Category Archives: Thrushes

Photographing Wood Thrushes – Correcting Mistakes in White Balance

Photographing Wood Thrushes

Wood Thrushes tend to be very camera shy. I was familiar with their captivating flute like spring songs (filled with low mellow notes and high pitched trills) long before I connected the voice with the vocalist. It wasn’t until we installed a fountain near our deck that I realized that these handsome birds must spend the summer nesting and foraging in our back woods. NOTE: I’ve photographed the migrating  Veery Thrush and Swainson’s Thrush as they were passing through our yard, but never a resident Wood Thrush.

Around evening’s twilight, four or five Wood Thrushes would quietly congregate at the fountain after all the other bird species had left. At first, just a bold and curious few came. They did not scatter or even flinch when the flash went off. I could see a few more of their wary companions hiding in the dimness beyond the fountain. It was a thrill to watch and photograph them.

Photo of Wood Thrush
Wood Thrush
ISO400; f/9; 1/250 Second

Combining Ambient Light with Flash

When I took these photos of the Wood Thrushes, the camera’s ISO registered at ISO 12000, so I used the telephoto flash. It was simply too late in the day to rely only on the diminishing ambient light.

Combining ambient light and telephoto flash can cause color temperature imbalances and throw off white balance. It’s an easy enough fix if you shoot in RAW and train yourself to be attentive to it in post processing.

Photo of Wood Thrush
Wood Thrush
Gathering in the Evening.
Overall a good image, except for the Unsightly
Lens Flare right of center.
ISO400; f/9; 1/250 Second

Realistic Color Rendition

Once in a while, I go through my images in Lightroom to review, organize, delete and otherwise cleanup my stash of digital photos. One of the most common post processing mistakes I find are those related to white balance. Time after time, I unconsciously skip over or ignore an unnatural color portrayal in my images, even if it is clearly not a realistic rendition of the color at the scene. I think this is not an uncommon oversight for photographers, despite how fast and easy it is to test for and fix white balance problems in camera and in post processing.

Consider:

  • Programmed “presets” (auto, incandescent, fluorescent, flash, cloudy, open shade, sunny) are white balance correction processes that are built into the camera and do a precise job of rectifying white balance for most lighting situations.
  • White balance fixing algorithms built into post processing software are, for the most part, amazingly accurate. If tonality of an image seems “off”, correction is wide open in post because all color data has been retained (assuming you shoot in RAW).
  • Information about balancing light is probably one of the most published photographic fixes on the web.
  • The Live View function on your DSLR camera can give you a real time comparison of the impact that white balance will have on your images. With the camera set to Live View, you can flip through the various light balance settings (auto, incandescent, fluorescent, flash, cloudy, open shade, sunny) and observe in real time how the different color casts will look before you take the shot.

Quick Tutorial in Correcting White Balance

To achieve proper white balance is to remove unrealistic color. Your goal is to “fix” the color temperature of the light source and thereby correct warming and cooling color tones that don’t belong.

Most post processing programs have a white balance correction tool. Lightroom provides an icon that looks likes an tiny eye-dropper.

  1. Make sure the white balance is set to AS SHOT– so all previous attempts to correct WB are erased.
  2. Find a neutral color that you know to be true… a light gray or white component in your photo. This is your sample of realistic color upon which all color correction will be based.
  3. Activate the eye dropper (white balance selector tool) by clicking it on. Use this tool to hover over that neutral gray/white space in your photo, and watch the live preview of the white balance adjustments in the Navigator Panel. Once you touch down the eye dropper onto the image, temperature and tint functions automatically adjust the rest of the color in the photo.
Photo of Wood Thrush
Wood Thrush
Getting ready to Lift off.
ISO400; f/8; 1/250 Second

A Problem of Perception

Color Realism should be the “first things first” job in post. It’s essentially a problem of perception – one that (at times) needs more than the naked eye to see.

Photographing a Veery Thrush – Understanding Burst Modes

Photographing A Veery Thrush

I was very pleased to spot this Veery Thrush in our yard, if only momentarily, because this species is a rather infrequent visitor here. They forage like Robins, on the ground flipping over leaf debris to uncover insects and worms underneath. According to E-bird, Veery Thrushes spend their winters only in Central and Southern Brazil and nest throughout Michigan, in the Northern US, and Southern Canada. This was my first photographic encounter, and it was made to order.

