Avian Photography And A New Camera

A group of King penguins make their way up on to the relative shelter of a beach on South Georgia Island.

Avian Photography and a New Camera

Avian or bird photography is one of the most challenging disciplines a photographer can pursue. Being small, the subjects are usually quick moving, shy and somewhat protective of their personal space.

Because we’re unable to communicate with or direct the subject we have to rely on it being nearby, within the range of our lens, at a time when the light illuminates it in a satisfactory manner.

By comparison portrait photography seems so much easier.

At least with people you often have the opportunity to move them into good lighting, position them against an appropriate background and provide basic directions as to where and how they should look.

When photographing strangers this entire process usually doesn’t take me more than a minute or two.

I photographed this waddle of King penguins as they made their way up on to the relative shelter of a beach on South Georgia Island.

A very shallow Depth Of Field (DOF) allowed me to isolate the main subject from the rest of the group.

The light was quite low in the sky which made it easier to bring out the water droplets on the leading bird’s feathers and illuminate its eye.

Grytviken Landscape, South Georgia Island

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Nothing Succeeds Like Excess

Avian photography is not my speciality and I wouldn’t describe myself as a great bird photographer. Here’s why:

  • I’ve done very little bird photography

  • I’m no more fascinated by birds than most other things I photograph

  • Camera kits I’ve owned over the years have not been ideal for avian photography

  • I don't have the passion to explore animal behavior at anything more than a fundamental level

While you might read the above as a quite damning admission it’s really just a statement of fact. Just because I’m not the world’s best avian photographer doesn’t mean I can’t make great bird photos, every now and again.

What it does mean is that, without spending years and investing enormous amounts of time and money into that specific photography genre, I may never develop a substantial and diverse portfolio of avian images.

I’m okay with that, because it’s just not where my heart is or who I am.

And the same is true for my architectural photography. I photograph buildings and have an appreciation for the design and beauty of both historic and contemporary buildings.

But because I don’t live and breathe architectural photography I’m not going to be regarded as one of the great photographers in that field.

Photography tour participants admiring a large colony of King penguins on Sailsbury Plain on South Georgia Island.

Where Does Your Passion Lie?

As a creative being it’s important to consider where your own passion lies. Because, in the world of the specialist, passion and commitment are paramount to success, whether that be creative or financial.

I’m more of a generalist. I have substantial experience in portrait and landscape photography, though I do enjoy photographing a wide range of subjects across a variety of photography genres.

While I brand myself as a travel photographer, I consider myself to be generalist. After all travel photography can involve all manner of subjects including people, landscapes, buildings and wildlife.

What’s more nearly 40 years of industry experience, including many years as a dedicated photography tutor, means that I’m both able to appreciate the needs of aspiring photographers and provide them with actionable information to make the photos they want to.

I’m more than capable of approaching photography from a technical level, but would never dream of teaching it that way.

Your camera is a tool, which needs to be understood so that you can instruct it to serve your needs. But as the maker of the image you’re the one, the only one, who can control the images you make. Otherwise they’re not really your photos.

You might have the best pots and pans in the world. Good luck to you. But they didn’t cook your dinner. You did! And that’s because you were in control of the process. It’s important that you use your camera in the same way.

Two King penguins hanging out on a summer's day on the spectacular South Georgia Island.

Dream Big, But Start Real

Whenever I make a good image I want to do more. What does that tell you? We are motivated by successful outcomes.

When it comes to photography being prepared and choosing to photograph scenes and subjects that are not terribly challenging is a good approach for the beginner.

Build on your success, over time, with more difficult assignments.

Compare that with the person who buys there first decent digital camera, a day or so before and important event (e.g., child’s school concert or overseas skiing holiday), only to be frustrated by their inability to master the technology.

As a result they come home disappointed with the photos they’ve made. Please, don’t be that person.

We Create Our Own Reality

As creative beings we’re just as responsible for our failures as we are for the successes we experience along the journey.

We are all intelligent and talented, but how often do we make decisions that set us up for failure?

What a low opinion of ourselves we must have to make the kind of choices that set us up to fail?

Touring Antarctica on the Aurora Expedition's Polar Pioneer is made all the more fun with lovable penguins in the foreground.

I hope photography provides you with an abundance of fun and a great way to explore you own creativity. It should be rewarding and the harder you work at it the more rewards will follow.

But be careful not to kill your chance for joy and creative exploration with unrealistic expectations or being sucked into photographing jobs you’re either unable or unwilling to complete.

Likewise, when it comes to embarking on your next big trip, be careful about that brand new camera you’ve just purchased.

It might well be a technological marvel and, potentially, the tool that will unlock your creative genius. But without understanding how to use it a match made in photography heaven will become a relationship that, all too quickly, becomes unreconcilable.

You didn’t buy that camera for it to live its life, unloved and unused, in the bottom of a cupboard. Your camera is your passport to creative freedom, but only when you learn how to use it and understand its role in the creative process.

When it comes to making great photos, it’s important to remember the following:

Camera’s don’t make photos, people do.
— Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru

What ever it is you decide to do to improve your photography and tap into your own creativity please do it quickly. After all, you wouldn’t want to miss the boat.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru