A couple of weeks ago, I saw a good opportunity for a minimalist portrait of a black-crowned night heron in beautiful light. It was dawn and I saw this heron perched in the middle of a small pond on top of a rock. The water was very still, accentuating the quiet of the morning. The background was the water behind the bird, which would blur into a pure solid. The placid surface created a nice reflection. What drew me to this composition was the lack of habitat (other than the rock on which the heron perched). I couldn’t have created a more fundamental portrait if I had posed the bird in a studio.
San Francisco Bay in springtime is a great place to capture songbirds in action. This song sparrow would fly from perch to perch, stopping to sing out very methodically in each direction. This was my favorite shot that I took of him, because his head is thrown back, and it looks like he’s really getting into it.
I like to photograph songbirds about an hour after sunrise. They are still very active in their morning routines, and the ambient light is bright enough for action shots (songbirds can move very fast!) Another technique I employ is to go to places where there are people. Birds that are used to people being around tend to be more at ease and will likely let you approach closer before flying off. Running trails, parks, and urban ponds are all great places to find birds that are used to people.
This week’s photo was taken during my recent trip to Salt Point State Park. There were quite a few of these sparrows flitting around from bush to bush, some of them stopping occasionally to sing out at the top of their tiny lungs.
With bird photography, my goal, whenever possible, is to try to be close to the subject’s eye line. In this case, it was easy, as the top of the bush was about 5 feet off the ground. My camera was therefore also at about 5 feet, so that the lens looked directly into the bird’s eye. When birds are at ground level, I try to get very low, either kneeling behind my camera or sometimes down on my stomach (which can get quite dirty!) In these cases, my tripod legs are at their shortest, and splayed out to each side so that the tripod head is just off the ground. I find this simple concept can really give the viewer more of a connection to the photograph.