with entirely manual exposure calculations, and then gravitate to aperture priority.
Long lenses ( 400mm+ ) will be necessary if you plan to devote yourself to bird photography. That being said, the quality of today’s cameras allow for enormous crops to be made. The more you can retain quality with large crops, the more you can stay back, and the more varied pictures you can make, including more spectacular action.
I would be poorer (not financially) indeed if I had not pursued bird photography. Initially, birds were just a pretty subject to me. Eventually they became like friends. Of course, my goal was always to treat my friends well, and make them more important than my “getting the picture” was. Go out and make yourself some feathered friends and watch the birdie.
Soar with the Eagles, Wayne