Photography Takeaways

Many of you enjoyed the last two blogs—blogs about a hunting Red-shouldered Hawk and a human hunting party. What follows are photography takeaways from the first of the two, “The Scuffletown Creek Hunters.”

  • Tread lightly. Birds are always aware of human presence. If you see birds in the field and you want to get closer to them to photograph them, ease into position. Better yet, be still and wait for them to come to you. They will if you’ve done your homework and are in a place they frequent often.
  • Obtain a long lens. Carry around at least 400mm. On a crop frame camera, 400mm gives you even greater reach. A gentleman who enjoys shooting birds sent me this: “Waterfowl are my favorites. I also love egrets. I use a Canon EOS REBEL T4i with an EF-S 18-135mm zoom lens.” That only gives him 215mm on the long end. I replied, “Consider getting a longer lens for greater reach. At the very least, get a first generation Canon 100-400 zoom. That would give you an effective focal length of 160-640mm. Good luck!”

    Great Egret
    Great Egret
  • Take note of lighting and background. When I first spotted the Red-shouldered, I knew I wanted better lighting and a better background. So I repositioned myself. Everyone knows it’s all about light, but backgrounds often get overlooked.
  • Seek out backgrounds that compliment. In that first blog I shared 2 photos of the Red-shouldered and noted I preferred the first. That’s because the background was more complimentary and the subject stood out better.

Let’s Pause

Let’s stop there. I want to develop that last point further. I shared the following with this accompanying photo on FM Forums, a photography forum: “I wonder if any of you have noticed that green backgrounds seem to make subjects pop. This is a recent discovery for me, but may be old hat for many of you.”

Song Sparrow
Song Sparrow

Morris, a NYC photographer with whom I often correspond, made this comment: “Nice job with a rather ordinary subject, David. It’s not really green [that makes things stand out]. It’s contrast and sometimes color wheel position.” Someone else followed up with the words, “beautifully presented.”

I got to thinking about what Morris said, and did some reading about the color wheel (scroll down after you hit the link). Then it dawned on me that he was right. The Song Sparrow popped not because the background was green but because the bird’s colors and the background colors were opposites, were complimentary.

Let’s compare the above with another Song Sparrow close-up.

Song Sparrow
Song Sparrow

This bird gets kind of lost. It doesn’t stand out as well because many of the background colors are similar to the bird’s colors. It also doesn’t help that much of the background is still distinct. That’s due to lack of separation between the bird and elements behind it.

Let’s Resume

  • Tell stories. Take photos that go beyond aesthetic appeal and that offer up a narrative, that tell a story. Related to that, take photos that are compelling, even different. Russ Burden wrote a piece for Outdoor Photographer about seeking out unique compositions. Here’s a quote I copied down: “For me, satisfaction comes from getting images others don’t have.” Seek out those kinds of images.

    White-throated Sparrow
    White-throated Sparrow
  • Shoot at eye level whenever possible. When I spotted the hunting party, I was on high ground. Fortunately, I was able to scramble down a bank and photograph it at eye level. Eye-level photos are more intimate and provide better backgrounds and subject illumination. Of course, those advantages are more noticeable when the subject is closer.

    Waterfowl hunting party
    The hunters

Quip, Question, Quote(s)

Bobby from FM Forums also weighed in about the top Song Sparrow photo. Here’s what he said—and I agree: “Any soft and diffused background will work for me. It’s great if the background is a complimentary color, but that’s not always possible in nature.”

We touched on crop frame cameras. I use a full frame Canon 1D X DSLR with a Canon 500mm f/4 II lens and 1.4X III extender attached for much of my work—even for the close-ups. Long lenses are great for highlighting subjects and achieving blurry backgrounds. They’re also great for street photography—for documenting life.

Though I love what I use and consider gear important, photography is more about the photographer’s vision than it is about his or her gear. David Molnar, whom I’ve cited before, agrees. He wrote the following: “Regardless of what type of sensor you choose, your composition and editing skills matter more than the camera does. A good photographer can create a great photo on an entry level crop sensor camera.”

And This Just In

We’ll cover photography takeaways from “Scuffletown Creek Hunters, Cont’d” in the next blog, so please stay tuned.

In an earlier piece, I mentioned the loss of a giant in the world of poetry, Mary Oliver, and the loss of a giant in the world of birding, Dr. Tom Cade. We just lost a giant in the world of sports and a man with a giant presence and heart, Henry Louis “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron. Rest in peace, Hammerin’ Hank. The sports world and our world won’t be the same without you.

Hank Aaron
Hank Aaron

11 thoughts on “Photography Takeaways

  1. I learned something Dave. Hadn’t previously read about background complementary colors. Now I know another reason why some photos work better than others. Good stuff per usual. Keep it up and stay healthy. Sincerely, Doug Burkett

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  2. You made the point of trying to photograph at eye level. When I take photos I always try to focus on the animals eyes. If the eyes are in focus sometimes the rest doesn’t matter as much (to me). But now I know why when I bend down for those low photos of the birds on the ground, they give a better perspective. They are at the bird’s eye level! Thanks! …and I love macro photos, it is through my experimenting that I learned how cool the blurred background is. It makes the photos more artistic, it releases my artsy side 😊
    BTW I LOVE the bird with the green background, and the one stretching with the seed ❣❣❣

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    1. Lisa, I’m with you. As long as the eyes are in focus, it doesn’t matter to me that the rest is slightly OOF. I’ve heard people say that if the eyes aren’t in focus, the photo gets scrapped. I’m in that camp. Yes, blurred backgrounds are great. Love your enthusiasm.

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  3. Thank you for your beautiful photos & your love for God’s wildlife. The camera information & perspective on the color wheel to enhance photos & the creativity in your pics. Great blog as always!

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  4. Hi Dave! I wonder why we haven’t seen any grackles in our yard (off the Lafayette River) for many months, which is unusual. Are you seeing them elsewhere? Are crows displacing them?

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    1. Good question. Many grackles around, especially here in South Hampton Roads and up in the Williamsburg area. Grackles generally flock with other blackbirds in the winter. And though they may feed in the some of the same places as crows, I don’t think grackles and crows associate much. And grackles in no way would be displacing crows. Always great fun to monitor birds’ movements. Thanks for reading my blog.

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  5. I always remember my art teacher at school saying that the reason there are often green monsters in horror films is because red and green are contrasting colours, so the blood stands out more! The detail and colouring on the sparrow are delightful.

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