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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Avian Abstracts

A different interpretation of bird photography that departs from the usual sharp, literal imagery to which we’re accustomed

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One of Lang’s favorite shots, this was made in late afternoon during the winter as the sun was starting to lose its strength. Sharp in the eye and just the right amount of movement make the image work.

Taken in winter in an area that’s both a staging and feeding place for many different birds, Lang cropped a horizontal image of a small flock
of Canada geese to a vertical. He stood on a bridge as they passed; incidentally, bridges are great places to shoot from.

Abstraction is defined as “freedom from representational qualities in art.” That’s what I tried to do with my series of avian abstracts—to make a series where form is translated into another form, where you as a viewer have to make up your own mind as to what it represents. Part of my shooting philosophy is to capture something that isn’t there. These shapes are fluid. They’re an abstract of their true origin.

Birds are of great importance to me on many levels. The beauty of their flight and the patterns that come from their flight are a wondrous thing to see and be a part of. There’s a solitude about their flight even when in a group. This is one of the reasons I decided to shoot this series. I wanted to capture the shapes and individual movements of each bird and get images that seem to show me what’s inside of the birds. Many look like an X-ray of motion. It’s as if they’re revealing secret sides of themselves to me, and I’m honored to be allowed to see what they will show.

To achieve the abstract effect, I photograph the birds by moving the camera along with them. I try to be guided by their motion. At the most basic level, all I’m doing is moving the camera as I make a long exposure. However, I’ve learned how I move my camera can determine the degree and direction of motion I get. Many wildlife photographers pan along with a moving subject to keep that subject sharp while making the background blur. To make my avian abstracts, I concentrate on moving the camera with the bird, but not at the exact same speed. The effect makes the background blurry, and because I’m not panning at the same speed, the birds blur at a different pace.

The shutter speed is the most important variable for the technique. I suggest you set your DSLR to shutter priority and experiment with shutter speeds around 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 sec. Longer exposures are difficult to manage, and instead of an interesting blur, you can end up with just a jumbled streak across the frame. Some birds move faster than others so be prepared to make adjustments. A hawk that soars lazily in a summer thermal usually will require a slower shutter speed than an egret that’s moving with a purpose over the surface of the water.


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