Birds in Flocks
if you thought that finding opportunities to do bird portrait is difficult, this is where you have to not just pay attention to one bird, but you have to focus on all the birds that make up a flock. And here's one example. This is a group of snow geese, and they're actually Ross's geese mixed in with them, which is a smaller version of the snow goose. Now, look at all these different attitudes, all these different personalities. It is not just a pattern obert. It is a mixture of birds that are relaxed that are alert. Delight is not hitting them all in the same way. And how do you make sense of that as a photographer? How do you frame your composition? That's what we're going to talk about in the next video. Capturing Birds Influx So many birds were gathered in front of us that it presented us with a new opportunity. Flocks of birds. We switched our attention from virtually air two birds in the water. Now, when it comes to Burton flocks, I like to create nicely distributed patterns, and...
that means looking very carefully for the edges of your composition to make sure that the role imbalance to make it a little bit easier. I chose a composition with a little bit of water at the bottom so that I could crop in if I want to tighten the composition a little bit after the fact. And then I began to look carefully for a space in the top of my composition. But over a few birch is possible that I had to slice through in orderto complete my composition on the top end. But I set myself a challenge. Israel and what I discussed that with Candace and Matt you to make it a little bit more challenging. Thus we should look for just a pattern of snow geese. We wanted to keep the darkies out ducks off to the side, and that meant looking very carefully and very critically at what was in front of us. I like doing that. The more I can pre visualized the image I'm after, the easier it is to lock in on the perfect frame that materializes in front of you. We've got hundreds of snow geese in front of us, and that gives us a different opportunity. Then we've seen earlier today you we started off with Burton landscapes. And then they came here and we started doing portrait's of individuals. And then we practice a virgin flight. But now it's time to refocus on birch in flocks. This may seem really easy, because what could be easier than capturing images of all these snow geese that are milling around that it's actually quite challenging because I'm looking for a composition where we have snow geese evenly spread out, with no big gaps in between but also not too many birds overlapping that each other. And then as the ultimate challenge. I'm looking for a way in which I can frame them with not too many birch kind of sticking in or out of the frame. That's a real juggle, isn't it? Yeah. So are you with me for this? Okay, so the challenge is a perfect pattern of snow geese To capture this to its fullest potential. I'm going to close my aperture, rolled away this lens that means then my shutter speeds him in it. Keep that around 3 to 400 of a second because the birds are moving the other nodding flights that the movement is not as fast as what we practice it before. But still, I'm gonna keep them. Chris 400 of a second and F 32 I'm getting when I eso off 2000 which is well within the range of of what's going to yield a high quality image. So those are the settings. The tripod really helps to stabilize the camera. And no, it becomes a matter of looking really intensively at this complicated pattern. There's always something changing, but in front of me, I'm seeing the pattern emerge. I see birch with their heads down in the water there foraging, and I'm seeing other birds here. But there had sticking up. I see a few birch interacting. So by having a little bit of water at the bottom, that makes it easier to crop in if I need to. And it stabilizes the composition on the bottom. And so now the challenge becomes to frame it on the top end. So that is very you have to make decisions. Now there some birds landing managed to get one or two coming down. Oh, no. I've got a nice open space on the top end and let me just check that out. Oh, you're you see that? All right. Can I shared if you can? This So this is what I'm talking about. See, there's just one had sticking in, but I've got a clean up, a wretch in the frame and for the rest, have got a clean bottom end of the frame. Now, this is where things are not quite perfect. But you see, No, it's a balanced composition, top and bottom on refocusing 1/3 of the way in a little bit of water at the bottom end, and I'm beginning to look for individual characters, even though it looks like a pattern of snow geese. Overall, once you start looking more carefully, you see that everyone has got a different body position, and I want to make sure that I've got one or two birch in the foreground that are the kind of characters that the viewer can identify with. So I'm looking for the moment. Then they're not sticking their heads down into the water, but when they're looking up well, she to birch interacting Dev is a great moment. What I'm doing for myself and what I'm