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May - Page 1 by Phil Seu

Written By onci on Saturday, May 8, 2010 | 9:23 AM

Use of a Remote Camera in Raptor Photography by Phil Seu

Spend enough time with raptors and it becomes easily apparent that they tend to have “favorite” perches they spend time on. This could be a location they use to look for prey, bring back food items to consume, or watch over a nest site. Of course, identifying such a perch and being able to get close enough to take a successful photograph are two different matters.

Raptors are notorious for being difficult to approach. One option might be to set up a blind near the site, but this is often not practical. I have utilized a simpler method that works well in the right situation. Setting up a remote camera directed at the site is quick and simple, and can get you detailed images of a comfortable subject on its favorite perch.

This image of a White-tailed Kite was taken using a remote trigger. A pair of Kites used this perch several times a day to feed on voles they were capturing in the surrounding fields.

This image of a male American Kestrel was relatively easy to set up because he always perched on the exact same spot.

The following are some helpful points based on my experience.

1. Study the perched bird carefully with binoculars from a distance to determine exactly where on the perch it tends to spend its time. This will help you to pre-focus accurately to insure a sharp image. Observing patterns and location of excrement on the perch can also be helpful.

2. Even though you can get the camera very close I favor using a long lens often with a teleconverter to decrease the steepness of the angle on elevated perches.

3. Use a reliable remote trigger. When I first did this, I used one of the cheaper systems on sale on auction sites but did not find it consistent enough. I now use Pocketwizards which are the gold-standard for reliability and distance.

4. Stop down your aperture for increased depth of field. I try to use f/9.0 or smaller even if it means increasing the ISO somewhat.

5. Watch from a distance with binoculars so you can fire the camera when you get the pose you like. If the raptor lands with its back to your camera, just be patient as they frequently scan 360 degrees.

Use of a remote camera can work very well in the right situation and should be considered another tool as we continue to work to get that elusive perfect image.

Phil Seu
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