I’m not talking about the Oscars but Birds In Flight. I’m finding this a very troublesome aspect of nature photography.
If you listen to bird photographers talk this is the holy grail and if you take a picture of a bird in a tree it is derisively called a bird on a stick and is seen to have no merit at all. In fact BIF is now considered such an important part of photography that with each new camera launch the manufacturers herald its new bird tracking autofocus capabilities. These cameras are now capable of shooting incredibly high frame rates in excess of 20 frames per second which encourages photographers to just machine gun the subject – the so called spray and pray – in the hope of capturing something interesting. So why do I feel this troublesome. Well this technology doesn’t come cheap and the fact is that you have to be seriously minted and committed to bird photography to afford the equipment. The Sony A1, the Nikon Z9 and the Canon R3 are all around $9-10,000 AUD. Slap on a suitable long fast prime lens like a 600mm f4 and you have a package that will set you back a cool $30,000 AUD. Predominantly I shoot with Olympus’ cameras and their newly released camera plus their top wildlife lens will set you back around $15,000. So as you can see it’s not for the faint hearted or the financially embarrassed.
So does this state of affairs mean that unless you are wealthy you shouldn’t take up nature/wildlife photography? No because I happen to believe that it is the skill of the photographer that makes great photos and not the size of their bank account. Nothing beats going out into the field and spending time getting to know your subject and the environment they live in. The more time you spend out there the more picture taking opportunities you will have.
Secondly don’t obsess about equipment. Get what you can afford. Any camera with interchangeable lenses with a long lens is capable of excellent results. What matters is that you spend time with your camera and learn how it works. Eric Hoskins, 1908-91, was a pioneer in bird photography. He worked with what would now be considered very primitive – large format single shot cameras with no metering, no auto focusing and slow film emulsions (10 ISO) – yet he changed the face of bird photography with his use of flash and he enabled people to see birds in a way that they’d never seen before. Buy stuff second hand. Take advantage of the well heeled enthusiasts who have to have the latest and greatest. They change their equipment like I change my socks and often sell off perfectly good equipment for far less than they paid for it.
Thirdly there is more to nature/wildlife photography than birds in flight. I find endless pictures of birds flying across a blue sky boring. I like to see animal’s behaviour – feeding, building nests, rearing young, mating rituals etc. Show the animal in its environment.
Fourthly you don’t have to go on expensive safaris to take pictures of animals. Thanks to the power of the internet what can be found in your backyard is interesting to people in different countries so capitalise on what you have close to home because the skills you learn will pay off in spades if you are able to go on a trip of a life time to somewhere exotic.
The shots below were taken at Tomato Lake which is in a park in one of Perth’s suburbs. The camera used was second hand with an older adapted lens with adequate autofocus. A few hours of being prepared to sit in mosquito ridden undergrowth by a lake gave me the chance to take some photos that I’m happy with and enjoy myself.