Can a photograph of a bird taken at a winter feeding station be too perfect? This is a question I have been asking myself on and off for the last few years.
With a growing interest in the outdoors and digital photography being more popular than ever, photography of wildlife, especially of birds, has reached an all time peak. And as a consequence, thousands of bird images are displayed on the web. But, my feeling is those taken at feeding stations where a bird is lured onto a specific perch are tending to look rather samey? I say at feeding stations because this and at ponds, outside the breeding season, are really the only times when a bird can be encouraged to perch on a specific branch or twig and the photographer has the flexibility of shooting at whatever time they desire. It’s only natural of course for a photographer to want to produce the best image he or she possibly can of that bird utilising all those aspects that make it both pleasing to look at and commercial. Relaxed posture, lichen covered twig, warm frontal lighting, catchlight in the eye and above all else, a nice clean background that doesn’t distract from the subject. All these elements ensure that you look only at the bird and that other aspects of the image purely enhance it. Those clinical pictures of a blue tit sitting on a berry laden hawthorn twig are beautiful to look at but do little to stir the soul and for that matter, push the photographer. For those wishing to push the boundaries a little, this leaves him or her in a bit of a quandary for if you hope to get some commercial return from your pictures, then the more clinical approach is usually required thereby leaving you take the more artisitic images for your own creative gratification.
Now, I am not speaking of those that are content with taking the odd picture of a garden bird but more so the serious bird photographers out there. I sit here guilty as charged. Over the years I have shot hundreds of bird images just like that but I have tried (and very often failed!) to mix it with more artistic images. It’s easy to use the same, tried and tested techniques. Better the devil you know you could say, but ultimately, as I have found, greater pleasure can be derived from trying something else, outside your comfort zone.
It’s been a week of processing images with bouts of popping to the feeding station to top up the feeders and generally to stretch my legs. I know there is always something to do on the computer but I’m a photographer and as such NEED to be out taking pictures. The good news is that here in north Kent we are expecting more snow!
With it’s bright orangey/red breast (can’t decide which), the robin needn’t be prominent in order to stand out.
Panorama of Elmley Marshes consisting of 8 upright images stitched together using PTGui.
It’s in conditions like this that whenever I’m out on the marshes I think of how farmers of yester-year used to cope in such a challenging environment.
Following on from the last post, I finally managed to get to my winter bird feeding station in Wormshill. This was after taking a trip to Surrey on Saturday afternoon to invest in some all-terrain tyres. Due to the nature of what I do, I regularly drive in the countryside and the others were wearing a bit thin anyway and were due to be replaced. More snow was forecast and after reading numerous ‘tyre’ reports I decided upon some General Grabber AT2′s. Widely regarded as the best AT tyre around and having now used them in very adverse conditions on the Downs and marshes I can see why.
I therefore felt confident enough to get to the birds but of course you still have to be careful, especially on the icy-slush and made my way gingerly to the woods. I really wanted some typical snowy shots of birds, especially robins and in my experience these, along with others like dunnocks and chaffinches prefer to feed on the ground rather than on the suspended feeders. I sprinkled food on the ground, set up a low perch and retreated to my hide. Immediately they started to use it including one species which I have never before photographed, the dunnock. The dunnock or hedge sparrow looks like a dull sleek sparrow and always looks to be nervous and agitated, constantly flicking it’s tail and wings. It went through a serious population decline in the 1980s and indications are that it is now recovering.
Just prior to the heavy snowfall when we had more of a dusting, I headed to to the marshes and captured this frozen landscape set against a very dramatic sky.
I also came across this pair of red-legged partridges and using the car as a mobile hide, managed to get close enough to secure a handful of images.
Maybe it’s because it very rarely happens these days or perhaps because it offers new challenges for a wildlife photographer, but am I the only photographer out there that fills up with excitement and anticipation when it snows?! I just love it, even though as a country we are particularly useless at dealing with the white stuff when it comes to a stand-still. I am amazed, given the warning, that hardly any gritting took place on so many major roads where I live and even more so, the speeding idiots who think their car will stop even on black ice! I own a 4WD and it has proven it’s worth over the last few days, but that hasn’t stopped several near misses with those driving way too fast. I’ve driven for many years along local country roads and always expect the unexpected so whilst driving gingerly at under 10 mph to my feeding station several miles away, I wasn’t at all surprised to come face to face with a van hurtling towards me then locking its brakes and as a result veering here and there. It stopped just a few metres away where my expert use of international sign language came into use!
So late Friday morning I headed to my feeding station in the hope of obtaining images of birds in the snow. They were coming in thick and fast, so much so that there was hardly sufficient time to frame the image. Eventually I managed to get a few half decent ones, including this splendid goldfinch. You can see the effect of the snow on the ground, acting like a giant reflector.
My favourite image however is this one of a robin perched on a fence post. It was pure chance and to me sums up the English countryside in winter, much more so than close-up’s. Perhaps one day it’ll get used as a Christmas card!
It never lasts long enough though and the day after, most of the snow on the trees had disappeared. A few weeks of snowy weather would allow me to relax a little and think of interesting images rather than trying to get as much as possible within 2 or 3 days and the way the climate is changing I guess there is less and less chance of prolonged severe weather. What a shame.
About Robert Canis
Robert Canis is a professional photographer specialising in the natural world.
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