We started the week with a good dose of snow and so it seems winter's long night has begun in earnest. Cold weather out of the North-West can often mean clear skies with the bright luminescence of a low arching December sun beaming through the trees. This is prime time to try and pull off some small bird-in-flight captures. When ever I see a good song bird flight picture I'll stop and take notice. They are a rare commodity. Getting one by accident is a pipe dream, achieving it with purpose is time consuming and baffling. Many methods have been tried to achieve good results and often successfully so. Consider please photographer/genius Étienne-Jules Marey of 19th century France who managed to apply multiple time lapse images of a flying pelican onto a single negative. The quality of this image taken in 1882 still holds up brilliantly some 130 years later. To this purpose Monsieur Marey invented a photographic machine gun that could shoot twelve frames a second. My sophisticated Dslr camera of today shoots only seven.
Marey's images pushed the study of anatomical motion light years ahead. His books: La Machine animales/Animal Mechinism and Le Vol des Oiseaux/ The Flight of Birds, was followed by Le Mouvement in 1894, famously illuminating in great detail many mysteries including how a cat always lands on it's feet and that indeed, all four horse's hooves do leave the ground simultaneously at a full gallop.
Photography and Enlightenment had begun a intriguing relationship.
If the trick of capturing a Bird in Flight was pulled off so effectively in 1882, then why is this accomplishment still so intoxicating to every bird photographer great and small to this very day? Perhaps it has more to do with the singular experience of taking such a picture than the picture itself.
Only up to a point, and a very fine point it is, can nature photography be planned in advance. (By the way, is that a tether knotted to Marey's pelican's foot?) When the day begins it is impossible to predict what birds we shall see and know the time of their arrival. We are seekers, open to opportunity. Ours is a reactive pastime, and an impressive level of concentration is required to simply observe, let alone pull off the mechanics involved in photographing our prey. A great shot is always just around the next corner and our reflexes are set to snap it.
No one, and no technology is fast enough to track a song bird in flight at close quarters. Coupling that limitation with the need for shutter speeds in the vicinity of 1/2000 of a second and a cracker thin depth of focus it's easy to see why folks rehearse their in-flight photog' skills on lazily gliding gulls.
The advanced practice takes total immersion; a Zen like focus on the Here and Now. That and $2000 worth of camera gear!
A White-breasted nuthatch in flight. A moment in time.
My technique involves picking a cubic foot of air near a feeder and shooting picture after picture as the yard birds streak through it. 99.9% of these attempts contain nothing but clear air and are nudged into the waste basket. Out of focus and blurred birds round out the last 1/10 of one percent. As a meditation exercise the student of Zen presses a stick in the sand and in a flash of inspired motion attempts to scratch a single perfect circle, an endless endeavour to momentarily experience perfection. How can anything so inherently frustrating lead to Nirvana? You'll have to ask the Buddha that one. To achieve a bird in flight capture we apply the same demented principle to a camera. The truth is the effort to take these pictures puts you 100% in The Present, the razor thin chasm between the past and future. I don't think the animal kingdom in general devotes much time to such aesthetic pursuits as reaching harmony with the Universe. They don't need to. It is Humankind's special delusion to see itself as separate and insulated from Mother Earth like the thermos bottle in your lunch box.
A Black-capped chickadee in full bloom.
Perhaps that lucky strike photo is all the proof we really need that if only for a moment, we too can delve into the kind of transcendent oneness a cat experiences when it lands softly on it's feet after a great fall or view the mystical mastery a bird has over it's wing tips as it manages the million micro maneuvers that sees it safely to it's perch.
Bottom line: Small bird in flight photography is fun and does require your full awareness. The rare good pictures are Bliss, a souvenir from from a momentary glimpse of heaven!
This is the home of World Bird Wednesday. A place for bird photographers from around the world to gather and share their photographs and experiences as they pursue Natures most beautiful treasurers, the birds.
You don't have to be a Bird Watcher or expert photographer to join in, just enjoy sharing what you bring back from your explorations and adventures into nature!
World Bird Wednesday will be open for posting at 12 noon Tuesday EST North America through midnight on Wednesday.
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#3. Check back in during the course of the next day and explore these excellent photoblogs!
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