This handsome, cinnamon brown thrush first appeared on a branch near our dining room window. I hurried to the library door, then abruptly changed my pace and posture so that I was tiptoeing slowly and ducking down so as not to startle him as I made my way to the camera. (NOTE: I did this despite every instinct inside urging me to hurry before he flew off.) Once I reached the camera, all I had to do is point, lock focus and burst away.

Photo of Veery Thrush
Veery Thrush
ISO1600; f/7.1; 1/640 Second

What is Bursting?

The FPS (Frames per Second) is the speed at which the camera shutter mechanism can take uninterrupted shots. The Burst Rate specifies how many uninterrupted shots the shutter mechanism can discharge without slowing down.

FPS and Bursting are all about how fast and how many- and that means that DSLR cameras must have fast processing power and design logistics calculated to eliminate bottlenecks.

Advantages of Bursting

  • Bursting can be useful and fun..and for the most part, it’s FREE.
  • In bird photography, you just don’t know how long your subject will stay put.  Bursting allows you to capture many images in seconds.
  • Bursting is essential to record a sequence and tell a story – during a period that is most likely to be a brief and rare opportunity.
Veery Thrush
Veery Thrush
ISO800; f/7.1; 1/500 Second

Some Things to Consider when Bursting

  • Inherent mechanical limitation of camera’s shutter device. (NOTE: My cameras’  shutters are rated at 150,000 actuations.)
  • Data processing speed of camera’s processor.
  • Within one burst, no adjustments can be made to aperture and shutter settings.  (As you can see in the notes below the photos, the shutter speeds are different for the photos….. which means that these photos were taken in separate bursting sessions.)
  • Continuous bursts will capture a lot of identical photos- unless the action is really fast.
  • Max burst and FPS touted by camera manufacturer will slow if your shutter is set to a slower speed.
  • If you’ve got 2 memory cards installed and/or are writing to 2 memory cards, processing will slow down.
  • If your camera is set to RAW; processing will take longer to move through the much larger files.
  • If the camera stops, it has most likely reached a bottleneck due to an overload of files, or does not have enough battery power to proceed.
  • Slower memory cards with limited read/write speeds will create bottlenecks.
  • A half charged battery will slow down processing…. and the battery will drain quickly if bursting continues.
  • Whenever a camera has to re-meter and/or re-focus, bursting slows down. (In Canon cameras, AlServo auto focus will slow down fps- especially if it must keep trying to lock focus.)
  • The hidden cost with bursting: The photographer must devote lots of time in post processing to review all those images.
  • Bursting often places the photographer in “auto mode”, where the discipline to capture outstanding bird images may be put on hold.
  • Ultimately the burst will stop… no matter the sophistication of the camera.

Choices – How Fast?  How Quiet?

Assuming a bird photographer has a DSLR camera designed to burst and then move data through fast, there are also choices about what burst mode is best for bird photography. You can choose between High Speed Continuous and Low Speed Continuous burst mode…. or really slow down and choose Silent High Speed Continuous or Silent Low Speed Continuous burst mode.

I use to think that the louder shutter slapping sound would scare away birds, so I always set the camera to Silent Continuous burst mode. I don’t do that anymore because the silent modes are not noiseless. When set to Silent HS continuous or Silent LS continuous, the striking sound is a muffled slap..definitely more diminished, but you and the birds will most certainly hear it.

When to Use Bursting

When I first spot a bird, I always assume that the encounter will be fleeting.  My camera is usually set to Low Speed Continuous Burst Mode, just in case I need it. Once I lock focus on a bird, I press and hold the shutter down and hear that machine-gun staccato burst from my shutter mechanism. If the bird does not fly away, I am more judicious as to how much I use bursting.

Depending on the scenario, the bird photographer must decide. Will I end up with more usable bird images with or without the camera set to burst mode?

Photo of Oven Bird Warbler

Photographing an Oven Bird Warbler in the Brambly Wood

Photographing an Oven Bird

Deep within the dense brambly Allegan forest, I found an enclave of warbler species that could scarcely be seen dodging in and out of the foliage. In this rich space, I saw flashes of blue winged warblers, yellow rumped warblers, yellow warblers and chestnut-sided warblers identifiable (just barely) through my dark, noisy and blurry photos.

