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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Be The King In The Rookery


Photographing one of nature’s greatest spectacles

This Article Features Photo Zoom

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Nikon D3
For example, let’s say the great egrets grab your interest (not hard for them to do). You’ll want to find chicks that aren’t much larger than their eggs. Next, you’ll want to find chicks that are three times the size of their egg. Lastly, find chicks that are nearly as tall with the neck stretched as the parents’ legs. These nesting biology photographs showing the three age classes of chicks will, over a week’s time, look as if you spent two months with just one nest. Pretty cool!

Basically, chicks do three things—eat, sleep and avail themselves of Mother Nature’s facilities (and not necessarily in that order). Of these three activities, eating can be broken down into wanting to eat, just ate and wanting to eat more. Of all of these activities, obviously eating is the only one that holds any real photographic potential, so that’s what you tend to focus on.

Feeding is a rather violent activity in appearance. It’s basically the original sword-swallowing act. The chicks grab hold of their parents’ huge, pointed bill and yank back and forth to encourage the adults to regurgitate what’s in their crop. What comes out isn’t truly photographable, but the process certainly is. So this, in a nutshell, is what you’ll be photographing.

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The Technology
In this day and age, you have a lot of excellent options to fall back on to capture this incredible spectacle. Photographing the nesting wading birds at the park can be accomplished easily and quite well with a simple 70-200mm zoom. You don’t need more than that to capture beautiful images. There are many nests—those of snowy egrets, tricolored and little blue herons, in particular—that are physically close enough that this lens is all you need. While the great egret and wood stork nests can be photographed with this short a lens, a longer lens is required for those killer intimate photos. My preference is the VR Zoom-Nikkor 200-400mm lens with the TC-14E 1.4x teleconverter.

You might have noticed that my preference is for zooms. The physical size of the subjects changes nearly every heartbeat. At one moment the chicks and adults are quietly posing, and the next, parents’ wings are unfolded and chicks are alive with the hopes of being fed. This instant change in subject size is a constant all day. Shooting with prime lenses and having to change either lenses or working distances to accommodate this activity would nearly guarantee missing some great images (besides wearing one out).

This is the reason for the zoom. The ability to change focal lengths with a twist of a ring brings an incredible amount of flexibility and problem-solving to the situation. If you’re physically this close to the subject, there’s no reason not to take advantage of it by filling the frame with the subject. That’s what makes the whole shooting experience special. At the same time, you don’t want to crop off body parts unintentionally. While this still happens because you can’t zoom in or out fast enough at times, at least it happens very infrequently. The VR Zoom-Nikkor 200-400mm with a 1.4x teleconverter is incredibly sharp, gives me an ƒ/5.6 working aperture and an AF-S motor with superfast focusing response.

For the most part, all day you have the “shooting the infamous white bird in blue water dilemma” (but instead of blue water you have green foliage). This exposure nightmare keeps some photographers awake at night, but that need not be the case if shooting digital. It all comes down to your knowledge of light. How can digital solve this for you?

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