When I’m out photographing wildlife, especially if I come across a species that I already have really good images of, I will sometimes switch my camera over to video mode. Stills are fantastic and can be so evocative of emotion, but there are times when having actual movement, instead of implied movement, can really give an extra view into the behavior of an animal. Stills cannot for example truly capture the frenetic energy of the Least Sandpiper- the constant, quick, darting movements, the endless quest for food. Seeing a photo of a Marbled Godwit, with its long beak in one image, and its bill thrust into a mudflat, right to the very feathers, gives an idea of how they drive into the mud and sand to search for prey, but seeing the actual movements and actions, gives a very different feel. Stills tell one truth, and video another. I marvel in how each can tell the story of life.
And so it was yesterday, when I was out kayaking the waters of Tomales Bay, photographing the shorebirds (as I described in yesterday’s post A morning’s kayak). I came across a nice group of Least Sandpipers, with a few Willits and Marbled Godwits mixed in, and began to photograph them. I have many fine portraits of all of these species, and so I decided to practice my video skills a little, in between capturing stills.
As I was going through the video, getting ready to edit it, I realized that maybe I shouldn’t try to clean it up too much, that I should leave in some of the darting movements where I try to follow individual birds, that I shouldn’t try to cut out parts, where a bird in the background isn’t perfectly framed. I had the idea that maybe leaving all of this in, might be good practice for some of the folks trying to improve their bird and wildlife photography.
Photography is about timing, choosing a moment, capturing and preserving it. When I am shooting small birds like this, I am watching them, and trying to choose my moments when I press the shutter button. I’m not one of those folks that just holds it down, letting the shutter go rapid fire. I look for certain opportunities, like the light glinting in an eye. I try for backgrounds that aren’t a mess of partial birds (like another birds wing or leg sticking randomly into the frame.) I try to choose moments where I won’t have to crop unwanted elements out. So, as you watch this video, try and think about which moments you would choose, if you were there in the kayak photographing these birds. Think about which actions you would capture, which backgrounds. Watch this video as though you were photographing it, and think about the challenges you may or may not face in trying to track these small birds, or the larger Godwit seen towards the end.
Oh yes, and please excuse the sound. I realized once I was out there, that while I had been very good about charging all of my camera batteries, I had neglected all of my microphones and external recording devices, so the sound from the lens and the wind come through. Don’t worry though, I won’t be offended if you turn the volume off.
Have fun with the video, and happy shooting