Posted by: kerryl29 | April 13, 2017

The Florida Experience: Birds

So, birds…

Great Blue Heron, Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, Florida

Those of you who have been reading this blog for some time know that I am not a wildlife photographer.  While animals occasionally inadvertently pose for me and I take their pictures, this doesn’t make me a wildlife photographer; it makes me someone who occasionally takes pictures of wildlife…and there’s a big difference between the two.  One important distinction is that, unlike actual wildlife photographers, I don’t go out looking for wildlife.  And I have never made a photo trip with the express intention of photographing wildlife.

White Ibis (Brown version), Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Purple Gallinule, Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

But when I was in the stages of planning this Florida trip–a stage which didn’t last all that long, as I noted in an earlier post–I fully anticipated that I would spend some percentage of my time photographing birds in the Everglades, given how plentiful and (relatively) approachable they are in many areas.  Landscape photography was, as always, my top priority but given that I planned to visit some areas where wildlife would be the principal focus, this represented something different for me.

Tri-Colored Heron, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Roseate Spoonbill, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

If anything, I underestimated the amount of time I would spend photographing birds.  They were a constant presence in the Everglades–on the ground and/or in the trees or in the air just about anywhere where there was standing water and frequently flying overhead in many of the areas where no water was evident.  So even when I wasn’t in an area of the Everglades–the Anhinga Trail, Shark Valley, Paurotis Pond, etc.–where birds were the intended main subject, I often found myself pulling out the long lens after stumbling across birds wading or flying around.  And, what’s more, I ended up finding a significant number of birds during my time in Big Cypress National Preserve, my day in the Keys and during the parts of several days I was in Palm Beach County, some 90 minutes north of Miami.  If there was one constant on this trip, in fact, it was the presence of birds.

Sandhill Crane, Riverbend Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Brown Pelican, Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Florida

Birds in Florida are, compared to most other places I’ve been, both extremely numerous (particularly in the winter) and relatively approachable.  In a few places that I visited–the Anhinga Trail and Shark Valley in Everglades National Park–the birds were extremely approachable, given their acclimation to the presence of people.  All of this makes photographing birds much, much easier than it is most other places.  It means that you don’t necessarily need or want the kind of reach (think 500-600 mm prime lenses with teleconverters) that are all but absolutely necessary elsewhere.  It’s not that you can’t benefit from that length in some spots, but it’s definitely not required in others.  (In some spots it would be an outright impediment.)  I used my 80-400 mm lens exclusively when photographing birds and found it to be perfectly adequate the vast majority of the time.  In fact, the broad zoom range was very handy when photographing in the avian-rich areas of the Anhinga Trail, Shark Valley and Big Cypress in particular.

Anhinga with Fish, Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, Florida

White Ibis Pair, Riverbend Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Also, because many of the birds are quite large and will frequently perch or wade nearby, having a camera optimized for action photography is rarely necessary.  That’s not to say you couldn’t benefit from a 10 frames per second camera, particularly if you’re inclined to “machine gun” images, but I never, ever clogged the buffer on my D800E (usable as an action camera, but not one designed specifically for it).

Great Egret, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Osprey Nest, Flamingo, Everglades National Park, Florida

I think if you look closely you’ll see that many of my bird shots kind of reflect the landscape photographer in me as I often felt the impulse to reveal the scene in which the birds were situated.  Partly for that reason, many of my favorite shots were made in Big Cypress, a beautiful, mature bald cypress forest/swamp that represents one of the most enchanting settings I’ve ever experienced.  I’ve long wanted to photograph in a cypress swamp and I wasn’t at all disappointed by the experience.  In fact, I was so enticed by it that I spent most of two full days in the preserve, photographing both landscapes and wildlife–birds and alligators.

Owl, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Juvenile Little Blue Heron, Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, Florida

In the next installment, I’ll talk about some of the technical aspects–an inevitable sideshow–that I worked with in my foray into bird photography, including, but not limited to, my harsh baptism into the world of attempting to photograph birds in flight.  From my seat-of-my-pants experience working with back button autofocus to (gasp!) handholding the camera, it’s sure to be an interesting story.

