It’s that time of year again when summer is coming to an end. A sad time of year for many. Definitely not for bird photographers though!
Fall migration has started up again and there are good numbers of shorebirds filtering through the Vancouver area. Many different species of sandpipers, plovers and other large waders stage at a great location only a half hour or so away from my home. Boundary Bay has become my favourite place in British Columbia to shoot shorebirds. Endless sandy beaches and vibrant green grass tusseks provide great habitat and shooting opportunities.
Shorebird photography is quite a challenge at times. Many are relatively small birds and therefore have numerous predators. That coupled with the fact that many of the juvenile birds migrating south for the first time have had little to no contact with humans can make for some frustrating moments. On the flip side, the skittish nature of these critters make the photographs that much more satisfying to achieve. Here are a few tips for photographing birds such as these….
First off, it is important to go out and shoot very often as different species migrate sooner than others. A slow and unthreatening approach works best for the most part, if you’re into it, crawling army style on your belly can lead to being only a few feet away from cooperative birds. Another tip that is surprisingly effective, is glancing at the bird(s) now and then to make sure they haven’t spooked but for the most part avoid eye contact as this can be seen as threatening behavior. I find low angles particularly effective for shooting shorebirds, as well as many other birds and wildlife. It is said that eye level angles produce the most intimate and pleasing images. Not only do you get up close and personal with the subject and it’s surroundings, more often than not the background will become adequately muted. Unfortunately to achieve these angles you have to get down and dirty in habitats not suited for expensive camera equipment…or wimpy photographers for that matter! There are some ways of making your visit with the sand and surf and little easier though. I employ the use of a “pan pod” whenever shooting shorebirds. This is a cool contraption that I first found on Glenn Bartley’s website. Glenn is a fantastic avian photographer from Victoria, B.C. (glennbartley.com) Basically the pan pod consists of an 8″ frying pad (without the handle) with a bolt that has the same thread pitch/count as the tripod head you’ll be using to mount your lens or camera to. Ballheads tend to work better as they are inexpensive, lightweight and allow you to achieve a lower angle. The bolt feeds through the underside of the frying pan and threads into your tripod head. I typically put a piece of bicycle inner tube in between the tripod head and pan to eliminate any abrasion. If the bolt is a little too long simply space it out with some washers on the underside of the pan. And there you have it a perfectly affordable, perfectly stable tripod substitute that is free to get as filthy as need be. Definitely better than having to clean and potentially damage an expensive carbon tripod! Another piece of equipment I always have on me are extension tubes. These allow your lens to focus closer than it’s assigned minimum distance, plus they boost your focal length as well. This is particularly helpful while shooting smaller peeps or head shots of larger species. The only downside to them is that they eliminate your lens’ ability to focus at unlimited. This usually doesn’t bother me as I am typically only concentrating on birds in my focus range at that time. My set which is made by Kenko has 3 sizes 12-20 and 36mm. The larger the size the more drastic the change in focus range and the longer your focal length. They can be combined as well for extreme situations. They lack glass so they don’t effect clarity or brightness, unlike teleconverters where your aperture is decreased depending on the size. They are super handy, very light and relatively cheap. If you’re into shooting smaller species of birds I’d definitely recommend picking up a set…(great for macro too!)
Below are some of my images from the 2010 fall migration, hopefully this has helped and motivates you to get out there and shoot…Good luck!
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