Wildlife and bird photographer Geoff Coe shares his strategies and tips for photographing birds with success.
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A Strategic Approach to Photographing Birds
Episode 94 with Geoff Coe
Started his Florida wildlife and bird photography from his kayak in 2004.
He posted images to Flickr and received email requests for sales.
“I’ve always used my camera to explore things I was curious about.”
A Strategic Approach – Wind and Light
You should have a certain habit or series of habits before every shot.
“It always helps if you know something about your subject, as well as the technical stuff.”
- Birds will almost always take off and land into the wind and tend to face that direction. Your best approach is to have the wind at your back.
- If you can’t get the wind at your back, try to find a sheltered area where the wind won’t be as big a factor.
- Most bird photos are best when the light is at your back.
- Cloud types play a large role in lighting your image.
- In the dry season, there are no clouds. This creates harsher light earlier in the morning leaving you with a smaller window of time for images without harsh shadows.
- Hazy with high humidity creates beautiful light. This is more forgiving, allowing you to shoot longer and at varied angles.
- A high overcast sky acts “like a giant softbox” and allows you to shoot much later into the day.
- Great locations for photographing birds in Florida are dynamic from one year to the next due to weather patterns and storm erosion.
*Favorite spot* – 6 Mile Cypress Slough near Ft. Myers: marshland with lots of cypress and a long boardwalk.
Settings, Tips and Technical Stuff
Geoff shoots with a Canon using a 500mm lens with a 1.4x teleconverter (essentially creating a 700mm reach).
- Hold a longer lens at the center point (or further away from you) at a good balance point. This will help stabilize your shot as well as keep your muscles from becoming more fatigued over time.
“You should know the minimum shutter speed for producing sharp images while handholding for every lens you have in your bag.”
- Manual exposure is better for birds in flight. Once your exposure is set correctly (for the bird), assuming the bird remains in the same light, the background won’t matter.
- If you’re using automatic settings, if you pan to catch the bird and the background changes, your metered settings will also change, which could overexpose or underexpose the subject.
- Find and understand how the Auto Exposure Compensation button works. This will help adjust the exposure for background changes.
- Utilize the Highlight Warning (“the blinkies”). Pixels on the back of the camera blink when they’re too bright or blown out.
- You don’t want “blinkies” on your subject. Adjust your exposure down and try again.
- Specular highlights are unavoidable and can add interest – just avoid having them ON your subject.
- Knowing the behavior patterns of your subject can help you anticipate an opportunity.
- Bird guides can have some useful information. (Sibley)
- EBird.org – a great online resource with information about bird hotspots all over the world – searchable by county/location.
- A bird will poop just before it takes flight.
- Anything that looms above the horizon (from the bird’s perspective) looks large and intimidating.
- GET LOW and STAY PUT.
- The birds will come to you if you are patient, but you need to be willing to get wet and dirty for a great shot.
Ethics of Bird Photography
- Don’t do anything to spook or call birds away from a nest.
- Use of flash or even bird calls can cause parents to leave the nest, exposing the eggs or young to heat and predators.
- Watch your step! Shore birds like to build unassuming looking nests. Please be respectful and stay out of roped/taped off areas.
Website – WildImagesFla.com
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