Mid Nov 2016
Spoonbills, Herons and a Seagull
Mid Nov 2016
Spoonbills, Herons and a Seagull
The second Bird Photography Workshop was held at the Barwon Heads Community Arts Garden on 23rd October 2016. It dealt with two essential areas of bird photography.
The main topic was composition and in particular the unique challenges of composition for bird photography. It was intended to be an introduction to the key concepts of composition rather than a set of ‘tips’.
The second topic was ‘using panning to photograph birds in flight.
Composition includes all the things the photographer does to construct the image.
The contribution you make to composition before you start photographing involves the decisions you make as you see your subject for the first time. The bird may be a long way off or just a short distance away. As you approach the subject and eventually pick a spot to photograph from you will probably be:
The contribution you make to composition during the process of taking photographs involves
After (Post Production)
Birds can often be quite unpredictable.As a result quite a lot of your composition may have to happen after the image has been recorded. This frequently involves:
To explore composition fully, we need to talk about:
In other words: what generally works, how should it look and what are we aiming to achieve anyway?
There are a number of levels of complexity in composition. There are disturbingly few books which discuss photographic composition. Michael Freeman’s Book: The Photographer’s Eye [ilex Press 2007 ISBN-10:0-240-80934-3] is a notable exception. It deals with:
* While I recommend you look at the book, it is much longer than we have space for here. I is also a book about photography generally, not bird photography. The following are some observations in which I explore how the concepts raised in the book relate to bird photography.
Conventions aren’t rules but it is not unusual to hear people talking about them as if they were. Conventions are the way things are often done because they nearly always work pretty well.
You may have heard of ‘the rule of thirds’ or ‘the golden section’ they are useful guides to the first level of producing a pleasing composition.
The idea here is that images seem to work better if your subject is placed on one of the key intersections of an imaginary grid dividing up the frame. If the image is in the centre it can look static and lifeless. On the other hand placing it slightly to one side and part way up the frame can create a different dynamic which draws the eye into the subject and creates a subtle connection between the subject and the context that seems to work well.
Wikipedia explains the “rule of thirds” as the proposition that “an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections”
The golden ratio may at first seem very similar to the ‘rule of thirds’. It is in many ways a much more powerful guide to the way composition can be used to map a pathway for the eye to follow as it explores the image.
Just 2 days after our workshop was held the web-site “Bokeh- Digital Rev” published and interesting article entitled: Why The Golden Ratio Is Better Than The Rule Of Thirds
The article compares the two approaches. It is an interesting article. John Sparkman’s article is not about bird photography but it provides some important clues to great composition.
One of the limitations of the rule of thirds is that it does not provide much help with establishing the importance of rest of the image.
Of course there are other photographic tips and conventions. It is worthwhile searching the internet for these. A brief search is likely to produce several you may not have heard of like:
Here are some links:
This refers to how you alter things like perspective, patterns and texture to construct a particular aesthetic.
Perspective, is a powerful example of the use of design principles. Changing the height you are at can produce more effective images.
Example 1: Photos taken at the same height as the bird can take the viewer into the world of bird (lie down on the sand for a shorebird shot, for birds in flight, can you find a way to get up to their level?)
Example 2: Photos taken of a flock of birds will emphasise patterns and textures as design elements.
A key part of deciding what makes a successful composition is the graphic elements within the shot.
Example 1: When selecting images of a bird in flight, which wing position is most interesting? (Wings up, mid way, down?) Lets assume you have several images of the same bird in flight, as I did with the White-faced heron above. In this case I like the image with the wings at the mid point because of the shape it makes.
Example 2: If the bird is on a branch, is the pose of the bird OK? Sometimes other visual elements can complement the subject or it can be too distracting, despite the pose being good. When composing an image you need to consider:
This may mean that you adjust your angle of view to change the image slightly.
Birds can be extremely colourful. How their colours interact with the background is an essential part of composition. Showing the colour and the spectacle of different birds is one of the joys of great bird photography.
Colour plays a key role in the both the biology, and the identification of birds. It is also a key part of the mating displays of birds. The opportunity to capture the range of colours and the diversity of birds is one of the key attractions of bird photography.
