Posts Tagged ‘Bird Photography’

Bird Photo Booth: Take pics as birds feast on seeds

December 2, 2013



Homeowners love the sound of birds chirping during the day. Some of them attract these winged creatures onto their front yards by putting up bird feeders. As much as you want to observe these birds up close, you know they just fly away if you get too near.

Let Bird Photo Booth solve that problem and even save those moments forever. It is a bird feeder with a slot inside where you put your old iPhone or GoPro camera. The camera is connected to a device inside the house via Bluetooth or WiFi, enabling you to snap photos of feeding birds yourself without disturbing them.

This weather-resistant contraption is made of sustainably harvested white oak hardwood and comes with a macro lens and circular polarizing lens that zooms in the birds automatically while providing finer details. It also has a lens cap protector, stainless steel perch and bowl for the seeds, and foam inserts for both iPhone and GoPro.

The iPhone foam insert also works with 4th and 5th-gen iPod Touch, while the GoPro protective foam insert fits all models, including the new GoPro Hero 3 editions. Android device owners will have to wait a bit, as usual.

The company even suggests you could also communicate with the birds using FaceTime, but that might just scare the birds away. They also recommend to turn off the device’s auto-lock functionality so you won’t miss a moment.

The Bird Photo Booth is available online for $150, plus shipping.


The Fat Finch’s Bird and Photo Walk

February 27, 2012

Thanks to Sandhill Cranes, Canada Geese, and various ducks, our Fat Finch photo/bird walk last Saturday was a success. Four of us took out a group of twenty people for hints and tips on bird photography and we thought you’d like to see some of the results. For this post we’ve selected three photos that illustrate some of the suggestions we made last time in Eight Steps to Great Bird Photography.

First up is a crane in flight, taken by one of the leaders, Tomas Spross.

Tomas Spross 2012

For those of you interested in the finer points of photography, that photo was taken with a 300mm f-4 lenses set at f-11 and 1/2000th of a second. Notice the diagonal created in the photo by the bird’s body. Diagonal compositions often create a dynamic sense of movement in photographs and this photograph conveys the energy and speed of flight. Triangles have the same effect, illustrated here by the triangle created by the bird’s wings that leads your eyes directly to the bird’s eye which is at one of the Rule of thirds intersections. (More on that below.)

Next up is a fine photo of a Green-winged Teal taken by another of the leaders, Bosque Bill, as he likes to be known. This horizontal composition conveys the calmness of the duck. Note that the duck’s eyes are not at either side of the photo, so the viewers’ eyes aren’t led out of the photo before they notice the blue-green reflection on the water of the duck’s head .

Bosque Bill 2012

The other two leaders of the group, Linda Rockwell and Kent Winchester, never got around to taking any photos. We are waiting for participants to send us examples of their photos.

We end today’s post with a photo made by Matt Bruno, a participant who is ten years old. Matt was unable to go with us after the introductory talk at the Fat Finch store but he sent along three photographs he made earlier in the month. We’re using only one today, a shot of an American Kestrel that perfectly illustrates another point about composition.

Matt Bruno 2012

We have here another diagonal composition, the tree limbs beginning in the lower left and ending with the kestrel. Although the kestrel is perched in this photo, the diagonal gives you a sense of its kinetic energy, waiting for release when it swoops down on its next bit of food.

Rule of Thirds

Note the location of the kestrel’s eyes – precisely on one of the intersecting points resulting from the Rule of Thirds. (A subset of the Golden Ratio used by artists and architects since at least the time of ancient Egypt.)

Thanks to all who participated. It was a great morning of wild birds and photographers.

Eight Steps to Great Bird Photography

February 24, 2012



The absolute best way to find birds to photograph is to go out with an experienced birder. No field guide will reliably get you to birds as rapidly. If you don’t know a good birder, join your local Audubon club or call a birding store and ask about local birding hot spots.  And, even when you’re out without a birder, stop anytime you see a group of people with binoculars and spotting scopes. Birders share their delights.

Field guides are the second best way to find birds to photograph. Most field guides have been reduced for your smart phones and computer tablets and they show it. Get the real book. National Geographic’s is the most comprehensive, followed closely by Sibley’s and by Ken Kaufmann’s. Not only do they show you the bird and tell you where it lives and travels, they tell you about its habits. Birds, like all animals, are creatures of habit. More about that in a moment.


For the best telephoto lens, take ten steps forward.  Wear dull clothing, use trees, bushes, grasses, and other natural obstacles to sneak up on the birds. If necessary, crawl, don’t walk. The sooner you forget your natural dignity, the sooner you’ll get fantastic photographs.


