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Nature Photography - Done Naturally

Wilson's Phalarope - Phalaropus tricolorWilson's Phalarope

Campin' out in the blind

Getting close to your quarry...that's the big challenge in bird photography.  As you progress in bird photography, you'll quickly settle into a groove with regard to your equipment and what settings to use on your camera.  One thing that will never change and will always be a challenge? Getting close enough to get the photo.

I love shorebirds.  April and May in South Dakota can be truly spectacular for both the quantity and variety of shorebirds that move through the state. Shorebirds as a group aren't a particularly challenging group of birds to shoot, as they tend to be a little less camera shy than many birds.  I've had great luck using my car as a blind for shorebirds, but even in that situation, I often find that shorebirds will only approach so closely, often hanging out at borderline camera range. While I have great luck shooting from my car, another issue in using it as a blind for shorebirds is that shorebirds are on the ground or in the water, and you're thus pointing the camera downwards at your quarry.  Again, you can get wonderful photos, but to me they're just not as dynamic as a photo taken from a lower angle, more on the level of your quarry. 

A portable blind is an option that can work beautifully for shorebirds. Shorebirds tend to ignore a portable blind more so than when you use your car as a blind, and you can place a portable blind right down on the shoreline, at eye-level with the birds themselves.  I use a hunter's "chair blind".  It literally is a small folding chair with extremely short legs (only about 8 inches.  A camouflaged shell fits over the top, and there are multiple openings in the front and sides for taking photographs. As an added's actually dang comfortable!  Patience is definitely a virtue with bird photography, and an advantage of the chair blind is that you can bring snacks and a drink (my chair blind even has a cup-holder), snacking and playing around on your phone while you wait for birds to approach.

In the spring of 2014 water levels on "Weisensee slough" west of Sioux Falls were great for shorebirds.  The problem for bird photography there is that the roadway that cuts through the slough is elevated, so standing or using your car from the roadway results in a strong downward angle when shooting shorebirds close to the road.   On this day I decided to pull out the chair blind, place it right on the shoreline with the sun at my back...and wait.

The disadvantage of any blind is lack of mobility, as you're waiting for birds to come to YOU, rather than vice-versa.  For migrating shorebird though, if you set up in the right spot, birds stop paying attention to the blind itself and quickly return to the area after you set up and enter the blind. I had no particular quarry in mind on this day, but there were many American Avocets and Wilson's Phalarope feeding close to shore.  It only took about 10 minutes after setting up and entering the blind before the birds returned the area where my blind was set up.

Wilson's Phalarope in particular are pretty tame and allow close approach. However, with the chair blind, I'd never be able to get this close to one, and be at the bird's level.  I have a lot of Wilson's Phalarope photos, but this is my favorite.  The pose, the feathers splayed out in back, the low angle, and the wonderful front-lighting made for a great shot of a bird that I think is really beautiful.  Technically it was a simple a shot as you can hope for. Wonderul lighting, so no fill-flash was required, and plenty of light, so no worries about depth of field or an inadequate shutter speed.  Since I was so close to the bird, I moved the aperture up to f/9, in order to get more depth of field and get more of the bird's body in focus (not just the head/eye).

Camera Body:   Canon 70D
Camera Lens:   Canon 400mm 5.6L
ISO:   400
Aperture:   f/9
Shutter Speed:   1/800th
Flash:   Not Used
Support:   Hand-held, resting on my knees from a blind
Date:   05/04/2014
Location:   Minnehaha County, SD



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