Working with birds can be some of the most relaxing hours you can have behind a camera when it comes to working with wildlife. Especially if the photography is going well. If it’s not then well it can be some of the most frustrating. It’s probably happened to every photographer out there who has tried to work with a bird, that they come up on a subject, they get into position and then the bird moves. So you move a little with it and what happens, the subject moves back to where it was originally. That’s usually the subject we call names. But that comes with the territory of bird photography.
Now every photographer likes to talk about gear and when it comes to this field it does actually help to have a long lens. Yes those big sexy lenses that cost a lot of money but feel so good to shoot with are essential with birds, partly because the birds are so small but mostly to help isolate the background. Most birds actually live in areas where this a lot going on and having all of that background information can make any subject lost. With a 600 f/4 and TC-17EII Teleconverter, it’s much easier to isolate on the most important aspect the bird itself. Of course panning with the bird in flight or tracking, basically following the subject as it bounces around waiting for the right moment, can be much harder with that narrow field of vision. In the end it does come down to the background and as with all subjects the texture and color can drastically change the story.
This Violet Backed Swallow and the Sage Thrasher up above are two great examples of this as both were photographed with Tufas in the background, a type of limestone, at Mono Lake. While both birds are front lit the background behind them changes dramatically with the Tufa. The result is the Thrasher blends in more then the Swallow. Could I have taken these shots at different angles and gotten different results? Absolutely! But knowing that white breasted bird would pop more against a dark background and the Sage Thrasher would pop out more with a white rock in front of it made more sense to shoot it like I did.
Lets say you find that subject and you find a great background, then what? Well then you wait for mother nature to do what it does best and add a little light into the mix. Even something as simple as white on white can be changed with just a touch of light. Trumpeter Swans at sunrise on the Madison River in Winter are great to work with as most just don’t think about seeing swans in snow. While everything about this shot makes it seem cold that light bit of light is all it took to bring in the warmth. This is one of the few examples where it’s not so much about the whole bird but just that action. Again using that long lens to isolate the background and in this case keeping some of the highlights that were starting to form off of the snow behind the Swan. Basic techniques combined with some biology is all it takes to get some good results.