Capturing The Unseen.

My photo watermark contains these words. To me, if there is art in nature photography it is simply discovering what already exists, but goes unseen. I don’t consider myself an artist. An artist creates something. As a photographer, I only reproduce what already exists. At best, I’m a messenger.

Many times a day we walk by what would be a beautiful capture if only we had seen it. We walk too fast. We make too much noise. We don’t stop to listen, to look around. To REALLY look.

Some wildlife will let you walk or drive right up to them and take your captures. Most won’t. You have to be a bit sneaky.

I like to go out alone. I wear clothing that blends in; earth colors, sometimes full camouflage if I’m after ducks. I walk slowly. I try not to shuffle my feet. I listen, and look. Really look.

At most, I walk with one other person, sworn to silence. 🙂 Two people make four times as much noise as one. It can turn into a social event which not only makes noise but takes your focus off of the task at hand.

So, if you see me out there and I head off in another direction, don’t take it personally. I’m only trying to capture the unseen.

FYI: Finding Birds to Photograph.

I have a unique method for finding birds, or any wildlife for that matter, to photograph. I go to where they are.

Hold on, don’t leave me yet.

When I was younger I did a lot of duck hunting. In the beginning, I thought finding a good hunting spot meant driving around, looking for a good looking (to me) marsh and throwing out my decoys. And waiting for the ducks. And waiting. And waiting. And then going home frustrated.

As it turned out, it was a lot more productive to find an area that ducks were already using.

This is called scouting. Scouting means driving mile after mile, walking, riding a bicycle, etc. until you find an area with birds. Where the birds were yesterday, last week, last month, may not be where they are now. Or tomorrow. It can be a lot of work. It usually takes a lot of time. But if you stick with it, the payoff can be big. Scouting is how I found Osprey Heaven.

As I write this it is the end of August. At this time of year, birds start moving around. They may begin to “stage” (gather together) for migration. They may move on to another food source, or an area where the weather is more to their liking. Where you found birds in June, may not be where you find them in August.

Scouting is also about networking. Talk to people and ask them where they’ve seen birds. Conservation Officers/Game Wardens can be an excellent source of this kind of info. Just ask around.

Scouting. It’s where the birds are.

FYI: (Don’t) “Always focus on the eye.”

This is one of the often heard phrases in this hobby. I’m here to tell you it’s wrong. At least some of the time.

The above image is an example of when it is right. The subject is close and well defined, and the depth of field is shallow. The camera finds the eye with no problem, and it is true that the eye is the focal point which draws viewers attention.

Mottled Ducks

The above image is an example of when it is wrong. This shot was taken at 135 yards and heavily cropped. Obviously, not an ideal situation but sometimes that’s all you get. Below is the image before cropping, taken at 600mm.

In this shot, and any shot like it, I put my focus point on the body for two reasons:

  1. If I attempt to focus on that small target (the eye/head) I am liable to miss the bird entirely and end up with a blurry mess.
  2. At this distance, the depth of field–that area before and after the subject which is in focus–is so great that it doesn’t matter where I put the focus point on the bird. So I aim for the body to get a good focus lock.
Royal Tern

This Tern came by me pretty close. I pulled up and took a quick shot. Not my best effort, as you can see by the screenshot below. A plug-in for Lightroom called “FocusPoint” gives us some good information about this capture.

Even though my primary focus point was on the wing, the head is sharp due to depth of field.
Data from the Royal Tern photo.

I learned this through experimentation, after getting frustrated with missing a number of shots and not being able to figure out why. I use this technique a lot for birds-in-flight if they aren’t very close, or in situations where the background is busy and I can’t get a good lock on the head.

Your Mileage May Vary.

Osprey Heaven

There is a marsh in the ACE Basin of the South Carolina Lowcountry. I’ve visited it several times. Today I observed four Ospreys working it in search of a meal. They watch me, but are not afraid. They are curious. When our eyes meet through the camera lens, I smile. I call this place Osprey Heaven.

Hovering before the dive on a fish. They hit the water with a loud SMACK, sometimes fully submerged.

The site is a circular route across dikes remaining from old rice fields, on a Wildlife Management Area (WMA.) Getting to the place is a three mile round trip. I could walk it if I had to, but taking my bicycle is a lot easier on my bum ankle.

Besides Ospreys, a lot of other my other favorite birds call it home too.

Great Blue Heron, landing gear down.

Mottled Ducks.

Wood Stork.

Roseate Spoonbill.

Royal Tern.

Can’t wait to go back!

Welcome.

My name is Larry Maras.

I’m a retired USMC veteran living in Summerville, SC. My hobby is nature photography, specifically birds. I hunted waterfowl and upland game for almost 50 years. I still hunt; but now with a camera. The skills I learned during that time are invaluable in the pursuit of wild birds to photograph.

Photography has been a hobby of mine since I was a teenager. It used to be an expensive, and sometimes frustrating hobby. Buy a 36 image roll of film, take the shots, wait for it to get developed only to find none of them were worth keeping.

Digital Photography changed all that. Suddenly, you didn’t need to buy film , you could see the results instantly, and you could process the images yourself. If one–or all of them–didn’t turn out, just delete them. Wow. That’s when I got serious about this hobby.

I lived in Minnesota for many years until moving to South Carolina to retire. While I was involved in photography up north, the opportunities were nothing like they are down here. Coastal South Carolina is teeming with wild birds at all times of the year. I live 10 minutes from a fantastic place for birding, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. It abounds with Herons, Egrets, and many other types of wading birds as well as raptors and smaller birds like Warblers, Vireos and Buntings.

I also live close to an area called the ACE Basin, so named for the confluence of three rivers: Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto. It is 350,000 acres of one of the largest undeveloped estuaries along the Atlantic Coast. It is also one of the best birding areas in South Carolina.

My current gear consists of a Nikon D4 full frame DSLR and a Nikon 200-500mm telephoto lens.

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Larry