Home Portraits in Birdland
HUGO H. SCHRODER
Amateur photographer of Orlando, Fla.
The author's varied and interesting experiences in bird photography give you a new slant on this subject.
THE one big difference between home portraiture, as practiced on humans and that attempted with feathered subjects, is that with humans it is possible to control expressions and adjust lights. When a camera is set up before a bird’s nest, the resulting pictures are subject to the whims of the sitter.
The bird may decide to stay away from the nest while the objectionable camera is present or it may hold its head at an -unpleasing angle. Possibly it will turn tail to the lens or it may move at the click of the shutter, so that a blurred image is recorded on your film. It isn’t possible to tell the bird to look pleasant or to hold that pose for just a moment.. It’s entirely a matter of being quick on the shutter release at the proper moment, after you have waited for many minutes —or hours, as is sometimes necessary—to get that at home shot.
After repeated trials on song bird subjects near my home, I had nothing to show for my efforts. The results were hunched-up birds, which looked as if they were suffering with a bad cold. Then I wandered into the woods and made a casual shot of the same type of subject and obtained a picture which looked like a bird with some life in it.
As a specific example I can cite an experience with brown thrashers. Several pairs were usually to be found nesting on my home grounds each year. Whenever the nests were situated in a suitable place, I tried to photograph a sitting bird. None of the results of nesting thrashers on the home acres were satisfactory. Then one day I wandered about in a large wooded region, interspersed with growths of smaller shrubs and open areas. There I
found numerous nests and among others a brown thrasher on her nest in a wild gooseberry bush at proper height for picture purposes.
I set up the camera on a tripod and attached a stout string to the shutter release. The other end was run to another gooseberry bush, where I hid to await the bird’s return. She was most obliging in this respect, returning to her duties a few minutes later. When she was comfortably settled on the eggs, I pulled the string. Only one exposure was made at the time, yet that film was the best brown thrasher at home picture I ever made.
Since living in Florida I have tried for pictures at the nest homes of various of its feathered citizens from sparrows to pelicans. With some of these subjects I
have been allowed to stand beside the nest while the bird stuck to her home as I shot film after film. Others were more shy and refused to allow such intimacies on my part. For those shy Wildlings I had to resort to setting up my camera near the nest and releasing the shutter by remote control, anywhere from 6 to 100 feet away, or by using a blind for myself and camera.
At a huge colony of brown pelicans on the Florida east coast I found an overflow group of nests on the ground. Ordinarily these birds nest in the mangrove trees, but an unusually large concentration of birds had taken over evei'y available tree. Late nesters, therefore, had been forced to build their homes on the ground. This
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was particularly suitable for photography, so I first made a picture of 8 nests found in one group, showing their contents of eggs or tiny pelican youngsters.
The camera was then moved back a short distance, so as not to frighten timid pelican mamas. A string was attached to the shutter release and led to a nearby mangrove where I went into hiding. The birds finally put in their appearance and when there were 7 birds before the camera I made an exposure. You will notice that only one nest in the foreground is still unoccupied and that, I believe, adds interest to the picture. It shows the size of the egg in proportion to the birds and, also, the type of nest construction.
Individual closeups, however, are usually to be preferred rather than group pictures. It is possible then to catch the proper moment for exposure to better advantage. Where a number of birds are included in the photograph it makes the task more difficult.
One of my most agreeable subjects was a Florida burrowing owl, occupying an underground nest. It was necessary to open the nest burrow in order to obtain a life history photo series and the female was captured in the tunnel during the excavating. When the nest chamber was exposed to view the bird was put back in the nest, where she posed obligingly for a number of closeups.
At the Dry Tortugas, a group of small islands at the extreme southwestern end of Florida, I have photographed sooty terns and noddies, singly, in pairs, and in groups. All that was necessary was plenty of film and the effort of choosing the bird to photograph. Plenty were available and seldom did the bird object to staying at the nest, even if I stood right beside her. However, few such opportunities present themselves to the photographer desiring to film birds at their homes. In most cases it is necessary to hunt for a suitable nest site and then trust that the bird will cooperate by assuming a satisfactory pose.
And so it goes when attempting to photograph birds at their homes. You may try repeatedly without having any luck and then, when you least expect it, you will get the necessary cooperation from the subject. Luck, patience, and perseverance are necessary to make this fascinating sport provide dividends in the form of sti'iking bird photographs.—
"Ice Cold" Stirring Rod
ON hot summer days, solutions in developing trays may readily become warm upon standing, even for a few minutes. A tightly corked glass test tube filled with chopped ice and used as a stirring rod will easily cool and bring the solutions to the desired temperature. The solutions can thus be cooled without dilution, and the smooth, round bottom of the glass test tube will not scratch the tray contents. Test tubes and corks can be obtained at any drug store for only a few cents.—Myron Smoller, New York City.