Everybody has seen seagulls, I guess unless you live in a desert. Them and terns must be some of the most widely distributed species of bird living along coastal areas. The house sparrow takes the crown for worldwide distribution in conjunction with numbers of birds, I think, but the barn owl is on every continent except Antarctica. Sparrows don’t surprise me, but the owl does. I would have guessed pigeons too. And why am I looking for the most abundant birds?
Abundant birds mean more photo subjects. Are you curious why I chose these boring, common birds to take photos? Read on. You just might be picking up the camera for seagulls too. I am updating this post with Winging It – Gulls in Flight Part 2 giving some camera tips since learned. It has pretty photos of gulls flying the snowy skies, November 3o, 2013. Hope you enjoy, I did learn something along the way!
This post was inspired by my difficulty in capturing birds in flight and I thought I would use some tips that another blogger provided which should improve my photography. Galen Leeds Photography is a very informative blog and this is the link to which I am referring in the post. I read his post and here are the results!
Galen discussed three preferred angles, front, side and from below. This is much harder to do than it may seem. Tail views lose their power according to his post. And tail is what I seem to mostly get.
You can get some wonderful straight on images in composition and proximity, but it is more difficult focusing when they are coming straight at you. Mostly because, like he mentioned, you have to anticipate their movement. And when they come at you, it is likely they just made a sharp turn in that direction or are about to make another turn, like the next image.
From below it is a challenge to get a good exposure. Compositionally, I really don’t mind this image bleeding out of the frame, although it could be improved. The bird was turning out of the frame when I snapped the shutter.
Compensating for the bright background is one thing I have known from my own experience for a while, as I always have to fix them in Photoshop. My efforts in these images was not to do that, and to see what I could get straight from the camera.
There were three different days of shooting with the images above and below on the last day. The above image has the daylight coming through the wings and tail. Below there is action in dropping from the sky.
I found that the farther away the birds were, the easier it was to get a decent image.
They really do fly fast, so it takes practice to anticipate when they will appear correctly for your desired composition. Remember the Green Apples 5 Minute Tutorial below? Now that is a fast-moving bird with nothing but blur.
The hawks nest in the high trees of the gorge cliffs and they fly right overhead at mere meters away in search of rodents sometimes, so you can see why my skills need to improve for these subjects. I have jumped out of my skin a few times as they seem to come out of nowhere.
There is some similarity for choosing seagulls with which to practice. They are large birds; they fly both high and low; they are fast; they glide nicely; and they make sudden change of direction. Plus, there are so darn many of them. That is the biggest difference that makes them good for practice.
I found the images of seagulls better with a darker background. The darker background provides more contrast and puts the gulls into context.
There was a tip about watching what is in the background when shooting flying birds, and making sure it does not compete. I do know this one too, but….that is a tough one when shooting moving birds because the time to focus and snap an image is far too short. Sometimes you end up with a person, lamp-post or pesky building in the shot.
A good composition, I found, was of others photographing or feeding the seagulls. They have story to them.
Staying with the preferred shooting angles initially really helped in studying their behavior too. It became easier to anticipate movement and then gain confidence to try various other angles.
Shooting from below, especially when you get the sun through or reflecting off the wings is really a wonderful angle. There was a tip on this one too.
You would be surprised how many images I have with bird droppings streaming in them. Luckily I was not directly under any of these birds. Galen did not mention that hazard, so I will.
The photo below does not look like a gull but ‘the eagle has landed’. And of course, another great tail shot.
Like most of us, I am just a better photographer when they sit still, but it is more boring. You get plenty of decision-making time when they sit there. But really, I am kinda proud for what I learned. Galen may not realize how good a teacher he actually is, but I have a lot more confidence now. Click on any image to enlarge. Some of them did turn out really well, for seagulls that is.
By now you probably have seen more seagulls than you ever wanted to, but this post was really about using them to improve skills in photographing birds in flight, which was a weakness of mine. If you want to learn or improve, do what I did, stop in on Galen’s post with his helpful tips on Birds in Flight. I followed his techniques and you can see that I improved. So you can too. He added Birds in Flight: Part II on October 24, 2012. Make sure to see both posts.