Sunday, January 19, 2014

Photographing Trumpeter Swans in Boxley Valley, Touchdown Trumpeter Swan

Patterning trumpeter takeoffs and landings on the Boxley Mill Pond is pretty easy. When they are ready to take off they act nervous and don't feed much. You will notice they bob their heads and do a little honking, often pretty faint, but audible. Suddenly the takeoff happens and they skitter across the water and they are off. They will fly around the valley for a few minutes before landing back at the pond. You have time to prepare -- use it.

The great thing in Boxley Valley is that the trumpeters return after takeoff. This morning I shot the takeoff in kind of dim light as the sun was rising. I knew from experience the trumpeters would fly the length of the valley and land back at the mill pond, typically in 5 minutes or so. There are 2 narrow strips where the trumpeters might land. I chose the one that was just lighting up from the sunrise, guessing that they might prefer it to the still dark portion of the pond. It turned out to be the correct choice.

Trumpeter Swan Landing in Boxley Mill Pond
Touchdown Trumpeter Swan, Boxley Mill Pond
A couple of tips. First, observe. Pay attention and think about what you see. Getting the above photo was based first on a way of thinking. Don't necessarily adopt my thinking, adopt my habit of thinking and concentration during a shoot. I want you to find your own patterns, your own approach.

Second tip. These guys are moving fast when then land. When you scope out your anticipated landing spot, do some pre-focusing testing, think about the landscape behind the subject. Choose your angle for the shot to setup the background to complement your composition.  Your composition is both the subject and its context. This photo would be pretty good if it were only the swan. I think it is much better with the brush along the pond illuminated by the sunrise, and added to the composition. This strategy of placing the subject in context could be the difference between a "wall hanger" and just a pretty good photo.

Third tip. I try to shoot these shots at f8 or more to add depth of field, especially when the subject is approaching me as in this photo almost straight on.  It provides a margin of error for good focus. I also pre-focus and let the swan fly into the focus. To get to this aperture, and still have a decent shutter speed I shot this at ISO 2000 and 1/1580th of a second. In reasonably bright light the noise is not too bad.

I hand-held the entire shoot. At this shutter speed hand holding my camera is a non-issue. In many ways, hand-holding the camera allows me to make the quick adjustments needed to get the shot in wildlife photography.

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