Anticipating behaviour (an important component of knowing our photographic subjects) is one of the three most important factors that contributes to us being successful bird and nature photographers. In my view, it is the most important factor.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
As photographers we can spend an inordinate amount of time researching and comparing camera gear. Even when we are not actively in the market for new equipment. Staying abreast of the ‘latest and greatest’ gear can become an obsession. Precious time, that could be spent out in the field with our existing camera gear creating images, is wasted sitting in front of a computer screen consuming camera equipment specifications.
Regardless of the camera that we may own, anticipating behaviour allows us to proactively use our gear to its best effect. We may notice a bird doing a slight crouch… signaling its intention to take flight.
Other people proximate to us may be hand feeding birds. As individual birds become acclimatized to humans they lose their inhibitions and may feel comfortable landing on an outstretched hand. Anticipating behaviour in terms of a bird coming in to land in this scenario is pretty much a no brainer.
We may observe birds exhibiting some aggressive body postures which can include lowering their head and neck in a threat display. Some species have wing positions that signal aggression. A full blown attack or chase can erupt. Anticipating behaviour can allow us to capture some interesting, action sequences.
Some birds can become territorial at certain times of year. For example, when a number of individuals are feeding in the same area, sometimes skirmishes over a food source can erupt.
Anticipating behaviour of this nature can yield wonderful ‘slice of life’ image runs.
Birds are creatures of habit and will often follow established flight paths and land in the same area of their habitat.
Many birds are migratory and will only appear at certain locations for limited time frames during the year. Anticipating this behaviour and timing, photographers can plan in advance to be at the right place at the right time to take advantage of these time limited photographic opportunities.
Some birds will repeat their hunting or fishing attempts multiple times in the same area. Observant photographers can capitalize on these repetitive behaviours.
At times birds can be playful, dropping items like stones and twigs in mid-air and then retrieving them. This behaviour is often repeated multiple times… creating image opportunities.
If we identify the location of a bird’s nest, anticipating take-off and landing behaviour can yield good photographic opportunities.
After diving to catch fish, terns will regularly do mid-air shakes to help dispel water from their feathers. Photographs of contorted body and wing positions can be captured by anticipating this behaviour.
Anticipating behaviour of insects can also result in photographic opportunities. For example, butterflies will often frequent specific flowering plants and shrugs for extended periods of time. A friend of mine sat on my back deck with me for a few hours while we captured a great assortment of photographs of butterflies in flight.
Dragonflies will often return to the same perch multiple times, landing in the exact same position. Anticipating behaviour of this nature helps a photographer find a suitable shooting position and angle, and capture an array of interesting images.
Many species of birds tend to be skittish and will take short flights within the same tree constantly. By observing the birds we can identify the most active areas of the tree and position ourselves accordingly as we wait for the activity to play out in front of our eyes.
Often birds will travel in mated pairs. When the first bird takes flight, its partner will usually follow within a few seconds. Anticipating this behaviour allows us to focus our attention on the second bird, usually with good results.
Being aware of mating season enables us to anticipate various interactions of the amorous type.
There are three fundamental factors that contribute to our success with bird photography…
- Understanding our subjects so we can anticipate behaviour.
- In depth knowledge of our camera gear, and being able to use it effectively in a range of situations.
- The capabilities and attributes of the camera gear we own.
Many of us spend far too time and money fretting about our camera gear, and not paying nearly enough attention to understanding our subjects, and learning how to effectively use our current camera equipment.
If we wanted to make a New Year’s resolution that would lead to us being more effective bird photographers, it would be to go out with our cameras more often, and study bird behaviour more intently.
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard approach in post. This is the 1,231 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.
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