Several springs ago while topping up the feeders at my bird feeding station, I arrived to find half a dozen hens and a cock pheasant crowded around the base of the feeder picking up the seeds that had fallen from above. Previously, I had only photographed pheasants from a hide or from a vehicle, rarely as the prime target but as something to shoot (pardon the pun!) while waiting for the intended quarry, notably smaller birds and squirrels. It occurred to me that here was an opportunity to take advantage of their relative tameness and to obtain images that were a little different to the norm.
The closest I could approach at this point was about 10 metres, far too distant for what I was after. So, every morning, I would jump over the gate, shake my bag of bird feed and sprinkle it in the area where the pheasants frequented most. After a week I could get to within 5 metres and after 2 weeks, within 1 metre. I became somewhat of a pied piper, that wherever I went, they would follow. The following week was then spent either following them around or them following me. I would take advantage of this by placing the food in attractive settings, such as the bluebell wood, often using a wide-angle lens to get that unusual perspective. By this point I could get to within touching distance.
At the tme, I was using film and used a Nikon F90 with a 28-105mm lens, Fuji Sensia 100 and a Nikon Speedlight SB-26 flash-unit set to -1.3 for fill-in. All were taken handheld with the camera set to shutter priority, possibly 1/125 sec. with the aperture fluctuating from f5.6 to f11, depending on the day’s brightness.
There’s an awful lot to be said about working with animals we see on a day to day basis, rather than concentrating on rarer kinds. The more we encounter them, the more the likelihood of recording something interesting, as opposed to a mere portrait taken with a telephoto lens. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good portrait as much as the next person, but it really can’t compare to an image with the subject either actively doing something or photographed in an unusual way. With so much subject matter to choose from, the only thing we need to do is open our eyes a little wider and explore the possibilities.
About Robert Canis
Robert Canis is a professional photographer specialising in the natural world.
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