Monday, March 15, 2010

Upland Bird Photography

Spring, from about now through May, is the best time to photograph upland birds (any bird for that matter). Because it's breeding season birds, especially males, make a point of dressing in their finest. With love on their minds males are far less cautious than usual and with a little planning and a lot of stealth you can often get right next to them...as was the case the day I shot this handsome male blue grouse.

While he strutted and clucked about a pine covered hillside here in southwest Montana, moving slowly I simply followed along clicking away as the opportunities arose. Certainly aware of my presence he acted oblivious was still doing his thing as I walked away after shooting several dozen frames.

Other's such as sharp-tailed and sage grouse act similarly oblivious as they strut about traditional "dancing grounds" (leks). In most cases even a two-ton pickup in their midst fails to draw much more than a cursory glance.

Turkey gobblers are a bit more cautious, less oblivious and some are downright difficult to approach. But set up a simple blind, put out a decoy or two and even Ol' Two Toes, reputed wariest Tom T. ever strutted is likely to come callin...especially later, once his gals have gone to nesting.

Regardless to get good photos usually means screwing on a telephoto lens...I shot the blue grouse with a 300mm f2.8 lens, mounted on a sturdy tripod. In this case because of the relative darkness beneath the pines even at midday the fast f2.8 lens allowed me to use a high enough shutter speed to stop whatever movement. Today's digital slrs boast an incredible range of ISOs. Which means you can ramp up the ISO to compensate for low light and still obtain decent noise free photos. In other words you can get away with slower lens.

High quality telephotos in the 200mm to 400mm range are both widely available and affordable. Aftermarket brands such as Tokina, Sigma and Tamaron get high marks for both quality and affordability...in most cases hundreds less than you'd expect to pay for, say, Nikon and Canon lenses.

As with most photographic subjects the closer you get the better but ethically speaking there is indeed a need to draw the line far enough away so as to not disrupt the bird's natural behavior.

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