Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge
Each year around Thanksgiving you’ll find the Festival of the Cranes in Socorro, New Mexico. If you enjoy photographing wildlife, particularly birds, you will love a trip to the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge which is where you’ll find oodles of birds about twenty minutes down the road from Socorro. Bosque is the stopping place for snow geese and sandhill cranes. While I was at the refuge on this trip, I concentrated on making images of cranes. When I return, and I will, I’ll try my hand at capturing compelling pictures of the snow geese.
I’ll make a couple of observations about most of the other photographers I saw photographing during my time there. One was that almost to a person images were being made from eye level and eye level only. If you want to make images that are more creative, it’s a good idea to explore ways to get different angles. Lower angles can be had by lowering the legs on your tripod. All tripods that I saw were fully extended and stayed that way.
Photographers all lined up at the same height with tripods fully extended
Another behavior I noticed was no matter what the subject, moving or still, I heard motor drives firing at full machine-gun speed. There are times when having the motor-drive engaged will help you obtain a good photo that might otherwise get away. Pick your times to save yourself countless hours culling images after the shoot. When the lighting is not changing, and the birds are hardly in motion 14 frames a second is a bit of overkill. Better to learn the bird’s behavior and anticipate movement you would like to capture. You will end up with more keepers and fewer tossers. Working that way will save you a ton of time in post-production review of your photos.
Lots of opportunities to capture sandhill cranes in flight as they fly-in and fly-out at dawn and dusk. Make sure you ask those who have been there before you for the best places to set up. At the very least ask at the front gate. Very friendly and knowledgeable folks there! F6.3 1/4000 SEC ISO 12800
One of my favorite photos from the two-day shoot. F6.3 1/800 SEC ISO 1600
Capturing photos such as the one above while tracking flight is usually best accomplished with a gimbal-head atop your tripod. You can spend between $100 to $500 or more depending on the size of the lens you want to support. Conversely, I was testing some new camera gear and handheld all my images with surprisingly beautiful results. I used a Panasonic Lumix GX85 with a 100-400mm lens. This camera and lens combination have five-axis image stabilization giving a lot more freedom to get sharp images from moving subjects even in low light. This camera has a micro four-thirds sensor which means the 800mm full frame equivalent set-up only weighs three and a half pounds.
Taking a slightly higher angle enabled me to isolate this crane from the other birds in the background and having the reflection in the area with the color reflected from the clouds.
F6.3 1/1000 SEC BTW the ISO for this image was 12,800.
Cornfields are planted to help feed the birds as they pause during their migration. While midday light is not as beautiful as sunrise and sunset, mid-day shooting allows for the study of the bird’s behaviors.
F6.3 1/1000 SEC ISO 1600
Getting the best images from your wildlife photography has a lot to do with understanding and studying the behavior of your subject. As you spend more time with the animals, look for repetitive movements. Often you’ll note a slight change in position just before a bird launches into flight. Or you might notice flight patterns can be discerned when a bird is landing. Anticipating these moments can mean the difference of getting an OK photo and one that has the animal positioned exactly as you would like in the frame.
I’ll share some more ‘artistic’ photos in another post. Look for it soon.
Yours in Creative Photography, Bob.