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Page 5 by Nate Chappell

Written By onci on Monday, September 14, 2009 | 10:26 AM

Taking Action Photos at Bird Feeding Stations by Nate Chappell

Whenever I’m photographing birds at a feeding station, I always keep my eyes open for any interaction between birds and I often try to get some shots of the birds taking off and landing.

The first thing that is important when trying to make these types of images is fast reactions. For example in the image of 2 Gambel’s Quail arguing here I just had a few seconds to make a couple of images. The action caught the corner of my eye and I immediately swung my 500mm lens, which was placed on a Wimberley tripod head, to focus on the birds. I also quickly added depth of field to get both birds in focus. The image was shot at F11 or 3 stops down from wide open to get both birds in focus. You need to shoot with a fairly high iso to get both a fast shutter speed and a wide depth of field so I habitually shoot at about the highest iso that my camera body can handle without producing much noise. When I’m shooting with the Canon Mark III this is iso 640 to 800 while with the Canon 50D it’s more like iso 400. A shutter speed of around 1/1600 to 1/2500 is ideal for capturing action shots in these situations. All 3 of the photos posted here were shot in that range.

The Wimberley tripod head is essential for making quick reactions with a large lens that is mounted on a tripod. This is because with its design you can quickly swing the lens back and forth. When shooting these quail if I had been locked down with a ball head I wouldn’t have been able to make this image. If anybody would like to take a look at Wimberley heads their website is www.tripodhead.com.

Another technique that I will use when shooting at feeding stations is to pre-focus on the main perch which is set up at the station. I will then keep my finger on the shutter button while I take my head out from behind the viewfinder so I have better vision and watch. When a bird starts to fly in to land, I will fire off a round of shots. Be careful to be smooth and soft with the shutter button if you are using this technique otherwise the vibration caused by pressing the button can cause soft images. This is because you are not pressing your face against the back of the camera to help stabilize it, like you would be if you were looking through the viewfinder. Alternatively, you can use a cable release.

If you would like to learn more about these techniques you can join me on our workshop this November at Green Valley and Madera Canyon, Arizona where all of the images on this page were taken. See my website at www.trogontours.net/bosque for more details.

Nate Chappell
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