Tuesday, October 12, 2010
On The Wing
A look at the many facets of avian photography and techniques for getting colorful, inspiring images
For bird portraits, Klapheke mostly uses long lenses on his DSLRs, 500mm and 600mm, frequently with a 1.4x teleconverter. Sometimes he adds an extension tube to allow for closer focusing (600mm superteles normally have a minimum focusing distance of around 18 feet).
Klapheke says that one flash accessory bird photographers use all the time is the Better Beamer by Walt Anderson of Visual Echoes, adding, "Most of the time this is used for fill-flash and to get that ever-important catchlight in the bird's eye."
Cautions Klapheke, "You can't sneak up on a bird, so you have to create an environment where the bird will come to you."
Regarding blinds, Klapheke says, "I'm usually shooting out of a blind, be it a permanent one on our workshops in Roma, Texas, or using a Doghouse, or a great poncho blind by Kwik Camo. Most of the time, I set up a perch. A good place to set up a perch is where your birds are used to going, typically where a feeder is. But before we get to a perch, the birds must be comfortable coming to the area, even when feeders are present. The main thing that makes birds comfortable is the presence of a staging area, typically a tree, where the birds can land and survey the scene around a feeder or perch, before committing to flying down. Keep in mind where that staging tree is when positioning yourself and allow for light over your shoulder and wind; birds land into the wind. These things affect how you'll set up your perch near the staging area. You would like the bird to land facing you and with the light on its face."
Klapheke explains that food to attract birds varies by bird and by area. "Many things work besides feeders. You can dab peanut butter on the back side of your perch, or staple orange slices on the back of a large perch, to attract woodpeckers, for example. The combinations of food and perches are endless and depend on what your subject birds prefer. With peanut butter, be warned–you better get the shot quickly before the bird feasts, as it will have 'peanut butter mouth' just like a little kid!"
Another consideration is the size of the perch. "A good perch is commensurate with the size of the bird's grip," says Klapheke. "Small birds look better on smaller perches. Your perch will look better with some greenery, which you can add to larger perches with a handy staple gun and some florist tubes to keep the greenery fresh. If the greenery is actually part of your perch, make sure the leaves are small, as to not hide the bird.
"In South Texas, we found a kingfisher on a pond," recalls Klapheke. "Kingfishers are extremely skittish and don't care for humans. So we set up a Doghouse blind for a few days empty, in a position where the morning light would be over our shoulder. We then waded into the pond and stuck a pole in the mud. Onto this pole we tied a perch and some greenery. Then, we needed a controllable food source. Of all things, we inflated a baby pool, filled it halfway with water and added minnows. The pool was then tied to the bottom of the pole, where the kingfisher would have to dive into the light to reach. We–in most of my stories, the 'we' is Alan Murphy and me–got into the blind in the dark before dawn and waited. The funny part of this story is that the first day, the kingfisher arrived in the morning dark and ate all of our minnows! So we had to improvise and plan some more. The solution was to take camo cloth and cover the baby pool. Fishing line ran from the cloth into our blind. The next morning, the kingfisher arrived at morning dark, but was frustrated as it couldn't reach the minnows. The second the morning light hit the perch, we pulled the fishing line, and off came the cloth. The result was a happy kingfisher and happy shooters."
Adds Klapheke, "That's why I love bird photography. You really have to outwit them!"
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