Least Sandpiper and Marbled Godwit, an exercise in video

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.

You can see that this Least Sandpiper is scratching, but you don't get the full action

You can see that this Least Sandpiper is scratching, but you don’t get the full action

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

This Godwit appears very different when frozen in time

This Godwit appears very different when frozen in time

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- www.galenleeds.net
This entry was posted in birds, documentary, How To, How To, kayak photography, nature photography, photography, shorebirds, SLR, video and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Least Sandpiper and Marbled Godwit, an exercise in video

  1. Mark Goodwin says:

    Some excellent footage here Galen. If you don’t mind me saying you appear to have come to grips with the video process, fantastic footage. I still haven’t splashed out the money on the viewfinder yet, other things took priority, but it is still on the shopping list.
    What lens were using to shoot the vid and were you in the Kayak if so, what kind of tripod/support did you use. Hope you don’t mind me enquiring?

    • Hello Mark. I was on the kayak, shooting with a 300 mm lens with built in image stabilization. No tripod, but I did have a rifle style stock attached to the camera. That, in addition to the loupe on the LCD screen, helped me get fairly steady shots, which I have to say I was pretty happy with. I’m feeling more comfortable with video, and am happier with the results (thanks for noticing by the way).

      If you ever need someone to ship you a loupe from the states, let me know.

      • Mark Goodwin says:

        Brilliant stuff Galen. I’m even more impressed now I know you were using a shoulder rest attachment! The movies are certainly as good as I have seen and in many cases much better. Shooting in a boat on water with 300 mm lens freehand? You are a magician. :-) Excellento!

      • Thanks MArk. I must say, that having the right equipment really does help. Without the shoulder rest, eyepiece, and the gyros in the lens I would not have been able to do it so well… that, and the water was pretty dang calm. Hopefully I’ll get some more chances to practice soon. Cheers!

      • Mark Goodwin says:

        Excellent, look forward to it.

  2. Very good footage, I even liked the sound of the wind, ravens, and other birds, it was like being there in person.

    • Thanks. I liked the sound of the birds and the wind also, which is why I kept the sound in, even with the noise of the lens in the background. These little birds really are so much fun to photograph and shoot video of.

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