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Bird Watch SXM

green-heronBy Mark Yokoyama

Bird shots: getting close

Shooting birds – with a camera! – is a wonderful hobby. It is often challenging, but the thrill of getting a great shot is definitely addictive. In this Bird Shots series, we will cover some practical techniques for getting better bird photos with whatever equipment you are using.

Getting close is really the defining challenge of bird photography. It's why the pros have giant lenses that cost as much as a car, and it's why the rest of us have photos that probably aren't making it into National Geographic any time soon. Birds tend to keep their distance from us, and given our history of hunting them for food and feathers, one can hardly blame them.

Photographically-speaking, there are two ways to get closer to birds. You can be physically closer or you can use a long lens or camera zoom to get optically closer to them. The best shots are usually a combination of the two. Long distance zooming introduces an array of challenges, so getting yourself closer is always the best way to start.

If you want to get nice photos, you must learn to sneak up on birds. You can use vegetation, rocks or buildings to avoid being seen as you approach them. On the boardwalk in Cul-de-Sac, there is a wooden wall with viewing spaces. A disembodied head is apparently less threatening than an entire human. Birds are often more approachable when you are in a car, a technique which works on parts of the Pondfill at the Great Salt Pond, but shouldn't be used in areas that are not designed for vehicles.

Experience will also help you learn how closely you can approach different birds. This can depend a lot on the species. Birds that depend more heavily on camouflage are more likely to remain still when approached. For these birds, it often helps you get closer if you avoid looking directly at them while approaching. Skittishness may also depend on what the bird is doing. An egret that has found a really great fishing spot may be more likely to tolerate your presence. Learning to identify these special opportunities can be very valuable.

This week, get out and do some bird stalking. Identify a good location near you, whether it is a nearby pond or the bird feeder in your backyard. Practice your stealthiest approach. Identify the path that allows you to remain hidden as long as possible. Take photos of your subject every couple meters as you approach to get a better idea of how close you can get before they fly off. By practicing in one familiar location, you can quickly master techniques that will be useful wherever you go.

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