Photo of Oven Bird Warbler
Oven Bird Warbler, Finally Showing Himself (mostly).
ISO1600; f/8; 1/1250 Second

ID Photos

As it is with most of my surprise bird encounters, my 500 mm lens with 1.4 extender was resting on the car door. The tall grasses in front of the dense brush were a hindrance to locking down focus. I took as many shots as the lens would allow, mainly trying to get a closer, identifiable look at what was hiding in there.

Thankfully, one brave warbler was curious enough to come out into the open long enough for me to get off a burst. The Oven Bird Warbler.

A Ground Foraging Warbler

A stocky warbler with dark streaking spots on its breast, the Oven Bird looks and acts more like the larger Swainson’s Thrush. Its wing and back feathers are a dull brown-olive color. A reddish brown crown bordered by two stripes sits on his head.

This warbler gets its name from the domed shaped (oven-like) nest it builds amongst the decaying leaves, moss, and grasses near roots and fallen trees. Like all warblers, (and some bird photographers) the Oven Bird abandons Michigan for warmer winter climates.

Achieving Focus Lock

A major challenge on this shoot was locking down focus. I had the focus limiter switch on my Canon 500mm 4.0L II IS USM telephoto lens set for the longest available focusing distance. Consequently, the lens took way too much time hunting back and forth from “4.5 m to infinity”.  I quickly changed the switch on the lens barrel to the “10m to infinity” setting. The hunt time was reduced substantially because the lens no longer tried to focus on the tall grasses closest to the camera.

Photo of Oven Bird Warbler
Oven Bird Warbler
Looking Vulnerable and New; Perhaps a Juvenile.
ISO2000; f/8; 1/1250 Second

Revisit this Enclave with Video

As much as I love photographing warblers, it’s hard to get photos with beautiful creamy backgrounds because of all that brambly wilderness in the spaces they call home. Since the warblers are mostly uncooperative about posing on perches in prime locations, I’ve considered mixing things up next time by turning on the little used video component on my fancy cameras.

Turning on the video component on both of my cameras (Canon 5D MarkIII and Canon 7D Mark II) is easily done with a flip of the switch. But sadly, a camera resting on the window of the car door is not a steady enough mount to engage video. Shaky videos just make me nauseous.  To do it right means waiting for a windless day and setting up the camera and lens on my most sturdy tripod.  Shutting off the audio component is a must because 1) the little mic on the camera is substandard, making audio an irritating distraction and 2) the bird will likely not vocalize much this time of year.

So, my mission in the next few weeks is to research how best to video birds and then make a good video of the the migrating warblers who stop to rest and replenish in our yard.

I’ve got a lot of research to do.

Read this post to learn more about locking down focus.

Read this post about photographing the Swainson’s Thrush.

 

Photo of Swainson's Thrush

Photographing a Migrating Swainson’s Thrush

Photographing the Swainson’s Thrush on His Spring Migration

photo of Swainson's Thrush
Swainson’s Thrush
ISO1600; f/4.5; 1/400 Second

Migration Photography

So many birds on their way to someplace else. Last Fall, I saw and photographed 28+ avian migrators as they stopped to rest and replenish (and pose for the camera) in our yard. My library windows have been open for a few weeks now, with 2 cameras at the ready, but visitor activity is minimal. It’s already the 4th week in May, late in the migration season, and I’m wondering if I should abandon my library viewing area and head out to the Allegan State Game Area in search of nesting activity. Fellow birders report seeing a variety of rarities, like the Yellow Headed Blackbird, the White Eyed Vireo, the Short Billed Dowitcher, Mississippi Kite, and the Yellow Breasted Chat, all dressed in their Spring splendor. No such luck for me.

Best not to get spoiled when pursuing the art of bird photography. After all, the trees have not been barren of transients. So far, I have been able to see and photograph (all or parts of) 17 familiar migrators passing through. Most of these actively hid from the camera and peeked at me (or my bird blind) warily.

Close Camera Encounter with a Swainson’s Thrush

One exception was this little Swainson’s Thrush, who posed in full view and close to my 500mm lens. Swainson’s Thrushes often pass through our lakeshore migratory route on their way to nest in the UP, Canada, Alaska, Northwest United States and the upper New England states. Not a new bird for me, but he was very welcome nonetheless.

