Friday, March 18, 2016

The Sentinel Tree


If you were to go to any library, book store or photo shop there will be a limitless number of books on photography. There will be written text on the technical side, the aesthetic points, and an unlimited list of how to books for every kind of camera and format used. The new computerized photo enhancement techniques now have quadrupled the number of books on the subject.

With the newer cameras, which are very much like mini computers that happen to take pictures, the learning curve is pretty steep. Each new body that I use seems to take me forever to figure out. They all do the same thing, just relocate the buttons around a bit. Instead of being able to operate the camera by feel, I need to start all over again with the learning curve.

I have spent over 40 years now playing with cameras, and more times than not they have been pointed a bird of some kind. I am the first to admit, I never really knew much about the working end of the cameras I was using. You put in film, pointed to at your subject, hopefully it was in focus and push the shiny little button…and like magic you had a picture! Now digital has come along and there is one less step I can mess up…putting in the film!

Time, a few classes’, and a wife with a degree in photography have turned me into what refer to as slightly better than average photographer! But, I produce an exceptionally high number of quality images that have proven to be very marketable. Let me also point out that while I have pretty good equipment, it is by no means state of the art. Both of my Nikon bodies are over 4 years old, and my newest lens is now over two years old.

What I attribute my success to, is an exceptionally deep knowledge of my subject. Again, this would be the various species of birds, all over North America. While I have a good working knowledge of most of the finer points of my camera, IE the ISO, Shutter Speeds, and depth of field, putting myself in the correct position to capture the subject is what allows me to obtain the shot I am looking for.

A great example of this is a little bit of time I spent in the fishing village of San Evaristo, Mexico. The first day there was all about relaxing and winding down from a very busy week. The next morning, rather than getting up before the sun, I had a leisurely morning and was out in the field around 8-8:30. I carried my camera, but mostly looked at this morning as a scouting trip using the binoculars. I wear colors that will blend in with the area, sometimes it is a camo pattern, sometimes just a green, tan or brown that looks much like the natural colors of the terrain. I move slowly, knowing that I will probably disturb the local wildlife, but use their reactions to my advantage. I look for flight patterns, water or food locations, roosting trees and certain habitat that will attract the species I am hoping ton capture.

This particular morning, I noticed that nearly every species of bird in the area, whether just flying by, roosting or a location of safety when flushed, all stopped by at the same high branch of a nearly dead tree.  It was the highest point, and gave a great view the surrounding area. Then I scouted a location to set up, taking into consideration, morning light, back ground, and a location that afforded me some natural cover. In this location, and like many here in the Mexican Desert, I like to use a tall, older cactus to break up my outline and allow me to remain standing. In the standing positon, using a mono pod to support my camera and lens, I am afforded a reasonable range of motion that gives me several angles to shoot from.

Once I had all this committed to memory, I left the area until the next morning where I was in place long before the sun rose. Within the first 45 minutes of nice early morning light, I had 9 species of birds all land in the same bush, now less than 20 yards from my cactus location.

This “vantage point tree” has proven to be an excellent way to identify, as well as photograph the birds of a certain area.  Now while this particular area might be an extreme set of results, it shows that a little planning, knowledge of your subject and willingness to do some advance work can certainly pay off with some great bird watching and photography.

The Northern Cardinal

The Verdin

The Costa's Hummingbird

The Violet Green Tree Swallow

The House Finch

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