Landscape v. Nature Photography Mindset

July 01, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Another specialty I'm sliding into, just because it is impossible to shoot landscape on the Oregon Coast and not have birds draw your attention, is nature shots. What I'm finding is that, the occasional lucky shot aside, bird shooters combine the skill set of landscapers with those of sports photography. I've got claim to one of those, but am only just beginning to have the minimal skill required by the need to freeze random actions at a great distance.

Recently discovered a Great Blue Heron colony smack in the backyard of houses in Garibaldi. It's a large Heronry (as I've learned they are called) that easily has over 100 birds with seven nest easily observable from the sheet below. 

Anyone who knows the North Oregon Coast will recognize the Big "G" on the hill. The nests are above and slightly to the left of the blue roof, at about the hight of the street lamp. The colony is noisy enough that if you get on the street below, you'll hear them. I've been dropping by on a regular basis, and twice have gotten there just after a Bald Eagle has grabbed a chick, and the noise is astoundingly loud. 

The reason I keep going back is the fledgelings are just on the edge of flying, and I'm hoping to bottle the lightning of either catching a first flight, or, even more dramatic, being there when one of the six or so local eagles gets tired of fishing and decides to stop by for take out. For the most part, the weather has not cooperated, as we have had a record wet June, and Herons pretty much hunker down in the rain. 

For all my trips, I've gotten some good images, but most are like the one above. SOFT! Too SOFT (dammit). The problem being my lens collection was geared to landscaping, so I have lots of wide angle primes, but only the 70-300 mm f4-5.6 IS zoom that just isn't up to the job. Having just bought a new body, and a newish computer I am in no position to be catching glass fever. But, how I lust for a 400mm 2.8 IS. The 300 would be good enough if I could get in closer, but, even allowing for the limitations of tramping through private property, once you get into the trees the canopy screens out the birds from the ground. The ideal place would be standing on the roof of one of the houses, but I don't see me pulling that off. Maybe if I keep going back year after year, I can make a friend, but I'm not counting on that. 

No, what I need is glass, and developing an action shooter's skill set. If I really plan to shoot birds, I have the body, but need two more (expensive) tools: long, fast glass and a gimbal head. Right now I'm able to park the car on the street and use a bean bag on the roof in place of a gimbal, and I'm learning to prefocus, then do quick manual adjustments so... I may be able to get some really good shots, but I don't see me doing anything iconic without a couple years of visiting the site and hoping that the eagle predation doesn't cause the colony to move in the meantime. 

Because, what I'm really missing that no amount of kit can fill for is knowing the birds: knowing when they come and go, how they react to weather, what stage of physical development and practice flapping says a fledgeling is ready to actually take off. Great action shooting results from knowing patterns. Landscapers do the same thing, only it's patterns of light, weather and seasons. Stuff that is long and slow developing with years of going back to certain great places to stand, though storm chasing can move it into the "action" arena. Birds, I'm learning, requires the same long and slow gained knowledge of patterns, but it's a distinct set. Though it is one where kit can make a difference. But it's mostly about being able to pre-visualize where a likely shot with good light/composition will happen, and getting set up properly to take advantage of it.

Though, if the damn things are willing to roost out in the open and hold still, like my favorite Cormorant tree, the 300 can work.

This colony is almost always here at sundown and allowed one of my favorite nature/landscape shots.

Coordinates for heronry: 45°33'38" N 123°55'10" W

Coordinates for Cormorants: 45°33'46" N 123°56'13" W


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