Tuesday, January 1, 2013


I got a late start this New Year morning, and I decided to do something different. I birded Lake Creek Trail with photography as my first priority, and I put my camera on a tripod. I've never done this before because for me, finding and observing birds has always been more important than photographing them. I only wanted to photograph birds to share my observations on this blog and to document rare or unexpected species. So I was never willing to lug a tripod around. Also, I never took a complete approach to learning photography. As soon as I learned enough to get decent photos, I didn't learn much more. Over the past couple days I've been thinking about this, because lately I've been frustrated with the quality of photos I'm taking. I wondered if I should get a new camera, but then I remembered that my current camera has lots of features I never learned. So I spent some time reading about my current camera and learning some new settings. I also remembered some advice I got from a professional photographer about tripods. Obviously tripods enable sharper photos. But they also make you slow down and spend more time in one place. I decided to give the new camera settings and the tripod (I already have one for my spotting scope) a try.

The photos I got this morning were very encouraging. I usually have a hard time getting sharp photos in heavily overcast conditions like this morning, but all of the photos I took were consistently sharper than I expected. Staying in one place led to some interesting photo opportunities as well, the best being a Wilson's Snipe in the creek bed. This is one of the best photos of Wilson's Snipe I've ever taken:

Wilson's Snipe - 2

It was much easier to get nice sharp photos of the Least Sandpipers in the creek bed as well:

Least Sandpipers

Shortly after taking these photos, I started walking back to the trail head when a Merlin flew past me carrying a smaller bird in its talons. I followed it with my binoculars and saw it land on top of a distant post. So I walked over there as fast as I could and got these photos. Even though the bird was far away on an overcast morning, the photos were almost all sharp. I was able to choose which ones to keep based on other criteria, which was a nice change.

Merlin Eating Prey - 2

Merlin Eating Prey - 4

Merlin Eating Prey - 5

I don't think I'll use the tripod often -- I know I missed some birds I would otherwise have observed this morning because hauling it around and setting it up was slow and awkward. But I'll definitely be using the tripod once in awhile. It was a different experience. Instead of actively finding birds, I was looking for spots to stop and set up the tripod where the birds would likely find me. And the sharper photos were enlightening. Experimenting with the tripod this morning was an encouraging way to start the new year.


Bill Dodd said...

Nice shots Mikael! I've been reading some digital photography books and getting better acquainted with my DSLR. Still haven't gotten a tripod, but it's very high on the list. That's always the number one piece of advice for getting sharper pics, especially with long lenses, in low light, etc. Nice to read a good success story!

Mikael Behrens said...

Thanks Bill! Regardless of what your goals are, I think it's worth trying. It's a surprisingly different experience.

Marc said...

Hey Mikael,
Let me know next time you want to do this and I will be your "Tote & Fetch" guy... carrying your tripod, so that you can focus on locating the birds!!