A prominent international journalist was quoted today in the New York Times, saying, “When things go right, it’s boring.” In other words, he remarked to students, when things go wrong, that’s a news story. As a journalist, I completely agree.
As a photographer, the opposite is true. When things go right, the results can be absolutely magical. As many prominent photographers say, the first thing you need to do is “show up.” You never know what weather conditions or wildlife appearances will do to create each day’s photographic opportunities, but if you “show up” in the field often enough, you will be there when things go right, and the results are anything but boring.
Such was the case when I showed up before sunrise for a wildlife bird tour. In addition to many unexpected and unplanned bird sightings, the early morning cloudscape was magical.
Great bird photography comes from a successful collaboration of the right location, the right equipment, good technique, plenty of patience and an ounce of luck. If you approach a target-rich environment with the right lens and practice your technique enough — you will get lucky. (I paraphrase my husband’s motto: luck comes to the well prepared.)
The nesting arctic terns on Vigur Island in Iceland (a target rich environment) are very strong, fast and quick. They are busy catching small fish and delivering the fish to their chicks on the island. They also have an instinct to attack your head, so it helps to have an assistant guard your head with a stick.
Set your camera this way: fast shutter speed to freeze action, and all other settings to support that choice: higher ISO, wide open lens, spot meter, and maybe continuous shooting. Then, my technique was very quick action: pan/focus/shoot.
“Thar She Blows” was the cry of a sailor spotting a whale, but the expression came to mind as we stood waiting for the Icelandic geyser to explode with a massive force of steaming water.
About every 10 minutes, Iceland’s Strokkur geyser puts on a show — shooting hot water about 30 meters into the air. It’s a dramatic natural phenomenon that you can watch only a few places in the world. Yellowstone National Park and the north island of New Zealand are two other sites that come to mind. Geysers are an indication that you are standing in a volcanic landscape.
You would be well advised to keep your children and yourself out of the line of fire, but not everyone follows the rules or exercises good judgement.
Puffins are camera shy, as they flee when they see you coming — unlike many seabirds that I’m accustomed to in Florida. As soon as I spotted one, tried to creep a bit closer, framed the shot and focused — off it went. Most of my photos that afternoon on Vigur Island were shot a second too late. Charlie and I were a persistent team; he was holding high sticks to ward off the Arctic Terns who are apt to attack your head. He was watching the long grass in the hillside for puffin nests where the puffins briefly land to feed their chicks, and acting as my spotter.
“Over there,” Charlie whispered to me, pointing. I crept closer with camera poised, hoping to focus and shoot before the puffins took flight.
I kept my shutter speed high and my lens wide open, trying to freeze action on a flying puffin at the very least. I was working hard to get a good puffin shot before leaving Iceland. Having seen puffin photos in all the shops, I knew how cute the little birds are!
At last our teamwork paid off, and I captured this image of a puffin with a beak full of fresh fish for the chicks. The Nikon D800 with 70-200 lens and a 1.4 teleconverter gave me a sharp image even though we were about 10 meters away.
Recently in the Florida Everglades, I shot a series of images of this blue heron as it took off and landed. I was pleased to see this magnificent bird with its wings outstretched. In order to freeze motion of wildlife, I usually increase the ISO on my camera making the sensor more sensitive to light. That way, I can still get a good exposure with a very fast shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second. In this case, I increased the ISO to 2000, anticipating the bird’s flight. (I was just explaining this formula to my daughter who will be traveling to Africa to enjoy a safari in a few days.)
I also made a conscious choice for the f stop setting. A lens is usually at its sharpest in the mid-range (f/7.1 here), and the depth of field is forgiving — keeping the bird in focus for the split second between the time I focus and the shutter releases. Had I opened the lens aperture wide (to counter balance the fast shutter speed), it would have been very difficult to keep the flying bird in focus. You can see, the image is successful, as long as you don’t mind a little grain, resulting from the high ISO. I will share some of the other photos in the series in subsequent blog posts.
I see green grass out my window today, but it’s starting to snow, and the blustery wind blew my hair up and in every direction. I was so cold, I had to come inside and take a hot shower! I’m reminded on this photo I took six years ago today after a fresh snow fall.
I used a textured brush tool in Photoshop to reveal the image through a layer of solid white for a notecard. It almost looks like I have scraped the fresh snow off my window.