Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

February 14, 2009

Mobile Blind

Filed under: Birds, composition, style, technique — richditch @ 9:41 am
White-crowned Sparrow from mobile blind

White-crowned Sparrow from mobile blind

One of the problems faced by most avian photographers is getting close enough to the subject. We address this problem in many ways:

  • long focal length lenses
  • adding teleconverters to increase our optical power even more
  • luring birds into range with food and setups
  • shooting at local parks where the birds have become accustomed to people
  • working from fixed blinds
  • shooting from a vehicle

Most of us discover that wild birds are less afraid of cars than of people, and we can get a lot closer if we drive up to a bird and stay inside the car than if we try to approach on foot. Or worse: try to get out of the car next to our subject of choice.

Here are some things to keep in mind when working from a vehicle:

  • safety first: find a low use dirt road away from heavy traffic
  • be aware of blind spots : don’t park where you are hidden from other cars by a curve in  the road or a hedge. Better yet, don’t even drive so slow in such a place that a fast moving pickup truck would be surprised to find you blocking the road
  • where safe, drive slowly. You want to see potential subjects before you shoot past them or feel the need for a panic stop. The trick is to not scare off the subject as you approach.
  • have your camera and lens ready and handy. You don’t want the subject to fly away while you fumble for your gear.
  • if alone in the car then you can keep everything handy on the empty passenger seat. Just remember it will slide off and crash to the floor if you forget to secure it before resuming normal driving. I often tether my camera and lens with the seatbelt through the foot of tripod collar on the 300mm lens.
  • find some way to steady the lens when you shoot. There are expensive professional grade  window mounts available from specialty suppliers (Kirk, Really Right Stuff, Len Rue) designed for this purpose that really help with big heavy 500 and 600mm lenses. Many people prefer some sort of cushion – a professional bean bag or a home made equivalent. I work with a monopod that I wedge between the driver’s seat and the driver’s door, with a small tilt head and quick release on top.
  • avoid quick stops. They usually cause the bird to fly away, and they almost always create a cloud of dust that makes shooting difficult and can muck up your camera.
  • minimize internal vibrations by turning off the ignition and avoiding squirming in the seat. This is another reason to not have passengers with you.

This White-crowned Sparrow was photographed on a dirt road near Scottsdale, AZ from the window of my Toyota using a monopod for support. D200, 300/2.8 and 2x converter, ISO 400, 1/750th second at f/5.6. 12/16/07. It shows my typical style: understated colors (lots of browns and tans), smaller in the frame to allow lots of interesting habitat, natural light with a bit of direction to give some natural shadow and define form for a three dimensional look, the image composed with the subject off to the side.

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