Friday, July 10, 2009

Milliken Ponds


Yesterday afternoon I took my son out to the ponds at the Milliken Research Center and corporate headquarters. Milliken is a large local textile company. On the property of their headquarters they have a handful of artificial ponds as well as open and semi-wooded land that is open to the public. People go out there for picnics, walks, or to see the variety of birds that congregate around the ponds.

More after the jump.

I like to head out to the Milliken ponds occasionally to practice photographing the birds. The ducks and geese are not generally afraid of people since families will often bring bread to feed to the fowl. The small fish in the ponds enjoy the bread as well.

Photographing birds, or any kind of action really, takes a lot of practice and is something I still need a lot of work to perfect. Birds are quite fast and it can be difficult to anticipate what they will do without knowing their behaviors. I'm not really very knowledgeable about animal behaviors, thus getting good photographs of animals in the wild has not been a strong point of mine. For example, there are a handful of great blue herons that hang out at the Milliken ponds. These are large birds that are still not acclimated to people. They don't eat bread, thus have no reason to get closer to the people that come out to feed the ducks. They notice right away when someone starts walking toward them, and will fly away the moment they think they are being threatened. Hence, I have not been able to get very many good, frame filling photographs of the large birds. They always stay as far away as they can. Even with my 70-300mm lens, they stay far enough way so that they are relatively small features inside the frame.

Previously, I had been trying to get closer to them by creeping slowly around the edge of the pond. I had some successes in the past at getting photographs of them standing by the pond. One thing that I had not been been successful with was capturing an image of one in flight.

Yesterday, I had decided to try moving even slower around the pond and to pay attention to their expressions and movements as I got closer. Of course, having my son with me added to the perceived threat factor, but it also added to the fun. I kind of made it a game with Connor to see how close we could get before the herons took to flight. The limit seemed to be about 20 to 30 yards. Closer than that and the herons flew away. By paying attention to how the birds' were watching us and their body motions, I could almost get to the point where I could anticipate when they would flew away. That seems to be most of the battle with shooting wild animals. Knowing their behaviors and working within them to get your photographs.

During most of the day we were watching one particular great blue heron near one of the ponds. We had noticed another one that was either up in a tree or on top of the nearest building. That second one always seemed to stay about 100 yards or more away from people. Then later two more great blue herons flew in and the other two herons joined them in the air. It was an exciting five minutes or so of trying to get my camera on them, get them framed, and get some shots off. The photograph at the top is my favorite from that period of hectic flying. The herons seemed to be socializing amongst each other and became less threatened by our presence. That allowed the bird in the photograph to get close enough to fill the frame. I was quite happy when I saw this frame on my computer monitor after I got home. It was only one shot, but it made the afternoon really worth it. Plus, my son really got into the spirit of the bird watching and had a good time as well. That was the best thing of all. I guess it was a bit of father/son bonding.

Keep shooting.


Pixel Peeper said...

Wow - this is as close to a perfect "BIF shot" as you can get! You don't give yourself enough credit. I can almost hear the "wosh" sound of the heron's wings by just looking at the picture. Great job!

Craig Lee said...

Thank you. There are a couple of compositional things that I don't like about it, but even then I'm happy with the shot. I had been skunked by them up to that day. I suppose that I won't be happy until National Geographic is beating down my doors with assignments. ;-)

lhd said...

Amazing........ as are the other heron shots! These are really beautiful, Craig, and Nat'l Geo. SHOULD be beating down your door. (of course they send their photogs off to some pretty bizarre places!) Congrats. on some wonderful pictures;;;;;......lois

Craig Lee said...

Thanks, Lois. :-)

Steve Paxton said...

Great catch!