Tuesday, May 22, 2012
How to shoot from a floating blind
To avoid becoming the next victim of Murphy's Law, I always make slow and deliberate movements inside the cramped blind, especially when changing lenses, and I only carry two camera setups inside— my DSLR with a 200-400mm zoom lens mounted on a Wimberley head and a waterproof plastic housing with a DSLR and a 28mm ƒ/4 lens for scenic shots. I also have a 1.4x converter, spare batteries, plenty of CF cards, energy bars, bug repellent, a bottle of water, my cell phone to call for help, if needed, and a roll of orange survey-flagging tape. Because it's easy to get lost in an environment where every square inch of real estate looks identical to the next when seen at water level, I may attach small ribbons of tape to vegetation to find my way out of the marsh. When I retrace my steps out of the marsh, I make sure to remove all ribbons.
There are basically two different strategies when shooting from a floating blind. One is to float aimlessly about the marsh looking for subjects, moving ever so slowly to avoid creating ripples on the water while keeping the vegetation at your back. The other involves taking position near a promising location like a nest, a partially submerged log or a small island of vegetation on which animals are likely to climb to preen or rest. I like to wiggle my blind into a nearby stand of cattails, if available, to keep from bobbing like a cork and to better become part of the landscape. Then I just wait for things to happen. This method offers unparalleled opportunities to observe and photograph the behavior of totally relaxed birds. I keep the light at my back whenever possible, not only to provide the best light on my subject, but also to render the blind as a dark, unidentifiable silhouette when seen backlit by the birds. You know your blind has been accepted by the wetland residents when Forster's terns engage in courtship activity on top of it or muskrats try to move in with you!
There's no doubt that what makes photographing from a floating blind so unique is the eye-level perspective resulting from having your telephoto lens only inches above the water. This perspective suggests an extraordinary intimacy with your subject and tricks the viewer into thinking that you were submerged up to your eyeballs when you captured the images. This optical illusion can be further enhanced by tipping your lens up and placing your subject in the upper-third tier of your frame; the negative space created by out-of-focus water in the lower two-thirds effectively draws the viewer's eyes to the subject at the top. While in my blind, I may sometimes record what the underwater world looks like with my camera protected in an Ikelite underwater housing.
Dominique Braud is a wildlife and nature photographer specializing in the natural history of the Great Lakes and Upper Midwest region. His book Minnesota Wildlife Impressions was published by Farcountry Press. A native of France, he resides in Farmington, Minn. You can see more of his work at www.animalsanimals.com.
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