They say that photography is the art of capturing light. But when it comes to birds I say its all about the background. Of course its also about light, but get the background right and you are halfway there before you even press the shutter.
It’s the Year of the Snake Lunar New Year holidays here in Asia and the place is dead. The Chinese are all bloated and playing Mahjongg. So I decided to go back into my files and see what unprocessed shots I had lying in the hard drive. It’s interesting what you find when you do this. Stuff which for whatever reason didn’t seem to be worth anything at the time can turn out to be very nice once you open them up.
All of these shots were taken on a single day at the ponds adjacent to the Byram Landfill near Penang, Malaysia. It’s always been a very productive spot, well worth the three hour drive north from Kuala Lumpur, provided you get there early and get good light. The great thing about the Bryram ponds is that you can drive close to the waters edge and get good low level shots from the window of the car.
The result is uncluttered background that sets off the birds, irrespective of what type and where along the pond road you shoot them. Add the soft early morning light which happens to be diagonally behind the car and you more or less can’t fail.
Without the dark background the following shots of a Blue Tailed Bee Eater would have been average. These type of shots are generally not difficult to get because Bee Eaters love exposed perches and provided you approach them the right way its possible to get fairly close to them. In this case dark plantation foliage behind the perch just makes the bird pop, and an average shot becomes quite a nice one. I can tell you that aside from some cropping I did very little photoshop enhancement of these shots. More or less this is how they came out of camera, proving the old adage that a good shot is a good shot.
The Byram ponds are full of a variety of waterbirds and its fairly easy to get good clean images of a variety of both residents residents and migrants alike. First up is a Little Grebe. I’m not really a waterbird guy, but I like these birds. They are very photogenic and attractive. Shoot them against a clean background and they almost become something special. Following the Grebe is quite a nice shot of a Lesser Whistling Duck. This time enhanced by some foreground, but transformed by the background.
Given its Chinese New Year, no blog would be complete without a few photos of a Chinese Pond Heron. I have always found it difficult to photograph these guys as they are quite skittish and take off long before I get get set up. But the birds in Byram are more used to motorcycles and cars traveling the perimeter road round the ponds which improves your chances of a few frames before they inevitably take flight.
Keeping the best for last for a change, the absolute best shots of that day were what I think is a Wood Sandpiper delicately feeding in absolutely still water. Wood Sandpipers are migrants from northern Asia so if the identification is correct then it makes the following series of shots even more special.
It was as if the bird was standing on a patch of gel that slowly parted each time it poked its head under to feed. The lack of background clutter is what makes these shots exceptionally special. Oh… and before you all assume I took these photos I have to admit that they were all taken by Lynette, not me. It’s hard to swallow, but it proves women are equally up the the job when it comes to photography!
In an attempt to recover from the shock of this, I decided to post a shot of a Black Winged Stilt motionless against a clear background. Again it shows that a clean background can enhance what would normally be an average shot, but unfortunately it does not bring me anywhere to the level of Lynette’s stunning captures!
Looking back at my files it’s clear its about time we made a trip back up to Byram. Got to seriously think about this!!