Undoubtedly there are many people who want to take close-up shots of wild birds. What kind of close-up shot do you want to get? Do you want the bird to basically fill the whole frame, or perhaps just about half of it? If you want to go for it then let’s aim to get a super close-up shot that practically jumps out from the frame.
Of the various raptors that live in Japan, the Crested Serpent Eagle is the one that you can probably get up closest to. This time, the eagle was perched on a power cable so I was able to move closer while shooting. I aimed to get a close up of the bird’s face with the blue sky in the background. Since I was shooting in super telephoto range at 700mm, I narrowed the aperture (increased f/number) by 2 so I could show the delineation of its feathers.
Large sized birds are best suited to close-up photography. It may not be easy since it’s difficult to get up close to birds, but depending on the location, it’s definitely possible. You may have had the experience when shooting with a telephoto lens of a bird approaching you from afar and filling the frame, causing you to back up. When that happens think of it as a good thing, and try getting some close-up shots using an extender as well.
Since a halfway close-up shot is really no fun at all, when you try it, really go for it! Experiment and try getting close-up shots that you don’t normally get, such as of the bird’s face, wings, legs, or beak. Once you’ve got a handle on that, don’t forget to also try narrowing the aperture for shots with greater depth of field (focus range). Make the most of the opportunity since it’s not something you can do all the time.
One thing you have to keep in mind is the size of the bird. In the case of small birds, when you shoot them really close up and then make a large print, like A4 or A3 size, a small sized bird becomes a big bird. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but isn’t it better when small birds stay the size we think is cute?
There is a boat cruise tour for photographing eagles at sea on the drift ice. At first the eagles busily hunt for food, but after a while their hunger is satisfied and they take a break on the drift ice. When resting some of them will not fly off even when the boat moves closer, so you can try for a bust shot or a headshot by extending the focal length up to 1000mm. Since this is the only place where you can do this kind of photography, I always make sure to do it.
When I went to a place the Malayan Night Heron is often seen, I was able to spot one right away. I went in the direction he was heading and waited in the shade of a tree, and he soon made his way toward me completely unaware of my presence. At first I was shooting with a zoom lens at 400mm, but since he was gradually coming closer, I changed the focal length to 100mm, and he still kept coming. Then I went back to a zoom lens at 400mm again and got this close-up shot of his face.
Of all the birds that live in Japan, the Rock Ptarmigan is probably the one least afraid of people. This is evidence that in the past they had nothing to fear from people in Japan. In other countries though they are very afraid of people because they are hunted.
If you wait along the path where the bird is heading, it will soon come toward you. If you stay still there is no need to hide yourself. It was the end of April and I was out looking to get a close-up shot of a Rock Ptarmigan with its white winter feathers, and as luck would have it, I found a white male. I went ahead of him and waited, and was rewarded with a nice shot of his red wattles standing out.
While I was photographing a male Rock Ptarmigan, another male suddenly appeared and started a fight. They sometimes get into violent fights, but since this time the males started their skirmish with posturing, each extending their necks as they exchanged threats with sharp calls of “Gwa-a, Go-gwe”, I took the shot at the moment one opened its mouth.
Female Northern Pintails are surprisingly strong-willed. Sometimes you see a female angrily chasing after a male. Such strong-willed females should not get along well with each other. They are not always fighting, but it seems that there is tension between them and when they do fight, they carry on for quite a long time. When they are in the midst of fighting, they are quite oblivious to your presence, so I could move in close and get some photos. Framing the shot to capture two females pushing their chests up against each other made for an interesting photograph.
When I saw a Whooper Swan resting with its bill tucked under its back feathers, I approached slowly. But, its guard went up knowing that I didn’t have any food for it. Since I wanted a headshot of the swan at rest, it would be a problem if the swan pulled its neck back. So I waited there without moving for a little while. A number of times it moved its neck, ruffling its feathers and pushing in its bill. Giving it a slightly backlight tinge, I took a close-up shot with the feathers where its bill is tucked in standing out.
If you photograph a white bird against the light, the shaded part remains distinct, making a good picture. It’s even better when the bird itself functions as a reflector like the Whooper Swan. Since the swan’s white body stands out from the dark background, I aimed for a dramatic shot of the swan bending its neck to groom itself.
Female Northern Pintails have very plain coloring, but if you look closely you see that they have very complex patterns in their feathers, and you can sense that “nature is an artist.” Although they do not have bold coloring, male Northern Pintails rival the females in this way. Since you get a greater sense of this beauty when you take a close up, I went for a close-up shot of the belly and wings. I was able to capture a nice gradation of shadow by shooting with side light more than front light.