One of the key components of a successful composition of a bird photograph is therefore how well it coveys the colours of the bird.
The double eyed fig parrot is a very small colourful Australian bird. The aim of the composition (left) is simply to show that.
We all admire photographs which have a strong artistic impact. In bird photography, photos that have an artistic impact are those which do one or more of the following:
If your photograph successfully communicates any one of these, then:
It is well worth considering what this means from a photographic point of view.
Camera shutters normally open for fractions of second but each photograph reflects all the experience as well as the history and the intent of the photographer
Not surprisingly, these components we have looked at so far, must all work together. The final phase is understanding photography as a process and its ability to change things.
This may seem like a bit of a side track but it is an important one because we take photography for granted but we shouldn’t. It has had a profound impact on us all.
In his book “Photography Changes Everything” Marvin Heiferman explores the impact of photography as a medium. In summary he explores the way it has changed:
It is worth considering how bird photography can and does play a significant role in any or all of the above. The answer may be different for each of us but asking the question is certainly worthwhile because it will help to establish why we do what we do.
Composition requires creativity and imagination.
Photography can offer feedback about composition, but it is too easy to overlook the messages. Analysing the feedback is the key to producing better results next time. There are several ways to get useful feedback. Personally I find printing is a surprisingly effective way of sifting through and deciding which images I really like. I mount my images on large pin-boards on my home as well as making frames for some. I also make calendars each year. Here are some tips on how to get feedback:
The following notes are the ones I handed out at the first bird photography workshop. I have kept to using dot points or short sentences. More detail was provided at the workshop. These notes should be seen as a summary, not a complete guide.
Designing the content for a bird photography workshop where people have vastly different levels of expertise is not an easy task. Where do you start? If you explain everything, there is a good chance it would be overwhelming for those not familiar with bird photography.
I chose to start with explaining the settings most commonly used by people when they first start off learning to photograph birds. I chose to talk about using aperture priority settings, because it is more likely to be successful and it is still my favourite shooting mode, because it works most of the time. Other settings, like manual setting of both shutter speed and aperture, may be more useful sometimes, but they require quite a lot more expertise, which is probably why it is popular with full-time professional photographers with years of experience.
If you missed the first workshop, but will be attending the second one on October 23rd you may find the notes useful as a rough guide to the topics we covered.
In this workshop, we look at the concepts every bird photographer should know. (See disclaimer)##
There are three key areas of equal importance: Settings, Sighting, and Shooting.
Before you even begin looking it is advisable to set up your camera to suit the task. There is almost never time to do so after you sight the birds. Here are the basic settings you should apply:
Once you arrive where you expect to find birds remember to be very quiet, to look around carefully and change the way you move. Slow movements are advisable.
For clothing: avoid colours, wearing muted colours or camouflage gear can help.
Be alert and look for:
Once you sight or hear a bird
Consider the light.
If the bird moves
Becoming proficient with the camera and lens combination requires practice, especially if the lens is long. Here are some useful tips:
Hand-holding the camera and lens
Using Tripod or Monopod
Focus on what?
Anticipation and follow-through
Types of shots
There are several types of shots
Some other things to consider are:
Auto Focus Notes:
Aperture Priority setting dials
Different camera brands use different names for Aperture Priority setting. Look for the one which applies to your camera brand.
|Canon & Pentax = Av||Nikon & Olympus = A|
|Aperture||Aperture – is an adjustable opening in the lens that controls how much light passes through it. Aperture controls two things:
1. How much of the image, from foreground to background, appears sharp.
2. It is also part of the exposure process.
Aperture is measured in a unit called f-stops, in which smaller numbers actually represent larger openings A small aperture (F11or F16) keeps the amount of light going through the lens small It will also mean more of the image appears sharp. This is good if that is what you want for the shot but not at all good if you want your subject to stand out against a nicely defocused background. To achieve this effect, use an aperture like F1.8 or F2.8. Both wide openings. The result will be that only the parts of image that you deliberately focus on will be in sharp.
