Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Operation Birdbrain - Part II

My first attempts to photograph garden birds involved me enticing the birds to within around 4 metres from the house and shooting from inside the kitchen door. I have a 'stable' type door and the birds didn't seem to mind me standing there with the top section open.

So, I placed a feeder holder (a metal pole about 2 metres tall with a hook on top - you find them in most garden centres) in the border. I taped a branch to the metal pole about 30cm below the feeder, paying careful attention to orientate this so the background was uncluttered. Next I found an old spade, with a well-worn wooden handle at a bric-a-brac store and positioned this in the bed below the branch.

Within minutes Blue and Great Tits and the occasional Greenfinch were feeding on the peanut feeder, but very few actually perched on the branch. I realised that I had chosen quite a thin branch, and I guess it wasn't really substantial enough to be a comfortable perch. It's thinness also made it tricky for me to pre-focus on. Occasionally Robins would hop along the nearby decking area but never ventured onto the spade handle.

My biggest problem though was light. I was using a Nikon AF-S 300mm VR lens with the D2x or D200 on a tripod, but in order to get sufficient depth of field I needed to shoot at f/5.6, preferably f/8. The location I had picked was convenient but quite shaded, and even using fill flash with a SB-800 (which the birds didn't seem to mind), I couldn't achieve a high enough shutter speed to freeze the birds rapid movements without going to high ISO's. Also, using flash made coninuous shooting, even with an SD-8a battery booster attached to the flash, a bit of a hit-and-miss affair, as the flash didn't always recycle in time for the next frame.

I persevered with this for a few sessions, and had some success with the Robins when I smeared some lard along the back edge of the spade handle and used this to hold dried mealworms in place, out of sight from my shooting position. Success! the Robins took the bait and I managed to get a few shots with flash. Sometimes they were on the handle before I had time to get back behind the camera!

Still, I knew I now needed to adapt the setup to use more natural light, and my chances of attracting shy birds, such as the Great Spotted Woodpeckers, so close to the house were slim. It was now pretty obvious that the ideal spot would be on the lawn area which is open and gets the sun, even in winter, for much of the day. In the middle of the lawn is an old elder, and this made an ideal place to hang feeders. However there was absolutely no cover for me to shoot from, and ideally needed to be a bit closer, perhaps 2.5 metres from my subjects...

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