You have, as Wendell Berry puts it, come into “the peace of wild things.” Find a likely habitat, sit down, and be silent. The birds will come to you as soon as you are at peace.


Create a bird photography station in your backyard. All you need are feeders, bird seed, and a comfortable place to sit. You can even sit indoors, next to a window.



You are in place, quietly waiting for the birds. Now is the time to check your camera. Is it turned on? Lens cap removed? Are the settings correct? If you are shooting with a modern digital camera, 90% of the time its automatic setting will deliver acceptable photographs. Beware:  It has a built-in bias for a wide aperture and fast speed, meaning that the depth-of-field – the area in focus – will be limited. If you can, manually set the ISO to 200 (Good light) or 400 (Bad light) to minimize digital “noise.”


Ready to shoot? Take three more seconds to compose the photograph. In your mind’s eye divide the scene you are looking at through the camera into equal thirds, vertically and horizontally. Adjust the camera so that the bird or, even better, the bird’s eyes are at one of the nine points where the lines intersect. Don’t put the bird in the precise middle of the frame. That results in a static, boring composition.

Unless you are waiting for the bird to look directly at the camera, leave space on the side of the photograph where the bird is looking. Otherwise, your viewer’s eyes will leave the photograph before seeing all the photograph. And even though almost all birds’ eyes are on the side of their heads, your photographs will be more interesting if the bird is looking toward the camera. Include some habitat that is in focus. (That will be difficult or impossible if you are shooting with large telephoto lenses which have severely limited depth-of-field.)

There is nothing wrong with photographs of perched birds, but action will add interest to your photographs. Try to get shots of take-offs and landings.

Birds telegraph their take-offs. Cranes and shorebirds often stare in the direction of take-off before starting their take-off runs. Birds usually take off and land into the wind. Raptors and other mid-sized birds will crouch just before leaving their perch. Almost all birds defecate in the seconds before take-off. Focus on the bird’s head when you see this behavior and start clicking the shutter at the first move.

Birds in flight require forethought. If you wait until the bird is flying by you, it’s going too fast for your camera’s automatic focus system to keep up. Predict from where the bird will come, pre-focus by depressing the shutter button part way, and wait for the bird to reach that point before taking the photo. If your camera allows burst shooting, take several shots, increasing the odds of getting one that is sharply focused. And remember that a photograph with a bird flying directly toward your camera will emotionally make your viewers participants; not observers.


You’re almost ready now. The only thing left to do is focus, focus, focus.


For bird photography the old maxim of documentary photography, “F8 and be there” works best. You can substitute F5.6 or F11 aperture settings for F8. Modern digital cameras allow you to substitute “automatic” settings.

There is no substitute for being there.

Finally, and most important, remember why you are there.


Kent Winchester


Theodore Cross, RIP

March 5, 2010

After a full life of civil rights activism, accumulating scads of money in business, and photographing more birds than most people ever see, Theodore Cross has died at the age of 86. Like all birders, he knew he was condemned to not seeing every bird on the planet and, like all birders, accepted that fate. He wrote his own epitaph:

He Passed on

To a Better World

Still Waiting for

A Perfect Picture

Of a Reddish Egret.


Take the time, about two minutes, to watch and listen to the audio slide show that accompanies the article about his death.

The Golden Eagles of Kazakhstan

January 16, 2010

The Altay Mountains from space

We complain from time to time about bird photography. So much of it looks like all the rest. Apparently the idea is to get a big telephoto lens, go outdoors, get as far away from the bird as you can, and snap a photo. In such photos, the bird is sharply focused and everything else is a blur. That is not the photographers’ fault either, the laws of physics allow nothing else. Due to the way light behaves as it passes through each successive layer of glass in telephoto lenses, the depth-of-field is so shallow that only things a precise distance from the lens can be in focus. Large telephoto lenses make composition more difficult too which is why, in most such photos, the bird is squarely in the middle of the frame, creating rather static compositions. The equipment limits what the photographer can do.

And, of course, you hardly ever see black and white photos of birds.

Photograph by John Delaney from his portfolio "Interior Exposures"

Which are reasons why photographer John Delaney’s new portfolio of photos of Kazakhs and their tame Golden Eagles refreshes.

According to Delaney, no one knows how long ago the Kazakhs began taming and hunting with Golden Eagles but it was a long time ago. Herodotus mentioned it in the 5th Century B.C.E., Marco Polo probably saw them in action, and Genghis Khan may have had as many as 5,000 “eagle riders” riding with him.

