The Gentle approach

An early start provides an opportunity to join this Wandering Tattler probing in the rocks and flipping stones in search its morning meal.

To get photos like these it is important to spend the time necessary to gain trust by observing from a distance. This also gives a chance to see the bird’s behavior and plan a strategy to get in position for a good shot. In this case, I could see the bird was hunting from pool to pool and generally moving in a predictable direction. I then move ahead of this path and find a spot where I can get a low camera position (bird’s eye level) to give the feeling that you are right there with the subject. It’s a good sign the bird is not feeling threatened when it approaches you. This lack of concern is key to getting good behavior and action which adds interest to the images. Finally, a bit of luck comes into play as the shorebird moves through the scene. Will it catch something while in the frame? It just might, so be ready!

shore bird hunting in tide pool on Maui
Wandering Tattler
a shorebird catches a crab on Maui

Juvenile Annas Hummingbirds

Young hummingbirds, fresh out of the nest, provide some predictability on where you may find a good action shot. Atleast for a few days, mamma hummingbird will return often to feed the young birds while they learn to fend for themselves. The juvenile hummers can move around, but they generally don’t venture too far while waiting for another meal delivery. This gives us a chance to get the camera positioned and ready for the feeding behavior and nurturing moments from a dedicated parent.

Red-breasted Sapsucker

Birds are elegant creatures and interesting to photograph in their own right. Capturing expressions of their behavior elevates your images from a thing of beauty to one that also shares information about a species and its relationship to the environment. While taking portraits of a bird watching for and trying to document its survival strategies can be a very rewarding way to enhance your experience and will provide interesting content for your caption.

Red-Breasted Sapsucker

The Red-breasted Sapsucker carves sap wells to create a renewable food source. It also creates an opportunity for a photographer to set up on a location where there is a good chance to catch this bird’s unique feeding behavior. It’s always beneficial to identify known locations where the action will occur like nest sites, feeders or a water source so equipment can be dialed-in and ready when the subject takes the stage.

Cropping tips

We can often improve our images by eliminating distracting elements. Here are a few things to remember when cropping our images:

  1. Cropping is subjective — do what feels right.
  2. When cropping in a destructive editor (like Photoshop) make a copy to work on so you can get back to the original version.
  3. Lighter areas of an image pull the eye so eliminate them where possible if they do not add to your composition.
  4. Make sure you have enough resolution left after your crop to achieve your purpose.

Backyard Habitat

It’s great to find inspiration in an exotic destination, but you can also have lots of fun right at home by creating an environment where colorful subjects come to your yard.
Birds need food, shelter and the means to care for their plumage. This can be as simple as a feeder and water source positioned where birds can quickly escape to cover. Adding native and food-bearing plants to your yard will serve to attract and hold wildlife in your space.
Remember many bird species are omnivorous, so pesticides that eliminate insects will limit the allure of your habitat.
Once you have established a place for them, the birds will provide endless opportunity to practice with your camera and experiment with techniques to capture better pictures. At the same time you will come away with some fun photos and be better prepared to make stunning shots the next time you find yourself in an exotic landscape.

Mantis close-up

Preying Mantis
A Preying Mantis appears to pose for a photo.

An animal (or insect) showing what appears to be humanistic characteristics will add interest to your image. Clearly the seemingly friendly expression of this Preying Mantis has nothing to do with its demeanor, but we naturally respond to eye contact and the appearance of a smile.

One Step Ahead

Little birds seldom stay in one place for long. They’re energetic, they flit, forage, hop, hover, and yes, they fly.

It’s a challenge to get a small bird, say a hummingbird or a chickadee, to stay in front of the camera long enough to focus and click. A telephoto lens helps to give a detailed look at the little guys, but this tunnel vision further compounds the problem of finding the bird in your frame. To succeed we need to know where the bird will be and have equipment poised for that fleeting moment when our subject takes the stage.

Sometimes a bird’s behavior will provide the opportunity to predict a good place to train your lens. In the spring males of some species will seek the highest perch in their territory to announce their presence to potential mates. A nest or food source will provide opportunities to observe a bird in a known location too. Birds often land on a favorite perch before proceeding to their nest or a feeder and this is a good place to catch them in a stately pose or even with a meal for their young. At home feeders you can provide a perfect perch for the birds and make sure you have the perfect angle and background for your pictures. Since you know where she’ll be going next maybe you can even catch that little speedster on the wing.

Planning is key to catching hyper little birds in camera, and when I’m out watching them I look for opportunities to get a step ahead of their next move.

Bushtit in Flight
A female Bushtit leaves her nest to forage for the next meal.