now articulating for you is to create your the search image, and that makes it easier for me to know when things are right. So it's see more birds coming in from the back. Do you see them come in swimming? Okay, that's a nice up pattern. Okay, Taking a quick break to see better. The exposure is right. I'm not seeing anything that is going off the scale. The settings were in place. The birds were there. Cameras were mounted on a tripod. We had a long lens. I use the zoom lens because that made it much easier to quickly adjust the composition, depending home, where the best edges in the framework. And then it was just a matter of searching for the right moment. I waited for opportunities when there were just white snow geese in my frame and there were a couple of really nice moments. In fact, the best moment came when the birds heard a plane in the distance and suddenly they were all focused on that noise in the background. They stopped foraging, all the heads went up and then they took off. We could not have foreseen that moment, but in fact we had the perfect settings on our camera. Infinite depth of field, high shutter speed. I'm really excited to see what we ended up. All right, So another field experience. We moved very quickly from talking about bird portraiture to birch and flocks. And I didn't give you a chance to get back to me with questions and comments about that section. So we can do that now. But perhaps first, volleys fresh. I would love to hear back from you about what you just witnessed. What went through your head as you heard me articulate how I look at birch and flocks. I did have another question that was about you showed us those reflections on jury was saying I often try to capture a bird and its reflection in the water, But I can't always get in the entire world Flexion. Is there ever sort of a time that a cut off reflection is acceptable? And I know maybe that's a bigger question about, you know, we talk about with humans. Where is it? Okay to cut things off. What about with birds? Well, it's everything is situational. You know, there's not one perfect answer to death. I showed some images early around. Remember that dock with the perfect reflection and the same with the great Vaidi grit. Of course, that's ideal, But, you know, you have to slice it where you know where very you find it. So, um yeah, I get a little bit closer to the water's edge. If the foreground vegetation cuts off the reflection, consider moving to the left, moving to the right. That is when it comes back to vantage point decisions. Absolutely one more. And then I just follow on that question about when you're shooting reflections, love shooting water birds like, um, often for me, I feel like I'm struggling to make the bird itself equal or heavier and visual. Wait, then the reflection. So I'm trying to set up the composition. Somehow yours. You know, the bird was confined to the upper half of the picture, and yet there's worked beautifully. Um, I'm curious if you have kind of rules of thumb about this, or maybe it's just a nap Richer issue and you've got the reflection in perfect focus as well. I'm not sure that I understand your question. Can you try to re so? I didn't phrase it well is a question. I apologize How do you deal with composition issues that that occur when you have a combination of a bird? And it's reflection and therefore that, in some ways relegates the bird itself to the top half of the frame? Oh, I see. In other words, where do you draw? Ready? Put. The emphasis is on the reflection on the bird itself and and you include extras blank space at the top to bring the bird down in the frame. Just how do you handle the composition when you've got a reflected water? Yeah, I don't think there's an absolute answer to death. It's everything is situational. It relates back to the earlier question. Where somebody you raised. The question in the chat room is, Can you cut off part of a reflection? Of course you can. So you can. Perhaps you can refrain. You're thinking in another way. And as part of the answer to the question you raised, is it about the bird, or is it about the composition overall, Um, if if you primarily aiming to do a portrait of a bird than the reflection is secondary. But if you're really moving towards an abstraction or an impression, then the bird is really just incidental. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I wonder cannot if there are any questions raised about the earlier section of bird portrait. Because we went quite fast from that into virgin flocks. There is a question I have for you about bird portraiture, which is that when we take parts of people, we often have a sense of what kind of what elements of a person, their expression, their countenance brings out their individuality. What are you looking for when you bring out the individuality of a bird? This is something I always trying to do. I struggle with it. I still don't even know exactly what it is that I'm working for. That's a really good question. And that goes to the heart of portrait. You're right. And I'm glad you're bringing it back to that because I made a note to myself to bring