Many of the photos, like the one above, are technically portraits of Kazakhs holding their birds, but they are portraits of the eagles too. But two include landscapes of Kazakhstan, including my personal favorite, “Silent Watcher.”

We accept gifts here at the Fat Finch and a print of “Silent Watcher” is only $1,000.00. We’ll take care of the framing and send you a nice thank you note.

The photographs are for sale through and here is a link to the book which you can scroll through on your computer. “Silent Watcher” is the last photograph. We recommend a few minutes browsing. You’ll get a glimpse of a different culture and come away refreshed.


The MODIS satellite photo from NASA above includes the Altay Mountains which form the borders of Kazakhstan (left), Russia (top), Mongolia (right) and China (bottom). According to NASA’s caption, “In the north, the mountains are covered with deep green forest and capped with snow above the tree line. The mountains form a natural barrier between the four nations and between several different climate regions. Steppes, tundra, forest, and desert surround the mountains. Melting snow flows off the mountains into rivers, which feed several of the large lakes visible throughout the image. A web of green irrigated crop land surrounds many of the lakes, particularly in China and Kazakhstan.” The Kazakhs, a nomadic people, once roamed through much of the area in the photograph. Click on the photo for a larger version.

Prize Winning Bird Photos

November 30, 2009

Last week, ravaged by pink eye, I lay in bed, scarce caring whether I lived or died.  Only Hilda, my toothless old Mother, bothered to bring me food and quinine.  When, at last, my strength began to return, Hilda brought me my computer.  With her old, red gums clashing she told me she had found me wildlife pictures to aid in my recovery, just like she used to do when I was a child and came down with the scurvy.  Mine was a poor childhood, without even Vitamin C to fortify me for the twenty-mile uphill trudge — both ways — to school through the driving blizzards.  Often I was lost for weeks at a time.

In the days of renewed vigor following my illness, I learned from the computer of the results of two wildlife photography contests which, with my increasing energy I am now able to tell you about by weakly click-clicking away on this keyboard.

In the first contest, run by the Museum of Natural History in far off London, a place I could only dream about during my poverty-encrusted childhood out on the endless prairies, Rob Palmer of Colorado, USA, won for this photo of a Bald Eagle snatching a Red-winged Blackbird out of the air. We’ve told you before about Palmer who is one of our favorite photographers of birds.

Rob Palmer

Palmer’s photo wasn’t the only bird photo that won a prize.  Several others were also winners. Here is one from Finland, a place almost as cold and dark in the winter as my childhood home.  That is a wolf approaching some carrion, driving Ravens and Magpies from his path. I remember the wolves howling as they tried to run me down when I plodded home from school during dark evenings.

Seppo Pollanen

I often shared my childhood home in the cliffs above the Yukon River with Peregrine Falcons.  Shivering there in the cold, I wished they would share their kills with me, but they never did, so I existed on rutabagas. Over in England a single Peregrine can cause panic among thousands of starlings, as in this photo.  The falcon is out of the photo on the left but you can see the wave of starlings departing.

Danny Green

Another prize winner, this one from France, reminds me of my childhood home deep in the Everglades.  Every so often I could take my eyes off the water-moccasin infested swamp long enough to glance into the trees where I would be rewarded with a glimpse of a woodpecker.  Like this photograph, that was long ago, when the world itself was still only in black and white, not like now with all the pretty colors.

David Hackel and Michel Poinsignon

Finally, my strength begins to wane — I’m not the man I once was you know — I leave you with another of the London prize winners.  This one doesn’t have a bird in it at all, but I include it because it reminds me of the jackals on the African savannah that used to hunt me as I slogged across the endless Serengeti on my way to school each day.

Lorenz Andreas Fischer

If I live long enough, we’ll be back next time with the winners of the other photo contest.

Congratulations to Rob Palmer. And, here is a hint about the next contest we’re going to cover; Palmer won that one too.


Sharp-eyed readers will notice the shameless plagiarism of E.B. White in the first three and a half sentences.  Most of that was lifted from his essay, “Fierce Pajamas” which you can find in The New Yorker book of the same name at page 7.  I stole the idea of simply lifting somebody else’s sentences — just to get started, you understand — from Steve Martin’s “Writing is Easy!” in the same book.

10 Steps to Perfect Bird Photographs

January 31, 2009
Chipping Sparrow by Eliot Porter

Chipping Sparrow by Eliot Porter

We need to do a couple of more posts on some basics of photography before this series of How to Take Bird Photographs is complete.  And we need to discuss Eliot Porter, David Utterback and a few others who have done it well.

