Photographing the common in preparation for the uncommon

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One of the greatest aids to becoming a good photographer is to create images of what you find around you. Photograph what interests you, what you can find easily in your day to day life. We are used to seeing what is around us with our eyes, but need to learn how to see what is around us with our cameras. Photograph something that intrigues you from all angles- from the side or up high, from down low or a strange angle. Move close, move away… play.

Me, I like birds, so I take pictures of my local common birds. They are easy, yet challenging, and even better- I learn about their behavior as I try to see how close or how expressive I can make my photographs. I create portraits of my local sparrows.

Close up portrait of a White-crowned Sparrow

And I don’t stop there. I also photograph the various gulls that I see on the beach. The Blackbirds that land in the grasses and willows not so far from my house. Even though I’ve captured great images of more “interesting” and even rare and endangered birds, I will keep shooting photos of these more common locals, and not just for a single reason, but for many.

It’s always good to stay in practice. The more we are handling our cameras and viewing the results of our actions, the more reliably we can take the types of photographs we want. If I go a week without really taking any photographs, I can notice a difference in how many times I click the shutter before I get the image I want. When I am shooting regularly, things just seem to “click” better.

If I wasn’t taking pictures regularly I might not have photographed this rare Yellow-billed Loon so nicely

As I learn to follow the behavior of my local birds, I can predict their actions better, which means I can be ready when they are about to do something interesting. I learn clues that help me prepare for those “moments.” And I find that learning the behavior of one bird helps me to also understand how other, similar species of bird may act.

By watching Common Loons and Red-throated Loons, I was able to predict this rare Yellow-billed Loon rising up out of the water and shaking off droplets

Another bonus to learning and photographing your local birds is that it makes it easier to notice when an uncommon bird comes around. It helps us to be ready and to notice things that are different.

The Willit is a common bird where I live, but is it common where you are?

What is common where I live, may be a nearly unheard of species where someone else lives. By taking a photograph of a common, local bird or object, you are creating something that can be shared with others that might not ever have a chance to experience it otherwise. I live near the ocean, so I have many types of shorebird and seabird that I encounter. I travel an hour inland, and see species that I never even realized lived so closely, that I’d never seen before. Different habitats, different birds. If I go even farther- say to the East Coast or to a different country, the differences can be even greater.

Two different species of Shag, that I had to travel across oceans to experience, yet since I had practiced photographing my own local birds, I was ready for them

Finally, someone, someday has to take the best photograph ever of that local species of bird… why shouldn’t it be you?

About Galen Leeds Photography

Nature and wildlife photographer, exploring the world on his feet and from his kayak. Among other genres, he is one of the leading kayak photographers in Northern California. To learn more about him, visit him on his website-
This entry was posted in birds, How To, nature photography, New Zealand, Photo Essay, photography and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Photographing the common in preparation for the uncommon

  1. Vicki says:

    There are some really wonderful pictures here…a couple I wondered what bird it was you shot, most just made me smile. Thank you

  2. sean elizabeth says:

    I enjoy your writing style as well as the photos. Thanks.

  3. Love seeing your yellow billed loon so close up:)

  4. sheriffsmith says:

    Great advice … birding and photography like most subjects, gets easier with practice. It can be funny when I’ll just see a bit of bird as it disappears and I’ll call out the name of the species and I’ll immediately get funny looks, but because I’ve been studying all the local birds so long 99% of the time I’m proven right! I love Gulls … a couple pieces of bread and you have friends and great photo subjects too!!! Great blog by the way … Tom

  5. jbcamera says:

    You are so right! Since I began my photo blog, I find myself looking at the world around me with new eyes. I have a whole new appreciation for the beauty around me and how things change from season to season, and even from day to day!

  6. Very good advice and beautiful images as always. I agree with what you said, “We are used to seeing what is around us with our eyes, but need to learn how to see what is around us with our cameras”. It is something architects learn as well, the ability to really see, not just observe.

  7. Thank you for engaging the rest of us into that part of life we often overlook.

  8. John Todaro says:

    Lovely portrait of the Yellow Billed Loon.

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