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Sunday, April 1, 2007

Wings Of Spring

Try these 10 tips from renowned professional Tom Vezo and get your best avian images this spring

Wings of Spring2 Know your location. Find out what awaits you before you even start photographing. "What do the backgrounds look like?" says Vezo. "For me, the backgrounds are as important as the subjects. If they’re too confusing or bright, I usually won’t shoot in the area. I’ll look where the light is coming from. For most of my photography, I like to keep the light behind me."

A little planning will allow for the best lighting of colors and feather patterns. But there’s more to prepare for than photography. Vezo stresses the need to be conscious of the difficulties, the terrain and the weather that one may encounter.

Lens choice. For effective bird photography, Vezo recommends a lens with a bare minimum 400mm focal length and with the fastest ƒ-stop you can afford. His standard lens is a Canon 600mm ƒ/4 lens planted securely on a Gitzo carbon-fiber tripod with a Wimberley tripod head, and even then, he sometimes adds a 1.4x or 2x teleconverter for added reach.

Wings of Spring4 Accessories. A compartmented vest makes for easy-to-reach gear, and Vezo feels it’s much more convenient than a backpack. His 8x Steiner binoculars are a constant companion, saving him many a long walk. Vezo uses a Visual Echoes Flash X-tender to throw his flash’s light farther and stronger. A beanbag always comes in handy to steady a lens if shooting from an awkward place.

Recently, Vezo has started to experiment with the Phototrapper, an infrared beam system that trips his camera and flash units when the subject passes through, allowing him to photograph birds and bats in midflight. And don’t forget the sunscreen and bug spray!

Wings of Spring

5 Learn to be patient. Vezo shoots shot after shot of the same subject, working patiently to ensure he gets the best possible photos of his animated subjects. "Some of the slightest variations in the photo can make a difference between a good one or a great one," he says.

"I was in Canada waiting four hours for a great gray owl to come in and feed its chick. When the adult came in to feed, I shot nine rolls of film in 20 minutes. The action was so fast, I felt every turn of the birds‚’ heads was important to capture. I also knew that without some kind of eye contact in my photo, there was no worthwhile image to keep, so I shot in bursts of threes and fours whenever I saw part of its eye in my viewfinder. Then a big branch fell off a tree in back of me and they both looked straight at the camera—I fired away nonstop until they looked away."

Practice. Vezo suggests practicing until composition becomes an instinct. "I learned by reading and by trial and error," he says. Photograph animals in places where they aren’t shy of humans; try zoos, parks and backyards. Once you’re comfortable, move on to bird photography tours and workshops. Familiarize yourself with your equipment and the animals there, and hone your skills, until you’re finally ready to...

Go one step beyond the tour. Vezo leaves the nest himself, migrating with the birds. He may start in February or March in Central or South America—last year, he visited Costa Rica and its quetzal, hummers, flycatchers and toucans. Then he often moves to the coastal areas of North America where the birds congregate after their long migration over water. South Texas and Point Pelee, Ontario, Canada, are good for warblers, orioles, tanagers and others that drop down on the first available land to rest and feed. Vezo also travels to nesting territories, which can range from anywhere in the United States to as far north as Canada and Alaska.



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