Photographing Florida Wading Birds
(Yes I am a REALTOR but in my spare time I do wildlife photography--If you get good at exposure etc-all of those skills will definitely help you take shots of your listings)
When, Where and How
First off this article is by no means intended to be the last say in techniques and equipment. Basically what follows is what has worked for me in pursing my interest and love of Florida’s magnificent wading Birds! Incidentally I use mostly Nikon gear (Nikon D100 digital camera and Nikon lenses) but any comparable gear can work as well.
Incidentally the birds I was able to shoot at the places below were Egrets (Snowy, Reddish and Great) Great Blue, Little Blue and Tri-colored Herons, Green Herons, Cormorants, Anhingas, Black and Yellow Crowned Night Herons , White Ibis, Wood Storks, Osprey. White Pelicans and Roseate Spoonbills. There were certainly other birds but these were the ones I found the most interesting as subjects..
The article covers the following.
!-Where-Places to photograph wading birds in Florida
2-When-The best times of the year to find them.
3-Techniques of shooting Birds from metering them to suggested equipment.
4-Image editing or now that you have the shot what’s next.
Places to photograph.
I’m sure that there are more places than I’ve been to and certainly some obscure places also. If you can add to this list-it would be much appreciated and I will add the locations to this article with the senders name.
If you want more information on these locations e-mail me and I’ll gladly help.
1.Merritt Island out of Titusville Florida. Specifically Black Point Wildlife Drive. This is an approximately 8 mile drive through the wetlands that has about 300 species of birds available at different times. This is a very enjoyable and user friendly place. It’s Ok to pull off to the side of this one- way road and photograph (East Coast)
2-Anahinga trail at the South entrance to the Everglades—Just out of Homestead Florida at the end of the Turnpike and entrance to the Florida Keys. Nice walk through wetlands on raised boardwalk, also Gumbo Limbo trail to see native plants and trees.
3-Shark Valley on Highway 41 or Tamiami trail. This is a great area! There is a 15 mile paved loop where you can either hike, ride a bicycle or take a tram. Lots of Birds and Alligators. Birds don’t seem afraid and so your potential is great for shots.
4-Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge-Located on Sanibel Island. There is a four-mile Wildlife drive. You can walk-ride bicycles or Drive. Similar to Merritt Island. Incidentally you can fish and put in Kayaks at Ding Darling. This park is loaded with Birds hence potential keeper shots. Gulf Coast.)
5-Venice rookery-Venice Florida-this is a small island with lots of birds and potential for incredible shots-Just off US 1. (Gulf Coast)
6-Pelican Island-just south of Sebastian Inlet on A1A (south of Melbourne Florida. This is a very nice park with hiking trails and lots of Birds.(East coast)
7-StAugustine Alligator farm, St Augustine Florida north of Daytona (East coast)
This is one of the most prime spots due to the rookeries. Since there are lots of alligators, the birds know you won’t be bothering them. In some cases their nests are within 10-15 feet from you.
When-in my opinion and Since I live in Florida I would say Jan-Feb-March and April for three good reasons.
1-Breeding season and thus great shot potential. This time of the year the birds have absolutely beautiful plumage in order to attract mates. Plus you have a chance at shooting the little guys
2-NO Mosquitoes!!! Do not go into Everglades in the summer-unless you like to suffer. If you do take lots of spray or lotion.
3-Cooler weather. It’s hard to lug around cameras and big lenses when its 100 degrees out.
Now-you can obviously shoot Birds any time of the year-but I find the first 4 months of the year the most fruitful.
Some general Techniques and Information
Since there are a zillion books on techniques-I’m going to cover just what I have found works for me! These are in no certain order.
1-Be glad when it’s overcast- It is so much easier to get shots of White Birds and not blow out the reflected areas. If it is sunny out and the sun is hitting on a White heron or Egret-get ready to meter the subject and underexpose and/or compensate.
*I would rather lose some detail in the dark areas than Blow out the Highlights.
