Top Three Tips for Photographing Waders
My Top Three Tips for Photographing Waders
No 1: Get as Low as your crook knees and hips will let you go (and be able to get up again).
Waders spend 99% of their time foraging for food at water level. Bringing yourself to the eye level of the bird instantly makes the image more appealing to the viewer.
It also has advantages: you don't need a tripod (I rest my camera and lens under my hand which rests on the ground - usually in mud/sand); you can stay in one position for a long time - you can even take a nap if you want to; it throws the background out of focus as the focal plane narrows to cover just the bird - this is what gives photos such as the Bar-tailed Godwit (below) good 'bokeh'*; and lastly, but perhaps most importantly, it makes you appear less threatening to the bird. I have had situations where birds, such as Bar-tailed Godwits, Great Knots and Red-necked Stints have come so close that my lens wouldn't focus.
No 2: Do not approach them directly.
I try to pick a place where these kinds of birds are often found (see locations of photos submitted by members for possible locations near you). Once I see some birds I would like to photograph, I observe in what direction they are generally feeding. I then walk in a large arc around the birds and to a position some distance away, but in the direction I think they are heading. I lie down and hope they come closer. If I am still too far away, or would like to be closer, I will crawl (think commando style, but less attractive) closer, but under no circumstance should you stand up again. For every movement closer, you should wait for the birds to get used to your new position before attempting to go further. Only once they all seem settled do I think about moving again.
Note: you never want to cause the birds to fly away or interrupt their feeding. If you do this, you have gone too close. Give yourself (and the birds) time. Once I am in position, I will not move again until the birds have left themselves (usually when a raptor flies overhead) or moved on far enough so that I won't disturb them by standing.
No 3: Pick the light
There is no doubting that the light of early morning (1-2 hours after sunrise) and sunset (1-2 hours before sundown) is beautiful. Try to position yourself with the light gently warming your back whilst falling softly onto the face of your oncoming bird (which will also give it that nice catch-light in the eye). Honestly, that light makes everything and everyone look better (and younger)! It also makes images sharper. I don't know why, as I'm not a technical nut, but there is no doubting that the focus system on my lens/camera likes the early light much better than the harsh midday sun. So, make the effort and you will be rewarded (plus most birds are more active at this time anyway).
If you follow these three tips, you WILL get better, vote winning images with even the smallest, cheapest and simplest equipment.
* Nasim Mansurov of Photographylife defines 'bokeh' as "[T]he quality and feel of the background/foreground blur and reflected points of light".
** Steak knives not included.
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