But we promised in our most recent post that this one would be our 10 step program to good bird photography and a promise is a promise.  We’ll be back with more about apertures, shutter speeds, and composition.  In the meantime, here they are: The Ten Steps to Perfect Bird Photographs.

1.  Ascertain where the birds you want to photograph live.
2.  Go there before sunrise. You will scare them off when you arrive.
3.  While you wait for them to come back, get your camera ready. Small apertures give in-depth focus but require slower shutter speeds.  Use a tripod. If you have a gigantic telephoto lens, point it where you expect the bird.
4.  Remember the rule of news photographers: “F8 and be there.”
5.  Sit down and don’t move; the birds will return after they get used to your imitation of a tree.
6.  Sit still some more. Don’t scratch that itch.
7.  Ask yourself the big questions.
8.  Answer them.  You have plenty of time.
9.  After the birds return, slowly, ever so slowly, raise the camera to your eyes or lower your eyes to the tripod.
10.  Focus and trip the shutter.

Pinon Jay by Eliot Porter

Pinon Jay by Eliot Porter

Start over.  Repeat until the sun goes down.  If it is winter, don’t wait for sunset; repeat until your eyelids freeze or until your fingertips turn black from the frostbite.

With any luck at all, you’ll have one or two photographs worthy of the name.

Bird Photography, Part II

January 27, 2009
An Example of How to Do It from On Feathered Wings

An Example of How to Do It (from On Feathered Wings)

We have complained in this space before about the documentary nature of most bird photographs.  Taken with lenses longer than your arm, the birds, sharply in focus, inhabit an blurred universe.  Those gargantuan telephoto lens you see some birders lugging around must obey the laws of physics; laws which require those lens to convert the background of the photo, which is the world in which the birds and we live, into a blurry oatmeal of pastel color unlike anything the birds’ eyes or ours ever see.

Let’s face it, not many photographers can take an extreme telephoto shot like the Snowy Owl above and cause you a moment of what James Joyce called “aesthetic arrest”; what people feel in the presence of great art.

Here, for example, is a photo we took of Chuck, our injured neighborhood Greater Roadrunner. Notice the green oatmeal in the background.  Those are trees and a bit of sky back there, but you can’t tell that from the photo, which really is only a documentary photo of Chuck’s injured lower beak.
Don’t get us wrong.  There is nothing wrong with this kind of documentary photography; it just isn’t art.  Some documentary photography is. Think of Robert Capra’s shot of the soldier at the moment of his death in the Spanish Civil War, or the shot of the sailor kissing the girl in Times Square at the end of WWII, or the photo of the naked Vietnamese girl running down the road toward the photographer, screaming as napalm explodes behind her.  Interesting, isn’t it, that much documentary photography that stands the test of time — and that is the true test of any work of art — comes from wars or other tragedies?

Because both the laws of physics and the flighty behavior of birds prevent getting close enough to the bird to enable a photographer with a normal lens on the camera to keep the background as well as the bird in focus, we see nice photographs of birds, but not much fine art.

Don’t get us wrong.  It is possible to create art with a telephoto lens, it just isn’t easy.  Here, for example, is a photo from a great new book, On Feathered Wings. As is the case for many of the photos in the book, this one moves us beyond telephoto documentary photography.

Published by Abrams, a fine-art publishing house, On Feathered Wings, consists of photographs of birds in flight, taken by four photographers from around the world.  And while many of the photographs contain unfocused backgrounds, the background in often the sky and so does not distract from the photo.  The other thing to notice about the photos is that they consist of something more than a static bird in the exact center of the photograph.  (More on composition of your photographs is coming in a subsequent post.)

Two more examples from the book follow.  To be clear, all the photos I am using in this post are actually photos of the photos in the book.  To see the real thing — and to feel its aesthetic effect, you’ll have to buy the book. Here is the Amazon link. We don’t have it listed on our web site yet, but you can buy it from our new physical store. Just call 1-505-898-8900. Truly, it is a fine book and well worth the money.  ($40.00 before any discount) Below are links to the photographers’ web sites, all worth a few minutes of your time.


Still, many of the photographs in the book were taken with telephoto lens which limited the ability of the photographer to create a photo of the birds as they exist in their environment.

We’ll discuss how you can do that, and show you some examples,  in our next installment, “10 Things You Can Do to Take Great Bird Photos.”


Here are the websites of the photographers of On Feathered wingsRichard Ettlinger Rob PalmerMiguel Lasa, and K.K. Hui.

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