Like most birds, this migrator often hides in the shadows. I heard his captivating flutelike song before he graced me by flying in right in front of the camera. He stayed only a few minutes, long enough for 25+ shots, and then he was gone.

Photo of Swainson's Thrush
Swainson’s Thrush
ISO1250; f/4.5; 1/400 Second

Capturing the Moment

During this time of year, it’s hard to overestimate the part dumb luck plays when encountering and photographing transient birds. This is true even though there are literally billions of birds migrating through. Of course, regardless of luck, a photographer still has to be ready if she hopes to beautifully capture the moment. Being ready takes hard work, persistence, experience, quiet anticipation, good equipment, patience and most especially, quality of light.

Migration – A Wondrous Phenomenon

There is surely no bird photography experience more thrilling than nailing it…having the camera set up and pointed in the right place at the right time to capture and preserve the memory of a migrating bird before they are gone into the vastness. Migration surely is a wondrous phenomenon.

To see photos of the migrating birds that I was able to photograph in our yard this Spring and last Fall, please visit this Flickr link.

Photo of Eastern Bluebird

Photographing Eastern Bluebirds Attending to Their Young

Photographing Hard Working Bluebird Parents

Raising 2-3 clutches of baby bluebirds each summer is no job for slackers. First, there’s the 12-18 days devoted to incubation…. a quiet time. Once the eggs hatch, both of the devoted parents spend all of their waking hours warding off predators and competitors, gathering insects and fruit to feed the hatchlings and hauling out waste (fecal sacs) from the nest. Each clutch of babies makes its demands for 16 -21 days. After that, they are mature enough to leap and soar, never to return to the nest- tho the parents still bring food to them in the trees.

Photo of Female Blue Bird
Female Bluebird with Food for Young. She did Perch on the Raspberry
Brambles Before Bringing Her Catch to her Fledglings.
ISO 1600; f/9.0; 1/1600 Second
Photo of Female Bluebird Feeding Young
Female Bluebird Feeding her Insistent Young.
ISO 1600; f/8.0; 1/800 Second

Equipment Setup

I set up my tripod early one morning near the bird houses after navigating a formidable field of raspberry brambles gone wild. The backdrop was beautiful, full of lilac bushes and pine trees. To capture that background, the bluebirds would have to perch (fairly close) on one of the tall raspberry stalks before taking the food to the fledglings. This happened only once.

It was a rather low light day which made for nice balanced morning light and no harsh shadows. Sadly, there was not quite enough light to get the depth of field I needed and still keep the ISO below 1000. The bluebirds were cautiously watchful – but persistent in their duties, so I was able to get quite a few photos of feeding activity.

NOTE: This field of brambles was also the territory of a curious field sparrow who was much bolder and willing to pose for this photographer. Field sparrows are not cavity nesters and did not bother the bluebird parents. He just sang his heart out while they worked.

Photo of Female Bluebirds Feeding Young
Female Bluebird Coming in With Food Supplies.
ISO 1250; f/9.0; 1/2000 second
Photo of Male and Female Bluebirds
Both Male and Female Bluebirds Arriving at the Nest at the Same Time with Insects for Their Young
ISO 1600; f/9.0; 1/2500 Second
Closeup of Male Bluebird Bringing Insects to Young
Close up of Male Bluebird Collecting Insects For His Young.
Notice the Tick Attached Right Below the Neck.
ISO 1250; f/8.0; 1/1250 Second
Photo of Baby Bluebird
Baby Bluebird Getting Up the Courage to Leap and Soar From the Nest.
ISO 2000; f/9.0; 1/2000 Second

Photographing Cavity Nesters

Eastern bluebirds are cavity nesters, which means they build their nests in a chamber or cavity. The Michigan DNR pairs 2 blue bird houses per location in the prairie areas of the Allegan State Game Area. Blue birds are highly territorial. If a second male bluebird is foolish enough to try to establish a nest in the same location, the male of the first house will aggressively chase the second male away. Other cavity nesting species like house wrens or swallows will fight bluebirds over a single nesting box. This strategy will often bring two different cavity nesting species together, minimizing competition and avoiding a possible war over housing.  See this link for another post and more photos of Eastern Bluebirds

Attracting Eastern Bluebirds

Over the last few decades, nesting habitat for cavity nesters has been depleted. To support the local population, the DNR sets up and maintains nest boxes in the Allegan SGA. To attract bluebirds, placement of the bluebird houses must be in a habitat and location that is suitable. Predatory controls, proper ventilation and drainage holes must be built into the design. Like most nest boxes, bluebird houses must be regularly monitored and have accessible doorways for opening and cleaning. Information on selecting the right nest box can be found at this link.

