Each week a birder/writer/editor/phototgrapher named Paul Konrad publishes via email a column dealing with all things bird. Today, June 3, as always, he uses very good photos he takes himself. He also explains how he does this, in case you look at his work and wonder just how he manages to get so close to birds without disturbing them, or maybe he just doesn’t care.
Konrad, who lives in rural North Dakota, cares.
His techniques and mine are similar. He uses his vehicle as a blind, shooting through open windows after a cautious approach to the bird. He uses a telephone lens, his 400mm, mine 150-600mm zoom. He crops the photos with computer software (Photoshop in my case) to enlarge the image as needed, or sometimes as much as possible. I work with a new mid-range full-frame Nikon camera that has a pixel count accommodating significant cropping.
The long lens obviously is important. My 600mm Tamron lens has magnification of 12, the same as a 12x binocular. (To determine this, divide the length of the lens by 100 and multiply by two.) The lens also has image stabilization, perhaps the only thing that makes possible hand-holding a lens of that size (and weight). At times I work with a tripod, and have a window mount for the lens when working from the van.
If the bird or birds appear disturbed by me, I move. The bird often will give obvious signal of discomfort. I wear clothes of subdued color, trying to blend with a natural background. It helps to be patient. Set up and quietly wait. Good things happen when you wait.
I do much work in our yard, often from our deck, which is entered from our dining room, one level above our walkout basement. I also can shoot through the six patio doors that open onto the deck. We have feeders on the deck. Many of the feeder birds ignore me and the camera because they are accustomed to people on the deck. The same goes for birds in the yard.
I do almost all of my bird photography alone. I do most of my birding alone. I like to control those situations. No one disturbs me and I disturb no one. A photographer in a group of birders can easily be an annoyance when seeking best light, best angle, best etc etc. One way to annoy people anywhere is to act like the camera gives you privilege.
Birds come first. Other birders then deserve consideration. I need to be patient. Photographers in a group should stay back and wait.
A word on the Tamron lens. It cost just under $1,000, a low price for a lens of that size and quality. It shoots at from f4 to f5.6. That’s slow, relatively speaking. Which is why the price was under a thousand bucks. So, the lens is not as fast as a f2.0 Nikon lens or top-of-the-line Canon, nor is it quite exactly as sharp, another cost factor. It is very sharp, though, serving my needs without compromise. I also work with a 200mm Nikon lens, sometimes using a lens attachment that doubles reach to 400mm. The lens is great at either 200mm or 400mm, it’s just not 600mm.
Konrad’s newsletter is The Birding Wire. Subscribe at birdingwire.com