Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Starting To Explore Wildlife Photography | Sharpening My Skills - Chapter 1

Sharpening My Skills - Chapter 1. My first chapter of Sharpening My Skills focuses on wildlife & nature photography. Chapter 2's topic will be announced next week.

Yellow Crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea | Bitterns, Herons & Egrets - Ardeidae)
Nikon D5 | Nikon 200-500mm lens at 360mm | f/5.6 — 1/80sec — ISO 100

Wow. What to do. What to say. I am stuck at home (as we all are) and I find that being a sports & events photographer is difficult (duh). A few weeks ago, I started watching tutorials and podcasts from Tony & Chelsea Northrup on YouTube. They have been a great resource for me for years, & they have encouraged me to get out and shoot! As I mentioned, I am primarily a sports & event photographer, and I've been in need of something to photograph. What better than to get out of the house, get some fresh air, and go to a park! I've been trying to visit a few parks each week, in order to give myself the best access to improving my photography.

Yes, I realize my dog may not qualify for "wildlife," but why not, I'm experimenting.
Nikon D5 | Nikon 24-70mm lens at 24mm | f/2.8 — 1/250sec — ISO 100 | Profoto A1 at -0.8

Wildlife photography is not unlike sports photography. The settings, the quick paced nature, the need to understand and anticipate the subject. In soccer, if a player is taking a free kick, I can expect that somewhere around midfield there will be a few players jumping up in the air for a head ball (header). Likewise, if I'm photographing a heron, I know that they will take off into the wind and I can position myself accordingly. If I can set myself with the sun behind me and when the wind is facing me, I can have a better chance of getting a better shot.

I've visited 6 parks now & I've seen lots of new birds, reptiles and scenery. I first ventured out to Memorial Park in Sugar Land, Texas, and found that wildlife photography was anything other than what I expected. I had some idea about what might be expected in terms of settings & how to anticipate the action, but boy was I wrong.

Tricolored Heron (Egretta Tricolor | Bitterns, Herons & Egrets - Ardeidae)
Nikon D5 | Nikon 200-500mm lens at 500mm | f/5.6 — 1/1000sec — ISO 100
This little guy was walking along the shore line & stepped closer & closer to me. I knew from reading about birds that if you keep still, they may come closer to you, depending on the bird. So, I sat down & every so often snapped a couple of pictures. Every few minutes he would come closer & take a few more steps towards me, staying on the shoreline. I love this picture because I really had to dial in my shutter speed & control my breathing in order to eliminate camera shake.

Tricolored Heron (Egretta Tricolor | Bitterns, Herons & Egrets - Ardeidae)
Nikon D5 | Nikon 200-500mm lens at 500mm | f/5.6 — 1/1000sec — ISO 100
Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor | Bitterns, Herons & Egrets - Ardeidae)
Nikon D5 | Nikon 200-500mm lens at 500mm | f/5.6 — 1/1000sec — ISO 100

That same day, I ventured out to another park not too far away. However, I went off the beaten path & after walking in a giant loop for an hour I only managed to get one shot worth keeping.

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis | Cardinals & Grosbeaks - Cardinalidae)
Nikon D5 | Nikon 200-500mm lens at 500mm | f/5.6 — 1/1000sec — ISO 100

Now I will admit, that while this photo isn't in focus, and there's not much going on, I decided to keep this photo because I don't normally get a good enough chance to photograph a small bird. It was a good subject to experiment with, and I enjoyed trying to get a good picture. Almost as fast as I spotted him, he fluttered away, but I was happy with the result.

Jumping back to memorial park, I stubbed upon two white ibis birds. They seemed rather calm for the amount of people nearby. I repeated the tactic of sitting down & waiting for them to come close enough to photograph. These two also seemed to dunk their heads into the water trying to grab lunch (I was at the park after midday). I finally got a keeper, but I'm not sure if its as sharp as I would prefer.

White Ibis (Eudocimus albus | Ibis & Spoonbills - Eudocimus)
Nikon D5 | Nikon 200-500mm lens at 500mm | f/5.6 — 1/1000sec — ISO 100
Lastly, I continued on the trail (it made a loop), and finally found a dragonfly. If I ever thought sports were fast paced, I had never met a dragonfly then. Even my tried and true method (only twice tried) of sitting down and waiting didn't seem to work. Thankfully, I remembered a tip from Tony Northrup, that birds are sometimes creatures of pattern. While a dragonfly is no bird,  it still seemed to adhere to a pattern. It would fly away (yes, pun intended) and then return to a general area, only to fly away again. Once it stayed still long enough for me to get focus, I dialed in the focus manually, as autofocus wasn't quick enough.

Black Meadowhawk (Sympetrum danae Darters & Skimmers - Sympetrum)
Nikon D5 | Nikon 200-500mm lens at 500mm | f/5.6 — 1/1000sec — ISO 100
I've had quite a bit of fun branching out into the world of wildlife photography. Since I started, I've been out and about for a few weeks, and I'm loving it. Wildlife photography is teaching me many new things about myself as a photographer and about how I should approach my photography.

—Michael Tollestrup

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5-16-2020 6:24PM CST: This article was updated to reflect the accurate name of the bird pictured in the first photo. From Great Blue Heron, to Yellow Crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea).

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