 

Photo of Scrub Jay in Flight

Motion Blur in Wild Bird Photography

Capturing Action with Fast Shutter Speeds

I generally crank the shutter speed way up when photographing birds in flight, just to freeze action all the way to the wingtips. My thinking is that time is short, and I won’t have another chance with this bird scene to get it right. I probably over-compensate with shutter speeds that are too fast because I’ve been burned so many times with blurred shots.

Motion Blur is Not A Weakness

But motion blur is not a weakness in wild bird photography. On the technical end, gauging what you want in focus and what you want blurred takes keen observation, lots of practice, and being more purposeful. If you can stop overcompensating with the fast shutter speeds, you will have more creative flexibility with aperture and ISO settings, and probably better bird photographs.

If you agree that ascetically, motion blur does add drama to a wild bird photo, that blurred wings make the shot feel more true to life, dynamic, and exciting, then it is a skill worth practicing.

Capturing Movement: Large Birds v Small Birds

I found that a shutter speed in the range of 1/2000 second – 1/3000 second is a good starting point to capture motion blur in the wings of small birds while at the same time keeping other body parts, especially the eyes and head, tack sharp. This shutter range is just a starting point, a guideline. Wingtip blur is a relative and creative term, subject to artistic judgment. The shutter speed you set will impact what is blurred, how much it is blurred, and the effect that blur has on the photo.

Larger birds tend to fly more slowly and flap their wings less. You can count the ups and downs of a heron’s wings in flight – 3 or 4 per second-at most. Plus, large birds use their expansive wings to glide more, thereby reducing the wing movement. The photographer doesn’t necessarily need a fast shutter speed to get the shot, just excellent panning skills to track the large birds as they fly by.

Consequently, larger birds in flight can be photographed at much slower shutter speeds, as low as 1/800 second or 1/1000 second, depending on the motion on which they are captured. Conversely, you visually can’t count the number of times a smaller bird flaps its wings…..way too fast and too numerous to count and capture with a slower shutter speed. Plus, little birds unpredictably flit and flutter every which way. Slow shutter speeds in the 1/800 second – 1/1000 second range are out of the question in most instances for photographing small, flying birds.

Three Different Degrees of Motion Blur

Below are photos of 3 small birds in flight (scrub jay, eastern bluebird, savannah sparrow) showing sharp facial features and blurred wingtips. The blurring is least noticeable in the wings of the gliding scrub jay and most pronounced in the wings of the erratically flying savannah sparrow.

Of course, other camera settings besides shutter speed can impact blur, most especially your aperture setting, focal length of the lens, and distance the photographer is to her subject.  To read more about these settings, see the post at this link.

Photo of Scrub Jay in Flight
A Scrub Jay with a Mouth Full of Corn – Slight Motion Blur on the Wings -Otherwise Sharp Focus.
ISO 200; f/4.5; 1/2500 second

 

Photograph of Eastern Blue Bird in Flight
Eastern Blue Bird in Flight, Slowing Down Upon Reaching his Nest.
Substantial Blur on the Wings, Despite the Fast Shutter Speed.
ISO 300; f/2.8; 1/3200 Second

 

Photo of Savannah Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow in Flight- Wings Heavily Blurred. There are a lot of visual problems with this photo, unsightly shadows, clipped highlights, background distractions. The heavily blurred wings are one of the few things I like about this photo.
ISO 500; f/7.1; 1/2000 Second

 

Pre-visualizing Before You Take The Photograph

Making judgments about how you want the photo to look before you take the shot is a skill worth developing. It means that you are pre visualizing….thinking, experimenting, calculating, and predicting how that photo will turn out. It takes you into the realm of new possibilities, and better bird photography.

 

Photo of Eastern Bluebird

Photographing Eastern Bluebirds in Winter

DSLR Camera Basics in the Winter

Most cameras operate perfectly fine in frigid conditions, even the dangerously cold polar vortex conditions that Michigan and the midwest have been suffering through this winter. I think the hardest part is not worrying about the electronics of the the camera (although I like to think that is what’s keeping me inside on some days), but motivating the bird photographer to get out there and photograph birds.