this back to you. This thes references to the importance of foreground and background You are really men to Yeah, push Bert portraiture in the direction of human portraiture. What do studio photographer stewed? I pose their subjects in front of you playing backgrounds and it's either black or it is white, and what we can do by being conscious of four grounds and backgrounds is really, too replicates studio situations in the outdoors. And the fewer distractions there are, the more you focus on the subject. Then back to your question. You know, how do you draw out the individuality? Will It comes from paying attention to a bird's body language. And you saw that in that sequence where there was a pair of pain till ducks that were really relaxed, posing on that log. And then something happened and they became alert, and suddenly they looked very different. And that is exactly what I think is part of the answer to you. Issue. Ah, look for ways in which birds express themselves being alert, being relaxed, interacting that each other. Are their eyes closed? Are their eyes open? Or is the I just half open? Is it a sleepy birth? Isn't an alert, Bert, All these subtleties matter, and ultimately the mawr of that. You could be a wear off. The more you can express about the birth, not just be a member of a species, but being an individual. This is kind of embarrassing question, but I found myself making some noise to get birds to fly because I want get a picture of them in flight. I kind of have a feeling that you're gonna hit me. Uh uh. Well, I saw your expression, and I So thank you for bringing that up, because I think we've all made mistakes. Yeah, as we go about approaching birds and you don't know any better, you get too excited it. And you flush Bert unwittingly. Or you don't know enough about how sensitive situations there are around nests, for instance, and nothing wrong with making mistakes. We all learned from our experience, but deliberately spooking birds and making them flying. You know, I'd rather not do that because, you know, there will always be another opportunity. And I think there's ultimately, I believe in just letting the birds determine what my opportunities are going to be. Yeah, I have my eyes on the horizon. You know better. Something happens in the next five or 10 minutes. That's not as important as leaving at the end of an encounter and feeling good about yourself. Thank you for bringing that up as well. So go ahead. So perhaps I can connect us with another question that was raised early. You're wrong about baiting birds on because now we're over diverting from virtuous subjects into the ethics of how we work with Bert and things that were acceptable 30 years ago and years ago. We're looking at differently now. Our society's evolving just you over thinking differently about how we relate to each other. And there's definitely been an evolution in our thinking about birch as well, things that ive er considered acceptable now, things that were considered considered acceptable back then. I really don't want to pass on to the next generation of bird photographers anymore. So baiting birds, I am not a great fan without to tell you the truth on. I know, for instance, that you know there's opportunities to go into the Northern Plains in mid winter and people attract owls using mice and then the AL slide towards the mice. And, of course, at the end of the session, there's no mice left. But there's a lot of our pictures. I'm not so sure that, um, you know, that's gonna be something that you you're gonna feel happy about to 10 years from now. So here's the golden rule. My friend Galen Rowell, a great mountaineering photography. And I I hear you not. We had discussions about this, and the golden rule is if you do not feel comfortable disclosing the conditions that led to your photograph, then you may have only think twice about doing that again. So you need to feel good about what? It took you to make the photograph, and then I throw it back to you Video individual ethics. But I would also, like, just like to set the bar higher for every one of us because, you know, birds are dependent on us. So we need to look out for their welfare. Thank you. And and I just want to say codus again to bring that up because a lot of people in the chat room are saying thank you. Because not everybody would actually bring that up. So appreciate that. Thank you know, I really appreciate that. And so now, however, um, to take it back to the situation where we were at in Colusa, in the wildlife refuge, your river sitting there vittles, birds him in your stationery and you're really attuned to the birds in front of you. Then you see how alert they are and what spooks them. And periodically there were planes coming over. There were cars coming by and David spoke the birds. And after you witnessed that a couple of times, then you can insert yourself into that situation. So you're not the actor. You just react to the disturbance caused by somebody else, and that is often a much better wait to achieve a similar effect. Better. It is a bird taken off for a bird becoming alert. Yes, Jeff has a has a