I consider myself fairly new to wildlife photography - having just been doing it for around 4 years as of 2010. In that time I've gone from knowing very little to now knowing some, with lots more to learn.
One way to I've learned is by observation and trial and error. It's fairly straightforward to understand that if you approach an animal and it backs away, it thought you got too close for comfort. That sounds so simple, because it is.
But as an eager photographer it is also easy to constantly want to get closer. The trick is to be observant and also patient.
While at Cape May recently I was shooting along the beach. On the beach there, they've roped off some area with simple line and some short posts to act as a human barrier. There's nothing to hide behind, and nothing to stop you from going over or under it beside honor and a desire to do no harm.
One time I approached the line a couple months ago and saw an oystercatcher. It moved back a bit, and that was much like what I'd seen them do before. They don't like being eyed, and will often not just fly away, but back away from you just enough until they're comfortable again.
That visit was before they were on eggs I think. This last visit they already had chicks, this pair had 3 chicks total. It was hot and one adult was covering up the chicks, protecting them from the heat and whatever predators might be lurking.
I approached the rope line and could tell that I'd have better luck if I backed off and gave them some of the space on my side of the rope.
To setup I had my tripod very low, just a foot or two high, and I had my back to the ocean so the sun was roughly over my shoulders. Then I crouched and waited, and tried to remain low and not threatening. After some time one of the adults went looking for food and when it came back a chick went to eat the catch. The first couple of times I wasn't in the right spot. But by the third time or so, I had moved a bit, predicted where the two might meet next time, and I got lucky.
The chick came on my side of the rope to meet the adult and walked right past me.
It was just a year ago that I'd seen Oystercatcher photos from Maryland on flickr I think, and scratch my head as to why I'd never seen them. After some research and hunting and then a few travels to spots that were largely new to me I got to see them in action.
It was at Chincoteague NWR, VA that I saw them mating a couple months ago.
Getting to see new animals, and see their behaviors - be that hunting, or mating, or raising a chick or 3, that's what I really like.
Subject, Behavior, Light, Location... and uniqueness
My advice to anyone photographing nesting birds is to be careful, and don't flush a bird off the nest. Your brief presence can cause the bird to abandon eggs or a chick, for real. It could happen in just a minute or two. And with chicks, be mindful to not get in the adults way, and watch for the signs from them. If they could speak they'd tell you what's on their mind, and quite often their actions will be doing just that...
Sunday, June 27, 2010