When I was young my Dad gave me a valuable piece of advice one I have kept with me my entire (almost)70 years. He told me if I sit in the woods in silence watching the animals behavior I would understand people. It has taken me my lifetime to understand what he meant; at the time there were no words to help me understand. Now, later in life I have a rudimentary understanding of what he meant.
My Dad was Sioux of the American 1st peoples, this advice had been passed down for generations. My goal is to photograph flying birds, capturing them in flight takes a lot of planning and patience. It makes photographing them easier if the photographer is able to predict when a bird is going to take to the air; that is what I have been studying.
I have taken on the Great Blue Heron, observing them as they are on the dock standing statue still. When they move each gesture serves a purpose, a step back, cocking the head or facing into the wind. I am not a biologist or any sort of professional animal scientist. I have watched them for hours without my camera at the ready and I am beginning to recognize certain motions they exhibit prior to flight.
I have much more to discover as I have hardly scratched the surface. One trait I have noticed that seems to be common among the big birds is they will toe up to the edge of the dock, cliff or rock lining up the toes of each claw with the edge. Stepping back with one leg is a signal it has abandoned its desire to fly, typically they will turn to walk further down the structure. If however they lift their head appearing to be looking at the horizon or at least up or down stream that may be the second indication of flight.
This image is a good representation of that behavior, in fact a few seconds after I took it the bird took to the air. The Blue Heron will straighten out its neck then stare one direction or another. If I were to make an assumption of what the purpose is I would be wrong because I would inject human logic into a process where it doesn’t belong. The bird will then give a slight shrug of the shoulders or fluff its upper plumage just a slight bit, dip its head and take off.
That is how far I have gotten studying the Great Blue Heron and partially why I take many images of them. I am now planning to take videos which will enable me to slow down the movements to allow me to see all that is happening throughout the subjects body.
I am relating this to photography because for me it’s important to know the subject. When I am able to predict what the animal is about to do it eliminates a bit of camera prep as well as panicking during an unexpected flight. Most of a birds interesting body movements are experienced during landings or taking off. I feel I would be negligent if I were not to study them; Let alone miss out on many great photos, with knowledge I am able to reduce my deletion rate.
If you have the time take an hour, sit in the woods and watch the animals. If you don’t have an hour sit in the woods for two.
Jacques Lebec Flutter Shutter