question, just a quick question, and it kind of bridges the gap between portrait's and flock behavior. How do you discipline yourself in that kind of setting to be cognizant of everything that's around you because it's so easy to be singularly focused on one portrait or one flock. But there may be a spectacular image elsewhere, so you tend to maintain that single focus already have a 360 degree view all the time. That's a good point on my friend Jay Mizell, who's wanted a great photographers of our time. He he had J had so many great statements, he said. If things are looking really good in front of you. It's time to look behind you. So and that's certainly the case in a wildlife refuge like Colusa over there. So much action. So periodically check yourself, take yourself out of the experience. Take a minute to look back back at the sequence of images that you just made and, um, and and then go back into it. Does that help? What can you give a specific example? I have found myself a times so focused on one thing that I miss something else around me. So I think you've answered the question. You need to give, pause and look around. You get really focused on what's in front of you and then periodically scan what is happening all night or side of your view. So before we go on, I would like to make a couple of points because we've been looking at a lot of equipment in the field. The cameras that I was using and some of you who really observant probably noted that early in the morning I didn't have a lens hood on my long lens and then later on, suddenly magically the lens what appeared right. Well, these lens hood can get in the way and with early morning light. Yeah, I'm not so worried about any any reflections that may interfere with the optics. But later in the morning, and especially when we started working with those birds in flocks, there was across light. And that's when I put the lens. Who at home? The other thing that you may have noticed most that Matt, one of our two students, was using one of those half gimble heads. I made a reference that Adderley around men, people last if I ever use a gimbal, and I said, Well, it's kind of a big, cumbersome thing, but that half Kimball head when you see Matt again, check that out and then as another detail, something that I highly recommend to any of you is to consider, you know, using Ah, quick release plates on your camera that connected your tripod heads because that makes it so much faster to switch from one lens to the other. And the next time you see my gear in action, you'll notice those quick release plates, and then terrible's And uh, yes, I saw in many of your images that portrayed you in your camera. You had a nail bracket on, but you haven't used it yet. Use. Leave them on all the time. You're really observant. Yeah. Now we're getting into the gear details, right? Yeah. Those l brackets fit around my camera, and they enabled me to go quickly from a horizontal to a vertical position. But I only use that l bracket really with short lenses. Vit the long telephoto lenses. I rotate to the camera around the lens collar, but it's on their older time. What is not on my camera. And you may have noted that Israel No camera straps. Yeah, I don't walk around bit videos, 600 millimeter lens around my neck. So why use a camera strapped and you're not going to use it? They just get in the way. And then there's winter begins to interfere with the stability of your Rick. So keep things as simple as you can. It's just a detail, but all the details matter. And on that front to you noted that as I'm working in the field with Matt emit Candace, you know, we just have one camera and one lens mounted on the tripe outfitters. All the rest of the gear is someplace else you do not want to be. You know, donkey, that everything you know, strapped to Europe, to your body. That's really the point. I want to make you want to be free and easy. Ah, the last point I want to make. And, um, earlier in the portrait session, you heard me talk about moving from a white open aperture to an aperture that it's wanted two stops down so that you can get the whole bird, but in your depth of field. What I did not stress is that when you do that, you also increased the effective sharpness because every lens is not a sharp light, open as it is at F eight or ideally, at F 11. So keep that in mind is relevant your aperture choices. And I hope that earlier in the course I said enough about the new freedom of finding optimum combinations of aperture and shutter speed that are caused by deliberation of making your Iess Odeon a blur. You've probably been wondering about this image of the puffins, right? That has been on screen here for quite a while. Um, I wanted to share that with you because this is also an image of birds in a flock. Um, and these person in Scotland, it's on an offshore island, and the puffins would come in. And this is one of the rocks for David like the land. And And it was also a socializing point, so convenient place for them to land, and then they would begin to interact. And that gave me the opportunity to start searching for some interest here. In this