Pho­tog­ra­phy Tours for SWFL Bird­ers

Pro­fes­sional guides pro­vide in­valu­able ex­per­tise

RSWLiving - - Contents - Ali­son Roberts-Tse has been hap­haz­ardly scrib­bling in jour­nals since she was a small­town small fry. She has de­grees in com­mu­ni­ca­tions and dance from the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin—Madi­son. She now lives in Lon­don, spends time on Sani­bel and ob­ses­sively plans

Florida’s great bird­ing ar­eas have trans­formed into hot spots for bird­ing pho­tog­ra­phy. The crowds of pho­tog­ra­phers with te­le­scope-like lenses at J.N. “Ding” Dar­ling Na­tional Wildlife Refuge on Sani­bel Is­land demon­strate that many am­a­teurs take their hobby se­ri­ously—from in­vest­ing in high-tech gear to stak­ing out wildlife spots for hours on end. Now, bird pho­tog­ra­phy tours oc­cur through­out the re­gion, of­fer­ing in­for­ma­tion about dif­fer­ent species and the en­vi­ron­ment, in ad­di­tion to pho­tog­ra­phy tech­niques.

The state is home to an abun­dance of avian wildlife. It’s where Don Mam­moser chooses to lead his Don Mam­moser Pho­tog­ra­phy tours, be­cause “the birdlife is so var­ied and amaz­ingly rich in the Sun­shine State.” It’s pos­si­ble to see breed­ing, nest­ing and chick-rear­ing birds in pho­to­genic lo­ca­tions.

Ro­man Kury­wczak, owner of Roamin’ with Ro­man Photo Tours, adds, “The birds are greatly ha­bit­u­ated to the peo­ple … yet are still wild enough to mi­grate as per their usual be­hav­ior.” The en­tire state of­fers great op­por­tu­ni­ties to cap­ture birds on cam­era.

Spe­cific na­ture re­serves serve as back­drops for pho­tos and de­ter­mine the species that are en­coun­tered. Florida Bird Photo Ad­ven­tures is run by Sani­bel res­i­dent David Mear­don and Nick Leadley, who spend a lot of time at “Ding” Dar­ling. They note that they also spy bald ea­gles, ospreys and bur­row­ing owls through­out the greater Fort My­ers area.

Mear­don and Leadley say that in spring, they es­pe­cially like to photograph mi­grat­ing song­birds soar­ing in gi­ant flocks over the shim­mer­ing Gulf of Mex­ico. Their fa­vorite avian species to photograph in­clude pink roseate spoon­bills, large white pel­i­cans, spindly-legged red­dish egrets, and shore­birds such as snowy plovers.

Dur­ing bird­ing pho­tog­ra­phy tours, pro­fes­sional guides are able to pro­vide in­valu­able ex­per­tise to cut be­gin­ners’ learn­ing curves and build upon am­a­teurs’ foun­da­tions. Mear­don and Leadley ex­plain that ex­pe­ri­enced guides “can put par­tic­i­pants into the right lo­ca­tions in the best light to cap­ture com­pelling images.”

Guides’ aware­ness of wildlife be­hav­ior can also con­trib­ute to the cre­ation of suc­cess­ful pho­tos. Both Mear­don and Leadley pos­sess vast knowl­edge of avian species, good lo­ca­tions to

shoot, and meth­ods to ap­proach birds in a safe and eth­i­cal man­ner.

Kury­wczak agrees that tour guides’ in­sight into prime pho­tog­ra­phy lo­ca­tions will take the guess­work out of find­ing the species on your own. He also drives his pas­sen­gers be­tween sites dur­ing his tours, which “al­lows par­tic­i­pants the abil­ity to ask ques­tions about post pro­cess­ing and other tech­ni­cal as­pects.”

Many par­tic­i­pants at­tend tours to learn about their cam­era equip­ment. Af­ter re­ceiv­ing a dig­i­tal cam­era as a gift, Don Miller met Leadley for in­struc­tion. He con­fesses, “I would never have learned [to use] the cam­era … on my own. As a re­sult of [Nick’s lessons], I had a great time pho­tograph­ing the land­scape, plants and an­i­mals on our trip.” Miller es­pe­cially ap­pre­ci­ates that his tal­ented in­struc­tor was a thor­ough and pa­tient teacher.

Kathryn, a Vir­ginian who took part in a re­cent Don Mam­moser Pho­tog­ra­phy tour, shares sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences: Mam­moser “helped us to set the cam­era [and] helped each one of us—even though all of our cam­eras and skill lev­els were dif­fer­ent.” Be­yond lessons in na­ture and tech­nol­ogy, pho­tog­ra­phers can im­part cru­cial knowl­edge of the craft to work­shop at­ten­dees. She adds that Mam­moser’s

Guides’ aware­ness of wildlife be­hav­ior can also con­trib­ute to the cre­ation of suc­cess­ful pho­tos.

guid­ance and cri­tiquing “taught [his group] what makes a re­ally good im­age.”

Mike Hiza, of Manch­ester, Con­necti­cut, says Mear­don’s coach­ing im­proved his “use of light, com­po­si­tion and fram­ing.” Along with tech­ni­cal im­prove­ment, Hiza learned to take pho­tos that tell a story. Pho­tog­ra­phy tour par­tic­i­pants leave with a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the art form and ap­pli­ca­ble pho­tog­ra­phy skills.

At­ten­dees of all skill lev­els are wel­come on bird pho­tog­ra­phy tours. How­ever, pho­tog­ra­phy ex­perts do men­tion cer­tain stan­dards of cam­era gear to more eas­ily cre­ate “epic” images. Mear­don rec­om­mends a dig­i­tal cam­era with a 300mm lens and sug­gests a tri­pod to en­sure sta­bil­ity and sharper images when shoot­ing with longer lenses.

Kury­wczak ex­plains there is no sub­sti­tute for long fo­cal lengths in bird pho­tog­ra­phy, be­cause it al­lows pho­tog­ra­phers to cap­ture images with­out spook­ing the birds or en­croach­ing upon their space. It’s es­pe­cially use­ful to photograph smaller shore­birds. Mam­moser also val­ues qual­ity equip­ment, yet ad­mits that some par­tic­i­pants fare pretty well with sim­ple point-and-shoot cam­eras.

Whether you join a bird pho­tog­ra­phy tour or serenely shoot images solo, the ex­perts of­fer some tips: Kury­wczak cau­tions not to al­ter the birds’ be­hav­ior just to get a shot. Mear­don ad­vises, “Get up with the light … Know your equip­ment and be ready to cap­ture the de­ci­sive mo­ment.” Mam­moser em­pha­sizes learn­ing from pas­sion­ate

At­ten­dees of all skill lev­els are wel­come on bird pho­tog­ra­phy tours.

men­tors and, most im­por­tantly, get­ting out­side to photograph the na­ture and birds that you love.

Roseate spoon­bills preen and fish in the shal­low wa­ter.

A bald ea­gle launches into flight from a tree branch.

Clock­wise from top left: A snowy plover stretches its wings near a crab on the beach; a snowy egret flies over teal-col­ored wave s; a great crested fly­catcher perches on a small branch; a snowy plover sits with its chicks; a long-legged snowy plover chick is camouflaged on the beach.

From top: A grown osprey re­turns to its nest to feed its open-mouth chick; a black-crowned night heron flies with nest­ing ma­te­rial in its beak; a great egret suc­cess­fully cap­tures a fish.

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