Birds can be Art

It’s not always the case that wildlife images have to show either the animal in its habitat or the tack sharp detail of the creature for the purpose of identification. Neither does it have to be that once in a lifetime action shot. Wildlife can also be seen as an art form representing the animal/s as we would not normally perceive them, yet at the same time instinctively know what the image is ‘about’.

The classic example is the pleasing blur which gives both an impression of the animal that is unmistakeable and a feeling of movement. However, for many folk the idea of a deliberately blurred image seems almost counter-intuitive. But if we think about sports images of, say, motor racing then it is quite common for photographers to deliberately create images showing the speed of the vehicle by either a blurred background or a blurred racing car. These types of images are made purely to create (in the viewer) the feeling of the speed/action of the racetrack. And it works very successfully. So why shouldn’t we apply the same thinking to wildlife?

So how do we do it? Below I give 4 quick tips that may help you. I’m not suggesting that it’s ‘my way or the highway’, rather it’s just a few things that work for me:

  1. Light: Keep things simple! Ligfht has to be right…too little and slow shutter speeds might clash with exposure. Too much light and the same thing happens. I usually choose early morning or late afternoon light that is flat to minimise shadow because too bright or too dark tends to over emphasise shadow and I struggle to lift them in post-production… often resulting in excessive noise.
  2. Slow shutter speed: This is often trial and error. Test shots are an absolute must. But if the light isn’t just right and stable then it’s a bit like chasing rainbows…constantly having to change the exposure triangle. This is the great advantage of shooting in flat light: you have time on your side because the light changes very little and usually very slowly.
  3. Panning: Again, this is a bit of trial and error…trying to strike the right balance so that you get the feeling of speed whilst maintaining decent resolution of what the animal actually is. Test shots are a must. Parallel panning is also a must and that’s why I always shoot with a tripod set to horizontal panning only. And don’t over pan…keep your sensor parallel to the subject.
  4. Choice of subject: Ideally you want your subject moving in a straight line. This avoids vertical blur. Birds that move in straight horizontal lines are ideal. Either left to right or right to left. I would advise creating images of animals you know well in terms of their behaviour. This gives you an obvious advantage: you don’t have to wonder what’s going to happen because your experience of animal behaviour eliminates the guesswork. This allows you to concentrate on creating the image. You become proactive rather than reactive.

Give it a go… You may surprise yourself. You’ve got nothing to lose, and you may create that ‘killer’ image that everyone admires.

Happy snappin’ folks

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