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Entries in Subject (1)

Tuesday
Feb082011

Tuesday's Photo Tip - Knowing Your Subject

I know this weeks tip was supposed to be on set-ups but the post has grown beyond a tip and will be published soon as a full post, maybe two! In it's place we'll talk about the benefits of knowing your subject with regards to bird photography.  The term "Knowing Your Subject" actually comes from portrait photography.  The philosophy suggests the more you know about your subject the better equipped you are to truly capture who they are.

Learning a birds tendencies and behaviours will be help you to anticipate what the bird is going to do and thus put you in a better position to get that killer image.  We briefly touched on tendencies in last weeks tip when discussing how Downy Woodpeckers like to work an entire branch before moving to the next one.  Other examples of this type are :

  • if you see a perching raptor (hawks, eagles etc) and it defecates (poops), get your camera ready as this behaviour usually prefaces an imminent take-off.  Kelly used this technique to nail Ospreys taking off last season.
  • knowing if a bird is skiddish or not will let you know how close you can get to it.  It's really important to know how specific birds will react to you and your camera.  (Remember to practice birding ethics.)
  • knowing the flight patterns for different species is a helpful behaviour to know as well.  For example gulls tend to have very preditable and slow moving flight patterns.  When photographing gulls one has to treat them differently than say shooting a duck of the same size in flight.
  • tips like these can be found all over the place - on blogs, in field guides, forums etc.  However, the best way to learn, I find, is by studying the birds yourself out in the field.

All right, you're now armed with a bit of knowledge but where are the birds?  Just as important as knowing what birds do is knowing where they are and at what times of the year can you find them.  For instance, in Barrie I know that if I want to photograph Solitary Sandpipers and Egrets, my best chances are in the fall at Bear Creek Wetlands;  if I'm interested in seeing Snowy Owls, Northern Shrikes and Rough-legged Hawks, I know I can find them in the Minesing Wetlands during winter and so on and so on.  Some good ways to learn about what's going on in your area are:

  • local or regional nature boards, blogs and forums - a wealth of knowledge can be found at these places, especially if they have archives.
  • join your local naturalist group.
  • get in contact with any other local nature photographers when you find a good bird and pass the info on to them - they will likely to do the same to you.
  • get outside and explore!!  Don't forget to keep lists of what birds you're seeing, when and where.

Arming yourself with knowledge, aka 'Knowing Your Subject' is an integral part of bird photography.  Just remember that it takes years to acquire this type of knowledge so don't get discouraged if things don't click right away.