|APSC||A type of DSLR that uses a reduced size sensor to reduce costs, size and weight.|
|DSLR||A DSLR is a digital camera combining the optics and the mechanisms of a single-lens reflex camera with a digital imaging sensor, as opposed to photographic film. The camera is designed to use a prism to let the photographer to see through the lens prior to pressing the shutter This feature uses a mirror which swings up and out of the way of the sensor fractions of a second before the shutter opens. It allows precise control of focus composition and the actual appearance of the image. The use of the prism design feature is the primary difference between a DSLR and other digital cameras.|
|Full frame (FX)||A type of DSLR that uses a full size sensor to provide maximum resolution in the 35 mm format.|
|ISO||The sensitivity of the image capture sensor to light. There is a set range for each camera. E.G. 100 – 64000. As sensor technologies and processing chips become more sophisticated, the ISO range expands. More recent cameras may have very high figures without noise problems.|
|LCD||A Liquid Crystal Display on the back of the camera that allows the photographer to see what has been recorded. It can be used to display other data and assist with setting control by displaying menu options.|
|Shutter speed||How quickly the shutter opens and closes again. A fast shutter speed would be 1/8000th of a second. A fast shutter speed will freeze the action. A slow shutter sped would be 1/30th of a second it will allow some of the action to be blurred.|
Topics for session 2 on October 23rd
AT this stage the plans for October 23rd are:
What further suggestions does the group have?
‘The coffee palace rose like a mirage from that space between river and sea the English language was pleased to call a mouth.
Rebecca rejoiced that she could picture it. Mr Rowntree’s description was precise. She loved the word mirage, instantly and completely, and the place it made for itself in the teacher’s new home. He wrote of the ferry that carried visitors from Barwon Heads to Ocean Grove, and the coaches that arrived from Geelong twice a day in the summer, and once a day all the year round. He wrote as though all Rebecca had to do was step aboard a coach and she would be transported to another world – which was no more, she believed, than the simple truth. Yet the teacher did not invite her to visit him at Barwon Heads.
He described the churches and the lending library. His school was set well back from the shore. She imagined it protected, warmer and less windy than the one at Kensington. She pictured the sons and daughters of selectors. There would be labourers on the larger farms. She smelt the warm bread he would provide at dinner-time, and saw him walking along the estuary at dusk. The tide drew back, leaving only the faintest of translucent washes on the sand.
The coffee palace fascinated Rebecca, who never tired of imagining the tennis courts and recreation rooms; the bathing boxes, where ladies changed before they bathed; the fishing boats and fishermen landing their catches on the jetty.
Mr Rowntree described the dining room, the crayfish that ladies and gentlemen ordered for their tea. Rebecca drew in a sharp breath at the cost, and stared until her eyes crossed at a Cobb&Co coach pulled up at the side entrance, at a girl’s foot in a shining boot about to alight.
A small, sharp triangle of river-sea, river where it met the sea, was visible from a corner of the dining room. Rebecca held her breath, taking in the diamond glitter. It was as though all the light of the world was held and transmitted through this one small, perfect prism.’
As part of the Barwon Estuary Project, Dorothy is running free creative writing classes for project participants in November and December 2016 and February 2017. See the Activities page on this site for further details.
Lake Conneware doesn’t fill up very often, but this year it’s again looking promising. The last time it reached what I would call a comfortable level for Spoonbills and Swans was in 2011/12.
The arrival of the Yellow-billed Spoonbill (Platalea flavipes) indicates that it’s a good year for the health of the lake and the estuary. Recently I’ve noticed them in and around local dams and waterways between Geelong and Barwon Heads. I’ve been photographing them off and on for a few years now.
Bird photography appeals to me because it provides an avenue for closer observation. I like the fact that when I photograph birds I can review the images later in more detail. Doing this allows me to confirm what I have seen and the opportunity to discover new things.
On the Yellow-billed Spoonbill, I especially like the fine black feathers on the back towards the tail and the gem-like clarity of the eyes when the sun strikes them from directly in front. Both features are impressive, especially when the light catches the bird from just the right angle.
Powerful binoculars or a good close up photo of the Spoonbill help the observer to make out the patterns and colours of its bill. It’s yellow with some pink markings for most of its length, but has a white section and a black line around the border of the face. The bill has a series of grooves along its length.
