Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Photo School

Western Kingbirds at Talbert Nature Reserve.

My car has been shipped off to Florida, so on the days when Glenn goes up to LA for work, I'm without wheels. Monday was one such day, and I decided to do something I should have done a long time ago: figure out how to use my camera!

And being a total Luddite, it did indeed take me almost half the day to work my way through the manuals for both the lens and the camera body, and the rest of the day to read through Glenn's old copy of Arthur Morris's "Art of Bird Photography" while figuring out how his instructions for balancing film and shutter speed and aperture settings (all calibrated to different colors and sizes of birds in different environments) could be applied to my digital camera.

This was a productive use of a day at home. Now I finally know what all those buttons and dials on my camera are for, and if another photographer at Bolsa Chica or San Joaquin asks me what ISO I'm shooting at, I can tell him. I think.

Yesterday, I decided to go out early, do some heavy birding and practice applying my new knowledge. The good news is that I saw some great birds. The bad news is that my photos still suck.

I decided to stay close to home, and spend the morning at Talbert Nature Reserve, with a detour down to the Santa Ana River Mouth and up to Canyon Park. Upon entering Talbert, I got two good birds almost immediately: an Ash-throated Flycatcher, and a Wilson's Warbler, the first I've seen since spring. Unfortunately, both moved too quickly for me to photograph.

I got to the bike path along the Santa Ana River at low tide, and flocks of Semipalmated and Black-bellied Plovers were feeding on the mudflats. I don't think I've ever seen so many Semipalmated Plovers together in one place before:

Further down the river were a group of hunting Double-crested Cormorants. I managed to get a mid-flight shot of one that was actually in focus:

My best bird (and worst photo subject) of the day was a Clapper Rail preening itself in by the reeds in the Banning Ranch marsh. The bird was pretty far away, and because of its preening, was taking on some decidedly non-photogenic poses. Pathetically enough, this was my best shot:

Get the clap at Banning Ranch!

Back at Talbert, I spotted the two juvenile Cooper's Hawks who had been hanging around the front of the reserve all summer. A couple of young Cooper's Hawks frequented the area last summer as well; I'm pretty sure they nest there. A Red-tailed Hawk drifted by, gliding slowly overhead with the sun shining through its wings. I thought this would make a nice shot, so I tried to remember everything all the manuals said: Get the autofocus at the right setting, then set the focus on something about the same distance away as the moving object you're shooting at, then get said object in your viewfinder and shoot. And voila!

Who says nature blogs have to be uplifting and inspirational?

1 comment:

Corey said...

Just the thought of "trying to learn to use my DSLR" gives me a headache. I so rarely veer away from full auto-focus and the camera's automatic setting that when I actually do, I forget which dial stop controls which variable. It's basically just a really bulky point-and-shoot for me.

I'll bet that hawk was pretty :-)~