From Birds to Photo Gear

Some of you enjoyed my reference to Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning” in “The Birds of Spring.” And you also enjoyed the photo of the Ospreys there. I often think about Joni’s song when I head out with my camera and it’s the kind of morning where the sun is giving everything it touches a butterscotch glow. Here are a few more “butterscotch glow” photos. I took them about an hour after sunrise. The pelican parade continues in South Hampton Roads.

Touch Down

This is the same adult Brown Pelican that made an appearance in “New Beginnings,” but here it’s touching down. Its legs and feet, its “landing gear,” are perfectly adapted for the maneuver. And its wings and feathers are perfectly adapted for providing the braking power. Try as you might, you’ll never see a bird land anywhere with its wings folded against its body.

Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican

Here’s a young bird that showed up a few minutes later. It’s already a seasoned flyer.

Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican

Junk Collectors

I also mentioned my conversation with Reese Lukei in “The Birds of Spring.” Reese referred to Ospreys as “junk collectors.” Here’s further proof. This is the male bringing yet more stuff to the growing nest atop that pile/steel structure in the Elizabeth River. The bird is carrying a rag that had probably washed up on one of the beaches nearby. Live fish, the Osprey’s main food source, are abundant in the Elizabeth. Unfortunately, so is the rubbish along her banks.

Male Osprey
Male Osprey

Here’s the same bird, a frame or 2 later. The female appears to be getting out of the way, (and who can blame her). You can see her “bib” or “necklace.” Males may have one, too, but they’re always much lighter.

Osprey pair on nest
Osprey pair on nest

Indirect Light

I took both above photos on 3/16. Note the nest’s smaller size in “The Birds of Spring.” I took that photo on 3/9. Nest building is serious business. Note, too, how different the lighting is in these photos compared to the lighting in the pelican shots. On 3/16, the day I took the Osprey photos, the sky was overcast and the light was diffuse. Notwithstanding the importance of direct light, there’s something to be said for taking photos on overcast days. And on overcast days you never have to worry about the angle, quality, or direction of the light.

Shortly after I took the Osprey photos, I took this one of a very tame and eye-level American Robin. As is so often the case, I wasn’t able to do much about nature’s “messiness,” but I was able to lock onto my subject and create a decent composition. I did have to wait a bit for the nice side view. Notice how even and flattering the lighting is. It almost looks as if I were using a softbox.

American Robin
American Robin

Here’s a broader view of the scene and more of a rule-of-thirds photo. It’s also another photo in our celebrated “signs of spring” series. (I love Darren’s work, but ignore the bee photo in his rule-of-thirds piece. IMHO, both bee and flower belong on the left.)

American Robin
American Robin

Jumping Off

Let me use the robin photos as a jumping-off point. Many of you have expressed an interest in photo gear—from tripods to cameras to lenses. So, you might be interested in the following. I wrote this to an old classmate recently: “I usually shoot with a Canon EOS-1D X DSLR with a Canon EF 1.4X III extender and Canon EF 500mm f/4 II attached. That’s a pretty decent setup that gets me close to the action. But it’s heavy. I may switch to mirrorless eventually.” Well, I haven’t switched yet, but I did just rent a Canon EOS R5, Canon’s new flagship full-frame mirrorless camera. It’s an incredible camera. As I expected, it’s lighter than my 1D X and easier to hand hold. It’s what I used to take the robin photo and the Osprey photos, and I’m thrilled with the results. Because of its lighter weight, I can hold it up longer as I wait for things like a side-view pose or as I track a bird in flight until it alights on its nest. And because it uses Deep Learning technology, it can find and track an animal’s eye (which makes tracking a bird in flight effortless). I’ll have more to say about the camera and will provide more photos I took with it in the next blog (so please stay tuned).

Wrapping Up

For fun and as we wrap up, here’s a detail photo I took with the R5 of a young Brown Pelican as it flew beneath the Jordan Bridge in Chesapeake, VA on 3/16 (the overcast day). The background, a bridge pier, really brought out the bird’s colors. I posted the photo on FM Forums with these words: “I used a rented Canon EOS R5 to take the shot. I think that camera and this new tech is a game-changer. Not having to use an extender and being able to crop and still get detail like this is something else. I also love the ability to compose on the fly.” Maybe those words and this photo will further pique your interest.

Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican

And This Just In

Here’s how Arch from Virginia Beach sees Brown Pelicans. He watches them as he both walks and surf fishes. “Pelicans are probably my favorite bird. Pure aerodynamics in the feathers and wing structure.” 

Some people think Double-crested Cormorants look prehistoric. I’d argue Brown Pelicans look even more so.

Quip, Question, Quote

“The best way to hone your skills is to practice. A lot. Shoot as much as you can – it doesn’t really matter what [or when]. Spend hours and hours behind your camera. As your technical skills improve over time, your ability to harness them to tell stories and should too. Don’t worry too much about shooting a certain way to begin with. Experiment. Your style – your ‘voice’ – will emerge in time. And it will be more authentic when it does.” Leah Robertson, a documentary photographer based in Melbourne, Australia



2 thoughts on “From Birds to Photo Gear

  1. Dave,
    I’ve been thinking of a new camera to replace my Canon SX50 and I think this one (R5) might be the one. Most of my photos are of birds. I think your review was great. I will have to give the R5 a try.



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