I like to stop by the side of the road when I see Yellow-billed Spoonbills. Often they are close to traffic like this one but completely unfazed by the rush of cars. When photographing them I approach carefully and try to avoid disturbing them. Sometimes I can get quite close without upsetting them at all.
I haven’t seen the Yellow-billed Spoonbills on the riverbank yet, this year, but I am hoping that they will eventually arrive. In late 2011 I saw one happily searching for food close to the Barwon Heads Road, accompanied by a Royal Spoonbill. Both varieties of Spoonbill love to feed in water that is around 20cm to 50cm deep. The edges of Lake Conneware provide an ideal feeding ground for them once it reaches that sort of level. With the rain this year, the lake is reaching the point where I fully expect to see both the Yellow-billed and the Royal Spoonbills (Platalea Regia) feeding happily.
Spoonbills are seldom seen feeding in large numbers. I have seen them in groups of two or three but never in large groups. It may be because of the way they feed. They seem to prefer to feed alone with only one or two others close by. Even when you see them with a group of Ibis, the Spoonbill will usually be on its own a short distance from the group.
The Royal Spoonbill is more common along the river in Barwon Heads, but it is much less common in small farm dams. I often see the Royal Spoonbills in pairs along the river. They like the mangrove areas. You can see them along the river at the end of Sheepwash Road, at low tide.
The Royal Spoonbill has some quite distinctive features. The bill is black and more heavily grooved than the Yellow-billed Spoonbill’s. The eyes are ruby red with a distinctive yellow mark or eyebrow and there is a small red patch at the top of its forehead.
During breeding times they have a crest of long flowing white head plumes.
As part of the Barwon Estuary Project, Martin Griffith conducts free Bird Photography workshops, focussing on the birds of the Estuary. For further information, or to register for the next workshop on Sunday 23 October 2-5 pm, email your contact details (name, address, mobile phone number) to firstname.lastname@example.org
Somehow, winter brings out the best in the Barwon Estuary. Local Facebook is awash with glorious landscapes of the estuary in a thousand shades of spirit lifting grey- soft sunsets pixelating off a rippling surface, quivering reflections of jetty pylons or a lone black swan silhouetted against the cold grey calm of day.
History has it that the black swan skins Joseph Banks presented in England in the late 18th century were thought to be fakes, a practical joke. The sensation caused by Bank’s ‘discovery’ of a black swan (yes all the other swans in the world are white) probably just underlined a rising stellar career. And why not? Swans are a seriously sexy bird.
They are large, jet black and with a bill of red so radiant that if it were a lipstick colour it would fall somewhere between “no daughter of mine is going out wearing that” and the Scarlett they named the woman after. On the water, swans segue between the aloof elegance of a European royal and the waif-like vacuity of a lingerie model and while take offs and landings may have all the drama of a drunk figure skater, only a throaty carnal honking can detract from the grace and majesty of swans in flight. And no-one is immune from going ooooh! at the sight of cygnets trailing in their mothers wake. Of course, Lake Connewarre is named for the bird.
Today black swan is one of our most conspicuous birds but in the middle of last century the birds numbered in their thousands and were considered a pest to agriculture in the region. According to a Geelong Advertiser article from 1961 an open season on swan accounted for up to ten thousand birds in the Geelong region but reported that thousands still remained. While their numbers may not be that high today it doesn’t stop the fact that swan poo remains interesting. The birds feed on sea grass grinding and masticating the tough aquatic rhizomes until excreting large pellets of pure-digested cellulose goodness for a host of tiny creatures to feast upon thus beginning a new branch of the food web. Black swan, sexy and useful.
The Barwon Estuary Project aims to increase our community’s knowledge and appreciation of the diversity and fragility of this environmental treasure. A year long program of workshops, guided walks, lectures, forums and citizen science is being organised. A guided walk on the history, flora and water of the estuary is planned for Sunday 14th August 2-4pm. For all bookings and enquiries contact us at: email@example.com
Please contribute your Estuary observations (photos, writing, artwork) by emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org
They will be uploaded to this page and you may be approached for permission to use your work in an upcoming Journal of the Barwon Estuary.
Please include your name, email address, phone number and the subject, location and date of the work.
Soldier crabs in Barwon Estuary
Photographer: Ros Gibson