Initially, I was interested in capturing the movement of the man throwing bread crumbs to the gulls, who would in turn catch the crumbs in midair. Later, as I was reviewing photos from the day, I became fascinated by the interplay between the lines that could be drawn between the gulls in the air and the shadows cast on the pavement by the trees just out of the frame.
One of my favorite black and white toning tricks is to pull down the blues so that the sky and water take on a more dramatic look and bump up the overall contrast of the photograph. This really brings out the texture of the clouds in the sky, as opposed to the sky looking like a boring mass of gray paste.
With a little patience, you can get really close to the great blue herons at Huntley Meadows Park. I was able to achieve a studio look to this portrait by shooting after the sun had gone down.There was very little ambient light left, so I could make the background go totally black while illuminating the heron with flash.
Here’s another photo from my birding exploits. In this instance, the joy was more in the hunt than in the actual photo. I saw this red-bellied woodpecker near the edge of the path and ended up following him through the woods for the better part of half an hour.
It was February, but not brutally cold, and so I remember working up a bit of a sweat tracking him through the forest. He led me through thickets, over brambles, and across dead logs. I finally got close enough to get a few shots, but I would have loved to have been even closer. Still, a beautiful bird and an enjoyable memory.
Dyke Marsh is a little retreat just south of Old Town. There’s a short walking path that leads out into the heart of the marsh, with nice views of the Potomac. In order to get this photo of the egret, I wandered off the path a bit. The backlighting was beautiful at this time of day and I hung out in this cove for a while, enjoying my time with this graceful creature.
I’ve discussed the difficulty of photographing small birds before. Even with a 300mm lens (combined with the D200’s 1.5x crop factor for an effective reach of 450mm) you have to be pretty close to the bird in order to fill the frame with it. In the instance of this cardinal, I was shooting from my bathroom window.
That’s right, my bathroom window. I was standing in the tub.
I had been wanting to get a good photo of a cardinal for a while because it is my mom’s favorite bird. I spent all winter trying to get close to them at Huntley Meadows, and while I had a few decent pictures, none of them were really all that close. I had to crop a lot to get the bird larger and then ended up with less than ideal image quality.
Then one day later that year (in July, my EXIF data tells me), I was practicing in the empty upstairs bedroom (it’s not empty any longer), and I saw it! A male cardinal hanging out in the tree right outside the window. The thing was sitting in full sunlight about 15 feet from me. Pretty ideal conditions for sure, since harsh sunlight tends to help bring out detail in birds’ feathers.
After getting my camera out he had (of course) flown away, but it gave me time to get set up in the bathroom window. That window was even closer to the tree where he was perched and it was also easier to remove the screen from the window in that room. Once set up, I waited.
I didn’t take long before he was back and I was able to take a decent number of shots. Some of my favorites were right after he had puffed his feathers out and was preening. It’s almost like he knew he was being photographed, and decided to put on his best airs.
My first love in photography was shooting landscapes. By extension, I became interested in shooting wildlife: birds, in particular. There’s something thrilling about tracking down a bird, stalking it, and then shooting it. It’s sort of like hunting except without all of the—you know—death.
I’ve had mixed results in my bird photography exploits. Most of my more successful shots are of larger birds because I don’t have a massive telephoto lens (which is practically a requirement for filling the photo frame with a smaller bird). If anyone would like to donate $17,000, I promise it would go directly towards an 800mm lens.
Luckily, the red-winged blackbirds at Huntley Meadows are super patient. The best time to photograph them, typically, is late afternoon. The sun is at a more flattering angle, the light is warm in color, and these little guys are content to just perch and sing. I’ve been able to get really close to them and most of the birds don’t seem to mind at all.
The photo directly above was actually taken during late morning, but I like the muted color palette in contrast to the golden hour shot taken at the top of this post. I also like the superbly dreamy background, thanks to the good amount of distance between the bird and the trees in the distance. Like I said before, these birds have been really patient for me so it’s fun to hang out with one for a while, and capture their range of poses and emotions.