2-Use a Tripod!!!!! In most cases you will be using at least 200 to300mm lenses and due to the weight you will need a Sturdy tripod. In my opinion, you cannot handhold a heavy camera with a large lens and get a sharp image.
*In my opinion most shots by beginning photographers lack clarity/sharpness.
*Focus on the Birds eye—especially with long lenses.
*The best pictures of solo birds should give an idea of the birds personality!
3-Use a shutter release cable and always bring a backup. If you’re lens is locked on a bird and you’re waiting for it to stretch out or whatever-it’s nice to just click the release and get the shot. Sometimes the window to do this happens very fast! (on the backup-I lost/misplaced a cable at Ding Darling and there was no camera shop within 20 miles to get a replacement)
4.Understand your exposure meter (either handheld or TTL) I find that practice really helps-I have spent lots of time in my own backyard and out in forest areas to see what different settings produce. Try Aperture priority. When in doubt I use a spot meter and set my camera at what I want the metered are to look like. There are lots of books on this-so learn about zones and then manually set your camera. PS-if you are shooting birds and the light is pretty much the same-find the exposure that works then set it manually and stick with it. Be careful though because if the light changes, your exposure will need to be adjusted for more or less light.
1-A REALLY good tripod and head with Quick release plates. The good stuff will probably set you back at least $400 to $500 for both tripod and head. It is well worth it—it doesn’t make sense to spend a small fortune on lenses and then have the shots out of focus.
PS-put your camera and it’s longest lens on your current tripod and then tap the tripod legs and see if the image moves. In the best situations there will be no movement or very slight.
*Don’t raise the center post as it gets even more unstable and harder to get a sharp picture. I love Gitzo tripods but there are other good brands as well.
2-Good lenses. For bird shots you will in most cases need longer lenses.
I have found that a Nikon AF 80-200mm F2.8, is a great all around bird lens. It is a razor sharp lens and focuses fast!
A longer lens with a smaller set aperture like 2.8 or 4 will cost much more and they are physically larger but the results are far far better than a cheaper off brand and/or slower lens.
For 300mm I have found an F.4 works well-if you can afford it a 300mm F2.8 would be great but it would cost in the thousands.
3-Good Teleconverter-I favor a 1.4x and also bring along a 2X. I have found that for AF use a Kenko 1.4 model 300 pairs up with the Nikon gear very well.
*The good stuff costs more, but since the lenses are faster and because they allow more light they auto focus quicker and the results are far superior to a cheaper and/or slower lens.
*I am not saying that there are no good off brands-only that when in doubt you generally cannot go wrong with a good OEM lens.
More general thoughts!
Image editing---Photoshop CS or at minimum 7 (due to file browser feature and Raw image handling)
*If your camera has the feature, Always Shoot in RAW format and then keep the raw file as your negative. This is a larger 16 bit file that can be changed as to exposure-white balance-contrast etc. You have much more to work with going in.
*Learn Burn and Dodge techniques and especially how to use levels and curves in Photoshop and last but not least how to sharpen the image without overdoing it.
*Take as many photo work shops as you can afford and interest you.
*My goal in a days shooting is to get one or 2 keepers or WOW shots. If you approach it this way it takes the pressure off. Sometimes at the end of the day I will find a shot I wasn’t really inspired by at the time is the one that really stands out-so take lots of pictures.
Recommended reading. These are just a few.
1-Anything by John Shaw-especially the Art of Landscape Photography. This is loaded with great useful information—if you can get only one book, get this one.
2-Jim Zuckermans Secrets to Perfect Exposure and Guide to Natural Light Photography.
3-The Photoshop book for Digital photographers. By Scott Kelby
4-Bill Fortneys-Great Photography workshop.
5-Galen Rowels Mountain Light—(wow what great images)
6-geprge Lepps books-the Digital Image-each issue has very useful information.
7-Ansel Adams or other peoples books about the Zone system.
In closing this is what I have found has helped me but make no mistake I learn something new every time I go out and shoot and have just scratched the surface of this great pastime. See my photography website at www.dhphotoart.com