Snowy Egret and Roseate Spoonbill, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

Black Crowned Night Heron, Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, Florida

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Responses

  1. You may not be a wildlife photographer, but I think anyone who is would be proud to have these images in their repertoire. Crisp, colorful, and for the most part showing them in their natural environment and behaviors…can’t ask for much more.

    • Thanks, Ellen.

      FWIW, I’ve finished updating my website with all of my images from Florida. The gateway to the various sub-galleries can be found here: http://www.lightscapesphotography.com/f376360364

      There are many more bird photos than I have posted (or ever will post) on the blog.

  2. Wow, not bad for a rookie, Kerry!

    Sometimes we need these unexpected subjects just to stir things up and sharpen the eye. You had some decent light and made good choices of aperture. If the bird bug takes hold, I wouldn’t be surprised to see you hauling a 600 around strapped to your backpack.

    • Thanks, Tom. Not much chance of that happening. I couldn’t afford a 600/4 even if was keen to get one.

      Honestly, while it was kind of fun to photograph birds and I wouldn’t mind doing it again some time, I definitely don’t feel any urge to change my basic m.o. at all. Even in Florida, with all the birds around, it was the landscape opportunities that really got my juices going.

  3. Great set!

  4. You cracked me up with the (gasp) about handheld shooting! Very nice work indeed! A refreshing break from the usual style I would think.

    • Thanks, Gunta!

      It was a bit odd to do all that image making while handholding the camera (about half the bird shots I did–and all the BIF stuff–was handheld). None of the landscapes where handheld, of course. 🙂

      • …of course! 😉

  5. Very interesting. I’ve done some bird photography, and enjoy it. I laughed at that “(gasp!)” attached to the concept of hand-holding the camera. As far as I’ve been able to tell, there’s no other way to capture birds in flight, especially when trying to capture aerial mating displays and such. I use a 70-300mm telephoto zoom, and have found it light enough that I can use it for a while before tiring. I’m anxious to read more.

    (And aren’t those roseate spoonbills something? When I finally focused on their heads instead of those beautiful wings, I was astonished. Captured at the right angle, they remind me of Yul Brynner.)

    • Many serious avian photographers shoot birds-in-flight with a tripod and a gimbal-head. I’ve played around with one of these a couple of times, thought not in many years. With practice, some experienced users swear it’s as flexible as handholding, with all the benefits of using a tripod (not the least of which is not having to support the weight of the camera/lens). But I can’t attest to that personally. I have no real issues with the weight of the camera/80-400 combination, but it’s not particularly heavy (something like five pounds, I think). The majority of the shots of birds NOT in flight that I’ve posted on this blog were shot off a tripod, however, with the use of a regular ballhead.

      Yul Brenner? I must concede…that’s a comparison I doubt I would have come up with on my own. 🙂 But they’re very interesting looking, unique birds. In fact, I found all of the comparisons/contrasts of the various wading birds I found fascinating. There’s a terrific video at the visitors center near the southern entrance of the Everglades that does a fine job of drawing these comparisons/contrasts.

      I had the most fun with a seabird–the brown pelican. Watching them dive for fish was remarkable.

  6. Excellent Pictures. Really Appreciate your work and efforts and as an photographer i can understand how much efforts & Patience are required to captures moments like these. Really inspired from your work. I started photography to inspire others and still i am working for others to raise them as good photographers. You can see my work at http://www.nitinkhanna.net/ and Let me know how is it. I would love to hear it from you and if we could work together ever it would be great.

    • Thanks very much for the acknowledgment.

      I checked out your site, but I didn’t see a link to photo galleries or a portfolio–and I looked around pretty thoroughly. I would definitely suggest some kind of resource where people can see a broad variety of your work. If there is a link to such a resource on your site I don’t think it’s prominent enough; as I said, I checked all of the linked pages, in addition to the home page, and came up empty.

      Feel free to let me know if you do have some accessible samples of your work.

  7. […] made reference to this aspect of things at the end of my last post.  Longtime readers of this blog know that I’m a relentless advocate of the use of a tripod […]


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