Long Exposure Bird Photography
One of my favourite watering holes on the pacific flyway is Whitewater Draw in Arizona.
Here Sandhill Cranes arrive by the tens of thousands every winter. It’s a phenomenon I’ve witnessed a few times before (you can see the photos from those trips here.)
On my last visit I made over a thousand photos on the first day and, after reviewing them, I realized they were all the same as what I had made before.
What is important? What makes this place unique?
I decided that I wanted to convey the motion of the birds. Really, the commotion of the birds! Being there is to witness a veritable cacophony of sound and utter chaos of motion. So I started experimenting with long exposures.
My first goal was to make photos where the bird’s head was sharp but the wings had motion blur. I found the most success at this technique when my shutter speed was around 1/125th second. Of course, it all depends on how fast the birds are flying.
For the next photo, which I also made at 1/125th second, all the birds standing still on the ground are sharp and all the birds taking flight have motion blur. It’s one of my favourites!
Then I started playing with even slower shutter speeds around 1/50th second. At first I thought these photos were mistakes because nothing was sharp. But still — I liked them.
Sometimes I find that when I make a mistake, if I just make the mistake even bigger it turns into something really good! Soon I was making abstract images that I really love.
I hope you enjoy them too!
This was all fine for the birds that are flying, but what about the birds that are standing? There is still a lot of motion going on because all the birds leave in the morning and they all come back in the evening. So I decided to try some even longer exposures without camera movement to show the change in the whole group of birds in the water.
This resulted in some “ghost birds”.
I hope you enjoyed my experimentation with long exposure bird photography.
One extra thing …
My last experiment in conveying all the commotion was a time lapse. I made this with the intention of creating an instagram story, so that’s why it is in the portrait format. The sound is recorded at normal speed.