Birds are Highly Adapted to Surviving in the Cold

Once I am all bundled up and have taken the usual winter-guard precautions to take my equipment outside, I’m usually glad I ventured out. I stop thinking about me and focus on watching and photographing small birds in winter survival mode. Despite their small size and lack of fur, wild birds in Michigan are highly adapted (physically and behaviorally) to surviving and thriving in severely cold weather. Melissa Mayntz does an excellent job outlining these adaptations at this link.

An Unexpected Photographable Moment

Through my viewfinder, I panned the arctic tundra-like scene that is currently the Lake Michigan shoreline. It looked like a habitat suited to polar bears, so I was very surprised to find eastern bluebirds, fluffing their feathers and shivering to insulate themselves against the buffeting and brutally cold winds. No insects or fresh fruit to be had in the winter, so these bluebirds were picking the seeds and berries from the bright sumac bushes that grow on the dune.

Photo of Eastern Bluebird in Winter
Eastern BlueBird Subsisting on Sumac Seeds During a Cold, Brutal Winter.
ISO 1000; f/7.1; 1/1250 Second

Winter Photography in Michigan

There are a few advantages that winter can bring to the art of photography, if you can convince yourself to bundle up and get out in the cold. Here are my most motivating reasons:

  • Winter brings crisp, clear air. There’s very little pollen or other plant debris floating in the air in the winter – leading to outstanding image clarity.
  • Reflective snow adds a soft light – even on the dreariest days.
  • The sun is much lower on the horizon in the winter, helping to avoid the worst of the overhead harsh shadows so common in the summer season.
  • I can get up late in the morning and still have time to get outside and take advantage of complementary light.  😎
Photo of Eastern Bluebird on Sumac
Eastern Bluebird Atop A Sumac Flower – Emergency Sustenance During A Cold Winter
ISO 1250; f/7.1; 1/1600 Second

Photographing Migratory Birds That Do NOT Fly South

I wonder why I’ve never noticed eastern blue birds in the winter here in Michigan. Apparently, my assumption that these lovely, insect eating birds all migrated south in November and returned in the Spring trumped my observations skills, until now. Clearly there have always been a few fearless, non-migrating stragglers who linger, foraging fruit, nuts, berries and seeds. Makes me hopeful for more surprises. I just might be lucky enough to find other wild migratory birds this winter that did not fly south.

Photograph of Blue Bird in Flight

Photographing the Eastern Blue Bird

Early Morning Blue Bird Photography

When I wake up early on a summer’s morning, bird song is all around. I always assumed that birds started their busy days at the crack of dawn,worked all day, and settled down for the night shortly after sunset.

Of course,I wanted to capture the soft, golden glow of  early morning light in my photos, so I too got up before the crack of dawn and was on location with my camera, ready to photograph these early risers.  Well, eastern blue birds do NOT get up at dawn or anywhere close to dawn. I was out there at least 3 mornings before 6:00 am, but it was just me and the mosquitos. The blue birds came around at a more civilized hour. 8:00 am and sometimes later.

Invaluable Assistance for This Photographer

Blue bird photograph, Blue Bird Clinging to Blue Bird House
This Blue Bird Kept His Eye on the Camera. Note the Dark Shadow Under his Beak From the Harsh Morning Sun.

First of all, I would not be photographing these blue birds at all if it wasn’t for Marv. Marv put up the blue bird house in a blue bird acceptable location, discouraged the attempts of other birds to nest there and attached cups of dried mealworms and water to help them along.

Soon enough, because of Marv’s diligence, there were 2 adult bluebirds and 5 eggs (4 of which hatched) residing in the bird house. NOTE: The birdhouse had a side door through which we occasionally peeked to see the progress of the babies.

Multiple Photography Sessions to Photograph Eastern Blue Birds

My goal was to photograph the blue birds every few days, to the point where the babies were able to leave the nest.  It’s a short window of approximately 16-22 days from hatching time to independence.

At least 3 of those sessions were in the morning. Since blue birds do not rise early, I was unable to take advantage of the drama that comes with light low on the horizon. By 8:00 am there were distinct shadows on the  birdhouse, by 9:00 am, harsh shadows were visible.

