Birds in Flight: Making Pictures, Fast & Furious

Snowy egrets take flight, Audubon Park rookery, New Orleans. Canon 400mm lens, 1/1000th sec @f2.8, ISO 200.  (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Snowy egrets take flight, Audubon Park rookery, New Orleans. Canon 400mm lens, 1/1000th sec @f2.8, ISO 200. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

I went by the rookery in New Orleans’ Audubon Park this weekend, armed with a Canon 400, a monopod and a fast Canon motor drive. I’ve shot there before but I hadn’t gotten around to shooting there this year and was afraid I might be a bit late for some of the nesting species that like this spot.

As it turned out, the island in Audubon Park that’s the nesting home for several species of birds was still wall-to-wall, no vacancies, jammed in cheek-to-jowl (or beek, I guess).

Egret on the nest, Audubon Park rookery, New Orleans. Canon 400mm lens, 1/1250th sec @f2.8, ISO 200. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Egret on the nest, Audubon Park rookery, New Orleans. Canon 400mm lens, 1/1250th sec @f2.8, ISO 200. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

There’s so much activity that initially it’s hard to get oriented. What to shoot? What to watch and anticipate? Which way to turn?

Eventually I figured it out: start with one bird or group of birds, one nest. Watch them for a while, see what’s going on. Shoot some photos. Look around some more…

Egret in flight, Audubon Park rookery, New Orleans. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Egret in flight, Audubon Park rookery, New Orleans. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

The photography really reminds me of shooting NFL football. Most of the better photos involve action: birds in flight, birds having a food fight, birds knocking each other around. It’s a tough world out there, this rookery. So I found myself reacting more than acting, trying to keep up with the erratic flight of a snowy egret, catch up with the glide path of a graceful big white heron, lots of quick compositions  and back-button autofocus.

Egret juveniles, left and center, aggresively demand food when a parent flies back to the nest, Audubon Park rookery, New Orleans. Canon 400mm lens, 1/800th sec, f2.8, ISO 200. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Egret juveniles, left and center, aggresively demand food when a parent flies back to the nest, Audubon Park rookery, New Orleans. Canon 400mm lens, 1/800th sec, f2.8, ISO 200. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

This kind of stuff can be exhilarating and fun: is any of this stuff going to be in focus? I hope and pray so…

Back in film days, we were superstitious: you’d never talk about your photos till you had negatives to look at: bad luck. Now with digital of course, you can chimp your pictures right after you shoot them. In this case, not a good idea though: the minute I try to sneak a peek at what I’ve shot, I miss something special flying overhead.

One of the live oak trees out on the little island in Audubon Park, loaded up with birds. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

One of the live oak trees out on the little island in Audubon Park, loaded up with birds. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

The long lens is essential for this work. A 400 or even 600mm lens will vastly increase your chances of success. If you don’t have one of these big monsters, you might want to seriously consider renting one if you have a chance to try some of this shooting. You’ll be glad you have the lens with you once you’re out in the field.

Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog

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About the Author:

Photographer, videographer and photo editor. Host and creator of The Discerning Photographer web site. Currently a Canon shooter.

2 Comments on "Birds in Flight: Making Pictures, Fast & Furious"

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  1. pj finn says:

    Looks like you got yourself oriented quite well. Nice work.

  2. Thanks PJ. Just needed more time to work this than I had that day.

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