case, these two birds are recognizing each other, no idea what they're saying, but clearly there's some behavior going on, and then the rest is just the supporting gospel. Actually, these two are also interacting. Meet each other, and these are just checking out the rest of the scene. So these are all birds but personality. And that takes it beyond something like this pattern. This is a colony of King penguins on South Georgia Island, which is one of my favorite places on the planet to photograph birds, immense colonies of penguins. This colony numbered well over 100,000 and by climbing up on the hill behind a colony, I was able to get an overview. And then I just looked for the perfect composition that is a mix of Adelbert invite and black and yellow and the juvenile birds in brown. So and that is when it becomes import becomes important to look for a universal distribution. I looked carefully around the edges of the frame. This is a different way to show a king penguin colony. It began to snow, and I thought it would be interesting to include a sense of the atmospheric conditions in this colony view. So in the previous image, my opportunists close down to F 22 that I had an extended that the field in this case my aperture was also F 22. But then I had to raise the shutter speed because if I did not use a fast shutter speed, all the snowflakes would have become little streaks. And then you're not looking at snow anymore. So this is a perfect example of using I s o as in a Naylor, because I knew I needed an extended depth of field Aperture goes to F 22. So you see even these birds in the background there sharp and I needed a fast shutter speed in my eyes. So was my best friend, and it enabled me to execute the image I wanted. Here's another example of King penguins in a flock, but using a different technique of a still standing on that hill site overlooking the colony. But this time I went for a much slower shutter speed. This shutter speed was around one second, and the effect is that some birds are standing still, the not moving so they're sharply defined. But quite a few others are moving about in the colony, and they're becoming ghost images, and this is a different way, so it's a little bit challenging under the conditions of South Georgia Island, where it's often very windy. So when you use a shutter speed of a full second, you have to be very careful that the camera shake cost by the wind is not ruining your image. So in this case, it's not just one frame, but it's dozens of frames and really paying attention to the wind gust. But I like this image because it's more challenging and aesthetically, it goes a step beyond the regular portrayal of a king penguin Colony flamingos in East Africa. Um, I hope some of you viewing the course on have had a chance to see flamingos for themselves in the Great Rift Valley. Up and down the East Africa, there are these enormous congregations of flamingos. This is in Lake Nakuru on you know, the conventional way is to make them all sharp. But in this case, I used again a slow shutter speed of around 1 to 2 seconds. And some of the birds are moving and the others are sharp, and it leads to a really impressionistic rendering. And the water motion also adds to that a little bit, so it's partially blurry, partially sharp. If you want to experiment with this yourself, be really careful in how you go about doing this. Really. Start looking for individual birds that are standing still, especially those in front of your composition. Because that is ready, eyes of your viewers will go towards Here's another way to make your images of Burton flocks more challenging. This is an albatross colony in the Falkland Islands, and this is a seabird city. All of these birds are sitting all nest, and yo, I chose a composition that creates a perfect pattern from edge to edge. And then I started looking for opportunities to include something else as a counterpoint to the pattern a bird in flight passing by. So that was my search image that became my concept. And I had the settings figured out, and that meant F 32 for an extended up the field. And then I had to find a shutter speed that was fast enough that a bird passing through the frame would be slightly blurt but not so blurred that it became unidentifiable. In this case, that was around 125th of a second. And with a sunny situation, I had enough light to do that within a reasonable I S O setting. So of course, this meant that I had to stand there for quite a while because I didn't want an albatross to fly into the middle of the frame because it would have been too distracting but tucked away into an upper corner, left or right, it made a very nice compliment, a counterpoint to the pattern of the birds sitting on the ground, One more scene with king penguins. And these birds, of course, go from sitting on land to going off into the water because they go out as fishing parties and on from time to time they come swimming down the beach and I saw it at a couple of times, and then we realized we had a pattern, a pattern of bird behavior. We ran to a dune and we sat up there and then we waited for the birds to swim bike.