Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.
What have I been up to?
For the past couple of weeks, I have been vacationing, well not really vacationing, but, sort of. I have been attending a workshop on Bird Photography given by Art Morris, with Denise Ippolito and Robert Amoruso as the co-leaders. Art calls these outings Instructional Photo Tours or IPTs. We were based in Ft. Myers. Florida, which is on the west coast of the peninsula about an hour’s drive, south of Tampa. It is a booming little city, catering mostly to tourists and snowbirds, at least that is what it seemed like from the vast array of different licence plates from out of the state – even our car, which we rented in Orlando, had Tennessee licence plates on it – go figure. The actual course started on a Friday night with a meeting in the hotel of all the folks involved and an overview slide show of the six days to come.
Saturday, our first morning, set the tone for the days to come. Art had decided to open with a sunrise vigil at the Venice rookery.
Our little cavalcade of vehicles left the hotel at 4:55 a.m. and proceeded north for about an hour to the site. We had a quick stop at the local “Golden Arches” for a quick breakfast and then it was off with a short drive to the rookery. It was site to behold as we arrived at about 5:30 a.m. Never having been there before, I was met by the view of a small island in a small pond covered with egrets. – who knows how many – 200 maybe 300 – anyway, there were a lot more white birds there than I have ever seen in any one place. As the sunrise approached, the birds started to leave the island in groups of maybe 25 to 50 at a time, flying over and around us, directly into the east wind.
As the sky got lighter, it became obvious why the birds nested there, there was at least one alligator in the pond, who would, I am sure, consume any predators that tried to swim across the water to gain access to the island. We shot there until about 10:30 a.m. grabbing images of Great Blue Herons nesting with chick, Egrets sitting on eggs, Anhingas displaying and quarreling over females, and a Black-Crowned Night-Heron, who seemed content to sit in the bushes and ignore most of what was going around him or her.
There were a few cormorants as well, engaged in variety of mating an display activities as well as feeding on the fish in the pond.
We then travelled south to the small community of Placida, where we were treated to one of the best seafood lunches I have had in a long time. After lunch, we shot Brown and White Pelicans,
and seagulls from the restaurant’s pier. I also grabbed some images of an Osprey that was sitting up on a high post, consuming, with great vigour, the remains of a fish it had caught.
The next day, Sunday, we started out in the small community of Cape Coral looking for scrub jays. We found a couple in a grassy area adjacent to a residential subdivision. Art put out some peanuts for them and we were soon all snapping away as the birds came and went after the strategically placed peanuts. Later that morning, we found burrowing owls in the area. We found four different burrows and some owls in a small field surrounded by a larger residential area. The local residents must be
accustomed to groups of photographers in the area, as were paid absolutely no attention during the few hours we were there photographing the owls. In the afternoon, we ventured out onto a beach at the southern end of Sanibel Island, where we spent the afternoon photographing shore birds, gulls and terns.
Monday, again in the dark (have you got the pattern yet?), we ventured out to the Estero Lagoon in Fort Myers Beach. The only problem was parking – there was very little, but we did manage. Here we photographed Egrets,
Great Blue Herons, Pelicans, Cormorants a wide variety of gulls, and some shorebirds and Oyster Catchers – whew , I get winded just listing them all. In the afternoon, we again visited the Burrowing Owls.
Tuesday, in the dark, we again drove out to the Estero Lagoon — same birds, different stuff. In the afternoon, we went to walk among the shorebirds on a the beaches of Sanibel Island.
Wednesday morning, started out with our final trip, in the dark, to the Estero Lagoon, followed by an afternoon at the Sanibel Fishing Pier. Again, same birds, different tricks. At the Pier, we photographed Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, a Great Blue Heron, a lone Osprey that floated overhead and a male Boat-tailed Grackle displaying in a tree near the beach, together with numerous gulls. We were also graced by the presence of three dolphins in the ocean just off the beach. I never really saw anything of them but there backs and dorsal fins, but the locals assured me they were dolphins and not killer whales.
Thursday, our last day on the IPT, saw us taking a morning venture back to the Venice Rookery – in the dark. Again, we photographed the Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and the Great Blue Herons on their nests. We also found an nesting Anhinga with three chicks actively bothering mother for food. In the afternoon, we were treated to an overview of Art’s past as a bird photographer and some of the amusing happenings that he has encountered over the years – a nice break from shooting birds in the warm Florida sun. From there we returned to the pier at Placida to photograph the pelicans and seagulls. As the day ended, we all went our separate ways, some to return to the hotel in Fort Myers, others to their homes and some went on to another session with Art and Denise in Tampa.
All in all, this was a great week, I learned a lot about how to photograph birds and more importantly, how not to photograph birds. I met some nice people and had a great time, even though the early mornings were a killer for this night owl.
What did I learn on this workshop? A lot of stuff , but it will take a while and some more experience for it to all sink in. As I get older, my short-term
memory isn’t quite as good as it used to be and it takes me a while to remember what I am supposed to be doing. We were encouraged to shoot in manual mode as this makes it easier to adjust your exposure for the combination of bird colour – dark or light – with the background – dark or light – and all combinations in between. For most DSLRs, it may be a simple matter of dialing the exposure up or down using one of the control wheels on the camera. The main thing was to experiment with your shooting variables and find what works for you. A few things for you to think about:
Histogram: Make extensive use of your camera’s histogram on the display. It will tell you where the pixels in your image are located and thus, whether it is too light or too dark. Knowing this will allow you to adjust your exposure either using the exposure compensation dial if you are shooting in one of the semi-automatic modes, or adjusting the shutter speed or aperture manually.
Sun Angle: This is related to the best position to be in if you want to get good images of birds. Stand with your back to the sun and hold your arms out in front of you with both arms angled slightly away from your body. This is the “sun angle” – best for shooting birds and ensuring no, or minimal, shadows in your image.
Dark birds on a light background: If you are using AV mode, shoot at +1 or +1 1/3 exposure compensation. If you are using Manual mode, then adjust your shutter speed or aperture accordingly.
Light or white birds on a darker background: If you are using AV mode, then use -1/3 or -1/2 exposure compensation. If you are using Manual mode then adjust your shutter speed or aperture accordingly.
These are only a few of the “words of wisdom” imparted by the instructors on the five day event. There were others I am sure I will remember as I go out and try to practice what was preached.
The next issue of the blog will cover what I did for the remaining week of my holiday in Orlando and St. Augustine – stay tuned for Part 2!