How to Work a Big Flock

It’s really fun when you go do something that you’ve been wanting to do for a long time. Working with American White Pelicans in Montana is one of those things for me. Every year they come back and haunt the Madison River in big flocks. As you can see most of them are juveniles but with the regularity of people floating by on drift boats and rafts, they have become rather habituated to people. This made approaching them easier which I did with waders.

Two big things when working a group of birds like this. First, you got to watch the light. These birds are big and bright and they really stick out against the dark blue background causing a lot of contrast. Due to the nature of the local, the light was kinda hard when I started so that caused more contrast. The solution was wearing a pair of waders and walking around the birds until I found the angle that worked. I went slowly, and watched them, thus making sure they were comfortable with me.

The second piece of advice is having to work with the group itself. With so many heads, bodies and butts it’s easy to chop something off or have something extra you don’t want in your photo. So, be patient and watch the birds. Find a good subject and wait for the right moment.

How do you get better Photographing critters?

This seems to be a popular topic and it’s one that I think about often. In reality there is a pretty obvious answer that always seems to get missed. You got to keep going out and trying. That really is the trick with it. Doing homework and finding out where the critters will be increase your odds and then after that it’s just persistence. This American Robin was bringing in worms for it’s young. Now I didn’t get the best of shots but it’s a start and knowing where it’s nest is now, I can go back and keep working it. Keep in mind I wasn’t going for the portrait shot, this was handheld D4 and 200-400 VR.

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Persistence is our best friend in this business but beyond that being creative is your second best friend. Most wildlife photographers go for that portrait shot and that’s it, which is fine but it leaves a lot. Take a flock of White Pelicans moving through the area. No portrait but a large flock going over Cottonwoods with snowy mountains in the background, that’s a great migratory habitat shot, which is just as important to get. Telling the story means covering as many aspects as possible in every photo and as wildlife photographer that’s what you got to do.

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