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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Get Low For Big Impact

Change your camera angle to free your wildlife shots from cluttered, distracting backgrounds

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Morris' Gear
Delkin 32 GB CompactFlash card, Wimberley WH-200 V II head on a Skimmer II ground pod, Canon EOS-1D Mark IV
If you’re using your tripod, lower the legs before you begin your approach and hold the tripod in front of you. Swinging a big lens off your shoulder is the best way that I know to scare wildlife; can you say shotgun? Regardless of how you’ll be supporting your rig, it’s best to execute your approach in three stages: standing at full height (and walking in super-slow motion); kneeling or sitting (and advancing with caution) and; finally, getting prone (and continuing your careful advance).

The slower you go, the closer you’ll be able to get without disturbing your subjects. And the same goes for lower. Take extreme care during your transitions as you’re most likely to scare your subjects as you’re getting lower. And when I say “super-slow motion,” I mean exactly that: slower than you can even imagine. The better you get to know your subjects, the easier it will be to know when you can be a bit more aggressive with your approaches. When crawling, it’s not uncommon for skilled folks to get within arm’s length of young shorebirds, gulls or terns; they’re usually much more accepting of humans than adults of the same species.

Framing The Animals
As it’s much easier to get close when you’re low, be sure to frame your subjects pleasingly; for portraits of whole birds or animals, you don’t want to go larger than 75% of either the height or the width of the frame. You’ll make it easier to create interesting behavioral or action images without clipping off legs or wings.

If at all feasible, devise a way to get on the ground with access to a teleconverter or two as well as a 25mm extension tube. With practice, you’ll be getting so close that you’ll need a tube to allow for closer focus, and by adding a teleconverter, it’s likely that you’ll be able to create tight head portraits of even medium-sized birds with a 600mm or an 800mm lens.

Before I begin any low-level approach, I make sure that I have a double-bubble level in the hot-shoe of my camera. With your head angled to get at the viewfinder, it’s impossible to be sure that your camera is square to the world; before creating an image, glance up at the level and rotate the lens in the lens barrel or adjust your positioning if quasi-handholding with the lens alone on the ground.

Once you start getting low and see the types of images that can be created when working at your subject’s eye level, it’s likely that you may never choose to stand at full height behind your tripod again.

Arthur Morris, a Canon Explorer of Light for the past 15 years, is one of the world’s premier bird photographers and educators. Visit Morris’ website and online store at www.BIRDSASART.com. You can check out his blog at www.BIRDSASART-blog.com.


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