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Tip: Get Low When Photographing Birds in Water


Western Grebe

Like other shorebirds, western grebes do not go by the human calendar or clock to tell them when to start their new family. They merely go by their instinct relying on the weather cycle. Based on human calendar, the breeding season typically starts around April through end of July and by late August through October. During these period, you can find the adult pairs carrying their young(s) on their back.

Here’s one of my biggest tips for photographing shorebirds: get low.

The main reason is to optimize the isolation of your subject from both the foreground and the background. By getting low, you can often get a very shallow depth of field (DOF), resulting in a creamy background and foreground that makes your subject pops out in the frame with great clarity.

I know.. Why does it have to be her turn all the time..

The fact that your subject covers both the water and background provides a very desirable eye level point of view compared to shots with your subject with the water or backdrop as a single layer of background only.

The Rushing

However, going low angle does come with its own set of challenges. Not only will you probably get dirty, but your movements are restricted as well, especially when you have to be on your belly most of the time while keeping your eyes on the viewfinder — it’s a position that puts all the pressure on your neck, giving you a stiff neck for sure.

The restricted movement will also make it harder when shooting action shots in which you have to lock and track your fast moving subject (such as these grebes) while lying down on your belly on a downward slope.

Rushing in the rain at ISO 8K..

Some photographers opt for an angled viewfinder as a solution, which can be of help for shooting low angle shorebirds. Using an angled viewfinder can reduce strain on your neck, but it also requires a lot of practice, especially when it comes to tracking moving objects. It’s almost like trying to touch a spot on your head while looking at the mirror.

The Rushing

If you are serious about your wildlife photography, have already invested into super telephoto lenses, and health is not restricting you from doing so, then you should try getting down and dirty to be rewarded with super shots.

Western Grebe

About the author: Phoo Chan is a bird and nature photographer based in Fremont, California. You can find more of his work and connect with him on his website, Twitter, Facebook, 500px, and Flickr.