Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Lucky Bird Photos

photo by Ernie Hoffert.

I am a novice when it comes to bird photography. I keep telling myself that one of these days I'm really going to bear down and LEARN how to use my fancy digital camera. Of course that will mean finding the uninterrupted time to read through the manual and the books I've bought--books specifically written for digital photography mouth-breathers like me.

After 20 years of choosing images for Bird Watcher's Digest I know what a good photograph is in terms of focus, exposure, composition, and content. But knowing what a good photo IS and TAKING a good photo are two completely different things.

With the digital revolution in cameras, computers, software, and the associated technologies, anyone with a couple of thousand extra dollars can buy the high-end consumer (often called "pro-sumer"--a blend of the words consumer and professional) cameras and lenses needed to take superior photographs. Some of my professional bird photography contacts are really bummed that it is now so easy to take "publishable" bird images. The technology that goes in to our modern cameras makes them so much easier to use, you can practically point and shoot and get doggone good photos. Auto focus, image stabilization, all kinds of pre-fab settings for certain situations, the ability to see the image you just took on the camera's small color monitor...it's the golden age of nature photography!

Back in ye olde days of yore a person wanting to become a gifted nature photographer had to spend years honing the craft. Cameras shot film. Settings were manual. Just seeing what your images looked like often took weeks while you waited for the processing house to develop your film into prints or slides.

My kids cannot understand this. They grew up in the era of "Let me see what that picture looks like!" Whoops! Aunt Fleda's eyes are closed and Papaw's fly is open. Let's see if we can reverse those two problems and take another shot!
How the world has changed.

Taking good bird photos is not hard. Taking GREAT bird photos is still pretty hard. It still requires lots of skill, a depth of knowledge about your gear, and being in the exact right place at the right time. I have little skill, shallow knowledge of my camera and lenses, and very little time afield, typically.

But every so often I get lucky.

So I am starting a new irregularly appearing feature here on BOTB, called Lucky Bird Photos. Now with my being a editur you might think I'd give this feature a name that did not make it sound like the birds were the lucky ones. But no, I did not even think of that. These will all be bird photos that I got because of pure luck. No skill, no years of experience, no personal sacrifice or physical trauma. Just luck.

Here's installment number 1. A winter willet I photographed last January on the edge of Titusville, Florida. It was coming in for a landing and I just pointed and shot. No planning. No creeping up stealthily. No aiming. No futzing with the dials and knobs. Click! Nice! Lucky!

Winter -plumages willet showing its best field marks.

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