Too Close for Comfort to Blue Birds

I attached my blue tooth shutter remote and backed away as far as the blue tooth signal would allow. I brought a stool and sat down with remote in hand around 20 feet from the birdhouse. The blue birds did come, but every 30-40 minutes or so. They didn’t seem to mind the camera, but they were very suspicious of me on my stool out there in the open.

The blue birds were not as wary of Marv’s presence, so I assumed it was just a matter of time before they got use to me. They did not.

Photograph of Male Bluebird about to Feed Fruit to Baby
This Male Blue Bird is about to Feed Fruit to One of his Brood, But First Turns a Wary Eye to the Camera

Birds seem to be less suspicious of cars. Since those fledglings clearly needed to be fed more than once or twice every half hour, I decided to park my car as close as I needed to for the bluetooth signal to work and sit in the car with the remote. This worked much better. The birds came every 5-10 minutes with fruit and big insects in their beaks to feed their brood.

Vary the Camera Settings during a BlueBird Photo Shoot

I believe it’s best to vary the settings on the camera’s focus, shutter, aperture, and camera location during a shoot. That means getting out of the car as often as you can to make the adjustments.

I like the variety that comes with experimenting with the settings, distance and angle of the camera to the subjects. If you set the camera up and just leave it, without taking some time to check the results in the display, you may end up at the end of your session with a bunch of out of focus shots.

Photograph of Landing BlueBird
The Male Eastern Blue Bird -Touchdown at the Blue Bird House With Food In Beak

Camera Placement for Blue Bird Photography

I set up my tripod, with the camera and 300mm lens as close as I could with that lens. As usual, my back was to the sun. Even tho I have spot light metering on my camera, I always avoid facing the camera toward harsh sunlight, unless there’s a source of shade over my subject.

Shade allows much more flexibility when setting up a scene to photograph.  If it’s there, always take advantage of it.

Focus and Shutter

The camera is set to focus mostly on the spot, in this case, the entrance to the bird house. Since I wanted action shots, and the camera was situated so that my subject took up approx 1/3 of the viewfinder, I did not use spot focus. I widened the area of focus and set it for Al Servo to let the camera make some of the focusing decisions.

I set the camera to shutter preferred mode and varied it from 1/1000/second to 1/3500/second, using the higher shutters speeds to capture the in flight comings and goings of the blue birds.

Photographing Birds with the Continuous Shooting Setting

I set the camera for continuous shooting instead of single shot shooting. This setting allows the camera to get off 2-4  shots with one press of the remote. You have to be prudent with continuous shooting. Eventually, the camera has to stop shooting so it can save the images to the compact disk. This takes time, especially if you are shooting in RAW format. You may miss some shots while the camera is saving your previous shots.

If the action is non stop, and you want to work that continuous shutter, remember to set the camera for JPG setting instead of RAW. The JPG file size is much smaller, and takes less time to record on to the disk.

Photograph of Blue Bird in Flight
Blue Bird In Flight, with Food, Heading to the Feeder. A Fast Shutter Speed, AlServo Focusing, and Continuous Shooting all Contributed to This Shot.

Female Blue Bird

After the evening of my 3rd shoot, Marv reported that he found a female blue bird dead in the parking lot, reason unknown. I hoped it wasn’t the female to this nest, but it soon became evident that it was. I wondered if the male would give up, unable to handle the double duty, and abandon the nest. Instead, he stepped up to the task. Marv started leaving more dried meal worms in the cup. I left the nest alone for 5 days and when I returned, I put more distance between the camera and the bird house.

Male BlueBird Cleaning Nest
Despite Having to Feed and Care for 4 Fledglings by Himself, this Male Blue Bird Still Has Time to Tidy the Nest.

Get in and Get Out to Minimize Disturbing the BlueBirds

Occasionally the male blue bird would dive-bomb me during my camera/tripod initial setup. NOTE: He never dive-bombed Marv. He swooped in pretty low, clearly aiming at me and not the camera. He did not bother me when I got out of the car to make camera adjustments.

Knowing that this single parent was doing double duty, I made sure that my setup was mostly finished before I packed the trunk. It was just a matter of pull out and place at location.

I learned alot about blue birds, and once again have an urge to compare the behaviors of this single parent blue bird to humans. But I won’t.