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Wild Bird Photography: How, When, Where: ------

Wild Bird Photography: How, When, Where: ------

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Wild Bird Photography: How, When, Where: ------

129 pages
1 hour
May 31, 2014


Wild Bird Photography is a "how-to" exercise by acclaimed author/photographer G. Cope Schellhorn intended for amateurs as well as professionals. Sections included,it's use, abd field craft techniques. In addition, there are extended discussions of "when" to go shooting as well as "where" (national hotspots). Color photographs are used as teaching tools and examples of what can be accomplished with practice
May 31, 2014

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Wild Bird Photography - G. Cope Schellhorn

Cover: Great Egret

Pre-Introduction photo: Scarlet Tanager

All rights reserved

Copyright © 2014 G. Cope Schellhorn

No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including digital reproduction, photocopy, recording or any information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing from the publisher. For information address Horus House Press, Inc., P.O. Box 164, Blue River, Wisconsin 53518

ISBN: 978-1-881852-32-2

Library of Congress Control Number: 2014937758

First digital version April, 2013

Revised edition April, 2014

Horus House Press, Inc.

P.O. Box 164

Blue River, Wisconsin 53518

Thanks to my wife, Patricia, for her help setting up this

manuscript and to Chris West for help with some identification problems.

Table of Contents



Lenses and Teleconverters



Other Accessories

ABCs of Exposure




Histograms and LCD Screens

Vests, Camera Bags and Fanny Packs

Traveling with Gear

White Balance


Using Flash

Light and Contrast

Field Craft Techniques

Action Photography Techniques

Composition Techniques

What I Carry Afield

Photography from Automobiles


Selling Your Work

Bird Photographer’s Ethics

When to Go Birding

Where to Go/Some Hot Spots

Selective Magazine List

Selective Internet Sites

Selective Bibliography

About the Author


Not very long ago a woman, hearing I was a bird photographer, approached me and said, With the new, digital cameras, everyone is now a pro bird photographer. What could I say? Starting where? I found her tone of voice and attitude way too smug. I swallowed hard and said, I think you better study that a bit more. She gave me a dirty look, which I had anticipated, and disappeared into the crowd.

Everyone can now take pictures, but is that all a photographer is? By one definition, yes. But to claim digital cameras have suddenly made it possible for everyone taking bird photos to come away with a professional product every shutter-snap is ludicrous. All diligent professionals know how hard it is to get a really good wall-hanger, a shot that will impress most people everywhere anytime. Really good shots don’t come often or easy; great ones are rare. Digital camera technology has allowed a quantum leap in the ease at which millions of people can press the shutter button and get a reasonably good picture. But a reasonably good shot is not the best you can do, and it will not meet professional standards for a number of reasons that reading this book, I hope, and others like it, will make clear.

The three most important considerations affecting professional-quality photography are good technique, the right equipment and proper attitude. Of these three, by far the most important one is technique. I hope this guide will go a long way in explaining what good techniques are and how to acquire them. The major ones are not difficult, and there really aren’t that many. What is needed is practice and then more practice. Yet no professional photographer knows everything possible within his craft, and the best will readily admit to it. Becoming masterful at anything requires continual experience and, I might add, a willingness to experiment.

We will discuss at some length proper birding equipment. Just as you don’t successfully hook a 600 lb tuna with a number 8 thin wire hook, it isn’t common to get professional shots of a small bird with less than a 300 mm lens and, most likely, a longer one than that. As for that intangible, attitude, it is up to you to generate the right stuff, to acquire in some way the desire to take the best photographs of which you are capable.

Figure 1. SNOW GEESE. Bosque del Apache NWR, San Antonio, NM. Canon EF 400mm f5.6L lens, 1/1000 sec. at f/8, ISO 400. Out of the way! Here we come.

All professional bird photographers that I know of spend a lot of time ogling other photographers’ shots and reading their books and articles. That is one sure way to learn. It gives you ideas and adds knowledge to that living library in your head. It does not, and cannot, replace actual field experience. If you are sincere in your efforts to take quality, professional-caliber photographs in the field, you will find as the months and years go by that quality follows the amount of effort expended and experience gained. As the quality of your productions improves, so will your self-confidence. And vice versa. You will find you have created a virtuous, recurring circle of fulfillment. And, as you might have guessed, it is a very good feeling indeed.

I have been seriously practicing digital bird photography since 1998 along with writing 8 books on extraordinary phenomena. Much of the credit for my interest in birds must go to Santiago Yabar of the small, Peruvian village of Atalaya in the Peruvian Amazon. Santiago owns and operates Amazonia Lodge (www.AmazoniaLodge.com), which is world-famous among birders. He also happens to be one of the best jungle guides to be found anywhere, and he was my number one on two deep-jungle expeditions in search of Inca and pre-Inca ruins: Madre de Dios One and Madre de Dios Two. These forays into virtually unexplored territory were solely archeological and had nothing to do with birding at all. After the second expedition, he invited me to accompany him on a bird walk. It was then I really got the bug, which led to a keen interest in birding, which in turn grew apace as improvements in digital photographic equipment increased more quickly than almost anyone predicted.

Although I always had appreciated good nature photography, I was not enamored at all with film photography. Film left too many things beyond the photographer’s control, especially the crucial processing steps. The quality of the shots you received back from the lab was pretty much what it decided to give you.

With digital DSLRs, the quality of the final product is much more in the photographer’s own hands. Autofocus was a real boon to action and flight photography. But nothing was more revolutionary than the software explosion that followed the increasing ability of DSLRs to capture in higher and higher resolution the beauty and grandeur of a nesting Anhinga, a scrambling Cape May Warbler or a breeding Reddish Egret strutting its stuff.

I have a photo of the Mendenhall Glacier I took with a 2 megapixel Nikon point- and- shoot on an Alaskan cruise within a year of taking my afternoon birding walk with Santiago. It is pretty terrible by today’s standards, a super grainy exposition more like an inferior painting from a Whistler imitator complete with fog than anything most people would want for a keepsake. Yet within 4 to 6 years DSLRs were capable of producing a very professional product. True, the cost of an early 6 to 10 megapixel camera was almost outrageous, but within a few more years a good, serviceable 10 megapixel or larger camera could be had for well under 1000 dollars. Quite a revolution in itself but hardly the whole story. Good software for tweaking the Camera Raw data was quick to follow. Canon (DPP: Digital Photo Professional) and Nikon each have their own processing systems, and then there is Adobe’s Photo Elements, the massive Adobe Photoshop, for those who wish or need to take the finishing process an extra step, and many simpler programs for those who wish to shoot only in JPEG format and do a minimum of fine tuning.

All of this wonderful technology is, in retrospect, rather awesome. It will not and cannot, however, take photos for you. You have to do that. It is you who has to learn how to hold steady and adjust accurately your equipment

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